Sunday Reading – 09/12/2021


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.

What rock fans don’t want to admit – The recent death of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts at the age of 80 is just the latest rude reminder of what all of us know in our bones but nonetheless choose to ignore most days: The classic rock era is nearly dead and buried — and so are its greatest icons.

wrote about this two years ago, and, inevitably, things are looking even bleaker now. Bob Dylan is 80. Paul McCartney and Paul Simon are 79. And not far behind them are a host of rock stars well into their 70s: Brian Wilson, Carole King, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Ray Davies, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Debbie Harry, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, and Don Henley. James Taylor and Jackson Browne just completed a tour together; the former is 73, the latter 72. The baby of the bunch, Bruce Springsteen, currently wrapping up another residency on Broadway, turns 72 next month.

Over the next decade, most of these superstars are going to die, and the remaining holdouts soon after. On one level, this will be a terrible loss. These are people we care about deeply, who write and perform music that means the world to us.

But if we’re honest, we also have to admit that the loss is largely a function of nostalgia, of feelings attached to sounds and sights from long ago. Yes, many of these legends still take to the road to play live. Some produce new music from time to time. But none of these artists — not one — is doing work to rival the quality of what they produced at their peak. And in every case, that high point was decades ago. Read More > in The Week

Why You Can’t Find Everything You Want at Grocery Stores – Grocery-store chains are still battling supply challenges that some executives said are as bad as what they saw in spring 2020, when hoarding left holes in stocks of some staples.

Industry executives say new problems are arising weekly, driven by shortages of labor and raw materials. Groceries including frozen waffles and beverages remain scarce as some food companies anticipate disruptions lasting into 2022. A wider range of products is running short and logistical challenges are compounding for many retailers.

Donny Rouse, chief executive of Louisiana-based Rouses Markets, said he is struggling to fill shelves as his company runs low on everything from pet food to canned goods. The chain of more than 60 supermarkets is sometimes receiving as little as 40% of what it orders, prompting Mr. Rouse and his staff to try to secure products earlier and more often. Before the pandemic, Rouses received well over 90% of its orders.

“It is difficult for customers to get everything they want to get,” said Mr. Rouse, grandson of the chain’s founder.

Many grocery chains said that it is hard to predict how complete or on-time their deliveries will be due to limited guidance from suppliers, and executives said there is often little recourse when trucks show up with a fraction of what was ordered. Demand is higher than expected by retailers, with monthly sales up about 14% from two years ago and 3% from a year ago, according to data from research firm IRI.

To keep stores stocked, retailers are rethinking when and how to procure products they sell. Some are carrying fewer flavors or sizes, selling different brands and gathering inventory whenever possible. Regional and smaller grocers are struggling more than the biggest chains, industry executives said.

Albertsons ACI 0.82% Cos. and other big grocers said they are also feeling the impact of labor and commodity challenges but that their supply picture has improved since last year. Some, including Ahold Delhaize USA, said they have greater control of their inventory because they have their own vehicles and drivers. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

This startup is bringing the first mind-controlled prosthetic arm to market – A typical prosthetic arm still looks essentially the way it has for more than a century, with a simple hook that can open and close to squeeze and hold objects. An artificial arm now in development works very differently: The hand on the device is connected to a bracelet that can read muscle signals in an amputee’s stump, so that person can move, tap, and squeeze artificial fingers simply by thinking.

“When you think you want to move—you want to rotate your wrist, or you want to move your fingers—the signal travels from your brain down your spinal cord, and then out the peripheral nerves from the spinal cord into your arm,” says Tyler Hayes, CEO of Atom Limbs, the startup bringing the device to market. “Even when someone has lost or damaged a limb, those nerves are still there and they’re still firing into muscles, it’s just that there’s no real hand left to move. So we listen to the electrical field emanating from your arm, from your muscles, and just tap into that exact signal that your body is sending.” The prosthetic, loaded with 200 sensors, also gives users a sense of touch as they grasp an object. The arm can lift 45 pounds.

In the coming year, Atom Limbs plans to begin tests of the newest version of the arm with amputees, while it simultaneously launches a robotic version for industrial use in factories. They aim to bring the prosthetic to market in 2023, with an artificial leg to later follow. Read More > at Fast Company

California Bungled $316M From Feds Earmarked for the Homeless, Now May Lose It – After collecting $316 million from the federal CARES Act to house homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic, California simply held onto the funds instead of distributing it. The state may now lose it.

That’s according to a new report from the state auditor’s office, that found the California Department of Housing and Community Development “did not take critical steps to ensure those funds promptly benefited that population,” the Associated Press reported.

The department was supposed to distribute the money to local groups to provide homeless services but it took so long to finalize contracts that those groups didn’t have access to much of the funding during the height of the pandemic, auditors found.

There’s a big problem when Congress throws so much money at the states that they cannot even spend it.

The state audit on the misuse of homeless funds found that the department didn’t give most groups access to the first round of federal funding until December 2020, seven months after it was announced by the federal government, and only recently gave them access to the second, larger round of funding. Read More > at Real Clear Policy

WSJ: Men appear to be giving up on college – There’s an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal today about the declining enrollment of men in 2 and 4-year colleges. This gender enrollment disparity is a trend that has been happening for a while now, but at this point the divergence between men and women is becoming pretty dramatic.

At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline, the Journal analysis found.

This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65% of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59% of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man, if the trend continues, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse.

The situation has become bad enough that some colleges are already offering more slots for boys in an attempt to bring the enrollment back into parity. The WSJ says this is “higher education’s dirty little secret,” i.e. schools are now practicing a kind of affirmative action for men. Read More > at Hot Air

Job openings hit new record high of 10.9 million in July – Job openings hit another record high in July before the delta variant upended the U.S. labor market, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.

On the last business day of July, there were 10.9 million open jobs in the U.S., an increase of 800,000 from the previous record of 10.1 million openings in June. Hires stayed even at 6.7 million in July and separations — which includes layoffs, firings and voluntary departures — also stayed flat at 5.8 million.

The new openings data is a window into the strength of the U.S. economy just weeks before surging COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant walloped job growth. The U.S. added more than 1 million jobs in July, according to the August jobs report, but just 235,000 jobs last month.

There were roughly 83 unemployed workers per 100 job openings in July — the highest level since December 2019, according to Bunker — as a summer rush of travel, dining and entertainment spending drastically drove up demand for workers. But the rise of the delta variant later in the second half of July laid the groundwork for a sharp hiring slowdown the following month. Read More > in The Hill

Producer inflation accelerated in August, as wholesale prices rose record 8.3% from a year ago – Prices that producers get for final demand goods and services surged in August at their highest annual rate since at least 2010, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The producer price index rose 0.7% for the month, above the 0.6% Dow Jones estimate, though below the 1% increase in July.

On a year-over-year basis, the gauge rose 8.3%, which is the biggest annual increase since records have been kept going back to November 2010. That came following a 7.8% move higher in July, which also set a record.

The data comes amid heightened inflation fears fed by supply chain issues, a shortage of various consumer and producer goods and heightened demand related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Federal Reserve officials expect inflationary pressures to ease through the year, but they have remained stubbornly persistent, with Friday’s numbers indicating that the trend likely will continue. Read More > at CNBC

Three CA Metros Make SafeWise’s List of Most Dangerous Cities – America’s major metropolitan cities have been experiencing an uptick in violent crime. The increase is especially stark in California. The Golden State has the largest number of high-crime metropolitan areas of any state, according to new rankings from SafeWise.

Three California metros made SafeWise’s list of the 10 most dangerous cities this year: San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City (#6), Stockton (#9) and Bakersfield (#10). This was the first time any of them appeared on the list.

Nationally, Anchorage, Alaska was the most dangerous. 

SafeWise looked at incomes and municipal budgets in America’s most dangerous cities. Households in the dangerous metros earn nearly $20,000 less than households in the safest metros on average. They spend around 15% less on public safety and 58% less on community resources. Read More > at California City News

Experts offer ‘weak’ support for marijuana to treat chronic pain – Non-inhaled medical marijuana and its derivatives offer few benefits in treating chronic pain, leading a panel of experts to offer a “weak” recommendation for its use for the condition in an article published Wednesday by BMJ.

In more than 100 studies, marijuana-based pain treatments provided little or no improvement in patient self-reported pain intensity, physical functioning and sleep quality, the researchers said.

In addition, the therapies, most commonly available in pill form, oral solution or topical ointment applied to the affected areas, failed to produce improvements in emotional, work and family or social functioning, they said.

The recommendation applies to adults and children with all types of moderate to severe chronic pain and does not include smoked or vaped forms of cannabis and recreational cannabis.

It also does not address the drug’s use as a pain treatment in patients who are receiving end-of-life care, according to the authors.

“Patients with persistent pain continue to search for new therapeutic options and often perceive cannabis as a worthwhile alternative,” the authors of a commentary published with the recommendations wrote.

However, this recommendation indicates that there is only “moderate evidence of a clinically important decrease in pain for a small to very small proportion of patients” using the drug, they said. Read More > from UPI

Study Suggests a New Number of Daily Steps For Health Benefits, And It’s Not 10,000 – There’s no magic number when it comes to exercise, but that doesn’t mean numbers aren’t important.

After all, numbers are easy, convenient things to remember. And because exercise is something that can be easily quantified, having numbers as symbols of how much exercise we should be getting can serve an important role in public health.

When it comes to walking, the most obvious figure many of us think of is 10,000 – long idealized as the target to hit in terms of daily steps needed to improve our health.

There’s evidence to back it up too. A number of studies in recent years have shown that taking more steps on a daily basis is linked to less risk of early death, and it doesn’t even matter where those steps come from.

Of course, every analysis is slightly different, and no two cohorts are the same.

Because of that, scientists keep making fresh, incremental discoveries about just how good walking X steps is for people, as well as identifying who stands to benefit, and by how much.

…the researchers found here that individuals taking at least 7,000 steps per day had an approximately 50 to 70 percent lower risk of early death when compared to those who averaged fewer than 7,000 daily steps in the experiment.

By itself, step intensity (measuring the quickness of steps taken) had no effect on mortality.

According to the researchers, increasing daily step volume among the least active people in the population may confer the greatest protection against mortality – but after a certain point, extra steps appear to have no beneficial effect, at least on that specific outcome. Read More . at Science Alert

Revealed: Google illegally underpaid thousands of workers across dozens of countries – Google has been illegally underpaying thousands of temporary workers in dozens of countries and delayed correcting the pay rates for more than two years as it attempted to cover up the problem, the Guardian can reveal.

Google executives have been aware since at least May 2019 that the company was failing to comply with local laws in the UK, Europe and Asia that mandate temporary workers be paid equal rates to full-time employees performing similar work, internal Google documents and emails reviewed by the Guardian show.

But rather than immediately correct the errors, the company dragged its feet for more than two years, the documents show, citing concern about the increased cost to departments that rely heavily on temporary workers, potential exposure to legal claims, and fear of negative press attention. Read More > in The Guardian

Rare earth war: can the U.S. even compete with China?

  • Rare earth elements are metals used for creating consumer electronics, rechargeable batteries, renewable energy, and military-grade weapons.
  • Having lost its hegemony to China, the U.S. is looking at ways to restart mining operations.
  • America’s only rare earth mine, Mountain Pass, has been selling all its output to China.

Even though rare earth elements helped shape modern society into what it is today, most of us hardly know a thing about these unique metals — aside from the fact that they are irreplaceable in the production of many 21st century inventions, from the touch screens in our iPhones to the batteries of our Teslas and to the engines of our military’s latest fighter jets.

One of the first things to know about rare earths is that their name is a bit of a misnomer. While their importance to consumer electronics, renewable energy, and national defense makes these materials very costly, rare earths are actually pretty abundant in Earth’s crust. The problem is that, much like oil or gas, these metals only can be found in select locations around the world, hidden away inside mineral deposits that did not form with country borders in mind.

As a direct result of this irregular distribution, trade in rare earth elements is often dictated by unexpected developments in international relations rather than the ups and downs of the global economy. For most of the previous century, the United States was the world’s largest supplier of rare earths, sourcing its metals from India, Brazil, and — from the 1950s onward — South Africa’s monazite-rich Steenkampskraal mine.

But in the 1990s, American suppliers began lagging behind a different player that has ruled the rare earths business ever since: the People’s Republic of China. With a third of the planet’s total supply at his disposal, Deng Xiaoping set out to expand rare earth mining operations the moment he realized how indispensable they would become to future machinery. “The Middle East has oil,” the chairman said in 1992. “China has rare earths.” Read More > at Big Think

How Time’s Up Failed Sexual Assault Survivors and Cozied Up to Power – …So Miller was infuriated when, last month, a report from the New York attorney general’s office found that the Time’s Up leadership had advised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office about a letter that sought to discredit Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide who’d accused the governor of sexually harassing her. It felt like history was repeating itself: The leaders of Time’s Up had sacrificed sexual misconduct survivors, and their allies, in favor of preserving their proximity to power. 

That dynamic is now at the heart of the controversy facing the group once heralded as the harbinger of women’s equality in the workplace. Founded in 2018 by a coterie of immensely influential women in Hollywood and politics, just as the social media wave of the #MeToo movement had started to recede, Time’s Up pledged to fight against sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. But in the years since, the organization has been plagued by allegations that it’s more interested in protecting the powerful than listening to and helping sexual misconduct survivors. 

Tchen resigned on Thursday, but survivors and advocates say that the issues at Time’s Up go beyond Tchen’s leadership. Four women who’ve dealt with Time’s Up in connection to Illinois-based sexual misconduct scandals, as well as four others who’ve tried to enlist the help of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, told VICE News that they’ve failed to see the Time’s Up apparatus live up to its lofty promises. Some are not so sure that it can truly disentangle itself from the Democratic political machine—from power, writ large—and re-focus on survivors.

In the Cuomo report’s wake, more than 130 survivors, former and current Time’s Up clients, and former Time’s Up staffers signed onto an open letter to the organization, demanding structural reform and detailing how the group had “lost its way.” That letter’s demands, including the call for a third-party investigation into how staffers and board members “have been approached by, offered advice to, or are representing perpetrators of harm,” remain, despite Tchen’s resignation. Read More > at Vice

Self-Cancellation, Deplatforming, and Censorship – In an age of cancel culture, it’s perhaps fitting that the death of a free speech hero would receive little fanfare. So when the poet, publisher, and provocateur Lawrence Ferlinghetti shuffled off this mortal coil in February at the grand old age of 101, there were dutiful obituaries in The New York Times and elsewhere but the respects were hardly commensurate with the debt owed the man. By publishing Allen Ginsberg’s fuck-filled poem Howl in 1956, Ferlinghetti risked jail and financial ruin—and did as much as any single individual to end not just government censorship but a stultifyingly repressive American intellectual culture. When Ferlinghetti was hauled into court, legitimate U.S. publishers wouldn’t touch books such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer for fear of being charged with obscenity. He helped create the period of increasingly free and open expression that moral scolds, increasingly in the name of progressive visions of “anti-racism,” are challenging today.

The obits reported that Ferlinghetti, who skippered a submarine chaser during World War II and returned from service an ardent pacifist, died of interstitial lung disease. But on a mythopoetic level, I prefer to think that he gave up the ghost because he knew his brand of free expression was no longer welcome in the country for which he fought so bravely in wartime and peacetime. “I am signaling you through the flames,” he wrote in “Poetry as Insurgent Art,” one of his later works. “You can conquer the conquerors with words.” Not if words themselves are the problem.

How should defenders of free speech think about “cancel culture,” that hotly contested yet vague concept that defines the current moment like flappers and bathtub gin defined the 1920s, communist scares and juvenile delinquency defined the 1950s, and leisure suits and encounter groups defined the 1970s? Author Jonathan Rauch distinguishes canceling from mere criticism in that its practitioners seek “to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents.” Cancel culture isn’t about seeking truth, he writes; it’s “about shaping the information battlefield” in order to “coerce conformity and reduce the scope for forms of criticism that are not sanctioned by the prevailing consensus of some local majority.”

Somebody calling you a jackass on Twitter is criticism. Somebody organizing a mob to get you kicked off of Twitter, fired from your job, and put out on a figurative ice floe is cancel culture…

Cancel culture operates on at least three different levels: the personal, the corporate, and the political. Each is more troubling than the next, because each casts a broader net and eliminates more and more options. It’s one thing for me to cancel my Twitter account after being attacked as morally obtuse, worse to be permanently kicked off the site because its moderators have decided I am beyond redemption, and more troubling still to have the government shut down Twitter because it allowed my awful speech. Read More > at Reason

My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit. – Peter Boghossian has taught philosophy at Portland State University for the past decade. In the letter below, sent this recently to the university’s provost, he explains why he is resigning.

Dear Provost Susan Jeffords,

​​I’m writing to you today to resign as assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University.

Over the last decade, it has been my privilege to teach at the university. My specialties are critical thinking, ethics and the Socratic method, and I teach classes like Science and Pseudoscience and The Philosophy of Education. But in addition to exploring classic philosophers and traditional texts, I’ve invited a wide range of guest lecturers to address my classes, from Flat-Earthers to Christian apologists to global climate skeptics to Occupy Wall Street advocates. I’m proud of my work.

I invited those speakers not because I agreed with their worldviews, but primarily because I didn’t. From those messy and difficult conversations, I’ve seen the best of what our students can achieve: questioning beliefs while respecting believers; staying even-tempered in challenging circumstances; and even changing their minds. 

I never once believed —  nor do I now —  that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.

But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly. Read More > at Common Sense with Bari Weiss

Strange, repeating radio signal near the center of the Milky Way has scientists stumped – Astronomers have detected a strange, repeating radio signal near the center of the Milky Way, and it’s unlike any other energy signature ever studied.

According to a new paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and posted on the preprint server arXiv, the energy source is extremely finicky, appearing bright in the radio spectrum for weeks at a time and then completely vanishing within a day. This behavior doesn’t quite fit the profile of any known type of celestial body, the researchers wrote in their study, and thus may represent “a new class of objects being discovered through radio imaging.”

The radio source — known as ASKAP J173608.2−321635 — was detected with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope, situated in the remote Australian outback. In an ASKAP survey taken between April 2019 and August 2020, the strange signal appeared 13 times, never lasting in the sky for more than a few weeks, the researchers wrote. This radio source is highly variable, appearing and disappearing with no predictable schedule, and doesn’t seem to appear in any other radio telescope data prior to the ASKAP survey. Read More > at Space

Third of cancer drugs without proven clinical benefit continue to be recommended for patients – One third of cancer drugs that received accelerated approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to be recommended in clinical guidelines after their confirmatory clinical trials fail to show improvement on their primary endpoints, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

A primary endpoint is the main result that is measured at the end of a study to see if a given treatment has worked (eg. the number of deaths or the difference in survival between the treatment group and the control group). What the primary endpoint will be is decided before the study begins.

The researchers say clinical guidelines “should better align with the results of post-approval trials of cancer drugs that received accelerated approval.”

The FDA’s accelerated approval pathway allows drugs onto the market before their effectiveness has been proven to hasten patients’ access to promising new drugs. But as part of this approval, the manufacturer must conduct post-approval trials to confirm clinical benefit (improved survival or quality of life in the case of cancer drugs). If these trials show no benefit, the drug‘s approval can be withdrawn.

However, post-approval trials can be delayed for several years, and the FDA has until very recently been slow in taking steps to withdraw the drug or indication when these trials are conducted and fail to demonstrate clinical benefit. Read More > at Medical Xpress

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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