Sunday Reading – 10/03/2021


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 if they opened the office and nobody came? – For months, corporate hegemons, real estate brokers and their media acolytes have been insisted that a return to “normalcy,” that is, to the office, was imminent. Some companies threatened to reduce the incomes of remote workers, and others warned darkly that those most reluctant to return to the five-day-a-week grind would find their own ambitions ground down to the dust. Workers have been reported to be “pining” to return to office routines.

Fears of returning to the office due to the Delta variant have delayed a mass return to gateway cities. Office vacancies grew in August. Since the pandemic began, tenants gave back around 200 million square feet, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2 percent, matching the peak of the financial crisis. Overall, it is widely expected that office rents will not recover for at least five years.

Things could get ugly as some $2 trillion in commercial real estate debt becomes due by 2025, particularly in large, transit dependent central business districts, reflecting in part reluctance among commuters to ride public conveyances. This is a world-wide phenomenon—occurring in New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and other financial centers—and accompanied by a marked decline in business travel, with conventions and meetings particularly devastated.

…The shift towards dispersed and remote work suggests the beginnings of a new geographical and corporate paradigm. Suburbs and exurbs accounted for more than 90 percent of all new job creation in the last decade, but with the rise of remote work, proximity to the physical workplace has lost more  of its advantages. University of Pennsylvania Professor Susan Wachter notes that telework eliminates the choice between long commutes and inordinate housing costs. The areas where remote work is growing most are generally small cities, as well as Sunbelt locales in Florida and South Carolina.

The dispersion of work is not a matter of low-wage workers heading to cheap places to do low-status jobs. In metros over one million such as Raleigh-Cary, Austin, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Charlotte, professional and business-services jobs are growing much faster than they are in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. The number of employees using the office started to drop as early as 2017 in San Francisco, the biggest winner in the tech economy.

The pandemic supercharged these trends. The disturbing rate of fatalities and hospitalizations in the Northeast, notably New York City, including Manhattan but particularly the poorest sections of the outer boroughs, chased many urbanites to the suburbs, exurbs, and beyond. Even as infections spread to other regions, it remained easier to endure the pandemic in a more spacious house, particularly if mass transit is not necessary.

The longer the pandemic lasts and new variants appear, the greater will be what new research from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis refers to as  “residual fear of proximity.” The team suggests that when the pandemic fades, roughly 20 percent or more of all work will be done from home, almost four times the already growing rate before the pandemic. A study from the University of Chicago suggests this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce and as high as 50 percent in Silicon Valley. Roughly 40 percent of all California jobs, including 70 percent of higher paying work, could be done at home, according to research by the Center of Jobs and the Economy. Read More > at the American Mind

Slower USPS mail service to begin Friday as part of cost-cutting plan – Post offices nationwide will begin to see some delays in mail service beginning on Friday as part of the postmaster general’s new plan to cut costs and save money.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced the 10-year plan in the spring, which outlined new investments in technology, training and fleets of delivery vehicles.

The USPS will implement the new service standards Friday, which could lead to longer transit times for some long-distance first-class mail and first-class packages.

Shorter post office hours will also affect delivery times under the new plan.

The changes are not expected to affect better than 90% of periodicals and 60% of first-class mail, USPS spokesperson Kim Frum told NPR.

Postal service fees for commercial and retail packages will also increase over the holiday season, between Oct. 3 and Dec. 26. Read More > from UPI

Military suicide rates increasing, new Pentagon survey finds – Suicide rates in the U.S. military increased from 2015 to 2020 and the trend shows no signs of slowing, Pentagon officials acknowledged Thursday while releasing the Department of Defense’s 2020 Annual Suicide Report.

Pentagon officials said 580 active-duty service members died at their own hands in 2020, a 15% jump over the 504 suicides recorded in the previous year. While 2019 was a drop from the previous year, the five-year trend remains on the increase, officials said.

The suicide rate increased from 2015 to 2020 — 20.3 to 28.7 suicides per 100,000 service members. A rise in the rate of suicide deaths across all services was observed, according to the study.

The researchers called suicide “the culmination of multiple factors and complex interactions” and said an in-depth examination of the risk factors associated with suicide was beyond the scope of the report. But they did highlight some issues that could contribute to military suicides, including relationship problems, financial difficulties and legal or administrative issues. Read More > in The Washington Times

The News is America’s New Religion, and We’re in a Religious War

We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We’ll tell you Kojak always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker’s house… We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear! We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people… do whatever the tube tells you… This is mass madness, you maniacs!

— from Network, 1976

After a few days away from the news I watched Network, a movie about a mad prophet whose prophesies come true. Anchorman Howard Beale’s seminal speech described how America could commoditize anything, even the awful truth that its mass media had raised an illiterate populace that followed The Tube as the word of God. “Turn them off!” Beale screamed, just before collapsing in religious fervor, but one eye peeked out to see how his revelation was selling. True to form, even Network made a pile of money and won four Oscars.

Forty-five years later, the film’s predictions still look right, but too optimistic. Back then, a few networks dominated, and the trend was the One Big Lie: the Missile Gap, the Domino Theory, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident. What could be worse? Ambrose Bierce once said there were only two things more horrible than a clarinet — two clarinets. The only thing darker than Network’s dystopian future with television as the national religion is the world we’ve got: two religions.

The last week has been typical of life in the news-as-doctrinal-squabble era. On Sunday, September 19, a freelance photographer named Paul Ratje based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, shot pictures of U.S. Border Patrol Agents chasing Haitian migrants trying to cross the border. In several photos, the agents appeared to be carrying lengths of leather cord. The next day, a former aide to onetime presidential candidate Julian Castro named Sawyer Hackett tweeted, “Border patrol is mounted on horseback rounding up Haitian refugees with whips,” and “This is unfathomable cruelty towards people fleeing disaster and political ruin.”

In reality, as poor Ratje would later point out to local news interviewers, there were no whips, just reins, and “I’ve never seen them whip anyone.” But by then, the story was a viral sensation that had gone all the way to the top of American society.

On that same Monday, September 20th that Sawyer Hackett tweeted about “rounding up refugees with whips,” a reporter asked White House spokesperson Jen Psaki if the administration viewed “border agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips on Haitian migrants” as an “appropriate tactic.” Psaki said no, it was “obviously horrific,” but this apparently wasn’t a good enough answer for the faithful. MSNBC/NBC contributor and proud Moral Majoritarian Yamiche Alcindor demanded to know if action would be taken on a double-conditional: “if this is true,” if anyone would be disciplined for “using what seems to be whips on migrants.” When Psaki finally suggested waiting to comment until she actually knew something about the incident, Alcindor pressed: “Why won’t you say fired?”

In a flash, the word “whip” was in headlines across media and social media, and the idea that Border Patrol agents had hit Haitian refugees with actual whips was ubiquitous… Read More > at Substack

Food myths busted: dairy, salt and steak may be good for you after all – A new Swedish study says decades of official dairy wisdom is wrong. Here, a nutrition expert examines more science that questions standard health advice

Over the past 70 years the public health establishment in Anglophone countries has issued a number of diet rules, their common thread being that the natural ingredients populations all around the world have eaten for millennia – meat, dairy, eggs and more – and certain components of these foods, notably saturated fat, are dangerous for human health.

The consequences of these diet ordinances are all around us: 60% of Britons are now overweight or obese, and the country’s metabolic health has never been worse.

Government-led lack of trust in the healthfulness of whole foods in their natural forms encouraged us to buy foods that have been physically and chemically modified, such as salt-reduced cheese and skimmed milk, supposedly to make them healthier for us.

The NHS Eatwell Guide, fondly known to its critics as the Eat badly guide, still tells us to choose lower-fat products, such as 1% fat milk, reduced-fat cheese, or low-fat yoghurt. This is based on the inadequately evidenced postwar belief that saturated fat is bad for your heart.

How embarrassing, then, for government dietetic gurus, that a major study of 4,150 Swedes, followed over 16 years, has last week reported that a diet rich in dairy fat may lower, not raise your risk of cardiovascular disease.

This Swedish study echoes the findings of a 2018 meta-analysis of 29 previous studies, which also found that consumption of dairy products protects against heart disease and stroke.Advertisement

A body of research also suggests that consumption of dairy fat is protective against type 2 diabetes. Read More > at The Guardian

A sluggish economic recovery – California’s economy will recover more slowly than expected due to the unpredictability of the delta variant, according to a quarterly report released Wednesday by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Despite having by far the nation’s lowest coronavirus positivity rate, California’s unemployment rate has essentially remained stagnant for months and in August was the second-highest in the country at 7.5%. The UCLA economists predict the Golden State’s unemployment rate will average 7.6% this year before improving to 5.6% in 2022 and 4.4% in 2023 — still above its pre-pandemic level of 4.2%. That’s a slower pace of improvement than forecasted for the national economy, in part because of California’s reliance on the hard-hit tourism, leisure and hospitality industries.

In an apparent bid to boost both consumer and worker confidence, California is turning to stricter safety measures — but not all parts of the state are following suit. The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday delayed until next week a vote on whether to require adults to show proof of vaccination to enter nearly any indoor establishment, while the county eased vaccine and testing requirements for theme parks. Also Wednesday, Santa Cruz County lifted its indoor mask mandate and Sacramento County signaled it might soon follow suit — a day after San Francisco expressed openness to the idea. Read More > at CalMatters

Absenteeism surging since schools reopened – Amonth into in-person learning for most California schools, some districts are reporting soaring rates of absenteeism due to stay-at-home quarantines, fear of Covid and general disengagement from school.

Even districts like Elk Grove and Long Beach that had relatively high attendance before Covid have seen big increases in chronic absenteeism — students who have missed more than 10% of school days.

“It’s very concerning. We need to pay close attention to these students,” said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit aimed at boosting school attendance. “Not only are they missing out on opportunities to connect with their peers, but they’re missing valuable classroom time to help them recover from learning loss from the previous year.”

The California Department of Education has not yet released statewide attendance data for the 2021-22 school year, but some school districts reported their attendance rates to EdSource. Oakland Unified posts its attendance publicly.

Stockton Unified said that so far, 39% of its students have been chronically absent, more than double the rate two years ago. The district’s truancy outreach workers are visiting up to 60 homes a day, offering incentives like prizes and backpacks, to encourage students to come to school. Read More > at EdSource

The FBI Has Released 2020 Crime Statistics–And the Murder Rate Increase Will Shock You – The Uniform Crime Report detailed a murder increase of nearly 30 percent.

The previous largest one-year change was a 12.7 percent increase back in 1968. The national rate of murders per 100,000, however, still remains about one-third below the rate in the early 1990s.

The FBI data show around 21,500 total murders last year, which is 5,000 more murders than in 2019. More than three-fourths of reported murders in 2020 were committed with a firearm, the highest rate ever reported.

Murder rose by 35 percent in cities with populations over 250,000, and also jumped more than 40 percent in cities with 100,000 to 250,000 residents. Even towns with under 25,000 people saw a roughly 25 percent increase in homicides.

Earlier this year, the FBI reported that murder was up at least 20 percent in every region of the country, including a 30 percent increase in the Midwest. Louisiana had the highest murder rate of any state for the 32nd straight year.

On the flip side, property crimes declined almost 8 percent, the 18th consecutive year estimates for these offenses fell. Read More > at PJ Media

Anti-Semitic Attacks in 2020 Outnumbered Attacks Against Muslims, Asians, Transgender People Combined – More American Jews suffered hate crime attacks in 2020 than Asians, Muslims, and transgender people combined, according to FBI crime tracking data.

The agency recorded 676 instances of criminal offenses motivated by prejudice or hatred of Jews, making anti-Semitic hate crimes the third most common type of hate crimes, trailing anti-black and anti-white attacks.

While the media and politicians have focused on an increase of domestic hate crime attacks against Asians—a trend that has also been the centerpiece of Chinese Communist Party propaganda operations—the FBI recorded just 274 total incidents in 2020. Americans who identify as Asian make up roughly 7 percent of the U.S. population. Jews, who make up just 1.75 percent of the population, are more than twice as likely to experience hate crimes as Asian Americans. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon

Concentrating on Crime – Though academics, the media, and politicians can’t seem to agree on much when it comes to crime in the United States, three stubborn facts generally apply.

First, crime is heavily concentrated by place. As a general matter, 5 percent of the locations in a given city account for 50 percent of that city’s crime. This finding has been replicated so often that it is sometimes referred to as “the law of crime concentration.” As David Weisburd and Taryn Zastrow note in a recent Manhattan Institute report, “there is tremendous consistency in the degree to which crime is concentrated at hot spots across cities.” This is not just a matter of neighborhoods: between 3 percent and 5 percent of specific addresses on city blocks generate 50 percent or more of reported crimes… 

Second, violent crime is heavily concentrated in a relatively few individuals. In general, 5 percent of the criminal offenders (not 5 percent of the general population) in a given city commit about 50 percent of that city’s violent crime. One study found that just 1 percent of offenders were responsible for over 60 percent of violent crime.

Third and finally, crime is concentrated in time. It is predictable by hours, days of the week, and season. The small percentage of chronic offenders who generate the majority of serious crime and violence aren’t actively committing crime all day, every day. Instead, the criminal activity in crime hot spots and among chronic offenders tends to occur at night, during the weekends (Thursday night through early Sunday morning), and in the summer… Read More > at City Journal 

Chancellor of Contra Costa Community College District, two other administrators suspended – The chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District and two top administrators have been placed on paid administrative leave for reasons that have not been made public.

Chancellor Bryan Reece was suspended with pay Sept. 14 following a closed-door session of the district’s board of trustees.  Dio Shipp, the district’s head of human resources, was suspended in June. Eugene Huff, executive vice chancellor of administrative services, was placed on leave in August.

Tim Leong, a district spokesman, would not say if the suspensions are related.

District trustees have scheduled a closed-door meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss the potential discipline or dismissal of unnamed employees, according to the meeting agenda. Leong would not say if the meeting involves Reese, Shipp or Huff. Board President Andy Li did not return messages Wednesday.

The district, comprised of the Contra Costa, Diablo Valley and Los Medanos community colleges, serves about 51,000 students. Read More > at EdSource

California Adopts Vote-by-Mail System for All Future Elections – California voters will continue to automatically receive ballots in the mail in all future state and local elections, under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

After experimenting with a universal vote-by-mail system during the coronavirus pandemic — resulting in near-record high turnout — California will now become the eighth state in the U.S. to make the change permanent.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections’ integrity and transparency,” said Newsom in a statement announcing his intention to sign Assembly Bill 37. Read More > at KQED

New Ways to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Are Here, and Even Better Ones Are on the Way – In sharp contrast to every other top-ten cause of death, Alzheimer’s disease has long lacked affordable and accessible ways to diagnose it. While doctors have been able to tell patients with almost 100% certainty whether they have diabetes, heart disease or cancer, until recently, Alzheimer’s was a diagnosis of exclusion.

Doctors could look for signs of Alzheimer’s. They could test memory and other cognitive skills, judge a patient’s ability to perform routine tasks, and ask their friends and family about any behavior changes. MRIs could determine brain volume, which diminishes as Alzheimer’s progresses. But blood and other diagnostic tests were used only to rule out other possible causes of their symptoms, such as B12 deficiency or thyroid disorders.

This is changing rapidly. Today we have diagnostic tests that identify specific changes in the brain that are consistent with Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of using tests simply to rule out other causes, we now have tests that can pinpoint Alzheimer’s as the cause of a patient’s memory and cognitive decline.

In scientific circles, these diagnostic tests are called “biomarkers,” or biological indicators of whether someone has Alzheimer’s disease, what are the contributing factors, and whether it is progressing. While many diseases have one biomarker—with HIV, for example, viral levels in the blood correlate with health status—Alzheimer’s will need several biomarkers because it is not caused by one biological problem alone. Read More > at Real Clear Health

Power crisis deepens in Asia and Europe: What it means to shipping – There’s panic-buying of gasoline in the U.K. Natural gas prices in Europe and Asia are skyrocketing. Protests are breaking out across Europe due to spiking electricity bills. India and China are short of coal for utilities. Power is being rationed to factories in multiple Chinese provinces — and winter is coming.

According to Bloomberg, power use is now being curbed by tight supply and emissions restrictions in the Chinese provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong.

Bloomberg quoted Nomura analyst Ting Lu as stating, “The power curbs will ripple through and impact global markets. Very soon the global markets will feel the pinch of a shortage of supply from textiles and toys to machine parts.”

Nikkei reported that an affiliate of Foxconn, the world’s biggest iPhone assembler and a key supplier of Apple and Tesla, halted production at its facility in Kunshan in Jiangsu Province on Sunday due to lack of electricity supply. Another Apple supplier, Unimicron Technologies, also halted production in Kunshan on Sunday, said Nikkei, citing regulatory filings.

The New York Times reported on power outages in the heart of China’s southern manufacturing belt, in Guandong. Factories in the city of Dongguan have not had electricity since last Wednesday. The Times interviewed a general manager of a Dongguan factory that produces leather shoes for the U.S. market who has kept his operation running with a diesel generator and who said that power outages began this summer.

Stoppages of Chinese factories would further delay deliveries of U.S. imports, which have already been waylaid by extreme congestion at ports in Southern California and, more recently, ports in China. Read More > at Freight Waves

Study: Nearly 1 in 5 high school kids uses trio of pot, vapes, cigarettes – More U.S. teens use e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes and marijuana together, posing greater risks to their health and behavior than if they used only one substance, a new study finds.

Called “triple users,” this group score high on a profile of psychosocial risk, which includes fighting, risky sexual behavior and behaviors such as not wearing seat belts, according to lead researcher Thomas Wills.

These and other recent data show that a substantial proportion of high school students are using marijuana and that teens tend to use both marijuana and e-cigarettes.

In the data analyzed, the dual and triple users together made up a third of the adolescent users. Read More > from UPI

Bacon prices have skyrocketed to record levels, and they might not go down anytime soon – Bacon is more expensive for Americans than it has been in the past 40 years.

And yes, that is accounting for inflation.

That hankering for pork chops is costing you about 7% more than 12 months ago. The average price for that slab of bacon to accompany the Sunday morning spread has jumped nearly 28% during the past 12 months, inflation-adjusted Consumer Price Index data show.

The supply chain issues and inflationary pressures that have become all-too common in these pandemic times certainly have played theirs roles in the pork price hikes, alongside a slew of industry-specific influence. 

By some analysts’ expectations, the higher prices aren’t expected to ease anytime soon. Read More > at CNN

Boxing bouts fixed at 2016 Olympics, investigation finds – Boxing bouts for medals at the 2016 Olympics were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges, an investigation reported on Thursday.

Investigator Richard McLaren was appointed by the International Boxing Association, known as AIBA, and found AIBA officials selected referees and judges to ensure that bouts could be manipulated in Olympic qualifying and at the Rio de Janeiro Games. He also found signs the 2012 Olympics in London were affected.

“Key personnel decided that the rules did not apply to them,” said McLaren, who added there was a “culture of fear, intimidation and obedience in the ranks of the referees and judges.”

There isn’t a final figure on how many fights could have been affected. The investigation identified “in the vicinity of 11, perhaps less, and that’s counting the ones that we know were manipulated, problem bouts or suspicious bouts,” including fights for medals, McLaren said. Read More > from the AP

Anticipating an increase in student misbehavior, California releases new discipline guidelines – Schools should offer more counseling, suspend fewer students and address the underlying mental health challenges of students who misbehave in class, according to the state’s new school discipline guidelines.

The guidelines, released last month by the California Department of Education, are intended to help schools navigate an anticipated uptick in student misbehavior following more than a year of remote learning, said department spokesperson Scott Roark.

Educators expect more disruption and difficulties from some students due to the pandemic.

The guidelines match the goals outlined in a 2020 legal settlement between the state and Public Counsel related to literacy rates in California schools. Under the settlement, CADRE and Public Counsel were allowed to review the guidelines.

Discipline policies were part of the literacy lawsuit because students who fall behind academically in the early grades tend to be less engaged in school and have higher discipline rates, according to the settlement. Read More > at EdSource

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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