Sunday Reading – 01/25/15


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.

‘Surf City’ First in Nation to Repeal Plastic Bag Ban – On Tuesday night, on an overwhelming 6-1 vote, the city council of Huntington Beach, California–which is officially known as “Surf City, USA“–directed the city staff to begin the process of repealing a policy that bans the use of plastic grocery bags, and requires grocery stores to charge a ten-cent fee on paper bags.

This coastal city in Orange County, which boasts 9.5 miles of beautiful beaches, is about to make history, as never before has a city with such a bag ban ever repealed it.

The city’s bag ban was an issue in last year’s council elections, and all four council members who won election were public in their support for repealing it, defeating two incumbents who had voted in favor. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Let Them Deflate – …Of course if it is proven that the Patriots knowingly deflated balls, they should be punished to the full extent of the rules. The league says that the base level punishment would be a fine of a paltry $25,000, or approximately 0.2 percent of Tom Brady’s 2014 compensation. The laughably low amount tells you how serious an offense the NFL deems football deflation. By way of comparison know that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was fined $20,000 for, um, “adjusting” his cup after scoring a touchdown in the NFC championship game.

But why should inflating a football to the specification of the thrower of the football even be against the rules? The NFL has, over the years, passed rule changes designed to allow the passing game to flourish, which is exactly what’s happened. As offenses, passing yards, and quarterbacks have ascended, so too have ratings and profits. This is at the very core of the NFL’s massive, nearly culture dominating popularity. The interaction between the football and the thrower of the football is the fundamental engine of a league where revenue is approaching $10 billion per year. Realizing this, in 2006 the NFL even allowed quarterbacks to use their own footballs in games, footballs that are often treated like a recalcitrant prisoner in a CIA black ops site—see, for example, this 2013 New York Times story on Eli Manning’s harsh treatment of his balls.


That’s the point. The amount of air in a football only really affects how each team’s quarterback and offense plays. Under-inflated footballs are easier to catch and grip in cold and wet weather, but they can’t travel as far. Some quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, even like their footballs over-inflated. If every quarterback were allowed to use his ideally inflated football, then every offense would be on an equal footing to come up with a strategy that fits his team under every condition. This would make for better football games.

If a quarterback likes his football pounded with a mallet and waterboarded until it’s a faded husk of leathery oblongness, that’s fine. Why then is a slightly under-inflated football a cause of consternation bordering on madness? Read More > in Slate

Atlanta is burning: A new and ominous threat to religious liberty (COMMENTARY) – One day Atlanta has a fire chief; the next day it doesn’t. Once again, a moral scandal takes down a public official.

What was the scandal involving Chief Kelvin Cochran? He holds to views that Mayor Kasim Reed, among others, find out of bounds.

The facts in the case are now clear: Reed fired Cochran for what the mayor called “bad judgment” in writing a book in which Cochran asserted the sinfulness of homosexuality, and then sharing a copy of the book with three city employees.

The former chief is not accused of discriminating against any employee or citizen. Some are now claiming that this fact shouldn’t even matter, and that merely believing what Cochran believes is enough to disqualify him — or anyone else — from public office.

This is the new demand of modernity: Surrender to the moral revolution or keep your mouth shut. Read More > at Religious News Service

New Orleans Bans Smoking Pretty Much Everywhere – New Orleans passed a far-reaching smoking ban on Thursday that prohibits lighting up in bars, casinos, private clubs—even in the car while waiting in line at a drive-thru.

Claiming there is no “constitutional right” to smoke, the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to outlaw smoking and electronic cigarettes in indoor and outdoor public places.

The ordinance, which goes into effect in 90 days, applies to bars, casinos, parks, private clubs, any business establishment, recreational areas, sports arenas, theaters, and a host of other places.

“[T]here is no legal or constitutional ‘right to smoke,’” the ordinance said. “Business owners have no legal or constitutional right to expose their employees and customers to the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke. On the contrary, employers have a common law duty to provide their workers with a workplace that is not unreasonably dangerous.” Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon

Disneyland measles outbreak puts California on alert – California is battling a surge of measles cases clustered around the famous Disneyland theme park, despite the virus being all but eliminated in the United States, authorities said.

Fifty-nine cases have been recorded since the end of December, the California Department of Public Health reported, urging people to get themselves vaccinated — in the face of a movement against the vaccinations over concerns about links to autism in children.

Measles is highly contagious and can be spread through the air without physical contact. Infection usually begins with a fever followed by a cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis and a rash.

The health department said the spate of cases underscored the need for vaccinations against the illness. Twenty-eight cases from 34 for which data was available involved individuals who had not been vaccinated.

Measles has been officially eradicated from the United States since 2000 while remaining widespread in other regions including Europe, Africa and Asia.

Eradication means the disease is no longer native to the United States. Read More > at Yahoo! News

The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk – To combat afternoon slumps in enthusiasm and focus, take a walk during the lunch hour.

A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.

It is not news, of course, that walking is healthy and that people who walk or otherwise exercise regularly tend to be more calm, alert and happy than people who are inactive. Read More > in The New York Times

Windows 10: Cortana, a New Browser …and Holograms? – Microsoft today provided an early look at what consumers can expect in Windows 10, from Cortana on the desktop to a totally revamped Web browser, dubbed Project Spartan. Oh yeah, and holograms (seriously).

When the OS does make its debut (in late 2015), Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for those currently running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1, Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, Terry Myerson, said during a press event in Redmond.

Meanwhile, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, promised that “gaming on Windows 10 will be more social and interactive,” thanks to the Xbox app, which will be loaded on all Windows 10 devices.

…Among the things he showed off was Cortana on the PC. Microsoft’s digital assistant has been integrated into the desktop, where she will live—listening, learning, and serving up tidbits of information she believes you will find useful.

You can summon Cortana by voice (“Hey Cortana, will I need a coat tomorrow?”) or type a query, Belfiore said. The more you use Cortana, the smarter she will become, though you can edit what she knows about you.

Cortana will also play a role in Microsoft’s new browser, currently codenamed Project Spartan. Right-click on an item displayed on a webpage, and ask Cortana for more information about it. She might also pop up unannounced to tell you that the restaurant whose website you are browsing has menu items that work with your diet. Read More > at PC Magazine

Day Care Center Records for Alameda, Contra Costa Counties Now Online – Families in Alameda and Contra Costa counties now can see detailed state records about their children’s day care facilities online.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has obtained and posted records including official inspections and citations, complaints about the centers and state investigations of those complaints. Last year, CIR began scanning and posting those records about centers located in the Bay Area. We previously made records available for Santa Clara and Napa counties.

While the majority of other states routinely make this information available online, California has failed to do so. That’s left many parents in the dark about the preschools and day care centers that their children attend.

Following our previous reporting, state lawmakers in 2014 passed a bill requiring the California Department of Social Services to post basic information about the day care facilities that it licenses. In June, the department launched its new website, where the public can learn some relevant facts, such as when a facility was last inspected and how many violations it has received over the past five years. Read More > at The Center for Investigative Reporting

Kotkin & Cox: Southern California stuck in drive – Southern California has long been a nurturer of dreams that, while widely anticipated, often are never quite achieved. One particularly strong fantasy involves Los Angeles abandoning what one enthusiast calls its “car habit” and converting into an ever-denser, transit-oriented region.

An analysis of transit ridership, however, shows that the region is essentially no better off than when the the modern period of transit funding began in 1980, with the passage of Proposition A, which authorized a half-cent sales tax for transit. In 1980, approximately 5.9 percent of workers in the metropolitan area (Los Angeles and Orange counties) used transit for their commute. The latest data, for 2013, indicates the ridership figure has fallen to 5.8 percent.

…Why do people stick to their cars? For one thing, transit takes longer. The average drive-alone, one-way commute in Los Angeles was 27.0 minutes in 2013, compared with an average commute of 48.7 minutes for transit.

The other big factor is accessibility to jobs. The University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory produced an estimate for the percentage of jobs that the average L.A. resident could reach within 30 minutes by car. In Los Angeles, the average resident can reach 60 times as many jobs in that time by car as by transit. Read More > in the Orange County Register

Welcome To The Maker-Industrial Revolution – This past February, in a nondescript industrial building near downtown Louisville, Kentucky, a few executives from GE Appliances set out to stage the division’s first hackathon. Louisville is home to the appliance manufacturer, but rather than hold the contest at headquarters, the executives decided to mount it offsite, in partnership with LVL1, a local hacker collective. For the past four years, the few dozen members—artists, mechanics, IT guys, retiree hobbyists, and even a few of GE’s own engineers—have congregated in a grimy workshop to make anything from weather balloons to a fire-breathing robotic pony. That weekend in February, they would get to exercise their creativity a little differently.

For the contest, GE Appliances donated refrigerators, ranges, and other devices to LVL1, and over 48 hours, teams of hackers raced to imbue them with elaborate new functions. Although the division spends plenty on R&D, Kevin Nolan and Venkat Venkatakrishnan, the heads of technology and R&D, wanted to see what out-of-the-box ideas the crowd might have.

The results were variously silly and useful. One modified refrigerator dispensed soda cans from a chute, like a vending machine. Another used a nitrogen cylinder for home-style flash freezing. (“It had a big sign that said this product is dangerous—that was its selling point,” Nolan says.) The winner, though, was an oven with a bar-code scanner capable of reading and perfectly executing cooking instructions encoded on packaged foods. To demo the product, the leader of the team, Chris Cprek, a University of Louisville staffer and one of LVL1’s founders, created a bar code with baking instructions for a raspberry pie and used his hacked-together oven to bake the dessert right on the workshop floor.

To the executives at GE, Cprek’s hack came as a wakeup call. The idea for a bar-code-scanning oven had come up in internal ideas sessions before, and they knew it had great potential. In retirement communities or urban food deserts, such an appliance could help people eat healthier meals without requiring much time or expertise. And yet, the concept had never left the brainstorm stage at GE. That’s because, for giant manufacturing companies, putting something into a production run is a giant gamble. Navigating the obstacle course of requisite departments (R&D, design, prototyping, market research, manufacturing) can take years, and tooling a factory line can cost tens of millions of dollars. That the executives were now staring at a working prototype of an idea they already liked—and it hadn’t come from them—made them wonder how much innovation they were letting slide by. Why couldn’t they build a more nimble product-development pipeline? For that matter, why couldn’t smart hackers like Cprek have an ongoing role? Read More > at Popular Science

Study: Areas of Northern California are under-immunized – As a measles outbreak connected to Disneyland spreads to over four dozen cases, a new study finds that certain areas in Northern California are under-immunized.

The Kaiser Permanente study, published in the “Pediatrics” medical journal, identifies geographic clusters with higher rates of under-immunization, as well as those with higher vaccine refusal rates.

Children were considered to be under-immunized if they had missed one or more recommended vaccines by 36 months of age. Looking at a period from 2010 to 2012, the five statistically significant clusters of under-immunized children were found to be in the East Bay, from Richmond to San Leandro; Sonoma and Napa counties; an area between Sacramento and Roseville; northern San Francisco and southern Marin county; and a small area in Vallejo.

Meanwhile, the five clusters with higher rates of vaccine refusal during the same time period were the East Bay from El Cerrito to Alameda; Marin and southwest Sonoma counties; northeastern San Francisco; northeastern Sacramento County and Roseville; and a small area south of Sacramento. In these areas, vaccine refusal ranged from 5.5 percent to 13.5 percent, compared to vaccine refusal rates of 2.6 percent outside these geographic clusters. Read More > at News 10

Mysterious Goo Blamed for Bay Area Bird Deaths – The death of 100 birds in the San Francisco Bay Area has baffled wildlife officials who say the creatures’ feathers were coated with a mysterious substance that looks and feels like rubber cement.

The birds began turning up on a beach Friday. Necropsies and lab tests will be done Tuesday, but results may not be known until later this week, California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan said.

Volunteers were slogging through mud and bog in the foggy, cold weather looking for dead surf scoters, buffleheads and horned grebes. The birds each weigh about 4 pounds and are roughly the size of a duck.

Dead birds have turned up on shorelines, beaches and trails in the suburbs of San Leandro, Alameda and Hayward

…Officials believe the culprit substance was dumped into the San Francisco Bay and is not a public health or safety risk to humans. Callahan said it’s likely a man-made product, meaning a pipeline might have burst or someone intentionally dumped the substance. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Timm Herdt: Must disease dictate death’s terms? – This is the day when Californians begin a conversation on a topic almost no one wants to talk about: death.

On Wednesday afternoon, two state senators will conduct a news conference to announce the introduction of their End of Life Options Act, a bill that would establish a rigorous system to allow terminally ill, mentally competent individuals to be prescribed drugs that they could take at their option to determine when their lives will end.

The Democratic senators, Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Carmel, will be joined by the mother of Brittany Maynard, the young California woman who moved to Oregon to avail herself of that state’s end-of-life law.

The proposal is modeled on the Oregon law that has been in place since 1997.

The option to request life-ending drugs would be available only to individuals who have been independently certified by two physicians as having less than six months to live and have the ability to make an informed decision. Read More > in the Ventura County Star

It’s Time For Companies To Fire Their Human Resource Departments – In an experiment that involved sending out more than 2,500 resumes either with or without photos of the applicant, economics researchers Bradley Ruffle at Ben-Gurion University and Ze’ev Shtudiner at Ariel University Centre sought to answer the question of whether being good looking could help you find a job. The answer surprised them: Not if you’re a woman. Pretty women faced an uphill struggle to get a chance at a job.

The economists hadn’t reckoned on the fact that 93 percent of the HR staffers deciding whether to call in someone for an interview were female. It turns out that HR women (who also tend to be young and single and hence still in the dating market for men) are eager to meet with handsome men. But they’re jealous of beautiful women. So your business is losing out on talented people (and wasting time with untalented ones) based on their looks.

Everybody has a Human Resources horror story, which is why, in the words of one writer, HR is widely thought of as “at best,a necessary evil — and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change.” HR, goes the refrain, is too important to be left to HR. Read More > in Forbes

November 2016 ballot will likely be filled with propositions – California voters in November 2016 may be forced to read a ballot pamphlet as long and dense as a political science textbook — and oddly enough, they’ll have the millions who sat out last year’s sleepy elections to thank for the extra work.

The number of signatures required to get a measure on the ballot is reset every four years, based on the votes cast for governor in the previous general election. Since only 42 percent of the state’s registered voters — a record low — turned out in November, it’s going to be easier than ever to put a proposed law before the people.

A complete list of 2016 ballot initiatives won’t take shape until early next year, but the short list is already a mile long. It includes proposals to legalize marijuana for recreational use, overturn the new plastic bag ban, increase tobacco taxes, eliminate the death penalty, make over the landmark Proposition 13 and boost California’s minimum wage even higher. Read More > in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Experts zero in on pizza as prime target in war on childhood obesity – Kids love pizza, but a new study shows that it doesn’t love them back..

On days when children eat pizza, they consume an average of 408 additional calories, three additional grams of fat and 134 additional milligrams of salt compared with their regular diet. For teens, putting pizza on the day’s menu adds 624 calories, five grams of fat and 484 milligrams of salt.

The analysis, published online Monday by the journal Pediatrics, examines pizza’s contribution to the childhood obesity crisis because it is so widely consumed. On any given day, 22% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 eat pizza. (That compares to 14% of toddlers and 13% of Americans overall.) The only foods more popular with kids are “grain desserts,” a category that includes cakes, cookies and doughnuts. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Championship Fallout: On Deflation and Blame – Regarding the NFL’s investigation into the possibility that some footballs were deflated in the New England-Indianapolis AFC title game Sunday:

The league was quite buttoned-up Monday regarding the probe. New England coach Bill Belichick said the team would cooperate with the NFL’s look into the story. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano mostly had no comment.

On Monday I talked to two football people with knowledge of the process of preparing footballs for NFL games. Neither knew a thing about this investigation. That I expected. What I was more concerned about was this: What advantage could be gained by purposely deflating footballs for game action?

“It’s all about the grip,” one of the men said. “For a quarterback on a very cold and rainy day, if he’s gripping a rock-hard football, that’s different than gripping a football that is softer and has some give to it. If you take a pound [of pressure] out of the footballs, that could be a significant difference in handling the ball.”

Last year, I was in Chicago for a story for The MMQB on a Week in the Life of an Officiating Crew. I saw the men on the crew work at inflating the game balls to just the right pressure. In the NFL, footballs have to be filled to a pressure of 12.5 pounds to 13.5 pounds per square inch of air. Each week, teams customarily would be able to prepare 12 footballs for the game. When I say “prepare,” I mean equipments guys and/or ballboys would take the balls before the game and rub the shine and slipperiness off the balls, so they’d be easier for quarterbacks to grip and receivers to catch and running backs to hold, and then return them to the officials in the officials’ locker room.

…Newsday’s Bob Glauber reported Monday that the Colts first noticed something unusual after an interception by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in the second quarter. According to Glauber, Jackson gave the ball to a member of the Colts’ equipment staff, “who noticed the ball seemed under-inflated.” Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson were informed, and Grigson contacted a league official about it at halftime. That’s what we know now.

Again, it could very well be nothing. But the league would be smart to finish the look into this by the end of the week. The last thing the NFL needs is a controversy like this hanging over the Super Bowl. Read More > at MMQB

Man Is Sabotaging His Best Friend. It’s time to Rethink How We Breed Dogs. – 150 years ago, Bulldogs were much different. They were slender-legged, with a longer snout and a livelier demeanor.

Today, it’s nearly impossible for a purebred Bulldog to reproduce without assistance. Most have to be artificially inseminated since the female cannot support the male’s weight during mating. 80% of Bulldog puppies are delivered by caesarian section; their signature large, flat heads are simply too large for the birth canal. Many Bulldogs also struggle with breathing problems on account of their stubby noses, and 71.6% have hip dysplasia, an abnormal formation of the hip socket that often results in painful arthritis or even lameness.

The Bulldog isn’t the only breed of canine facing health issues. Up to one-third of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a skull that’s simply too small for their brains. In a 2009 BBC One documentary, Veterinary Neurologist Dr. Claire Rusbridge described the brain as a “size 10 foot that’s been shoved into a size 6 shoe.” 38.5% of Boxers die from cancer. The ears of Basset Hounds are so long that, as puppies, they trip over them and accidentally chew on them while eating.

The blame for all of these health problems lies squarely with the leash holder. Through years of highly questionable breeding practices, humans have bred the genetic diversity out of a great many dogs, almost entirely for cosmetic reasons. As dogs lose their hybrid vigor, deleterious genetic traits seep in and grow commonplace. Man is inadvertently sabotaging his best friend. Read More > at Real Clear Science

The Oyster Shell Game – Two weeks before Christmas, in a serene Pacific inlet north of San Francisco, a small mountain of fresh oysters sat rotting in the rain. Kevin Lunny, the owner of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, watched a yellow mini-dozer chug back from the waterfront, tip its shovel and, in a great clattering of shells, dump hundreds more onto the heap.

After seven years of political and legal battles that have grown into one of the ugliest environmental fights in the country, this was the end of the line for Lunny’s oyster farm. “It’s been a terrible time,” said Lunny, who still lives on the nearby cattle ranch where he grew up and where his grandfather started a dairy farm in 1947. The forced closure of the oyster company marks the end, after almost 80 years, of modern shellfish farming in Drakes Estero, the tidal estuary that lies at the center of the dispute.

But Drakes Estero is also an environmental sanctuary. It’s home to one of the state’s largest harbor seal colonies and significant numbers of shorebirds, and is prized by naturalists as the ecological heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore, public land managed by the National Park Service. In November 1972, the Johnson family sold their five acres of shoreline to the federal government for $79,200 and signed a 40-year lease that permitted a narrow range of business options, such as “the interpretation of oyster cultivation to the visiting public,” and was renewable as long as any future permit was “in accordance with National Park Service Regulations in effect at the time the reservation expires.” In 2005, Johnson sold that permit to Lunny, who cleaned up and rebranded the old farm and dubbed it the Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

The idea that Lunny’s farm was a heavy industry that imperiled the park’s wildlife was, for a while at least, the core reason for evicting him. But for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the only agency with the power to enforce full wilderness protection, there was one problem with this argument: proving it.

To the bewilderment and eventual outrage of Lunny’s advocates in California and Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein chief among them—the DOI and its National Park Service spent much of the past decade using scientifically unsound, and at times bizarre, tactics to prove the oyster farm had to go. “The Park Service has falsified and misrepresented data, hidden science and even promoted employees who knew about the falsehoods, all in an effort to advance a predetermined outcome against the oyster farm,” Feinstein wrote to then-secretary of the interior Ken Salazar in March 2012. “It is my belief that the case against Drakes Bay Oyster Company is deceptive and potentially fraudulent.” Read More > in Newsweek

Manufacturing slower to grow in California than elsewhere in U.S. – The United States has seen a remarkable turnaround in manufacturing employment since the economy bottomed out five years ago — but California hasn’t..

The state has been among the slowest to recover jobs in an industry long viewed as a bastion of middle-class opportunity.

Since February 2010, U.S. manufacturing employment has increased at a rate of 6.7%, with some Midwestern and Southern states such as Indiana and South Carolina seeing gains of 15% or more. By contrast, California manufacturing has grown at about 1% over the same period.

The Golden State still has the nation’s largest manufacturing base. But California’s high costs for land and energy are preventing the state from grabbing its share of companies relocating production back to the U.S. from overseas markets such as China.

That could hurt California’s middle-class workforce: Manufacturing is the classic path to higher paying jobs for less-educated workers. On average, manufacturing workers make 8.4% higher wages each week than those in all other industries combined, according to a 2012 Brookings Institution study. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Don’t Believe the Hype—We’re Not Even Close to Full Employment – …Public discourse on the economy seems unaware of some basic facts. First and foremost, capitalist economies generally grow. It makes no more sense to celebrate the fact that the economy is larger in 2015 than in 2014 than it does to celebrate that your ten-year old kid is taller than when she was five. Growth is the norm, the relevant question is the rate of growth, and by this measure there is little to be happy about.

Second, the stock market is not a measure of economic success. It is a measure of how much wealth the people who own stock have. If the stock market rises rapidly because the economy is growing, and profits and stock prices are growing along with it, then this is further confirmation of a strong economy. However if the stock market rises because there has been a redistribution from wages to profits, as has in fact been the case, this is hardly reason for the bulk of the population, who hold little or no stock, to celebrate.

A third point is that most workers are unlikely to see wage growth until the labor market has far less unemployment than at present. If the economy continues to add 240,000 jobs a month, we may be at this point somewhere in 2016, but we aren’t there now and we will almost certainly not be there any time in 2015. While the unemployment rate has fallen most of the way back to its pre-recession level, this is largely because millions of unemployed workers have dropped out of the labor force and are no longer counted as unemployed. Contrary to what is often claimed, this is not a story of aging baby boomers retiring.

Millions of prime age workers (ages 25-54) did not just suddenly decide to retire. They left the labor force because of weak labor demand. The number of people involuntarily working part-time is still 2 million above its pre-recession level. Furthermore, the share of unemployment due to people voluntarily quitting their previous jobs, a measure of confidence in the strength of the labor market, remains well below its pre-recession level.

The economy’s basic problem remains: we lack a source of demand to replace the demand created by the housing bubble. Read More > at Boston Review

SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS that 2014 was record HOTTEST year? NO – So the results are in. The main US global-temperature scorekeepers – NASA and the NOAA – say that last year was definitely the hottest year on record. But they’ve been contradicted by a highly authoritative scientific team, one actually set up to try an establish objective facts in this area.

On the face of it, there’s no dispute. The NASA and NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) statement says:

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

Open and shut, right?

But in fact, detecting a global average temperature rise – of less than a degree since the 1880s, as all sides agree – among thousands upon thousands of thermometer readings from all over the world and spanning more than a century is no simple matter. The temperature at any given location is surging up and down by many degrees each day and even more wildly across a year. It can be done, across a timescale of decades, but trying to say that one year is hotter or colder than the next is to push the limits of statistics and the available data. This sort of thing is why the battle over global temperatures tends to be so hotly debated. Read More > in The Register

The Cities Where African-Americans Are Doing The Best Economically – …Yet economic conditions for African-Americans vary widely throughout the country. We decided to look into which of America’s 52 largest metropolitan areas present African-Americans with the best opportunities. We weighed these metropolitan statistical areas by three critical factors — homeownership, entrepreneurship, as measured by the self-employment rate, and median household income — that we believe are indicators of middle-class success. Data for those is from 2013. In addition, we added a fourth category, demographic trends, measuring the change in the African-American population from 2000 to 2013 in these metro areas, to judge how the community is “voting with its feet.” Each factor was given equal weight.

In the first half of the 20th century, African-Americans fled the former Confederate state for economic opportunity, to escape from institutional racism and, sometimes, for their lives. This pattern,notes demographer Bill Frey, began to reverse itself in the 1970s, with Southern states becoming destinations for black migrants. Since 2000, when the Census registered the first increase in the region’s black population in more than a century, this trend has accelerated, with African-Americans leaving not just the Northeast or Midwest, but the West Coast as well.

Today, Dixie has emerged, in many ways, as the new promised land for African-Americans. In our survey the South accounts for a remarkable 13 of the top 15 metro areas.

At the top of our list is Atlanta, long hailed as the unofficial capital of black America. The city, which in the 1960s advertised itself as “the city too busy to hate,” has long lured ambitious African-Americans. With its well-established religious and educational institutions, notably Spellman and Morehouse, which are ranked first and third, respectively, by US News among the nation’s historically black colleges, the area has arguably the strongest infrastructure for African-American advancement in the country. The region’s strong music and art scene has also made it an “epicenter for black glitterati” and culture. Read More > at New Geography

Box-Office Shocker: ‘American Sniper’ Now Targeting $105M Debut – Clint Eastwood’s record-breaking American Sniper continues to astound at the North American box office, where it earned an estimated $90.2 million for the three-day weekend for a projected $105.2 million debut over the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend — double what it was expected to do and smashing numerous records.

That’s the largest opening of all time for the month of January, as well as the top number ever for a non-tentpole, much less an R-rated modern-day war film. The previous best for a drama was The Passion of the Christ with $83.8 million. And the three-day haul of $90.2 million marks the No. 2 debut for an R-rated film after The Matrix: Reloaded ($91.8 million), not accounting for inflation.

Earning a coveted A+ CinemaScore in every category, Eastwood’s movie is galvanizing moviegoers in both red states and blue states. It is expanding nationwide after nabbing six Oscar nominations on Thursday, including best picture and best actor (Bradley Cooper). Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow partnered on Sniper, based on the real-life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and set over the course of the war in Iraq. Read More > in The Hollywood Reporter

BATTLE AT NMU – An intriguing conflict, fraught with legal and public relations implications, is brewing on the campus of Northern Michigan University.

Staff members at The North Wind , the student newspaper, are getting an education they never bargained for.

Here’s the background.

Back in October the newspaper submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the university, seeking the contracts between NMU and its two coffee vendors, Starbucks and Stone Creek. There was a suspicion that the Stone Creek coffee shop on campus was squeezed out of business because of NMU’s cozy relationship with Starbucks.

The Starbucks chairman, president and CEO, as you probably know, is NMU alumnus Howard Schultz.

In any case, the university, after first claiming it couldn’t produce the Starbucks contract for confidentiality reasons, finally did deliver the contract, and The North Wind published it and wrote an article about it.

Was it an illegal contract? No. Did it show favoritism? Probably. But the questions about it were first raised by students, the questions were legitimate, and the story was certainly worthy of investigation.

…Subsequent to the two FOIA requests, one of the student journalists (who doesn’t want her name publicized) claims she was told by an administrator that if she and The North Wind didn’t stop this FOIA harassment, she would be denied good references by her professors when she went seeking a job. She also got the sense her scholarship might be in jeopardy.

A second student, Emma Finkbeiner, the editor of the paper, claims that an administrator told her that funding for the paper would be jeopardized if the FOIAs didn’t stop.

In other words, threats. Intimidation. A challenge to the independence of the student newspaper. Read More > at Word on the Street by Brian Cabell

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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