Sunday Reading – 11/07/2021


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.

Holiday bummer: Now prices are soaring for Christmas trees and decorations – It’s a good thing that consumers are in a mood to spend heading into the holiday season. They may have to dish out more for a new artificial Christmas tree this year, depending on where they buy it from.

Some large sellers of artificial trees say they are increasing their prices by double-digit percentages and are blaming unduly high shipping costs tied to the ongoing global supply chain mess.”

We’ll have to raise prices. For trees, it’ll be on average about 20% higher,” said Mac Harman, CEO of Balsam Hill. The company, based in Redwood City, California, does more than $200 million in direct-to-consumer annual sales of artificial Christmas trees and other decorations in the United States.

“Even then it won’t cover our own costs because we’re paying as much as 300% more per shipping container this year,” said Harman. Read More > at CNN

Heatwaves and droughts have decimated some Christmas tree crops, and industry groups are warning of impending shortages: ‘Find and buy your Christmas tree early’ – You may have a harder time than usual finding a live Christmas tree this holiday season. 

Christmas-tree-growers in the Pacific Northwest have seen their crops decimated this year due to drought and heat waves. One grower, Mark Wonser, recently told The Oregonian that he estimates he’s lost 90% of his Christmas tree crop this year due to extreme heat. He said he planted 13,500 trees this past May, only to see nine acres scorched in the heat. 

Christmas trees typically take between eight and 12 years to reach maturity, meaning that the decimation of this year’s seedlings could be felt as late as 2029 and beyond.

Oregon is the nation’s leading grower of Christmas trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. But the drought, and the wildfires that follow, have wreaked havoc on growers: Since 2015, the acreage growing trees decreased by 24%, and the total number of trees sold dropped 27%, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.

Live trees represent only a small portion of overall Christmas tree sales. While 94 million US households displayed a tree in 2020, only 15% were live, according to data from the American Christmas Tree Association, a group that represents that artificial tree industry. Read More > at Business Insider

Dungeness Crab season delayed in Bay Area, may impact Thanksgiving dinner – The Dungeness crab season is delayed in the Bay Area due to presence of humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles.

Across the state, the season was set to start on Nov. 6, but its delayed specifically for Fishing Zones 3 and 4, (from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point).

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is concerned that the whales and sea turtles could get caught in the crab trap gear.

“Recreational take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, is not affected by the temporary trap restriction and is allowed,” the CDFW clarified.

Officials may not re-evaluate the delay until Nov. 22, which is just a couple of days before Thanksgiving. However, the assessment could come earlier. Read More > at KRON 4

Supply Chain Crisis Accents How Much We Need Blue-Collar Jobs – “Supply chain disruption” is something many Americans often hear these days. It is the explanation we receive when we face empty shelves in stores and things we assumed would always be there are suddenly sold out, and when we are told some of the items won’t be available this holiday season. The causes of supply chain disruption are many. But one of the main reasons is a persistent labor shortage, especially of blue-collar workers.

About 90 percent of the international trade of goods is moved through ocean shipping. In the United States, Long Beach and Los Angeles ports are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. imports. Thus, when these ports experience backlogs and goods are not moving as fast as they should at these ports, the rest of America will feel the pain of shortages.

As of last week, about 100 container ships are waiting to unload goods at the port of Long Beach and Los Angeles. It can take 8,000 trucks to unload a single container ship. A labor shortage is why these hundreds and thousands of containers filled with toys, shoes, clothes, electronics, and even raw materials are idling on the water.

The labor shortage has manifested in several areas. First, there are not enough workers at the ports to unload the containers. Second, the United States faces a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers, which means there are too few drivers to take the containers to warehouses and, later, take these goods from warehouses to stores and factories nationwide.

In the United States, about two-thirds of freight is transported by trucks. Chris Spear, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, explained the importance of trucking in our supply chain this way: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a port in L.A. or Long Beach, or the last mile of delivery from a train to a warehouse in Wichita, you’re going to have to have a driver and a truck move that freight.”

Third, there is a shortage of workers in other areas too. We don’t have enough warehouse workers to unload incoming delivery trucks and load the outgoing ones. Executives at FedEx said more than 600,000 packages a day are being rerouted because of worker shortages at their warehouses. Additionally, stores are having a hard time finding enough workers to stock the shelves. Read More > at The Federalist

State to local govts: Build housing!From CalMatters housing reporter Manuela Tobias: In the latest sign that California is getting serious about cracking down on local governments that don’t produce enough housing, Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday launched a Housing Strike Force to enforce tenant protection and housing production laws. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the California Housing and Community Development Agency last week formed its own team to crack down on jurisdictions that break the state’s housing laws. HCD has already identified its first target: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which it says may have acted improperly by rejecting a proposal to build a 495-unit apartment complex in a parking lot. Bonta said the two state teams will work together closely.

  • Bonta: “They’re not suggestions, recommendations or invitations for voluntary action — they are requirements, and we will enforce them as such.”
  • Carolyn Coleman, CEO and executive director of the League of California Cities: “Cities do not build homes, and for years have endured whiplash from the state’s scattershot approach to passing housing laws that are often in direct conflict with each other and counterproductive to our shared goals to increase housing supply.”

Bonta also announced a new Housing Portal with resources for homeowners and tenants and encouraged Californians to send complaints and tips about housing production or tenant-landlord issues to housing@doj.ca.gov. Read More > at CalMatters

California confronts crime uptick – Three indications that crime will likely be a top issue for many California voters in the 2022 elections:

  • Los Angeles’ 2021 homicide rate is already 17% higher than it was in 2020 — when the city saw a decade high of 355 killings — and a whopping 49% higher than it was in 2019. As of Oct. 18, the city had logged 320 homicides — putting it on track to potentially top 400 killings for the first time since 2006. The surge in murders has increased homicide detectives’ workload, resulting in less cases being solved. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is warning that the county’s vaccine mandate will result in a “mass exodus” of law enforcement officers, increasing “dangers to public safety.”
  • A Safeway grocery store in San Francisco is limiting its hours due to what one supervisor described as “out of control” shoplifting. The move comes a few weeks after Walgreens announced plans to close five San Francisco stores because of “organized retail crime.” Although police data casts doubt on that claim, the closures have fueled the perception that San Francisco is overrun by crime — and the city itself is hoping that its requirement for municipal employees to return to the office starting today will help make downtown seem busier and safer.
  • California’s beleaguered bullet train project has cut through disadvantaged San Joaquin Valley communities, displacing homes, businesses and residents and fueling drug deals and crimes in certain areas, the Los Angeles Times reports. For example, after the high-speed rail authority paid the city of Wasco to relocate a farmworkers’ housing site, the vacant units turned into a crime scene. “Many of the units have been set on fire. There are homeless folks there, others hiding out, doing drug deals and storing stolen goods,” said city manager Scott Hurlbert. Read More > at CalMatters

U.S. Prices, Wages Rise at Fastest Pace in Decades – Strong consumer demand and supply shortages test economy with rapid uptick in inflation

Consumer prices rose at the fastest pace in 30 years in September while workers saw their biggest compensation boosts in at least 20 years, according to new government data released Friday.

Consumer spending also rose in September despite the expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits, the data showed.

The reports point to a recovery caught between robust consumer demand and severe supply shortages, leading to a rapid uptick in inflation. They also put pressure on Federal Reserve officials as they prepare to meet next week.

Persistently high inflation could offset the increase in wages and make households worse off.

It could also force the central bank to raise interest rates to keep prices in check. Such a move also risks slowing the economic recovery when the unemployment rate remains higher than it was before the pandemic. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Happy surprise gives experts hope for survival of Monarch butterflies – Migratory western monarch butterflies are flocking to their overwintering sites in coastal California in droves, an encouraging sign after barren overwintering sites last year raised concerns about the population’s future.

While the official count has not yet begun, early estimates signal the population’s numbers have rebounded after hitting an all-time low last year. 

More than 1,300 monarchs were counted at the Pacific Grove overwintering site in October, which saw no monarchs during last year’s count, the Good News Network reported, and roughly 8,000 were tallied at Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove last month, up from just 300 last year.

Smaller counts and observations from volunteers suggest there could be more than 10,000 monarchs at the overwintering sites. Last year’s count of fewer than 2,000 monarchs followed two consecutive years of tallies under 30,000, the previous record lows.

Monarch butterflies are found across North America and are separated by the Rocky Mountains into eastern and western populations. Western populations migrate to coastal California in the winter while eastern monarchs typically overwinter in the mountains of central Mexico. Read More > in The Hill

Why do we sleep? Scientists still don’t know – All animals sleep, even the diminutive roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Tinkering scientists have tried to genetically engineer the act out of laboratory mice, but all attempts have failed; even severing sleep-promoting circuits in their brains does not remove rest entirely. Sleep seems to be fundamental. The simple yet grand question is why.

The effort to find an answer has attracted the learned attention of Imperial College London Professors Nicholas P. Franks and William Wisden. Together, they operate the Franks-Wisden Lab, using molecular genetics and behavioral analysis in mice to explore the drivers and functions behind sleep. They hope this pursuit will lead to improved anaesthetics and treatments for dementia. 

In a recent review published in the journal Science, Franks and Wisden shared a few of the things they’ve learned over almost a decade of research. For starters, they have an educated hunch as to sleep’s true purpose: to conduct basic structural or metabolic processes that allow the brain to function normally when we’re awake.

“Much like the cleaning teams who move into empty offices during the night and whose work would be almost impossible during the daytime bustle, some essential and restorative process is underway after we slip into sleep, when normal brain function is at least partly suspended,” they wrote.

Previous studies suggest that one of these janitorial roles is a cleansing of damaged molecules and toxic proteins that build up during wakefulness, a side effect of the brain’s metabolically intensive activity. In 2013, scientists watched the brains of sleeping mice and witnessed the space between their brain cells widen, greatly increasing fluid flow. Six years later, researchers watched the process occur in humans, and in even greater detail. The Boston University scientists saw blood flow out of sleeping human brains and cerebrospinal fluid rush in. It continued to do so in “pulsing” waves. Read More > at Big Think

Santa Cruz to Hire Watsonville’s City Manager – Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker is headed for Santa Cruz. The City Council is expected to appoint Huffaker to the city manager’s position on Nov. 9. His start date would be Jan. 3.

“I’m very humbled and excited to have the opportunity to serve as Santa Cruz’s next City Manager,” he said in a news release. “Santa Cruz has tremendous opportunities before it, and I look forward to working with the Council, community and City staff to advance the many important initiatives underway. I think my local experience and established regional partnerships will allow me to hit the ground running. I’m ready to get to work.”

Huffaker has managed Watsonville since 2018 and has held various leadership positions in local government for 15 years. Watsonville doubled its General Fund reserves during his tenure, expanded its Parks, Arts and Recreation services programs, and passed a special revenue measure with overwhelming support from voters. Read More > at California City News

Intolerant Europe – Though the European Union was conceived to maintain peace on the Continent and compete with the United States, it has never come close to replicating the comity of American life. No single country in Europe has come close to replicating it. Certainly not in the past, and definitely not today. Despite perceptions, minorities in Europe are worse off. Anti-Semitism is reaching dangerous levels — again. European policies have made it nearly impossible for immigrants to assimilate successfully. In nearly every Western European nation, as well as many Eastern and Central European ones, these problems have sparked ugly nativist reactions.

None of this is to contend that prejudice doesn’t exist in America. Such a claim would be preposterous. Still, many Americans live under the false notion that the United States is — by its nature, its founding, its destiny — an inherently racist and xenophobic enterprise. And so do many Europeans.

According to polls, at least seven in ten adults living in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom believe racism is “a major problem” in the United States. That might be an understandable position if more than a tiny percentage of those Europeans believed the same of their own nations…

Research from Northwestern University comparing conditions in nine countries — Canada, the United States, and seven European nations — found that racism in hiring practices was far worse in Europe than in America. The most discriminatory nations were France and Sweden. When Swedish economists attempted to gauge a country’s level of racial tolerance, they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades. Among the 80 questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that they believed best measured tolerance: Whom would you not want as neighbors? The United States and other Anglophone nations — the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — were least racist while a number of European nations — among them, yes, France — were the worst.

Indeed, the French seemed to be perhaps the least tolerant people on the Continent, with 22.7 percent saying they didn’t want a neighbor of another race. Then again, not a single European nation had a majority that believed increasing diver­sity was a net positive for their country, with the lowest numbers found in Sweden (36 percent) and Spain (31 percent). In places such as Greece (63 percent) and Italy (53 percent), people believed that growing diversity makes their country a worse place to live. Roughly four in ten Hungarians (41 percent) and Poles (40 percent) agree.

These numbers are strongly contrasted by Americans’ positive views on the topic — buoyed, no doubt, by decades of successful integration. About 60 percent of Americans say immigrants make the country a better place to live, compared with just 7 percent who say they make it a worse place. A majority of Americans say the fact that the U.S. population is made up of people of different races and ethnicities is a very good thing for the country — in a recent poll only 1 percent said it was “bad.” Now, we can’t bore into the souls of poll participants and determine that they truly believe the answer they offer. We can, however, note that Americans, even if they’re lying, understand that there is a national expectation to embrace all people. Read More > at National Review

An Asteroid Barely Skimmed Earth Last Week, And We Completely Missed It – An asteroid about the size of a refrigerator shot past Earth last week, and astronomers didn’t know the object existed until hours after it was gone. 

It was a close call (from a cosmic perspective); the space rock’s trajectory on October 24 carried it over Antarctica within 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) of Earth – closer than some satellites – making it the third-closest asteroid to approach the planet without actually hitting it, CNET reported.

Scientists were unaware of the object, dubbed Asteroid 2021 UA1, because it approached Earth’s daytime side from the direction of the Sun, so the comparatively dim and small visitor went undetected until about four hours after passing by at its closest point, according to CNET.

But with a diameter of just 6.6 feet (2 meters), UA1 was too small to pose a threat. Even if it had struck Earth, most of its rocky body would have burned away in the atmosphere before it could hit the ground, CNET reported. Read More > at Science Alert

Study: Zinc may help shorten cold, flu – Many people pop a zinc supplement at the first sign of a cold, and there’s new evidence supporting the habit.

Australian researchers found that the supplements appear to help shorten respiratory tract infections, such as colds, flu, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Many over-the-counter cold and cough remedies offer only “marginal benefits,” the researchers noted, making “zinc a viable ‘natural’ alternative for the self-management of non-specific [respiratory tract infections].”

The study was led by Jennifer Hunter, associate professor at the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University in Penrith, New South Wales. Her team published the findings Tuesday in the BMJ Open. Read More > from UPI

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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