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.
Where Does the Fecal Transplant Industry Get its Poop? – Mark Smith dares you to come up with a fecal joke he hasn’t heard. It’s not your typical industry parlance, but when you’re in the business of transplanting the stuff, it helps to have a sense of humor about it. “I think we’ve gone through just about every poop pun under the sun,” says Smith, who makes a living reallocating the contents of people’s bowels.
He’s the co-founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Finch Therapeutics, one of a host of companies developing, erm, unexpected cures for patients with ailing microbiomes. Our guts are home to billions of bacteria, many of which are actually essential to our internal workings. They’re key players in digestion and the immune system, among other bodily functions. Imbalances in the microbiome have been implicated in conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.
To reset the microbiome, the best medicine comes from the last place you’d expect: a fecal transplant, in which a healthy person’s stool is transferred to the patient’s gut. In response to that discovery, the world of medical research responded by proving that you can, in fact, polish a turd.
Finch Therapeutics and its peers have taken these transplants a long way from the fourth-century days of “yellow soup,” a fecal concoction used to treat diarrhea in ancient China. Over the past few years, a one-of-a-kind industry has sprouted around the procedure — which has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year — and set to work devising safer and more agreeable treatment methods, like pills and colonoscopies. They’re also building the infrastructure of something like a blood donation system for poop.
To recruit participants, OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank that supplies most of the material for transplants across the country, has crafted a slogan to stir altruistic zeal in potential donors: “Make Your Morning Routine Heroic.” They’ve found there’s no shortage of willing help, which makes sense considering how easy it is to help restore a fellow human’s health while earning $40 per donation. To think that all these years we’ve been flushing a miracle drug down the toilet. Read More > at Discover
DMV audit detailed Motor Voter screw-ups. Why did Newsom try to bury it? – The “Friday dump” is a trick that PR experts use to hide bad news. It works like this: You release bad or unfavorable news late on a Friday, when most people supposedly tune out for the weekend. With any luck, few will be aware of your misdeeds or misfortunes come Monday morning.
Perhaps this explains why Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office decided to release a long-awaited audit of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Motor Voter program last Friday. Of course, the Friday dump doesn’t work so well for big, ongoing sagas with no end in sight. That’s pretty much what we’re talking about when we talk about anything related to the DMV, and it’s been doubly true of the Motor Voter program.
Among the deliciously disastrous details unveiled in the audit:
- The Motor Voter program registered six people who were not eligible to vote, and they voted. “All six individuals voted in the primary and two of them also cast ballots in the 2018 general election,” wrote The Sacramento Bee’s Bryan Anderson. “Their records have since been canceled and they are not being charged with a crime.”
- The program resulted in the creation of 84,000 duplicate voter records and over 171,000 errors in recording a voter’s political party registration.
- Californians who are already registered to vote find the whole thing confusing and unsatisfactory.
Of course, state officials have been aware of some of these issues since February but waited until a Friday afternoon in late July to tell the public. All of this led to predictable howls from critics of the Motor Voter program. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
UPS Has Been Delivering Cargo in Self-Driving Trucks for Months And No One Knew – The self-driving freight truck startup TuSimple has been carrying mail across the state of Arizona for several weeks.
UPS announced on Thursday that its venture capital arm has made a minority investment in TuSimple. The announcement also revealed that since May TuSimple autonomous trucks have been hauling UPS loads on a 115-mile route between Phoenix and Tucson.
UPS confirmed to Gizmodo this is the first time UPS has announced it has been using TuSimple autonomous trucks to deliver packages in the state.
Around the same time as the UPS and TuSimple program began, the United States Postal Service and TuSimple publicized a two-week pilot program to deliver mail between Phoenix and Dallas, a 1,000 mile trip. Read More > at Gizmodo
Our view: The state is now targeting cities over housing. Good. It’s about time. – If cities that aren’t taking California’s housing crisis seriously begin to feel the heat, will they finally see the light?
At least a few encouraging signs are gathering to suggest that they might — signs that mean the state needs to keep up the pressure on communities, mainly suburban, that continue to deny, derail or downsize housing projects within their borders.
Cupertino and San Bruno separately received letters from the California Department of Housing this month suggesting that recent housing-hostile actions have put the communities in possible violation of state law and that both were being referred to the state attorney general for further review. At least in San Bruno’s case, that’s led to discussions whether a zoning-compliant, 425-unit housing project it summarily rejected should be brought up for reconsideration.
Meanwhile, the state continues to pursue two lawsuits against Huntington Beach for the Southern California beach resort community’s long-sustained refusal to file a realistic housing plan, with Gov. Newsom saying it’s unlikely to be the last city to feel Sacramento’s legal lash.
And while Newsom and the legislature were rightly pilloried for general fecklessness in their failure to approve meaningful housing legislation in this year’s session, they partly made up for it at the last. Communities can now face fines of up to $600,000 for flouting state affordable housing targets. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
NY univ. promotes paper comparing cow insemination to ‘rape,’ milking cows to ‘sexual abuse’ – A paper currently being promoted by a New York university calls on society to consider the rampant “sexual exploitation” of dairy cows by the milk industry in order to “fully fight gendered oppression.”
Specifically, the author compares cattle insemination to “rape” and the milking of cows to “sexual abuse.”
Titled “Readying the Rape Rack: Feminism and the Exploitation of Non-Human Reproductive Systems,” the paper was published Friday in a journal called Dissenting Voices, which is published and edited by the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the College at Brockport State University of New York.
The published piece aims at discussing the “sexual exploitation of non-human bodies, specifically dairy cows.” The author notes that “as a vegan and animal rights activist,” she feels compelled to reveal the “feminist aspects of animal agriculture,” a topic she says is unfortunately “under-researched,” but is nonetheless important because “the same way women’s health has been at stake for years, a dairy cow’s reproductive system has been poked and prodded. Read More > at Campus Reform
A New Species of Leech Is Discovered Near Washington, D.C. – In the summer of 2015, when Smithsonian research zoologist Anna Phillips and other scientists were standing in slow-moving swamp water, letting leeches latch onto their bare legs or gathering them up in nets from muddy pond bottoms, they didn’t realize that some of the bloodsuckers they’d collected belonged to an entirely new species. But in a just-published paper in the Journal of Parasitology, Phillips and her colleagues from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Royal Ontario Museum report that a previously unknown leech species, Macrobdella mimicus, is the first to be discovered on the continent in more than 40 years.
An international collaboration investigating biodiversity in leech populations led Phillips, a curator of parasitic worms and invertebrate zoology at the National Museum of Natural History, to streams and ponds across the eastern United States. Wading into the water, she checked rocks and submerged wood scraps for leeches to collect and analyze.
Later, DNA tests on the leeches’ suckers came back with an unexpected result. They showed that for some leech specimens, the genetic fingerprints differed by as much as six and eleven percent from the others. That evidence, says Phillips, stood out like a (blood-)red flag. Scientists know that a genetic difference of more than two percent in a telltale part of the genome typically indicates the two creatures may be distinct species. Read More > at Smithsonian
Hidden in plain sight: California illegal pot market booming – California’s struggling legal cannabis industry is expected to grow this year to $3.1 billion, but it remains outmatched by a thriving illegal market ripe with bargains, a report concluded Thursday.
Consumers are spending roughly $3 in the state’s underground pot economy for every $1 in the legal one, said the report from industry advisers Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics .
California kicked off broad legal sales in 2018. But hefty tax rates and illicit sales have been blamed for slower than expected activity in the new licensed market.
The report projected sales in California — the world’s largest legal pot market — would grow 23 percent this year.
But those figures projecting robust growth don’t square easily with reports from many businesses that say they are struggling to keep their doors open.
There appears to be a growing divide between well-financed companies and big-dollar investors that are gaining ground and smaller operators just trying to get into the black.
Consumers can reap big discounts by buying under the table, with many underground shops operating in plain sight. Thus far, law enforcement and regulators have been unable to significantly slow the vast illicit market. Read More > from the Associated Press
The Environmental Disaster of Solar Energy – Solar energy is terrible for the environment in a number of ways, including the fact that large land areas must be devoted to it. At Forbes, Michael Shellenberger highlights another problem with solar energy: it produces vast quantities of hazardous waste, which are not being adequately dealt with.
The last few years have seen growing concern over what happens to solar panels at the end of their life. Consider the following statements:
* The problem of solar panel disposal “will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment” because it “is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle.”
* “The reality is that there is a problem now, and it’s only going to get larger, expanding as rapidly as the PV industry expanded 10 years ago.”
* “Contrary to previous assumptions, pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out of the fragments of solar modules over a period of several months, for example by rainwater.”
All of these statements come from solar industry insiders. Cadmium is a particular toxic waste problem:
The fact that cadmium can be washed out of solar modules by rainwater is increasingly a concern for local environmentalists like the Concerned Citizens of Fawn Lake in Virginia, where a 6,350 acre solar farm to partly power Microsoft data centers is being proposed.
“We estimate there are 100,000 pounds of cadmium contained in the 1.8 million panels,” Sean Fogarty of the group told me. “Leaching from broken panels damaged during natural events — hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. — and at decommissioning is a big concern.”
This is how OSHA describes cadmium:
Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.
Read More > at Center of the American Experiment
Why Grocery Outlet Shares Popped Over 12% Wednesday Morning – Shares of Grocery Outlet Holding Corp., an extreme value retailer of groceries and consumables with 330 stores across six states, are bucking today’s overall market downturn and popped as high as 12.5% Wednesday morning after the company released its first quarterly result since going public.
Net sales increased 12.2% to $645.3 million during the second quarter, driven partially by 5.8% growth in comparable store sales, which topped analysts’ revenue estimates of $627 million. Adjusted earnings checked in at $14.5 million, or $0.20 per share, which was better than the prior year’s $0.19 per share result and much better than analysts’ estimates of $0.13 per share.
What investors should keep in mind with Grocery Outlet is its pricing strategy, as the company describes itself as an extreme value retailer of groceries. Analysts believe Grocery Outlet pricing is roughly 40% lower than that of conventional grocers, such as Walmart, and roughly 20% lower than that of traditional discount grocers, Aldi’s as an example. Offering consumers that type of value could drive Grocery Outlet’s growth story as it expands stores and takes market share, but there are also challenges to consider, such as slim margins and debt. Read More > at The Motley Fool
Prop. 13 reform measure pushed aside — backers seek new tax plan for businesses – A 2020 ballot initiative that would dramatically change Proposition 13, California’s landmark property tax-cutting measure, is being pushed aside by its backers in favor of a revised plan they believe will have a better chance of passing.
Like the measure that backers hope to replace, the new initiative would split the property tax roll, keeping the Prop. 13 tax limits for residential, small business and agricultural property, but eliminating those limits for most high-dollar commercial and industrial buildings and land.
Prop. 13’s restrictions on taxing properties such as shopping centers, office buildings and factories “have starved funding for schools and local communities,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the “Schools & Communities First” initiative. “We are refiling the initiative to substantially strengthen the measure … and widen the path to victory in November 2020.”
Like the original measure, the new one would lead to more frequent reassessments of commercial and industrial property. Limiting such reassessments was a key feature of Prop. 13, which voters passed in 1978. Under it, property is reassessed only when it changes hands. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Puerto Rican bowling team stripped of gold medal at Pan American Games for doping violation – All athletes are looking for an edge — even bowlers. Except Jean Perez Faure got caught.
The Puerto Rico native had his men’s team’s doubles gold medal stripped at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, for testing positive for a banned drug. The result meant that the United States’ duo of Jakob Butturff and Nick Pate assumed the top medal, Colombia moved into second and Mexico won the bronze.
“The procedures used to take and analyze the samples are being carried out according to the Pan American Games anti-doping rules that were approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency,” the Pan American Sports Organization said in a statement.
Perez Faure tested positive for chlorthalidone, a diuretic that serves as a masking agent. It is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned substances. Read More > at USA Today
After eight years of economic recovery following the Great Recession, unemployment in the Bay Area is at a thirty-year low. – The Great Recession led to a dramatic spike in unemployment across the country. In the Bay Area, the regional unemployment rate more than doubled, rising from 4.5 percent in 2007 to 10.5 percent in 2010. At the 2010 peak, over 388,000 workers in the Bay Area were unemployed. During the current economic boom, the unemployment rate has declined each year since 2010. The current rate of 2.6 percent is lower than levels experienced during previous economic booms in the late 1990s and mid-2000s.
Of the nine counties in the Bay Area, Solano County had the highest rate of unemployment in 2018, at 3.6 percent. For most years since 1990, Solano County has topped the list of Bay Area counties in relation to unemployment – dipping below the regional average only in 2002 and 2003. Marin and San Mateo counties, by contrast, have fared significantly better, with unemployment rates remaining consistently below the regional average since 1990.
Overall, a larger share of Bay Area cities is experiencing low unemployment. In 2018, over 75 percent of Bay Area cities had unemployment rates below 3 percent. Our region’s lowest unemployment rates can be found in higher-income suburban cities, such as Mill Valley in Marin County, Millbrae and Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County, and Piedmont in Alameda County. Residents of these cities are relatively highly-educated with skills in high demand and therefore tend to experience below-average unemployment rates. Read More > at Vital Signs
JCPenney halves losses, will begin selling used clothing – …Among the worst hit has been J.C. Penney, a company that traces its roots back to 1902 and just received a delisting warning from the New York Stock Exchange because its shares have fallen below $1.
On Thursday, the Plano, Texas, company said it would be partnering with thredUP, a resale website where people can buy and sell clothes online. J.C. Penney will open threadUP shop in 30 stores soon.
Sales at established stores, a crucial measure of a retailer’s health, have eroded steadily. Same store sales tumbled 9% in the second quarter, or 6% when the impact of the company’s exit from major appliance and in-store furniture sales are accounted for.
The decision to bring appliances and furniture back into stores did not generate the traffic or sales it has hoped. Read More > at WJLA
Alleged Capital One hacker may have taken data from dozens of companies, feds say -The person allegedly behind the recent Capital One hack may have siphoned data from more than 30 other companies, according to federal court filings made public Wednesday.
In a motion for detention filed in the Western District of Washington state, the U.S. government said investigators found that Paige Thompson took data from multiple companies, and not just Virginia-based bank. The revelation was part of the evidence used to argue that Thompson must be detained before trial, or else pose a danger to the community and a risk of skipping out on further court dates.
Thompson, who is currently in federal custody in Washington state, has been charged with stealing data on 106 million Capital One customers after taking advantage of a misconfigured firewall in the bank’s cloud computing system. According to the latest filing, the government has allegedly found terabytes of additional data Thompson took from more than 30 “companies, educational institutions, and other entities.”
The filing does not name any additional victims, but TechCrunch has reported that Vodafone, Ford, Michigan State University and the Ohio Department of Transportation may have also been among Thompson’s targets. The government said it is still investigating, and will tack on additional charges as victims are notified. Read More > at Cyber Scoop
How Close Is Hong Kong to a Second Tiananmen? – In late October 1956, students and workers massed in the Hungarian capital of Budapest to protest Soviet rule and demand the end of Moscow’s political domination. Largely leaderless at first, the protests were galvanized by increasingly aggressive police action to become a full-blown revolt against a government widely viewed as a Soviet puppet. By the end of the month, with a new rebel government in place, it seemed that Moscow might be willing to negotiate the withdrawal of Soviet troops—after all, then-First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Joseph Stalin several months earlier.
This optimism was short-lived. At 4:15 a.m. on Nov. 4, Soviet tanks entered the city, leaving thousands of Hungarian citizens dead and eliciting widespread international condemnation, though no actual action. Yet the crackdown had succeeded in its immediate objective—forestalling Moscow’s loss of political control, at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union three and a half decades later.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a long memory, and it is increasingly obsessed with the fate of the Soviets. As usual, we don’t know what Xi Jinping and other leaders were discussing at the recently concluded yearly meeting in the seaside resort of Beidaihe—but it seems likely that the memory of 1956 loomed over discussion of unrest in Hong Kong, arguably the most significant political challenge outside its own ranks the CCP has faced since Xi assumed power in 2012.
Unfortunately for the protesters, Beijing’s calculus in 2019 is likely the same as Moscow’s nearly 70 years earlier: When backed into a corner, violence is preferable to perceived political weakness or territorial dissolution.
What began with targeted protests over a proposed extradition bill that would potentially subject Hong Kong residents to the CCP’s domestic legal controls soon morphed into a full-blown movement after an overly aggressive and inept response by the local police and the refusal of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to fully withdraw the bill. (It has only been temporarily shelved.)
As an unintended consequence of Beijing’s successful neutering of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, a sense of desperation and urgency now imbues this largely leaderless and grassroots movement. Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world’s busiest transport hubs, has been shuttered in response to sit-ins, and the language is escalating on both sides. While the violence has been largely on the side of the police, this Monday saw protesters attack and beat suspected infiltrators. Just this week, Lam warned that the protesters were pushing Hong Kong “into an abyss.” “Sorry for the inconvenience,” said one protester’s sign at the airport, “but we’re fighting for survival.” Read More > at Foreign Policy
Opinion: Here’s the real reason why U.S. home prices haven’t been smashed – In a recent column, I focused on five key factors which indicate that housing markets may be topping out. Yet one other important factor may be the main reason why housing prices have not already deflated.
Investors have always played an important role in housing markets. I have written extensively about the crazy bubble years of 2004-06. Rampant speculation was one of the primary causes of the buying mania and subsequent collapse. A May 2005 Fortune magazine article described how speculators were descending on city after city in search of making a killing in real estate.
When home prices leveled off in the second half of 2006, nervous speculators in the hottest major metros began to sell in large numbers. This precipitated the price collapse which soon followed. By 2009, the foreclosure debacle was in full swing. For the next four years, investors focused on buying inexpensive repossessed properties. Most of these foreclosure sales were all-cash deals.
Contrary to a widely-held assumption, many of these investor-purchased homes were not bought by flippers. They were turned into rental units for a new type of renter — former homeowners whose house had been foreclosed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of single-family rental units has soared since the housing bust began. The Bureau estimated that about 3.6 million single-family homes for rent have been added, bringing the total number nationwide to more than 15 million. An April 2018 report released by the website rentcafe.com revealed that 22 of the 30 largest U.S. cities had larger percentage gains of single-family rentals than multi-family units over the past decade.
Unlike the speculative housing bubble of 2004-07, the investment surge over the past six years has been largely driven by a purchase-and-rent strategy. This made a lot of sense. Rents have risen steadily as most home prices continued to climb. A report from CoreLogic stated that rents grew nationwide by an average of 3.2% in January 2019 from a year earlier. Another benefit was that the tenant retention rate of 70% was much higher than the 50%-53% retention rate for multi-family apartments, according to a recent Freddie Mac report. Read More > at MarketWatch
Busting the College-Industrial Complex – Obstacles to employment are a problem. They impede social mobility, disproportionately harm society’s most vulnerable citizens, and hinder the larger economy. That is why efforts to remove such barriers have become a bipartisan cause. It’s why more than two dozen states now ban public employers (and sometimes even private ones) from inquiring about applicants’ criminal history, due to concerns that capable job candidates will be turned away or otherwise deterred. A number of states and locales are going further: New York City, for example, prohibits public employers from asking about applicants’ prior-earnings history; in 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit the practice for all employers.
Occupational-licensing reform has similarly seen growing, bipartisan support. Reformers on the left and right have surveyed the staggering costs and barriers to entry for quotidian positions such as masseuse, nail technician, exterminator, and florist, and concluded that these need to be reduced or eliminated. In doing so, they are embracing the understanding Milton Friedman propounded most fluently in his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom: “The most obvious social cost,” Friedman wrote of occupational registration, certification, and licensure, “is that any one of these measures…almost inevitably becomes a tool in the hands of a special producer group to obtain a monopoly position at the expense of the rest of the public.”
Yet even as reformers have pushed to remove a variety of barriers to employment, the biggest and most significant barrier to employment in American life — the use of the college degree as a default hiring device — has gone blithely unremarked. Indeed, even as reformers target employment obstacles for felons and florists, the pervasive use of college-degree requirements, despite its dubious legality and profound costs, has bizarrely escaped serious consideration.
At its best, higher education can be a powerful engine of opportunity and socioeconomic advancement. And that’s the way it’s almost universally described — at least in college brochures, think-tank reports, campaign stump speeches, and legacy media. Nevertheless, for too many Americans, the truth is that post-secondary education is principally a toll: an ever-more-expensive, increasingly mandatory, two-, four-, or, more accurately, six-year pit stop on the way to remuneration.
Constitutional doctrine holds that employment practices that disproportionately affect members of a protected group are prohibited, unless the practice can be shown to be directly related to job performance and consistent with business need. Nonetheless, thousands of employers now casually flout this standard by screening applicants based on post-secondary credentials and by factoring degrees into hiring decisions, even where degree requirements have a disproportionate effect and bear no obvious relation to job duties or performance.
In a comprehensive October 2017 report, researchers from Harvard Business School documented extensive evidence of increasing “degree inflation,” with employers demanding baccalaureate degrees for middle-skill jobs that previously did not require one and for which the work duties have not changed. In fact, 61% of employers surveyed admitted to rejecting applicants with the requisite skills and experience simply because they lacked a college degree. Researchers calculated that this affected an estimated 6.2 million jobs across dozens of industries. Read More > at National Affairs
National college dropout rates are a scandal, UC author says – In David Kirp’s new book “The College Dropout Scandal” (Oxford University Press), the UC Berkeley emeritus professor of public policy calls low college graduation rates “higher education’s dirty little secret.” Nationwide, only about 3 out of 5 incoming freshmen graduate within six years. The rate is dramatically worse at some schools in California. He says those statistics result from “a dereliction of duty that has gotten too little public attention.”
EdSource recently sat down with Kirp to talk in-depth about his findings and possible reforms. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why should we care about the dropout rate?
In the most basic way, 40 percent of students who start university drop out. That’s a lot of students. They leave without a credential that would get them a decent job. They are giving up on the (lifelong) million dollar bonus that comes with getting a BA. They are probably in debt. They are less likely to own a home, less likely to have a car and less likely to be engaged in the community. They wind up with diminished trajectories. And we taxpayers are worse off because we are contributing a ton to these students and really not getting anything back on our investment. If you look at it as an ethical question, it’s a big deal. If you look at it as an economic question, it’s a big deal. Read More > at EdSource
Tests of wildfire-tracking AI are just months away, JAIC says – The military’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center says that within months it will be testing an artificial intelligence program to track the spread of wildfires, a part of its mission to deliver humanitarian uses of AI.
The plan to use AI to analyze footage of blazes in California has been touted before, but a JAIC official provided new details about the timeline for testing and its potential benefit to firefighters on Wednesday. The center’s goal is to distribute maps much faster and more accurately to first responders, a step up from the daily distribution timeframe currently in place.
The tests will involve flying video cameras over wildfires with an automated visualization algorithm detecting where flames are moving in the frame. The updated maps will be pushed out through a mobile app the National Guard uses, said JAIC’s chief of strategy and communications, Greg Allen. Read More > at FedScoop
Is it time to regulate biohacking? California thinks so. – California wants to make it clear that tinkering with your own genes is a “don’t try this at home” sort of thing.
The state is making it illegal to sell a do-it-yourself genetic engineering kit unless it comes with a clear warning stating that “the kit is not for self-administration.” This is a notable escalation of an effort to regulate biohacking, a movement that’s gotten people interested in hacking their genomes — although it bears noting that right now, nobody appears to actually be selling the sort of kit California prohibits.
The bill containing the prohibition was authored by Republican state Sen. Ling Ling Chang and signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 30. In January, it’ll become law. Chang says it’s the first US law to explicitly address the gene-editing technology CRISPR.
The term “biohacking” can cover a huge range of activities, from performing science experiments on yeast, to actually changing your biology by implanting computer chips into your limbs, taking nootropics or “smart drugs,” giving yourself a fecal transplant, pumping a younger person’s blood into your veins in the hope that it’ll fight aging, and more. The type of biohackers currently gaining the most notoriety are the ones who experiment on their bodies with the hope of “upgrading” or “optimizing” their physical and cognitive performance. Read More > at Vox
Mortgage rates haven’t been this low since 2016 — here’s how to decide whether to refinance your home loan – As mortgage rates have dropped this year, more mortgage borrowers are considering refinancing.
Last week, applications for mortgage refinances jumped 37% week-over-week following multiple weeks in which mortgage interest rates dropped or stayed at recent lows, according to data released Wednesday from the Mortgage Bankers Association. In all, there were nearly triple the number of refinance applications last week versus the same period a year ago, as refinance activity maintained its highest clip since July 2016.
As of last week, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.6%, according to Freddie Mac. This is the lowest mortgage rates have been since November 2016. Mortgage rates track the path of the 10-year U.S. Treasury note which has dropped more than 109% so far this year.
This is a major shift from earlier in the year, when mortgage rates seemed poised to increase. The first quarter of this year had the smallest number of refinances from Fannie Mae. Read More > at Market Watch
United Airlines Wants Its Pilots to Stay Sober Longer – We all know the dangers of driving when we’ve been drinking. Just imagine how perilous flying an airplane under those circumstances would be — for the passengers and crew as well as for other aircraft.
When commercial airline pilots reach their destinations, FAA regulations require that they take at least 10 hours off — with a stretch available for at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep — before they climb into the cockpit again. Of course, pilots might want to unwind a little when they arrive someplace, so the agency also mandates an eight-hour bottle-to-throttle rule — a minimum eight-hour period between taking that last drink and firing up the 767. Of course, for pilots and many other people, this is how much can make you too drunk to operate any machinery.
That’s the regulation followed by such major carriers as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines. However, the travel newsletter Skift reports that United Airlines has just implemented its own rule — requiring that its pilots must down their final drink a full 12 hours before reporting for duty.
United has good reason to be concerned. Twice in the past two years, police at the airport in Glasgow, Scotland, have arrested pilots flying for the airline shortly before takeoff for failing pre-flight breathalyzer tests. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
“More Play Will Save Our Schools,” a New Book Claims – The education solar system is endlessly distorted by the extraordinary presence within it of two separate suns with gravitational fields that tug the policy planets in different directions.
Around one sun revolve the satellites of utility, instrumentality, and achievement. On their surfaces, education must be purposeful and structured so that societies can cohere and prosper. Left in a state of nature, children would grow up ignorant and wild. Adults—and schools—exist to form, instruct, discipline, acculturate, and socialize them.
Orbiting the other sun we find the heavenly bodies of romanticism, naturalism, and liberation. There, education frees the individual to become a unique being. Left to explore its own nature and unconstrained by external forces, the child will unfold like a flower. Adults’ job is to keep her from serious harm and provide options for exploration, not to expect, demand, or discipline.
If those were separate solar systems, we might hear only music from the spheres. In reality, however, the education planets are being pulled in both directions.
The American K–12 world spent recent decades with its orbit mostly shaped by the gravity of the utility star. Thus we focused on boosting achievement, prepping more kids for college and career, strengthening school effectiveness—and holding elements of the education system to account for their results, gauged mainly by test scores, graduation and matriculation rates and other formal markers of success.
Today, however, education in the U.S. is swinging rapidly toward the liberation star. Tests are being scrapped or their results diminished. “School climate” is getting weighed more heavily, achievement less. “Social and emotional learning” vies with knowledge, and “21st century skills” loom larger than the three R’s. “Personalization” and “collaboration” are crowding out all forms of standardization. Read More > at Education Next
The Nord Stream 2 Pipeline And The Dangers Of Moving Too Rashly Toward Renewable Energy – …In 2010, Germany embarked on a program called “Energiewende” – meaning literally, energy transition. This was designed to transform the German energy economy from being based on fossil fuels to being based on so-called “renewables”. In practical effect, the German government refused to approve any energy project that did not involve renewable energy. Germany hoped that Energiewende would reduce drastically Germany’s CO2 emissions and also end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. This would strike a blow both for German energy independence and for the fight against climate change.
It didn’t work. At first the country’s CO2 emissions fell, but Germany never was able to generate enough reliable renewable energy to sustain itself. Instead, partially because it had not properly planned for its energy needs during the transition period to full renewable energy, Germany had to fall back on coal produced in the former Communist Eastern part. Ironically, the renewed reliance on this coal, called “lignite”, only made Germany’s short-term pollution problems worse, as lignite is a peculiarly dirty form of coal. By 2015, despite closing nuclear power plants and preventing new fossil fuel energy investment, Germany’s CO2 emissions started again to increase. They eventually dropped in 2018, but few are confident that decrease will continue.
Worse still, prices for German energy kept soaring, becoming among the highest in Europe. Simultaneously, Germany’s energy needs became more dependent on natural gas from Russia. Mainly for political reasons, Russia hardly is a reliable energy source. It certainly is not an environmentally conscious one. Instead of making Germany more self-reliant and a world clean energy leader, Energiewende actually drove Germany further into the arms of Russia. In addition, it otherwise thwarted Germany’s goal of a rapid renewable energy transition. Read More > at Forbes
Between Cars And Micromobility Lies “Minimobility” – A Self-Driving Transportation Revolution – Today’s hot transportation topic is “micromobility” where the “micro” means super-small kick scooters and electric bicycles, particularly dockless ones. These vehicles are convenient and (when things go right) ridiculously efficient, both in terms of the energy they use and the space they take up on the road. They are getting opposition, both because people park them in all sorts of inappropriate places, and they have safety problems both due to reckless driving and the exposure of riding such a small vehicle.
The energy and space efficiency is astounding, though, compared to both cars and transit vehicles. A typical kick scooter uses just 18 watt-hours per mile, while an electric car uses 250 (or 170 per person at the average car passenger load.) The entire New York MTA subway system, by far the most efficient in the USA, uses 150 watt-hours per passenger-mile. Eight times more efficient than the best subway — if you care about energy in transportation, the most effective thing you can be doing is finding ways to get more acceptance of this mode.
There are arguments that this efficiency is not being close to attained today, because the scooters in service are low quality and have short lifetimes — meaning they consume far more energy being made for the short life than they use moving riders — and because of wasteful “juicing” by contractors, who drive around in gasoline pickup trucks to gather, charge and redistribute them. These problems are real, and need to be solved to attain proper efficiency, and a sustainable business, but there are many solutions under development.
Micromobility has other problems besides scattered scooters, though. It’s really only useful in fairly dense areas, and for short trips, typically not much more than 3 miles. That’s partly because of speed, and because it’s actually cheaper to hail an Uber over certain distances. And they do have their dangers, and they require some physical ability to ride safely, and a helmet is a good idea, but not easy to make happen. Read More > at Forbes
Watching football IS good for you: Scientists discover fans get a ‘cardio workout similar to a 90-minute brisk walk’ – Watching football is good for you, scientists have discovered in a study that will have sports fans rejoicing.
Researchers from the University of Leeds analysed 25 fans of the city’s soccer team over three Championship games.
They found the supporters’ heart rates increased by around 64 per cent, with some peaking at 130 beats per minute (bpm). A ‘normal’ resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm.
This ‘workout’ is equivalent to going on a brisk walk for an hour-and-a-half, the scientists claimed.
Watching their team win also reduced the fans’ blood pressure and gave them a ‘psychological boost’ that for some lasted all day.
However, seeing their club defeated had the opposite emotional effect with fans battling a ‘slump’ that one compared to ‘a friend dying’. Read More > at Daily Mail
Why is everything late, over-budget, and broken in San Francisco? – San Francisco is building big things these days, but not always particularly well.
The Transbay Transit Center, which finally reopened for actual transit traffic over the weekend, cost far more than it was supposed to and finished late. It then almost immediately broke, and spent most of a year shuttered.
Similarly, the Central Subway, still under construction, is already more than a year late and may not actually carry passengers until May of 2020.
Muni’s much-anticipated new trains appeared late and, when they finally did go into action, proved a hazard to some riders. BART’s own “fleet of the future” lingers far behind schedule as well. And the less said about the state of the state’s high-speed rail project, the better.
Whether it’s our sinking towers or our rusting bridges, it seems that nearly everything built in the Bay Area these days—and particularly big civic projects—is broken one way or another. Why does this keep happening?
Over the years there’s been quite a bit written about the perpetual problems with “megaprojects,” those big-ticket ideas that cost $1 billion-plus, have the potential to reshape cities, and almost never work out the way they’re supposed to.
This is all theoretical work, but certain commonalities tend to emerge, including:
- It’s not just SF; megaprojects are almost always disasters: In 2002, Danish economist Bent Flyvbjerg and associates published an infamous paper surveying 258 megaprojects around the world that found that some 90 percent of them came in late and over budget. “The cost estimates used to decide whether such projects should be built are highly and systematically misleading,” Flyvbjerg concluded, warning municipalities in blunt terms “[do] not trust cost estimates and cost-benefit analyses produced by project promoters and their analysts.” He felt so strongly about this that in later writings Flyvbjerg coined what he called “the iron law of megaprojects: over budget, over time, over and over again.”
- Low bids are not necessarily good bids: By law, the state of California must award construction contracts to the lowest bidder in almost all cases, and many cities employ similar policies. This is supposed to save money, but what it actually does is incentivize contractors to make unrealistic promises to nab the deal. Companies like Tutor Periniare expert at playing the system to get hired, but less so at actually delivering—just that one company has gone over budget by $765 million on Bay Area projects since 2000. Read More > at SF Curbed
7 Huge Questions Remain Following ‘THE HUNT’S’ Demise – We may never know how inflammatory “The Hunt” truly is.
Universal just yanked “The Hunt” from its Sept. 27 release date without a syllable about its future. The satire, according to The Hollywood Reporter, followed a group of liberal elites literally hunting down Red State Americans, or Deplorables, to the death.
Here’s the official studio statement:
“While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film,” the studio said in Saturday’s statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”
The hypocrisy embedded in those few sentences is stunning. Let’s move on to a larger issue. The film’s sudden, shocking cancellation leaves more questions than answers. Consider … Read More > at Hollywood in Toto
A New Start-Up Wants to Build a Tiny House in Your Backyard For Free – Bay Area start-up Rent the Backyard is making new room in dense cities by collaborating with homeowners who’ve got a little extra acreage. The company will install a prefab studio apartment on unused land behind your home, handle all the permitting required to do so, find a worthy tenant to rent the unit, and pay you 50% of the profits for providing the space—all for zero up-front costs.
They’re partnering with companies like NODE, who make sustainable, carbon-neutral homes that can be installed in just a few days. Utilities will hook up to the property’s principal dwelling, and they’ll be metered and reimbursed. Participants can expect to add roughly $10k to their annual income (dependent on the going rate for a studio apartment in your city), and cities will get new affordable housing in previously unused space.
In 2016, California loosened housing laws surrounding accessory dwellings units—ADUs, or granny flats—to face its growing affordable housing crisis. The opened flood gates led to a surge in permit applications—Los Angeles saw a roughly 2000% increase from 2015–2017, and San Jose is tracking to add 100,000 affordable housing units by 2022. Although retrofitting units like garages or basements into rentals was suddenly easier, building brand new ones still faces daunting red tape.
The turnkey deal has one caveat: if you were to sell your home, you’d be responsible for paying the remaining equity of the 30-year agreement. Conversely, after 30 years you’d own the ADU outright (unless you paid the remaining equity out of pocket before then). Read More > at Dwell
Voting by Phone Is Convenient, But Is It Too Risky? – At a time when some states are bringing back paper ballots, others are expanding the modes of technology that people can use to vote.
Next week, Utah County, Utah, will become the third U.S. jurisdiction — after Denver and West Virginia — to let some voters use a smartphone app to cast absentee ballots. Next year, for the first time ever, Democrats in Iowa and Nevada will be able to vote by phone in the presidential caucuses.
Supporters, including voting rights advocates and election technology companies, say making voting more accessible and convenient will increase turnout at the polls.
But election security experts say it will also make the voting process less secure at a time when foreign interference in U.S. democracy is a major concern. Since it was revealed that Russians hacked voting systems during the 2016 presidential race, many states have actually ditched electronic voting equipment in favor of paper ballots.
“Security experts have told us that anytime you send voter ballots over the internet, you open up the threat landscape all over the world,” says Marian Schneider, president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit dedicated to election integrity. Read More > at Governing
Homebuilding Should Be Booming Right Now. Why Isn’t It? – The economy has posted a record 121 months of expansion. Job growth is steady and wage growth finally seems to be accelerating. Those economic factors are usually a recipe for strong new home sales. But right now, the homebuilding industry is stuck in the doldrums.
Typically, when Americans feel more secure in their finances and in the economy as a whole, they clamor for single-family homes. According to CohnReznick Director Steven Friedman, though, settlements are down substantially and demand for houses is not where it has been in the past.
Existing home sale inventory is low, but new home sales haven’t accelerated as economists and many builders had anticipated. While home prices have recovered since the end of the Great Recession, they have flatlined over the last six months.
In a normal market, Friedman said, the number of families settling down in a new home should be between 900,000 and 1.2 million annually. Instead, that number is sitting below 700,000. What’s causing this slowdown is a matter of debate in economic circles, but Friedman pins much of the responsibility on demographics.
Friedman explained that the current American population clusters around two large age groups: 55- to 75-year-olds — baby boomers — and 19- to 37-year-olds — millennials, which is creating what he calls a barbell effect.
Many boomers are looking for affluent millennials to buy up the large houses where they raised families, but millennials often aren’t ready to purchase them. Many are still saddled with student debt, or have not been able to build up savings thanks to the last recession. Their paychecks also haven’t kept pace with increasing home prices. Read More > at Bisnow
California’s Background Check Law Had No Impact on Gun Deaths, Johns Hopkins Study Finds – A new academic study has found that, once again, gun laws are not having their desired effect.
A joint study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of California at Davis Violence Prevention Research Program found that California’s much-touted mandated background checks had no impact on gun deaths, and researchers are puzzled as to why.
In 1991, California simultaneously imposed comprehensive background checks for firearm sales and prohibited gun sales (and gun possession) to people convicted of misdemeanor violent crimes. The legislation mandated that all gun sales, including private transactions, would have to go through a California-licensed Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer. Shotguns and rifles, like handguns, became subject to a 15-day waiting period to make certain all gun purchasers had undergone a thorough background check.
It was the most expansive state gun control legislation in America, affecting an estimated one million gun buyers in the first year alone. Though costly and cumbersome, politicians and law enforcement agreed the law was worth it.
More than a quarter of a century later, researchers at Johns Hopkins and UC Davis dug into the results of the sweeping legislation. Researchers compared yearly gun suicide and homicide rates over the 10 years following implementation of California’s law with 32 control states that did not have such laws. Read More > at FEE
Auditors Find 84,000 Duplicate Voter Records On California’s Rolls – California’s attempts to automate voter registration through visits to its Department of Motor Vehicles produced 84,000 duplicate voter records, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The Times reported that auditors of the “motor voter” program reviewed 3 million voter registration files. They compared these records with those of the state’s motor vehicles department and secretary of state, finding 83,694 duplicate voter registrations. The Times reported this massive duplication of records was caused by changes in voters’ political party preferences.
California’s “Motor Voter” program launched in April 2018. It registered people to vote when they visited the DMV, unless they choose to opt out. It helped 5 million Californians register to vote or update their voter information, according to California’Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Read More > in The Federalist