Sunday Reading – 08/07/2022


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.

Can Californians afford electric cars? – Affordable and efficient electric vehicles are critical to California’s efforts to tackle climate change and clean up its polluted air — by 2035, the state plans to ban all new sales of gas-powered cars.

But the state’s incentives and rebates for lower-income people who purchase electric cars have suffered from inconsistent and inadequate funding.

This year’s funding for some of the programs ran out in April — the waitlists have been shut down because of the backlogs. And even for the rebates that are still available, the obstacles are substantial: Program administrators are inundated with requests for the money, resulting in months-long waits — at the same time that prices are surging and electric cars are in short supply.

The troubled state subsidy programs raise a crucial question: Can California enact a mandate that requires 100% of all new cars to be zero emissions when a large portion of the population can’t buy them? 

If most Californians can’t afford to replace their old, higher-polluting gas-powered cars, many of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s climate goals are in jeopardy, along with statewide efforts to clean up the nation’s worst air pollution. Read More > at CalMatters

A handful of states are driving nearly all U.S. electric car adoption – California — no surprise — leads the U.S. in electric vehicle ownership, accounting for 39% of all EVs registered nationwide.

  • Look more closely at the numbers, however, and it turns out EVs represent less than 2% of all vehicles on the road in the Golden State.

Reality check: We’re a long way from a “tipping point” for electric vehicles. In fact, the EV revolution has barely begun in the U.S. and it’s playing out in super-slow motion — even in places where plug-in cars make the most sense.

Why it matters: Automakers are pouring billions of dollars into electric vehicle development in the face of urgent warnings about climate change. But with more than 278 million cars, SUVs, and pickups overall on U.S. roads, the historic shift away from gasoline will take years, if not decades, to play out.

  • Axios is tracking the transition, using monthly vehicle registration data from S&P Global Mobility.

The latest data: 4.6% of the new vehicles registered in the U.S. this past May were electric, according to the research firm’s most recent data.

  • That’s more than double EVs’ share of monthly registrations in May 2021 (1.9%).

Yes, but: EVs still account for only about 0.6% of all registered vehicles in the U.S. Take California’s EVs away, and it’s just 0.4%.

By the numbers: As of April 1, Florida has the second-highest share of the country’s EVs, at 6.7%. Then comes Texas (5.4%), Washington (4.4%), and New York (3.6%).

  • Yet, EVs account for only 1% or less of all vehicles within each of these states.
  • Besides California, the states or areas with the highest share of EVs within their own borders: Hawaii (1.3%), and the District of Columbia (1.2%). Read More > at Axios

Electric Car Drivers: Why You Might Not Be Pumped Over Privacy-Jolting Mileage Taxes – The environmental impact of electric cars may still be unknown, but leaders are growing concerned about the threat they pose to the financing of the nation’s highway system. Because freeways and bridges are funded, in large part, through federal and state taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, the battery-powered future will test whether roads can just be paved with good intentions.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are trying to devise new ways to raise that fuel tax revenue, which in fiscal year 2020 delivered $35 billion to the federal government and an additional $51 billion to state and local governments. But experts say that proposed fixes to the anticipated highway funding shortfall – involving charging drivers for the miles they travel by tracking their movement – pose a significant threat to personal privacy and liberty.  

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed with bipartisan support last year, authorized the Department of Transportation to launch new pilot programs to test ways to collect necessary fees. These include a range of high-tech means such as accessing location data from third-party on-vehicle diagnostic devices, smart phone applications, telemetric data collected by automakers, motor vehicle data obtained by car insurance companies, data obtained from fueling stations, and “any other method that the Secretary [of Transportation] considers appropriate.”

“Location data” – that is, information about where people are and where they’ve been – “is highly sensitive,” said Lee Tien, legislative director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that defends civil liberties in cyberspace. It can reveal “what they do, who they’re with, where they worship, what medical procedures they’re having.” Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

California scorns fossil fuel but can’t keep the lights on without it – California wants to quit fossil fuels. Just not yet.

Faced with a fragile electrical grid and the prospect of summertime blackouts, the state agreed to put aside hundreds of millions of dollars to buy power from fossil fuel plants that are scheduled to shut down as soon as next year.

That has prompted a backlash from environmental groups and lawmakers who say Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approach could end up extending the life of gas plants that have been on-track to close for more than a decade and could threaten the state’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2045.

That plan was a last-minute addition to the state’s energy budget, which lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature reluctantly passed. Backers say it’s necessary to avoid the rolling blackouts like the state experienced during a heat wave in 2020. Critics see a muddled strategy on energy, and not what they expected from a nationally ambitious governor who has made climate action a centerpiece of his agenda.

The legislation, which some Democrats labeled as “lousy” and “crappy,” reflects the reality of climate change. Heat waves are already straining power capacity, and the transition to cleaner energy isn’t coming fast enough to meet immediate needs in the nation’s most populous state.

Officials have warned that outages would be possible this summer, with as many as 3.75 million California homes losing power in a worst-case scenario of a West-wide heat wave and insufficient electrical supplies, particularly in the evenings.

It’s also an acknowledgment of the political reality that blackouts are hazardous to elected officials, even in a state dominated by one party. Read More > at Politico

Home prices cooled at a record pace in June, according to housing data firm – Rising mortgage rates and inflation in the wider economy caused housing demand to drop sharply in June, forcing home prices to cool down.

Home prices are still higher than they were a year ago, but the gains slowed at the fastest pace on record in June, according to Black Knight, a mortgage software, data and analytics firm that began tracking this metric in the early 1970s. The annual rate of price appreciation fell two percentage points from 19.3% to 17.3%.

Price gains are still strong because of an imbalance between supply and demand. The housing market has had a severe shortage for years. Strong demand during the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated it.

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage crossed over 6% in June, according to Mortgage News Daily. It has since dropped back in the lower 5% range, but that is still significantly higher than the 3% range rates were in at the start of this year. Read More > at CNBC

Redwood National and State Parks will no longer let you hike to Hyperion, the world’s tallest tree – The area around Hyperion, a massive coast redwood known for being the tallest tree in the world, has been closed indefinitely due to damage to the forest caused by trampling visitors. 

The 380-foot tree is located deep within Redwood National Park and, despite not being accessible by any trail, has attracted scores of visitors since its height was “discovered” in 2006. According to the National Park Service, tree enthusiasts who have bushwhacked off-trail into dense vegetation to reach Hyperion’s base have caused enough habitat destruction to warrant the closure of the entire area, plus a $5,000 fine and potential jail time for those who decide to make the trip anyway. 

According to the park service’s website, visitors have caused some degradation to Hyperion’s base, and ferns no longer grow around the tree due to stepping and trampling. The hike to the tree is also particularly hazardous, since it is completely off-trail and located in an area without any cell phone reception and barely any GPS coverage. 

…Arguello said that because of natural patterns of tree growth and decay, there’s a good chance Hyperion won’t even be the tallest tree for much longer – one reason why the park hasn’t created a trail that leads to it. 

“At some point, the top will blow out or some other tree will grow faster, and it won’t be the tallest tree. We don’t want to make yet another official trail that we have to maintain for a tree that likely won’t be the tallest tree in the future,” Arguello said. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

The Crisis Facing Nursing Homes, Assisted Living and Home Care for America’s Elderly – Since January 2020, 400,000 nursing home and assisted living staff have quit, citing pandemic exhaustion as well as the low pay and lack of advancement opportunities typical of the field. The job losses arrive when America already faces an elder caregiver shortage, as 10,000 people daily turn 65 and birth rates decline. The labor shortage gripping America’s workforce across industries is felt most acutely in home health care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health and personal care aides are actually the fastest growing industry, projected to grow 33 percent in the next decade, much faster than all occupations. But there still simply aren’t enough workers to fill the demand.

For decades, elder care in the U.S. has been bolstered by an immigrant workforce. …Immigrants occupy nearly 70 percent of jobs at the Alexandria, Va., facility, and are 40 percent of home health aides. But today, international migration to the U.S. is at record-lows. And with native-born Americans apparently reluctant to take elder care jobs, economists like Watson are raising alarm bells: Who will care for America’s elderly?

It’s a particularly important question as the crisis we’re in now is nothing compared to what’s coming: The percentage of people over the age of 85 — the group that most needs care — is predicted to double to 14 million by 2040, in part because Americans are living longer. In 2050, 84 million elderly people will live in AmericaVirginia alone is projected to be short 23,000 nurses in the next decade. Read More > at Politico

Why California has wild zebras – Nearly every day, dozens of drivers pull up on the side of Highway 1 in San Simeon, California to make sure their eyes are not deceiving them. In utter disbelief, they stop and stare at what look like zebras, grazing peacefully along the shores of the West Coast. 

These zebras did not escape from a nearby zoo. Nor are they part of a safari park whose confinements are so large they seem invisible. Believe it or not, they used to be the personal property of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. When Hearst died and his estate fell into disarray, the zebras were let loose into the Californian countryside where, thanks to a legal loophole, they were allowed to stay. 

Making a new home for themselves in the grasslands of San Simeon, Hearst’s zebras managed to survive. Actually, they thrived. Thanks to some unexpected similarities between the ecosystems of the West Coast and the African savannah, the state of California now houses the largest wild zebra herd outside of Africa. Read More > at Big Think

Why Old Spice, Colgate and Dawn are locked up at drug stores – Most of the products on the drug store shelf are behind lock and key, even everyday items such as deodorant, toothpaste, candy, dish detergent, soap and aluminum foil. Manufacturers that supply lock cases and devices to chain stores have seen their businesses boom.

Walgreens and Rite Aid have said that the problem of organized retail crime — rings of criminals that steal products from stores and then often resell them on online marketplaces — is causing them to lock more products up and close some stores.

Locking up their shelves is a last resort for stores, but it has never been more widely practiced. It’s also become a growing irritation for shoppers and a source of frustration for some employees who must walk around the store with keys at the ready.

The reason why stores resort to locking up these products is simple: to prevent shoplifting. But these decisions are far more nuanced and fraught for stores than you may think. Companies must walk a delicate line between protecting their inventory and creating stores that customers don’t dread visiting.

Stores look to protect “the vital few” products that are most profitable for them to sell, said Adrian Beck, who studies retail losses at the University of Leicester. And they’re willing to accept higher theft on the lower-margin “trivial many,” he added.

Shoplifters target smaller items with higher price tags, often called “hot products,” which typically are what retailers most frequently lock up. One criminologist created an apt acronym, CRAVED, to predict the stuff at highest risk: “concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable, and disposable.” Read More > at CNN Business

Scientists baffled as Earth spins faster than usual – Scientists have been left baffled after discovering the Earth is spinning faster than normal — making days shorter than usual.

New measurements by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory show that the Earth is spinning faster than it was half a century ago.

On June 29, the Earth’s full rotation took 1.59 milliseconds less than 24 hours — the shortest day ever recorded.

Scientists have warned that, if the rotation rate continues to speed up, we may need to remove a second from our atomic clocks.

“If Earth’s fast rotation continues, it could lead to the introduction of the first-ever negative leap second,” astrophysicist Graham Jones reported via TimeandDate.com. 

“This would be required to keep civil time — which is based on the super-steady beat of atomic clocks — in step with solar time, which is based on the movement of the sun across the sky.

“A negative leap second would mean that our clocks skip one second, which could potentially create problems for IT systems.” Read More > in the New York Post

The Surprising Benefits of Yawning – Yawning—such an odd physiological phenomenon. Humans yawn, and so do dogs, monkeys, birds, and just about every known vertebrate species other than giraffes (yes, that is also odd).

Why do we yawn? Obviously, people and other animals yawn when they are tired; we all know that. But there must be more to it—there must be a biological purpose beyond letting chatty dinner guests know that they’ve overstayed their welcome.

…Yawning, as far as we know, does not improve overall oxygen levels.

Tyler Huston is a nurse, paramedic, and breathing specialist based in British Columbia who practices and teaches breath control therapy for rehabilitation from physical and/or psychological injury as well as for optimizing athletic performance. He is not a big fan of yawning in the context of competition, although he told me that it might have a very specific value for an athlete like Ohno.

Second, based on brain-scan studies, yawning increases the activity of a small area of the brain called the precuneus, which plays an important role in spatial orientation, memory, and consciousness. So, perhaps it helps with focus and attention.

And third, there is the social function of yawning. Yes, it may be a social cue to bug off, but depending on the circumstances, it may also be a call for vigilance. On a family road trip, for instance, a driver’s yawn may be an important signal that they need a break. Read More > at Psychology Today

Humans settled in North America 17,000 years EARLIER than previously believed: Bones of mammoth and her calf found at an ancient butchering site in New Mexico show they were killed by people 37,000 years ago – Bones of an adult mammoth and her calf have been uncovered at a 37,000-year-old butchering site in New Mexico, which suggest humans settled in North America 17,000 years than previously believed.

A team of scientists, led by The University of Texas at Austin, extracted collagen from the bones, allowing them to carbon date the settled age of 36,250 to 38,900 years old.

The bones were discovered in a three-foot-tall pile, with 95 percent belonging to the adult, and featured slaughter marks and fractures from blunt force impact

The discovery adds to the growing evidence that there were societies before people crossed the Bering Strait land bridge some 20,000 years ago. The bridge, also called Beringia, connected Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age, and allowed people to come from Asia into North America. Read More > in the Daily Mail

The Decline and Fall of Newspapers – A few years ago, you would have unfolded your newspaper and read opinion and analysis like this. Those days are gone. Today, most of us get our news and commentary online, perhaps supplemented by network or cable television, although TV viewership is far smaller than in the days of  “The Big Three.” Buried alongside those iconic broadcasters is the public’s confidence in news from all sources. Only 16% of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers, only 11% in TV news. Those numbers keep sinking. Today, if Walter Cronkite ended his broadcast, “And that’s the way it is,” most people would just smirk.

How dramatic is this change in the way we get our news? What’s driving it? What have we gained and lost? And how do these changes affect our deeply divided nation?

The most important point is the most obvious: The changes are huge – and irreversible. One recent study shows that in our country of 332 million people, no newspaper has a print circulation of more than 1 million. Only nine have more than 100,000 subscribers. Among the 25 largest papers, only one showed an increase in circulation, and it serves a retirement community. It’s shocking, really, that a paper with less than 50,000 subscribers is among the nation’s largest.

The decline is relentless. Print papers are losing one out of eight subscribers every year. Their daily circulation, over 63 million at its peak in the 1980s, is now about one-third that size. Over 25% of all American newspapers have died in the past 15 years.

What is driving this tectonic shift, away from print and toward online news? In a word, technology. Cheap, ubiquitous computing is killing print papers by introducing competition and choice. This new, competitive environment has destroyed papers’ profitable monopolies for local advertising dollars. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

Families With Young Children Have Left Urban Areas in Droves – A new report is shedding light on the urban exodus that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The exodus wasn’t driven by young professionals alone; it was driven by young families with children. That fact has contributed to steep public school enrollment declines in places like Los Angeles and could alter the future of large cities.

The new data comes from the Economic Innovation Group (EIG). In 2021, 68% of large urban counties experienced a decline in population, EIG found. Between 2019 and July 2021, the number of children under age five in these counties fell by 358,000 or 5.4%.

“Some high-cost, coastal cities have seen families flee at faster rates than others, and not just those with children under five,” according to EIG. “Manhattan saw a whopping 9.5 percent decline in the number of children under five. San Francisco lost 7.6 percent, and has lost over 10 percent since 2019. In every one of the top 20 most populous counties in the United States, the number of children under five has declined faster than the overall population, and in nearly all of these top metro areas, so too has the count of all children declined (those under 18).”

Santa Clara lost 6.2% of its under-fives and 4.1% of those under age 18. Los Angeles County lost 5.6% of its under-fives and 3.1% of those under age 18.

As EIG notes, some of this is already reflected in school enrollment data. During the 2020-2021 school year, the share of eligible children enrolled in pre-k programs dropped for the first time in 20 years. However, more pain likely awaits. That’s because the under-five population consists of children who would have been attending pre-K-12 in the years to come.

EIG researchers say the declines are driven by declining birth rates, low immigration, and remote work options that allow families to put down roots in more far-flung areas. The data also provides clues about where migrating families are going. Read More > at California City News

California Lawmakers Approve Drug Injection Sites for Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco – Aiming to prevent overdose deaths, California lawmakers have again given approval for its major cities to experiment with supervised injection facilities that would provide users a place to inject drugs under the supervision of health workers.

California’s state Senate passed S.B. 57 on Monday, joining the Assembly (which passed it in June) in allowing San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland to approve organizations to operate these injection sites, following a lengthy approval process that includes public meetings.

Lawmakers attempted to launch these injection facilities in San Francisco back in 2018, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, partly because he worried that he couldn’t protect operators from federal prosecution (which everybody involved already knew was a risk) but really because his nanny state–style approach to addiction was to use government force to mandate people into drug treatment.

Newsom has said he is “open” to the idea of these injection sites but stopped short of fully endorsing them. It’s not clear whether he’s going to sign S.B. 57 into law, but advocates are hopeful. Read More > at Reason

Wolf ‘milestone’: 11 pups born to Northern California packs this year – Northern California welcomed 11 new wolf pups this year, state wildlife officials said, news hailed as “a conservation milestone” by wolf advocates.

Two of the state’s three wolf packs have produced new pups this year, according to a wolf management report published Tuesday by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Lassen pack, located in western Lassen and northern Plumas counties, had five pups. The Whaleback pack in eastern Siskiyou County added six, officials said.

“These furry little tykes are really something to celebrate,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release.

Two wolf packs producing pups back-to-back was considered “a conservation milestone,” Weiss said. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Why fossil fuels are here to stay – The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in the year 2050, the two leading energy sources in the U.S. will be gas and oil. Renewables, while the fastest growing category, are only anticipated to supply about 20% of the energy mix. The Chinese are among those who have an appreciation for the inevitability of fossil fuels. China has more than a thousand coal-fired electric power plants, and coal use in China continues to increase, year after year.

The characterization of wind and solar power as “sustainable” and “renewable” is misleading. Only the fuels, wind and sunshine, are free. The infrastructure necessary to capture, concentrate, and deliver energy is not sustainable. Both wind and solar suffer from inherent limitations to which there is no conceivable technological solution. They are dilute and intermittent. There is no mechanical fix that can make the sun shine at night or the wind blow during a calm. Battery storage is insufficient by many orders of magnitude.

Mining raw materials for battery manufacture has environmental consequences. Lithium-ion batteries and solar panels wear out and accumulate in landfills as toxic waste with the potential for groundwater contamination. Renewable energy sources are entirely unsuitable for aviation and long-distance transport and cannot meet varying demands for electricity. It is a utopian fantasy to imagine that solar and wind power will ever be able to make more than marginal contributions to the energy mix.

For a long time, one of the arguments for phasing out fossil fuels was that the supply is limited and it was prudent to switch to alternative sources before exhaustion. The singular example was M. King Hubbert’s Peak Oil Theory. When U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 and then systematically declined for 38 years, Hubbert’s theory appeared to be verified. But the introduction of new production technologies reversed the trend, and by 2018 U.S. oil production had exceeded the peak of 1970. When the supply of oil became so abundant that the price briefly became negative on April 20, 2020, a stake was driven through the heart of Peak Oil Theory.

It’s now apparent that the magnitude of the worldwide petroleum resource exceeds ten trillion barrels, and we’ve only produced about 10 to 20% of that total. Without even a consideration of unconventional resources such as oil shales, we have enough petroleum to last for several decades. And, at current consumption rates, both coal and gas resources are sufficient for hundreds of years. Read More > in The Washington Times

California county’s secession measure will be on 2022 ballot – Voters in Southern California’s San Bernardino County will have the chance to decide in November whether they want the county to potentially secede from the state.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 on Wednesday to put the secession measure on the 2022 ballot, the Southern California News Group reported. One supervisor was absent.

The secession idea was initially floated by real estate developer Jeff Burum at the board’s July 26 meeting.

Secession would require approvals by the California Legislature and U.S. Congress.

According to county spokesman David Wert, a finance team conducted a per-capita comparison of federal and state revenue received by California counties based on data from the state controller. The data show San Bernardino County ranks 36th out of 56 counties for per-capita revenue received from the state and federal governments, Wert said.

“If the worst thing that comes out of this is a study that will be ammunition for our state representatives to fight for more money for us” that would be acceptable, said board Chairman Curt Hagman.

Home to 2.1 million people east of Los Angeles, San Bernardino is the fifth-most populous county in California and the largest in the nation by area. It’s physically larger than Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined. Read More > from AP

As monkeypox strikes gay men, officials debate warnings to limit partners – Thousands of gay men clad in leather, latex —and often much less — partiedalong Folsom Street here last weekend during the annual kink and fetish festival.Even afterthe city had just declared the monkeypox outbreak striking its gay community a health emergency — one day after the World Health Organization urged men to sleep with fewer men to reduce transmission — San Francisco public health officials made no attempt to rein in festivities or warn attendees to have less sex.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighs whether to recommend limiting sex partners,health officials in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and other U.S. cities battling surges disproportionately sickening gay men are avoiding calls for sexual restraint, wary of further stigmatizing same-sex intimacy.

Public health authorities typically emphasize safer sex over abstinence to prevent the spread of diseases through intimate contact. But monkeypox is presenting new challenges in calibrating the right message to stop the rare virus from becoming endemic while limiting government intrusion into the bedroom.

More than 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been detected in the United States, prompting the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency Thursday to galvanize awareness. The virus primarily spreads through exposure to an infected person’s rashes or lesions, and this is the first outbreak in which contact during sex appears to be the significant driver. While infections are heavily concentrated among men who have sex with men, others can contract the virus through nonsexual contact and sharing contaminated items.

Many public health officials and activists who spent decades on the front lines of the battle against HIV/AIDS say they have learned it is futile to tell people to have less sex. That stance puts them at odds with the WHO, a top New York epidemiologist who condemned the city’s messaging and others within the gay community who say gay men deserve direct warnings before it is too late to end the outbreak. Read More > in The Washington Post

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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