Sunday Reading – 06/19/2022


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 Cursing Is Actually Beneficial for Your Mental Health – …But mindful profanity, of the sort that is meant for one’s own emotional release, or to inject levity or understanding into a conversation with another, can be a potent tool. Brooks cites a study where various participants plunging their hands into frigid water actually experienced less pain when they swore. In interpersonal relationships, meanwhile, people choice swearing has been shown to engender camaraderie and neutralize social distress.

…But in identifying reasonably appropriate situations, or going out on a lark where you think you (and those around you) just might benefit from some profanity, you might find a couple curses here and there well worth it.

Brooks recommends retaining some metacongition on your expletives (that’s to say — making sure you’re always aware you’re saying them, instead of just letting them fly without any meaning attached), rationing them so they’re “nice and fresh” and never using them to abuse or harass another person, at which point all of your credibility is lost. Not to mention: if you do want to curse as a response to anger and frustration, consider creating a “swear space” in your life (a room, a time you’re in your car), where you can deploy them as a form of scream therapy. Read More > at InsideHook

Does Affordable Housing Make the Surrounding Neighborhood Less Affordable? – Could building affordable housing make the surrounding neighborhoods less affordable? That’s the finding of a recent research brief from the Urban Institute showing the construction of income-restricted affordable housing units was associated with rising prices for nearby homes.

The Urban Institute brief from April 2022, written by researchers Christina Stacy and Christopher Davis, looked at the impact of 40 developments on home prices in Alexandria, Virginia. The examined projects include both wholly affordable projects—where all units are offered at below-market rates to lower-income renters—and market-rate projects that included some affordable set-aside units.

The two researchers found that these projects increased home prices within a sixteenth of a mile by .09 percent. When largely market-rate developments were excluded from the analysis, home prices increased by an even higher .11 percent.

Affordable housing projects also increased housing prices more in lower-income census tracts than in higher-income census tracts. They increased home prices by .17 percent in census tracts where median incomes were below Alexandria’s median income and .06 percent in census tracts where median incomes were above Alexandria’s median income.

Stacy and Davis frame their findings as a refutation of a common criticism of publicly subsidized affordable housing development: that it will decrease nearby homeowners’ property values. Read More > at Reason

The Criminal Order Beneath the ‘Chaos’ of San Francisco’s Tenderloin – The epicenter of the political earthquakes rattling San Francisco’s progressive establishment is a 30-square-block neighborhood in the center of downtown known as the Tenderloin. Adjacent to some of the city’s most famous attractions, including the high-end shopping district Union Square, the old money redoubt of Nob Hill, historic Chinatown, and the city’s gold-capped City Hall, it is home to a giant, open-air drug bazaar. Tents fill the sidewalks. Addicts sit on curbs and lean against walls, nodding off to their fentanyl and heroin fixes, or wander around in meth-induced psychotic states. Drug dealers stake out their turf and sell in broad daylight, while the immigrant families in the five-story, pre-war apartment buildings shepherd their kids to school, trying to maintain as normal an existence as they can.

The crime and disorder of the Tenderloin may appear to be symptoms of deep and mysterious sociological forces. Chesa Boudin, who was ousted last week as San Francisco’s district attorney because of his lenient policies, argued, “We can’t arrest and prosecute our way out of the problems that are afflicting the Tenderloin.”

But there is a fairly straightforward kind of order beneath the chaos: an illicit market economy operating in plain sight. The Tenderloin is home to two sprawling, overlapping transnational organized crime networks – one centered on drugs and the other on theft – which thrive in that neighborhood because of the near-total absence of the enforcement of laws.

Crowded onto its street corners and inside the tents congesting the sidewalk, countless petty criminals play their roles in a structured and symbiotic criminal enterprise. Its denizens fall into four main groups: the boosters, typically homeless and addicted, who steal from local stores; the street fences who buy the stolen merchandise; the dealers who sell them drugs for the money they make from the fences; and, at the top of the stack, the drug cartel that supplies the dealers and the wholesale fences that resell the goods acquired by street fences. Each has a role to play in keeping the machine moving, and the police know exactly how to disrupt it.

Experts say the city could, in fact, arrest and prosecute its way out of most of the problems in the Tenderloin if it chose to. It thrives, instead, as a zone of lawless sovereignty in the heart of a major American city – the criminal version of the area commanded by Seattle anarchists in the so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, in 2020. Where those extra-legal districts were eventually dismantled, the Tenderloin’s structure is entrenched. Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

Geico must pay $5.2 million to woman who got HPV from sex in man’s insured car, court rules – Geico must pay a Missouri woman $5.2 million after she caught HPV from unprotected sex with her then-boyfriend in his insured automobile, a state appellate court ruled.

The woman — identified in court papers only as “M.O.” — said that she “engaged in unprotected sexual activities in Insured’s vehicle” in November and December 2017 and that he “negligently caused or contributed to” her catching the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection, court papers said.

After Geico turned down her claim, M.O. took the matter to an arbitrator, who found in her favor before a court affirmed the $5.2 million judgment, the appeals court said. Read More > at NBC News

Amazon’s Prime Air service will begin making drone deliveries in California this year – Starting later this year, the company will begin making drone deliveries in Lockeford, California, Amazon announced in a blog post spotted by The Verge. The pilot program will see the company’s UAVs carry “thousands” of different items directly to the backyards of Amazon customers in the area. “Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere,” Amazon said.

Before the pilot can get underway, Amazon still needs to secure Part 135 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. On that front, the company is playing catchup with competitors like Walmart and Wing, both of which announced recent expansions to their respective pilots. Amazon also hasn’t said what products it will offer through the service. It’s likely to share those details soon.

According to Amazon, part of the reason it has taken it so long to get Prime Air to this point is the more complex drone service it wants to build. The company notes it has spent much of the last decade developing an “industry-leading” navigation system that will allow its drones to avoid both static and moving objects. Developing that system hasn’t been without its challenges. In 2021, for instance, five of the company’s drones crashed over a four-month period, according to reporting from Bloomberg. But today’s announcement would indicate Amazon is confident enough in the system to begin using it out in the real world. Read More > at Engadget

There Will Be No Just Energy Transition Without Mining In Our Backyards – Reducing carbon emissions to reach a 2050 “net zero” world – while realistically meeting ongoing energy demands – will require a massive ramp up in the production of electric vehicles (EVs), solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, and their associated infrastructure. But this welcome transition comes with a catch; these systems all rely on prodigious amounts of critical minerals plus other metals.  And we cannot get anywhere close to the quantity of these needed materials in a sustainable way unless wealthy developed countries are willing to allow, indeed pursue, a significant increase in mining within their borders.  

The supply problem is relatively straightforward.  To obtain metals we can do two things: recycling or mining.  Recycling – reusing the stock of metals that we have already extracted from the earth – is an important source. But the world does not dispose of enough recyclable metal products to supply what we need (even if all countries pursued aggressive, western-style recycling policies).   Consider that it would take recycling the copper of at least four internal combustion engine vehicles to produce enough for one relatively modest electric vehicle.  

Additionally, many of the elements used in modern devices were not used in older products.  And for those that do exist in older products, the technology does not yet exist to economically release the metals for re-use elsewhere.  Limiting consumption is important but it is unrealistic to expect reductions sufficient for recycling to meet the needs of developing societies and growing economies where most of the world’s population lives. 

So achieving shared climate goals via energy transition will require extracting more – much more — of the needed materials from the earth.  Yet the most recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group contained no reference to mining.  This unfortunate omission signals a significant blind spot on the part of government officials, corporate leaders, and activists alike. 

Ultimately, these materials will have to come from somewhere.  For example, Chile and Peru contain the world’s largest reserves of copper. The Democratic Republic of Congo hosts the greatest known resources of cobalt.  Russia and South Africa have the largest reserves of platinum, palladium, and the other platinoid metals. China is the dominant processor of EV battery minerals and source of rare earth elements.  These are not the only countries in which these materials can be found.  In many cases, ample deposits also exist in wealthier democracies.  But lower production costs – aided commonly by laxer environmental and labor standards – provide a decided economic advantage compared to technologically advanced democracies in the West.  Read More > at Real Clear Energy

Not backsliding on clean energy’: Officials say California’s proposed 5 GW reserve could be heavy on gas – California’s energy system is facing a host of simultaneous challenges. While the state has added more than 4 GW of net qualifying capacity since last summer — more than 2.7 GW of which is available at 8 p.m., a particularly precarious time for the state’s grid given high electricity demand coupled with waning solar generation — the grid is still vulnerable due to extreme drought, heat waves and other disruptions, California Independent System Operator President and CEO Elliot Mainzer said Thursday.

The grid operator has determined that the state is currently facing an estimated 1,700 MW capacity shortfall compared to meeting industry reliability standards. That figure could be as high as 5,000 MW if California experiences simultaneous extreme events, like regional heatwaves and large wildfires. And these challenges are occurring against the backdrop of several planned retirements, including the 2.2 GW Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and a suite of gas-fired plants in the coming years. 

“The bottom line is that despite considerable progress, we continue to face risks to reliability this summer and for the next several years,” Mainzer said. 

Newsom’s revised budget proposal included $8 billion for the state’s energy system, including the $5.2 billion electricity reserve. The reserve – a statewide resource capable of providing up to 5,000 MW of emergency generation – will not take the place of power providers’ current procurement obligations. Read More > at Utility Dive

California budget: Big surplus, big differences – California lawmakers approved a $300 billion state budget today, but it is far from final as legislative leaders continue to negotiate with Gov. Gavin Newsom over items including a proposed multibillion-dollar rebate to taxpayers.

The Legislature adopted the record spending plan anyway, to meet a constitutional requirement that members pass a balanced budget by Wednesday or forgo their pay. The bill will be sent this week to Newsom, who then has 12 days to sign or veto it — another critical deadline that should propel the two sides toward a deal.

The start of the next fiscal year looms on July 1, less than three weeks away. Yet the budget process will likely extend well beyond that date, as lawmakers pass follow-up measures amending provisions of their spending plan to reflect compromises with the governor. That’s what happened last year, when Newsom and legislative leaders announced an agreement in late June and continued to put finishing touches on it into August.

Newsom and the Democratic-controlled Legislature share general values for state spending and their budget proposals have broadly similar frameworks. But with an unprecedented amount of money at their disposal — unexpectedly strong recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, especially among the wealthiest Californians, has produced a discretionary surplus of almost $49 billion, state officials estimate — they have yet to agree on many of the details. Read More > at CalMatters

After the surplus, buckle up for the deficit – California has a near-$100 billion budget surplus, which has set off a completely predictable pit fight in Sacramento over how to spend the extra cash. Let’s take a vote.  The best thing to spend the surplus on is:

A) Expanding social programs or 

B) One-time expenditures (to be safe).  

The Democratic majority in the Legislature will choose option A. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been trying to play the adult at the budget table and is pushing for option B. Unfortunately, there should be an option C: none of the above. 

While it is understood that our surplus is temporary, even Newsom’s approach misses the underlying issue. The surplus is being driven by California’s personal income taxes. On average, they make up 25% of the state’s revenues, and in fiscal year 2022-23 they will constitute a full two-thirds. 

The surplus is driven by the high marginal tax rate on high-income earners. When financial markets are hot, tax revenues surge. 

The Department of Finance made this clear in its revenue report when it showed the history of capital gains for taxpayers in the state. This is income earned from various forms of capital transactions — selling property far above its buying price, for example, or income from a tech firm going public. Such income accrues mainly to very high-income Californians, who are subject to the state’s excessively high marginal tax on high incomes. Over the last two years, state income from capital gains taxes has been close to $250 billion, twice as high as ever before and four times the average. A record surplus is no surprise.

What the markets giveth, however, the markets taketh away. 

The last two periods of high capital gains occurred in the late 1990s and then again when the dot-com and subprime mortgage bubbles overheated the economy. 

When those markets crashed, so too did asset values and, of course, capital gains. Huge budget surpluses were followed by huge budget deficits. 

Here we go again. Read More > at CalMatters

The Great California Exodus… to MEXICO: Thousands flock south of the border to escape the crippling cost of living under Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom – Thousands of Californians are fleeing to Mexico amid the soaring cost of living in the golden state. Americans taking advantage of work from home are reaping the benefits of US salaries, while living off Mexico’s cheaper lifestyle.

Others are living in Mexico, while commuting to work in the US. But critics have argued that the influx of Americans in cities south of the border has begun to price out local Mexicans.

It comes amid a wider exodus of Californians to other states across the US, including Texas, Washington, and Arizona.  

Many feel forced out by rocketing inflation in the golden state that has gas, grocery, and living costs soaring under Governor Gavin Newsom. Read More > in the Daily Mail

Healthy Brains Can Get as Hot as 105 Degrees, Study Finds – People might be more hotheaded than we thought. In new research this week, scientists say they were able to create the first maps of healthy people’s brain temperatures. Their findings indicate that brain temperature varies widely depending on many factors, like the time of day and region of the brain, but that it’s typically warmer than the rest of our body.

…Overall, the average brain temperature for both groups was right around 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit (38.5 degrees Celsius), which was higher than their temperature taken orally. But there was a lot of variability in the readings. People’s brain temperature was typically lower at night, for instance, and higher in the deeper regions of the brain than near the surface. Women and older people tended to have higher temperatures as well. The team’s findings are published in the journal Brain.

Other research has shown that our body temperature isn’t quite as static as people assume, and that it often varies from the supposed gold standard of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But most of our knowledge about the brain’s heat comes from studying people in the hospital, since it’s much easier to monitor them constantly. Newer techniques have made it much easier to non-invasively take the brain’s temperature, and using these findings, the team was able to produce a 4D temperature map (showing changes over space and time) of the healthy brain, which they’ve dubbed HEATWAVE.

The findings will have to be validated by other researchers, but they could have important medical implications. For one, it’s long been assumed that having a hot brain in general can raise the risk of serious complications. But in healthy brains, the team observed that temperatures could go high as 105.62 degrees Fahrenheit with seemingly no problems. And even in patients who were in critical condition, the team didn’t find a clear link between higher brain temperature and their odds of survival. What did appear to be more predictive of survival was whether a patient’s brain temperature was changing as expected throughout the day—their rhythm, in other words. Read More > at Gizmodo

Ohio Teachers Can Carry Guns With 24 Hours of Training – The state says in a new law that teachers need only 24 hours of training—not 700—in order to carry a gun in a school setting. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed this change into law on Monday.

Seven hundred hours of training certainly seems excessive. Surely, whatever needs to be covered in terms of gun safety should be able to be taught in a much shorter amount of time.

But should teachers be allowed to be armed in the first place? Some argue that it will help stop school shootings. It’s “probably the most important thing we have done to prevent a school shooter in Ohio,” said state Sen. Niraj Antani (R–Dayton) on the Senate floor.

Others may suggest that teachers don’t lose their Second Amendment rights when they go to work. Of course, many workplaces prohibit firearms on premises without anyone considering it a big affront to the Second Amendment.

And many teachers are agents of the state, charged with watching the children of families that may have little choice but to send them to the local public school. That shades the situation a little differently.

Are teachers with guns just exercising their rights and protecting their students? Or does this amount to stationing ample armed guards at sites of public education? Read More > at Reason

Self-driving tractors could be widespread on California farms by next year – It’s a technology that appears to be out ahead of the vaunted self-driving passenger car. Notoriously, the auto industry’s onetime forecast that there would be 10 million self-driving passenger cars on the road by 2020 did not come to pass. But while Waymo and Cruise sedans continue to plod experimentally through the streets of San Francisco, a Livermore company called Monarch is aiming to deploy fleets of its driver-optional electric tractors to vineyards and farms by the end of this year.

That’s pending a decision expected Thursday from the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Monarch has asked the board to amend a regulation from the 1970s that prohibits the use of autonomous agricultural equipment without an operator. Monarch CEO Praveen Penmetsa contends it’s time to change that rule, given his tractor’s safety record and potential to help advance farming. Groups including the California Farm Bureau and the California Association of Winegrape Growers agree.

But critics say Monarch hasn’t proved that its tractors are safe enough in their autonomous state.

The Monarch can do a lot of things, according to Penmetsa, who has been working in the electric-vehicle space since the early 2000s. Its electric batteries will reduce farmers’ reliance on fuel, cut down on emissions and eventually even enable them to sell power back to the grid, he said. Its smart functions may allow farmers to detect problems in their crops early, to identify water stress, to apply sprays with more precision and offer other advantages.

But it’s the Monarch’s driver-optional feature that has become its most salient point of differentiation — and, with the Cal/OSHA petition, its source of controversy.

The appeal of an autonomous tractor for those who own farms is clear. Amid a long-term shortage of agricultural labor, farmers could use their workforce more efficiently. Instead of having one driver on every tractor, a single employee could oversee multiple tractors remotely. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

50 Years Later, the Motive Behind Watergate Remains Clouded – One strange thing about Watergate, the scandal that led Richard Nixon to resign as president, is that 50 years later we still don’t know who ordered the core crime or why.

This was the crime: On June 17, 1972, a squad of five bagmen, all with at least past connections to the CIA, broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the Watergate office building. They were supervised by James McCord, director of security for Nixon’s reelection committee.

McCord made a series of baffling decisions that made being caught far more likely.

To start, he taped open locks on doors to ease the way for the burglars, who were delayed in breaking in because a staffer was working late to cadge phone calls on the DNC’s dime. A passing security guard easily detected the unsubtle subterfuge and re-locked them….

Even Nixon administration figures who ended up doing time in prison due to the shock waves from that peculiar break-in, such as former White House counsel John Dean, former special counsel Chuck Colson, and former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, never seemed to understand themselves the whys behind the scandal that ended up with them disgraced and imprisoned.

Some of his notorious office tape recordings reveal Nixon himself seemingly unsure. Though the recordings show a ruthless president determined to protect himself at any cost, they also demonstrate a frequent bafflement about what his supposed subordinates are doing. “What in hell is this?” Nixon asked Dean, the chief architect of the cover-up, as they discussed the Watergate burglary itself. “What is the matter with these people? Are they crazy?”

Five decades later, despite 30,000 pages of declassified FBI investigative reports, 16,091 pages of Senate hearing transcripts, 740 pages of White House tape transcriptions, and scores of histories of the scandal and memoirs by its participants, we still know more about the cover-up than we do about the break-in. Read More > at Reason

USA Today to Remove 23 Articles After Investigation Into Fabricated Sources – USA Today has removed 23 articles from its website after an investigation into a reporter’s work revealed fabricated sources, according to people briefed on the decision.

The internal investigation, which took place over a period of several weeks, began after USA Today received an inquiry related to the veracity of details in an article by Gabriela Miranda. Ms. Miranda was a breaking news reporter at USA Today, according to the people who would speak only on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Ms. Miranda resigned from USA Today in recent weeks, as the investigation progressed, one of the people said. Her most recent article for USA Today was published on April 17.

During the investigation, USA Today concluded that Ms. Miranda took steps to deceive investigators by producing false evidence of her news gathering, including recordings of interviews, one of the people said.

Ms. Miranda’s articles that have been removed include coverage related to Texas’ ban on abortion after six weeks, the reaction of women in Ukraine to the war there and a guide to sunscreen. Read More > in The New York Times

15 people on terror watch list were captured sneaking across the southern border in May – Border Patrol agents nabbed 15 people at the southern border in May who were on the FBI’s terrorist screening database, showing the free-for-all along the U.S.-Mexico boundary is unabated.

The number of people on the terrorist watch list caught crossing the border is a record for any month, equaling all of 2021 and more than the Border Patrol found from 2017 to 2020 combined.

They were among nearly 240,000 total border jumpers Customs and Border Protection nabbed in May, marking the worst month on record for the Biden administration.

Beneath those numbers is something worse.

CBP had nearly 12,000 people in custody on any given day but ousted less than half of the illegal immigrants it encountered. The rest were either released outright at the border or transferred to other agencies, most of which would release them. Read More > in The Washington Times

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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