Sunday Reading – 12/26/2021


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.

California redistricting stumbles toward finish line – It’s crunch time for California’s independent redistricting commission, and it looks like they’re nearing the finish line, though not without continued criticism.

The 14 commissioners are under intense scrutiny — and face a Dec. 27 deadline to submit their final report to the secretary of state, including new district lines for the U.S. House, state Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization.

They’re pledging to vote on adopting the maps today. At the same time, however, they’re hearing from outside critics because they’re drawing some weirdly shaped districts in trying to keep communities of interest together and protect minority voting power.

After a barrage of calls last week about the city of San Jose being split into four congressional districts, the commission redrew the congressional map into what some experts called the “ribbon of shame” – a coastal district starting just south of San Francisco, and moving inland towards Kern County just north of Bakersfield.

Even former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder weighed in, calling it “absurd and unnecessary.”  

  • Holder: “The CA Commission to now has been a model for the country. I hope they find a way to draw lines that respect communities of interest and avoid a district like this that will only be parodied for the decade.”   

But by Sunday night, after several commissioners voiced “buyer’s remorse” on that district, they opted to walk it back for now.   

That prompted a quick response from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who complained that his city would become the only major U.S. city without its residents making up a majority of constituents for at least one member of Congress. 

  • Liccardo: “Please stand up for SJ. The commission can revise problems with other districts without depriving SJ of voice in DC.” 

The tug-of-war in response to public comment – solving one problem while trying not to create another – is part of the process, but also emblematic of the commission’s struggles since adopting preliminary maps on Nov. 10  Read More > at CalMatters

‘Christmas comet’ to zip through sky, won’t be back for 80,000 years – The 2020 holiday season featured a “Christmas star” when Jupiter and Saturn appeared extremely close and shined together, and this year, stargazers are in for another gift as the brightest comet of 2021 races through the evening sky.

Comet C/2021 A1, more commonly referred to as comet Leonard, was discovered earlier this year and made its closest approach to the Earth on Sunday. Before its approach, it was visible only in the early morning sky, but its journey has now made it more prominent in the evening sky, making it a target for backyard stargazers.

The “Christmas comet” will appear in the evening sky throughout the rest of the year, but folks should look for it sooner rather than later as it will become dimmer and dimmer heading into the final days of December.

Comet Leonard is not expected to be a repeat of comet NEOWISE, which impressed stargazers last year on its journey through the inner solar system. Read More > at UPI

Global demand for coal could hit all-time high in 2022 – Coal power is on track to hit a new global record this year after an economic rebound that could drive worldwide coal demand to an all-time high in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.

The amount of electricity generated from coal power plants has soared by 9% this year after a surge in fossil fuel demand to fuel the recovery from Covid lockdowns, a report by the watchdog says.

Coal power fell by 4% in 2020 as the pandemic caused a global economic slowdown, but the IEA found that demand for electricity this year had outpaced the growth in low-carbon sources, leading many wealthy economies to rely more heavily on fossil fuel power plants.

The global gas supply crunch, which has caused record-high prices worldwide, has also helped reignite demand for coal, the IEA report says. Read More > at The Guardian

California Exodus? Avoidance is the Bigger Problem, Study Shows. – The number of Californians exiting the Golden State continues to tick up. But it’s the drop in the number of people moving in that has made the biggest difference.

All 58 California counties have experienced a decline in the number of people moving in from out of state since the end of March 2020, according to the California Policy Lab. The steepest declines in in-migration occurred in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo.

“The public’s attention has been focused on the so-called ‘CalExodus’ phenomenon, but the reality is that the dramatic drop in ‘CalEntrances’ since the pandemic began has been a bigger driver of recent population changes in the state,” said the report’s co-author, Natalie Holmes.

Combined with an increased California exit rate of 12%, “population loss due to domestic migration has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic,” according to the report.

In 52 of the 58 counties, the exit rate also increased. Another study released Friday highlights record population loss in California’s most populous cities. 

Read the report here. Read More > at California City News

BMO to double its U.S. presence by buying Bank of the West – Bank of Montreal (BMO) said on Monday it will buy BNP Paribas’ U.S. unit, Bank of the West, for $16.3 billion US in its biggest deal ever, allowing the Canadian lender to double its footprint in the world’s biggest economy, while giving France’s largest bank a huge step up in firepower for deals. 

The deal gives BMO, Canada’s fourth-largest lender, a large-scale presence in California, whose population is bigger than the bank’s home country. It will add 1.8 million customers and give BMO the ability to deploy almost all of its excess capital, which has been a drag on returns.

Analysts hailed the deal as a positive for BMO, which has made no secret of its ambitions to build on its existing presence in the United States. It has operated there for decades, from its acquisition of Harris Bank in 1984, to deals including its 2011 takeover of Marshall & Ilsley Bank. Read More > at CBC

The American Addiction to Speeding – Speeding is a national health problem and a big reason why this country is increasingly an outlier on traffic safety in the developed world. More than 1 in 4 fatal crashes in the United States involve at least one speeding driver, making speeding a factor in nearly 10,000 deaths each year, in addition to an unknowable number of injuries. Thousands of car crash victims are on foot, and speed is an even more crucial determinant of whether they live or die: The odds of a pedestrian being killed in a collision rise from 10 percent at 23 mph to 75 percent at 50 mph. And we’re now in a moment of particular urgency. Last year, when the pandemic shutdowns lowered total miles traveled by 13 percent, the per-mile death rate rose by 24 percent—the greatest increase in a century, thanks to drivers hitting high velocities on empty roads. “COVID,” Roberts said, “was midnight on the day shift.”

In the first six months of 2021, projected traffic fatalities in the U.S. rose by 18 percent, the largest increase since the U.S. Department of Transportation started counting and double the rate of the previous year’s surge. “We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a press release.

But we do. Such carnage has not prompted a societal response akin to the movement elicited by drunk driving in the 1980s. Part of the reason is that Americans love driving fast and have confidence in their own abilities. About half admit to going more than 15 over the limit in the past month. Meanwhile, drivers do generally regard their peers’ speeding as a threat to their own safety, and so we have wound up with the worst of both worlds: Thousands of speed-related deaths on the one hand, and on the other, a system of enforcement that is both ineffective and inescapable. Read More > at Slate

America Needs a Rebirth of Science – A healthy and flourishing republic requires a social and political climate that respects true scientific inquiry and exploration. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the astonishing capacity of science to produce breakthroughs such as vaccines and other drugs for the public good. At the same time, we have seen the biggest public-health fiasco in history, and the marginalization and censoring of dissident scientists. The pandemic has exposed myriad long-standing problems facing science that go far beyond a single virus.

In science, centralization has created a harmful uniformity and herd thinking that hinders the free exchange of ideas. A de facto scientific cartel system determines who receives essential research funding; who ends up published in the most prestigious and influential journals; and who are promoted to more senior positions. In many scientific fields, a small group of senior scientists — who may have an interest in their ideas not being challenged — determines who will be published and who will get the research grants. Ultimately, this system creates a highly impenetrable and shielded sphere of thinking that crowds out new ideas and true scientific debate.

The solution to the current state of stifling scientific sclerosis is not an abandonment of science. Instead, science must be reformed, restored, and reinvigorated so all scientists can engage with independence and boldness in the pursuit of a never-ending horizon.

It’s not an exaggeration to view the iron-fisted grip over the funding and publication of new scientific findings as a threat to the continuation of scientific freedom. It’s increasingly hard for ideas that challenge orthodoxy to break through. This is a recipe for a prolonged stagnation that could jeopardize the societal well-being, economic health, and security of the United States. Read More > at National Review

A Wave of Head-Coach Firings Could Hit the NFL Immediately Due to New Rule – Before the Bears played on Thanksgiving and barely beat the then-winless Detroit Lions, it was reported that Chicago coach Matt Nagy would be fired after the game.

That didn’t happen and Nagy, who has never finished a season below .500 during his three previous seasons as a head coach but will this year with the Bears now 4-10 following a loss to the Minnesota Vikings last night, is still employed.

But, thanks to a new rule in the NFL governing coaching interviews, that may soon change.

Breaking from previous seasons where interviews were not permitted to be conducted during the regular season, NFL franchises will be permitted to officially commence interviewing assistant coaches from other teams while there are still games left to be played. This season, the window opens on virtual interviews on December 27.

However, there’s a very important caveat: Teams that interview assistants from other teams must have a coaching vacancy or have already informed their current coach he’ll be gone after the season ends, per ProFootballTalk. Read More > at InsideHook

TikTok Was A Threat Long Before Its Crazed School Shooting ‘Challenge’ – Right before the beginning of Christmas Break, schools all over the country canceled classes in response to a wave of shooting threats inspired by a TikTok video challenge. According to Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, the challenge was to “take a stock photo of a weapon, put that under a post and write you’re going to shoot up a school.” It could be any school, and those making the threat could be from anywhere in the country. 

As many as hundreds of kids took to social media and sent threats to various students or faculty of bringing a gun or bomb to school. While schools beefed up their security or kept students away, many students who made threats were arrested. Fortunately, as of now, it seems no actual shootings followed the challenge, and most of the threats have been proven to be empty.

As heartbreaking as it is to see students mindlessly following TikTok influencers and threatening their schools with mass shootings, it is even more frustrating to know how preventable this is. One parent on a local Facebook group captured this frustration perfectly: “Today, parents across the country will fear TikTok enough to not send their kids to school — but not fear TikTok enough to take it off their kids’ phones.”

As many teachers and parents can attest, 2021 has been the year of TikTok. The incredibly addictive app has supplanted many other social media and streaming services, moving past popular apps like Snapchat and Instagram. Because the videos are so short and the customizing algorithm is so effective, users will unwittingly stay glued to their screens for hours at a time.

All this has made TikTok a powerful influence among its users. It’s not just another form of entertainment that diverts its audience; it’s a media platform that ultimately consumes its audience and informs their whole reality. Sure, there are silly videos of people singing, dancing, and playing pranks, but there are also videos of people propagandizing harmful ideas and, as in the school shooting case, actively instigating violence. If you ever wondered where kids get their dumb ideas, today look no further than TikTok. Read More > at The Federalist

Nearly $100 billion in pandemic relief funds stolen, Secret Service says – The Secret Service is looking to hunt down criminals who it said are responsible for the theft of nearly $100 billion in COVID-19 relief funds.

The agency, which is best known for its protecting political leaders but is also tasked with investigating financial crimes involving fraud, said in a Tuesday news release that it is appointing Assistant Special Agent in Charge Roy Dotson to oversee the recovery of funds lost to fraud.

While fraud related to personal protective equipment was of the highest concern early in the pandemic, federal funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, has more recently attracted the attention of criminals. The Secret Service estimates almost $100 billion has been stolen through the use of fraudulent COVID-19 relief applications.

Some $2.3 billion in fraudulently obtained funds have already been recovered as a result of investigations into unemployment insurance and Small Business Administration loan fraud, the Secret Service said. Those investigations have led to the arrests of about 100 people suspected of defrauding the government. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Rite Aid to close 63 stores over the next several months – Rite Aid said it plans to close 63 stores over the next several months they say will help cut costs and “drive improved profitability.”

The closures were confirmed during the pharmacy chain’s third-quarter earnings call on Tuesday by CEO Heyward Donigan.

“The decision to close the stores is one we take very seriously as we evaluate the impact on our associates, our customers and our communities,” Donigan said.

Rite Aid did not reveal which locations will close as part of the company’s plans. Read More > at Yahoo!

Seconds before a 6.2 earthquake rattled California, phones got a vital warning – In the moments before a 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck the northern California coast on Monday, roughly half a million phones began to buzz. An early-alert system managed by the US Geological Survey sent warnings out before the ground started to shake, giving residents in the sparsely populated area vital time to take cover.

The earthquake brought significant shaking but minimal damage in Humboldt county, about 210 miles north-west of San Francisco, and officials said it was an excellent test of the alert-system. It was the largest magnitude quake that’s occurred since the system, known as ShakeAlert, was officially rolled out across the west coast.

ShakeAlert issues warnings through a series of agencies and apps including the MyShakeApp, public wireless emergency alert systems, and the Android operating system, powered by Google. A data package is created from information provided by USGS sensors and – within seconds – shows up on phones. Some apps that provide alerts are available to download but even some who didn’t have an app on their phone were notified. Affected individuals are instructed to drop, cover, and hold on. Having extra seconds to do so can save lives. Read More > in The Guardian

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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