Sunday Reading – 09/05/2021


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.

Why doesn’t the U.S. win wars anymore? – We live in an age of power, peace, and loss. Since 1945, the United States has emerged as the unsurpassed superpower, relations between countries have been unusually stable, and the American experience of conflict has been a tale of frustration and defeat.

This raises the first paradox: We lose because the world is peaceful. The decline of interstate war and the relative harmony among the great powers is cause for celebration. But the interstate wars that disappeared are the kind of wars that we win. And the civil wars that remain are the kind of wars that we lose. As the tide of conflict recedes, we’re left with the toughest and most unyielding internal struggles.

It’s also hard to win great victories in an era of peace. During the golden age, the United States faced trials of national survival, like the Civil War and World War II. The potential benefits were so momentous that Washington could overthrow the enemy at almost any cost in American blood and treasure and still claim the win. But in wars since 1945, the threats are diminished. Since the prize on offer is less valuable, the acceptable price we will pay in lives and money is also dramatically reduced. To achieve victory, the campaign must be quick and decisive — with little margin for error. Without grave peril, it’s tough to enter the pantheon of martial valor.

There’s a second paradox: We lose because we’re strong. U.S. power encouraged Americans to follow the sound of battle into distant lands. But the United States became more interventionist just as the conflict environment shifted in ways that blunted America’s military edge. As a result, Washington was no longer able to translate power into victory. If America was weaker, its military record might actually be more favorable. With fewer capabilities, the idea of invading Iraq would have stayed in the realm of dreams.

Indeed, the two paradoxes are connected. American power helped usher in the age of interstate peace, as Washington constructed a fairly democratic and stable “free world” in the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, and East Asia, fashioned institutions like the United Nations, and oversaw a globalized trading system. But this left intractable civil wars as the prevailing kind of conflict. And American power also tempted Washington to search for monsters to destroy in far-flung locations. In other words, power and peace are the parents of loss. Read More > at the Big Think

Heroic mom fights off mountain lion attacking her 5-year-old son – A brave mother fought off a mountain lion — with her bare hands — as it savagely attacked her 5-year-old son outside their California home last week, authorities said Saturday.

The unnamed woman punched the 65-pound wild animal and wrestled it away from her child in the front yard of the family’s house in Calabasas on Thursday, authorities said.

The mountain lion had dragged the child “about 45 yards” across the front lawn in the wild attack, said Capt. Patrick Foy, a spokesman with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” Foy said.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” he said. Read More > in the New York Post

More Businesses Leaving California In 2021 Than In Any Other Year Prior According To New Analysis – A new analysis recently released by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University found that the number of businesses leaving California in 2021 has significantly picked up compared to the previous three years.

According to the analysis, California has seen 265 companies leave California for other states since 2018, with 114 alone moving to Texas. While 2018 – 2020 remained somewhat steady, with 58 leaving in 2018, 78 leaving in 2019, and 62 leaving in 2020, 2021 has already seen figures double. In the first half on 2021, 74 companies have already left the state.

While there have been some bigger name companies leaving, such as HP Enterprise and Oracle, most leaving are usually smaller companies or simply a headquarters relocation that still keeps the bulk of jobs in California. However, the Institution notes that the loss of small companies with the potential to quickly grow also leads to stagnation in businesses and innovation

“Losing small but rapidly growing businesses is a death knell to an economy, because long-run economic growth requires new, transformative ideas that ultimately displace old ideas,” the analysis found. “And the transformative ideas almost invariably are born in young companies.” Read More > at California Globe

If Newsom is recalled, how would a Republican governor get anything done? – To make many significant policy changes, a governor must work with the Legislature to pass new laws, approve a budget and appoint key leaders to state agencies. And in California, Democrats have a complete lock on the Legislature — holding such a huge supermajority in both chambers that they have more than enough votes to override a governor’s veto, or to pass their own budgets.

So if the Sept. 14 recall is successful and a Republican is sworn in as governor of this deep-blue state — a once far-fetched notion that polls now show is within the realm of possibility —  what would change at the state Capitol come late October? 

The one-party control Democrats have enjoyed for the last decade would give way to a divided government. That could spur bipartisan compromises — or partisan gridlock. Most significantly, it could make historically rare power plays a lot more common: 

The Legislature could override vetoes to turn its bills into law and still set policy in a wide range of areas. And the governor could try to do the same or push back through executive orders and emergency declarations. 

“If the Democrats coordinate and present a united front, and defy political norms that have historically been in place, they could resist a lot of what the governor wanted to do,” said Kim Nalder, a political science professor at California State University, Sacramento. 

“But there is that issue of emergency powers. And potentially a governor, if they wanted to be contentious and implement some sweeping changes, they could claim those emergency powers.” Read More > at CalMatters

Unfinished Tractors, Pickup Trucks Pile Up as Components Run Short – Manufacturers are stacking up unfinished goods on factory floors and parking incomplete vehicles in airport parking lots while waiting for missing parts, made scarce by supply-chain problems.

Shortages of mechanical parts, commodity materials and electronic components containing semiconductor chips have been disrupting manufacturing across multiple industries for months.

Companies determined to keep factories open are trying to work around shortages by producing what they can, at the same time rising customer demand has cleaned out store shelves, dealer showrooms and distribution centers. As a result, manufacturers are amassing big inventories of unsold or incomplete products such as truck wheels and farm tractors. Companies that are used to filling orders quickly now have bulging backlogs of orders, waiting for scarce parts or green lights from customers willing to take deliveries.

Executives expect the shortages and delivery bottlenecks, exacerbated by overwhelmed transportation networks and a lack of workers, to stretch into the fall. The delays are costing manufacturers sales and pushing some companies to revamp the way they put together their products, executives said.

“There’s clearly market strength out there, but you have to have the ability to deliver on that,” said David Petratis, chief executive officer of door-lock manufacturer Allegion PLC. “We have an extremely tight supply chain.” Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Lithium fuels hopes for revival on California’s largest lake – Near Southern California’s dying Salton Sea, a canopy next to a geothermal power plant covers large vats of salty water left behind after super-hot liquid is drilled from deep underground to run steam turbines. The vats connect to tubes that spit out what looks like dishwater, but it’s lithium, a critical component of rechargeable batteries and the newest hope for economic revival in the depressed region.

Demand for electric vehicles has shifted investments into high gear to extract lithium from brine, salty water that has been overlooked and pumped back underground since the region’s first geothermal plant opened in 1982. The mineral-rich byproduct may now be more valued than the steam used to generate electricity.

California’s largest but rapidly shrinking lake is at the forefront of efforts to make the U.S. a major global player in production of the ultralight metal. Despite large deposits in the U.S., Nevada has the country’s only lithium plant, and American production lags far behind Australia, Chile, Argentina and China. Read More > from the Associated Press

Designer Baby Revolution: Can We Outlaw Sexual Reproduction? – Using in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT), prospective parents can choose which embryo they want before a pregnancy begins based on that embryo’s polygenic risk score (PRS), its chances of developing certain diseases. IVF and embryo screening have been used for years, but advances in whole genome analysis are allowing scientists to target diseases influenced by many mutations, not just Mendelian disorders linked to single genes. Eventually this capability could extend to selecting for traits like height, intelligence and strength.

Considered on its own, that’s an impressive development. But when we evaluate this technology alongside the ethical baggage it carries, all sorts of awkward questions materialize. Here’s perhaps the most important one: If parents can reduce their risk of bringing disease-prone children into the world, should they be forced to do so?

Citing the existing vaccine controversy, some commentators say “yes.” Preventing sickness and death is the ethical thing to do, they argue: it’s a “moral obligation to create children with the best chance of the best life.” Furthermore, we all cover each other’s health care costs, either through private insurance plans or federal programs. As a result, there’s no reason these treatments should be voluntary. Sex should be for fun and bonding, IVF and PGT for making babies.

It’s my contention that it would be hopelessly unethical to mandate this kind of shift in human reproduction. When we follow the argument in support of this policy to its logical conclusion, it implodes into a pile of absurdity. Read More > at ACSH

McFlurry machines keep breaking and the FTC wants answers – McDonald’s McFlurry machine and its tendency to break down has been the inspiration for countless jokes and Twitter feuds, and now it could become the subject of a Federal Trade Commission investigation. According to The Wall Street Journal, the agency recently reached out to McDonald’s restaurant owners to collect more information on their experiences with the machines.

Why is the FTC looking into McFlurry machines, you ask? The answer may have something to do with the right to repair movement. At the start of July, President Biden ordered the agency to draft new rules to empower consumers and businesses to repair their devices on their own. Later that same month, the FTC made good on that order, voting unanimously to tackle unlawful repair restrictions.ADVERTISEMENT

By all accounts, McFlurry machines are a nightmare to repair. Moreover, Taylor, the firm that makes them, is at the center of a legal battle over measures it uses to prevent restaurants from repairing the machines on their own. When a McFlurry machine breaks down, only a certified technician from Taylor is allowed to fix it, leading to long wait times. Those wait times have increased during the pandemic. A federal judge recently sided with a company that produces a diagnostic tool that threatens Taylor’s monopoly on repairs. Read More > at Engadget

How Much Legal Cannabis Is In California? It’s A State Secret. – The legal cannabis industry in California is big. As it should be: California is very big—more people live there than anywhere else in the United States—and California has the oldest and most well-established marijuana industry of any other state.

But how big? Nobody really knows, aside from certain state regulators and select elected officials.

For everyone else, data from California’s legal cannabis industry is a state secret. And that’s hurting the industry, experts said.

Though every other agricultural sector enjoys data on crops harvested and sold—and this informs decisions made by industry players—state law prohibits the Department of Cannabis Control from sharing this vital data, an agency spokesman confirmed. This leaves the rest of us to grope around in the dark and hazard guesses.

This data gap makes cannabis unique among agricultural commodities like wine grapes, almonds, and milk. It makes it harder for entrepreneurs, bankers, and regulators when deciding how much cannabis to grow, how much money to invest and how much returns to expect, and how many cannabis businesses to license.

It’s not that there’s no data. It’s that what data is available is imprecise. According to tax information published by the state Department of Taxation and Finance, legal cannabis is at least a $5 billion industry in California. In the second quarter of 2021—the most recent data available—there was more than $1.3 billion recorded in “taxable sales.”

If those figures stay steady for four quarters, legal sales will exceed $5.2 billion.

We do have some idea as to what was sold, and how much—but only some. Read More > at Forbes

Soaring Electricity And Coal Use Are Proving Once Again, Roger Pielke Jr’s ‘Iron Law Of Climate’ – As the Covid lockdowns are easing, the global economy is recovering and that recovery is fueling blistering growth in electricity use. The latest data from Ember, the London-based “climate and energy think tank focused on accelerating the global electricity transition,” show that global electricity use soared by about 5% in the first half of 2021. That’s faster growth than was happening back in 2018 when electricity use was increasing by about 4% per year.

The numbers from Ember also show that despite lots of talk about the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coal demand for power generation continues to grow and emissions from the electric sector continue to grow: up by 5% over the first half of 2019. In addition, they show that while about half of the growth in electricity demand was met by wind and solar, overall growth in electricity use is still outstripping the growth in renewables. 

Over the past few weeks Ember, BP, and the International Energy Agency have all published reports which come to the same two conclusions: that countries all around the world — and China, in particular — are doing whatever they need to do to get the electricity they need to grow their economies. Second, they are using lots of coal to get that juice. 

As I discuss in my recent book, A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations, Electricity is the world’s most important and fastest-growing form of energy. The Ember data proves that. At a growth rate of 5%, global electricity use will double in about 14 years. Furthermore, the electricity sector also accounts for the biggest single share of global carbon dioxide emissions: about 25 percent. Thus, if we are to have any hope of cutting global emissions, the electricity sector is pivotal. Further, the soaring use of electricity shows that low-income people and countries around the world are not content to stay in the dark. They want to live high-energy lives with access to all the electronic riches that we take for granted.  Read More > at Forbes

That student in your community college class? They could be a bot. – This week, the California Student Aid Commission told the Los Angeles Times it had identified more than 65,000 applications for aid from purported community college students that appear to be fake, lending credence to the idea that scammers are seeking to get their hands on state grants. 

And in a memo to colleges Monday, the community college system’s vice chancellor for digital innovation and infrastructure, Valerie Lundy-Wagner, announced new security measures to combat the threat.

The influx of federal emergency aid and the shift to remote learning — which makes it easier for scammers to hide behind a screen rather than appear in person — have made the community college system even more attractive to bad actors, college officials say. That, coupled with college administrators’ desire to get the money out as soon as possible to students walloped by the pandemic’s economic effects, creates a tough balancing act for officials charged with protecting taxpayer money while doling out vital aid.

Across three rounds of federal emergency relief, California’s community colleges will receive at least $4.3 billion, of which $1.75 billion will go directly to students. 

The Contra Costa Community College District flagged nearly 40,000 fake applicants in fall 2020, up from 12,000 in 2019. Other colleges that identified false accounts during the pandemic include College of the Sequoias, Citrus College, Compton College, College of the Siskiyous, Southwestern College and Ohlone College, CalMatters found. 

In some cases, college officials identified fraud right before they would have disbursed financial aid — like at Fullerton College, which had to stop payment on more than $1 million in Pell Grants this summer after identifying some 3,000 fake student accounts, said financial aid director Greg Ryan. Read More > at CalMatters

Does Learning A Foreign Language Stimulate Cerebral Growth? – The thought that learning language stimulates brain growth may never have crossed your mind, but the truth is that language learning challenges your brain and stimulates it to stay pliable and strong. Regardless of your age, learning a new language can boost your brain’s function in more ways than one and we’ll explore all the benefits of learning a foreign language and how it directly affects the brain.

Children have high neuroplasticity, something that wasn’t widely known until recent years, leading to bi-racial families teaching their children just one language for fear that they might develop mental health problems or confusion. However, recent study has shown us that babies as young as 7 months old have demonstrated the cognitive benefits of being brought up in a bilingual household, proving that language can help develop the brain and increase awareness in young babies.

As they grow older, the benefits of knowing how to speak more than one language manifest in better test results, higher empathy, and according to one report, “students able to speak a second language have better listening skills, sharper memories, are more creative, are better at solving complex problems, and exhibit greater cognitive flexibility.”

Curiously, adult brains are just as stimulated as a child’s when exposed to learning a new language. Learning a second language immediately enriches one’s brain and opens it up to new concepts, perspectives, and cognition. It can even strengthen the brain against aging, which is surprising as there’s nothing else that can do what learning a second language does for the brain. Read More > at Science 2.0

The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game – ON AUG. 24, 1919, Ray Caldwell puts on a Cleveland uniform for the first time. The weather is brutally hot but clear — for now — and none of the 20,000 or so fans at League Park has any idea that they’re about to see something that defies belief. A story of desperation, terror, survival and redemption, all channeling through Caldwell over the next two hours.

The crowd roars as he takes the mound, and the cheers only get louder as it becomes obvious that Caldwell has his best stuff today. Cleveland fans know the stakes for the right-hander: He has just been waived by the Red Sox, and the pulse of his once-promising career had all but flatlined prior to that day. This is his last gasp.

But then the clouds roll in — fast — off Lake Erie. Cleveland’s players, who have grown accustomed to the lake-effect weather mood swings, take their positions and hope to grind out three more outs before the skies really open up.

So he hurriedly toes the rubber as the rain picks up. He gets two easy infield popouts to open the inning. One more to go. Now the wind howls, the storm fully upon the field.

Just as he gets set, a flash from the sky explodes down into the middle of the field. Shortstop Ray Chapman feels a surge of electricity go down his leg, and the violence of the lightning strike causes players to dive for the ground. “I took off my mask and threw it as far as I could,” Cleveland catcher Steve O’Neill says later of his metal mask. “I didn’t want it to attract any bolts toward me.”

Five seconds after the bolt hits the ground, everybody looks around. The eight Indians position players are OK, but their newest teammate is not. Caldwell is on his back, arms spread wide, out cold on the mound. The lightning strike had hit him directly.

Players rush to Caldwell, but the first man who touches him leaps in the air, saying he’d been zapped by Caldwell’s prone body.

So everybody steps back and just stares. Caldwell’s chest is smoldering from where the bolt burned it. They’re terrified to touch him, and nobody does.

All of them wonder: Is Ray Caldwell dead?

RIGHT AROUND THE time everybody on the field is ready to pronounce Caldwell dead, the 31-year-old pitcher starts groaning and crawls back to his knees, then his feet.

Teammates rejoice, but still, everybody keeps their distance from the guy whose chest was just on fire. They offer to walk with him off the field as he heads to the hospital. But Caldwell is incredulous.

“I have one more out to get,” he says.

He’s insistent enough that eventually Speaker walks back to center field and lets him stay on the mound to try to finish his complete game. Caldwell looks at Chapman and says, “Give me the danged ball and turn me toward the plate.” Read More > at ESPN

Drum Prodigy Nandi Bushell – 11 year-old drum prodigy Nandi Bushell plays Everlong live on stage with the Foo Fighters at LA Forum, 8/26/2021.

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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