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.
Calif. Lawmaker Votes for More Regs for Ride-Sharing, Then Gets Busted for DUI - Courtesy of California political reporter John Hrabe, California Assemblyman Ben Hueso, a Democrat representing the San Diego area, was arrested in the wee hours of the morning for allegedly driving under the influence. This came just hours after voting for legislation that would force more regulation on ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber. Hrabe notes:
Assembly Bill 612 by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys, would require ride-sharing companies to abide by extensive new regulations. Earlier this month, in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul said that the bill could mean the end of the industry that’s helped minimize drunk driving.
Paul told the Mercury News that the bill was “a burdensome approach that is backed by the taxicab lobby, really, to try and shut us down. If it passes, it is a disaster — it would literally spell the end of the ride-share industry.”
The Sacramento Bee reports that Hueso was driving the wrong way down a one-way road at 2:30 in the morning. Read More > at Reason
What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos - You have finally finished writing your article. You’ve sweat over your choice of words and agonized about the best way to arrange them to effectively get your point across. You comb for errors, and by the time you publish you are absolutely certain that not a single typo survived. But, the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.
Typos suck. They are saboteurs, undermining your intent, causing your resume to land in the “pass” pile, or providing sustenance for an army of pedantic critics. Frustratingly, they are usually words you know how to spell, but somehow skimmed over in your rounds of editing. If we are our own harshest critics, why do we miss those annoying little details?
The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.
As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads. Read More > in Wired
New California law allows dogs to dine out - Your dog can now join you for dinner out under legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, overturns a ban on pets at restaurants. While many cafes, brew pubs and steak houses have long allowed dogs on their decks and patios, technically it was illegal.
The legislation gives restaurants the option of permitting pooches in outside dining areas. Discretion to allow dogs, though, remains with the eatery. Read More > in the San Francisco Chonicle
Time for the NFL to Concede That Beating Women Is Worse Than Smoking Pot - Is smoking pot more reprehensible than beating women?
That’s something the NFL will have to decide soon, as league officials consider the future of superstar Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon (pictured), who faces a year-long suspension for failing a drug test earlier this year.
The day after the NFL Draft in May, it was announced that Gordon, the league’s leader in receiving yards last season, could be suspended for an entire year after testing positive for marijuana. Since the 23-year old has a lengthy history of substance “abuse”—having been kicked off of Baylor’s team in college for positive marijuana tests and serving a two-game suspension in 2013 for testing positive for the banned substance codeine—it was widely assumed the league would show no mercy, and that the dream team of Gordon and Browns hotshot rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel would have to wait another year.
However, that was before a public relations nightmare involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice occurred. In February, a video surfaced of Rice entering an elevator with his wife, and exiting moments later—dragging her out unconscious. Rice pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault, and avoided trial by being accepted into a pre-trial intervention program. On July 25, the NFL suspended him for a grand total of two games.
Now, officials are attempting to draft a new policy that would crack down on players involved in domestic violence. The Washington Post reported that a new policy is being pushed that would increase the punishment to four- to six- game suspensions for first-time violators, with the possibility of a one-year ban for second-time offenders.
But in order to enact such a policy, the NFL Players Association has to be on board. And while the organization surely doesn’t want to be seen as protecting wife abusers, it won’t agree to stricter punishments unless there is quid pro quo by the league. That quid pro quo seems likely to come in the form of lessening the penalties for users of cannabis. Read More > at Reason
Pittsburgh Steelers’ top two running backs busted for marijuana - Well, at least there are no concerns about lack of chemistry in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running backs meeting room.
Top two tailbacks Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were hanging out together after hours on Wednesday. A little bonding experience. The only problem was they had 20 grams of marijuana when they were pulled over by police, according to CBS Pittsburgh columnist Colin Dunlap. The backs were charged with possession of marijuana and as a bonus, Bell was charged with a DUI. An unidentified female with the two was also charged, Dunlap said.
That’s not good. Though, given the appeals process if commissioner Roger Goodell wants to punish Bell and Blount, it’s unlikely it would affect either for the 2014 season. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports
Early Release from CA Prisons Now a Flood - Spurred by a series of court decisions ruling the state’s prison crowding unconstitutional, Gov. Jerry Brown’s ongoing “realignment” effort sought to make adequate room for the state’s worst convicts by diverting lesser criminals to county jails. There, however, the changes have caused a snowball effect. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation has shown that newly encumbered counties turned to early release to lighten their own load — sending serious offenders back out on the streets with only a fraction of time served.
Analyzing jail data, the Times discovered that “incarceration in some counties has been curtailed or virtually eliminated for a variety of misdemeanors, including parole violations, domestic violence, child abuse, drug use and driving under the influence.” In Los Angeles County, where one in four jailed Californians are found, 10 percent of time served was “often” enough to release male inmates back into society, compared to just 5 percent for female inmates.
With a prison system as complex and bureaucratic as California’s, the perils of early release have proven to be just the tip of the iceberg of unintended consequences. In recent months, for instance, even parole violators have wound up in county, not state, jails. Los Angeles County has had to add 500 staffers to cope with the new flood of probationers, while Riverside County alone has added over 140.
The cumulative effect has been a so-called “revolving door” in the jail system, with the line blurring between the incarcerated and the law-abiding public. Dangerous inmates have left jail prematurely, only to return on fresh charges; even parolees who didn’t revisit jail on parole violations have remained part of the administrative system, which has incorporated automated kiosks to help supervise released cons. Read More > at Public CEO
Despite FAA Setbacks, Amazon Prime Air Makes Notable Engineering, NASA And Aerospace Hires – Something big is going on with Amazon Prime Air, the e-commerce giant’s research project focused on delivering packages in 30 minutes or less using unmanned drones. And it’s not the dubious story about drone testing in India, which frankly, doesn’t pass the sniff test in terms of accuracy.
Prime Air is shaping up to be more than a marketing stunt, it seems. The company recently scored a few notable hires for this project, including former aerospace engineers, a NASA astronaut, a number of Microsoft researchers and Bing engineers, and even the co-founder of Keyhole, the original developer of Google Earth (prior to the Google acquisition.)
Prime Air’s more notable hires may not be household names, but are indicative of a project Amazon is taking seriously, after all.
In case you missed it back then, Amazon made a splashy announcement about its drone project, Prime Air, just before the Christmas holiday in the U.S. On the biggest online shopping day of the year, Cyber Monday, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired an interview with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which uncritically, we might add, saw veteran reporter Charlie Rose, smiling, exclaim “oh my God!” as he viewed the Prime Air drones for the first time.
Pundits soon were questioning CBS’ credibility, while some in developer community Hacker News scoffed that Prime Air was “vaporware,” – meaning a nice idea, sure, but one that’s a long time from ever being a reality. Read More > at Tech Crunch
Here Comes Cheaper Oil: Why Prices Are Set to Fall - The Bureau of Energy Management announced two weeks ago that for the first time since 1983, the U.S. government would allow seismic analysis of the outer continental shelf off of the southern Atlantic coast. This is a significant policy change. Meanwhile, Mexico is hurriedly engaging foreign private companies to help them exploit their huge reserves.
Oil prices have a long way to fall if this continues.
Somehow, falling demand and rising supplies have failed to reduce oil prices. In fact, this is the longest period ever that gasoline prices have remained above $3.00 per gallon despite the weak economy. Turns out the U.S. government’s moratorium on drilling for oil where it’s cheap and plentiful has created scarcity of low cost fuel.
The U.S. is projected to surpass Saudi Arabia in production due to fracking. But despite its abundance, oil obtained from fracking is not the answer to lower prices because it’s so expensive to produce – $70 to $90 per barrel. This is over 3x the cost of oil derived from areas currently off-limits to drilling – many billions of barrels lie accessible on Federal lands in the ANWR and in shallow water on the outer continental shelf as well as in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Turns out that Democrats from Atlantic coast states like Virginia, rich with offshore oil deposits, are under political pressure as we near midterm elections. It was Governor Terry McAuliffe, along with the state’s two Democrat Senators that pushed the state department to allow exploration off Virginia’s coast.I say this while acknowledging that Republican George H.W. Bush first imposed the moratorium on drilling in the OCS (proving that bad policy is not restricted to one party). The fact remains that political forces are driving both parties to move towards liberalizing oil development right now and if the Republicans take the Senate in November, the move toward liberalization will accelerate. Read More > in Forbes
Ruling backs district elections for cities - If you live in a California city that elects its council citywide, rather than by district, a change may be on the way.
The state Supreme Court denied review Wednesday of a ruling that requires charter cities to switch to district elections if they have a history of racially polarized voting that reduces minority representation. The ruling, issued in May by a state appeals court in Los Angeles, is now a binding precedent for trial courts statewide.
There are 120 cities with self-governing charters in California. Of the more than 20 charter cities in the Bay Area, the largest — San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland — and some smaller cities, like Berkeley, Alameda and San Leandro, already elect council members by geographic districts. But most local communities, including Richmond, Hayward, Albany, San Mateo, San Rafael and Vallejo, conduct at-large, citywide elections.
The ruling doesn’t require all of them to change their systems. But it allows minority residents to come to court with evidence that their city tends to vote along racial lines and that citywide elections have favored politically powerful racial and ethnic groups at the expense of minorities. If a judge agrees, the city will be ordered to adopt district elections, which usually lead to more minority representation as neighborhoods support their preferred candidates. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Almanac predicts colder winter, hotter summer - The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the familiar, 223-year-old chronicler of climate, folksy advice and fun facts, is predicting a colder winter and warmer summer for much of the nation.
Published Wednesday, the New Hampshire-based almanac predicts a “super-cold” winter in the eastern two-thirds of the country. The west will remain a little bit warmer than normal.
“Colder is just almost too familiar a term,” Editor Janice Stillman said. “Think of it as a refriger-nation.”
More bad news for those who can’t stand snow: Most of the Northeast is expected to get more snowfall than normal, though it will be below normal in New England.
Before unpacking the parka, however, remember that “colder than average” is still only about 2 to 5 degrees difference. Read More > in the Associated Press
The FDA’s Mad Medicine - A court in Alabama has ruled that Pfizer Inc. can be sued over harmful side effects caused by generic versions of its drugs.
My first thought while reading the article was that this is outrageous judicial overreach in a state that has historically been somewhat known for being friendly to plaintiffs. It is, I thought, just allowing plaintiffs to go in search of the deepest pockets in the hopes of getting the largest possible recovery.
Then I read further. And it turns out that generic manufacturers are not allowed to put warning labels on drugs unless those warnings are also in the warning label for the original brand-name drug. That’s when I realized that this was a classic case of outrageous regulatory incompetence. Oblivious bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration created a ridiculous situation in which Pfizer can be sued for a product it didn’t make.
Then I read further. And it turns out that the FDA has proposed a new rule that would allow generic-drug manufacturers to add labeling to their products independently. And guess who’s blocking it?
The generic drug manufacturers, of course. They’ve got a pretty sweet deal right now: They get the profits, while the folks who actually did all that expensive research to develop the drug bear a lot of the liability. They’re in no hurry to have that change. Read More > at Bloomberg View
Rights to California surface water far greater than average runoff - California over the last century has issued water rights that amount to roughly five times the state’s average annual runoff, according to new research that underscores a chronic imbalance between supply and demand..
That there are more rights than water in most years is not news. But UC researchers say their study is the most comprehensive review to date of the enormous gap between natural surface flows and allocations.
Of 27 major California rivers, rights on 16 of them exceed natural runoff. Among the most over-allocated are the San Joaquin, Kern and Stanislaus rivers in the San Joaquin Valley and the Santa Ynez River in Southern California.
In theory, that difference is not necessarily a problem. It gives water agencies and irrigation districts with junior rights access to additional supplies during wet years, when runoff is above average and there is plenty to go around. But in reality, study co-author Joshua Viers said, it fosters unrealistic expectations for water that is often not available.
While the annual statewide flow averages 70 million acre feet, water rights issued since 1914 allocate 370 million acre feet. (An acre foot of water is sufficient to supply two households for a year.)
Moreover, the state data base does not account for riparian rights granted to streamside landowners or pre-1914 rights, under which some irrigation districts and cities claim huge amounts of water. “So in many ways our estimate is a substantial underestimate of the total volume of rights,” he said. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Average Price of Ground Beef Hits All-Time High - The average price for all types of ground beef per pound hit its all-time high — $3.884 per pound — in the United States in July, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
That was up from $3.880 per pound in June. A year ago, in July 2013, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $3.459 per pound. Since then, the average price for a pound of ground beef has gone up 42.1 cents–or about 12 percent.
Five years ago, in July 2009, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $2.147, according to the BLS. In those five years, the average price has climbed by $1.737 per pound–or almost 81 percent. Read More > at CNS News
57 Percent of Americans Say Only Kids Who Win Should Get Trophies - The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that when it comes to kids and their trophies, 57 percent of Americans think only the winning players should receive them. Another 40 percent say all kids on a sport team should receive a trophy for their participation.
The desire for “every kid to get a trophy” strongly correlates with political beliefs. Fully 66 percent of Republicans want only the kids who win to receive trophies, while 31 percent say all kids on the team should receive them. In contrast, Democrats are evenly divided with 48 percent who say all kids, and another 48 percent who say only the winners should receive a trophy.
The competitive desire for winners to be rewarded correlates with fiscal conservatism. Among those who only think winners should get a trophy, 64 percent have a favorable view of capitalism, 64 percent thinks markets better solve problems than government, and 63 percent favor smaller government providing fewer services. In contrast, among those who think all kids should get a trophy, a plurality (49%) have an unfavorable view of capitalism, 50 percent thinks a strong government better solves problems than the free market, and 54 percent favor larger government providing more services. Read More > at Reason
The anti-Facebook: one in four American neighborhoods are now using this private social network - It was early in the morning when the flooding hit The Knolls, a neighborhood of about 500 homes in Columbus, Ohio. The sewer overflowed, dumping a foot and half of water into Chuck Totten’s basement, where his wife Deb kept around $25,000 worth of fabric and sewing supplies. A retired financial analyst in poor health, Totten was distraught and unable to climb up and down the stairs carrying all the heavy loads of soaking material himself. So he put out a call for help on Nextdoor, a private social network aimed at connecting neighbors.
“It was like living in an Amish community, and somebody had rung a bell, ‘cause people just came out of the woodwork to help,” remembers Totten. While similar cries for help had been posted to services like Twitter and Facebook, it was the Nextdoor message that brought real humans to his door. “Most social media is people you know, sure, but it’s not the people around you, living in your town. Being able to make that connection is a really powerful thing.”
Founded in 2010 and based in San Francisco, Nextdoor is a odd outlier among today’s social networks. Signing up is an onerous process, requiring substantial proof of both your identification and address. People post messages, but they are seen only by others in the immediate area, and there is no share or retweet button to proliferate messages across the network. It feels more like a modern update on a message board or web forum than a social network. But it has struck a chord across the country. When The Verge first reported on Nextdoor back in July of 2012, it was in 3,500 neighborhoods. Today, the company is announcing that its reached 40,000 neighborhoods, or roughly one in four American communities, with 10 or more active users. Read More > at The Verge
California solar plant is frying birds in mid-air - Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.
Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.
The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by Oakland-based BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group. Read More > from the Associated Press
Assembly urges Washington Redskins to ditch ‘degrading’ name - Add one more to the growing list of those who want the Washington Redskins football team to adopt a new name: the California Assembly..
The Assembly approved a resolution Wednesday urging the National Football League to pressure the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, to change the name and mascot. The measure is meant to express the opinion of the Legislature and does not have the force of law.
The Assembly approved the measure, ACR 168, on a 49-5 vote. The measure now goes to the Senate. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
Measure to withhold pay from suspended legislators misses 2014 ballot - Amid criticism over three state Senators continuing to collect salaries as they serve suspensions, a ballot measure that would allow lawmakers to suspend colleagues without pay has missed the deadline for the 2014 ballot..
The Assembly has not acted to place State Constitutional Amendment 17 on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot and so its author, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), is having to look at an alternative, according to spokesman Rhys Williams.
The ballot measure was proposed by Steinberg in response to controversy over the paid suspensions of Democratic Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello and Roderick Wright who represents a district centered on Inglewood. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
California Cops Seize Recordings Of Questionable Arrest, Claim They Have The ‘Right’ To Do So - Photography Is Not A Crime again reports on police acting like they have the right to confiscate people’s cameras and phones in order to “secure” recordings of apparent police misconduct.
Police in Northern California beat and tased a mentally ill man before siccing a dog on him, then turning on citizens who recorded the incident, confiscating cell phones and in one case, ordering a witness to delete his footage.
But one video survived anyway, slightly longer than two minutes, where a cop from the Antioch Police Department can be heard saying he wants cameras confiscated right before the video stops.
…No surprises here. Excessive force deployed, followed by a roundup of “witnesses,” which actually means recording equipment and not human beings. The police have no right to do this, but in far too many cases, they assume the public either doesn’t know this, or can easily be intimidated into complying with the unlawful request. Read More > at Tech Dirt
S.F. teachers miss more school than students on average - Education officials like to say that kids can’t learn if they aren’t in school.
But what if teachers aren’t in school?
While absenteeism is usually considered a student matter, in San Francisco – and many other districts – the average teacher misses more school than the average child.
If last year’s numbers hold steady, the 4,100 teachers in San Francisco, on average, will each be absent about 11 times this school year, about once every three weeks. That’s four to five days more than a typical student, out of 180 days total.
About seven of those days were for sick or personal leave, and the rest were training days offered or required by the district.
While the teacher absentee rate is about average, or even a smidge below average, for large urban districts across the country, it’s a lot higher than other industries, where the typical worker takes about four sick or personal days over an entire year. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Confusion and dissolution: College athletics in altered state - Questions persist about the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote – which was expected – to grant more autonomy to schools in the five high-revenue conferences: the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the Big 12. If the legislation moves forward, schools would have the option to give athletes the full cost of attendance, which is typically a few thousand dollars more than the traditional value of a scholarship.
More uncertainty surrounds the long-term ramifications of the 99-page ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. Wilken ruled Aug. 8 that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by prohibiting schools from paying athletes for use of their names and likenesses. Athletes could receive some compensation once their careers are over in the form of a trust.
In the coming years, schools will reassess, and perhaps redefine, the role college athletics plays on their respective campuses and how much to invest in it. Schools must determine how they can afford to fund enhanced scholarships. And they must weigh the risks, competitively or otherwise, of not financially keeping pace in the restructured college sports model.
…Boise State football has authored one of the most compelling college football story lines of the century, becoming a perennial national contender. But can that success continue now that schools from high-revenue conferences have been given more freedom to create their own rules? Read More > in USA Today
19 percent of voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election, poll shows - Fewer than one in five registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election this year, a number on track to be the all-time lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1992.
The 19 percent of American voters who think most members deserve re-election is lower than the 38 percent figure in 1994 and 33 percent figure in 2010 — two midterm elections that saw huge shakeups in Congress but, as Gallup points out, two years where Democrats had controlled both the U.S. House and the Senate.
About half of voters say their own representative deserves re-election, although a recent Gallup survey put the overall congressional approval rating at 13 percent.
“The percentage of American voters who believe most members of Congress deserve re-election is at an all-time low,” wrote Gallup’s Frank Newport. “Their views of whether their own representative deserves re-election are also low, but not nearly as sour as their views of Congress more generally. These negative evaluations of Congress have historically been related to lower rates of incumbent re-election in midterm elections and a higher turnover of congressional seats.” Read More > in The Washington Times
Overqualified and Underemployed: The Job Market Waiting for Graduates - We’ve established that college can cost a lot, and that a recent graduate is generally going to have a fair bit of debt when they head out into the world. We’ve also debunked the wage comparisons often used to sell the idea to prospective students. But the reality is even worse, because to this point we’ve largely granted the premise that a degree will secure the holder with a better job. How often is this actually true?
A lot’s been written about the comparative unemployment rates between graduates and non-graduates. Most of the numbers do a poor (read: nonexistent) job of isolating whether or not the lack of a degree is to blame for the lack of a job among non-graduates. But either way, reducing employment to a binary setting isn’t consistent with one of the primary reason degrees are supposed to be valuable: the quality of employment. Jobs can be better or worse, and people can hold jobs where their level of education is superfluous.
There’s a word for someone who has a job that does not require the degree they hold: “underemployed.” In 2008, over 35% of college graduates were underemployed; by June of last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that a whopping 44% of graduates were underemployed. And it’s not just because of the recession: the number’s been rising since 2001.
And more education doesn’t’ exactly help; in fact going to graduate school can make things worse. In 2008 22% of people with PhDs or professional degrees and jobs were underemployed. That number rises all the way to 59% for people with master’s degrees. Read More > at Forbes
Mastodon Skull And Ancient Knife Pulled From Ocean Leave Researchers Mystified - A 22,000-year-old mastodon skull and tool dredged from the seafloor in the Chesapeake Bay hints of early settlers in North America.
The two relics, which were pulled up together, may come from a place that hasn’t been dry land since 14,000 years ago. If so, the combination of the finds may suggest that people lived in North America, and possibly butchered the mastodon, thousands of years before people from the Clovis culture, who are widely thought to be the first settlers of North America and the ancestors of all living Native Americans.
But that hypothesis is controversial, with one expert saying the finds are too far removed from their original setting to draw any conclusions from them. That’s because the bones were found in a setting that makes it tricky for scientists to say with certainty where they originated and how they are related to one another. Read More > at Business Insider