Sunday, December 4, 2022

Last Call For Ridin' With Biden, Con't

Friday's strong job numbers and the latest news that inflation is moderating is good news for the country and for President Biden heading into 2023.

The price of gasoline is dropping like a rock. Chicken wings are suddenly a bargain. And retailers drowning in excess inventory are looking to make a deal.

After more than a year of high inflation, many consumers are finally starting to catch a break. Even apartment rents and car prices, two items that hammered millions of household budgets this year, are no longer spiraling out of control.

Global supply chains are finally operating normally, as more consumers spend more on in-person services like restaurant meals and less on goods like furniture and computers that come from an ocean away. The cost of sending a standard 40-foot container from China to the U.S. West Coast is $1,935 — down more than 90 percent from its September 2021 peak of $20,586, according to the online freight marketplace Freightos.

The moderation in inflation is just beginning to appear in government statistics. In October, the Federal Reserve’s preferred price gauge, the personal consumption expenditures index, posted its smallest monthly increase since September of last year, and is up 6 percent over the past 12 months. The better-known consumer price index is rising at an annual rate of 7.7 percent, down from 9.1 percent in June.

“The worst of the inflation is behind us,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist for TS Lombard in New York. “The question is where does inflation settle?”

The Fed has been raising interest rates sharply since March in a bid to get inflation back to its 2-percent price stability target. Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell on Wednesday noted signs of progress, but said it was far too early to claim victory. Friday’s stronger-than-expected jobs report, which showed wages rising too quickly for policymakers’ tastes, only underscored the point. The central bank does not expect to reach its inflation goal until 2025.

“It will take substantially more evidence to give comfort that inflation is actually declining. By any standard, inflation remains much too high,” Powell told an audience at the Brookings Institution.

Still, there are clear signs of improvement in merchandise prices, as consumers resume their pre-pandemic spending patterns. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, goods prices rose in October by 5.1 percent, down from a 12.3 percent annual rate in February.

But as goods prices begin cooling, pressure is building on services. Rising demand and limited supply — think short-staffed restaurants — has services inflation running at an annual 6.7 percent rate, more than twice the year-ago figure.

“The expectation is that goods prices will continue to disinflate. But services inflation will more gradually slow and will be much stickier,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide.
So we're nowhere near being out of the woods yet, but we're past the halfway point. Whether or not we can get through without the economy slamming into recession ditch in the next year or so is the real battle. I have to believe that if Trump were still in charge, we'd already be in a recession. 

We'll see how things go, but I'd much rather have Biden's team in charge of the economy. Fed Chair Jerome Powell, well, we'll see.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

I absolutely guarantee that these two stories from the Fayetteville Observer back home in NC are related:


Organizers of a downtown Southern Pines drag show say they aren’t backing down after receiving threats of violence from far-right activists.

The Downtown Divas show planned for Saturday at Sunrise Theater is the fourth drag event hosted by Sandhills Pride in the last few years, Executive Director Lauren Mathers said, but never have the shows caused such a stir in the sleepy Moore County town.

“Most of the time, if people don’t want to see something, they don’t buy a ticket,” she said.

This time, the opposition went on a “crusade” to shut down the event by claiming drag performers are pedophiles with intentions of grooming children, Moore County political blog writer Cheryl Christy-Bowman said.
Authorities in North Carolina believe vandalism may have caused a power outage that affected thousands of customers Saturday night.

A mass power outage in several communities beginning just after 7 p.m. Saturday “is being investigated as a criminal occurrence," the Moore County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.

“As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites,” the sheriff's office said.

Moore County deputies and other law enforcement responded and were providing security at the affected sites, the sheriff's office said.

Utility company Duke Energy said nearly 38,000 customers were without power in Moore County, while the Randolph Electric Membership Corporation reported outages affected nearly 3,000 customers in the county's southern area, WRAL-TV reported.
Yeah, the substations were shot up "just after 7 pm Saturday" when the Downtown Divas show was beginning.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what's going on here, less than 12 hours after Donald Trump called for the suspension of the Constitution in order to declare himself Maximum Leader of America.

This wasn't "vandalism". Vandalism is tagging a hospital or library or school with "Jeff Rules" in safety orange spray paint.  Knocking out power to half of a county in a coordinated effort to damage four substations at once in order to stop a drag show is a terrorist attack and a hate crime.

We need to both treat it as such, and send a warning to these assholes that the consequences of this are going to be very long stints in prison.

Sunday Long Read: The Big Sleep

If we're ever to go to Mars in my lifetime, we're going to have to find a way to get astronauts from Earth to the Red Planet and back, and that's a three-year round trip. The biggest concern is safety, food, and water. and cracking the hibernation code could provide the answer, as Wired's Brendan Koerner explains.

ONE DAY IN 1992, near the northern pole of a planet hurtling around the Milky Way at roughly 500,000 miles per hour, Kelly Drew was busy examining some salmon brains in a lab. Her concentration was broken when Brian Barnes, a zoophysiology professor from down the hall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, popped by her bench for a visit. With a mischievous grin, he asked Drew—a neuropharmacologist early in her career—to hold out her hands and prepare for a surprise. A moment later, she felt a hard, furry lump deposited in her palms. It was some sort of brown rodent with dagger-like claws, curled up into a tight ball and so cold to the touch that Drew assumed it was dead. To her astonishment, Barnes gleefully explained that it was actually in perfect health.

The creature, an Arctic ground squirrel, was just hibernating, as it does for up to eight months of the year. During that span, the animal's internal temperature falls to below 27 degrees Fahrenheit, literally as cold as ice. Its brain waves become so faint that they're nearly impossible to detect, and its heart beats as little as once per minute. Yet the squirrel remains very much alive. And when spring comes, it can elevate its temperature back to 98.6 degrees in a couple of hours.

Drew cradled the unresponsive critter in her hands, unable to detect even the faintest signs of life. What's going on inside this animal's brain that allows it to survive like this? she wondered. And with that question, she began to burrow into a mystery that would carry her decades into the future.

AT THIS POINT, in the year 2022, no fewer than three major entities—NASA, the Chinese National Space Administration, and SpaceX—are vying to put the first human on Mars by 2040 or so. To win that race, a team must first solve a series of vexing design riddles. As an executive at SpaceWorks, an Atlanta-based engineering firm that tackles ambitious research projects for NASA, John Bradford has spent the past decade running the brutal math on one of them.

Unfortunately for the engineers trying to get humans to the Red Planet, we're a pretty high-maintenance species. As large endotherms with active brains, we burn through copious amounts of food, water, and oxygen in our daily quest to survive. All that consumption makes it extra hard to design a spacecraft light enough to reach—and eventually return from—a planet some 140 million miles from our own. Based on the eating habits of the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, for example, a crew of four will need at least 11 tons of food to complete an 1,100-day mission to Mars and back. Those meals alone would weigh nearly 10 times more than the entire Perseverance rover, the biggest payload ever to reach the Martian surface. Add in all the other life-support essentials, to say nothing of the engines and the tools necessary to set up camp, and the weight of a fully fueled Mars-bound ship could easily exceed 330 tons as it departs Earth's atmosphere—more than two fully grown blue whales. It's nearly impossible to see how a vessel that massive could generate the power necessary for its entire round-trip journey.

The obvious solution to this problem—at least to anyone who's read any Arthur C. Clarke novels or watched Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey—is to slow the metabolism of crew members so they only need to ingest a bare minimum of resources while in transit. In 2001, astronauts lie down in sarcophagus-like hibernation pods, where their hearts beat just three times a minute and their body temperature hovers at 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Bradford has devoted a huge chunk of his 21-year career at SpaceWorks to investigating a question that Kubrick had the artistic license to ignore: How, exactly, can we safely power down a human body so it's just one step removed from death, then revive it on demand?

Early on in his research, Bradford glimpsed some promise in therapeutic hypothermia, a medical technique in which people who have experienced cardiac arrest are chilled—typically with intravenous cooling fluids—until their internal temperature reaches as low as 89 degrees Fahrenheit. This decreases their metabolism so much that their cells can function on roughly 30 percent less oxygen and energy—a lifesaver for a damaged body that's struggling to heal amid reduced blood flow. Patients are usually kept in this hypothermic state for only a day or two, mostly because the cold triggers intense shivering that must be controlled with powerful sedatives and neuromuscular-blocking drugs. But Bradford identified a few rare cases in which patients were kept hypothermic for as long as two weeks. “And we started asking, why can't you do that for longer?” he says. “How long can you sustain that comatose-like state?”

Bradford was wary of going public with his curiosity, fearing he'd be branded a crank for suggesting astronauts be put on ice—a concept uncomfortably similar to the one touted by the dubious cryonics industry. But in 2013 he persuaded NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program to fund a project assessing the feasibility of “human torpor.” His successful pitch centered on the potential weight savings: He estimated that if astronauts could be kept frigid for the bulk of their trip to Mars, the mass of their life-support resources could be cut by as much as 60 percent. Bradford also hypothesized that torpor could help astronauts fend off a number of serious health hazards, ranging from radiation to the psychological perils of extreme boredom and isolation. (“You're in the blackness of space, you don't have real-time communications,” he says. “A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, I'll just read a lot of books.’ But I think that will get old quick.”)

A lot of space sci-fi books and movies have tackled the concept over the years, from the Alien films to hard sci-fi from authors like Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton. But if we can conquer death in a way, it may help us explore the solar system and beyond. 
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