Sunday Reading – 09/01/13


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.

Waste in Our Waterways – Unveiling the Hidden Costs to Californians of Litter Clean-Up - Litter can be a personal issue. For some, the shock of seeing sea lions munching on plastic bags spurs the urge to volunteer for beach clean-ups. For others, the importance of keeping our water clean hits home when family members get sick after a swim at a contaminated beach. But for many, soda bottles, food wrappers, and cigarette butts are just forgotten bits of muck that hit the street and wash away, forgotten. That waste doesn’t just disappear though, and it is very expensive to clean up. As revealed in a new report produced on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council by Kier Associates, California cities, towns, and tax payers, are shouldering $428 Million per year in costs to stop litter from becoming pollution that harms the environment, tourism and other economic activity.

…It can be staggering to consider just how much cities must spend to pick up litter. For example, the cash strapped City of Oakland spent a total of $8.3 million per year, with $4.6 million spent on street sweeping and $2.5 million spent on storm drain catchment devices that catch litter when it  washes off the streets. Chula Vista spends $1.7 million per year cleaning and maintaining storm drains. And the Central Valley community of Merced spends $1.3 million per year on street sweeping alone. Read More > at NRDC

The culture of football is the real danger - The NFL can invent new rules, it can eliminate high tackles or tell its players to stop leading with their heads, but it can’t eradicate the head blows that brought it to this point. To do so would be to destroy the very essence of what football is: a fast, often brutal, physical game in which men knock one another to the ground. As long as tackling and blocking exist, players will hit their heads. And they will face the danger of head trauma.

…But the real threat to football isn’t in the NFL. It isn’t in the damaged brains of men playing the game today, oblivious of the time bomb ticking inside their skulls. The real threat to football comes at its base level, in the youth and pee wee leagues that build the first pangs of love in players. Parents are starting to demand officials guarantee a level of safety they can’t promise the moment a child straps on a helmet. It won’t be long before state legislatures get involved and laws will be passed and changes will be made.

If states can demand that 8-year-olds ride in the back seats of cars while strapped to booster seats, they can insist on ridding youth football of any hitting and tackling. Forced to choose between playing touch or tackle, many leagues might shut down altogether and the great football incubator will be turned off. This is what worries a lot of football people much more than a handful of suits filed in local courthouses. Read More > in YAHOO! Sports

Why the Fast-Food Worker Strikes Are Doomed - But let’s also be realistic. The strikes would have a much better shot at inspiring a change in franchise- and corporate-level policy if fast-food chains perceived one of two threats: (a) a threat to the steady supply of food-service workers who want to be employed at any wage and (b) a threat from consumers demanding higher wages for their fast-food clerks by not buying burgers and fries at McDonald’s.

Instead, the big-picture doesn’t reveal either of these pressure points. Fast-food jobs aren’t merely scattered among the most despondent corners of the economy. They’re growing fastest among some of the richest and most-educated metros. Bridgeport, Conn., Salt Lake City, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Washington, D.C., are among the five areas with the most growth in food service work between 2010 and 2013.

…This graph doesn’t tell us everything you need to know about why low wages in food services are probably here to stay. But it does suggest that the collapse of middle-income stalwarts like manufacturing has left a glut of young low-skill workers who are rushing into to fill local service-sector needs at big-box stores and fast-food chains. And that, to me, suggests another thing: That there are more people willing to do these jobs than there are people willing to strike. Read More >in The Atlantic

Electric Bill Increase or Fairer Calif. Power Rates? – Right now, California electric rates are based on several tiers of usage: The more energy you use, the more you pay. But because some hot-weather parts of the state use much more power than others, they end up paying more.

So Fresno Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea negotiated legislation with utilities and consumer groups that would allow the California Public Utilities Commission to charge everyone a flat fee of up to $10 – thus alleviating some of the pressure on the highest tiers of energy use.

“That’s why the customer charge is important, because it allows for everybody to pay a portion of their fair share, in addition to what we all already do – and that’s pay for the basic cost of generating energy,” Perea says.

But environmental groups say the flat fee would discourage rooftop solar and other energy-saving practices and programs. After all, what’s the point in spending all that money up front on solar panels if you’ll have to pay the flat fee anyway? Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Deadly Consequences: CA Crime Rate Spikes After Easing Prison Overcrowding - It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, was it? In 2011, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata that California must reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons, overcrowding so severe that the Court — or five members of it, anyway — found that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment and thus violated the Eighth Amendment. The “Brown” of the case is California Governor Jerry Brown, who when faced with the predictably grim prospects demanded by the decision, saw through the legislation and implementation of what has been labeled “Public Safety Realignment.” This innocuous term is of course government-speak for “realigning” people out of prison where they belong and onto the streets of California’s cities, with the greatest share of them coming to roost in and around Los Angeles.

It’s impolite to say “I told you so,” but sometimes good manners must give way to good sense. I’ve visited this topic on three previous occasions here on PJ Media, in each case referring to the predictable consequences of failing to punish people for proscribed conduct. Today, fewer felons are in California’s prisons, perhaps making life a bit more tolerable for those who are so confined, but making life all the more intolerable for the rest of us. In 2011, 50,678 people were sent to state prison in California. The following year, after all that “realignment” started happening, the number fell to 33,990.

Though Governor Brown and the lesser lights of California politics have sought to put a glad face on what has happened since, the inescapable truth is that crime in California, after years of decline, is on the rise once again.

For just one example, look at the website of the California State Department of Justice, on which appears a chart depicting trends in violent and property crimes for the last 30 years (a period that happens to roughly coincide with my career as a police officer). Both lines on the graph indicate a fairly consistent downward trend in crime — that is, until one looks at 2012, when both lines ticked upward. Read More > at PJ Media

San Bernardino Wins Eligibility for Bankruptcy - A federal bankruptcy court judge granted the city of San Bernardino eligibility for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, raising the possibility that the city will propose a plan to dig itself out of debt by cutting money promised to the public pension system.

The ruling by Judge Meredith Jury came despite opposition from the powerful California Public Employees’ Retirement System, more commonly known as Calpers.

San Bernardino, a working-class city of 240,000 about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy last summer, saying it had effectively run out of money to pay for day-to-day operations, in large part because of pension obligations.

Lawyers for Calpers had argued that the city should not treat pension funds like other creditors. For the past year, Calpers has also argued that the city has not provided enough documentation for the court to rule in the bankruptcy case and that the city had ignored warnings about a financial crisis for years and filed for bankruptcy as a matter of convenience.

But in her ruling on Wednesday, Judge Jury said that it had been clear for months that San Bernardino was insolvent and that only its most recent financial predicaments were relevant. Read More > in The New York Times

Scientist controls colleague’s hand in first human brain-to-brain interface - The telepathic cyborg lives, sort of. University of Washington scientists Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco claim that they are the first to demonstrate human brain-to-brain communication. Rao sent a signal into a Stocco’s brain via the Internet that caused him to move his right hand. Brain-to-brain communication has previously been demonstrated between rats and from humans to rats.

“The experiment is a proof in concept. We have tech to reverse engineer the brain signal and transmit it from one brain to another via computer,” said Chantel Prat, an assistant professor of psychology who worked on the project. Read More > at c|net

What’s being done about all those damn feral cats? – If they are not spayed, wild female cats will give birth to feral kittens. These cats will go through puberty usually at 8 to 10 months old, and give birth to one to five babies after just 9 weeks — and can get pregnant again while still nursing the new litter. With their quick reproduction cycle and natural street smarts, it’s easy to see why experts estimate there are 70 million or more feral cats in the U.S. alone.

And this is not a good thing.

One of the biggest issues with wild domesticated cats (ferals, strays and free-roamers) is the way they impact other wildlife. In a widely reported study in Nature Communications earlier this year, researchers estimated that cats kill a whopping 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds in the U.S. each year. Only about a third of the birds killed are non-native (meaning: most of the birds killed are native species).

On top of this, the authors estimate that the cats also kill 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals, which include rabbits, squirrels, shrews and voles, in addition to mice and rats. Based on data from other countries, they think cats may kill 95 to 299 million amphibians and 258 to 822 million reptiles in the U.S. each year. And, for the most part, it’s not our lovable house pets that are to blame (though they are stone-cold killers in their own right). “Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality,” the scientists write in their study. Read More > at io9

Age-Related Forgetfulness Tied to Diminished Brain Protein - Age-related forgetfulness may be due to a deficiency in a brain protein that helps form memories, a study found. Targeting the gene that produces that protein could lead to new therapies, the researchers said.

Scientists identified the protein, called RbAp48, in human brain cells and showed that inhibiting it in mice made the animals forgetful while raising the protein improved their memories. That suggests that age-related memory loss may be reversible, researchers said.

“All of us are living longer, and we want to stay engaged in a cognitively complex world,” said Scott Small, a study author and neurologist at Columbia University in New York. The mouse studies show that that too little of the protein is causing memory loss, he said.

The findings also confirm that age-related memory loss is different from the deficits seen in Alzheimer’s disease. The research is published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Read MOre > in Bloomberg

The Gangster in the Huddle - Aaron Hernandez might have been one of the NFL’s all-time greats, but he could never escape drugs, guns and a life of violence

…There have been 47 arrests of NFL players since the end of the last regular season: bar brawls, cars wrecked, spouses shoved or beaten. Violence travels; it follows these men home, where far too many learn they have no kill switch. But there’s the sociopathy of a savage game, and then there’s Aaron Hernandez. Since 2007, he’s been charged with, or linked to, the shootings of six people in four incidents. Three of the victims were gruesomely murdered. One survivor, a former friend named Alexander Bradley, has had multiple operations and lost his right eye. The other two survivors were shot in their car outside a Gainesville, Florida, bar after an altercation involving Hernandez and two of his teammates his freshman year at the University of Florida. While in Gainesville, he sucker-punched a guy and shattered the fellow’s eardrum, and reportedly failed multiple drug tests, though he was suspended only once for those offenses. He posed for selfies in the mirror while a) wielding a .45 and b) swathed from head to toe in Bloods regalia, and threatened to “fuck up” Wes Welker, his Pro Bowl teammate, just days after being drafted by the Patriots. (Welker, a veteran, had refused to help the rookie operate the replay machine.) Since high school, he’s scourged his skin with a scree of tattoos. Writ large on his left arm: HATE ME NOW. On the meat of his right hand, just above the knuckles: the word BLOOD in bright-red scrawl. Read More > in RollingStone

The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life - Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

There are a few other examples of foods that keep–indefinitely–in their raw state: salt, sugar, dried rice are a few. But there’s something about honey; it can remain preserved in a completely edible form, and while you wouldn’t want to chow down on raw rice or straight salt, one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old. Moreover, honey’s longevity lends it other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which raises the question–what exactly makes honey such a special food?

The answer is as complex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.

The first comes from the chemical make-up of honey itself. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. Read More > in the Smithsonian Magazine

Brothels in Nevada Suffer as Web Disrupts Oldest Trade - Nevada’s legal brothels, which took root in the mid-1800s silver-mining boom, are dwindling, down to about 19 from roughly 36 in 1985, according to George Flint, an industry lobbyist. Many have been the highest-profile businesses in their sparsely populated regions, and their decline hurts already-stretched county budgets and marks the end to local institutions — though not the universally beloved sort.

The state’s flagging economy, decreased patronage by truckers squeezed by fuel costs and growing use of the Internet to arrange liaisons are to blame, managers say.

“A lot of our clients don’t have the discretionary income they had six years ago, five years ago,” said Susan Austin, 63, the madam of the Mustang Ranch in Sparks, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Reno. “The ones that can come in, they aren’t spending quite what they were spending before.” Read More > at Bloomberg

‘The Great Shift’: Americans Not Working - Yes, the unemployment rate has fallen. But almost the entire reason it has fallen is the drop in the number of people in the labor force — either working or actively looking. As Binyamin Appelbaum has noted, the share of adult Americans with jobs is essentially unchanged over the last three years.

In a brief new report from Express Employment Professionals, a staffing firm, the company’s chief executive, Bob Funk, refers to the problem as “the great shift.” This shift long predates the recent financial crisis, too. The labor force participation rate peaked more than a decade ago.

If the decline stemmed largely from an aging work force, it would be much less worrisome. But the initial wave of baby-boomer retirements plays only a small role in the drop; the labor force participation rate has fallen almost as sharply for people aged 25 to 54 as it has for the overall adult population.

As the report notes, economists are not entirely sure what has caused the shift. One factor seems to be the so-called skills gap — the slow growth in educational attainment in recent decades, even as the economy has become more technologically advanced. Read More > in The New York Times

Facebook friends could change your credit score - A handful of tech startups are using social data to determine the risk of lending to people who have a difficult time accessing credit. Traditional lenders rely heavily on credit scores like FICO, which look at payments history. They typically steer clear of the millions of people who don’t have credit scores.

But some financial lending companies have found that social connections can be a good indicator of a person’s creditworthiness.

One such company, Lenddo, determines if you’re friends on Facebook (FB) with someone who was late paying back a loan to Lenddo. If so, that’s bad news for you. It’s even worse news if the delinquent friend is someone you frequently interact with. Read More > at CNN Money

Worst Team Is The Most Profitable In History - Almost no one in the Houston Astros organization is making big league money. The highest-paid player is pitcher Erik Bedard, who is playing on a one-year, $1.15 million contract. No one else is pulling in over $1 million a year. That is, no one besides Jim Crane, who owns the worst team in the majors and is quietly making more money than any baseball owner in history.

The Astros are on pace to rake in an estimated $99 million in operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) this season. That is nearly as much as the estimated operating income of the previous six World Series championship teams — combined.

Yet the Astros are 43-86, worst in the majors. Of the 270 Major League Baseball teams who have taken the field since 2005, none have finished with a worse winning percentage than Houston’s.

They have become so profitable thanks to slashed payroll expenses and soaring television revenues. Read More > in Forbes

Food prices heading higher - On Monday, prices for several key agricultural commodities surged higher in a way not seen since last summer. And in the case of soybeans, you have to go back to 2010 for a similar one-day price gain. And the evidence suggests the price rise is just getting started.

The reason is that supply is under pressure. The market had been pricing in a bumper crop this year. But a recent tour of the upper Midwest by analysts at Societe Generale revealed that while on the surface things appear healthy, once they walked into the fields a “decidedly different story began to unfold.”

Wet weather earlier in the spring, and cooler temperatures since then, have slowed development of both corn and soybean crops by about two to three weeks.

That’s opened two potential risks. One, conditions have been dry in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, stressing developing plants and raising the risk of what’s known as kernel abortion and lowering crop yields. Two, there is a risk that an early frost could damage still growing crops in the coming weeks.

Adding to the supply concerns has been a bad frost in Brazil, which has damaged the wheat crop there. Read More > at MSN Money

Wells Fargo layoffs hit Walnut Creek - Wells Fargo on Wednesday sent 60-day layoff notices to about 30 Walnut Creek employees with the bank’s mortgage unit, part of a nationwide purge of some 2,300 jobs in its mortgage-producing arm.

The San Francisco-based bank also said it is cutting about 60 jobs in Sacramento and some 500 statewide. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

California Senate approves bill to expand abortion access - It would be easier for California women to get abortions under a bill the state Senate approved today.

Assembly Bill 154 expands the types of medical providers that can offer abortions by allowing nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants to perform the procedure during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The bill by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, cleared the Senate on a vote of 25-11. Supporters, all Democrats, argued that the policy is necessary because remote parts of California do not have many doctors, requiring women who seek an abortion to travel for hours. Read More > at Capitol Alert

Congress to Hold Hearing on Country’s Clashing Marijuana Laws - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced Monday he will address the blurred lines between federal and state marijuana laws in an upcoming hearing.

The hearing, which is scheduled for Sept. 10, comes as 20 states allow marijuana for medical purposes and Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana in 2012.

The state laws are in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substance Act, which classifies Marijuana as Schedule 1 drug — a dangerous and illegal substance.

Since states began legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, federal authorities have been torn as to whether or not to go after businesses that are legal in a state’s eyes, but illegal in the view of the federal government. Read More > at U.S.News and World Report

Three Ways Cooking Has Changed Over The Last 300 Years - Cooking with calf’s head and cow heel may not sound like the most palatable way to spend an afternoon, but it’s all in a day’s work for librarian Judith Finnamore of London’s Westminster Archive Centre.

With help from food historian Annie Gray, Finnamore has been cooking – and blogging — her way through The Unknown Ladies Cookbook, a 300-year-old British compendium of family recipes. Jotted down by hand by several different women between 1690 and 1830, the recipes provide insights into the cooking habits of the Georgian and Regency periods. They also tell us quite a bit about how much culinary craft has changed over the centuries.

…Brits Of Old Were Serious About Eating The Whole Animal: When people kept their own animals, they were much more conscientious about using as much of it as possible, because they had intimate, first-hand knowledge of what it takes to raise and slaughter their meat source. That ethos is reflected in many recipes that call for offal prepared using slow-cooking techniques to tenderize the tougher cuts. (There’s even a recipe for mince pie made with cow’s tongue.)

Gray says in the 20th century, people became more urbanized and squeamish, abandoning rich offal dishes such as bone marrow tart, made with almonds, cream, rosewater, candied fruit, chicken and marrow in puff pastry. But the habit also died, Gray says, because – as we’ve previously reported on The Salt — World War I and World War II took a heavy toll on the culinary skills in British middle- and upper-class kitchens: “Quite a lot of [these offal recipes] require a lot of cooking and processing,” Gray says. “So when you start to lose a lot of servants during war times, it becomes more difficult. The skill level declines, because people only cook with the ingredients they have access to.” Read More > at The Salt

Here’s why your email is insecure and likely to stay that way - Email is the most ubiquitous method of communication on the Internet – maybe even on the planet. It’s built into almost everything, from phones and tablets to traditional computers to gaming devices – heck, even connected home appliances and cars can do email. More importantly, being “on the Internet” means having an email address (or dozens of them); they’re our IDs, how we sign up for things, how we receive notices, and sometimes even communicate with each other. Email is the original “killer app.”

But email was not designed with any privacy or security in mind. There have been many efforts to make email more secure, but the recent shutdown of highly-touted secure email services like Lavabit (reportedly used by NSA leaker Edward Snowden) and Silent Circle in the wake of government surveillance programs highlight the difficulties. Lack of email security is also having some surprising collateral damage, like the announced shutdown of the respected software and law blog GrokLaw.

Is email security hopeless? Are we looking at the end of the Internet’s killer app?

Why isn’t email secure?

Email isn’t secure because it was never meant to be the center of our digital lives. It was developed when the Internet was a much smaller place to standardize simple store-and-forward messaging between people using different kinds of computers. Email was all transferred completely in the open – everything was readable by anyone who could watch network traffic or access accounts (originally not even passwords were encrypted). Amazingly, email sent using those wide-open methods still (mostly) works. Read More > at Digital Trends

Farmers’ Almanac predicts colder-than-normal winter for most of US - The Farmers’ Almanac is using words like “piercing cold,” ”bitterly cold” and “biting cold” to describe the upcoming winter. And if its predictions are right, the first outdoor Super Bowl in years will be a messy “Storm Bowl.”

The 197-year-old publication that hits newsstands Monday predicts a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the Super Bowl is played at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the country and heavy snowfall in the Midwest, Great Lakes and New England.

“We’re using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D. It’s going to be very cold,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor.

Based on planetary positions, sunspots and lunar cycles, the almanac’s secret formula is largely unchanged since founder David Young published the first almanac in 1818. Read More > at Fox News

California lawmakers seek solution to growing problem of Internet ‘revenge porn’ - State lawmakers are attempting to limit a distressing social media phenomenon known as “revenge porn,” where spurned suitors post intimate photos of their ex-lovers on the Internet for all to see.

The Assembly is set to debate a bill that would make such conduct punishable by up to a year in jail, while Gov. Jerry Brown is considering separate legislation that would make it a crime to impersonate or bully a domestic violence victim online.

The measures are forcing lawmakers to consider where to draw the line between unfettered free speech and privacy rights. Read More > in the Associated Press

Don’t wash the chicken. You’re going to cook the chicken, but rinsing it off while it’s raw disperses germs into the air and onto various surfaces. Take a look:

Number of the Week: Manufacturing Nowhere Near Regaining Lost Jobs - 22%: The share of U.S. manufacturing jobs lost during the recent downturn that has been regained during the recovery.

American manufacturing was creamed in the recession. From December 2007 to December 2009, factories shed nearly 2.3 million jobs, or 16.5% of the sector’s total. Of course, the recession ended in June of 2009—but factories kept dumping workers for months thereafter. The rest of the economy suffered big job losses in the downturn too, but nowhere near the bloodbath in manufacturing. Jobs in all other categories combined fell about 5% during the same two-year period.

“Manufacturing always takes the brunt of recessions—and that’s particularly true in this cycle,” says Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist with the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, an industry-funded research group. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

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