Sunday Reading – 09/19/2021

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.

The very American heroism of Todd Beamer – Twenty years ago today, on the morning of September 11, 2001, 32-year-old Todd Beamer boarded a United Airlines flight at Newark, New Jersey, bound for a business meeting in San Francisco. He was due to fly back that night, to rejoin his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two young sons, Drew and David. Todd worked for a computer company, selling software. His job entailed lots of traveling. This was just another working day.

Forty-six minutes after take-off, terrorists stormed the cockpit, seized the controls, and announced, ‘We have a bomb onboard.’ The plane changed course for Washington DC. Some passengers managed to make phone calls to friends and family, and news soon spread around the cabin that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York — and that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. It quickly became clear to Todd, and everyone else onboard, that theirs was the fourth plane.

Todd Beamer tried to make a credit card call and ended up talking to a call center supervisor for the firm who handled United Airlines’ in-flight phone service. The supervisor’s name was Lisa Jefferson (Todd was struck by the strange coincidence that she shared his wife’s name). Their 13-minute conversation is a precious record of an extraordinary act of heroism, a testament to the bravery and humanity that survived that awful day.

Todd and a group of fellow passengers (and several flight attendants) held a council of war, and took a vote, and resolved to storm the cockpit (even faced with almost certain death, American democracy prevailed). ‘If I don’t make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them,’ he told Lisa. The last thing she heard him say was, ‘Are you ready? OK, let’s roll.’

Todd and his fellow passengers must have known their chances of success were minuscule, but they preferred doing something to doing nothing. They preferred to go down fighting. Thanks to them, Flight UA93 never reached Washington, and its intended target: either the White House or the US Capitol (though Vice President Dick Cheney had given orders that the plane should be shot down). It crashed in an empty field in Pennsylvania. Everyone onboard was killed. Four months later, on January 9, 2002, Todd’s widow, Lisa Brosious, gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Read More > at The Spectator World

Amid Western Blazes, Prescribed Fire Is Keeping Some Forests Resilient – With more than 217,000 acres burned as of September 8, the Caldor Fire southwest of Lake Tahoe has left swaths of the Sierra Nevada severely devastated. More than 900 structures have been destroyed, including virtually the entire town of Grizzly Flats.

But within the fire’s massive footprint stand patches of green, living trees. One looks like a finger poking into the eastern edge of the fire, along Caples Creek and around Caples Lake. That expanse of vitality overlaps extensively with an 8,800-acre area that had been treated in 2019 with prescribed burning, a tactic practitioners say can make fire-adapted forests less susceptible to catastrophic blazes, and limiting the threat they pose to people. 

By setting smaller, controlled fires, forest managers can help eliminate the brush, branches and thickets of young trees that can supercharge fast-moving blazes, while leaving larger, older trees alive. After a century of fire suppression policies, much of California’s conifer woodlands are thickly overgrown, making them vulnerable to runaway megafires, especially in the midst of a severe drought. 

In the Caples Lake area, the 2019 prescribed burn achieved its goal of clearing out ground fuel that present the biggest fire risk, said Duane Nelson, a now-retired district ranger who oversaw parts of that project. “It was on a large enough footprint that it now seems to be changing the behavior of the 15th largest fire in the history of the state,” he said. 

Other burned sections of forest are currently in “beautiful” condition, said Dana Walsh, a public information officer at the U.S. Forest Service. That includes expanses near Grizzly Flats, Sly Park, Mormon Emigrant Trail, the Silver Fork American River, and along Highway 50 that had fuel reduction treatments, such as tree thinning and mulching, in recent years. With the help of that earlier work, the Caldor Fire has left some of these areas healthier than before, by paring back undergrowth. Read More > at Bloomberg

California enacts 2 laws to slice through local zoning rules – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday approved two measures to slice through local zoning ordinances as the most populous state struggles with soaring home prices, an affordable housing shortage and stubborn homelessness.

He signed the most prominent legislation despite nearly 250 cities objecting that it will, by design, undermine local planning and control.

The outcome marks the latest battle between what’s come to be thought of as NIMBY vs. YIMBY. While most agree there is an affordable housing shortage, proposed construction often runs into “not in my backyard” opposition.

The bill by Senate leader Toni Atkins would require cities to approve up to four housing units on what was a single-family lot. They would also have to approve splitting single-family lots so they could be sold separately.

Newsom also signed a bill by Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener easing the way for local governments to rezone neighborhoods near mass transit for up to 10 housing units.

Wiener made his bill optional in response to opposition, but the advocacy groups California YIMBY and California Community Builders still hailed its passage. Read More > from the Associated Press

Where the Covid Origin Inquiry Goes Now – After the intelligence community submitted its muddled report last month on the origins of Covid-19, President Biden said “the world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them.” He won’t get answers from China, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. can’t do more at home.

The more the world has learned, the more plausible the lab-leak theory has become.

The latest evidence is more than 900 pages of National Institutes of Health (NIH) documents outlining collaboration between the U.S. nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Obtained by the Intercept, a left-leaning web outlet, the documents show how American taxpayer dollars were spent on risky bat coronavirus research at the opaque Chinese institute. EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak sought to shut down debate about the lab-leak theory, and his organization understood the dangers of what was being done there.

A $3.1 million grant in May 2014 gave the WIV nearly $600,000 for “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.” The grant proposal warns about the “risk of exposure to pathogens or physical injury while handling bats” and other wildlife. The document says “fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs.” It adds that in the lab “experimental work using infectious material will be conducted under appropriate biosafety standards.” Except American experts reported unsafe conditions after visiting the WIV in 2017 and 2018.

The documents show several examples of the U.S. supporting “gain of function” research, despite repeated denials from top NIH Director Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci. This controversial practice, which the U.S. banned from 2014-17, can give pathogens the ability to infect a different species. The State Department reported this year that WIV researchers became sick “with symptoms consistent with” Covid-19 in autumn of 2019. The Chinese organization also took virus databases offline and refused to provide critical data to the World Health Organization.

The 2014 grant states that “no funds are provided and no funds can be used to support gain-of-function research.” But Rutgers University molecular biologist Richard Ebright notes that other NIH documents “definitively” show otherwise. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Appeals Court Rules Against San Mateo in Housing Fight – The City of San Mateo has lost a legal fight concerning a four-story condominium development project that it said violated the city’s multifamily design guidelines. Friday’s decision by the California Court of Appeals could have significant implications for housing in California.

The city’s Planning Commission denied the proposed project in 2017 because of height issues. The city had received numerous complaints from residents and determined that the proposal violated the local guidelines. The California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA) filed suit, calling the decision subjective and illegal under the state’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA).

A lower court initially sided with San Mateo. However, the Appeals Court determined that the city’s guidelines were not sufficiently objective under the HAA.

Friday’s ruling upholds and strengthens the HAA and will lead to more housing being built across California, said CaRLA Executive Director Dylan Casey.

Attorney General Rob Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom also applauded the decision. Read More > at California County News

California’s workforce at a breaking point – California’s workers are not all right. Waves of Bay Area restaurants and pop-ups are temporarily closing to give exhausted employees a much-needed mental health break — that is, if either the restaurant or its workers can afford to take time off. Pandemic-induced burnout has exacerbated California’s already chronic nursing shortage. And even as some workers call for enhanced safety measures, increasingly strict vaccination mandates are pushing some Californians to threaten to quit their jobs — further straining the state’s workforce at a time when almost every profession is frantically trying to plug staffing shortages.

Meanwhile, resistance to vaccination as a condition of employment is growing. A group of Los Angeles police officers on Saturday filed a federal lawsuit against the city for mandating vaccines for public employees. Thousands of San Diego County health care workers are requesting vaccine exemptions, and 65% of San Diego police officers who responded to a recent union survey said they would consider quitting if the city were to mandate inoculation. Read More > at CalMatters

ACLU sues Bay Area school district over ‘separate, unequal and illegal’ special education program – Outcomes for disabled students — especially those who are Black or English learners — in one Bay Area school district are so poor that the district is essentially denying the students their right to an education, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Pittsburg Unified in the East Bay disproportionately placed Black students and English learners in special education classrooms, did not provide them the services they need, and was more likely to suspend or expel those students, according to the suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

The suit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, names the district, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education and the state of California as defendants.

“Black students are literally being denied access to an education, and it’s not right,” said one of the plaintiffs, Jessica Black, who said her daughter, who is Black, fell behind academically while enrolled in special education in Pittsburg Unified. “I know we’re not the only family experiencing this unfairness. I wanted to shed a light on it.”

District Superintendent Janet Schultze called the lawsuit “disappointing,” because she said much of the information is misleading and doesn’t take into account the progress the district has made the past several years in closing achievement gaps among student groups and ensuring a high-quality education for all students. Read More > at EdSource

Andrew Yang to launch a third party – Former presidential and New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang is set to launch a third party next month, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Yang is expected to start the party in conjunction with the Oct. 5 release of his new book, “Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy.”

It’s not clear what the name of Yang’s third party will be or how he plans to deploy it in 2022 or 2024. Yang and his team did not respond to requests for comment.https://34d65804842eeb916434ffd53974bdc2.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

But the book’s publisher, Crown, did give some clues about the type of platform Yang may pursue. It writes that the book is an indictment of America’s “era of institutional failure” and will introduce “us to the various ‘priests of the decline’ of America, including politicians whose incentives have become divorced from the people they supposedly serve.”

The book is blurbed by businessperson Mark Cuban (“a vitally important book”) and The New York Times’ Kara Swisher (“Can there be another political party in the U.S.?…In Forward, Yang does not just give us a laundry list of intractable problems, but shows how we can find solutions if we think in new ways and summon the courage to do so.”). Read More > at Politico

Introducing RealClearInvestigations’ Jan. 6-BLM Riots Dataset – Many in the political and media establishment have cast the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as one of the darkest episodes in American history, comparing an episode in which one person was slain (a protester shot by police) to 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, and the British sacking of the capital city in 1814. Seizing on the gravity of a mob trying to interfere with the process of recording Electoral College votes after a presidential election, Democrats impeached Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 breach and put him on trial in the Senate. Democrats have also spearheaded a congressional investigation – one focused on the former president – that will likely stretch into next election season.

Republicans, Trump supporters, and others see a double standard at play in Democrats’ emphasis on Jan. 6. They note that many Democrats cheered nationwide protests and some even put up bail after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer — prolonged unrest that generated far more death and destruction. They argue that groups associated with the summer’s violence, such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, themselves aim to subvert democracy, and acted accordingly in targeting cops, public offices, and private businesses.

The electorate itself is divided, but doesn’t necessarily view this issue as an either/or choice. Polling shows that a large majority of Americans support the idea of examining the causes of both the 2020 summer riots in America’s cities and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

It is clear, then, that many Americans see two sides to this story. In keeping with its mission to fill gaps in press coverage, RealClearInvestigations is launching a running compendium of data, with hyperlinked sourcing, comparing the damage done on Jan. 6, and the subsequent treatment of those accused of perpetrating it, with two other recent events: the summer 2020 riots and – in some ways a closer analogy – the all-but-forgotten riot in Washington on Inauguration Day 2017, as protesters challenged Donald Trump’s election and legitimacy much as Jan. 6 rioters challenged Joe Biden’s. Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

Monetizing Data: The EDD, ID.me, and the Unemployed of California – In the spring of 2020, the pandemic caught many by surprise – no organization, it seems, was caught more by surprise than the California Employment Development Department.

When the economy was essentially shut down by edict, both the state and federal governments scrambled to make sure that those forced from work had some source of income.

But into that stream of money stepped fraudsters: prisoners, shady characters, ex-EDD employees, massive international criminal cyber gangs, etc. all got in on the act, hoovering up billions while legitimate claimants were far too often left out in the cold, in many cases literally.

Despite clear and overwhelming evidence very early on in the pandemic that something was terribly wrong, the EDD did almost nothing to try to prevent the fraud until last September, about six months into the crisis, when it signed a contract with a Virginia identity security company called ID.me, as the Globe reported in June.

For many claimants, to continue to collect benefits they had to go through ID.me’s identity verification process, which proved to be rather frustrating in the early days particularly after the EDD summarily stopped paying 1.4 million claim last New Year’s Eve.  Despite the growing pains (and, depending upon your comfort with and/or access to the latest technology, occasionally onerous process), the EDD was able to confirm the real identities of millions of people and prevent potentially billions more in fraudulent claims from being processed and paid.

But the decision to hire ID.me, which identifies itself as a “secure digital identity network” rather than merely an identity verification company, has raised a number of questions about the status of the sensitive – and extremely valuable – personal data provided to a private company at the demand of a government agency by millions of unemployed Californians.

…it should also be noted that ID.me states that it has lost millions of dollars on the services it has provided to the unemployment agencies of the nearly three dozen states, including California, that it has worked with during pandemic.  Simultaneously, though, the value of the ID.me company, once a relatively small player in the identity verification field, has ballooned to an estimated $1.5 billion dollars and, in March, received an investment from Google to the tune of $100 million. Read More > at California Globe

U.S. Gasoline Prices Hit 7-Year High – U.S. gasoline demand has fallen for the fourth week in a row, but gasoline prices are climbing ever higher, spurred on by the refinery disruptions in the Gulf of Mexico caused by Hurricane Ida. 

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), retail gasoline and diesel prices in the United States averaged $3.176 for the week ending September 6—the highest level since 2014. 

For comparison, the national average gasoline prices this time last year were $2.211. In 2019, the average at the close of the driving season was $2.550—even before the pandemic.

And now, just as the oil and gas industry struggles to recover from Hurricane Ida, another storm—Tropical Storm Nicholas, is barreling towards the Texas Gulf Coast’s refining complex, threatening even higher gasoline prices. Read More > at Oil Price

Grocery prices to rise another 3% before the end of year, Kroger warns with cost of beef already up 14% and pork 12% since December – Grocery prices will rise by another three percent before the end of the year, according to one of America’s biggest supermarkets.

Cincinnati-based Kroger generated $132 billion in sales last year, but the company said inflation is running longer than management previously anticipated, altering their expectations for prices.

Bosses now say they predict prices will rise 2 to 3 percent over the second half of this year.

It came as White House statistics last week revealed that a surge in meat prices is responsible for half of the price increase for food at home since December 2020.

Since December, prices for beef have risen by 14 percent, pork by 12 percent, and poultry by 6.6 percent.

Kroger will be ‘passing along higher cost to the customer where it makes sense to do so,’ CFO Gary Millerchip said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call on Friday. 

Management at Albertsons Companies – which operates 21 retail brands including Albertsons, Jewel-Osco and Safeway – reported an estimated revenue of $70 billion dollars in 2020 and expressed similar concerns that inflation would run hotter in the second half of this year.

They also said that they would have to raise prices on some of their products. Read More > at the Daily Mail

The global food price crisis isn’t going away – Global food prices have continued to rise throughout the pandemic, and they’re now at close to the highest level they’ve been in decades.

Why it matters: Beyond the hunger and suffering that comes with costlier food, high prices are driving serious political discontent around the world — and there’s little relief in sight.

  • 768 million people — nearly 1 in 10 globally — were undernourished in 2020, up 118 million from 2019.

By the numbers: According to data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food prices in August were up 33% from the year before.

  • Adjusted for inflation, food is now almost as expensive as it has been since the FAO’s Food Price Index began in 1961.
  • “Food is more expensive today than it has been for the vast majority of modern recorded history,” Alistair Smith, senior teaching fellow in global sustainable development at Warwick University in the U.K., told Bloomberg.

Context: While no country is exempt from the effects of high food prices — including in the U.S., where prices of meat, poultry, fish and eggs were up 5.9% in August compared to the last year — poor nations bear the brunt.

Tension over boosters rises as FDA regulators quit and publicly blast Biden’s plan – Two leading vaccine regulators who had previously announced their resignations from the Food and Drug Administration have now come out against the Biden administration’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots.

In a viewpoint article published in The Lancet on Monday, Marion Gruber, the outgoing director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review (OVRR), and Phil Krause, the outgoing deputy director of the OVRR, argue against the current booster plans.

“Currently available evidence does not show the need for widespread use of booster vaccination,” the pair, along with colleagues, conclude in the article. Even if there are benefits from boosters, the shots still carry risks, and any benefits “will not outweigh the benefits of providing initial protection to the unvaccinated,” they write.

Gruber and Krause penned the Lancet article with 16 international colleagues, including several high-ranking experts at the World Health Organization. Krause is listed as the first author of the article and a corresponding author.

The pair’s public opposition to boosters comes just weeks after they announced their resignations from the FDA. Their departures are set for October 31 and November, respectively. Read More > at ars TECHNICA

Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.Mark Zuckerberg has publicly said Facebook Inc. allows its more than three billion users to speak on equal footing with the elites of politics, culture and journalism, and that its standards of behavior apply to everyone, no matter their status or fame.

In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.The program, known as “cross check” or “XCheck,” was initially intended as a quality-control measure for actions taken against high-profile accounts, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. Today, it shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process, the documents show. Some users are “whitelisted”—rendered immune from enforcement actions—while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come.

At times, the documents show, XCheck has protected public figures whose posts contain harassment or incitement to violence, violations that would typically lead to sanctions for regular users. In 2019, it allowed international soccer star Neymar to show nude photos of a woman, who had accused him of rape, to tens of millions of his fans before the content was removed by Facebook. Whitelisted accounts shared inflammatory claims that Facebook’s fact checkers deemed false, including that vaccines are deadly, that Hillary Clinton had covered up “pedophile rings,” and that then-President Donald Trump had called all refugees seeking asylum “animals,” according to the documents.

A 2019 internal review of Facebook’s whitelisting practices, marked attorney-client privileged, found favoritism to those users to be both widespread and “not publicly defensible.” Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Fewer Pediatricians, More Cooks Seen in Dismal U.S. Jobs Outlook – U.S. employment will see stunted growth during the remainder of the decade, with technology eliminating some roles and retiring Baby Boomers contributing to a drop-off in the share of Americans participating in the job market, according to federal government projections.

The U.S. will add 11.9 million jobs through 2030, according to a new analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bulk of that, however, will simply reflect a recovery from the damage caused by the Covid-19 crisis. Compared with the 2019 pre-pandemic peak for the BLS’s series, the jobs gain will be just 2.6 million — weaker than in previous decades.

About one-third of the jobs created, or 3.9 million compared with the current baseline, will be in low-wage work — a part of the economy devastated by coronavirus-linked restrictions. That covers categories that pay less than $32,000 a year, or roughly $15 an hour.

BLS analysts also project that while economic growth will run at a faster average pace than previous years and worker productivity will increase, the country’s labor participation rate will decline as the workforce ages and fewer young people work. Read More > from Bloomberg

Toilet-training cows to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. – Indiscriminate voiding of excreta by cattle contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and soil and water contamination1,2. Emissions are higher in animal-friendly husbandry offering cattle more space2 — a trade-off we call the ‘climate killer conundrum’. Voiding in a specific location (latrine) would help resolve this dilemma by allowing ready capture and treatment of excreta under more spacious farming conditions. For urination, toileting requires self-control and coordination of a complex chain of behaviors including awareness of bladder fullness, overriding of excretory reflexes, selection of a latrine and intentional relaxation of the external urethral sphincter3. Attempts to train toileting in cattle have so far been only partly successful456, even though their excretion and associated neurophysiological control are similar to those in species capable of toileting3. Similarly, very young infants have been considered incapable of self-initiated voiding, but they can be taught with extensive training7. Using a backward chaining, reward-based training procedure, we here show that cattle can control their micturition reflex and use a latrine for urination. Such self-control provides evidence that animals can learn to respond to and reveal internal experiences via appropriately trained operant behaviors, thereby providing another way to explore their subjective states.

In our study, 16 calves (across two cohorts, n = 8) underwent individual toilet training in a three-step backward chaining procedure (Supplemental information). In the first phase (in-latrine training), the calves were confined to a distinctive area (latrine; Data S1C) and every urination event was rewarded with food. Increasing frequency of orientation to the reward as training progressed would demonstrate success in bringing micturition under control of the rewards. In-latrine training was also designed to establish the latrine as the correct voiding location. Read More > at Current Biology

 

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Gov. Newsom abolishes single-family zoning in California

The California State Legislature has passed the widely discussed Senate Bill 9, which would require all local agencies to consider certain proposed two-unit projects and lot splits ministerially. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill yesterday and the changes will take effect in January 2022.

Under SB 9, local agencies must ministerially approve certain subdivisions of one lot into two without discretionary review or a hearing.

SB 9 allows up to four units on many single-family lots

Some Qualifying Criteria:

  1. Each new lot is at least 1,200 square feet, (though the local agency may set a lower minimum).
  2. The split results in two new lots of approximately equal size (60/40 split at most).
  3. The lot to be split is zoned single-family residential.

Local agencies may require only one off-street parking space per unit—none if the site is close to transit or a car share vehicle location.

Setbacks of four feet or less. Side and rear setbacks are limited to four feet or less generally, but none at all may be imposed on an existing structure or one that is constructed in the same location and to the same dimensions as an existing structure.

In addition to the lot splits described above, SB 9 would require a local agency to ministerially approve a proposed two-unit development project on a lot in a single-family residential zone without discretionary review or a hearing. 

California’s housing crisis: How much difference will a zoning bill make?

Gov. Newsom abolishes single-family zoning in California

California enacts 2 laws to slice through local zoning rules

Housing Controversy: Senate Bills 9 and 10, Explained

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It’s Constitution Day

It is Constitution Day: the anniversary of the adoption of our Republic’s founding contract — that date in 1787 when our Constitution was signed by the Constitutional Convention delegates in Philadelphia.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America….

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Effective Sept. 22 – COVID-19 Proof of Vaccination or Test Required for Some Contra Costa Businesses

Everyone 12 and older must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses where there’s an increased risk of spreading COVID-19, effective Sept. 22.​

This temporary new health order applies to indoor eating and drinking establishments and exercise facilities. The risk of transmission is highest in these spaces because people remove face coverings to eat or drink, or breathe heavier because of physical exertion. 

Everyone 12 years and older must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result before going into or working at a high-risk indoor place, including:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Theaters where food and beverages are served
  • Gyms
  • Recreation facilities
  • Yoga studios
  • Dance studios

Starting Sept. 22, businesses that must verify vaccination or negative testing must ask each customer for photo identification and proof full vaccination or negative test result and ensure the names match on the records provided.​​

This requirement only applies to indoor areas of businesses. No verification is required for outdoor dining or activities. Masked patrons who have not provided vaccine or testing verification may briefly enter a business that requires it to use the restroom, pick up or deliver food or goods, or perform other transactions that do not require them to be inside the business for an extended period.

Starting Nov. 1, 2021, workers at businesses serving food and drinks indoors or fitness facilities must show proof of full vaccination. If not fully vaccinated, workers must test for COVID-19 weekly and provide negative test results to their employer.

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Roddy Ranch Golf Course Habitat Restoration and Public Access Plan Open House

On Saturday, September 25, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., the East Bay Regional Park District and East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy will be hosting a free, on-site OPEN HOUSE at the former Roddy Ranch Golf Course in Antioch.

Ridgeline between former Roddy Ranch Golf Course (left) and Deer Valley (right), Stephen Joseph.

The 230-acre former golf course property is part of the District’s planned 3,500-acre Deer Valley Regional Park. The property was acquired by the Park District in 2018 with funding from the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy and the District’s Measure W, approved by voters in 2008.

The open house is an opportunity to see the site in person, walk along a section of former golf cart paths, and learn about park planning efforts, design ideas, and habitat restoration. Capacity is limited, so registration is required. More Info | Registration

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National Hispanic American Heritage Month is September 15 through October 15

National Hispanic American Heritage Month traditionally honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans as we celebrate heritage rooted in all Latin American countries.

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The Heart of Oakley Festival is BACK for 2021!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25TH FROM 11:00 AM TO 5:00 PM IN CIVIC CENTER PLAZA

Thank you to everyone who celebrated this beloved event from the safety of your homes last year, we’re excited to bring Heart of Oakley Festival back to our community as our first in-person event for 2021.

Heart of Oakley Festival is an annual open air market that brings local makers, families, and community members together. Join us as we highlight local businesses and community members during this exciting event!

http://heartofoakleyfestival.com/

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Seniors Invited to Café Costa for Weekly Lunch

The congregate meal program at the Oakley Senior Center (AKA Café Costa) is slated to begin on Wednesday, September 15th! This is a fun lunch service every Wednesday for our community’s seniors, ages 60 and up. There is a recommended donation of $3.00.

Make your reservations by calling 925-626-7223 by no later than 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 14th.

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Sunday Reading – 09/12/2021

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.

What rock fans don’t want to admit – The recent death of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts at the age of 80 is just the latest rude reminder of what all of us know in our bones but nonetheless choose to ignore most days: The classic rock era is nearly dead and buried — and so are its greatest icons.

wrote about this two years ago, and, inevitably, things are looking even bleaker now. Bob Dylan is 80. Paul McCartney and Paul Simon are 79. And not far behind them are a host of rock stars well into their 70s: Brian Wilson, Carole King, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Ray Davies, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Debbie Harry, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, and Don Henley. James Taylor and Jackson Browne just completed a tour together; the former is 73, the latter 72. The baby of the bunch, Bruce Springsteen, currently wrapping up another residency on Broadway, turns 72 next month.

Over the next decade, most of these superstars are going to die, and the remaining holdouts soon after. On one level, this will be a terrible loss. These are people we care about deeply, who write and perform music that means the world to us.

But if we’re honest, we also have to admit that the loss is largely a function of nostalgia, of feelings attached to sounds and sights from long ago. Yes, many of these legends still take to the road to play live. Some produce new music from time to time. But none of these artists — not one — is doing work to rival the quality of what they produced at their peak. And in every case, that high point was decades ago. Read More > in The Week

Why You Can’t Find Everything You Want at Grocery Stores – Grocery-store chains are still battling supply challenges that some executives said are as bad as what they saw in spring 2020, when hoarding left holes in stocks of some staples.

Industry executives say new problems are arising weekly, driven by shortages of labor and raw materials. Groceries including frozen waffles and beverages remain scarce as some food companies anticipate disruptions lasting into 2022. A wider range of products is running short and logistical challenges are compounding for many retailers.

Donny Rouse, chief executive of Louisiana-based Rouses Markets, said he is struggling to fill shelves as his company runs low on everything from pet food to canned goods. The chain of more than 60 supermarkets is sometimes receiving as little as 40% of what it orders, prompting Mr. Rouse and his staff to try to secure products earlier and more often. Before the pandemic, Rouses received well over 90% of its orders.

“It is difficult for customers to get everything they want to get,” said Mr. Rouse, grandson of the chain’s founder.

Many grocery chains said that it is hard to predict how complete or on-time their deliveries will be due to limited guidance from suppliers, and executives said there is often little recourse when trucks show up with a fraction of what was ordered. Demand is higher than expected by retailers, with monthly sales up about 14% from two years ago and 3% from a year ago, according to data from research firm IRI.

To keep stores stocked, retailers are rethinking when and how to procure products they sell. Some are carrying fewer flavors or sizes, selling different brands and gathering inventory whenever possible. Regional and smaller grocers are struggling more than the biggest chains, industry executives said.

Albertsons ACI 0.82% Cos. and other big grocers said they are also feeling the impact of labor and commodity challenges but that their supply picture has improved since last year. Some, including Ahold Delhaize USA, said they have greater control of their inventory because they have their own vehicles and drivers. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

This startup is bringing the first mind-controlled prosthetic arm to market – A typical prosthetic arm still looks essentially the way it has for more than a century, with a simple hook that can open and close to squeeze and hold objects. An artificial arm now in development works very differently: The hand on the device is connected to a bracelet that can read muscle signals in an amputee’s stump, so that person can move, tap, and squeeze artificial fingers simply by thinking.

“When you think you want to move—you want to rotate your wrist, or you want to move your fingers—the signal travels from your brain down your spinal cord, and then out the peripheral nerves from the spinal cord into your arm,” says Tyler Hayes, CEO of Atom Limbs, the startup bringing the device to market. “Even when someone has lost or damaged a limb, those nerves are still there and they’re still firing into muscles, it’s just that there’s no real hand left to move. So we listen to the electrical field emanating from your arm, from your muscles, and just tap into that exact signal that your body is sending.” The prosthetic, loaded with 200 sensors, also gives users a sense of touch as they grasp an object. The arm can lift 45 pounds.

In the coming year, Atom Limbs plans to begin tests of the newest version of the arm with amputees, while it simultaneously launches a robotic version for industrial use in factories. They aim to bring the prosthetic to market in 2023, with an artificial leg to later follow. Read More > at Fast Company

California Bungled $316M From Feds Earmarked for the Homeless, Now May Lose It – After collecting $316 million from the federal CARES Act to house homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic, California simply held onto the funds instead of distributing it. The state may now lose it.

That’s according to a new report from the state auditor’s office, that found the California Department of Housing and Community Development “did not take critical steps to ensure those funds promptly benefited that population,” the Associated Press reported.

The department was supposed to distribute the money to local groups to provide homeless services but it took so long to finalize contracts that those groups didn’t have access to much of the funding during the height of the pandemic, auditors found.

There’s a big problem when Congress throws so much money at the states that they cannot even spend it.

The state audit on the misuse of homeless funds found that the department didn’t give most groups access to the first round of federal funding until December 2020, seven months after it was announced by the federal government, and only recently gave them access to the second, larger round of funding. Read More > at Real Clear Policy

WSJ: Men appear to be giving up on college – There’s an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal today about the declining enrollment of men in 2 and 4-year colleges. This gender enrollment disparity is a trend that has been happening for a while now, but at this point the divergence between men and women is becoming pretty dramatic.

At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline, the Journal analysis found.

This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65% of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59% of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man, if the trend continues, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse.

The situation has become bad enough that some colleges are already offering more slots for boys in an attempt to bring the enrollment back into parity. The WSJ says this is “higher education’s dirty little secret,” i.e. schools are now practicing a kind of affirmative action for men. Read More > at Hot Air

Job openings hit new record high of 10.9 million in July – Job openings hit another record high in July before the delta variant upended the U.S. labor market, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.

On the last business day of July, there were 10.9 million open jobs in the U.S., an increase of 800,000 from the previous record of 10.1 million openings in June. Hires stayed even at 6.7 million in July and separations — which includes layoffs, firings and voluntary departures — also stayed flat at 5.8 million.

The new openings data is a window into the strength of the U.S. economy just weeks before surging COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant walloped job growth. The U.S. added more than 1 million jobs in July, according to the August jobs report, but just 235,000 jobs last month.

There were roughly 83 unemployed workers per 100 job openings in July — the highest level since December 2019, according to Bunker — as a summer rush of travel, dining and entertainment spending drastically drove up demand for workers. But the rise of the delta variant later in the second half of July laid the groundwork for a sharp hiring slowdown the following month. Read More > in The Hill

Producer inflation accelerated in August, as wholesale prices rose record 8.3% from a year ago – Prices that producers get for final demand goods and services surged in August at their highest annual rate since at least 2010, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The producer price index rose 0.7% for the month, above the 0.6% Dow Jones estimate, though below the 1% increase in July.

On a year-over-year basis, the gauge rose 8.3%, which is the biggest annual increase since records have been kept going back to November 2010. That came following a 7.8% move higher in July, which also set a record.

The data comes amid heightened inflation fears fed by supply chain issues, a shortage of various consumer and producer goods and heightened demand related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Federal Reserve officials expect inflationary pressures to ease through the year, but they have remained stubbornly persistent, with Friday’s numbers indicating that the trend likely will continue. Read More > at CNBC

Three CA Metros Make SafeWise’s List of Most Dangerous Cities – America’s major metropolitan cities have been experiencing an uptick in violent crime. The increase is especially stark in California. The Golden State has the largest number of high-crime metropolitan areas of any state, according to new rankings from SafeWise.

Three California metros made SafeWise’s list of the 10 most dangerous cities this year: San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City (#6), Stockton (#9) and Bakersfield (#10). This was the first time any of them appeared on the list.

Nationally, Anchorage, Alaska was the most dangerous. 

SafeWise looked at incomes and municipal budgets in America’s most dangerous cities. Households in the dangerous metros earn nearly $20,000 less than households in the safest metros on average. They spend around 15% less on public safety and 58% less on community resources. Read More > at California City News

Experts offer ‘weak’ support for marijuana to treat chronic pain – Non-inhaled medical marijuana and its derivatives offer few benefits in treating chronic pain, leading a panel of experts to offer a “weak” recommendation for its use for the condition in an article published Wednesday by BMJ.

In more than 100 studies, marijuana-based pain treatments provided little or no improvement in patient self-reported pain intensity, physical functioning and sleep quality, the researchers said.

In addition, the therapies, most commonly available in pill form, oral solution or topical ointment applied to the affected areas, failed to produce improvements in emotional, work and family or social functioning, they said.

The recommendation applies to adults and children with all types of moderate to severe chronic pain and does not include smoked or vaped forms of cannabis and recreational cannabis.

It also does not address the drug’s use as a pain treatment in patients who are receiving end-of-life care, according to the authors.

“Patients with persistent pain continue to search for new therapeutic options and often perceive cannabis as a worthwhile alternative,” the authors of a commentary published with the recommendations wrote.

However, this recommendation indicates that there is only “moderate evidence of a clinically important decrease in pain for a small to very small proportion of patients” using the drug, they said. Read More > from UPI

Study Suggests a New Number of Daily Steps For Health Benefits, And It’s Not 10,000 – There’s no magic number when it comes to exercise, but that doesn’t mean numbers aren’t important.

After all, numbers are easy, convenient things to remember. And because exercise is something that can be easily quantified, having numbers as symbols of how much exercise we should be getting can serve an important role in public health.

When it comes to walking, the most obvious figure many of us think of is 10,000 – long idealized as the target to hit in terms of daily steps needed to improve our health.

There’s evidence to back it up too. A number of studies in recent years have shown that taking more steps on a daily basis is linked to less risk of early death, and it doesn’t even matter where those steps come from.

Of course, every analysis is slightly different, and no two cohorts are the same.

Because of that, scientists keep making fresh, incremental discoveries about just how good walking X steps is for people, as well as identifying who stands to benefit, and by how much.

…the researchers found here that individuals taking at least 7,000 steps per day had an approximately 50 to 70 percent lower risk of early death when compared to those who averaged fewer than 7,000 daily steps in the experiment.

By itself, step intensity (measuring the quickness of steps taken) had no effect on mortality.

According to the researchers, increasing daily step volume among the least active people in the population may confer the greatest protection against mortality – but after a certain point, extra steps appear to have no beneficial effect, at least on that specific outcome. Read More . at Science Alert

Revealed: Google illegally underpaid thousands of workers across dozens of countries – Google has been illegally underpaying thousands of temporary workers in dozens of countries and delayed correcting the pay rates for more than two years as it attempted to cover up the problem, the Guardian can reveal.

Google executives have been aware since at least May 2019 that the company was failing to comply with local laws in the UK, Europe and Asia that mandate temporary workers be paid equal rates to full-time employees performing similar work, internal Google documents and emails reviewed by the Guardian show.

But rather than immediately correct the errors, the company dragged its feet for more than two years, the documents show, citing concern about the increased cost to departments that rely heavily on temporary workers, potential exposure to legal claims, and fear of negative press attention. Read More > in The Guardian

Rare earth war: can the U.S. even compete with China?

  • Rare earth elements are metals used for creating consumer electronics, rechargeable batteries, renewable energy, and military-grade weapons.
  • Having lost its hegemony to China, the U.S. is looking at ways to restart mining operations.
  • America’s only rare earth mine, Mountain Pass, has been selling all its output to China.

Even though rare earth elements helped shape modern society into what it is today, most of us hardly know a thing about these unique metals — aside from the fact that they are irreplaceable in the production of many 21st century inventions, from the touch screens in our iPhones to the batteries of our Teslas and to the engines of our military’s latest fighter jets.

One of the first things to know about rare earths is that their name is a bit of a misnomer. While their importance to consumer electronics, renewable energy, and national defense makes these materials very costly, rare earths are actually pretty abundant in Earth’s crust. The problem is that, much like oil or gas, these metals only can be found in select locations around the world, hidden away inside mineral deposits that did not form with country borders in mind.

As a direct result of this irregular distribution, trade in rare earth elements is often dictated by unexpected developments in international relations rather than the ups and downs of the global economy. For most of the previous century, the United States was the world’s largest supplier of rare earths, sourcing its metals from India, Brazil, and — from the 1950s onward — South Africa’s monazite-rich Steenkampskraal mine.

But in the 1990s, American suppliers began lagging behind a different player that has ruled the rare earths business ever since: the People’s Republic of China. With a third of the planet’s total supply at his disposal, Deng Xiaoping set out to expand rare earth mining operations the moment he realized how indispensable they would become to future machinery. “The Middle East has oil,” the chairman said in 1992. “China has rare earths.” Read More > at Big Think

How Time’s Up Failed Sexual Assault Survivors and Cozied Up to Power – …So Miller was infuriated when, last month, a report from the New York attorney general’s office found that the Time’s Up leadership had advised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office about a letter that sought to discredit Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide who’d accused the governor of sexually harassing her. It felt like history was repeating itself: The leaders of Time’s Up had sacrificed sexual misconduct survivors, and their allies, in favor of preserving their proximity to power. 

That dynamic is now at the heart of the controversy facing the group once heralded as the harbinger of women’s equality in the workplace. Founded in 2018 by a coterie of immensely influential women in Hollywood and politics, just as the social media wave of the #MeToo movement had started to recede, Time’s Up pledged to fight against sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. But in the years since, the organization has been plagued by allegations that it’s more interested in protecting the powerful than listening to and helping sexual misconduct survivors. 

Tchen resigned on Thursday, but survivors and advocates say that the issues at Time’s Up go beyond Tchen’s leadership. Four women who’ve dealt with Time’s Up in connection to Illinois-based sexual misconduct scandals, as well as four others who’ve tried to enlist the help of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, told VICE News that they’ve failed to see the Time’s Up apparatus live up to its lofty promises. Some are not so sure that it can truly disentangle itself from the Democratic political machine—from power, writ large—and re-focus on survivors.

In the Cuomo report’s wake, more than 130 survivors, former and current Time’s Up clients, and former Time’s Up staffers signed onto an open letter to the organization, demanding structural reform and detailing how the group had “lost its way.” That letter’s demands, including the call for a third-party investigation into how staffers and board members “have been approached by, offered advice to, or are representing perpetrators of harm,” remain, despite Tchen’s resignation. Read More > at Vice

Self-Cancellation, Deplatforming, and Censorship – In an age of cancel culture, it’s perhaps fitting that the death of a free speech hero would receive little fanfare. So when the poet, publisher, and provocateur Lawrence Ferlinghetti shuffled off this mortal coil in February at the grand old age of 101, there were dutiful obituaries in The New York Times and elsewhere but the respects were hardly commensurate with the debt owed the man. By publishing Allen Ginsberg’s fuck-filled poem Howl in 1956, Ferlinghetti risked jail and financial ruin—and did as much as any single individual to end not just government censorship but a stultifyingly repressive American intellectual culture. When Ferlinghetti was hauled into court, legitimate U.S. publishers wouldn’t touch books such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer for fear of being charged with obscenity. He helped create the period of increasingly free and open expression that moral scolds, increasingly in the name of progressive visions of “anti-racism,” are challenging today.

The obits reported that Ferlinghetti, who skippered a submarine chaser during World War II and returned from service an ardent pacifist, died of interstitial lung disease. But on a mythopoetic level, I prefer to think that he gave up the ghost because he knew his brand of free expression was no longer welcome in the country for which he fought so bravely in wartime and peacetime. “I am signaling you through the flames,” he wrote in “Poetry as Insurgent Art,” one of his later works. “You can conquer the conquerors with words.” Not if words themselves are the problem.

How should defenders of free speech think about “cancel culture,” that hotly contested yet vague concept that defines the current moment like flappers and bathtub gin defined the 1920s, communist scares and juvenile delinquency defined the 1950s, and leisure suits and encounter groups defined the 1970s? Author Jonathan Rauch distinguishes canceling from mere criticism in that its practitioners seek “to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents.” Cancel culture isn’t about seeking truth, he writes; it’s “about shaping the information battlefield” in order to “coerce conformity and reduce the scope for forms of criticism that are not sanctioned by the prevailing consensus of some local majority.”

Somebody calling you a jackass on Twitter is criticism. Somebody organizing a mob to get you kicked off of Twitter, fired from your job, and put out on a figurative ice floe is cancel culture…

Cancel culture operates on at least three different levels: the personal, the corporate, and the political. Each is more troubling than the next, because each casts a broader net and eliminates more and more options. It’s one thing for me to cancel my Twitter account after being attacked as morally obtuse, worse to be permanently kicked off the site because its moderators have decided I am beyond redemption, and more troubling still to have the government shut down Twitter because it allowed my awful speech. Read More > at Reason

My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit. – Peter Boghossian has taught philosophy at Portland State University for the past decade. In the letter below, sent this recently to the university’s provost, he explains why he is resigning.

Dear Provost Susan Jeffords,

​​I’m writing to you today to resign as assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University.

Over the last decade, it has been my privilege to teach at the university. My specialties are critical thinking, ethics and the Socratic method, and I teach classes like Science and Pseudoscience and The Philosophy of Education. But in addition to exploring classic philosophers and traditional texts, I’ve invited a wide range of guest lecturers to address my classes, from Flat-Earthers to Christian apologists to global climate skeptics to Occupy Wall Street advocates. I’m proud of my work.

I invited those speakers not because I agreed with their worldviews, but primarily because I didn’t. From those messy and difficult conversations, I’ve seen the best of what our students can achieve: questioning beliefs while respecting believers; staying even-tempered in challenging circumstances; and even changing their minds. 

I never once believed —  nor do I now —  that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.

But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly. Read More > at Common Sense with Bari Weiss

Strange, repeating radio signal near the center of the Milky Way has scientists stumped – Astronomers have detected a strange, repeating radio signal near the center of the Milky Way, and it’s unlike any other energy signature ever studied.

According to a new paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and posted on the preprint server arXiv, the energy source is extremely finicky, appearing bright in the radio spectrum for weeks at a time and then completely vanishing within a day. This behavior doesn’t quite fit the profile of any known type of celestial body, the researchers wrote in their study, and thus may represent “a new class of objects being discovered through radio imaging.”

The radio source — known as ASKAP J173608.2−321635 — was detected with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope, situated in the remote Australian outback. In an ASKAP survey taken between April 2019 and August 2020, the strange signal appeared 13 times, never lasting in the sky for more than a few weeks, the researchers wrote. This radio source is highly variable, appearing and disappearing with no predictable schedule, and doesn’t seem to appear in any other radio telescope data prior to the ASKAP survey. Read More > at Space

Third of cancer drugs without proven clinical benefit continue to be recommended for patients – One third of cancer drugs that received accelerated approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to be recommended in clinical guidelines after their confirmatory clinical trials fail to show improvement on their primary endpoints, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

A primary endpoint is the main result that is measured at the end of a study to see if a given treatment has worked (eg. the number of deaths or the difference in survival between the treatment group and the control group). What the primary endpoint will be is decided before the study begins.

The researchers say clinical guidelines “should better align with the results of post-approval trials of cancer drugs that received accelerated approval.”

The FDA’s accelerated approval pathway allows drugs onto the market before their effectiveness has been proven to hasten patients’ access to promising new drugs. But as part of this approval, the manufacturer must conduct post-approval trials to confirm clinical benefit (improved survival or quality of life in the case of cancer drugs). If these trials show no benefit, the drug‘s approval can be withdrawn.

However, post-approval trials can be delayed for several years, and the FDA has until very recently been slow in taking steps to withdraw the drug or indication when these trials are conducted and fail to demonstrate clinical benefit. Read More > at Medical Xpress

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Oakley – Ribbon Cutting of the New Civic Center Park Playground – Tuesday, September 14th at 5:30 p.m.

The City of Oakley is excited to announce the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the City’s brand new all-abilities playground this Tuesday, September 14th at 5:30 p.m.

This brand new playground includes many different components to bring children of various abilities together, featuring: visual, textile, audible, and vestibular stimuli on many levels for diverse abilities.

Some other renovations at Civic Center Park include a large 30 foot tall redwood tree with a gathering circle and walking path, expanded turf areas, expanded amphitheater seating, and an improved picnic area. There is much to experience with these renovations, so we hope you will join us for this wonderful occasion!

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California Legislative session comes to a close today

From CalMatters

Today is the deadline for state lawmakers to send bills to Newsom’s desk — and they almost certainly will not be extending California’s eviction moratorium, leaving those protections to expire on Sept. 30, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. Lawmakers won’t reconvene in Sacramento until Jan. 3, 2022 — although some may return to the Capitol after the Sept. 14 recall election to hold a twice-postponed hearing on the state unemployment department’s progress on crucial reforms.

Here’s a look at key proposals legislators sent to Newsom on Thursday, as well as some that didn’t make it through:

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Redistricting is the once-a-decade process of redrawing the boundaries for Supervisorial districts after the U.S. Census. 

The Board of Supervisors is seeking input about Communities of Interest. State law defines a “Community of Interest” as “a population that shares common social or economic interests that should be included within a single supervisorial district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Communities of interest do not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.”

One of the guidelines for drawing district boundaries is to learn about communities across the County. To the extent practicable, the County will aim to keep each community of interest together in a district. Learn more about Communities of Interest.

A series of Online Mapping Workshops will be held to assist residents in drawing and submitting Communities of Interest to be considered in the County’s Supervisorial Redistricting Process. The workshops will be hosted by DistrictR, the online mapping tool the County is making available to provide an easy way to draw and submit maps and comments.

The Online Mapping Workshop dates are:

September 15, 2021, at 2 PM – RSVP for the September 15th Workshop

October 14, 2021, at 2 PM

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A more transparent Capitol – How liberal or conservative are the politicians who represent you? 

CalMatters has launched Glass House: A California Legislator Tracker to demystify the 120 people representing all 40 million of us — and to hold them accountable. With this database, you can find out more about your representatives’ personal background, how they voted on key legislation, how special interest groups rate them and the policy areas they focus on, among other things. Bonus: When lawmakers are mentioned in a CalMatters story, their Glass House profiles will often be linked — allowing you to instantaneously email them and share your feedback. This could make a difference in how they vote — especially when they have to balance the public interest versus special interests.

  • CalMatters Editor-in-Chief Dave Lesher: “CalMatters’ mission is to help you understand what happens in state government and why — and a core part of that is showing you who these legislators are. Keep watching Glass House because we’ll be adding more features for you to learn about those making decisions for you.”
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55-Hour Full Closure Of State Route 4 September 17-20, 2021

Sr-4 To Be Closed From Discovery Bay Boulevard In Contra Costa County To Tracy Boulevard In San Joaquin County

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will perform a 55-hour full highway closure of State Route 4 (SR-4), just west of the Middle River Bridge, as part of a culvert rehabilitation project that will make necessary upgrades and repairs to culverts and drainage systems.

An existing 36-inch corrugated metal pipe will be removed and replaced with a 42-inch reinforced concrete pipe to extend the service life of the stormwater drainage systems and to ensure traffic safety, reliability, and integrity of the highway system.

The full closure will begin at 10:00 p.m. on Friday, September 17, until 5:00 a.m. on Monday, September 20, 2021.
Detour Information:

  • Westbound SR-4 travelers: The detour begins at the Tracy Boulevard intersection; south on Tracy Blvd; west on I-205; north on Mountain House Parkway; northwest on Byron Road to SR-4.
  • Eastbound SR-4 travelers: The detour begins at the Byron Road intersection; southeast on Byron Road; south on Mountain House Parkway; east on I-205; north on Tracy Blvd to SR-4.
  • Restricted access past these locations will only be allowed for emergency vehicles and those trying to reach local businesses and work locations within the closure.

See the full Caltrans press release (PDF).

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In this state – Money matters

From CalMatters

Today, state lawmakers will begin a final round of hearings to hammer out the last details of California’s record-breaking $263 billion budget — for the fiscal year that began July 1. (If you’re confused about why the Legislature is still fiddling with a budget that went into effect more than two months ago, check out this quick primer from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.) Alongside the 16 newly introduced budget bills, lawmakers are racing to decide the fate of hundreds of proposals before the legislative session ends Friday. Buckle in for a busy week!

In the meantime, here’s a look at some recent financial announcements from state leaders:

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The Spare the Air Alert has been extended through Tuesday, Sept. 7, for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution are forecast to be unhealthy. High levels of ozone pollution are harmful to breathe, especially for young children, seniors and those with respiratory and heart conditions. You can help protect your health by avoiding outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.

You can help protect your health by staying indoors and avoiding unnecessary outdoor activities.

This Spare the Air alert is provided by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Thank you for doing your part to Spare the Air!

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The Spare the Air Alert has been extended through Monday, Sept. 6, for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution are forecast to be unhealthy. High levels of ozone pollution are harmful to breathe, especially for young children, seniors and those with respiratory and heart conditions. You can help protect your health by avoiding outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.

You can help protect your health by staying indoors and avoiding unnecessary outdoor activities.

This Spare the Air alert is provided by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Thank you for doing your part to Spare the Air!

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Sunday Reading – 09/05/2021

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.

Why doesn’t the U.S. win wars anymore? – We live in an age of power, peace, and loss. Since 1945, the United States has emerged as the unsurpassed superpower, relations between countries have been unusually stable, and the American experience of conflict has been a tale of frustration and defeat.

This raises the first paradox: We lose because the world is peaceful. The decline of interstate war and the relative harmony among the great powers is cause for celebration. But the interstate wars that disappeared are the kind of wars that we win. And the civil wars that remain are the kind of wars that we lose. As the tide of conflict recedes, we’re left with the toughest and most unyielding internal struggles.

It’s also hard to win great victories in an era of peace. During the golden age, the United States faced trials of national survival, like the Civil War and World War II. The potential benefits were so momentous that Washington could overthrow the enemy at almost any cost in American blood and treasure and still claim the win. But in wars since 1945, the threats are diminished. Since the prize on offer is less valuable, the acceptable price we will pay in lives and money is also dramatically reduced. To achieve victory, the campaign must be quick and decisive — with little margin for error. Without grave peril, it’s tough to enter the pantheon of martial valor.

There’s a second paradox: We lose because we’re strong. U.S. power encouraged Americans to follow the sound of battle into distant lands. But the United States became more interventionist just as the conflict environment shifted in ways that blunted America’s military edge. As a result, Washington was no longer able to translate power into victory. If America was weaker, its military record might actually be more favorable. With fewer capabilities, the idea of invading Iraq would have stayed in the realm of dreams.

Indeed, the two paradoxes are connected. American power helped usher in the age of interstate peace, as Washington constructed a fairly democratic and stable “free world” in the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, and East Asia, fashioned institutions like the United Nations, and oversaw a globalized trading system. But this left intractable civil wars as the prevailing kind of conflict. And American power also tempted Washington to search for monsters to destroy in far-flung locations. In other words, power and peace are the parents of loss. Read More > at the Big Think

Heroic mom fights off mountain lion attacking her 5-year-old son – A brave mother fought off a mountain lion — with her bare hands — as it savagely attacked her 5-year-old son outside their California home last week, authorities said Saturday.

The unnamed woman punched the 65-pound wild animal and wrestled it away from her child in the front yard of the family’s house in Calabasas on Thursday, authorities said.

The mountain lion had dragged the child “about 45 yards” across the front lawn in the wild attack, said Capt. Patrick Foy, a spokesman with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” Foy said.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” he said. Read More > in the New York Post

More Businesses Leaving California In 2021 Than In Any Other Year Prior According To New Analysis – A new analysis recently released by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University found that the number of businesses leaving California in 2021 has significantly picked up compared to the previous three years.

According to the analysis, California has seen 265 companies leave California for other states since 2018, with 114 alone moving to Texas. While 2018 – 2020 remained somewhat steady, with 58 leaving in 2018, 78 leaving in 2019, and 62 leaving in 2020, 2021 has already seen figures double. In the first half on 2021, 74 companies have already left the state.

While there have been some bigger name companies leaving, such as HP Enterprise and Oracle, most leaving are usually smaller companies or simply a headquarters relocation that still keeps the bulk of jobs in California. However, the Institution notes that the loss of small companies with the potential to quickly grow also leads to stagnation in businesses and innovation

“Losing small but rapidly growing businesses is a death knell to an economy, because long-run economic growth requires new, transformative ideas that ultimately displace old ideas,” the analysis found. “And the transformative ideas almost invariably are born in young companies.” Read More > at California Globe

If Newsom is recalled, how would a Republican governor get anything done? – To make many significant policy changes, a governor must work with the Legislature to pass new laws, approve a budget and appoint key leaders to state agencies. And in California, Democrats have a complete lock on the Legislature — holding such a huge supermajority in both chambers that they have more than enough votes to override a governor’s veto, or to pass their own budgets.

So if the Sept. 14 recall is successful and a Republican is sworn in as governor of this deep-blue state — a once far-fetched notion that polls now show is within the realm of possibility —  what would change at the state Capitol come late October? 

The one-party control Democrats have enjoyed for the last decade would give way to a divided government. That could spur bipartisan compromises — or partisan gridlock. Most significantly, it could make historically rare power plays a lot more common: 

The Legislature could override vetoes to turn its bills into law and still set policy in a wide range of areas. And the governor could try to do the same or push back through executive orders and emergency declarations. 

“If the Democrats coordinate and present a united front, and defy political norms that have historically been in place, they could resist a lot of what the governor wanted to do,” said Kim Nalder, a political science professor at California State University, Sacramento. 

“But there is that issue of emergency powers. And potentially a governor, if they wanted to be contentious and implement some sweeping changes, they could claim those emergency powers.” Read More > at CalMatters

Unfinished Tractors, Pickup Trucks Pile Up as Components Run Short – Manufacturers are stacking up unfinished goods on factory floors and parking incomplete vehicles in airport parking lots while waiting for missing parts, made scarce by supply-chain problems.

Shortages of mechanical parts, commodity materials and electronic components containing semiconductor chips have been disrupting manufacturing across multiple industries for months.

Companies determined to keep factories open are trying to work around shortages by producing what they can, at the same time rising customer demand has cleaned out store shelves, dealer showrooms and distribution centers. As a result, manufacturers are amassing big inventories of unsold or incomplete products such as truck wheels and farm tractors. Companies that are used to filling orders quickly now have bulging backlogs of orders, waiting for scarce parts or green lights from customers willing to take deliveries.

Executives expect the shortages and delivery bottlenecks, exacerbated by overwhelmed transportation networks and a lack of workers, to stretch into the fall. The delays are costing manufacturers sales and pushing some companies to revamp the way they put together their products, executives said.

“There’s clearly market strength out there, but you have to have the ability to deliver on that,” said David Petratis, chief executive officer of door-lock manufacturer Allegion PLC. “We have an extremely tight supply chain.” Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Lithium fuels hopes for revival on California’s largest lake – Near Southern California’s dying Salton Sea, a canopy next to a geothermal power plant covers large vats of salty water left behind after super-hot liquid is drilled from deep underground to run steam turbines. The vats connect to tubes that spit out what looks like dishwater, but it’s lithium, a critical component of rechargeable batteries and the newest hope for economic revival in the depressed region.

Demand for electric vehicles has shifted investments into high gear to extract lithium from brine, salty water that has been overlooked and pumped back underground since the region’s first geothermal plant opened in 1982. The mineral-rich byproduct may now be more valued than the steam used to generate electricity.

California’s largest but rapidly shrinking lake is at the forefront of efforts to make the U.S. a major global player in production of the ultralight metal. Despite large deposits in the U.S., Nevada has the country’s only lithium plant, and American production lags far behind Australia, Chile, Argentina and China. Read More > from the Associated Press

Designer Baby Revolution: Can We Outlaw Sexual Reproduction? – Using in vitro fertilization (IVF) and pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT), prospective parents can choose which embryo they want before a pregnancy begins based on that embryo’s polygenic risk score (PRS), its chances of developing certain diseases. IVF and embryo screening have been used for years, but advances in whole genome analysis are allowing scientists to target diseases influenced by many mutations, not just Mendelian disorders linked to single genes. Eventually this capability could extend to selecting for traits like height, intelligence and strength.

Considered on its own, that’s an impressive development. But when we evaluate this technology alongside the ethical baggage it carries, all sorts of awkward questions materialize. Here’s perhaps the most important one: If parents can reduce their risk of bringing disease-prone children into the world, should they be forced to do so?

Citing the existing vaccine controversy, some commentators say “yes.” Preventing sickness and death is the ethical thing to do, they argue: it’s a “moral obligation to create children with the best chance of the best life.” Furthermore, we all cover each other’s health care costs, either through private insurance plans or federal programs. As a result, there’s no reason these treatments should be voluntary. Sex should be for fun and bonding, IVF and PGT for making babies.

It’s my contention that it would be hopelessly unethical to mandate this kind of shift in human reproduction. When we follow the argument in support of this policy to its logical conclusion, it implodes into a pile of absurdity. Read More > at ACSH

McFlurry machines keep breaking and the FTC wants answers – McDonald’s McFlurry machine and its tendency to break down has been the inspiration for countless jokes and Twitter feuds, and now it could become the subject of a Federal Trade Commission investigation. According to The Wall Street Journal, the agency recently reached out to McDonald’s restaurant owners to collect more information on their experiences with the machines.

Why is the FTC looking into McFlurry machines, you ask? The answer may have something to do with the right to repair movement. At the start of July, President Biden ordered the agency to draft new rules to empower consumers and businesses to repair their devices on their own. Later that same month, the FTC made good on that order, voting unanimously to tackle unlawful repair restrictions.ADVERTISEMENT

By all accounts, McFlurry machines are a nightmare to repair. Moreover, Taylor, the firm that makes them, is at the center of a legal battle over measures it uses to prevent restaurants from repairing the machines on their own. When a McFlurry machine breaks down, only a certified technician from Taylor is allowed to fix it, leading to long wait times. Those wait times have increased during the pandemic. A federal judge recently sided with a company that produces a diagnostic tool that threatens Taylor’s monopoly on repairs. Read More > at Engadget

How Much Legal Cannabis Is In California? It’s A State Secret. – The legal cannabis industry in California is big. As it should be: California is very big—more people live there than anywhere else in the United States—and California has the oldest and most well-established marijuana industry of any other state.

But how big? Nobody really knows, aside from certain state regulators and select elected officials.

For everyone else, data from California’s legal cannabis industry is a state secret. And that’s hurting the industry, experts said.

Though every other agricultural sector enjoys data on crops harvested and sold—and this informs decisions made by industry players—state law prohibits the Department of Cannabis Control from sharing this vital data, an agency spokesman confirmed. This leaves the rest of us to grope around in the dark and hazard guesses.

This data gap makes cannabis unique among agricultural commodities like wine grapes, almonds, and milk. It makes it harder for entrepreneurs, bankers, and regulators when deciding how much cannabis to grow, how much money to invest and how much returns to expect, and how many cannabis businesses to license.

It’s not that there’s no data. It’s that what data is available is imprecise. According to tax information published by the state Department of Taxation and Finance, legal cannabis is at least a $5 billion industry in California. In the second quarter of 2021—the most recent data available—there was more than $1.3 billion recorded in “taxable sales.”

If those figures stay steady for four quarters, legal sales will exceed $5.2 billion.

We do have some idea as to what was sold, and how much—but only some. Read More > at Forbes

Soaring Electricity And Coal Use Are Proving Once Again, Roger Pielke Jr’s ‘Iron Law Of Climate’ – As the Covid lockdowns are easing, the global economy is recovering and that recovery is fueling blistering growth in electricity use. The latest data from Ember, the London-based “climate and energy think tank focused on accelerating the global electricity transition,” show that global electricity use soared by about 5% in the first half of 2021. That’s faster growth than was happening back in 2018 when electricity use was increasing by about 4% per year.

The numbers from Ember also show that despite lots of talk about the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coal demand for power generation continues to grow and emissions from the electric sector continue to grow: up by 5% over the first half of 2019. In addition, they show that while about half of the growth in electricity demand was met by wind and solar, overall growth in electricity use is still outstripping the growth in renewables. 

Over the past few weeks Ember, BP, and the International Energy Agency have all published reports which come to the same two conclusions: that countries all around the world — and China, in particular — are doing whatever they need to do to get the electricity they need to grow their economies. Second, they are using lots of coal to get that juice. 

As I discuss in my recent book, A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations, Electricity is the world’s most important and fastest-growing form of energy. The Ember data proves that. At a growth rate of 5%, global electricity use will double in about 14 years. Furthermore, the electricity sector also accounts for the biggest single share of global carbon dioxide emissions: about 25 percent. Thus, if we are to have any hope of cutting global emissions, the electricity sector is pivotal. Further, the soaring use of electricity shows that low-income people and countries around the world are not content to stay in the dark. They want to live high-energy lives with access to all the electronic riches that we take for granted.  Read More > at Forbes

That student in your community college class? They could be a bot. – This week, the California Student Aid Commission told the Los Angeles Times it had identified more than 65,000 applications for aid from purported community college students that appear to be fake, lending credence to the idea that scammers are seeking to get their hands on state grants. 

And in a memo to colleges Monday, the community college system’s vice chancellor for digital innovation and infrastructure, Valerie Lundy-Wagner, announced new security measures to combat the threat.

The influx of federal emergency aid and the shift to remote learning — which makes it easier for scammers to hide behind a screen rather than appear in person — have made the community college system even more attractive to bad actors, college officials say. That, coupled with college administrators’ desire to get the money out as soon as possible to students walloped by the pandemic’s economic effects, creates a tough balancing act for officials charged with protecting taxpayer money while doling out vital aid.

Across three rounds of federal emergency relief, California’s community colleges will receive at least $4.3 billion, of which $1.75 billion will go directly to students. 

The Contra Costa Community College District flagged nearly 40,000 fake applicants in fall 2020, up from 12,000 in 2019. Other colleges that identified false accounts during the pandemic include College of the Sequoias, Citrus College, Compton College, College of the Siskiyous, Southwestern College and Ohlone College, CalMatters found. 

In some cases, college officials identified fraud right before they would have disbursed financial aid — like at Fullerton College, which had to stop payment on more than $1 million in Pell Grants this summer after identifying some 3,000 fake student accounts, said financial aid director Greg Ryan. Read More > at CalMatters

Does Learning A Foreign Language Stimulate Cerebral Growth? – The thought that learning language stimulates brain growth may never have crossed your mind, but the truth is that language learning challenges your brain and stimulates it to stay pliable and strong. Regardless of your age, learning a new language can boost your brain’s function in more ways than one and we’ll explore all the benefits of learning a foreign language and how it directly affects the brain.

Children have high neuroplasticity, something that wasn’t widely known until recent years, leading to bi-racial families teaching their children just one language for fear that they might develop mental health problems or confusion. However, recent study has shown us that babies as young as 7 months old have demonstrated the cognitive benefits of being brought up in a bilingual household, proving that language can help develop the brain and increase awareness in young babies.

As they grow older, the benefits of knowing how to speak more than one language manifest in better test results, higher empathy, and according to one report, “students able to speak a second language have better listening skills, sharper memories, are more creative, are better at solving complex problems, and exhibit greater cognitive flexibility.”

Curiously, adult brains are just as stimulated as a child’s when exposed to learning a new language. Learning a second language immediately enriches one’s brain and opens it up to new concepts, perspectives, and cognition. It can even strengthen the brain against aging, which is surprising as there’s nothing else that can do what learning a second language does for the brain. Read More > at Science 2.0

The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game – ON AUG. 24, 1919, Ray Caldwell puts on a Cleveland uniform for the first time. The weather is brutally hot but clear — for now — and none of the 20,000 or so fans at League Park has any idea that they’re about to see something that defies belief. A story of desperation, terror, survival and redemption, all channeling through Caldwell over the next two hours.

The crowd roars as he takes the mound, and the cheers only get louder as it becomes obvious that Caldwell has his best stuff today. Cleveland fans know the stakes for the right-hander: He has just been waived by the Red Sox, and the pulse of his once-promising career had all but flatlined prior to that day. This is his last gasp.

But then the clouds roll in — fast — off Lake Erie. Cleveland’s players, who have grown accustomed to the lake-effect weather mood swings, take their positions and hope to grind out three more outs before the skies really open up.

So he hurriedly toes the rubber as the rain picks up. He gets two easy infield popouts to open the inning. One more to go. Now the wind howls, the storm fully upon the field.

Just as he gets set, a flash from the sky explodes down into the middle of the field. Shortstop Ray Chapman feels a surge of electricity go down his leg, and the violence of the lightning strike causes players to dive for the ground. “I took off my mask and threw it as far as I could,” Cleveland catcher Steve O’Neill says later of his metal mask. “I didn’t want it to attract any bolts toward me.”

Five seconds after the bolt hits the ground, everybody looks around. The eight Indians position players are OK, but their newest teammate is not. Caldwell is on his back, arms spread wide, out cold on the mound. The lightning strike had hit him directly.

Players rush to Caldwell, but the first man who touches him leaps in the air, saying he’d been zapped by Caldwell’s prone body.

So everybody steps back and just stares. Caldwell’s chest is smoldering from where the bolt burned it. They’re terrified to touch him, and nobody does.

All of them wonder: Is Ray Caldwell dead?

RIGHT AROUND THE time everybody on the field is ready to pronounce Caldwell dead, the 31-year-old pitcher starts groaning and crawls back to his knees, then his feet.

Teammates rejoice, but still, everybody keeps their distance from the guy whose chest was just on fire. They offer to walk with him off the field as he heads to the hospital. But Caldwell is incredulous.

“I have one more out to get,” he says.

He’s insistent enough that eventually Speaker walks back to center field and lets him stay on the mound to try to finish his complete game. Caldwell looks at Chapman and says, “Give me the danged ball and turn me toward the plate.” Read More > at ESPN

Drum Prodigy Nandi Bushell – 11 year-old drum prodigy Nandi Bushell plays Everlong live on stage with the Foo Fighters at LA Forum, 8/26/2021.

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A Spare the Air Alert is in effect for Sunday, Sept. 5, for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution are forecast to be unhealthy. High levels of ozone pollution are harmful to breathe, especially for young children, seniors and those with respiratory and heart conditions. You can help protect your health by avoiding outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.

You can help protect your health by staying indoors and avoiding unnecessary outdoor activities.

This Spare the Air alert is provided by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Thank you for doing your part to Spare the Air!

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New detections of West Nile Virus in California horses – prevention tips from CDFA

A total of five California horses have tested positive in recent weeks for West Nile Virus, all in the Central Valley. One of the horses is deceased, and only one had been vaccinated.

Horse owners are encouraged to have their animals vaccinated to make sure they are maximizing protection against the disease. And once vaccinations occur, horse owners should be checking regularly with their veterinarians to make sure they stay current.

Californians can also do their part to prevent the disease by managing mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. Here are some tips:

  • Draining unnecessary standing water found in wheelbarrows, tires, etc.
  • Cleaning water containers at least weekly (i.e., bird baths, plant saucers)
  • Scheduling pasture irrigation to minimize standing water
  • Keeping swimming pools optimally chlorinated and draining water from pool covers
  • Stocking of water tanks with fish that consume mosquito larvae (Contact local mosquito control for assistance) or use mosquito “dunk” available at hardware stores.

It’s important to remember that mosquitoes become infected with the virus when they feed on infected birds. Mosquitoes then spread the virus to horses.  Horses are a dead-end host and do not spread the virus to other horses or humans. For more information on West Nile Virus, please visit this link.

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