Sunday Reading – 08/02/15

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.

User guide to Windows 10 – Windows 10 officially launches this week, so if you’re going for an immediate upgrade from your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 computer, this guide will get you up to speed as quickly as possible. It covers the main features new to Windows 10. We start — appropriately enough — from the Windows logo (Start) button. Read More > at Network World

Cameras, RFID Chips Are Tracking the Contents of Your Garbage – In the name of ensuring compliance with local recycling laws, a number of cities using cameras, RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) chips, and even deputizing trash collectors with the task of judging a person’s garbage-sorting techniques as legal or worthy of a fine.

In a press release last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that “automated garbage monitoring raises very serious privacy concerns” and “any program involving the government’s systematic monitoring of citizens crosses a line.”

The goals of such garbage surveillance techniques range from ensuring regular use of recycling containers, rewarding compliant recyclers, and “flagging” non-compliant recyclers for more thorough inspections, which could lead to citations and fines.

In Wisconsin, two cities are using garbage truck cameras in conjunction with the RFID chips:

Garbage trucks scan the chips installed in each bin when emptying carts, the cameras monitor the materials being dumped, and transmit a detailed collection history back to the company in order to determine if the right materials are coming out of each container. This information is—when deemed necessary—used to levy fines against residents who improperly sort their waste.

In Seattle, a group of residents is suing the city over new policies that make sanitation workers into de facto garbage detectives, tasked with judging the contents of a trash container. As reported in the New York Times:

If, on inspection, more than 10 percent of a garbage can’s contents should have properly been in another kind of bin, the trash collector can pin a bright red tag on the offender’s receptacle. A primary goal of the policy is to keep people from throwing food and recyclable materials into trash cans. Read More > at Reason

So you’ve shot a famous lion and the Internet hates you. Now what? – Walter Palmer woke up Wednesday as the world’s most despised dentist, facing a PR challenge a lot bigger and scarier than any lion.

The big-game hunter is at the center of a worldwide uproar over the death of Cecil, a famous lion in Zimbabwe. Palmer shot the lion in what game officials say was an illegal hunt and temporarily shuttered his Bloomington practice as police prepared for protests.

The practice’s Yelp.com page (which now has a one-star rating) racked up over 2,000 reviews by Tuesday afternoon, most of them terribly negative and some even violent in tone. And Palmer has become the personal target of social media posts and late-night talk show hosts.

As crisis-communications tasks go, Palmer’s is a doozy.

…Wednesday afternoon, Austin said he was no longer representing Palmer and that his involvement was limited to helping circulate an initial statement, in which Palmer said he relied on his professional guides “to ensure a legal hunt.”

The statement, which included an expression of regret for the lion’s death, was a good first step, said Stacy Bettison, a Minneapolis-based public relations strategist and crisis communications expert.

…Crawford and Bettison said the best way for Palmer to turn things around would be to make a donation toward lion preservation efforts.

Now in a very public position, the dentist could use that to prevent future situations like his from happening, Bettison said.

“It doesn’t bring back this lion, but it could turn this very unfortunate moment into something with a long-lasting, positive impact,” she said. “It will be up to him to decide if he wants to turn this tragedy into a positive outcome that ultimately supports conversation. Serving in this way is not only the right thing to do, but would help his reputation too.” Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Has the Pac-12 passed the SEC as college football’s top conference? – The SEC is vulnerable. The league’s two-year national title drought and dismal 2014 bowl season have dimmed its stature as the premier conference in college football. SEC Media Days in July featured a flurry of obituaries memorializing the end of its dominance atop the sport. Pass the smelling salts to Paul Finebaum—college football is gaining ground on the SEC.

Here at Pac-12 football media days, the packets of SPF 30 sunblock made available to attendees could also double as protection from the optimism. As the SEC has slid over the past two years, the Pac-12 delivered an authoritative 2014: Oregon played for the national title, Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy and the league won six bowl games. “In my view, we were [the best conference] last season,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “I don’t think any conference had the résumé that our conference had. I don’t think we’d even be having this conversation had Oregon beat Ohio State.”

The 2015 season presents an opportunity for the Pac-12 to rush past the SEC. The Pac-12 has far superior returning quarterbacks than the SEC does, is amid a facility-building boom and features a division, the Pac-12 South, that’s comparable to the vaunted SEC West. The Big Ten and ACC lack depth and the Big 12 couldn’t get a team into the inaugural College Football Playoff. That leaves a two-horse race for the best league from top to bottom, and for the Pac-12 to leap past the SEC it needs a sparkling season from its signature program. With USC freed from the shackles of NCAA sanctions, back to its full complement of scholarships and favored to win the league behind Heisman candidate quarterback Cody Kessler, the Pac-12 could make the final argument it needs. “Until [a Pac-12 team] wins the national championship, it’s hard to make that claim,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “What I do know, being in this conference for so many years, is this is the best it’s ever been.” Read More > in Sports Illustrated

How a Voice of America DJ Helped the U.S. Win the Cold War – Voice of America DJ Willis Conover is up for a postage stamp to honor his work in exporting jazz, especially to short-wave radio listeners in the old Soviet Bloc, as Doug Ramsey at The Wall Street Journal notes. A stamp would be a minimal tribute, given the remarkable role Conover played during the Cold War, though it would be just about the only “official” recognition he has ever received.

During Conover’s four decades as a Voice of America (VOA) deejay from 1955 through the mid-1990s he upended communist cultural policy just by playing prohibited, “degenerate” American music that his overseas audience longed to hear. Most Americans have never heard of him, but in the postwar era he was one of the best-known, and certainly one of the most popular, Americans in the world. He had millions of devoted followers in Eastern Europe alone; his worldwide audience in his heyday has been estimated at up to 30 million people.

Conover managed to tour Soviet Bloc cities occasionally during East-West thaws, and, to his great surprise, was greeted at airports like a celebrity by huge cheering crowds. Moscow cabdrivers recognized him solely on the basis of his distinctive baritone voice. Writer James Lester has collected a series of remarkable quotes that suggest the emotional depth of Conover’s impact on his audience: “In 1982, when Conover was in Moscow as an MC for a group of touring American musicians, someone took his hand, kissed it, and said, ‘If there is a god of jazz, it is you.’ Another young Russian wrote touchingly to him, ‘You are a source of strength when I am overwhelmed by pessimism, my dear idol,’ and still another greeted him in Leningrad with, ‘Villis! You are my father!'”

…Though Conover was to play an important role in the development of dissident anti-communism, he was in one sense a consequence of Russian cultural resistance: His VOA show was a response to the amazing “Stilyagi” movement of late Stalinism.

Emerging at the end of the 1940s, stilyagi (“style hunters”) were bohemians who responded to official anti-Americanism by publicly embracing an extreme form of the “vulgar” American, one based on gangster movies and official caricatures. The men dressed in suits with over-padded shoulders, wore wide, splashy ties (they painted them themselves), let their hair grow long and flipped it with heated irons, made heavy-soled shoes from black-market leather, chewed gum (it was paraffin wax, since there wasn’t any chewing gum), and assumed a unusual gait to draw attention to themselves. They even called each other by such American names as “Joe” and “Bob.” The women were recognized by their tight skirts and heavy lipstick. They all idolized jazz—it had been played in Russia as recently as the war—collecting dubs made on old X-ray plates, the only plentiful medium in the USSR available for the purpose.

The stilyagi were attacked on the streets by the cops (and sometimes by the citizenry, too), but they also drew the attention of the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Chip Bohlen. In 1954, Bohlen suggested that the Voice of America beam a jazz program to the Soviet Bloc. VOA officials were at first cool to the idea; it sounded trivial to them, and they doubted that Congress would budget the funds for somebody to spin jazz records to a probably tiny audience. They eventually decided to give it a try, and advertised for a jazz-show host. Read More > at Reason

Amazon Lays Out Its Vision for a Sky Thronging with Delivery Drones – Online retailer Amazon has a plan to redefine the regulation of U.S. airspace.

In 2013 the company revealed it was working on a plan to use drones to deliver packages to its customers—something impossible under existing laws that forbid commercial use of drones. Today an executive leading that project sketched out Amazon’s plan for new rules that would allow it to add drones to its delivery workforce.

Gur Kimchi, a cofounder of the company’s drone project, sketched out a vision in which drones could operate freely below 400 feet. A “high speed transit zone” between 200 and 400 feet would be reserved for drones traveling large distances, such as from an Amazon warehouse to a customer’s home, he said. Amazon drones would only cross the space below that when they first took off and when it was time to land to drop off the small packages. Other drones might fly in that low-altitude space to perform missions such as surveying crops or power lines.

Kimchi presented Amazon’s idea at a NASA conference in Mountain View, California, focused on how to make it possible for large numbers of commercial drones to operate safely in U.S. skies. Until the technical and policy issues involved in that question are solved, Amazon’s drone plans and those of many other companies are grounded (see “Air Traffic Control for Drones”). Read More > at MIT Technology Review

California’s school system ranked 9th worst in the nation According to WalletHub’s analysis, California has the 9th worst school system in the nation, thanks in part to low reading and math test results, a high dropout rate and an abysmal score (worst in the nation) for the high number of pupils per teachers in our classrooms.

Besides those mentioned above, WalletHub’s ranking examined a variety of other factors, like SAT scores, the percentage of graduates to complete an AP exam and overall safety. The latter, which included the percentage of high school students who reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, bullying incident rates and youth incarceration rates, definitely played a role in California’s inclusion in the bottom ten. The state ranked 49 of 51 for safety, making it the 3rd worst, ahead of Indiana (50) and Washington, D.C. (51).

As for the state with the best school system, that honor goes to Massachusetts, which boasts the highest math and reading test scores and lowest bullying rates. Read More > at SFGate

Who’s Saving Water in California and Who Isn’t – The majority of California’s water districts have stepped up to meet strict new water conservation rules, according to data released by the state on Thursday.

Almost 40 percent of urban water suppliers cut their water use dramatically, by 30 percent or more.

About a third of water districts, 140 in all, fell short, mostly in Southern California.

Under the rules, districts must save between 4 and 36 percent of their water use, compared to what they used during the same month in 2013. The State Water Resources Control Board set the goals based on the per capita water use in each district.

State officials applauded the water savings in June, which was the first month the mandatory rules took effect. Overall, Californians saved 27.3 percent, exceeding the 25 percent goal called for by Governor Jerry Brown. Read More > at KQED

If You Care About California, Then You Should Care About Salinas – The Agricultural Superstar’s High Crime and Poor Health Are Dark Indicators of What the Golden State Could Become

“Rich in Land. Rich in Values. Ripe With Opportunity,” reads the slogan on a city website, and that’s no exaggeration. Salinas might be the richest poor city in California.

So many poor California cities sit well inland, but Salinas is just eight miles from the Pacific. It might have the best weather in the state. It’s part of the prosperous Monterey Bay region, and close enough to Silicon Valley that rising apartment rents have become a problem (a two-bedroom costs more in Salinas than it does in Seattle or Miami). And while many poor California places are rapidly aging, Salinas has the advantage of youth—its average age is less than 30.

It’s known as the Salad Bowl of the World, a center for producing healthy foods—leafy greens and berries—at a time when such foods have never been more popular. Jobs in the region’s $7 billion agriculture and tourism economies are so plentiful that employers have been complaining of labor shortages. It has a rich culture—from the dynamic Alisal neighborhood to an old downtown where a new headquarters for Taylor Farms is going up—and higher education, including an excellent community college and the newest California State University campus a 10-minute drive away. Salinas also has a healthy amount of civic engagement. Ask its residents where they’re from, and they’ll answer you with the name of their neighborhood—and a colorful description of it.

But ask people in Salinas why the city ranks so miserably low in so many measures—crime, schools, public health—and you’ll likely get puzzled looks.

By the numbers, Salinas borders on the nightmarish. Its homicide rate remains stubbornly high—nearly four times higher than the national average and more than twice as high as Los Angeles’; the year 2015 began with 10 shootings, including four deaths, in an 11-day period. Salinas and its neighboring communities in Monterey County have the highest rates of child poverty in the state. And Salinas lags significantly behind the state average in test scores, in its high school graduation rate, and the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees. Nearly 40 percent of Salinas residents have no high school diploma; the percentage statewide is 19 percent.

Salinas also has persistently higher unemployment than the state (8 percent vs. 6.3 percent currently) and a homeownership rate of less than 43 percent (compared to 55 percent statewide). In a bitter irony for a capital of healthy food, its obesity rates, especially among children, are well above the state average. And basic services can be hard to find. The federal government says Salinas is medically underserved—with not enough primary care doctors or dentists or mental health providers. Read More > at Zocalo

Humans are evolving to adopt a ‘text shuffle’ to use phones whilst walking –  Anyone who has ever walked down a busy British street will be familiar with the sight of mobile phone users bent over their devices whilst they text.

Researchers claim to have found that the phenomenon is now so much a part of modern day life that humans have developed a special movement pattern to cope with texting whilst walking.

A ‘protective shuffle’ has apparently evolved to protect phone users from banging into other people or objects in their environment.

The phenomenon was noted by academics at the universities of Bath and Texas who describe the new movement as people travelling at a much slower pace, with large, often exaggerated gestures. Read More > in the Independent

Why Automated Cars Need New Traffic Laws – When Delphi took its prototype Audi robocar from San Francisco to New York in April, the car obeyed every traffic law, hewing to the speed limit even if that meant impeding the flow of traffic.

“You can imagine the reaction of the drivers around us,” Michael Pozsar, director of electronic controls at Delphi, said at a conference in Michigan last week, according to Automotive News. “Oh, boy. It’s a good thing engineers have thick skin. All kinds of indecent hand gestures were made to our drivers.”

And that indicates that a problem is brewing, argues Prof Alain Kornhauser, who directs the transportation program at Princeton University. “The shame of the driving laws is that they all sort of have a ‘wink’ associated with them,” he says. “It says 55 miles per hour, but everyone knows that you can do 9 over. If that’s the situation, why isn’t it written that way—with a speed limit at 64?”

“A stop sign—rather than a ‘yield’ sign—is there to make sure people have the opportunity to look both ways and see nobody is coming,” Kornhauser says. “But with 360-degree camera coverage, lidars and radars, those automated cars know in a 20th of a second whether something is coming. Why should we require them to come to a complete stop?”

In fact, if all cars were autonomous and connected to each other wirelessly, they wouldn’t need stop signs even at the intersections of multilane highways, Read More > at IEEE Spectrum

Why Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms – In the other major sports, the coaches wear suits or sport coats (basketball and hockey) or a team logoed top and pants (football).

“We’re glad we’re different,” Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter says. “It’s a niche that baseball has.”

That niche actually has a historical precedent.

During the origins of the game, the business manager — who made travel arrangements, handled the books and ensured players received appropriate compensation — was called the “manager.” He wore street clothes.

The “captain,” who typically was a uniformed player, determined the batting order, made player substitutions and pitching changes, etc. He was basically what would be later known as a player/manager.

Around 1900, according to Thorn, the term “manager” stopped referring to the business manager and began referring to the person making strategic moves, player substitutions, etc.

The original “manager” would evolve into the modern-day general manager, and the player/manager would eventually fall out of vogue. (Only six — Hank Bauer, El Tappe, Frank Robinson, Joe Torre, Don Kessinger and Pete Rose — have occupied the latter role since 1960.)

By the 1940s managers Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A’s and Burt Shotton of the Brooklyn Dodgers wore street clothes long after their playing days had expired, but they were the exceptions. Read More > at The Post Game

Your Rent’s About to Get Even Higher – If the monthly rent check is already painful to write, brace yourself.

The Census Bureau’s U.S. rental vacancy rate, which tracks the share of properties that are unoccupied, fell to 6.8 percent in the second quarter. That’s the lowest level using comparable data since 1985.

The short supply of units means “rental inflation is not going away anytime soon,” Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC, wrote in a note to clients.

Already rents have climbed 3.5 percent in the 12 months through June, matching the biggest jump since 2008, Labor Department data show. That far outstrips the increase in consumer prices excluding food and fuel, which gained 1.8 percent in the same period.

While that may be good news for Federal Reserve policy makers who’d like to see inflation go higher, it may limit the amount of money consumers can spend on things besides shelter.

The rising demand for rental units is being driven by a surge in household formation. Some 1.6 million new households have come online in the last year, the Census data show, and all of that increase has come from renters. The number of owner-occupied households fell by 400,000 in the second quarter from a year earlier. Read More > in Bloomberg

Now’s the Time for California Tax Reform – When budget crises occur, Sacramento goes into tax reform frenzy. Commissions are appointed and elected officials travel the state touting reform ideas. Then, the economy recovers – and with it a boom in tax revenue – and the Commissions’ reports get stacked on bookshelves to collect dust, while those same elected officials revise their talking points toward program spending in lieu of reform. In Sacramento, short-term memories trump advancing good public policy.

Last week, the Hoover Institution released its July-August 2015 issue of Eureka, which explored California’s revenue rollercoaster – specifically, 1) what tax reform attempts have looked like, 2) how reliance on capital gains income creates volatility, 3) whether the futures of Propositions 13 and 30 affect tax reform, and 4) how Californians can simultaneously elect pro-tax Democrats while holding anti-tax views. As a previous RealClearMarkets piece makes clear, California’s revenue problem is straightforward: an over-reliance on a very progressive personal income tax, which itself is dependent on volatile capital gains revenue. California may have been able to get away with its boom-and-bust revenue and budgeting, but recent circumstances make tax reform even more imperative.

Silicon Valley Dominates the Economy: While California, for much of its history, has been economically diversified, today, Silicon Valley is singularly dominant. California’s economic future depends immensely on Silicon Valley’s. This plays a huge role in the budget as well. The greater Silicon Valley region accounts for 34 percent of the state’s total assessed taxes, while representing just 17 percent of the state’s population. Thus, factoring in population, Silicon Valley’s per capita assessed taxes equal $3,340, which is 2.5 times the level of Greater Los Angeles. And this doesn’t even account for Silicon Valley’s corporate tax and sales and use tax contributions. With such a significant amount of California’s state revenue coming from one region, California’s budget doesn’t have a Plan B if something were to financially hinder Silicon Valley’s economy.

The Tech Industry is Particularly Volatile: And if history is any guide, Silicon Valley’s tech industry isn’t going to experience explosive expansions forever. While California is currently reaping the benefits of a Valley-centric economy – with a bull stock market and the social media and sharing-economy boom – the tech industry is particularly volatile compared to other established industries. During the late 1990s, Sacramento made long-term funding bets – best characterized by Governor Gray Davis’ generous retroactive public employee pension increases – based on a belief that the dot-com boom was the new normal. It wasn’t and California suffered as a result. But in the early 2000’s, California was economically diversified, so it could bounce back more quickly. Today, with an economically less-diversified situation, a slight downturn in the tech industry could have devastating effects on state revenue and hence, on program funding. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

San Francisco Sued Over Unconstitutional Soda Speech Restrictions – On Friday, three groups sued San Francisco to overturn a terrible new city ordinance that restricts the free-speech rights of those who make and market sweetened drinks like soda. The plaintiffs, the American Beverage Association, California Retailers Association, and California State Outdoor Advertising Association, are seeking immediate injunctive relief—to prevent the law from taking effect—and have asked the District Court to overturn the law.

The ordinance, which I discussed at various outlets shortly after it was proposed, requires mandatory warning labels to appear on all soda ads in the city, including those on billboards. The law requires that at least 20 percent of each ad’s space read as follows: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

That warning is shaky at best. “Mandatory ‘added sugar’ labeling may violate the First Amendment,” I wrote here in March, before the San Francisco law had been proposed. “Use of the term ‘added sugar’ is misleading, as it creates a deceptive health halo around products like orange juice and apple juice, which are high in naturally occurring sugar but contain no added sugar.”

While the ordinance compels that warning, it also contains a host of equally shocking restrictions on free speech. For example, the law would prohibit soda makers from identifying the products they sell while protesting against the law on public space. It bars ads advertising soda, Frappuccinos, or some Jamba juices on public property—including buses, parks, and bus stops—but allows, notably, ads attacking such drinks. It also engages in other forms of viewpoint discrimination. It contains vague and undefined terms, including “producing sugar-sweetened beverages.” Those restrictions, the compelled speech, and other clear violations of bedrock First Amendment principles forced the American Beverage Association and its fellow plaintiffs to sue. Read More > at Reason

California Counties Running Low on “Secure” Paper – Counties across California could eventually run out of the paper they need to print birth, death, and marriage certificates, thanks to the closure of a plant located thousands of miles away.

For all such certificates, California law requires the use of intaglio printing on secure paper, in which letters are incised into the page to prevent counterfeiting. The method is only carried out by a handful of plants in the world, however, and the last U.S.-based printmaker to use it closed its doors in Cincinnati, Ohio earlier this month.

Fortunately, some counties were able to prepare for the setback. The County Clerk’s Office in Merced, for instance, ordered a year’s worth of paper prior to the closure of the plant, so their supply is relatively sound.

“Some counties are limiting the amount of certificates, but not here,” said Barbara Levey, the county’s clerk and recorder.

The question now is what California’s counties will do going forward. According to Levey, the state is considering using a company in Canada. If that doesn’t pan out, changes to state legislation may be in order. read More > at California County News

Contra Costa County Supervisors Gets 12% Raise, Wanted 33% – Their base salary will be $116,840 after the 12% raise, up from $104,307.

The 12% raise comes only after public uproar shot down the 33% raise the Board of Supervisors voted for back in November. The uproar included public employee unions launching a referendum petition to change the vote.

On Tuesday, board members voted to accept the smaller pay raise recommended to them by an ad hoc committee last month.

The committee determined peer counties for the supervisors and then recommended that their salaries fall in line with the 37.5 percentile of supervisors’ salaries, meaning 62.5% of supervisors earn a larger salary. The 37.5 mark is also in line with Contra Costa County employees.

The committee also remarked that if possible, all county employees should be raised to the 50 percentile mark among peer counties, meaning Contra Costa County union employees would be earning median salaries relative to their peers. The committee also recommended tying the supervisors’ salaries to any reductions in pay that public employee unions face in the future. Read More > at California County News

Automated balls and strikes not just a gimmick – …The scene at San Rafael’s Albert Park was going to be steamy, radical and futuristic, and when it was over — after every ball and strike had been called by a computer — it didn’t seem so terribly disturbing.

As the San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals went about their business in a Pacific Association independent league game, a few hundred fans and media witnessed the first computerized umpiring in professional baseball history. Credit Eric Byrnes, serving as both driving force and entertainer, for making it a delightful evening. But there was much to be learned. Get past the novelty and good-natured laughter, and a serious issue was at hand.

Could this actually work in the major leagues?

…In such an idyllic setting, nothing can go terribly wrong. But this was hardly an experimental venture in terms of the technology. The Pitch F/X system, produced by Sportvision in Fremont, is the same used for graphics on major-league telecasts, as well as major-league umpires doing their own evaluations. “You could install it in the big leagues right now and be 100 percent ready,” Byrnes said.

…Yes, the home-plate umpire still exists; he’s just free of the ball-and-strike responsibility. Three cameras — one in center field, two at the backstop corners behind home plate — triangulate the input to produce a result that Byrnes says is startlingly accurate. “Right now, our margin of error is within an inch,” he said. “If you asked around about the margin of error for a normal umpire, they’d say ‘up to a foot.’ So which do you feel better using? Read More > at SFGate

‘The Olympics are dead': Does anyone want to be a host city any more? – The reason Boston’s residents didn’t want to be Athens is the same reason the residents of Oslo or Krakow or Stockholm don’t want to be Athens. Hosting an Olympics is a corporate sinkhole sucking billions of dollars and a city’s future into a bottomless abyss of excess.

The internet is clogged with slide shows of empty, broken, useless stadiums built in the euphoria of a coming Olympics or World Cup then abandoned soon after, allowed to fill with weeds, rodents and other signs of human escape. Is there a better sign of Greece’s collapse than a pile of useless sports facilities crumbling since the torch went out in the summer of 2004? What use did Athens have for a baseball stadium anyway? It’s crumbling among the weeds just like the field hockey venue, the canoeing center and the training pool green with algae.

Those who were going to force the Olympics on Boston vowed their Games would be frugal, insisting they would build upon existing facilities and erect temporary stadiums, cutting costs. But even the $4.5bn required to organize the Games and $6bn needed in new roads and parks seemed perilously low when considering the massive amount of building needed to placate the International Olympic Committee. While Rome and Paris will fight for the right to put itself in financial peril a bigger truth should be clear:

Why should anyone want to host an Olympics anymore? Read More > in The Guardian

What’s next for California’s undocumented immigrants? Licensed jobs opening up – A variety of licensed jobs – including architect, barber, boxer and accountant – soon will be open to undocumented immigrants in California.

The shift figures to change lives for tens of thousands of workers, either in the form of new opportunity or, critics say, in the form of a new wave of unfair competition.

Under SB1159, a law signed in September by Gov. Jerry Brown, all 40 licensing boards working under the California Department of Consumer Affairs must consider applicants regardless of their immigration status. Previously, only legal residents with Social Security numbers could be granted licenses.

The new rule is kicking in at various agencies now and will roll out to all licensed jobs by the start of next year. The boards for eight job categories – accountants, architects, barbers and beauticians, boxers and martial arts fighters, financial advisers, geologists, land surveyors, osteopaths and podiatrists – are already accepting undocumented applicants.

It’s unclear how many people have applied for licenses under the new rules, or how many will, but the impact could be huge. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates the state is home to about 1.85 million undocumented workers. Read More > in The Orange County Register

The Colossal Hoax Of Organic Agriculture – Consumers of organic foods are getting both more and less than they bargained for. On both counts, it’s not good.

Many people who pay the huge premium—often more than a hundred percent–for organic foods do so because they’re afraid of pesticides. If that’s their rationale, they misunderstand the nuances of organic agriculture. Although it’s true that synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act, while most “natural” ones are permitted. However, “organic” pesticides can be toxic. As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.”

Another poorly recognized aspect of this issue is that the vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume are in our diets “naturally” and are present in organic foods as well as non-organic ones. In a classic study, UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.” Moreover, “natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.” Thus, consumers who buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on just one-hundredth of one percent of the pesticides they consume.

Some consumers think that the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified organic products to be free of ingredients from “GMOs,” organisms crafted with molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Wrong again. USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free. (In any case, the methods used to create so-called GMOs are an extension, or refinement, of older techniques for genetic modification that have been used for a century or more.) Read More > at Forbes

Study: Bullies Have Higher Self-Esteem, Lower Depression Rates – Bullying behaviors are linked to higher self-esteem, social status, and a lower rate of depression, according to a new provocative study.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University observed a group of high school students finding that bullies had the highest self esteem, greatest social status, and were less likely to be depressed, as reported by National Post.

“Humans tend to try to establish a rank hierarchy,” Jennifer Wong, a criminology professor who led the study, told the Post. “When you’re in high school, it’s a very limited arena in which you can establish your rank, and climbing the social ladder to be on top is one of the main ways … Bullying is a tool you can use to get there.”

Wong notes that many anti-bullying initiatives try to change the behavior of bullies, but often don’t work. This is likely because behavior is hard-wired and not learned, she says. Experts suggest that schools might expand competitive, supervised activities as an alternative outlet to channel dominating behavior.

The new study surveyed 135 teenagers from a Vancouver high school using a standard questionnaire. Questions included things like how often individuals were hit or shoved. Researchers then categorized the students into four groups: bully, bystander, victim, or victim-bully. Read More > at CBS Atlanta

Scientists have synthesized a new compound that ‘mimics’ exercise. Could a workout pill be far behind? – Ali Tavassoli, a professor of chemical biology, and Felino Cagampang, an associate professor in integrative physiology, reported that they had synthesized a molecule that acts as an “exercise mimic” by tricking cells into thinking they have run out of energy.

Dubbed “compound 14,” the new molecule does this by triggering a chain reaction of events in the cell. Compound 14 inhibits the function of an enzyme called ATIC which plays a central role in insulin signaling in the body. That in turn leads to the build up of something called ZMP — known as a “master regulator” of metabolism — in the cells. It’s ZMP that makes cells think they have run out of energy and activate the cell’s central energy censor which is known as AMPK. The cells compensate by increasing their glucose update and metabolism — changes that typically occur during exercise and that lead to weight loss.

If this effect could be verified and the compound found to be safe in humans, it could lead to a treatment, even something as simple as a pill, for obesity or type 2 diabetes. Read More > in The Washington Post

Unlawful Immigrants Rush For CA Drivers Licenses – Emerging statistics have revealed that California’s extension of drivers licenses to unlawful immigrants aroused unexpected demand — with no end in sight.

“While state officials expected 1.4 million undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses in the first three years, in the first six months since the law has been enacted more than 1.1 million undocumented immigrants have so far taken the written test, and another 436,000 have taken the driving test,” reported Fox News Latino.

“During the first six months that the Safe Driver and Responsibility Act — or AB 60 — went into effect, the Department of Motor Vehicles saw more than 600,000 applications from undocumented immigrants,” the Los Angeles Daily News observed. DMV officials announced that, in the first half of the year, some 397,000 licenses have been issued to unlawfully present immigrants — half the total of roughly 759,000 licenses issued, according to the Associated Press.

And according to officials, the robust numbers were only the beginning. “An estimated 1.5 million applications from undocumented immigrants are expected to be processed over the next three years,” the Daily News confirmed. Read More > at Fox and Hounds</a

County Fairs in August

Antelope Valley Fair
8/21/2015 to 8/30/2015
Lancaster, CA

Butte County Fair
8/27/2015 to 8/30/2015
Gridley, CA

Del Norte County Fair
8/6/2015 to 8/9/2015
Crescent City, CA

Humboldt County Fair
8/20/2015 to 8/30/2015
Ferndale, CA

Modoc District Fair
8/27/2015 to 8/30/2015
Cedarville, CA

Nevada County Fair
8/12/2015 to 8/16/2015
Grass Valley, CA

Plumas-Sierra County Fair
8/12/2015 to 8/16/2015
Quincy, CA

Redwood Empire Fair
8/6/2015 to 8/9/2015
Ukiah, CA

Siskiyou Golden Fair
8/12/2015 to 8/16/2015
Yreka, CA

Trinity County Fair
8/7/2015 to 8/9/2015
Hayfork, CA

Ventura County Fair
8/5/2015 to 8/16/2015
Ventura, CA

Yolo County Fair
8/19/2015 to 8/23/2015
Woodland, CA

July 31st, 2015 Marks a Rare Blue Moon

From Space.com

There’s a “Blue Moon” in the sky tonight — but that doesn’t mean the lunar surface will turn indigo.

Tonight’s (July 31) moon will be a gorgeous sight, but it won’t look different than any other full moon. The term Blue Moon has come to refer to the second full moon in a given month (since full moons come around about every 29 days, most months only contain one). So set your sights skyward tonight, but don’t expect a change in the moon’s regular hue. NASA explained the July 31 Blue Moon in a video released earlier this week.

However, there are rare occasions when the moon can appear to turn blue. According to the Science@NASA blog, observers have reported the moon having a bluish tint following volcanic eruptions. These explosions send particulates (like ash and smoke) into the air that scatter red light, but let blue light through, creating a natural blue filter and giving the moon a sapphire complexion.

Where Does California’s Water Go?

California’s water supports three main sectors: cities and communities, agriculture and environment. On average, the proportion of water used by each sector is 10 percent cities and communities, 40 percent agriculture, and 50 percent environment. This statewide ratio varies widely depending upon whether a year is wet or dry. This year, California communities were ordered to reduce their overall water use by an average of 25 percent compared to 2013. State regulators tailored mandatory cutback targets ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent for each community based on past conservation efforts.

Between 1967 and 2010, the total applied water to crops was reduced by 5 percent, from 31.2 million acre-feet to 29.6 million acre-feet (one acre foot is enough to supply all the needs of roughly two typical households for a year).

The largest share of water for environmental purposes goes to “wild and scenic” rivers, which are protected by federal and state law from dam development. That share is roughly 23 percent in a dry year, 41 percent in a wet year. These “wild and scenic” rivers are primarily on the remote North Coast where there is little agricultural or urban demand. The Eel River, for example, carries a larger volume of water than either the San Joaquin or American River.

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The California Drought website has a link, titled How Water is Used in California, which has chart and narrative information about environmental, agricultural, and urban water use. Water use in the Delta is described in all three categories of uses.

BART Transbay Tube Closure Aug 1-2 & Sept 5-7 – More Travel Tips

BART is encouraging travelers to plan ahead and to find alternate means of transportation across the Bay during the two upcoming closures of transbay train service.

We are recommending that all our customers avoid transbay travel on these weekends, but if you must make the trip we have updated our homepage (bart.gov) to include helpful travel tips for:

· Cyclists
· Airport Travelers
· Riders with Mobility Challenges
· Travel within the East Bay
· Travel within San Francisco/West Bay
· Paying for your BART Ride with the free Bus Bridge
· Transbay Muni/BART riders

There will be additional BART employees available at both 19th Street and Embarcadero stations as well as at the Temporary Transbay Terminal and West Oakland station to assist you.

BART and Highway 4 Construction Continues

There is significant progress to report along the Highway 4 corridor, including the BART extension!

On July 10, the pedestrian bridge was lifted into position over Highway 4 at the site of the future Antioch Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station. This was a major step in moving the project toward completion. Watch the video of the lift taking place below. Work continues along this corridor as construction crews are laying ballasts and tracks for the new BART line.

Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) is proud to fund the new Pittsburg Center Station, along with our partners BART, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and the City of Pittsburg. The station’s groundbreaking is slated for later this year.

The Highway 4 project also includes improvements that will increase capacity for commuting to and from eastern Contra Costa County. The project expands Highway 4 from four to eight lanes between Loveridge Road in Pittsburg to just west of State Route 160 in Antioch. It also widens the highway from two to four lanes from Lone Tree Way to Sand Creek Road in Brentwood with space for possible future BART extensions.

The Loveridge and Somersville segments of the project have been completed. The Sand Creek Interchange, which was completed in October 2014, removed a signalized intersection on the highway that had the highest accident rate in Brentwood and replaced it with a grade-separated intersection where Sand Creek Road meets Highway 4. The remaining project segments at Lone Tree Way, Contra Loma Boulevard, and Hillcrest Avenue are expected to be completed in the spring of 2016.