Sunday Reading – 04/19/15


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.

ESPN got it wrong with Britt McHenry – Britt McHenry’s one-week suspension is an embarrassing slap on the wrist from a network that has been doling out recent suspensions like it’s Roger Goodell on a power trip. McHenry, of course, was caught on video cursing and belittling a tow-truck company employee in a video that quickly went viral. For that, ESPN sidelined her for a week.

While Bill Simmons gets a three-week suspension for calling out his bosses and Tony Kornheiser is set aside for two weeks for commenting on Hannah Storm’s skirt, McHenry is shelved for just seven days. It’s a misguided system of justice: ESPN considers ESPN-on-ESPN smack-talk to be worse than ESPN sneering at the rest of the world. It’s a joke.

It’s a joke that will soon be on ESPN, though. Caught-on-video rants that spread across the web don’t blow over like so many silly comments from Stephen A. Smith. They are kept on the Internet and mocked forever. Britt McHenry will be the Christian Bale of a new generation.

While McHenry’s apology starts off with a mini-defense of herself, it eventually hits the right notes. But it’s all phony. This isn’t someone having a bad day. This isn’t someone frustrated by an employee at a tow-truck operator. We’ve all been there and (hopefully) didn’t denigrate the man or woman responsible for not having a degree, nor rip on a cashier for simply doing her job. A bad day is cursing at someone or driving away from that booth and quickly flipping the bird. Those are the sort of slip-ups that make us human. What McHenry did is an attitude based on power and entitlement. Read More > at USA Today Sports

The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life –  Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

There are a few other examples of foods that keep–indefinitely–in their raw state: salt, sugar, dried rice are a few. But there’s something about honey; it can remain preserved in a completely edible form, and while you wouldn’t want to chow down on raw rice or straight salt, one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old. Moreover, honey’s longevity lends it other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which raises the question–what exactly makes honey such a special food?

The answer is as complex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.

The first comes from the chemical make-up of honey itself. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. As Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at Univeristy of California, Davis explains, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.” What Harris points out represents an important feature of honey’s longevity: for honey to spoil, there needs to be something inside of it that can spoil. With such an inhospitable environment, organisms can’t survive long enough within the jar of honey to have the chance to spoil. Read More > in the Smithsonian magazine

Netflix Doesn’t Want to Kill HBO. It Wants to Kill TV. – We’ve heard a lot about the battle between HBO and Netflix in recent months, prompted by HBO’s move to offer its own Netflix-like Web service.

But Netflix’s boffo Q1 earnings yesterday gave CEO Reed Hastings a good chance to remind people what he’s really gunning for: It’s not HBO, it’s TV.

Hastings has been quite clear about this for some time. While his company has been happy to use HBO as a competitive benchmark — “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us,” content chief Ted Sarandos famously announced — Hastings has said, over and over again, that he doesn’t need HBO to fail in order for him to grow. There’s plenty of overlap between the two services’ customer bases.

Instead, he said yesterday, Netflix thinks the real opportunity isn’t to overtake HBO, but to help destroy the TV Industrial Complex and its one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it bundle. Its replacement, he predicts, will be “Internet TV” — a variety of apps/networks/channels you can customize at will.

He’s been saying this for years, and took the time to spell it out in a memo for investors two years ago (he’s tweaked it a bit since then). But if you needed a reminder yesterday, he was happy to help you out during the company’s earnings call. Again and again. Read More > at re-code

How the Constitution protects “free range” parents – Montgomery County, Maryland police and Child Protective Services officials recently detained 10 year old Rafi Meitiv and his 6 year old sister Dvora, for hours merely because they were seen walking home from a local park alone.

…The Supreme Court has always indicated that parental rights are not absolute. The state can intervene to protect children against serious threats to their health and safety, and to ensure that all children get at least a basic education. But, as Troxel makes clear, the state can’t infringe on parental control over child-raising unless they have real evidence showing that there is a genuinely significant threat to the children’s safety and well-being. Otherwise, as Justice O’Connor’s opinion makes clear, the authorities must respect the “presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.”

Forcibly detaining elementary school-aged kids for walking by themselves in a safe, middle-class neighborhood doesn’t even come close to meeting the necessary standard. Statistically, such walking is extremely safe, and probably less dangerous than police officers’ actions in forcibly detaining the children and driving them to a CPS office. According to the Center for Disease Control, car accidents are a leading cause of death among small children; riding in a car as a passenger is far more dangerous for kids than walking in most neighborhoods. Far from “protecting” the two children, the police and the CPS probably put them at greater risk than they were exposed to before (though the risk was still very low in an absolute sense). The Meitivs’ parenting practices are also much safer than numerous typical childhood activities, such as participating in contact sports like basketball and hockey, or going downhill skiing. If the CPS can force parents to stop letting their children walk home from the park, it can similarly target every other comparably risky activity, including numerous sports, and even driving the children in a car. Read More >  in The Washington Post

‘Culture of Cheating’ Prevalent at Stanford, Other Elite Colleges – Los Angeles Times, Colleges Grapple With Cheating in the Digital Age:

Stanford University’s honor code dates to 1921, written by students to help guide them through the minefield of plagiarism, forbidden collaboration, copying and other chicaneries that have tempted undergraduates since they first arrived on college campuses.

Exams aren’t proctored, and students are expected to police themselves and speak up when they see others committing violations.

But there appears to have been a massive breakdown during the recent winter quarter, culminating in “an unusually high number of troubling allegations of academic dishonesty” reported to officials, according to a letter to faculty from Provost John Etchemendy.

“Among a smattering of concerns from a number of winter courses, one faculty member reported allegations that may involve as many as 20% of the students in one large, introductory course,” Etchemendy said in the March 24 letter. …

Although the Stanford allegations may have surprised some, for many others they cemented the belief that a culture of cheating pervades higher education. Harvard, Dartmouth, the Air Force Academy and other prominent institutions have recently grappled with allegations of large-scale cheating.

Studies find that students feel under more pressure than ever to succeed and increasingly see cutting corners as nothing serious. And they are being aided by cheating-friendly technology. Etchemendy alluded to those challenges. Read More > at TaxProf Blog

Middle age now lasts until 74 as baby boomers refuse to grow old –  Collecting the state pension and bus pass at 65 has traditionally been seen as a watershed moment where middle age ends and the twilight years begin.

But new research suggests that old age now starts at 74, with middle age lasting at least nine years longer than current estimates.

Academics from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, argue that old age should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live.

In the 1950s a 65-year-old in Britain could expect to live a further 15 years.

But today’s baby boomers are expected to live far longer after retirement. A recent estimate by the Office for National Statistics suggests that the average retiree can look forward to drawing their pension for up to 24 years – as much as 50 per cent longer than their parents’ generation. Read More > in The Telegraph

Citi Economist Says It Might Be Time to Abolish Cash – The world’s central banks have a problem.

When economic conditions worsen, they react by reducing interest rates in order to stimulate the economy. But, as has happened across the world in recent years, there comes a point where those central banks run out of room to cut — they can bring interest rates to zero, but reducing them further below that is fraught with problems, the biggest of which is cash in the economy.

In a new piece, Citi’s Willem Buiter looks at this problem, which is known as the effective lower bound (ELB) on nominal interest rates.

Fundamentally, the ELB problem comes down to cash. According to Buiter, the ELB only exists at all due to the existence of cash, which is a bearer instrument that pays zero nominal rates. Why have your money on deposit at a negative rate that reduces your wealth when you can have it in cash and suffer no reduction?

Cash therefore gives people an easy and effective way of avoiding negative nominal rates. Read More > at Bloomberg

It’s Time to Automate the Strike Zone – We live in a sports culture that is completely obsessed with “getting it right.” As a group, we’ve collectively decided we’re willing to sacrifice the flow of a game for a few seconds if we can ensure that everything’s fair.

Baseball joined the party last year by introducing a brand new set of replay guidelines. For the most part, it’s been a massive success. The process is more streamlined than in football or basketball, and it really only took one season for most of the kinks to be worked out.

But there’s still one aspect of the game that needs a massive overhaul — an overhaul that would benefit the sport on so many different levels. And yet, it’s one that the majority of baseball lifers cringe just thinking about.

(Deep breath.)

Major League Baseball needs to automate the strike zone, taking called balls and strikes out of the hands of umpires and put it into the hands of technology.

…And whatever your feelings about ESPN’s new live strike zone, (personally I find it intrusive, but I’m sure I felt the same way about that weird yellow first-down line when it was introduced in the NFL) there’s no denying it does a better job of calling balls and strikes than the guy behind the plate.

…Of course, back then we didn’t have the technology. Now, we unquestionably do. All we’d need is a buzzer in the home-plate umpire’s ear to let him know whether a pitch traveled through the zone. It wouldn’t slow the game down at all, and we’d even still get to debate which umpire has the best punchout — because, at surface-level, nothing has changed. Read More > at Sports on Earth

UN Gives Iran Leadership Post in Agency for ‘Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women’ – With little fanfare, a U.N. body has given Iran seats on several entities, including one dealing with women’s empowerment, another with children, a third with narcotics and a fourth with crime prevention and criminal justice.

From January 1 next year, Iran will be a member of the executive board of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women), the executive board of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

…“In Iran, women are legally barred from holding some government positions, there are no laws against domestic violence, and adultery is punishable by stoning, making it wholly inappropriate that Iran assume a leadership role on women’s rights and welfare at the U.N.,” Power said.

…Iran was sixth from the bottom among more than 140 countries assessed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its most recent annual “Global Gender Gap” report. The report measures gaps between women and men in the areas of political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival. Read More > at CNSNews

Higher water rates on tap as utilities cover losses from drought – Water departments across California, including dozens in the Bay Area, are now looking to raise rates — in many cases by double digits — to shore up revenues as customers use less water during dry times and water sales plummet.

…Bay Area residents have cut their water use about 13 percent between June and February, the period tracked by the state, compared with the same months in 2013.

“Revenue is down,” said Tyrone Jue, a commission spokesman. “But we still have to keep the same network of pipelines running, even if customers are not using the tap as much.”

The costs of running a water utility are largely fixed, owing to the big expense of pumping, treating and delivering water — and the relatively low price of water itself. Read More > in the San Francisco Chroncile

Lawsuit Could Change How Californians Pay For Water – A lawsuit in San Juan Capistrano could change the way customers California-wide pay for water.

The suit alleges San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water-rate structure violates state law, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Under tiered systems, the more water a customer uses, the higher the rate. It’s a strategy water districts employ to encourage conservation.

A group of taxpayers argue the tiered structure violates Proposition 218, a 1996 state law that prohibits agencies from charging customers more than the “cost of service” provided.

A lower court decided in their favor, and an appeals court is expected to rule soon. Read More > at KPBS

The marijuana industry’s newest customers are sick and elderly dogs – A day before a scheduled vet appointment to euthanize her dog, Wendy Mansfield decided to try one last resort to alleviate the chronic pain of her 15-year-old labrador mix: cookies from a marijuana dispensary made specifically for ailing dogs.

Kali, a mild-mannered 80-pound rescue, was never much of a complainer. But she often licked her paws—an obvious sign of pain, according to her vet—which was typically accompanied by bouts of coughing because of the shedding fur that got in her throat. One cookie and 20 minutes later, the licking suddenly stopped.

Seeing this, Mansfield, who lives in Fort Bragg, California, gave her dog a second cookie, and then a third. Kali, who had been listless and depressed, got up to drink some water and walked outside—something she hadn’t been able to do recently without groaning or obvious signs of pain.

With marijuana flourishing into a big business in the US, a new segment of the market catering to aging and ailing pets has been growing under the radar. The legal weed market raked in $2.7 billion in revenue in 2014, and one estimate by the ArcView Group, a network that connects investors with cannabis startups, projects the industry to top $10 billion in sales by 2018.

The pet-pot market is treading on new territory, however. The legal gray area is posing challenges for companies that want to market and distribute cannabis-derived products for animals. There’s also insufficient scientific backing and industry guidelines. Still, that’s not deterring desperate pet owners, like Mansfield, or keeping investors from getting on board. Read More > at Quartz

Are Cigarettes the New Joints? Get Ready for Homegrown Tobacco. – High cigarette taxes fuel a surging black market in smuggled cigarettes, notes Americans for Tax Reform’s Patrick Gleason in the Wall Street Journal. New York smokers are the greatest beneficiaries of that black market, burdened as they are with the most ridiculous cigarette taxes in the country. There’s a huge flow of smuggled smokes from relatively low-tax states like Virginia. And some smokers are turning to an alternative to which marijuana fanciers facing legal pressures of their own have resorted for decades: growing their own.

High tobacco taxes result from muddled policy goals implemented with the special incompetence that government officials bring to every task they undertake. Politicians simultaneously want to maximize revenue and raise taxes so high that they discourage once-again (this is an historical cycle) socially unacceptable tobacco consumption. Those are not compatible goals. What officials accomplish, instead, is a bonanza of unintended consequences. Notes Gleason:

Washington, D.C., experienced this firsthand after cigarette taxes were raised by 25%, to $2.50 per pack from $2, in October 2009. City leaders claimed the hike would generate a windfall of additional revenue. By February of 2010, D.C.’s chief financial officer reported that projections were off by $15 million. Revenue from the cigarette tax actually fell by $7 million after the hike.

That could be because smokers are quitting, accomplishing at least one policy goal, but it’s not. Instead, consumers turn to other sources, with the black market’s share of cigarettes in New York now standing at at 56.87 percent for 2012, according to the Mackinac Center. What to do? How about blaming Virginia for having lower taxes, and suing shipping services for actually running trucks into the state of New York that occasionally contain smuggled goods?

Oh yeah. And officials impose harsh enforcement of tax collection, to the point that Eric Garner dies during a tussle with cops that had its start in the sale of loose cigarettes. Read More > at Reason

Oakland Raiders to present plans for L.A. stadiums next week – The three NFL teams proposing stadiums in Los Angeles are scheduled to present their plans next week to the six NFL owners in charge of the process, the latest and most significant step yet if the sport is to return to the California city after a more than two-decade absence.

Owners of the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers will offer their most detailed stadium plans to date at the meeting April 22 in New York, numerous sources said last week. Those presentations will include details on architecture, financing and the political process in their efforts.

In addition, NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman will update the league’s six-owner Los Angeles committee on the efforts in the teams’ current home markets to keep the franchises in those cities. Grubman is the league executive charged with overseeing the NFL’s Los Angeles process. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Did your city fail the Bay Area’s housing supply test? Probably – Now that city officials across the Bay Area have finished crunching the numbers on the last seven years of housing supply progress, some assessment is in order.

The region’s cities must calculate how its housing supply is keeping up with projected population growth from 2007 to 2014 – numbers set by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) as the Regional Housing Need Allocation. There aren’t many carrots and sticks that ABAG can use to force cities to build that housing, so we end up with a wide array of successes and failures.

…The entire region – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties – permitted about half the units they needed to in order to meet projected population growth.

…Each Bay Area city is expected (but not legally obligated) to build enough housing to keep up with population projections made by the Association of Bay Area Governments. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

In California, rights to water exceed the supply – It’s arguable whether California has enough water to meet its actual needs. But it clearly does not have enough to match people’s expectations. And one reason is simple..

Government historically has over-promised — not exactly a new concept.

In the last century, the state has handed out rights to five times more surface water than our rivers produce even in a normal year.

On some major river systems, especially in the parched San Joaquin Valley, the over-allocation is jaw-opening. On the San Joaquin River itself, people have rights to nearly nine times more water than flows down from the Sierra. On the Kern, it’s six times. On the Stanislaus, four.

…The fact that water rights greatly exceed water is a problem “more of perception than reality,” Marcus says.

That problem is the worst in the farm belt, especially the dry west side of the San Joaquin, where motorists on Interstate 5 see inflammatory billboards denouncing the “Congress-created Dust Bowl.” They protest Congress acting to restore salmon runs and protect endangered fish.

The reality is that entitlement to water is conditional. It depends on how much is flowing. When a river is running low, a farmer with junior rights is not going to be allowed to draw out much. But the water board soon will also begin crimping growers with senior and riparian rights. Read More > in the Los Angles Times

Is the Birth-Control Pill Creating A Race of Eunuchs? – The National Academy of Science reports that “wives who were using HCs [hormonal contraceptives, i.e., birth-control pills] when they formed their relationship with their husband were less satisfied with their marriage when they discontinued HCs if their husband had a relatively less attractive face, but more satisfied if their husband had a relatively more attractive face.”

That means that women don’t really care about men’s faces (and presumably other cues of genetic fitness) when they are on the pill—which makes sense: The pill essentially fools women’s bodies into thinking they are already pregnant, thus preventing them from conceiving. A pregnant woman—unlike an ovulating woman—disregards “hard” male features that signal genetic fitness, and instead prefers “softer” male features.

But once they’re off the pill, if the man they are with is masculine, they report greater relationship satisfaction—but if the man’s features aren’t masculine, women get thrown into a downward spiral of relationship dissatisfaction.

So what does this mean.

It means that women on the pill will tend to pick “softer” men, unthreatening men, unaggressive men—men more like Pajama Boy.

…It could very well be that the pill is fooling educated women into picking the wrong man: A soft, feminized man with no sharp edges. And once she’s been with the schlub for a few years and decides to squeeze out a kid, she goes off the pill in order to conceive—and discovers she’s stuck with her genetically unsuitable man-child-eunuch mate. And she might well rebel against her bad luck—even as she is forced to conceive with him because he’s the only “male” readily available. Read More > at Savage Sense

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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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