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.
FCC rules ‘Redskins’ can stay on the air - The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday ruled the name “Redskins” is not profane or obscene.
In a formal ruling, the commission rejected calls to yank the broadcast license of a radio station owned by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for excessively using the team’s name, which some find offensive.
The FCC can prohibit the use of profane or obscene language, but the team’s name does not fit the definition of either category, according to the FCC’s Media Bureau, which handled the case.
The FCC, following the Supreme Court, found obscenity must “depict or describe sexual conduct.” The team’s name also does not fit the commission’s definition of profane, which is limited to “words that are sexual or excretory in nature.” Read More > in The Hill
California drought: We need 11 trillion gallons of water in the bank - A series of rainstorms — one of which was powerful and destructive for residents statewide — helped deposit needed moisture to California, but it’s going to take 11 trillion gallons of water in storage to recover from the drought, NASA scientists said this week..
California must receive three seasons of above-average rainfall to get back to a “manageable situation,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water-cycle scientist of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
“We need 11 trillion just to get back to our normal, dry conditions,” he said.
The state receives an average 22 inches of rain annually — which translates into an estimated 60 trillion gallons — but two-thirds of it is lost to evaporation and runoff, the NASA scientist said.
“What is left behind is used for irrigation and for municipal and industrial use,” he said. “In short, we use it and there is very little left behind to increase storage.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
What made this Bay Area housing agency one of the worst in the country - There are 4,055 public housing agencies across the U.S., and we’ve spent the past year writing about one of the worst.
The federal government recently removed Richmond, California, from its worst-of-the-worst list, and we’re wrapping up our coverage. The two events aren’t related, but they make it a good time to take a look, by the numbers, at the troubles that plagued – and continue to plague – public housing in the city best known for its oil refineries and rancorous politics.
1 of the 44 worst in the country
Beginning in 2009, Richmond became part of the 1 percent of “failing” housing agencies, along with cities such as New Orleans and Detroit. The problems? It had a $7 million deficit, owed the feds $2.2 million for years of misspending money, and had serious management breakdowns. The problems stretched beyond the agency offices, as well.
Nearly 1 in 5 apartments at the two largest complexes were infested with insects and cockroaches.
Scores of elderly and disabled people lived in apartments overrun with mice, mold and cockroaches. We talked to one man who had raw sewage seeping into his home for weeks. After our stories came out, the housing agency inspected all of its apartments to document the problems. We created an interactive graphic so you can explore what inspectors saw at the largest housing project. Read More > at The Center for Investigative Reporting
City CarShare To Expand Carsharing in East Bay Through One Million Dollar Grant Awarded by Metropolitan Transportation Authority - City CarShare, a Bay Area nonprofit, will expand its carsharing network to underserved East Bay communities in collaboration with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and the Bay Area Climate Collaborative (BACC). The program will deploy vehicles in Richmond, El Cerrito and Oakland, and includes electric vehicles, fuel-efficient hybrids, and a wheelchair accessible van. The program is partially funded through a $973,864 grant, awarded Wednesday, December 18 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).
The program, called CarShare4All, will bring the Bay Area’s most affordable and environmentally focused carsharing service to low and moderate income areas. “The ongoing support of the MTC has enabled City CarShare to provide the most diverse and greenest fleet available to underserved communities,” said Rick Hutchinson, CEO, City CarShare. “This award will help us and our partners provide electric vehicles, new solar-charging technology, and our AccessMobile (wheelchair van) program to neighborhoods that deserve a lot more attention than they’ve previously received.”
The Contra Costa Transportation Authority, the lead applicant for the grant, will serve as fiscal agent for the project. City CarShare will own and operate the network and BACC will provide deployment support.
City CarShare, the nation’s largest nonprofit carsharing organization, serves nearly 16,000 members in the Bay Area. Over 60% of its locations are in designated low/moderate income neighborhoods. Nearly 200 of its cars are within walking distance of major transit lines and over 50% of its carsharing fleet is battery-based (hybrid, plug-in electric hybrid and all battery electric). The CarShare4All program supports a common goal among City CarShare, the CCTA, and BACC, which is to expand green transportation choices to all constituencies.
“Carsharing is a very important part of our strategy to provide transportation options,” said Kevin Romick, Chair of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, “This project with City CarShare and the Bay Area Climate Collaborative provides critical links to and from public transit, which provides multi-modal travel choices for Contra Costa residents.” Read More > at Business Wire
Oakland tribune editorial: Southern California’s sad water conservation effort – It’s hard to think about a drought after considering the amount of water we’ve seen this past week, but even if these storms continue into the New Year, California is still dangerously dry. That can only mean one thing: Southern California wants more water.
The Metropolitan Water District argues that Gov. Jerry Brown’s $25 billion twin tunnel water project is essential to guarantee drinking water for Los Angeles, San Diego and other Southern California urban areas.
The argument would have more validity if those areas were making a conscious effort to adhere to the governor’s January request to cut water use by 20 percent. Instead, they’re essentially thumbing their collective noses at the governor.
Los Angeles cut its water use by only 2.4 percent for the month of October, compared with the same month a year ago. And San Diego? It increased its water use by 2.6 percent. Meanwhile, in comparison, Bay Area residents slashed their water use by 15.5 percent. We can and should do better, of course. But it boggles the mind that Southern California’s urban water users are screaming that they need more Delta water.
It’s no secret how to get communities to conserve. The Stinson Beach County Water District is restricting water use to 125 gallons per day per residence and imposing a forced 20-percent water consumption reduction on commercial users. The city of Morgan Hill placed a limit on lawn watering and required residents to fix all water leaks immediately. The result: Morgan Hill is one of the state leaders in water conservation, using 24.4 percent less water in October than last year. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
BMW wants to park your car with a smartwatch - With BMW’s Remote Valet Parking Assistant may you never have to set foot in a parking garage again: The car should find a place to park on its own. The feature can be controlled from a smartwatch and will be demonstrated at the International CES trade show in January.
Cars that can park themselves once you have found a spot are becoming increasingly common, but BMW takes this to a whole new level with the Remote Valet Parking Assistant. The feature has been integrated in a research version of the electric BMW i3, and combines information from laser sensors with digital plans of multi-storey car parks to navigate.
The driver can just get out and activate the parking assistant on a smartwatch, for example. The sensors let the car recognize the structural features of the car park and avoid any obstacles that appear unexpectedly, such as incorrectly parked vehicles. Once the car has arrived at the parking space, it locks itself.
Once called back, the car will also drive itself out of the parking garage. The car can take account of how long it takes to drive out so as to time its arrival for when you are ready to leave, according to BMW. Read More > at Network World
How Facebook Is Going to Battle With YouTube - Facebook is well on its way to developing its next big cash cow, and it has nothing to do with the social network’s splashy billion-dollar purchases of messaging and virtual reality startups.
This year, the company dusted off its oft-neglected video feature and quickly made auto-playing clips ubiquitous in users’ News Feeds (with a big assist from the wildly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge). People are now watching videos uploaded directly to Facebook one billion times per day — and that big number is starting to whet marketers’ appetites. As the social network ratchets up its plan to lure brands to place video ads on the site, its efforts could eventually threaten YouTube, which has dominated the online video space for nearly a decade. Read More > at TIME
Santa Claus deniers: why do they get so much airtime? – Santa-denial has surfaced again, this time on Australian television show The Project, in the guise of its guest Kitty Flanagan. It’s just the latest in a long line of controversies caused when Santa deniers are allowed to promote their views.
Why are these people tolerated in today’s modern media? Science has long shown that Santa Claus is real, and those who claim otherwise are invariably in the pocket of the big toy companies, who don’t want people thinking they can get free playthings and so will pay for their products.
But the evidence is beyond any reasonable doubt, and the arguments of the Santa deniers have been repeatedly debunked. But, just to refresh your memory, here are some of the more typical ones and why they’re wrong:
If Santa has a workshop at the north pole, why has nobody ever seen it?
Santa’s workshop is located in a very snowy region that very few people can access, so it’s unlikely that many people would get to see it.
How can a human survive prolonged periods in sub-zero conditions?
Santa has several features and properties clearly adapted for cold weather survival.
How is it possible for a sleigh with millions of toys in it, pulled by reindeer, to fly?
Admittedly, the whole “flying reindeer” thing does seem very far-fetched, and this is a fair accusation. Investigations suggest that the flying reindeer image is a distortion of the truth, in that reindeer are native to the Arctic so Santa may well keep reindeer on his premises and perhaps they did pull his sleigh originally. Read More > in The Guardian
How computers will replace your doctor - To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.
Then you need to look at companies like Theranos, which allow you to get a blood test cheaply and easily at Walgreens, and get more information about your health than you’d get in a typical doctor’s visit.
Then look at a company like Sherpaa, whose mobile app provides you diagnoses, helps you get your prescriptions filled, refers you to specialists, and so on. Right now, Sherpaa works with doctors. But there’s no reason to think it couldn’t eventually work with software (and in the meantime, work with cheaper Indian doctors rather than morbidly expensive American doctors).
But, you say, we won’t be able to get rid of the human general practitioner absolutely. People will still need human judgment, and the human touch.
You are right — absolutely right. But the human we need is someone with training closer to a nurse’s than a doctor’s, and augmented by the right software, would be both cheaper and more effective than a doctor. You might pay a monthly subscription to be able to treat this person as your family “doctor” — although most of your interaction would be with software via an app. They’d be better than a doctor, too — trained in general wellness and prevention, and being able to refer you to specialists if need be. Read More > in The Week
Why The NHL Lost Control Of Its Mumps Outbreak - This is the most baffling sports medicine story of the year: Thirteen NHL players and two referees have been diagnosed with mumps—a potentially severe and exceedingly viral infection that classically causes fever, body aches, malaise, and in about half of cases, parotitis (a painful swelling of the salivary glands). It’s gotten so bad in the NHL that Sidney Crosby set off a mumps alert last week when he spoke to reporters with a welt on his face. (On Sunday, the Penguins confirmed Crosby does indeed have the disease.) So what’s going on?
The story of this outbreak appears to have begun in early November, when Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin noticed a swelling in his jaw after a game against the Arizona Coyotes on November 7th. A few hours later, he developed a fever, chills, muscle aches, and lost his appetite. Four days later, he was ten pounds lighter. By then, the virus was spreading around the Ducks locker room. Three of his teammates would catch the disease before it leapt to other teams: the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and the Minnesota Wild, where five players came down with mumps, including all-star defenseman Ryan Suter.
“Ten percent of our team population contracted it,” Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher recently said. “As far as I know, everybody received the immunization when they were young.” If that’s true, what’s the explanation? We know that the mumps vaccine unquestionably works—cases in the United States declined by 99 percent following its introduction in 1967—so why is an outbreak in hockey happening now?
…Dr. Judith Aberg, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai blames the outbreak on the nature of the game. “You see the hits that they have, and sometimes the spraying of saliva,” she recently said. “I think they are high risk. I am surprised we haven’t actually seen this before.”
Saliva spray may be part of it, but there’s plenty of that at the line of scrimmage and you don’t see the NFL dealing with a mumps outbreak. (The NFL has its own outbreak problems.) A more complete explanation of hockey’s mumps conundrum involves something called waning immunity. Put simply, the vaccine loses strength over time. We know this because of some fascinating observational studies from the last major mumps outbreak. Read More > at Regressing
Top 10 Measures Likely to Appear on November 2016 California Ballot - The General Election ballot in 2016 is likely to have more statewide ballot measures on it than California voters have seen in a long time. The main reason for this is that the number of signatures needed in order to qualify a statutory measure or even a constitutional amendment have plummeted with the pathetically low turnout in last month’s election (the signature requirement is 5% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election).
To be specific, it previously took 504,760 valid signatures to place a statutory initiative on the ballot. It will now take less than 370,000. For a constitutional amendment, the number has dropped from 807,615 to less than 590,000. A couple of years ago, a law was signed that requires that all measures placed on the ballot by signature petitions must appear on the November–not the June–ballot.
Below are the top ten measures most likely to appear on the November, 2016 ballot:
PLASTIC GROCERY BAG BAN – In a naked profit grab supported by the California Grocers Association, the legislature passed and Governor Brown signed into law a bill that would ban single-use plastic grocery bags and would mandate that stores charge at least ten cents for every paper bag given to a customer.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA — In 1996, California voters passed a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana. Now the push is on to put another measure before Golden State voters that would decriminalize recreational marijuana use and regulate it, much the same way that alcohol use is currently regulated.
BATHROOM BILL — In 2013 a law was signed, referred to as the transgendered bathroom bill, that would have allowed students to play on gender-segregated school sporting teams, or use bathrooms based on their gender identity rather than their biological gender. Read More > at Fox and Hounds
Where campaign spending was highest, disdain for it is bipartisan - The priciest congressional election in the country wasn’t a slugfest in some silk-stocking district or free-for-all on the pricey Westside of Los Angeles. It was fought here in Northern California, where the American River winds from Folsom through the workaday suburbs of Sacramento..
Nearly $24 million was spent in the fiercely contested race between Republican Doug Ose and Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, who won a second term by a mere 1,455 votes out of 184,000 cast, or a margin of less than 1%.
It’s debatable, though, how much of a difference all those millions made.
When asked how they made up their minds, not one person in three dozen interviewed cited anything they had heard or seen in any of those TV spots, or mentioned a single thing they read in the blizzard of campaign pieces that choked 7th District mail boxes.
In an age of deeply bred partisanship, voters — not surprisingly — reverted to form. Democrats, such as Logan Costa, voted for Bera. “He’s really down to Earth and more up my aisle,” said the 53-year-old retired social worker.
Republicans, such as Rollie Peterson, voted for Ose. “I didn’t like Ami Bera’s leanings and I never have,” the 67-year-old Fair Oaks attorney said.
The disaffected remained disaffected. John Johnston, 60, a prep cook and assistant manager at a Round Table pizza in Carmichael, didn’t bother voting, skipping this election as he has every one since 1986. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Study proves high heels do have power over men - — The well-heeled Marilyn Monroe reportedly once said if you give a girl the right shoes, she can conquer the world.
The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.
Now a scientific study in France has measured their power.
Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women. The results, published online in the journal “Archives of Sexual Behaviour,” may please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes — yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.
The study found if a woman drops a glove on the street while wearing heels, she’s almost 50 percent more likely to have a man fetch it for her than if she’s wearing flats.
Another finding: A woman wearing heels is twice as likely to persuade men to stop and answer survey questions on the street. And a high-heeled woman in a bar waits half the time to get picked up by a man, compared to when her heel is nearer to the ground. Read More > at WTOP
The Government’s Mandatory Calorie Counts May Be Hazardous to Your Health - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims it is helping America stay healthy with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s mandate to display calories on restaurant menus and vending machines. Recent studies have shown that this mandate actually has little or no impact on the ordering behaviors of the general population. What has yet to be addressed, however, is the deleterious effect of this mandate on the estimated twenty million women and ten million men who struggle with eating disorders during their lifetimes (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, and Hudson, 2011). For those working toward recovery, this policy impedes a foundational part of their efforts.
Our culture is by no measure unaware of health and weight. In fact, by elementary school, 40-60 percent of girls are already concerned with their weight or afraid of being fat (Smolak, 2011). The cultural saturation of messages promoting thinness combines in a subset of individuals with genetic, biological, and social factors that make them vulnerable to the mental health condition most associated with fatality. Eating disorders can manifest in wide range, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Many people with eating disorders develop an obsessional focus on numbers: weight, clothing size, calories, fat grams, and body measurements. The preoccupation with numbers can consume their lives in a never-ending effort to count, cut, and control. Calorie counting is rampant among the various forms eating disorders can take. Unfortunately, this behavior is not only a potential symptom of an eating disorder—it is one that exacerbates the disease. When people are deprived or restricted, they are at dramatically increased risk of binge eating. This is because of a built-in survival mechanism that tells people to seek sources of fat and sugar for energy to prepare for the next famine. When they experience deprivation, efforts to store energy kick into gear, which can lead to a cycle of binge eating, guilt and shame, restriction, and in some cases purging. At this point the body once more perceives deprivation, and the cycle begins again. Read More > in Reason
Peru Is Indignant After Greenpeace Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site - An expression of concern by the environmental group Greenpeace about the carbon footprint was marred this week by real footprints — in a fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert.
The Peruvian authorities said activists from the group damaged a patch of desert when they placed a large sign that promoted renewable energy near a set of lines that form the shape of a giant hummingbird.
The sign was meant to draw the attention of world leaders, reporters and others who were in Lima, the Peruvian capital, for a United Nations summit meeting aimed at reaching an agreement to address climate change. The meeting was scheduled to end Friday but negotiations were expected to continue into Saturday.
Greenpeace issued a statement apologizing for the stunt at the archaeological site, about 225 miles south of Lima. Its international executive director, Kumi Naidoo, flew to Lima, but the Peruvian authorities were seething over the episode, which they said had scarred one of the country’s most treasured national symbols. Read More > in The New York Times