Sunday Reading – 09/11/2022

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.

PG&E eyes higher monthly bills, rising revenue requirement: new filing – PG&E customers could soon see their monthly bills jump several dollars.

The company has floated a request for an additional revenue requirement in updated regulatory testimony, according to an official government filing. The PG&E proposal, if state regulators adopt the plan in its present form, would lead to an increase of $7.31 in the average monthly bill for the typical customer who receives combined electricity and gas services and whose bills aren’t subsidized.

Lower-income CARE customers whose bills are subsidized would see an average increase of $4.84 a month for combined electricity and gas services.

Non-subsidized customers now typically pay an average of $233.67 for combined electricity and gas services, according to PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paulo. The proposed revenue change would bring the projected average monthly bill for combined services to a new total of $240.98.

At present, electricity services alone are running at an average of $167.23 per month, while gas services cost $66.44 a month, PG&E said.

Inflation has begun to jolt PG&E to a significant extent, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by PG&E Corp. and its principal operating unit, utility firm Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Inflation is also already hitting the pocketbooks and spending power of consumers nationwide and in the Bay Area.

The state Public Utilities Commission must make a final decision on the revenue request before any changes in PG&E bills would occur. Read More > in The Mercury News

A US Freight Rail Crisis Threatens More Supply Chain Chaos – …But rail service remained poor, not just at Union Pacific, and not just for chickens at Foster Farms. Since early this year, companies across numerous industries that ship goods via rail have issued increasingly stark warnings that the US freight system is in a state of crisis—complaining of weeks-long waits for trains, backed up facilities, clogged ports, and suspended business.

In April, the STB held hearings on the meltdown, where representatives from sectors including agriculture, energy, and chemicals joined trade unions to complain of poor service and working conditions. STB data says railroads cut their workforce by 45,000, or 29 percent, over the past six years, with pandemic furloughs pushing staffing levels past a tipping point. By late May, only 67 percent of trains arrived within 24 hours of their scheduled time, down from 85 percent pre-pandemic, according to data submitted to the STB by the four largest US freight railroads.

Worse, the US freight rail system is now poised on the brink of total paralysis because of a contract dispute between 115,000 rail workers and their employers. Negotiations have dragged on since the last contract expired in 2019, during which time rail workers have not had a raise. Under the Railway Labor Act, federal government mediators try to prevent railroad work stoppages, in this case to no avail. On August 16, a three-member presidential emergency board appointed by President Biden issued recommendations for the basis of a new contract. If the sides don’t reach agreement by September 15, rail workers can strike—a scenario that Rick Paterson, a rail analyst at the investment firm Loop Capital Markets who testified during the STB hearings, calls “economic WMD.”

The fallout of a prolonged strike would likely eclipse those from pandemic delays to ocean shipping because a foundational component of many supply chains would see its labor supply evaporate overnight, says Paterson. Ports would jam; trucking rates would soar; livestock would run out of feed. For that reason, Congress would likely intervene to delay or quickly end a strike, as it did during the last railroad strike in 1991. But lawmakers may not have much time: The deadline is just three days after the House of Representatives returns from recess. Read More > at Wired

Newsom signs major bills – Newsom over the long weekend signed some of the highest-profile bills sent to his desk by state lawmakers: On Labor Day, he gave his stamp of approval to a controversial, first-in-the-nation bill to create a state-run council to regulate wages and working conditions for the fast food industry, which employs more than half a million non-unionized workers across the Golden State. “California is committed to ensuring that the men and women who have helped build our world-class economy are able to share in the state’s prosperity,” Newsom said in a statement. This law “gives hardworking fast-food workers a stronger voice and seat at the table to set fair wages and critical health and safety standards across the industry.”

  • Newsom’s signature marks a significant win for labor unions and a setback for business and restaurant groups, which had fiercely opposed the bill.
  • But the biggest test of Newsom’s labor bona fides could be yet to come: The governor has yet to determine the fate of a contentious bill to make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections and, though he’s hinted he doesn’t support it, pressure is mounting for him to sign it. President Joe Biden took the unusual step of urging Newsom to approve the bill, saying in a Saturday statement, “Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s tables during the pandemic. In the state with the largest population of farmworkers, the least we owe them is an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union.”

Newsom signed another pile of bills into law on Friday, including the centerpiece of his environmental agenda: taking a key step to extend the lifespan of Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant, by as much as five years. “Climate change is causing unprecedented stress on California’s energy system and I appreciate the Legislature’s action to maintain energy reliability as the State accelerates the transition to clean energy,” Newsom said in a signing statement. Read More > at CalMatters

Poop and pee fueled the huge algae bloom in San Francisco Bay. Fixing the problem could cost $14 billion – After an unprecedented harmful algae bloom first turned San Francisco Bay a murky brown color and then littered its shores with dead fish, many people assumed it was yet another climate disaster to add to the list, along with extreme drought, wildfires and heat waves.

While scientists suspect climate change played a role in triggering the bloom, what fueled it is not a mystery. Algae blooms need food to grow, and this one had plenty: nutrients originating in wastewater that the region’s 37 sewage plants pump into the bay.

In other words — we wouldn’t have this problem without the poop and pee of the Bay Area’s 8 million residents.

“For those of you who aren’t aware, when you flush the toilet every day, you’re flushing nutrients down,” Eileen White, executive officer of San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, said at a news conference last week. The waste arrives at the sewage plant and is treated, she explained, but those nutrients — mostly nitrogen and phosphorous — remain in the water that is discharged into the bay.

There has been no evidence of a raw sewage leak; rather, it’s the regular amount of those nutrients that have long made the bay primed for a harmful algae bloom like this one, which started in late July in Alameda and has recently flared up as far as Sausalito, Vallejo and Fremont.

Nutrients “may not have triggered this specific event,” said David Senn, senior scientist at SF Bay Nutrient Management Strategy of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a group formed to study the issue 10 years ago. “But they contributed to its size, the amount of the organism and how long it lasted.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Fast food law could face referendum – On Tuesday, one day after Newsom signed into law a controversial bill to create a state-run council to regulate working conditions for the fast food industry while setting workers’ minimum wage as high as $22 per hour next year, opponents filed a proposed referendum to overturn the law with Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office. Behind the measure is a coalition called Protect Neighborhood Restaurants, co-chaired by the International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association. Business groups, the restaurant industry and franchisors fiercely opposed the bill, which barely squeaked out of the state Legislature amid trepidation from moderate Democrats. “It is only right for California’s voters to have a voice before harboring the burden of a bill that has widely been heralded as a massive step in the wrong direction,” Protect Neighborhood Restaurants said in a statement.

  • A spokesperson for Bonta’s office told my colleague Jeanne Kuang that it plans to issue a circulating title and summary for the proposed referendum by Sept. 16. Proponents have until Dec. 4 to submit more than 623,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2024 ballot. If they do, the law will be put on hold until voters have a chance to weigh in.

The Service Employees International Union, which sponsored the bill, slammed the proposed referendum in a Wednesday press conference: “McDonalds loves to sell their burgers and fries to Black and Latino communities … but when it comes to their Black and Latino workers the company won’t even sit at the same table as them,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU International. Read More > at CalMatters

Are Paper Bags Really Better for the Environment Than Plastic Bags? – In May, New Jersey became the first state to ban single-use bags made from plastic or paper in large grocery stores. The new ban lumps both types of totes together, but one is actually worse for the environment than the other. Which one? Paper bags.

Surprised? Let’s delve into the data underlying the case for plastic over paper.

A 2005 life-cycle analysis commissioned by the Scottish government found that manufacturing paper bags consumes 10 percent more energy than manufacturing conventional plastic bags, uses four times more water, emits more than three times the amount of greenhouse gases, generates 14 times more water pollution, and results in nearly three times more solid waste. A 2007 study commissioned by what is now the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, an industry group, found that, compared to making plastic bags, making paper bags takes 3.4 times as much energy, produces five times as much solid waste, emits twice as much greenhouse gases, and uses 17 times more water.

A 2011 study commissioned by the U.K.’s Environment Agency found that “the paper bag has to be used four or more times to reduce its global warming potential to below that of the conventional [plastic] bag.” The report noted that “it is unlikely the paper bag can be regularly reused the required number of times due to its low durability.” The report added that paper bags were “significantly worse” than plastic bags “for human toxicity and terrestrial ecotoxicity due to the effect of paper production.”

A 2020 United Nations Environment Programme report looked at several life-cycle analyses published since 2010. “Paper bags contribute less to the impacts of littering,” it concluded, “but in most cases have a larger impact on the climate, eutrophication and acidification.” Read More > at Reason

The Democrats’ green agenda is hurting Californians – The once-great state of California is now in a dire condition. With a heatwave now in full force, Governor Gavin Newsom is preparing to cut energy use, which may result in blackouts, brownouts and water rationing.

How did this happen? Ask any of the state’s legacy media, Democrats, and big green non-profits and the answer you’ll get is “climate despair”. But this does not tell us the whole story. Indeed, a key reason for California’s energy shortfall is the state’s harmful green policies; Jerry Brown’s plans to rebuild the state’s water capacity, for example, elicited a hostile green response from a state commission that refused to consider new dams or desalinisation, let alone spending money on already voter-approved new water storage projects. They are even pressuring Washington to demolish four dams in northern California for not being environmentally pure enough.

A similar dunderheadness extends to energy. For the last twenty years, the state has looked toward “green” energy — solar and wind — as the sole acceptable energy source. But despite billions spent, the state continues to struggle with the intermittent nature of solar and wind power. In order to prevent a total electricity shortfall, Governor Newsom — faced with a potentially devastating energy shortage this summer — was forced to reprieve the Diablo Canyon, the state’s last remaining nuclear plant. He has also allowed some gas plants to remain open.

Things could get worse as the state seeks to go all-electric in the next decade, with the elimination of gas powered cars by 2035. Yet there is little consideration into how California will be able to satisfy the rising demand for the electricity that EVs require. This, remember, in a state that already faces regular power shortages (California imports over 30% of its energy from other locations, and it is by far the nation’s largest net electrical-importing state).

By 2050, state consultants estimate that electrification mandates, including those for trucks, will cause total demand to skyrocket to about 500 million megawatt hours, with some estimates of demand rising 60 to 90%. This will impose high energy costs on ordinary Californians, while Wall Street and tech oligarchs profit from their “clean energy” investments. Incredibly, California is a state with enormous energy reserves, but it refuses to access them on environmental grounds. As a result, it is the largest US importer of energy and oil, much of it from Saudi Arabia and before that Russia. Read More > at UnHerd

What Makes ‘Morning Breath’ So Foul? – For people sleeping in close proximity to someone else, the first yawn in the morning can be chemical warfare.

Yes, morning breath can be quite foul. Decreased saliva levels during sleep prevent normal flushing of oral bacteria. As you lie immobilized at night, they can rapidly proliferate, emitting foul-smelling chemical compounds in the process.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki recently sought to characterize these gases in unprecedented detail. So they recruited fifteen men and fifteen women, all healthy and between the ages of 21 and 63, to hold their breath for five seconds then exhale into a 1.3-Liter sampling bag immediately after waking up. Subjects then brushed their teeth as they normally would and repeated the breath-collecting process. They returned their sampling bags to the laboratory the same day.

When the scientists analyzed the morning breath samples using mass spectrometry, they found sulfur compounds like methanethiol and dimethyl sulfide to be present in large amounts, and clearly contributing to the putrid smell. Chemist Derek Lowe previously described the odor of these sulfur compounds as “the smell of things that will kill us – rotten food, dangerous vapors, probably carnivore excretion/body odors as well”. Thankfully, noxious breath isn’t deadly. Another thing to be thankful for: the researchers found that methanethiol – likely the greatest contributor to morning breath – was reduced by an average of 62% after brushing. Other odor-contributing compounds were also diminished by brushing, but only by around 10% or so. Read More > at Real Clear Science

The IRS says it accidentally exposed confidential information involving 120,000 taxpayers – Around 120,000 taxpayers who filed a Form 990-T will be hearing from the IRS in the coming weeks, telling them that the agency inadvertently exposed their information on its website. Exempted organizations, including charities and religious groups, with unrelated business income are required to file Form 990-T. As The Wall Street Journalnotes, though, people with individual retirement accounts invested in assets that generate income, such as real estate, are also required to file the form. Filings by exempted organizations are supposed to be public, but those by private individuals aren’t.

The agency said the issue stemmed from a human cording error last year when Form 990-T became available for electronic filing. As you can guess, the error led to the bundling of non-public data with public data, which were all made available for download. It wasn’t until these past weeks that an employee discovered the issue and triggered an investigation that eventually led to the removal of the data that shouldn’t have been public in the first place.

In its letter, the IRS said the leaked data included individual names and business contact information. Affected taxpayers’ Social Security numbers, individual income details and other information that could impact their credit weren’t made public. The Journal, which was able to download some of the data before it was removed, said it included people’s income within their IRAs, as well. Read More > at Engadget

New Data Show COVID School Closures Contributed to Largest Learning Loss in Decades – Last week, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released new data showing a dramatic decline in test scores among American 9-year-olds since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data indicate a devastating learning loss among American schoolchildren, marking the largest decline in reading scores since 1990, and the first ever recorded drop in mathematics scores.

These results come from a special administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend (LTT) assessments, which measured reading and mathematics outcomes among 9-year-olds. Since its inception, the LTT has tracked a steady rise in educational performance among 9-year-olds. However, from 2020 to 2022, the LTT revealed a steep drop in 9-year-old students’ performance. Reading scores dropped by five points over the two-year period, while mathematics scores dropped by seven points. In all, the decline in test scores represents the reversal of around two decades of improvement in math and reading scores.

The decline was even more pronounced among already struggling students. For example, math scores declined by only three points among the 90th percentile of performers. Among the 10th percentile, the drop was four times higher, at 12 points. In total, the bottom quartile of test-takers saw their math scores drop by 11 points from 2020 to 2022. Among students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, reading scores declined at twice the rate of noneligible students. Read More > at Reason

San Francisco Braces for Epic Commercial Real Estate Crash – Imagine a slow-moving train coming towards you. The lights are shining, the horn is blaring, but it’s just far enough in the distance that the risk doesn’t seem real just yet. 

That’s a fitting-enough analogy for the state of San Francisco’s commercial real estate market, which is tilting towards a collapse in property values, leaving the city, its budget and its ability to provide services tied to the tracks. 

The root of this—of course—is the pandemic and the way that it has completely transformed work patterns in the city, hollowing out a downtown core that once accounted for most of San Francisco’s GDP, 70% of its sales tax revenue and 40% of the city’s jobs. And there’s an uneasy feeling among a coalition of business groups that city leaders are sleepwalking into an economic calamity with far-reaching consequences.

Signal lights of the city’s tenuous fiscal future are starting to flash. Major tech employers like Yelp and Airbnb have fled or gone fully remote, leading to mass office vacancies. A swath of commercial landlords are seeking massive reductions in their assessed property values—and associated tax bills. And a recent report from the Urban Displacement Project ranked the city’s downtown recovery as dead last among more than 60 cities across North America. 

It’s no secret that office vacancies are high in SF’s downtown. But even as the pandemic wanes, an already-troubling outlook for downtown could only get worse. 

That’s because a slew of office leases signed at the height of the city’s economic boom are poised to expire over the next few years, further inflating vacancies and diminishing what the office towers that draw the city’s skyline are worth. There’s currently more than 25 million square feet of commercial space available for lease or sublease in the city, the equivalent of about 35 Transamerica Pyramids sitting empty. Read More > in The San Francisco Standard\

Archaeologists unearth remains of 17th-century female “vampire” in Poland – Vampire folklore across cultures is filled with various tips on how to keep a recently deceased person from rising from the grave as an undead fiend who preys on the living. Now archaeologists have uncovered an unusual example of people using these tips in a 17th-century Polish cemetery near Bydgoszcz: a female skeleton buried with a sickle placed across her neck, as well as a padlock on the big toe of her left foot.

Tales of vampire-like creatures date back at least 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. For instance, the Assyrians feared a demon goddess called Lamastu (literally, “she who erases”), who they said killed babies in their cribs or while still in the womb. Other ancient texts mention a similar creature, Lilith—who also appears in Hebrew texts and folklore—who steals away infants and unborn children. Neither of these could be considered “vampires” in the modern sense, but they are the precursors to the Greek legend of Lamia, an immortal monster who sucked the blood from young children.

Naturally, the fear evoked by the presumed existence of such creatures inspired many different approaches to ensuring that the dead stayed dead. In the early Middle Ages, Russian villagers would exhume suspect corpses and destroy the body by cremation, decapitation, or by driving a wooden stake through the heart. Stakes were often secured above corpses upon burial, so the creature would impale itself if it tried to escape.

In Germany and the western Slavic regions, suspected vampires were decapitated, and the head was buried between the feet or away from the body. Other strategies included burying corpses upside down, severing the tendons at the knees, or—in the case of Greek vrykolakas—placing crosses and inscribed pottery fragments on the chest of the deceased. In places where vampires were believed to suffer from arithmomania, poppy seeds or millet seeds would be scattered at the site of a suspected vampire. (The X-Files episode “Bad Blood” humorously used this bit of folklore with Mulder’s favorite snack, sunflower seeds.) Read More > at Ars Technica

The most-regretted (and lowest-paying) college majors – Nearly 2 in 5 American college graduates have major regrets.

That is, they regret their major.

The regretters include a healthy population of liberal arts majors, who may be responding to pervasive social cues. When he delivered his 2011 State of the Union address in the shadow of the Great Recession, former president Barack Obama plugged math and science education and called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Since then, the number of new graduates in the arts and humanities has plunged.

Meanwhile, nearly half of humanities and arts majors have studier’s remorse as of 2021. Engineering majors have the fewest regrets: Just 24 percent wish they’d chosen something different, according to a Federal Reserve survey.

As a rule, those who studied STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are much more likely to believe they made the right choice, while those in social sciences or vocational courses second-guess themselves.

There doesn’t seem to be much relationship between loans, gender, race or school selectivity and your regrets. Though, as you may have guessed, our analysis of Fed data shows that the higher your income is today, the less you regret the major you chose back in college. Read More > in The Washington Post

California’s Battery Problems Heighten Threat of Power Outages – The batteries that help fortify California’s electric grid are kicking in at times when they’re not really needed, draining the power source before more critical junctures and heightening the chances of blackouts as a blistering heat wave punishes the state. 

Batteries help to store extra electricity, generated by solar or hydropower. That surplus is supposed to act as a cushion for times when those intermittent renewable sources are running low. But the grid uses a pricing mechanism to trigger the batteries, rather than basing it on pure demand levels. That can lead to mismatches.

That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, when the state declared a grid emergency and only narrowly avoided major power outages.

Batteries began discharging in the middle of the afternoon, when there was still plenty of solar power and other supplies available to meet electricity demand. That depleted the cushion before it was more critically needed in the early evening, when the state was on the brink of rotating blackouts as demand hit an all-time record and solar supplies started dropping as the sun set. If it weren’t for a timely emergency mobile-phone alert calling on Californians to conserve power immediately, swaths of the state could have been plunged into darkness. Read More > at Bloomberg

Researchers identify multiple causal genes that drive type 2 diabetes risk – Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have used advanced three-dimensional mapping techniques at a microscopic level to identify a multitude of genetic variants and corresponding target gene pairings in the pancreas that are implicated in type 2 diabetes. In addition to these discoveries, the resulting datasets will serve as a key resource for researchers all over the world to delve deeper into the genetic origins of type 2 diabetes and further explore the roles of different types of cells in the development of the disease.

The findings were published today in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Type 2 diabetes cases are on the rise and being diagnosed in patients earlier in life than what has been historically observed. However, while many cases can be attributed to a rise in obesity and sedentary lifestyle, increasing evidence suggests a strong role that genetic risk factors play in this relatively common disease. Prior genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified hundreds of genetic variants associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Read More > at Medical Xpress

Twitter’s Child Smut Ruined Its Porn Profit Plan – In the spring of 2022, Twitter considered making a radical change to the platform. After years of quietly allowing adult content on the service, the company would monetize it. The proposal: give adult content creators the ability to begin selling OnlyFans-style paid subscriptions, with Twitter keeping a share of the revenue.

Had the project been approved, Twitter would have risked a massive backlash from advertisers, who generate the vast majority of the company’s revenues. But the service could have generated more than enough to compensate for losses. OnlyFans, the most popular by far of the adult creator sites, is projecting $2.5 billion in revenue this year — about half of Twitter’s 2021 revenue — and is already a profitable company.

Some executives thought Twitter could easily begin capturing a share of that money since the service is already the primary marketing channel for most OnlyFans creators. And so resources were pushed to a new project called ACM: Adult Content Monetization.

Before the final go-ahead to launch, though, Twitter convened 84 employees to form what it called a “Red Team.” The goal was “to pressure-test the decision to allow adult creators to monetize on the platform, by specifically focusing on what it would look like for Twitter to do this safely and responsibly,” according to documents obtained by The Verge and interviews with current and former Twitter employees.

What the Red Team discovered derailed the project: Twitter could not safely allow adult creators to sell subscriptions because the company was not — and still is not — effectively policing harmful sexual content on the platform.

“Twitter cannot accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale,” the Red Team concluded in April 2022. The company also lacked tools to verify that creators and consumers of adult content were of legal age, the team found. As a result, in May — weeks after Elon Musk agreed to purchase the company for $44 billion — the company delayed the project indefinitely. If Twitter couldn’t consistently remove child sexual exploitative content on the platform today, how would it even begin to monetize porn? Read More > in The Verge

Bring More Reality and Less Rhetoric to Biden’s Domestic Clean-Energy Mandate – The United States is in a mineral supply chain crisis. We need taconite, copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum-group elements, and many more for our national security, modern energy technology, and virtually every part of our modern world. While we have vast mineral wealth throughout our great country, we still are dangerously import-reliant, according to the Administration’s own U.S. Geological Survey, putting our economy, our national security, and our citizens at risk.

President Biden recently signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which among several other provisions, increases domestic sourcing requirements for energy mandates, particularly for electric vehicle manufacturers. He also invoked the Defense Production Act for the same purpose, but with little clarity on how it benefits American mining, while holding a webinar that outlines spending American taxpayer dollars to develop mines in Canada. However, we know the only path forward to achieving the President’s goals is to lead the way in fostering responsible, sustainable domestic mining to acquire the critical minerals needed for modern energy technology. The greatest hurdle for the President in carrying out his climate agenda, ironically, is his own opposition to domestic extraction.   

We consistently hear about the need for domestic mineral production, but at every turn we see regulatory roadblocks that at best slow, or at worst halt entirely, the rigorous process established in law for mining projects. These actions ignore the reality that all modern energy technologies are mining intensive.

A single wind turbine can contain 4.7 tons of copper. Nickel is fundamental in the production of batteries for EVs. Cobalt is used for rechargeable batteries. And platinum is required for catalytic converters, which decrease emissions from automobiles. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2040, demand for these energy-related minerals could grow up to 40 times. In fact, cobalt and nickel are both on the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2022 Critical Minerals list. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

Why Pain Feels Worse at Night – It’s long been a mystery why one of the most basic human experiences—feeling physical pain—fluctuates in intensity throughout the day. Since the early days of medicine, doctors and patients have noticed that many types of pain tend to get worse at night. Most research so far has tried to link mounting nighttime pain to sleep deprivation or disrupted sleep, but with limited success.

In a recently published study, scientists led by Claude Gronfier at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre in France have finally shed light on changing pain sensitivity, suggesting that our circadian clock strongly shapes these shifts, with a characteristic peak and trough of intensity at different times of day.

Even people who can’t dance have internal rhythms thrumming through every system in their body. Known as circadian rhythms, these biological processes tune their activity to rise and fall at precise times across the day, driven by the body’s internal clock. They influence pretty much every bodily system, exerting control over “almost all aspects of our physiology and behavior,” says Lance Kriegsfeld, a circadian biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The work by Gronfier and his team revealed the influence of these rhythms on pain by showing that a short, painful heat stimulus was perceived to be most painful around 3 am and least painful at approximately 3 pm. “It’s very exciting,” says Nader Ghasemlou, a pain scientist at Queens University in Kingston, Canada, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It is one of these studies that is answering questions that we’ve had for a long time.” Read More > at Wired

Fracking ban in England lifted in bid to boost UK gas supply – The government has lifted the ban on fracking for shale gas in England, alongside unveiling its plans to limit rising energy costs.

The controversial practice was halted in 2019, amid opposition from environmentalists and local concerns over earth tremors.

But new Prime Minister Liz Truss has backed fracking as a way to help boost the UK’s domestic gas supplies.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Truss said tapping into the “huge reserves” of shale gas would help the UK meet a new target of being a net energy exporter by 2040.

She has also announced a new licensing round for oil and gas projects in the North Sea, expected next week, which is expected to lead to 100 new licences.

She has previously argued the UK is too dependent on international energy prices, which have rocketed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Read More > at BBC News

Tax code audit is long overdue – President Biden committed $80 billion over the next decade to support the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and provide help for IRS agents to get their job done. Republicans are crying foul, suggesting that every American will be targeted for unnecessary and unwelcomed harassment, especially small business owners. Like any partisan response, the truth typically falls somewhere in the middle. 

Perhaps instead of throwing money at a tax code and taxation system that is designed, as some argue, to leave “billions on the table,” the time is ripe to revamp the tax code, which has almost 10,000 sections and has been amended over 4,000 times just over the past decade.

The goal should be to create a simplified taxation system so that everyone can better understand how much taxes they are paying, with the IRS bureaucracy minimized, and taxes collected with greater ease for all. 

So, what are some options that are used in other countries? 

flat tax imposes a single tax rate for all taxpayers. A value added tax, or VAT, taxes consumption rather than income.

The argument against both these taxation systems is that they are not sufficiently progressive to tax high-income earners enough, and they overly burden low-income earners. Yet, this is exactly the effect of the current tax code.

The people who benefit the most from a complex tax code are high-income earners. They are the people who exploit tax laws and rules that enable them to pay less taxes. Many such efforts are legal and well within the tax code, either explicitly or by interpretation.

Tax reform is often portrayed as needing to collect more taxes from the wealthiest earners. The data shows that high-income earners already pay a large proportion of federal taxes. For example, in 2019, the top half of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes. Moreover, the top 1 percent of all taxpayers paid over 38 percent of all individual income taxes collected. Read More > at The Hill

America’s Bad Bet on Sports Gambling – For years now, anyone who watches sports on TV or the internet has been bombarded with advertisements that insist you aren’t really enjoying the game unless you are betting money on it. FanDuel, an online sports betting firm, promises that you can “make every moment of the game mean more” by laying a so-called prop bet on whether Tony Gonsolin’s next pitch will be a strike, or Jordan Spieth will birdie the 11th, or Rhamondre Stevenson will gain 30 yards or more in the second quarter. DraftKings, a decade-old sports-betting concern now moving into casino gambling, also has a bunch of products that will help you, in its odd phrase, “celebrate all the moments out there.” Back in the 2016 football season, many “moments” beside that Central Michigan game were ruined for lack of a multinational corporation to place bets with. How could any fan possibly have enjoyed the Patriots’ 25-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Falcons if he didn’t have “skin in the game”?

The floodgates have opened since then. In 2018, the Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. NCAA overturned a law limiting sports betting to four states that had had it before. Now other states have rushed to legalize it, three dozen as of this summer. The NFL and Major League Baseball used to raise moral concerns about the influence of gambling on their sports. They used to suspend players for being on the premises of an establishment that offered gambling. But now they have entered into partnerships with bookmakers. The New Orleans Superdome has been renamed Caesars Superdome, after the Las Vegas casino brand. The logo of the gambling corporation MGM is painted across the middle of Fenway Park’s storied left-field wall. Athletes with a particular reputation for continence and probity—Drew Brees, Peyton and Eli Manning, Wayne Gretzky—now anchor TV ads for sports-gambling products. College sports weren’t left behind….

There is enormous potential for profit where on-field heroics, verifiable statistics, and gambling addiction meet sophisticated computer algorithms. The American Gaming Association says $58 billion was wagered on sports last year. Such sums are putting massive pressure on sports, politics, and even journalism.

Before sports betting took off, the sociologist Natasha Dow Schüll, in her groundbreaking 2012 book, Addiction by Design, described the way big casinos engineer their games to make them inconvenient to exit. Internet-age slot machines “smooth” the experience; there is less inserting of money and pulling of levers. On an old one-armed bandit you could play 300 hands an hour. Now you can play 1,200.

Gambling companies are following a Costco model of profiting from volume instead of price, Schüll believes. But they are doing something else, too. They are eliminating the pauses in which a self-reflective person might ask: “Why the hell am I doing this?

For the past half-century there has been a belief—unique in American history—that gambling is a good way for the state to raise revenue and create jobs. Clinton-era New Democrat governors like Zell Miller of Georgia and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania discovered that if you earmarked for “education” the tax receipts from a new money-generating scheme, voters would be almost indifferent to what the scheme was. That is how most of the country’s slot resorts and riverboat gambling parlors got built.

But the revenue always fell a bit short of what was promised, and the early reports about sports betting show the states’ take to be quite lame. The Arizona Mirror reported in May that, over the preceding six months, $2.8 billion in bets had been made in the state, bringing $225 million in earnings to sports teams and gambling dens, and $8.5 million into the state’s coffers. And in this age of stratification, $8 million dollars is pretty much nothing. In 2019 there were 1,456,336 households in the United States with more than $10 million in net worth, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Read More > at Compact Magazine

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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