Sunday Reading – 09/26/2021

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 Hasn’t California Been Split Into Smaller States Yet?Like awaiting an earthquake, we are due — overdue, really — for another aggrieved someone to try once again to get voters or legislators or Congress — or all three — to agree to divvy up California into two or three or a half-dozen states.

Why would I think that? I leave the arithmetic to you: About 220 times in more than 170 years, some interest or power or politician waved around a cleaver and cried, “Hey, let’s chop up California!”

The last time this happened was three years ago, which is forever in politics.

In July 2018, one day before the November state election ballot was being sent to the printers, the California Supreme Court unanimously yanked the Three States Initiative off the ballot because of “significant questions” about its validity and “the potential harm” of leaving it on the ballot.

None of these votes and bills has the force of law; California can’t unilaterally divorce itself. The U.S. Constitution decrees that “no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

But all of these tries can at least roil state governance, and can even set in motion requirements like a “yes” vote of the people of California and an official request to Congress to approve the big breakup.

The closest we got to an actual breakup came, paradoxically, from the brother of the last Mexican governor of California. Andres Pico was an assemblyman in the new state of California. In 1859, his act to bisect California horizontally, around San Luis Obispo, got the blessing of the legislature, the governor and 3 out of 4 voters, and was sent to Congress — where it ran into a little impediment called the Civil War.

In starched-collar language, Pico’s act made the same point that splitter-uppers make to this day: “Whereas, the present boundaries of the State of California enclose an area of such extent and so diversified in physical and other features as to preclude, to an unwholesome degree, the possibility of uniform legislation, and render cumbersome and expensive the operation of government.” Read More > at Governing

America’s Farmers Fight Back Against California’s War on Bacon – Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-Kan.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Cindy Hyde-Smith, (R-Miss.) were motivated to introduce new legislation called the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression Act (EATS Act) in order to counter California’s Proposition 12 (Prop 12).

Protect the Harvest reports the congressional legislation was “introduced in the U.S. Senate aimed at preventing states and local governments from interfering with agricultural interstate commerce.” The EATS Act protects agricultural producers across the country from acts like California’s Prop 12, which requires livestock producers outside of California to conform to animal housing and other standards set by radical animal rights activists under the guise of “public health.”

“The EATS Act would prevent states from impeding agricultural trade from other states within the United States—consistent with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which provides the federal government with the duty to regulate interstate commerce,” said Sen. Hyde-Smith in a press release. “State and local units of government would still be able to regulate farming and ranching within their own jurisdictions, however, this legislation makes it illegal to impede trade from fellow states.”

More than twenty U.S. states have challenged Prop 12 and “several other states have adopted or contemplated laws that would affect the agricultural production outside their state” since it was signed into law in 2018, but “this pro-ag, pro-jobs legislation would establish a federal standard that fosters greater interstate commerce among states without interference from activist cit[ies] or state governments,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be up to California to tell other states how they should be producing their agricultural products,” Grassley told WNAX in an interview. “California is not only being unfair to its own consumers but to producers in other states and is likely violating the U.S. Constitution with Proposition 12.”

How bad is Prop 12 for producers and consumers? Yahoo News reported that under Prop 12, “bacon may disappear in California” while, simultaneously, America’s producers would lose access to one of the nation’s largest markets once the new standards are fully “administered and enforced” at the beginning of next year… Read More > at PJ media  

CA sets new median home price record – The median price of a single-family home in California shot to a jaw-dropping $827,940 in August — the fifth time the Golden State has broken its own record in the past six months, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Finance. (It almost makes one nostalgic for last August, when California’s median home price broke the $700,000 barrier for the first time.) Evidence of sky-high prices is everywhere: In Los Angeles, $1 million homes are popping up in all kinds of neighborhoods, while the typical home value in Los Altos is approaching a cool $3.8 million. The costs have risen so steeply that a Sacramento program hasn’t been able to deliver grants to low-income families and people of color hoping to buy their first home — because the homes themselves are no longer within those Californians’ price range.

News of the increasingly expensive housing costs came a few days after Newsom signed a package of bills to ease California’s affordable housing crisis. It also comes about a week before California’s eviction moratorium is set to expire. Read More > at CalMatters

California Says Goodbye to Single-Family Zoning – Two days after his titanic victory in the September 14 recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed historic legislation that essentially eliminates single-family zoning across the state of California.

SB9 (Atkins) will allow up to four dwellings (as many as two duplexes or two houses with attached units) to be built on almost any lot currently zoned for a single-family residence. The bill only allows cities to veto such development when there is a threat to health and safety. Historic districts and fire hazard zones are excluded. The bill also contains a provision requiring the developer to live on site for at least three years to curtail speculative buying.

Advocates of the bill say it will reduce sky-high housing prices in the state by increasing supply. Some point to the racist history behind so-called “exclusionary zoning” as well.

Over 200 cities were opposed to the bill, which critics note includes no price caps or other assurances of affordability. Instead, they argue it will destroy the character of single-family neighborhoods, drive down property values and/or and speed up gentrification in some Black and Latino areas.

SB9 “undermines the ability of local governments to responsibly plan for the types of housing that communities need, circumvents the local government review process, and silences community voices,” said League of California Cities Executive Director Carolyn Coleman, as quoted by CalMatters.

“Even worse, there are no provisions in SB9 that require new housing to be affordable, continuing the cycle of the construction of new units that are out of reach for a mini working-class families.”

There are very real concerns about the capacity of local infrastructure as well. More dwellings mean increased water and sewer use, trash collection, and parking woes. That’s according to 120 mayors and city council members from 48 cities who have complained about the bill’s usurpation of local control.

These dueling arguments will soon be thrust before voters. A group called Californians for Community Planning Initiative has filed a proposed constitutional amendment for the November 2022 ballot to restore local governments’ zoning and land-use powers.

Affordable housing advocates are willing to fight for what they believe was a necessary change in the status quo. As the governor said last week, “the housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity.”

In addition to SB9, the governor has signed SB8 (Skinner) and SB10 (Wiener). SB8 extends the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 through 2030. That law accelerates the approval process for home-building and limits local governments’ ability to downzone. SB10 will make it easier for cities to approve small apartment complexes of up to 10 units in single-family neighborhoods near transit or in urban infill areas. Read More > at California City News

Don’t be fooled: California’s new housing laws make significant changes to zoning – The word is out that major land zoning bills signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom don’t amount to much because they were so watered down by compromising legislators. Don’t believe it.

If my next-door neighbor can convert her single-family home into a fourplex, that amounts to a lot. Suddenly there are more cars parked on the street, more little kids screaming and more dogs leaving gifts on my lawn.

And she could do that under SB 9, the signature bill by Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) from the recently concluded legislative session.

Atkins’ bill and another, SB 10 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would weaken single-family zoning — if not eliminate it — and make it easier to build multifamily dwellings.

SB 9, dubbed the “duplex bill,” would offer homeowners new options to build additional housing on their lots, regardless of whether they’re currently zoned for single-family only. They could add a granny flat, convert the house into a duplex or erect a triplex or fourplex.

SB 10 would be voluntary for cities. They could rezone a parcel for a new housing development of up to 10 units and streamline government permitting. A builder could bypass the California Environmental Quality Act, often abused by a project’s opponents. The project gets dragged out until it’s no longer economically feasible and is abandoned. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

State cracks down on Amazon – When it comes to organized labor, Gov. Gavin Newsom giveth and Gov. Gavin Newsom taketh away.

The governor on Wednesday signed into law one of the most controversial union-backed bills of the year, which takes aim at warehouse speed quotas that became infamous when reports surfaced of Amazon workers urinating in water bottles due to a lack of time to go to the bathroom. The new law requires warehouses to inform employees of work speed standards and the consequences for failing to meet them. It also prevents workers from being penalized for complying with health and safety laws — like going to the restroom — that slow the pace of their work.

But that win for the labor movement was somewhat offset by Newsom vetoing a bill that would have allowed farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections — a setback that comes just months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state law allowing union organizers to meet with farmworkers on growers’ property. “I’m truly devastated that Gavin Newsom vetoed the most important union organizing bill of the year,” tweeted Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat and author of the warehouse bill. “Happy Hispanic Heritage Month.”

United Farm Workers, whose members on Wednesday began a 260-mile march from the Central Valley to Sacramento to urge Newsom to sign the vote-by-mail bill, tweeted, “Workers are now marching towards the French Laundry, hoping to finally meet with the Governor.”

The back-and-forth underscores a central tension in California’s labor movement: Unions represent just 16% of the state’s more than 15 million workers — a steep decline from the 1950s, when more than 40% of California’s workforce was unionized. A group of Newsom’s advisors recently argued the state should help workers form unions to reduce inequality and improve job quality. But would that help? And will workers re-embrace unions in an increasingly tech-based economy? CalMatters’ California Divide team answers those questions and more in a comprehensive explainer exploring labor’s role in California in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, another battle between labor and business groups is heating up ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline that marks the end of California’s expanded sick leave program, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports. Business groups say they can’t afford to extend the pandemic policy any longer; employees say they can’t afford to take time off without pay and don’t want to endanger others by coming into work sick. Read More > at CalMatters

The Boys Who Cried Wolf -After more than a year and a half of intense debate, there is still no definitive evidence that resolves the lab leak discussion. This is not unexpected, as the pandemic started in China, a totalitarian state in which information flow is tightly controlled. From the beginning, the Chinese government has objected to and impeded investigations of the lab leak theory that would normally be conducted through independent serological testing of lab workers, access to hospital records, inspection of laboratory records and pre-outbreak collections, etc. Nevertheless, little pieces of evidence have emerged here and there that lend credence to both the natural-origin zoonotic jump and natural-origin lab leak theories as plausible causes of the pandemic.

Regardless of how COVID-19 started, the premature suppression of the discussion of the lab leak theory highlights a new and unhealthy relationship between the mainstream media and science. It is alarming that journalists were labeling the lab leak hypothesis with all its different branches a “debunked” conspiracy theory as early as February 2020 based on studies that simply said that the virus was likely not engineered. Reframing this partial answer as a much broader and more definitive one, the press then cherry-picked comments from scientists who had collaborated extensively with the lab and whose apparent conflicts of interest were ignored in order to present their statements as proven facts.

…The media throughout 2020 reported a “scientific consensus” that the pandemic was a result of a zoonotic jump that is unrelated to lab activity without providing information on what questions the scientists it surveyed were asked, how many scientists were surveyed, and whether or not these scientists conducted investigations into the origin of COVID-19. It is clear that journalists have a powerful tool through which they are able to declare a scientific consensus before a matter is rigorously investigated.

Amplifying ignorance and absolutism in order to enforce unproven opinions as unquestionable “facts” is the opposite of how the scientific method functions. Irresponsible reporting and nonfactual declarations of scientific consensus on developing matters endanger public health just like a virus does, by undermining public trust in science. We should learn something from the boys who cried wolf. Read More > at Tablet

7 ways men live without working in America – Almost one-third of all working-age men in America aren’t doing diddly-squat. They don’t have a job, and they aren’t looking for one either. One-third of all working-age men. That’s almost 30 million people!

How do they live? What are they doing for money? To me, this is one of the great mysteries of our time.

I’m certainly not the first person to make note of this shocking statistic. You’ve heard people bemoaning this “labor participation rate,” which is simply the number of working-age men (usually counted as ages 16 to 64) who are working or are seeking work, as a percentage of the overall labor force.

It’s true that the pandemic, which of course produced a number of factors that made working more difficult never mind dangerous, pushed the labor participation rate to a record low. But the fact that millions of American males have not been working precedes COVID-19 by decades. In fact, the participation rate for men peaked at 87.4% in October 1949 and has been dropping steadily ever since. It now stands at 67.7%.

…Let’s start with this one because it’s a hot button issue. Conservatives and some liberals too have made the claim that state unemployment aid, coupled with $600 a week from the CARES Act, which was rolled out in March 2020, have reduced men’s need to work. (There are actually a variety of social programs at play, spelled out nicely here by think tank The Century Foundation, which estimates that overall these programs have pumped $800 billion in the economy.)…

…but it is the case that millions of men under 64 are at least partly living off of pensions and 401(k)s. This would include everything from C-suite executives to union members. And don’t forget municipal workers, who make up almost 14% of the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are some 6,000 public sector retirement systems in the U.S. Collectively these plans have $4.5 trillion in assets, with 14.7 million working members and 11.2 million retirees… Read More > at Yahoo! News 

Unemployment rate stagnant – The numbers are irrefutable: Many Californians aren’t going back to work.

Although the Golden State created a whopping 44% of the nation’s new jobs last month, its unemployment rate remained the second-highest in the country at 7.5%, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. That’s essentially unchanged from the 7.6% unemployment rate California notched in both July and June — and hardly different from the 7.7% rate in May, a month before the state ended most coronavirus restrictions and fully reopened its economy.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom: “We still have more work to do in regaining those jobs lost to the pandemic, but this is promising progress for California’s economic recovery.”

Nearly half of the 104,300 payroll jobs California added in August were government positions, a reflection of public schools desperately trying to fill teacher and substitute teacher shortages as kids return to campus. Santa Ana Unified School District, for example, is hiring so many people that its understaffed human resources department hasn’t been able to process payments quickly enough, forcing more than 100 educators to go without pay for more than a month.

Some experts had predicted that the federal government’s Sept. 4 cutoff of expanded unemployment benefits for 2.2 million Californians would prompt people to reenter the workforce, but there hasn’t been a noticeable shift so far. Around 55,000 Californians filed new jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 11, a decrease of fewer than 3,000 people from the week before, federal data show. And the Golden State lost more than 6,000 education and health services payroll jobs in August, exacerbating an already dire nurse shortage.

In a bid to attract new workers, the beloved Sacramento-area sushi restaurant Mikuni expanded benefits and hosted a job fair — but saw only three applicants. Eight of its nine locations will now close Mondays due to the staffing shortage.

The pandemic has hit working women especially hard. More than 40,000 women nationwide dropped out of the labor force between July and August as coronavirus outbreaks closed schools and the low-paying child care sector remained short nearly 127,000 workers.

Facebook’s monstrous empire – Facebook is at the center of yet another journalistic hurricane. The Wall Street Journal obtained a trove of internal Facebook documents, and used them for a series of articles about how rich celebrities get to break the company’s rules with impunity (including posting apparent revenge porn), how Instagram has created an epidemic of mental health problems among young girls, how drug cartels and human traffickers have used Facebook openly to run their operations, how company staff know perfectly well its algorithm fuels hate and extremism, and how the company’s systems are so toxic and broken that even Mark Zuckerberg himself couldn’t use it effectively to promote vaccination.

This reporting proves beyond any doubt that Facebook is a menace that cannot be reformed from the inside. All the root causes of these problems are directly produced by how the company is designed and operated. The Facebook empire needs to be broken up and its pieces strictly regulated.

One big source source of trouble is the Newsfeed algorithm, which has been repeatedly redesigned to get users to spend more time on Facebook. By 2017 the company was looking at a long-term decline in use among rich countries, and tried various strategies to reverse the trend. It turns out that the easiest way to do this is to reward inflammatory content, incentivize anger and hostility, and encourage fighting in the comments section. This worked at retaining users, but at the cost of sowing bitterness, division, paranoia, and extremism across the globe. Political parties from Poland to Spain to Latin America complained to Facebook that the changes incentivized polarization and extremism, the Journal reports.

Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) has a similar problem. The basic idea of that platform is to watch glamorous people post carefully-composed and -edited pictures about how great their lives are. Unfortunately this comes with a downside: It tends to make ordinary people who don’t have plastic surgeons, a full-time makeup team, a private jet, and the ability to spend six hours a day exercising feel bad about their bodies — particularly young girls, who already faced heavy social pressure to conform to a deliberately impossible beauty standard even before social media came along. Sure enough, the Journal reports that Facebook has known for years that Instagram was mass-producing anxiety, depression, and eating disorders among teen girls who use it, and did nothing about it. Read More > at The Week

A Landmark Autism Intervention Study Has Shown Dramatically Reduced Diagnosis Rates – We know that for autism, the causes and changes to the brain are happening long before birth. But in a groundbreaking new study, an intervention in infants showing early signs of autism has been able to reduce clinical diagnosis by two-thirds.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a wide-ranging set of conditions affecting a person’s social, communication, and motor skills. Diagnosis is based on criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 – such as persistent deficits in social interactions and reciprocating emotions, an absence of interest in friends, repetitive movements or speech, and extreme or unusual reactions to stimuli.

“These findings are the first evidence that a pre-emptive intervention during infancy could lead to such a significant improvement in children’s social development that they then fell below the threshold for a clinical diagnosis of autism,” says one of the study authors, University of Manchester child psychiatry researcher Jonathan Green.

This iBASIS-Video Interaction to Promote Positive Parenting (or VIPP) is what the team calls a parent mediated therapy. This is not in any way intended to be a ‘cure’ for autism, but an approach aimed at “reducing the long-term disability” of ASD.

Normally, diagnosis can occur from around two years of age, but there are also signs that can occur much earlier, such as avoiding eye contact and using fewer words than their peers. It’s these early symptoms that the researchers are interested in, as making small changes early on could lead to significantly better developmental outcomes later.

The researchers tracked 103 infants who had these early signs of ASD, aged as young as nine months all the way through to three years, in a randomized, blinded experiment.

Fifty of the infants received iBASIS-VIPP – a treatment that teaches parents to change the way they interact with their babies to stimulate their socio-communicative development, while the remaining 53 received normal care.

The results were staggering – of those who had received the iBASIS-VIPP treatment, only 3 of the 45 participants who were tested again at age three met the clinical threshold for being diagnosed with autism, versus 9 of the 45 who had received regular care. That’s a difference of two-thirds. Read More > at Science Alert

Are You Left-Handed? Science Still Yearns to Know Why – Why is it that a small subset of the population prefers to use their left hand for manual tasks, and why do we even show a preference in the first place? The body of research on these questions is a microcosm of the many challenges of doing scientific research and communicating it to the public. It’s a story of false leads, enduring myths, and hypotheses that become more and more complex as our understanding of genetics deepens.

What percentage of the population is left-handed? Sounds simple enough, but the devil is in the details. When researchers start to think about the question long enough, they realize it’s problematic. Questionnaires, like the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory, exist, sure, but some of their questions can rapidly become outdated. Ask a Millennial which hand they typically use to strike a match and you might be met with a confused face. Also, just because you write with your left hand does not mean you throw a ball with the same hand. This also brings up the issue of preference versus skill. You may prefer engaging in a manual task with your left hand, but in a test you may be revealed to be more skilled with your right hand. In fact, nearly a third of left-handed writers throw more accurately with their right hand (and a tiny percentage of right-handed writers throw best with their left).

Another kink to the story: when you ask Baby Boomers which hand they use to write, you might get deceptive numbers if your interest is in the underlying biology of handedness. That’s because for a good chunk of the twentieth century (and still in some cultures), it was common for schools to force the sinistral students to switch to the “correct” hand. Thus people born as left-handers were culturally forced to become right-handers. All of these problems have made it challenging to evaluate how common left-handedness is worldwide, with early estimates ranging from 1% to nearly 30%, but in 1994 the largest survey ever conducted and done in 32 countries provided the most reliable answer to date: 9.5%. Nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide reported using their left hand to write, with some variation from country to country. This was somewhat confirmed by an analysis of nearly 2.4 million individuals published last year which reported a range of 9.3% to 18.1% depending on how handedness had been measured. Read More > at McGill

America’s car crash epidemic – Cars killed 42,060 people in 2020, up from 39,107 in 2019, according to a preliminary estimate from the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit that focuses on eliminating preventable deaths. (NSC’s numbers are typically higher than those reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) because the NSC includes car deaths in private spaces like driveways and parking lots, and it counts deaths that occur up to a year after a crash.)

That increase occurred even as the number of miles traveled by car decreased by 13 percent from the previous year. It was the biggest single-year spike in the US car fatality rate in nearly a century, and 2021 is on pace to be even worse.

Between January and June of this year, NSC reports that car fatalities increased by 16 percent from the same period last year, with areas as diverse as Texas and New York City reporting sharp increases. If the trend continues for the rest of the year, nationwide deaths would reach the highest level since 2006. The NHTSA’s preliminary data estimate a lower but still dramatic 10.5 percent increase in car deaths between January and March 2021 compared to the same months last year.

According to several traffic experts I spoke with, the explanation for the 2020 fatality spike is relatively straightforward: With fewer cars on the road during quarantine, traffic congestion was all but eliminated, which emboldened people to drive at lethal speeds. Compared to 2019, many more drivers involved in fatal crashes also didn’t wear seat belts or drove drunk.

But why has the surge persisted and worsened this year, even as traffic has been picking back up and nearing pre-Covid-19 levels? We don’t entirely know, but it seems to have something to do with the pandemic altering traffic patterns. Read More > at Vox

iPhone 13 and 13 mini review: A subtle upgrade that’s all about the cameras – On paper, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini aren’t much to get excited about. Apple’s subtle refinement on the iPhone 12 models will be familiar if you’ve paid attention to developments in the Android world. Some of the changes are impressive, like bringing the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s excellent camera hardware to smaller phones and lower price points. Others, like a slightly smaller notch, bigger batteries, brighter displays, faster chips and expanded 5G support feel incremental. Still, they add up to make the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 feel like worthwhile upgrades, especially to those looking to upgrade from older iPhones.

The main way to tell the iPhone 13 and its predecessor apart is by looking at the camera module. Instead of stacking the pair of lenses vertically, Apple laid them diagonally. The bump is also a little bigger and thicker and the extra wobbling this causes is mildly annoying. Also, this does mean your old iPhone 12 cases won’t fit.

Otherwise, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini are physically very similar to last year’s models. They both feature anodized aluminum and glass frames with flat edges with what Apple calls its “ceramic shield” covering the front.

Both the iPhone 13 and 13 mini are a hair heavier and thicker and have the same display sizes as before at 6.1-inch and 5.4-inch respectively. The iPhone 13 is heavier than the Galaxy S21, too, despite having a smaller screen. Though, its density, glass covering and shiny metal edges do make it feel more premium. Read More > at Engadget

Why the US isn’t ready for clean energy – In the near future, the energy made in the US is going to be much greener. The country’s current goal is for solar plants alone to make nearly half of US electricity by 2050. But we can’t just build solar plants where coal and gas plants used to be. They have to be built where it’s … sunny. And wind turbines have to be built where it’s windy. But that’s not always where the people who need the power are.

The distance from energy source to energy need is about to get a lot bigger. And the US is going to need more high-voltage transmission lines. A lot more. As soon as possible. While solar plants can be built relatively fast, high-voltage transmission projects can take up to 10 years. So experts say we need to start proactively building them, right now. Read More > at Vox

Coal Prices Surge as Power Crunch Upends Effort to Cut Emissions – Prices for coal are surging around the world as a shortage of natural gas spurs demand for the dirtiest fossil fuel to generate electricity.

Benchmark prices in Asia are at a 13-year high and within striking distance of a record. Stockpiles are plunging ahead of a northern hemisphere winter that forecasters predict could be unusually cold, indicating the crunch is unlikely to ease anytime soon. Increased costs for electricity providers threaten to put further pressure on inflation that’s already running at the fastest in years.

And of course it’s a disaster for the effort to curb global warming as officials from around the world prepare for the United Nations General Assembly this week and climate talks known as COP26 set for November. The only limiting factor is that the fuel’s grim long-term prospects have deterred suppliers from developing new mines, constraining their ability to expand production. That may put a ceiling on increases in consumption, but will only drive prices higher. Read More > from Bloomberg

Your car knows too much about you. That could be a privacy nightmare. – The car you drive says more about you than you think.

Over the last few decades, technology has given drivers remarkable improvements in both safety and convenience — but it has also turned cars into data-gathering machines. What information is collected, and where it ends up, is not always clear to car owners.

That’s a potential privacy disaster waiting to happen.

As Jon Callas, the Electric Frontier Foundation’s director of technology projects, explained to Mashable, newer cars — and Teslas in particular — are in many ways like smartphones that just happen to have wheels. They are often WiFi-enabled, come with over a hundred CPUs, and have Bluetooth embedded throughout. In other words, they’re a far cry from the automobiles of even just 20 years ago.

If your car knows where you go, and how long you stay there, it, like your cellphone, also hypothetically knows whether you’re a churchgoer, attend AA, or made a recent trip Planned Parenthood. And, depending on what features you’ve enabled, it may not keep that information to itself.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Read More > at Mashable

How did America end up with the world’s largest tiger population? – There are about 10,000 tigers in the US. Thirty states allow private ownership of predatory exotics like tigers. The requirements are deceptively simple: a USDA conservation label form and a $30 license. Nine states require no permit or license whatsoever. This allows virtually anyone to own, breed and sell tigers.

Most of the trade is grounded in a high demand for tiger bones and products popular in the traditional Chinese medicine market – which is how I end up in Colorado, stepping through the 22,000-square-foot National Wildlife Property Repository, a mausoleum of 1.3m confiscated animal products.

Shelves of mounted tigers, skins, medicinals, gold tooth earrings, claw necklaces, skulls unfold in front of me – the scene is eerily reminiscent of the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, says Sarah Metzer, a US Fish and Wildlife Service education specialist. “What you’re seeing is maybe 10% of all of the seized goods from US ports of entry.” She pushes aside a zebra skin chaise longue to open a loading dock door. “There’s so much contraband we’re running out of space.”

While listed as “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act, the law allows private possession of captive-bred tigers as long as they’re used for “conservation”but experts say no tigers bred in captivity are ever released. In 1900, there were about 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, about 4,000 remain in a handful of nations. If none return to the wild, how does private possession of the feline benefit the species? Read More > in The Guardian

Climate Change Ate My Homework: Politicians Blame Climate Change for Bureaucratic Failures – Never let a crisis go to waste, said Rahm Emanuel.  True to form, politicians, including New York City Mayor DeBlasio, are conveniently claiming that last week’s flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida is clear evidence of climate change. “Unfortunately,” said the Mayor, “extreme weather events are becoming the norm.”   

The data suggest it’s more complicated. Hurricanes are actually slightly less frequent today than they were a century ago. The average number of wildfires  has not increased over the last thirty years and, over the past century, the total number of  acres burned is far lower. 

Damages from hurricanes have increased because of far more development along the Gulf and east coasts. Furthermore, the federal government has subsidized flood insurance in these same areas and continues to do so. Not only have those subsidies encouraged coastal development, but also they provide an economic incentive for individuals, and state and local governments, to skimp on building more flood-resistant facilities. Vulnerable infrastructure—and more of it—will naturally yield greater infrastructural damage.

Similarly, damages from wildfires, especially in California, have resulted from a toxic combination of federal and state fire suppression policies, environmentalists’ demands that have prohibited removal of dead and diseased trees, restrictions on grazing that would remove dry grasses and, especially, poorly maintained power lines. Pacific Gas & Electric Company, for example, pleaded guilty to 85 counts of manslaughter because it failed to maintain power line equipment that caused the 2018 Camp Fire. To make matters worse, California’s restrictive development policies have forced homeowners to move farther away from cities and into mountainous areas where fire risk is greatest. Climate change isn’t responsible for those policies. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

To Be a Field of Poppies – The elegant science of turning cadavers into compost – …Each of their bodies was placed inside an eight-foot-long steel cylinder called a “vessel,” along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over the next thirty days, the Recompose staff monitored the moisture, heat, and pH levels inside the vessels, occasionally rotating them, until the bodies transformed into soil. The soil was then transferred to curing bins, where it remained for two weeks before being tested for toxins and cleared for pickup.

Half of the NOR soil would wind up in a forest on Bells Mountain, in southwestern Washington, near the Oregon border. A composted body produces approximately one cubic yard of soil, which can fill a truck bed and weigh upwards of 1,500 pounds. For many surviving relatives—apartment dwellers, for example—taking home such a large quantity of soil is unrealistic, so Recompose offers them the option to donate it to the mountain, where it’s used to fertilize trees and repair land degraded by logging.

But Amigo Bob was a farmer, so Jenifer rented a U-Haul and brought the whole cubic yard of him home. She turned the trip into a kind of pilgrimage, stopping to visit loved ones and the headwaters of their favorite rivers. Over the next few months, their farmer friends came by and filled small containers with the soil to use on their own land. Jenifer used some to plant a cherry tree.

I asked her what it was like to have her husband home again, piled up in her driveway.

“Well, it’s compost,” she told me. “It’s still precious because it was his body. But it’s also compost.” Read More > at HARPER’S Magazine

Instagram Is No Place for Kids – Social media is a minefield of adolescent anxieties, as any parent can attest. Numerous studies have suggested a connection between excessive use of online platforms (and the devices used to access them) and worrying trends in teenage mental health, including higher rates of depressive symptoms, reduced happiness and an increase in suicidal thoughts.

Even in this grim context, Instagram, the wildly popular photo-sharing app owned by Facebook Inc., stands out. Its star-studded milieu — glossy, hedonistic, relentlessly sexualized — seems finely tuned to destabilize the teenage mind. Studies have linked the service to eating disorders, reduced self-esteem and more.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that an internal research effort at the company, revealed last week, found that teens associate the service with a host of mental-health problems. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” said one slide. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

…In the very same post in which Facebook announced the changes, it also conceded that it was moving ahead with a new version of Instagram intended for children under 13. Dubbed Instagram Youth, the concept was so obviously distasteful that it earned the opprobrium of health experts and consumer advocates, lawmakers of both parties, and nearly every state attorney general in the country.

A letter from health experts could hardly have been blunter. “The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing,” it said. “Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths and challenges during this crucial window of development.” Read More > at Bloomberg

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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