Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Pakistan is Bankrupt

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This video is another that takes a look at the economic storm now in progress. Video is from two days ago.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:54 am

Free Speech on Trial

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Today’s issue is about how a subtle form of speech control works in 21st century America, as seen through two ongoing antitrust cases. The first is a merger trial where the government is trying to block the combination of publishing giants Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster, and the second is a lawsuit where conservative video service Rumble is suing Google for monopolization.

In both, dominant firms are trying to gain or protect market power, and in doing so, end up with too much power over the public square. It’s not intentional, but monopoly power fosters centralized control of what we can discuss.

Speech and Concentration Creep

In the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks star as two business rivals who hate each other in ‘real life’ but connect and fall in love anonymously over the internet. Hanks plays Joe Fox, a tycoon who owns a Barnes and Nobles-style corporate book chain, trying to crush the small store owned by Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan. After a noisy but adorably silly protest, the movie ends with Kelly losing her store, but getting Tom Hanks as a soulmate. It’s a delightful film, a Nora Ephron-written classic.

What’s interesting about this movie from an anti-monopolist standpoint, however, is not the romance, but the politics. The movie is almost aggressively apathetic about concentrations of power. We tend to look at corporate concentration as a relatively recent phenomenon. Big tech emerged in force in the 2000s, that’s when offshoring to China happened in force, and the key major ruling ending monopolization cases didn’t occur until 2004. But here’s a movie showing that almost 25 years ago, before all that, consolidation was so well-known as to be a relatively unremarked central plot element of a popular film.

You’ve Got Mail is also a movie about a specific industry, publishing. Indeed, in many ways, the book industry has been a canary in the coal mine for concentration in the American economy. Books were the very first industry dominated by Amazon, but it isn’t just the retail giant. Every part of the book business, from retail stores to distribution to printing to retail to audio and ebooks to publishing houses, has been consolidating for decades. In the movie Tom Hanks is kind and charming; in real life, Barnes and Nobles used its power over shelf space to act as the industry bully, until Jeff Bezos came along and turned market power into performance art. Then, ten years ago, Penguin and Random House merged, allowed by the Obama administration’s antitrust enforcers. The book business is an increasingly cruel and lawless world, not a romantic one. . .

Continue reading. Interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:44 am

China’s Mortgage Crisis, including video of the simultaneous explosive demolition of multiple empty skyscrapers with unsold housing

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I posted a couple of other videos earlier on these crisis, videos from this month. This is an older video, from two weeks ago (28 July 2022), but I decided to post it because one doesn’t often see multiple skyscrapers being destroyed because the real estate company that built them couldn’t sell them.

Worth watching (as are the two earlier videos). Some scenes were censored by YouTube, and I presume that was done at the request of the Chinese government.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 9:58 pm

Cathie Wood: China’s COLLAPSE Is FAR Worse Than You Think

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This is another video on the perils the Chinese economy faces. Worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 12:54 pm

Why does the IRS need $80 billion? Just look at its cafeteria.

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click to enlarge

Catherine Rampell has an excellent article (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post with photos by Matthew Busch. It’s truly worth reading, and scrolling through the working environment of the IRS shows why they need the money. The article begins:

[The cafeteria in the Austin office of the IRS] is part of what the IRS calls the “Pipeline”: a 1970s-era assembly line used to process tax returns at several locations around the country. And it might give you a sense of why Congress is on the verge of handing the agency $80 billion through the Inflation Reduction Act — not only for more enforcement but also for tech modernization.

As of July 29, the IRS had a backlog of 10.2 million unprocessed individual returns. Blame the pandemic, sure, but also the agency’s embarrassingly outdated, paper-based system, which leaves stacks and stacks of returns cluttering shelves, hallways and even the cafeteria.

On the Pipeline, paper tax returns aren’t scanned into computers; instead, IRS employees manually keystroke the numbers from each document into the system, digit by digit.

Even if you, Joe Taxpayer, file your taxes electronically (as most Americans do), you still might land in paper purgatory. Any issues with your “e-filed” return, and the IRS sends you a letter; then, you must reply by snail mail or fax.

Remember fax machines?

Taxpayers are trapped in this time warp because Congress has systemically underinvested in the IRS. Its funding was cut for most of the past decade, despite the agency receiving evermore responsibilities: stimulus checks, child tax credit payments, Obamacare enforcement, foreign bank account tracking and, lately, hunting down Russian yachts. Without reliable, long-term funding guarantees, the IRS has struggled to upgrade its systems.

I recently took a (chaperoned) tour of the Pipeline, which is usually off-limits to journalists. Imagine Willy Wonka’s secretive chocolate factory, but instead of gumdrops and lollipops it’s … paper. Everywhere, paper.

Keep scrolling and see for yourself. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) 
.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 11:34 am

A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making

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Mark Olalde and Maya Miller report in ProPublica:

The “death map” tells the story of decades of sickness in the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres. Turquoise arrows point to homes where residents had thyroid disease, dark blue arrows mark cases of breast cancer, and yellow arrows mean cancer claimed a life.

Neighbors built the map a decade ago after watching relatives and friends fall ill and die. Dominating the top right corner of the map, less than half a mile from the cluster of colorful arrows, sits what residents believe is the cause of their sickness: 22.2 million tons of uranium waste left over from milling ore to supply power plants and nuclear bombs.

“We were sacrificed a long time ago,” said Candace Head-Dylla, who created the death map with her mother after Head-Dylla had her thyroid removed and her mother developed breast cancer. Research has linked both types of illnesses to uranium exposure.

Beginning in 1958, a uranium mill owned by Homestake Mining Company of California processed and refined ore mined nearby. The waste it left behind leaked uranium and selenium into groundwater and released the cancer-causing gas radon into the air. State and federal regulators knew the mill was polluting groundwater almost immediately after it started operating, but years passed before they informed residents and demanded fixes.

The contamination continued to spread even after the mill closed in 1990.

The failures at Homestake are emblematic of the toxic legacy of the American uranium industry, one that has been well-documented from its boom during the Cold War until falling uranium prices and concerns over the dangers of nuclear power decimated the industry in the 1980s. Uranium mining and milling left a trail of contamination and suffering, from miners who died of lung cancer while the federal government kept the risks secret to the largest radioactive spill in the country’s history.

But for four decades, the management of more than 250 million tons of radioactive uranium mill waste has been largely overlooked, continuing to pose a public health threat.

ProPublica found that regulators have failed to hold companies to account when they missed cleanup targets and accepted incorrect forecasts that pollution wouldn’t spread. The federal government will eventually assume responsibility for the more than 50 defunct mills that generated this waste.

At Homestake, which was among the largest mills, the company is bulldozing a community in order to walk away. Interviews with dozens of residents, along with radon testing and thousands of pages of company and government records, reveal a community sacrificed to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal and atomic energy industry.

Time and again, Homestake and government agencies promised to clean up the area. Time and again, they missed their deadlines while further spreading pollution in the communities. In the 1980s, Homestake promised residents groundwater would be cleaned within a decade, locals told the Environmental Protection Agency and ProPublica. After missing that target, the company told regulators it would complete the job around 2006, then by 2013.

In 2014, an EPA report confirmed the site posed an unacceptable cancer risk and identified radon as the greatest threat to residents’ health. Still, the cleanup target date continued shifting, to 2017, then 2022.

Rather than finish the cleanup, Homestake’s current owner . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 12:16 pm

Prediction of China’s 9/11: “China’s ENTIRE economy will crash by September 11, 2022”

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That’s the prediction made in the video below: that China’s economy will collapse 34 days after August 7, 2022. Perhaps by coincidence, that date is 9/11/2022. I have marked my calendar. In the meantime, it’s an interesting report and worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 9:54 am

5 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic And Why!

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This is definitely worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 6:08 pm

We Make More Virtuous Choices When Using Pen and Paper

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Maferima Touré-Tillery and Lili Wang write in Harvard Business Review:

From ordering food to buying a new book to making a charitable donation, more and more decisions that used to be made on paper are now being made on digital devices like tablets, phones, and computers. And this trend toward digitalization has many advantages, in particular when it comes to efficiency and sustainability — but could it also be negatively influencing how we make decisions?

We conducted a series of studies with more than 2,500 participants across the U.S. and China to explore the impact of the medium you use to make a decision, with a particular focus on decisions with some sort of moral component, such as whether or not to make a donation to a charity, or whether to choose a healthy or unhealthy entrée at a restaurant. We asked the participants to make a variety of these sorts of choices using either a paper form or a digital tablet, and despite controlling for all other variables, we consistently found that people who used paper made more-virtuous decisions than those who used a digital device: For example, participants who read their options and made a selection on paper were significantly more likely to give money to charity, choose a healthy entrée, and opt for an educational book rather than something more entertaining.

When a Decision Feels More Real, We Act More Virtuously

Why might this be? Our research suggests that the key mechanism driving this effect is how “real” the decision feels. We asked participants in two of our studies to describe how real or tangible a decision felt, as well as the extent to which they perceived the decision as representing who they were as people, and they consistently indicated that making a choice on paper felt more real and representative than making the same decision on a digital device. Follow-up analyses confirmed that when a decision felt more real, participants were more likely to feel that it was representative of who they were as a person, ultimately making them more likely to go with the virtuous or responsible option.

Interestingly, we found that this effect does not occur when people are making a decision on behalf of someone else. In another experiment, we asked participants to choose an entrée either for themselves or for a friend, on paper and on a tablet. When choosing for themselves, participants were much more likely to select a healthy option on paper than on a tablet — but when choosing for a friend, the medium had no effect on their choice. This further supports the idea that people are more likely to select the virtuous option when it feels like the decision reflects who they are as a person, whereas when a decision isn’t related to themselves, the “realness” of the medium makes less of a difference.

To Encourage Virtuous Decision-Making, Consider Using Paper

It may seem like a minor detail, but our research shows that the medium with which your customers, employees, or community members make a decision can have a major impact on the choices they make. This has implications for marketers, policymakers, and anyone seeking to encourage any sort of virtuous behavior. For example, to encourage customers to choose healthier options, restaurants might consider opting for paper rather than digital menus. Similarly, parents and educators might opt to provide students with paper rather than online book order forms, to increase the chances that they’ll choose educational reading materials. Charities and political groups may also benefit from paper pledge forms and volunteer sign-up sheets, rather than relying on websites or apps to solicit support.

Indeed, the shift to remote and hybrid work has pushed many decisions that might once have been made exclusively on paper onto digital platforms. While our experiments looked at a very specific set of decisions made in controlled environments, it’s possible that similar effects may be at play when it comes to in-person versus virtual interactions. If a decision made over Zoom or via an online poll feels less real and thus less representative of who you are than an equivalent in-person interaction, it could have important ramifications for the virtual workplace (though there are no doubt many other factors that contribute to employees’ decision-making in a real-world work setting).

Of course, using paper is far from a guarantee of virtuous behavior — and it certainly doesn’t make sense in every context. It’s also important . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 8:40 am

Stanford Designer is Making Bricks Stronger than Concrete Out of Fast-Growing Mushrooms

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Andy Corbley reports at Good News Network:

While there aren’t any species of mushroom large enough to live in, one Bay-area designer thinks he can make one if he only cranks out enough of his patented “mushroom bricks.”

In fact, he knows he can do it, because he’s already build a showpiece called “Mycotecture”—a 6×6 mushroom brick arch from Ganoderma lucidum or reishi mushrooms.

Phil Ross doesn’t use the mushroom, or fruiting body of the reishi; he uses mycelium, the fast-growing fibrous roots that make up the vast majority of fungus lifeforms.

Mycelium grows fast, and is incredibly durable, waterproof, non-toxic, fire-resistant, and biodegradable.

Ross uses it to build bricks by growing mycelium in bags of delicious (to mushrooms) sawdust, before drying them out and cutting them with extremely heavy-duty steel blades.

This works because mushrooms digest cellulose in the sawdust, converting it into chitin, the same fiber that insect exoskeletons are made from.

“The bricks have the feel of a composite material with a core of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 1:55 pm

The war against printing

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Aldus Pius Manutius (1449-1515) an Italian humanist. Engraving by Yenetta, 1880. Credit : Album / Alamy Stock Photo.

Technological progress frequently is met with resistance because almost always such progress involves trade-offs, and for some what is traded off is too central to the enterprise to be discarded. Alexander Lee provides an example in Engelsberg Ideas. He writes:

The pen is a virgin,’ wrote Filippo de Strata in the late fifteenth century, but ‘the printing press is a whore.’ And that wasn’t the half of it. Born into a wealthy Pavian family, Filippo had joined the Dominican Order at a young age and had spent most of his adult life at the convent of San Cipriano, on the Venetian island of Murano. One of the smallest religious communities in the lagoon, it could boast no special intellectual renown, yet its members still attached great importance to the production of manuscripts, and Filippo was no exception. He translated texts from Latin into Italian, copied sermons and biblical commentaries, and even penned a few works of his own. Yet he was also a pompous, even arrogant man, who seemed to be at war with the world around him. His invectives were legion. He attacked the French for spreading heresy among unsuspecting Italians and wrote a rather clunky elegy against the use of organ music in church. But it was printing which attracted the worst of his ire. In a Latin address to Doge Nicolò Marcello, written at some point between August 1473 and December 1474, and in a vernacular poem composed about 20 years later, he lashed out at it with unconcealed hatred. He not only called the press a ‘whore’, but also accused printers of being ‘asses’ — and even asked the Doge to ban printing altogether.

It was, perhaps, not the most obvious of targets. Between the development of the first writing systems in ancient Mesopotamia and the dawn of the internet age, nothing so revolutionised communication as the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg (c.1400–68). Indeed, as the English statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) later wrote, it was one of the three innovations ‘unknown to the ancients’ which could genuinely be said to have ‘changed the appearance of the whole world’.

Granted, the idea behind it wasn’t completely new. For some time, Europeans frustrated by traditional forms of scribal production had been looking for ways of speeding things up. Back in the thirteenth century, the so-called pecia system had been introduced at the universities of Oxford, Paris and Bologna. Books which were in high demand were divided up into sections and rented out a piece at a time, so that several students could copy the same text simultaneously. A little over 100 years later, some Rhenish or Burgundian carvers may also have experimented with printing very short texts using wooden blocks. But even at their best, such methods were clumsy, expensive and fraught with problems.

What made Gutenberg’s innovation so remarkable was his use of movable metal type. This not only allowed compositors to set any text, but it was also so durable that it could be used hundreds — if not thousands — of times without any significant loss of clarity. Combined with a press (modelled on that used for producing wine), a stickier variety of ink and large sheets of paper, Gutenberg’s type allowed a printer to produce books in greater numbers and more quickly than anyone had ever thought possible. As the humanist Benedetto Brugnoli (1427-1502) later observed, ‘twenty men may [now] print in a month more books than one hundred could previously have copied in a year.’

After Gutenberg established his press in Mainz in c.1450, printing spread rapidly — if rather erratically — throughout Europe. Within less than 20 years, . . .

Continue reading. Complaints about readily available books are specified later in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 1:45 pm

“Princess Mononoke”: The masterpiece that flummoxed the US

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Princess Mononoke is currently available via Netflix, and it is certainly worth (re)watching. Stephen Kelly writes for BBC Culture:

In 1997, the British fantasy author Neil Gaiman received a call out of the blue from then-head of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein. “This animated film, Princess Mononoke,” Gaiman recalls him saying, “it’s the biggest thing in Japan right now. So I thought I’ve got to get the best to do it. I called Quentin Tarantino and said, ‘Quentin, will you do the English language script?’ And he said, you don’t want me, you want Gaiman. So, I’m calling you.” Miramax, a then-subsidiary of Disney, had acquired the rights to distribute Princess Mononoke, the newest film from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, in the United States, and Weinstein wanted to fly Gaiman to Los Angeles to watch a cut of the movie.

“I had zero plans to do it,” Gaiman tells BBC Culture. “But the moment that changed everything for me was the scene where you’re looking at this large pebble. And then a raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And now it’s raining and the surface is slippery and wet. And I’m like, ‘I have never seen anything like this. This is real filmmaking. This is David Lean-level filmmaking. This is Akira Kurosawa-level filmmaking. This is the real deal.'”

When Princess Mononoke was first released in Japan on 12 July 1997, 25 years ago this week, it represented something of a departure for master animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. During the late 80s, Miyazaki had built his reputation (along with the success of Studio Ghibli, which he founded with fellow director Isao Takahata) on films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro; formally ambitious, thematically rich works, but generally affirming in tone and family-friendly in nature. But something changed during the 90s. Firstly, he began to bristle at the popular idea that Studio Ghibli only makes gentle movies about how great nature is. “I begin to hear of Ghibli as ‘sweet’ or ‘healing,'” he grumbles in Princess Mononoke: How the Film Was Conceived, a six-hour documentary about the film’s production, “and I get an urge to destroy it.” Yet even more significant was his growing despair at a world which he had increasingly come to believe was cursed.

“He used to be what he called leftist in sympathy, a believer in people power,” explains Shiro Yoshioka, lecturer in Japanese Studies at Newcastle University. “But for obvious reasons [the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the escalation in ethnic conflicts across Europe], his political beliefs were totally shaken in the early 1990s.”

Japan itself was also going through something of an existential crisis. The country’s bubble period, an economic boom during the late 80s, burst in 1992, stranding Japan in a seemingly endless recession. Three years later, in 1995, the country was hit by the Kobe earthquake, the worst earthquake to hit Japan since 1922. It killed 6,000 people, and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands more. Only two months after that, a terrorist cult by the name of Aum Shinrikyo launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro, killing 13 and injuring thousands. Miyazaki, who was sickened by the materialism of the bubble period, was now living in a country traumatised and confused – both by its relationship with nature, and a creeping sense of spiritual emptiness.

“He began to think,” says Yoshioka, “maybe I should not make this entertaining, light-hearted stuff for children. Maybe I should make something substantial.”

A new anger

Set during the 14th Century, the Muromachi period of Japan, Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince cursed by . . .

Continue reading. But perhaps it’s best to read the article after you’ve watched the movie. The article has many spoilers.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 12:56 pm

Doctors don’t want to take jobs in antiabortion states

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Christopher Rowland has an interesting article in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall). From the article:

. . . One large medical recruiting firm said it recently had 20 obstetrician-gynecologists turn down positions in red states because of abortion laws. The reluctance extends beyond those interested in providing abortion care, as laws meant to protect a fetus could open doctors up to new liabilities or limit their ability to practice. . .

One large health-care staffingfirm, AMN Healthcare, said clients in states with abortion bans are having greater trouble filling vacancies because some prospective OB/GYN candidates won’t even consider opportunities in states with new or pending abortion bans.

Tom Florence, president of Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company, cited 20 instances since the Supreme Court ruling where prospects specifically refused to relocate to states where reproductive rights are being targeted by lawmakers.

“To talk to approximately 20 candidates that state they would decline to practice in those restrictive states, that is certainly a trend we are seeing,” Florence said. “It is certainly going to impact things moving forward.”

Three candidates turned down one of the firm’s recruiters, who was working to fill a single job in maternal fetal medicine in Texas, he said: “All three expressed fear they could be fined or lose their license for doing their jobs.”

In another example, a physician contacted by phone by an AMN Healthcare recruiter trying to fill a post in an antiabortion state “simply said, ‘Roe versus Wade,’ and hung up,” Florence said.

Florence said the shift has especially serious implications for small, rural hospitals, which can afford just a small number of maternal specialists or, in some cases, only one.

“They can deliver hundreds of babies each year and see several thousand patients,” he said. “The potential absence of one OB/GYN that might be in their community, if not for the Supreme Court decision, is highly significant. The burden will be borne by the patients.”

Tellingly, Florence added, none of the recruiters had encountered a single physician seeking to practice in a state because it had banned abortion.

There’s quite a bit more, so read the whole thing (gift link, no paywall).  Conservatives have sown the wind; now they reap the whirlwind.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 11:17 am

An Infinity of Young Talent

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Corporations go out of their way to be disgusting, in this case mocking young musicians to try to sell cars. (I wonder when we’ll see the commercials mocking those with disabilities.)

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2022 at 9:50 am

Clive Thompson: “After Going Solar, I Felt the Bliss of Sudden Abundance”

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Clive Thompson writes in Wired:

I USED TO worry about using too much electricity.

If one of my family members left their bedroom and forgot to turn off the air conditioning? I’d snap at them: “What, you want the planet to cook extra fast?” If I found lights left on overnight, I’d fume.

Reader, I was insufferable. In my defense, I’d been worrying about climate change ever since Jim Hansen’s 1988 landmark congressional testimony about it. With every cool blast of AC, I knew more carbon was being dumped into the atmosphere. So I turned into an energy miser. I’d go around the house turning lights off; if no one else were home, I’d leave the AC off entirely, even on blazingly hot days.

But then, three and a half years ago, something happened that changed my entire psychology around electricity: I installed solar panels on my house.

I quickly found myself awash in more energy than I could use. The installers had predicted the panels would produce 100 percent of what my household needed. (Since battery systems aren’t yet legal in Brooklyn, New York, where I live, any surplus I generated during sunlight hours would get sold to the grid, and I buy energy back at night.)

But the installers underestimated: It turns out I generate a lot of net surplus. According to the “smart meter” that my utility installed, in a 24-hour period my house frequently generates 25 percent more juice than I need, even on a hot summer day. On sunny spring and fall days, it’ll crank out 50 percent more than I use. I’m saving about $2,000 a year, so I’ll amortize the cost of the array in seven years; then the electricity is damn-near free.

It’s had a fascinating effect on me: I’ve stopped worrying about electricity use, both economically and ethically.

I no longer walk around finger-wagging at my family members. Want to blast the AC? Crank away. It’s coming from the sun, and I can’t use all that electricity even if I try. And I’ve tried! I’ve charged an electric bike, run multiple loads of laundry, had many computers and a game system and a TV going, and still those panels were kicking out a net surplus. I’ve idly thought of running a power strip out to the sidewalk with a sign saying “FREE ELECTRICITY,” just to be the Johnny Appleseed of solar.

In essence, I went from a feeling of scarcity to a sense of abundance.

And it occurs to me that this is, really, an emotional shift we ought to foreground when we promote renewables.

Right now many people are doubtful about solar and wind. Thanks (in good part) to fear-and-doubt messaging from Republicans and fossil-fuel interests, renewables are too often associated with privation and rationing—needing to be an efficient-but-miserable hippie instead of gunning the motor and having fun. “Most people believe a clean-energy future will require everyone to make do with less,” as the inventor and energy thinker Saul Griffith points out in his book Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean-Energy Future.

Yet when I talked to other folks who’d put solar on their roofs, most had precisely the same epiphany I’d had: They realized they had way more juice than they expected. And it had the same emotional effect—going from feeling guilty and weird to devil-may-care.

Consider the case of Christopher Coleman.  . .

Continue reading.

BTW, Wired has a special discount now: 1 year for $5. That seems worth it to get past the paywall, especially since I find their articles interesting and useful. They will automatically renew my subscription next Aug 5 for $30/year, so I put a reminder in my calendar to call them on Jul 31 next year to cancel the subscription. I might change my mind — that’s what they’re counting on, obviously — but right now I’m not sure their articles are worth $30/year to me. We’ll see.

But $5 for year seems like a bargain.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2022 at 8:15 am

Nancy Pelosi, China and the Slow Decline of the U.S. Military

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

As military tensions flare between the U.S. and China over Taiwan, it’s easy to put all eyes on Nancy Pelosi and her visit to the island. Symbolism matters deeply in international relations, and this event is setting the direction for how Chinese and U.S. leaders will relate to one another. But six weeks ago, an obscure military bureaucrat named Cameron Holt offered another, equally important signal about this relationship. Holt is the head of acquisitions for the Air Force, which means he oversees the buying of everything from drones to nuclear missiles. And in a fascinating and spicy speech, he said that if the U.S. doesn’t get better at buying weapons, America will lose in a future conflict to China. “It’s simply math,” he argued.

The reason is that China is better at procurement. China is getting weapons “five to six times” more rapidly than the United States. “In purchasing power parity,” he said, “they spend about one dollar to our 20 dollars to get to the same capability.” This problem is directly related to market power in the U.S. Holt went over the business strategy of U.S. defense contractors, noting their goal is to lowball contracts but keep control of intellectual property. Then, he said, they create vendor lock-in, and raise prices later. In other words, they underprice upfront so they can eventually exploit pricing power over the Pentagon. Chinese acquisition strategies are more efficient and less brittle, which means over time their military will overtake ours.

Nothing Holt said is a surprise. Everyone knows how screwed up U.S. procurement is, the warnings come in almost daily. For instance, the U.S. can’t replace its stocks of Javelins and Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine, it’s going to take years to restart some of the assembly lines. Raytheon and Lockheed are having supply chain issues, and are unable to deliver weapons despite strong orders. We can’t even make the chips for weapons systems like the B-2 bomber, because semiconductor firms are shutting down the fabs that made the old parts. One could argue these are anomalies, unusual situations, but war is the ultimate moment of supply chain disruption, so that’s cold comfort.

To put the problem simply, we spend massively on weapons and get too little for it. Why? Just like health care or most other bloated sectors, it’s the prices, stupid. We consolidated economic power in the hands of a few dominant defense contractors and financiers, and they have become slothful and expensive. Fortunately, since it’s a problem caused by policy, it’s also a problem that can be solved by policy. And there are useful legislative attempts to do so.

Let’s start with how the U.S. organizes its defense thinking around procurement and economics. Traditional American strategy was laid out after the Revolutionary War, when U.S. policymakers recognized that to be an independent nation required domestic manufacturing and shipping capacity to reduce dependency on foreign actors, which through much of the 19th century was Great Britain. The idea we should be able to supply ourselves with industrial goods that could be repurposed for weaponry was key to every U.S. war, both then and since. For instance, in World War II, the U.S. became the ‘arsenal of democracy’ largely by transforming its peacetime industrial capacity to focus on industrial-scale warfare. Instead of cars, Ford factories churned out tanks and aircraft. Similarly, the Cold War aerospace industry in the form of Boeing and regulated airlines such as Pan Am served both civilian and military purposes.

Until the early 1990s, this basic strategy held; retain an industrial base for security purposes, so as to be able to produce lots of cheap interoperable machines and weapons if necessary. Public control over the defense part of this base occurred through competition; during World War II, there were more than a dozen prime contractors for every major weapons system. So if one entity screwed up or under-invested, military officers could procure elsewhere.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. strategists changed this successful model of governance. The national security world and Wall Street, whose relationship had always been somewhat tense, became more aligned in their vision of how to project U.S. power. They coalesced around . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 11:41 am

How the NRA has blocked gun control in the U.S.

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Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2022 at 10:58 am

The reactionary roots of crypto and web3: A TEDx talk by David Troy

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Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2022 at 10:56 am

Plant-based processed meat substitutes: Not so good

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Because I follow a whole-food plant-based diet, I don’t explore refined and highly processed foods, though I did once try a Beyond burger (meh).

I do “process” some foods in various way — rinsing, peeling, chopping, blending, steaming, roasting, sautéing, fermenting — but that’s a far cry from manufacturing foods from refined ingredients and including a variety of additives (flavor, coloring, salt, cheap oil, preservatives) to be sold packaged under a brand name. That kind of “food” I skip, and that takes care of manufactured meat substitutes. 

Two recent studies show the drawbacks of manufactured (aka “highly processed,” “ultraprocessed”) foods.

Unintended Consequences: Nutritional Impact and Potential Pitfalls of Switching from Animal- to Plant-Based Foods

Abstract:

Consumers are shifting towards plant-based diets, driven by both environmental and health reasons. This has led to the development of new plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) that are marketed as being sustainable and good for health. However, it remains unclear whether these novel PBMAs to replace animal foods carry the same established nutritional benefits as traditional plant-based diets based on pulses, legumes, [grains,] and vegetables. We modelled a reference omnivore diet using NHANES 2017–2018 data and compared it to diets that substituted animal products in the reference diet with either traditional or novel plant-based foods to create flexitarian, vegetarian, and vegan diets matched for calories and macronutrients. With the exception of the traditional vegan diet, all diets with traditional plant-based substitutes met daily requirements for calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and Vitamin B12 and were lower in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar than the reference diet. Diets based on novel plant-based substitutes were below daily requirements for calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin B12 and exceeded the reference diet for saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. Much of the recent focus has been on protein quality and quantity, but our case study highlights the risk of unintentionally increasing undesirable nutrients while reducing the overall nutrient density of the diet when less healthy plant-based substitutes are selected. Opportunities exist for PBMA producers to enhance the nutrient profile and diversify the format of future plant-based foods that are marketed as healthy, sustainable alternatives to animal-based products. View Full-Text

A metabolomics comparison of plant-based meat and grass-fed meat indicates large nutritional differences despite comparable Nutrition Facts panels

A new generation of plant-based meat alternatives—formulated to mimic the taste and nutritional composition of red meat—have attracted considerable consumer interest, research attention, and media coverage. This has raised questions of whether plant-based meat alternatives represent proper nutritional replacements to animal meat. The goal of our study was to use untargeted metabolomics to provide an in-depth comparison of the metabolite profiles a popular plant-based meat alternative (n = 18) and grass-fed ground beef (n = 18) matched for serving size (113 g) and fat content (14 g). Despite apparent similarities based on Nutrition Facts panels, our metabolomics analysis found that metabolite abundances between the plant-based meat alternative and grass-fed ground beef differed by 90% (171 out of 190 profiled metabolites; false discovery rate adjusted p < 0.05). Several metabolites were found either exclusively (22 metabolites) or in greater quantities in beef (51 metabolites) (all, p < 0.05). Nutrients such as docosahexaenoic acid (ω-3), niacinamide (vitamin B3), glucosamine, hydroxyproline and the anti-oxidants allantoin, anserine, cysteamine, spermine, and squalene were amongst those only found in beef. Several other metabolites were found exclusively (31 metabolites) or in greater quantities (67 metabolites) in the plant-based meat alternative (all, p < 0.05). Ascorbate (vitamin C), phytosterols, and several phenolic anti-oxidants such as loganin, sulfurol, syringic acid, tyrosol, and vanillic acid were amongst those only found in the plant-based meat alternative. Large differences in metabolites within various nutrient classes (e.g., amino acids, dipeptides, vitamins, phenols, tocopherols, and fatty acids) with physiological, anti-inflammatory, and/or immunomodulatory roles indicate that these products should not be viewed as truly nutritionally interchangeable, but could be viewed as complementary in terms of provided nutrients. The new information we provide is important for making informed decisions by consumers and health professionals. It cannot be determined from our data if either source is healthier to consume.

Introduction

By 2050, global food systems will need to meet the dietary demands of almost 10 billion people. To meet these demands in a healthy and sustainable manner, it is put forward that diets would benefit from a shift towards consumption of more plant-based foods and less meat, particularly in Western countries1. This has raised questions whether novel plant-based meat alternatives represent healthy and nutritionally adequate alternatives to meat2,3,4,5.

The new generation of plant-based meat alternatives such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger are becoming increasingly popular with consumers. Their success has led other international food companies—including traditional meat companies—to invest in their own product versions6. The global plant-based meat alternative sector has experienced substantial growth and is projected to increase from . . .

Continue reading.

Always keep in mind that the main priority of corporations is their profits, not your welfare.

Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2022 at 10:48 am

Some additions to your budget plan

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Cynthis Measom has a useful article in GO Banking rates on some expense items (and their estimate cost) that should be included among the expense categories for which you put money aside. Some items may not apply — for example, home repair expenses are not part of a renter’s budget. However, a renter might well want to have in savings an amount equal to the cost of a move and renting a new place (which might require an amount equal to three month’s of your target monthly rental: first and last month and security deposit.

At any rate, the article has some useful thoughts that you might want to incorporate in a budget plan like the one I describe in a separate post.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2022 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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