Bits n’ Pieces

From east, west and beyond

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

Facial recognition technology, being adopted by law enforcement, “has a racial bias problem,” the ACLU states. Studies by experts show the technology does not perform well when trying to identify people with darker skin tones, or if they are women, youth, trans or gender non-conforming people. That became obvious when faces of 28 members of Congress were falsely matched with mugshots. 

How dry I am” could have been the theme song at a recent far-right Music Fest in Ostritz Germany. The BBC reported that to avoid problems from the neo-Nazis-alcohol mix, both the police and local citizens worked to make sure the beer aisles in grocery stores were empty. 

The Republican tax cut for U.S. workers that was promised to be $4,000 extra has manifested as an actual $28, according to a report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Center.

As well, the U.S. Treasury says the tax cuts led to a 31% decline in corporate tax revenue in 2018. Politico reports there appears to be an additional 9% revenue decline so far in 2019. 

Recent donations to Solar Cookers International allowed the placement of 300 solar cookers in a refugee camp in Kenya. The low-cost cookers significantly reduce smoke from wood burning; they also reduce malnutrition, since food does not have to be sold to buy fuel. As well, the risk of violence from going outside camp to collect firewood is reduced.

Nineteen ultra-wealthy people recently signed a letter in Medium stating they want all presidential candidates to support a wealth tax on the ultra-rich: a two cent tax on every dollar of assets over $50 million, and another penny on assets over $1 billion. The signers said the tax burden should not fall on middle- or lower-income people. Rather, “…it is the patriotic duty of all Americans to contribute what they can to the success of the country, and the wealthiest are no exception.” They recommended the taxes address things like climate change, student debt relief, and the opioid crisis.

Wildlife listen to survive, but that’s become a problem in the Olympic National Forest in Washington State. The natural noise level is 25 decibels, described by High Country News as “whisper quiet.” But when a Navy “Growler” jet flies over, that rises to nearly 70 decibels. Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton says, “This is a national park, and natural quiet is on the list of protected natural resources,” joined also by features such as dark night skies and native plants. But the Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over airspace, not the Park Service. Hempton has launched Quiet Parks International, which certifies what places are least likely to be sources of unnatural noise.

The University of San Francisco says it’s achieved zero net carbon emissions, AKA carbon neutrality. First, solar water heaters were installed in 1981. To deter gasoline usage, there is no student parking; students are instead given public transportation passes, or they can build their own bicycle at no cost. To overcome other travel emission problems, the university engages in carbon offsets.

“Zoomies” isn’t a breakfast cereal; it’s another name for Frenetic Random Activity Periods, a.k.a. “bonkers,” seen in dogs. There’s a sudden burst of energy: dashing around or circling. Online veterinarian columnist Dr. Karen S. Becker says it appears to indicate feelings of happiness and good health, or, the release of pent-up energy. Rarely does it result in injury or property damage.

Worldwide, tobacco use kills over 7 million people a year, and is the largest preventable cause of death, says Corporate Accountability. They caution that consumers should not be fooled by Big Tobacco’s recent “no smoking” campaign, which would still maintain a consumer base of nicotine addicts.

The Trump Administration recently went to court seeking to back their stance that asylum-seeking children in detention can be denied soap and toothbrushes, and that sleeping on cold concrete floors is permissible. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Circuit Court judges hearing the case said the request did not qualify as safe and sanitary per the Flores settlement.

Blast from the past: National discussion recently highlighted the difference between a concentration camp and a death or extermination camp. Andrea Pitzer, author of “One Long Night: a Global History of Concentration Camps,” points out that in a concentration camp there may be “little targeted violence.” Instead, people held in those camps can die from poor planning, overloaded facilities, lack of medical care, poor food quality, contagious diseases, and an unwillingness of administrators to reverse inadequate policies. As Esquire noted, “Things can be concentration camps without being (Nazi Germany’s) Dachau or Auschwitz.” Auschwitz had a population of 1.3 million, and an estimated 1.1 million were murdered there before liberation by Soviet soldiers in 1945. Dachau opened as a concentration camp for the Nazi party’s political prisoners. Of an estimated 188,000 inmates, 41,500 there were killed; it was liberated by U.S. soldiers in 1945.

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