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.
How One Bootlegger Kept Congress Stocked With Booze During Prohibition – One hundred years ago today, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” was ratified by the necessary 36th state, Nebraska, and Prohibition took effect.
It didn’t take too long after that for George L. Cassiday, who later became known as “The Man with the Green Hat,” to get to work.
A veteran who served with a light tank unit during World War I, Cassiday had been unable to return to his job as a railroad brakeman following his service and instead turned to bootlegging on the suggestion of a friend.
And, Cassiday didn’t put his sights on supplying the cabinets of speakeasies with his illegal hooch, he set them on supplying cabinet meetings on Capitol Hill.
Cassiday’s Capitol Hill career began when he obtained alcohol for two House members who had voted in favor of Prohibition and his network of clients quickly grew from there.
Developing contacts on the Hill the same way a lobbyist might, Cassiday, a liquor-filled leather briefcase in his hand and his signature emerald hat on his head, soon found himself making up to 25 deliveries a day to clients in the Senate and House Office Buildings. Read More > at RealClear | Life
The Overprotected American Child – A few weeks ago I left my 9-year-old daughter home alone for the first time. It did not go as planned.
That’s because I had no plan. My daughter was sick. My husband was out of town. And I needed to head to the drugstore—a five-minute walk away—to get some medicine for her. So I made sure my daughter knew where to find our rarely used landline phone, quizzed her on my cellphone number and instructed her not to open the front door for anyone. Then I left. Twenty minutes later I was back home. Both of us were a bit rattled by the experience—her first time completely alone, with no supervising adult!—but we were fine.
I had been postponing this moment of independence for my daughter for months, held back by worry over the potential catastrophes. But I know that this way of thinking is part of a larger social problem. Many have lamented the fact that children have less independence and autonomy today than they did a few generations ago. Fewer children are walking to school on their own, riding their bicycles around neighborhoods or going on errands for their parents. There have been several high-profile cases of parents actually being charged with neglect for allowing their children to walk or play unsupervised. We’re now seeing a backlash to all this pressure for parental oversight: Earlier this year, the state of Utah enacted a new “free-range” parenting law that redefined neglect to specifically exclude things like letting a child play in a park or walk to a nearby store alone.
Overzealous parenting can do real harm. Psychologists and educators see it as one factor fueling a surge in the number of children and young adults being diagnosed with anxiety disorders. According to a study published this year in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the number of children aged 6 to 17 whose parents said they were currently diagnosed with anxiety grew from 3.5% in 2007 to 4.1% in 2012. And in a 2017 survey of more than 31,000 college students by the American College Health Association, 21.6% reported that they had been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems during the previous year. That is up from 10.4% in a 2008 survey.
A big 2007 study, published in Clinical Psychology Review, surveyed the scientific literature on how much parenting influences the development of anxiety in kids. The parenting behavior that had the strongest impact of any kind was “granting autonomy”—defined as “parental encouragement of children’s opinions and choices, acknowledgment of children’s independent perspectives on issues, and solicitation of children’s input on decisions and solutions of problems.” More autonomy was associated with less childhood anxiety. . . .
Giving children more independence outside of the house can be more of a challenge—especially if you live in a neighborhood of worrywarts and you’re the only parent letting your kid bike to the park alone. That’s why Lenore Skenazy, a former journalist and mother of two now-grown sons, is trying to convince entire communities to give their kids independence with her nonprofit Let Grow. “It takes away the stigma of being a daredevil parent,” she says. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
FDA threatens to pull e-cigarettes off the market – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that e-cigarettes face an uncertain future in U.S. markets unless youth smoking rates drop over the next year.
Speaking at a public hearing Friday in Silver Spring, Md., FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he could see the entire category of e-cigarette and vaping products removed from store shelves if companies don’t stop marketing such products to youth.
“I’ll tell you this. If the youth use continues to rise, and we see significant increases in use in 2019, on top of the dramatic rise in 2018, the entire category will face an existential threat,” he said.
Gottlieb pointed to data from the agency indicating that youth vaping rates had nearly doubled over the last year due to the increased availability and convenience of e-cigarette products. In his remarks, Gottlieb singled out e-cigarette brand Juul as a top choice among high school and middle school students. Read More > in The Hill
Nearly 773 million email accounts have been exposed in a massive data breach. Here’s how to check if you were affected. – A massive database containing 772,904,991 unique email addresses and more than 21 million unique passwords was recently posted to an online hacking forum, according to Wired.
The hack was first reported by Troy Hunt of the hack-security site Have I Been Pwned, which lets you check whether your email and passwords have been compromised and which sites your information was leaked from.
According to Wired, it appears that the breach, called “Collection #1,” doesn’t originate from one source but rather is an aggregation of 2,000 leaked databases that include passwords that have been cracked, meaning the protective layer that scrambles or “hashes” a password to prevent it from being visible has been cracked to be presented in a usable form on hacking forums. Read More > at Business Insider
How Wrong Should You Be? – My best friend in college was a straight-A student, an English major. In part he got all A’s because he is whip smart—his essays were systematically better than everyone else’s. But the other reason was that he refused to enroll in a course unless he was certain he would ace it. Consequently, he never really challenged himself to try something beyond his comfort zone. I, on the other hand, was not a straight-A student. My first semester I took atomic physics with Professor Delroy Baugh, self-proclaimed “Laser Guy.” I’d never taken a physics course before in my life, and as a reward for my willingness to transcend my comfort zone I received a D.
Somewhere between the two of us lies a sweet spot: if you only ever get 100 percent on your tests, they aren’t hard enough. If you never get above 50 percent, you’re probably in the wrong major. The trick is to be right enough, but not so right that you never allow yourself the opportunity to be wrong.
So, how wrong should you be?
An article from a team led by University of Arizona cognitive scientist Robert Wilson provides an answer: 15 percent. The researchers argue that a test is optimally difficult if the test-taker gets 85 percent of the questions right, with 15 percent incorrect. Any more than that, the test was too easy. Any less, the test was too hard. They call it “The Eighty-Five Percent Rule for Optimal Learning.”
The implications of the 85 percent rule in the classroom are straightforward. If you’re a teacher, your tests should be difficult enough that the average score is 85 percent. If you’re a student, the optimal level of challenge is about a B or a B+ average. An A might look nice on your transcript, but you could have stood to learn more from a class that was harder. Outside the classroom, the implications of the 85 percent rule are similar. If you are learning a new language, say on Duolingo, then you should be getting about 15 percent of the answers wrong. Otherwise, you’re not being challenged at the right level to consistently improve in picking up your new language. Read More > at Scientific American
No, tech companies shouldn’t fund journalism – Yesterday, Facebook announced it would spend $300 million over three years on journalistic content, partnerships, and programs. The announcement commits the social network to match the funding rival tech giant Google said it would spend on such programs—but more importantly increases the already-dangerous co-dependency between big tech and newsrooms.
Journalism, especially local journalism, is certainly in need of new revenue streams, as the industry faces a fundamental challenge to its business model, as print advertising dwindles and publishers’ meagre share of online ad dollars do little to replace it. Meanwhile, the tech companies keep growing, reaping the online ad dollars that publishers are so eager to get.
Both the financial crisis of journalism and the dominance of big technology platforms are important issues, but they are too often conflated; academics and European lawmakers alike have pushed these two separate conversations together over the last few years, suggesting there’s an easy fix in making technology fund journalism. This is a tempting idea, and one gaining a foothold in the US, but in reality would be a serious mistake—especially when it comes to reader trust.
Many rightly see the rise of big tech, and social media in particular, as the root of journalism’s problems. Not only do Google and Facebook dominate the online ad market—the two together make up nearly two-thirds of the market, but the social networks have played a huge role in the spread of online misinformation and the incentivizing of clickbait, which have been large contributors to the crisis of trust in the media. That idea has widespread academic and political support. In July 2018, a UK parliament inquiry into disinformation and fake news warned of social media’s effects on both the information and advertising ecosystems. Likewise, Facebook conceded—while under severe media pressure earlier this year—that the journalistic outlets which provide much of its content are in crisis. Read More > at the Columbia Journalism Review
California dealers try to stop Volvo’s car subscription service – A trade group representing California car and truck dealerships has filed a petition with the state’s New Motor Vehicle Board to stop Volvo from offering cars on a subscription model. The filing, first reported by Teslarati, is an escalation of the dealer group’s effort to disrupt Volvo’s subscription program, which became public late last year after it sent a letter to the CEO of the Swedish automaker’s North American division.
The subscription service, dubbed “Care by Volvo,” was announced in the second half of 2017. Customers “subscribe” to a car for two years, and make fixed monthly payments of around $750 (prices vary depending on the model). That price covers a bit more than a typical lease — insurance and maintenance are included, and there’s no down payment — and customers can also trade in a car for a new one after 12 months, which is similar to how Apple runs its iPhone upgrade program. Customers still take delivery at Volvo dealerships, though, and have to have their vehicles serviced at one as well.
The group pushing to stop Care by Volvo is the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), which represents more than 1,000 franchised car and truck dealers across the state, according to the filing. The CNCDA calls Care by Volvo a “clever, but illegal, marketing ploy.” Care by Volvo, the group says, is little more than “an ‘all-inclusive’ two-year lease with a fixed, standardized, pre-determined monthly fee” that “includes the cost of the vehicle, insurance, maintenance, road hazard protection and normal wear-and-tear.” The group also points to how Volvo itself uses the term “lease” in both internal documents about Care by Volvo, and in ones provided to customers, which are included as exhibits to the petition. Read More > at The Verge
Death on demand: has euthanasia gone too far? – …As the world’s pioneer, the Netherlands has also discovered that although legalising euthanasia might resolve one ethical conundrum, it opens a can of others – most importantly, where the limits of the practice should be drawn. In the past few years a small but influential group of academics and jurists have raised the alarm over what is generally referred to, a little archly, as the “slippery slope” – the idea that a measure introduced to provide relief to late-stage cancer patients has expanded to include people who might otherwise live for many years, from sufferers of muscle-wasting diseases such as multiple sclerosis to sexagenarians with dementia and even mentally ill young people.
Perhaps the most prominent of these sceptics is Theo Boer, who teaches ethics at the Theological University of Kampen. Between 2005 and 2014, Boer was a member of one of the five regional boards that were set up to review every act of euthanasia and hand cases over to prosecutors if irregularities are detected. (Each review board is composed of a lawyer, a doctor and an ethicist.) Recent government figures suggest that doubts over the direction of Dutch euthanasia are having an effect on the willingness of doctors to perform the procedure. In November, the health ministry revealed that in the first nine months of 2018 the number of cases was down 9% compared to the same period in 2017, the first drop since 2006. In a related sign of a more hostile legal environment, shortly afterwards the judiciary announced the first prosecution of a doctor for malpractice while administering euthanasia.
It is too early to say if euthanasia in the Netherlands has reached a high-water mark – and too early to say if the other countries that are currently making it easier to have an assisted death will also hesitate if the practice comes to be seen as too widespread. But it is significant that in addition to the passionate advocacy of Bert Keizer – who positively welcomes the “slippery slope” – Boer’s more critical views are being solicited by foreign parliamentarians and ethicists who are considering legal changes in their own countries. As Boer explained to me, “when I’m showing the statistics to people in Portugal or Iceland or wherever, I say: ‘Look closely at the Netherlands because this is where your country may be 20 years from now.’”
“The process of bringing in euthanasia legislation began with a desire to deal with the most heartbreaking cases – really terrible forms of death,” Boer said. “But there have been important changes in the way the law is applied. We have put in motion something that we have now discovered has more consequences than we ever imagined.” Read More > in The Guardian
California Voters to Decide the Future of Their State’s Bail System – This year, California was supposed to be making a historic shift away from the use of cash bail to determine whether people who get arrested are freed or detained in jail prior to their trials.
Instead, the changes probably won’t happen until 2021, and only if the voters agree. Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced this week that the reforms, passed via legislation last fall, have been pushed to a referendum to be held the fall of 2020.
SB10, signed into law in August, was intended to eliminate the use of cash bail in the state entirely. Cash bail has come under fire as a pretrial system because courts often apply it thoughtlessly, resulting in poor people being stuck in jail awaiting their day in court not because they’re dangers to the community or flight risks, but because they cannot afford to pay. Such people are statistically more likely to plead guilty and receive harsher punishments than they would have had they been free to fight.
Instead of cash bail, California courts would be required to implement an extensive (and possibly expensive) pretrial assessment and monitoring system….
None of this sat well with bail bondsmen and the insurance industry that underwrites them. New Jersey has shifted to a system where cash bail is almost completely absent, and that has decimated the bail bond industry. Their representatives fought bail reform in California extensively, and after SB10 was signed into law, they immediately went to work gathering signatures to try to force it to a public vote.
In November those reform opponents declared they had gathered enough signatures, more than 400,000 of them, to push SB10 onto a referendum. This week Padilla validated that they qualified. This means SB10 cannot legally be implemented until after the public vote. Read More > at Reason
Retailers Closing the Most Stores in 2019 – This week, children’s clothing chain Gymboree is expected to file for bankruptcy protection and begin shuttering its 900 U.S. locations. The company had been in the process of closing hundreds of stores for months, but the mass liquidation was not enough cover liabilities. These closings are just the latest in a stream of closure announcements by major retailers.
In what many have dubbed the “retail apocalypse,” brick-and-mortar retailers across the United States have been forced to reduce their footprint in order to maintain profitability in recent years. In the most extreme cases, several well-known brands have had no choice but to go out of business. Since the beginning of 2018, major companies, including Mattress Firm, Brookstone, Rockport, and Sears, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed publicly available financial documents and corporate announcements to identify the retailers closing the most stores in 2019. Retailers shutting the fewest locations — less than a few dozen — tend to be those companies attempting to improve profitability. Companies closing several hundred locations, on the other hand, are either being bought out or are declaring bankruptcy and liquidating assets.
> Closings: To be determined
> Total stores: 810 (North America)
> Category: Clothing
> Closings: 3
> Total stores: 872
> Category: Department stores
> Closings: 6
> Total stores: 1,822
> Category: Department stores
> Closings: 8
> Total stores: 852
> Category: Department stores
> Closings: 9+
> Total stores: 532 (United States)
> Category: Apparel
> Closings: 20
> Total stores: 2,000+
> Category: Home improvement
Read More > 24/7 Wall St
Facebook Users Still Don’t Know How Facebook Works – After all the scandals and hubbub and congressional testimony and mea culpas in Facebook’s nearly 15 years of existence, one would think that its users would have a pretty firm grasp on how the business works.
Surely, users know that Facebook uses information about their behaviors and friendships to deduce a constantly updating list of their interests. This detailed information about people constitutes Facebook’s competitive advantage: If it knows what people like, it can put ads in front of them that are likely to result in purchases.
But, no—a new Pew study indicates that after all this time, a large majority of users still don’t know that Facebook compiles this kind of information.
Pew researchers called up almost a thousand Americans and asked them if they knew about the list of “traits and interests” that Facebook keeps for almost all active users. The company provides users easy access to it—you can see your own list here—yet 74 percent of respondents to the survey said they did not know about the list’s existence.
Furthermore, 51 percent of those surveyed said they were “not comfortable with Facebook compiling this information.” Read More > in The Atlantic
As Americans Drink Less Alcohol, Booze Makers Look Beyond the Barrel – Americans are increasingly laying off the booze, prompting the world’s biggest brewers and liquor companies to push beyond their traditional fare and roll out teas, energy drinks and nonalcoholic spirits.
New data show that U.S. alcohol volumes dropped 0.8% last year, slightly steeper than the 0.7% decline in 2017. Beer was worst hit, with volumes down 1.5% in 2018, compared with a 1.1% decline in 2017, while growth in wine and spirits slowed, according to data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by industry tracker IWSR.
The fall in alcohol volumes reflects “a growing trend toward mindful drinking or complete abstinence, particularly among the millennial cohort,” says IWSR’s U.S. head Brandy Rand. Wine grew by 0.4%, down from 1% the year before, while spirits climbed 1.9%, compared with 2.2% in 2017.
In response to the slowdown, alcohol makers are trying to diversify. Molson Coors Brewing Co. has turned to kombucha, Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev SA sells a spiked coconut water, and Smirnoff maker Diageo PLC wants teetotalers to start mixing cocktails with a pricey, alcohol-free gin alternative. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal
10-year economic optimism jumps: More hiring, investing, seeing fundamentals ‘strong’ – Long-term investor optimism is up, with more than seven in 10 calling the economy’s fundamentals “strong,” according to a new investor and business survey.
The latest UBS Investor Watch Pulse Poll found that 71 percent are more optimistic about the 10-year economic outlook than they were just two months ago when it was still a high 68 percent.
And, said UBS, 78 percent believe the economy’s fundamentals are “strong,” and 75 percent said they expect to reach their long-term goals.
However, short-term expectations in the economy have taken a hit amid concerns about President Trump’s trade policies and Wall Street’s year-ending dip.
The 12-month and shorter outlook has sunk to 38 percent, down from 61 percent in November, said UBS.
Despite that, investors must see it as a temporary lull because 95 percent said that they are sticking to their investment plan. Read More > in the Washington Examiner
It’s Official: California Drivers Are Jerks – The operative word here is “aggressive.”
According to a new study from Mountain View car service startup YourMechanic, all the stereotypes are true. The Golden State really does have the most aggressive drivers in the nation, with an “aggressive driving event” like speeding or tailgating occurring every 6.6 minutes. Connecticut was No. 2.
Can you blame us? Not entirely. California is also second-worst nationwide for congested roads. We’ve got a ton of people, ailing infrastructure, and a housing crisis. Cut us some slack, man.
Despite the road rage, we’re still behind New Mexico, Louisiana, and Oklahoma when it comes to the most dangerous states for drivers. Still, if you find yourself experiencing anger or anxiety behind the wheel, the DMV recommends maintaining a slow speed, avoiding eye contact with other drivers, and listening to calming music. Read More > at California County News
California’s energy grid is in crisis. Can the state keep the lights on? – …California is casting off fossil fuels to become something that doesn’t yet exist: a fully electrified state of 40 million people. Policies are in place requiring a rush of energy from renewable sources such as the sun and wind and calling for millions of electric cars that will need charging — changes that will tax a system already fragile, unstable and increasingly vulnerable to outside forces.
“There is so much happening, so fast — the grid and nearly everything about energy is in real transition, and there’s so much at stake,” said Bakke, who explores these issues in a book titled simply, “The Grid.”
The state’s task grew more complicated with the recent announcement that Pacific Gas and Electric, which provides electricity for more than 5 million customer accounts, intends to file for bankruptcy in the face of potentially crippling liabilities from wildfires. But the reshaping of California’s energy future goes far beyond the woes of a single company.
…But more renewable energy, accessible at the whims of weather, can throw the grid off balance. Renewables lack the characteristic that power planners most prize: dispatchability, ready when called on and turned off when not immediately needed. Wind and sun don’t behave that way; their power is often available in great hunks — or not at all, as when clouds cover solar panels or winds drop.
In the case of solar power, it is plentiful in the middle of the day, at a time of low demand. There’s so much in California that most days the state pays its neighbors to siphon some off, lest the excess impede the grid’s constant need for balance — for a supply that consistently equals demand.
So getting to California’s new goals of operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2045 and having 5 million electric vehicles within 12 years will require a shift in how power is acquired and managed. Consumers will rely more heavily on stored power, whose efficiency must improve to meet that demand.
“Large-scale renewables are disrupting the conventional paradigm of how the grid has been constructed,” said Lorenzo Kristov, who is retired from a long career designing markets and planning the state’s grid. “Wind and solar — you can’t tell them what to do. They are challenging just about every aspect of how the electricity system has worked for decades. We need a lot of new thinking.” Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Kate Steinle shooter seeks to have gun conviction overturned – The undocumented immigrant acquitted by a jury of murder in the shooting death of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, in a case that touched off a furor about immigration and sanctuary laws, has appealed his conviction for illegally possessing the fatal weapon, saying momentary and accidental possession of a gun is not a crime.
The November 2017 verdict in the case of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate showed that jurors believed he “did not commit a willful act in firing the gun — that it went off accidentally just as the defense contended,” Garcia Zarate’s lawyer, Cliff Gardner, said in a filing Friday with the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
Because Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng refused to instruct the jury that “momentary possession” of a gun is not a crime, the jury had no choice but to convict Garcia Zarate of illegal firearms possession by a previously convicted felon, Gardner said. He asked the court to overturn the conviction and order a new trial. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
Why restaurant prices are on the rise – Restaurant prices in December rose at the highest rate in seven years while grocery prices remained low.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, prices at full-service restaurants rose 0.5 percent while at limited-service restaurants, prices were up 0.4 percent. The price for food purchased at a grocery stores and consumed at home rose 0.3 percent.
In December, a Datassential study showed that fast-food hamburger prices have jumped 54 percent over the last decade to about $6.95, and chicken sandwiches are up 27 percent, both outpacing inflation during the same time period.
Michael Halen, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said the cost gap between eating out and eating at home “has continued to widen pretty aggressively. It’s a problem.”
The restaurant price bump can be attributed to higher labor costs in a tight job market and higher costs for supplies, per Bloomberg, plus fewer people are eating out.
Data reported in October by market research company NPD Group showed that people are eating at home 80 percent of the time compared to 75 percent of the time a decade ago. The study found that both people over 65 and Millennials have decreased their frequency of eating out, NBC News reported. Read More > at The Business Journals
You’re Not Getting Much Taller, America. But You Are Getting Bigger. – Meet the average American man. He weighs 198 pounds and stands 5 feet 9 inches tall. He has a 40-inch waist, and his body mass index is 29, at the high end of the “overweight” category.
The picture for the average woman? She is roughly 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighs 171 pounds, with a 39-inch waist. Her B.M.I. is close to 30.
That’s a not at all how Americans used to look. New data show that both men and women gained a whopping 24 pounds on average from 1960 to 2002; through 2016, men gained an additional eight pounds, and women another seven pounds.
In 1999, white men averaged 192 pounds, and black men, 189 pounds. By 2016, the average white man weighed 202 pounds, and the average black man, 198 pounds. (These are rounded numbers.)
Average waist size among white men increased to 40 inches in 2016 from 39 inches in 1999, and among black men to 39 inches from 38 inches.
An average woman in 1999 weighed 164 pounds and had a 36-inch waist. Black women averaged 186 pounds in 2016, almost unchanged since 1999.
But the average white woman weighed 162 pounds in 1999 and 171 pounds in 2016. Average waist size among black women in 2016 rose to 40 inches from 39 inches in 2016, and among white women to 38 inches from 36 inches. Read More > in The New York Times
New App ReplyASAP (Invented by a Dad!) Locks Kids’ Phones Until They Message Their Parents Back – …“There are messaging apps that tell you when a message is delivered and seen, but the point is the message can be ignored or not seen because he didn’t hear it,” Herbert explained. “So ReplyASAP is my solution to this problem.”
The app allows users to send messages immediately or for at a point in the future, and makes a message audible even if the recipient has their phone on silent. It even gives the message sender the recipient’s location.
The kicker? The recipient will not be allowed to engage in any activity on their phone until they interact with the message from the sender, essentially “locking” or “freezing” the device in the meantime.
ReplyASAP starts at about $1.25 for the ability to connect to one other person, to around $16.50 for 20 connections. The app is currently only available for Android, but “coming soon” for iOS devices. Read More > at People
Survey: Americans Spend Nearly Half Their Waking Hours Looking At Screens – For all the studies that tell us how important it is to limit screen time, does it sometimes feel that no matter where we are or what we do, there’s a screen in front of us one way or another? Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Americans spend nearly half of their waking hours looking at screens, according to a survey of 2,000 adults.
More specifically, the survey found that 42% of the time Americans are awake, their eyes are fixated on a television, smartphone, computer, tablet, or other device. Supposing the average American slept eight hours a night (not even close to the case for most adults), the researchers calculated that people spend about six hours and 43 minutes a day staring at a screen. Over a typical lifespan, that’s 7,956 days.
And the problem is only getting worse. Of those surveyed, 79% said their screen time has increased over the past five years, with four in ten admitting it’s grown “a lot.” Three in four participants believe they simply spend too much time in front of screens. In fact, 53% take breaks from the computer — by checking their phone. Another 27% admits to watching TV and looking at their phone at the same time. Read More > at Study Finds
Who’s Your Governor? 1 in 3 Americans Don’t Know. – Do you know who your governor is? Can you name your state representative or senator? Or say whether your state has a one- or two-chamber legislature?
Turns out, many Americans don’t know the answer to those questions.
According to a survey released this month by Johns Hopkins University, 1 out of 3 people can’t name their governor, 4 out of 5 can’t say who their state legislator is and roughly half don’t know whether they have a uni- or bicameral legislature.
Despite that, the vast majority of the 1,500 respondents say their state government officials are doing a better job than the federal government, and that they trust them to handle problems.
So where does this blind faith come from? “We think that people have a lot of state pride and that translates into favorable opinions of state government and leaders,” says political scientist Jennifer Bachner, one of the survey’s researchers. “But if people don’t know who their elected officials are and how they work, they can’t hold them accountable.” Read More > at Governing
Extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least but think they know the most – Every independent scientific and regulatory body in the world that has evaluated current genetically enhanced crops have found them to be safe for consumption and the natural environment. Yet polling data show that a significant portion of the public opposes genetically modified foods.
The researchers behind the new Nature Human Behavior article conducted a survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States asking respondents objective knowledge true-false questions such as:
1. Yeast for brewing beer or making wine consists of living organisms: True
2. Ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, while genetically modified tomatoes do: False
4. By eating a genetically modified fruit, a person’s genes could also become modified: False
6. Genetically modified animals are always bigger than ordinary ones: False
8. It is not possible to transfer animal genes into plants: False
The researchers find that the folks who were most opposed to genetically modified crops and livestock were the least likely to correctly answer the survey questions. In the abstract, the researchers report:
There is widespread agreement among scientists that genetically modified foods are safe to consume and have the potential to provide substantial benefits to humankind. However, many people still harbour concerns about them or oppose their use. In a nationally representative sample of US adults, we find that as extremity of opposition to and concern about genetically modified foods increases, objective knowledge about science and genetics decreases, but perceived understanding of genetically modified foods increases. Extreme opponents know the least, but think they know the most. Moreover, the relationship between self-assessed and objective knowledge shifts from positive to negative at high levels of opposition.
Read More > at Reason
Feds Can’t Force You To Unlock Your iPhone With Finger Or Face, Judge Rules – …But in a more significant part of the ruling, Judge Westmore declared that the government did not have the right, even with a warrant, to force suspects to incriminate themselves by unlocking their devices with their biological features. Previously, courts had decided biometric features, unlike passcodes, were not “testimonial.” That was because a suspect would have to willingly and verbally give up a passcode, which is not the case with biometrics. A password was therefore deemed testimony, but body parts were not, and so not granted Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
That created a paradox: How could a passcode be treated differently to a finger or face, when any of the three could be used to unlock a device and expose a user’s private life?
And that’s just what Westmore focused on in her ruling. Declaring that “technology is outpacing the law,” the judge wrote that fingerprints and face scans were not the same as “physical evidence” when considered in a context where those body features would be used to unlock a phone.
“If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device,” the judge wrote. Read More > at Forbes
FBI Corruption Probe Casts Wide Net Over L.A. City Hall – In November, City News reported on an FBI raid at the home and offices belonging to L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar. Thanks to revelations over the weekend, it’s now clear that sting was part of a much larger investigation into possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other corrupt practices at L.A. City Hall.
On Saturday, the L.A. Times was able to review the search warrant executed in November. It names a dozen people besides Huizar, including L.A. City Councilman Curren Price; Mayor Eric Garcetti’s former deputy mayor for economic development Ray Chan; Deron Williams, Chief of Staff to Council President Herb Wesson; Joel Jacinto, another Garcetti appointee who serves on the L.A.’s Board of Public Works; three foreign investors; and a number of city council aides.
At the heart of the probe, the Times reports, are ambitious development projects in Downtown L.A., many of which have been financed by Chinese investment.
In recent months, real estate developers with projects in Huizar’s downtown-to-Eagle Rock district have received federal grand jury subpoenas instructing them to turn over communications with the councilman and dozens of current and former Huizar staffers since 2013, according to two sources familiar with the FBI’s instructions. Those developers also have been told to provide information on any contributions they have made to Huizar’s reelection bid, his officeholder committee, any legal defense fund or his alma mater, Bishop Mora Salesian High School, the sources said. The subpoenas seek information on any donations made to two political committees with ties to Huizar — Community Support PAC and Families for a Better Los Angeles.
Developers in Huizar’s district also have been instructed to provide information on any gifts, meals, trips, vacations, flights, event tickets or rounds of golf they have provided to Huizar, his staff or any other council member, the sources said.
Among the information sought in the warrant were records related to trips to Las Vegas and stays at four hotels, including the Palazzo and Caesars Palace. The document does not explain why investigators want them.
So far, there have been no arrests or criminal charges as a result of the investigation.
Read more details about the probe here. Read More > at California City News
Producer Price Index Moves From Inflation Back to Deflation – Not that long ago, the Federal Reserve and the financial markets were worried about endless inflation ahead. Zoom forward into 2019, with lower oil prices and the Fed admitting it needed to slow down its rate hikes, and all of a sudden those inflation fears have dwindled. The Department of Labor reported that the U.S. Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand fell to −0.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis in December.
Dow Jones had called for PPI to come in flat at 0.0% for December’s headline reading. Final demand prices were up just 0.1% in November but were up 0.6% in October.
For annual producer inflation, PPI for final demand rose by 2.5% for all of 2018. That matched the gain in 2017. This is also at the top of the Fed’s light target range of 2.0% to 2.5% inflation. As a reminder, producer prices generally tend to rise more than consumer prices as there is a delay that prices can be passed down to the public and as competition may keep prices from escalating as fast. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
There is no room for ‘average’ students these days. Here’s why that worries me. – …Thought leaders in education tout the benefit of a growth mind-set and making mistakes. Embrace imperfection. Schools host screenings of documentaries about managing angst and anxiety, at the same time cranking up the intensity in our kids’ classrooms, sending parents and students a mixed message. Which is it: balance and self-care; or rise to the rigor? Kindergarten is the new first grade, and middle school is engineered as a fast track to the Ivy Leagues. New curriculum sifts the exceptional from the average, often allowing the latter to struggle — all for the sake of high test scores, college acceptance rates and district accolades.
I want to tell the small child curled up next to me that his journey through education won’t be fraught with high-pressure expectations, making him feel less than. But the truth is, the changing landscape of education causes me as much trepidation as it does him. The new Common Core Standards have been criticized by educators across the country as developmentally inappropriate for K-3 students, requiring our youngest learners to perform tasks before their bodies and brains are ready.
Expectations only intensify as kids leave elementary school. According to an APA survey of middle school students, 34 percent rated grades, school and homework as their biggest stressors. Many schools have shortened or eliminated recess to allow for more core academic instruction. Administrators in my district are proposing to remove grade level math in our junior high schools. Grade level. Average students will be tracked into one-size-fits-all, accelerated math classes, where they’ll power through a year-and-a-half’s worth of curriculum in 10 months. One factor driving their decision is the cutthroat college application process. Applicants are evaluated by the number of AP classes they take during high school, putting pressure on kids to track into advanced classes as early as fifth or sixth grade.
Education has become a high-stakes Rube Goldberg machine, propelling our kids from one academic pressure to the next with no end in sight. What has existed until now as an implied tenet, is becoming a tangible reality: Be exceptional, or be a failure; there is no middle ground. Read More > in The Washington Post
Why forgetting may make your mind more efficient – In the quest to fend off forgetfulness, some people build a palace of memory. It’s a method for memorizing invented in ancient times by (legend has it) the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, more recently made popular by multiple best-selling books (and the “mind palace” of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes).
…Traditionally, forgetting has been regarded as a passive decay over time of the information recorded and stored in the brain. But while some memories may simply fade away like ink on paper exposed to sunlight, recent research suggests that forgetting is often more intentional, with erasure orchestrated by elaborate cellular and molecular mechanisms. And forgetfulness is not necessarily a sign of a faulty memory. “In fact,” Wimber says, “it’s been shown over and over in computational models and also in animal work that an intelligent memory system needs forgetting.”
Far from signifying failure, forgetting may be the brain’s frontline strategy in processing incoming information. Forgetting is essential, some researchers now argue, because the biological goal of the brain’s memory apparatus is not preserving information, but rather helping the brain make sound decisions. Understanding how the brain forgets may offer clues to enhancing mental performance in healthy brains while also providing insights into the mechanisms underlying a variety of mental disorders. Read More > at Knowable
California governor, lawmakers confront utility bankruptcy – The announcement by the nation’s largest utility that it is filing for bankruptcy puts Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s problems squarely in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers, who now must try to keep ratepayer costs down, ensure wildfire victims get the money they’re owed and rethink California’s energy picture in the face of climate change.
“This issue is all about three fundamental things: It is about safety, it’s about reliability and it’s about affordability,” Newsom told reporters Monday afternoon after spending the day in and out of meetings with lawmakers about the pending bankruptcy.
Earlier in the day, PG&E announced it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it faces at least $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits over catastrophic California wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that killed scores of people and destroyed thousands of homes. The announcement kicked off a 15-day window before the official filing. Newsom said he’d like to stave off the bankruptcy but it may not be possible.
“We’d like to see it avoided but we’re not naive,” he said. “I respect the taxpayer, I respect the ratepayer and I’m absolutely cognizant of those that lost their homes.”
The filing would not make the lawsuits disappear, but would result in all wildfire claims being consolidated into a single proceeding before a bankruptcy judge, not a jury. That could shield the company from excessive jury verdicts and buy time by putting a hold on the claims. Read More > from the Associated Press
For Owners of Amazon’s Ring Security Cameras, Strangers May Have Been Watching Too – The “smart home” of the 21st century isn’t just supposed to be a monument to convenience, we’re told, but also to protection, a Tony Stark-like bubble of vigilant algorithms and internet-connected sensors working ceaselessly to watch over us. But for some who’ve welcomed in Amazon’s Ring security cameras, there have been more than just algorithms watching through the lens, according to sources alarmed by Ring’s dismal privacy practices.
Ring has a history of lax, sloppy oversight when it comes to deciding who has access to some of the most precious, intimate data belonging to any person: a live, high-definition feed from around — and perhaps inside — their house. The company has marketed its line of miniature cameras, designed to be mounted as doorbells, in garages, and on bookshelves, not only as a means of keeping tabs on your home while you’re away, but of creating a sort of privatized neighborhood watch, a constellation of overlapping camera feeds that will help police detect and apprehend burglars (and worse) as they approach. “Our mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods has been at the core of everything we do at Ring,” founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff wrote last spring to commemorate the company’s reported $1 billion acquisition payday from Amazon, a company with its own recent history of troubling facial recognition practices. The marketing is working; Ring is a consumer hit and a press darling.
Despite its mission to keep people and their property secure, the company’s treatment of customer video feeds has been anything but, people familiar with the company’s practices told The Intercept. Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world. This would amount to an enormous list of highly sensitive files that could be easily browsed and viewed. Downloading and sharing these customer video files would have required little more than a click. The Information, which has aggressively covered Ring’s security lapses, reported on these practices last month.
At the time the Ukrainian access was provided, the video files were left unencrypted, the source said, because of Ring leadership’s “sense that encryption would make the company less valuable,” owing to the expense of implementing encryption and lost revenue opportunities due to restricted access. The Ukraine team was also provided with a corresponding database that linked each specific video file to corresponding specific Ring customers. Read More > at The Intercept
Could Gov. Newsom’s ambitious housing goals be sidelined by a worker shortage? – Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he wants to build as many as 3.5 million new houses by 2025 to solve California’s housing crisis.
But those ambitious goals could be derailed without hundreds of thousands of new construction workers needed to dramatically accelerate the pace of California home building, even assuming that cities agree to zone for more housing and there’s money available to build it all. And it’s hard to imagine, given recent trends, where that many additional workers in the low-wage,. . . Read More > in The Mercury News
The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End – For those of us who spent most of our lives painstakingly separating plastic, glass, paper and metal, single-stream recycling is easy to love. No longer must we labor. Gone is the struggle to store two, three, four or even five different bags under the kitchen sink. Just throw everything into one dumpster, season liberally with hopes and dreams, and serve it up to your local trash collector. What better way to save the planet?
But you can see where this is headed.
Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular. But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.
…So why is it so popular? “It’s cost-effective for the waste haulers,” Lee said. Single stream makes it easier and cheaper to collect recycling — you need fewer staffers to operate fewer trucks, which collect recycling more efficiently, and require less fuel to run. Brent Bell, a vice president at Waste Management Inc., a national recycling hauler, agreed with that. In fact, other experts told me that the lower collection costs had, in some cases, even allowed companies like Waste Management to pay communities to haul the recycling away, instead of the other way around.
But those kind of benefits were dependent on there being a place that recycling haulers and sorters could easily sell sorted material that still had high contamination rates. That place used to be China, but that changed last January when China increased its standards and stopped accepting some types of material altogether. Other countries have picked up some of the slack, Lee told me. But about half the recycling that China used to buy has no buyer today. “The only presumption is that it would have to go to the landfill,” Lee said. Read More > at FiveThirtyEight
Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? – …But today most of us have indoor jobs, and when we do go outside, we’ve been taught to protect ourselves from dangerous UV rays, which can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen also blocks our skin from making vitamin D, but that’s OK, says the American Academy of Dermatology, which takes a zero-tolerance stance on sun exposure: “You need to protect your skin from the sun every day, even when it’s cloudy,” it advises on its website. Better to slather on sunblock, we’ve all been told, and compensate with vitamin D pills.
Yet vitamin D supplementation has failed spectacularly in clinical trials. Five years ago, researchers were already warning that it showed zero benefit, and the evidence has only grown stronger. In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of the vitamin ever conducted—in which 25,871 participants received high doses for five years—found no impact on cancer, heart disease, or stroke.
How did we get it so wrong? How could people with low vitamin D levels clearly suffer higher rates of so many diseases and yet not be helped by supplementation?
As it turns out, a rogue band of researchers has had an explanation all along. And if they’re right, it means that once again we have been epically misled.
These rebels argue that what made the people with high vitamin D levels so healthy was not the vitamin itself. That was just a marker. Their vitamin D levels were high because they were getting plenty of exposure to the thing that was really responsible for their good health—that big orange ball shining down from above.
…Weller’s doubts began around 2010, when he was researching nitric oxide, a molecule produced in the body that dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. He discovered a previously unknown biological pathway by which the skin uses sunlight to make nitric oxide.
It was already well established that rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and overall mortality all rise the farther you get from the sunny equator, and they all rise in the darker months. Weller put two and two together and had what he calls his “eureka moment”: Could exposing skin to sunlight lower blood pressure?
Sure enough, when he exposed volunteers to the equivalent of 30 minutes of summer sunlight without sunscreen, their nitric oxide levels went up and their blood pressure went down. Because of its connection to heart disease and strokes, blood pressure is the leading cause of premature death and disease in the world, and the reduction was of a magnitude large enough to prevent millions of deaths on a global level. Read More > at Outside
Nobody Is Moving Our Cheese: American Surplus Reaches Record High – While Americans consumed nearly 37 pounds per capita in 2017, it was not enough to reduce the country’s 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The glut, which at 900,000 cubic yards is the largest in U.S. history, means that there is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the U.S. Capitol.
Over the past 10 years, milk production has increased by 13 percent because of high prices. But what dairy farmers failed to realize was that Americans are drinking less milk. According to data from the USDA, Americans drank just 149 pounds of milk per capita in 2017, down from 247 pounds in 1975.
Suppliers turn that extra milk into cheese because it is less perishable and stays fresh for longer periods. But Americans are turning their noses up at those processed cheese slices and string cheese — varieties that are a main driver of the U.S. cheese market — in favor of more refined options, Novakovic tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. Despite this shift, sales of mozzarella cheese, the single largest type of cheese produced and consumed in the U.S., remain strong, he says.
“What has changed — and changed fairly noticeably and fairly recently — is people are turning away from processed cheese,” Novakovic says. “It’s also the case that we’re seeing increased sales of kind of more exotic, specialty, European-style cheeses. Some of those are made in the U.S. A lot of them aren’t.”
Novakovic also notes that imported cheeses tend to cost more, so when people choose those, they buy less cheese overall. The growing surplus of American-made cheese and milk means that prices are declining. The current average price of whole milk is $15.12 per 100 pounds, which is much lower than the price required for dairy farmers to break even. Read More > from NPR
Amazon Reportedly Seeking Old Sears Spaces For Whole Foods Expansion – Sears and Amazon are each symbols of the changing retail market in the past decade, and their divergent stories might become even more intertwined.
Amazon is investigating vacated Sears locations to convert into Whole Foods Markets, Yahoo Finance reports. Amazon recently announced its intention to carry out a nationwide expansion of the grocery store chain it acquired for $13B in 2017.
For the entirety of its existence to this point, Whole Foods has primarily focused on major cities and their suburbs, but Amazon indicated a desire to enter new markets to access more customers with its online grocery delivery service, Amazon Prime Now. While the chain has gained customers per store since its acquisition, it has not added many locations and lags far behind industry leaders Kroger and Walmart in that area. Read More > at Bisnow