Sunday Reading 04/26/15

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.

Window Cleaning The World’s Tallest Building

Why Football Matters, By John Harbaugh – Here’s my answer: I believe there’s practically no other place where a young man is held to a higher standard.

Football is hard. It’s tough. It demands discipline. It teaches obedience. It builds character.

Football is a metaphor for life.

This game asks a young man to push himself further than he ever thought he could go. It literally challenges his physical courage. It shows him what it means to sacrifice. It teaches him the importance of doing his job well. We learn to put others first, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And we learn to lift our teammates – and ourselves – up together.

These are rare lessons nowadays. Read More > at the Baltimore Ravens

Have You Eaten Your Last Avocado? – Back in the late ’90s, when California was selling about 500 million pounds of avocados a year across the country, the U.S. opened its borders to Mexican-avocado imports post-NAFTA, and many California farmers panicked… “We sold a billion pounds.” Mexican imports made it possible for East Coasters to get avocados year-round, not just during the California season, which lasts roughly from March to September. The avocado went from a grocery-aisle curiosity to a nationwide pantry staple. This — along with a nationally rising Hispanic population, a dogged and well-financed avocado-industry campaign, and a general American awakening to the glory of guacamole — led to an avocado boom that we are still in the midst of today. In 1999, Americans consumed 1.1 pounds per capita; by 2014, we consumed 5.8 pounds each.

Global demand for avocados has never been higher. Interest has never been more fervent. There’s only one thing that troubles Wolk: water.

…“The avocado’s native environment is tropical,” Wolk says to me in his office, which overlooks his own modest avocado grove, “and we’re growing them in a desert.” It takes 72 gallons of water to grow a pound of avocados, compared to, for instance, nine gallons to grow a pound of tomatoes. What’s more troubling is that “the issue with water used to be cost,” Wolk says. “Now it’s availability.” Ken Melban, the director of issues management for the California Avocado Commission, doesn’t see imminent trouble, “but a year from now, if we don’t have significant rain or snowfall, we’ll have to revisit that. Maybe sooner. All bets are off if this continues and continues. We’re living in anxious times here in California.” Read More > at Grub Street

Pleasanton among 1st cities to enact water fines amid drought – In a taste of what’s likely to come for much of the Bay Area, the city of Pleasanton moved this week to crack down on big water users with fines.

Starting May 15, city water customers will have to reduce their water consumption by 25 percent compared with 2013 or pay a penalty that varies with how much a customer went over the limit and for how long. Bills could double or triple, according to the fine schedule.

…The conservation effort in Pleasanton doesn’t come as a surprise. The East Bay municipality saw its water supply dip significantly last year and was forced to enact an almost identical conservation policy.

“The game this year is a lot different,” Smith said. “We’re all in this together now.”

State water records show Pleasanton cut back 31 percent between June 2014 and February 2015 — among the highest water conservation rates in the state. In the process, officials said, the city levied $1.2 million worth of fines. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Why California faces ‘lost generation’ of homebuyers – The slow pace of homebuilding will hurt California by driving millennials out of state to buy, according to the CEO of the California Association of Realtors.

“They’re not going to be a ‘lost generation’ in terms of housing,” Joel Singer of CAR said after a lunch presentation Thursday. “They’re going to be a lost generation for California.”

Singer’s market outlook at the association’s legislative week in Sacramento provided some evidence. State gaps in affordability, rate of home ownership and housing production could push millennials, once they’re in full homebuying mode, to look outside of California, he said.

Low production of new homes has grown as a problem in recent years. Statewide, far fewer were built than the 175,000 new housing units needed to keep up with need, Singer said. Read More > in the Sacramento Business Journal

California’s Latino Voter Turnout: What Happened? – Has the “Sleeping Giant” gone back to sleep, and will the Giant wake up for in time for 2016? Since passage of the controversial anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, Latino voter turnout in California has mushroomed and with it Latino political clout. That is, until 2014 when turnout took a dive and many Latinos suddenly lost interest in voting.

Much was written about the awakened “sleeping giant” of Latino voters rushing to the polls after 1994, and indeed they did. A major reason for the collapse of California’s once vibrant Republican Party was Latino anger over Proposition 187 that was championed by former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson.

From around 10 percent of California’s electorate before 1994, Latino turnout rose to 23 percent of the state’s voters in 2012, according to the William C. Velasquez Institute which carefully monitors Latino voting behavior. That amounted to 3,157,000 Latino ballots cast in 2012, up from 2,961,000 voters, or 21 percent of California voters, in 2008.

…Ands then we have 2014. Last year’s turnout of only 7.5 million voters casting ballots was a huge drop from the most recent non-presidential election years, 2006 and 2010 when 9 million and 10 million Californians cast ballots. But among Latino turnout the drop was even more dramatic.

According to Political Data Inc., California’s premier analysts of voting behavior, only 1,317,000 Latinos cast ballots in 2014, or just 15 percent of the total, a huge drop not only from presidential year Latino turnout but even from comparable non-presidential years. Not only did Californians stay home in droves in 2014, but Latinos outpaced them. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Democratic lawmakers reject switching their health coverage to Obamacare – Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday shot down a proposal that would have required all California state legislators to get their health insurance from Covered California, the benefits exchange set up to implement Obamacare in the state.

The Assembly Rules Committee split along party lines, with seven Democrats opposing AB 1109 and three Republicans in support of the bill by Assemblyman Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita). The measure would have forced lawmakers to give up the taxpayer-subsidized health plans provided by the Legislature and individually sign up for Covered California.

Wilk introduced the measure after hearing complaints from several constituents about difficulties in signing up on the Covered California website and limitations on what is covered. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Caltrans was warned of Bay Bridge leaking before span opened – Caltrans knew the new Bay Bridge eastern span’s supposedly watertight steel support structure leaked in the rain as early as 2012 — more than a year before the bridge opened — and warned that the water could cause corrosion, documents obtained by The Chronicle show.

Ultimately, the problem got worse despite patches made when Caltrans first identified the leaks. Experts warn that every year water accumulates in the span, its steel deck and vital components could degrade because of possible rust and hydrogen-fueled corrosion.

Caltrans didn’t acknowledge that the bridge leaked until January 2014. The first leaks, discovered nearly two years earlier, left water standing inside more than two dozen massive steel boxes — 90 feet wide and as much as 120 feet long — that are welded together to form the road decks. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Scientists find missing link in Yellowstone plumbing: This giant volcano is very much alive – Yellowstone National Park is the home of one of the world’s largest volcanoes, one that is quiescent for the moment but is capable of erupting with catastrophic violence at a scale never before witnessed by human beings. In a big eruption, Yellowstone would eject 1,000 times as much material as the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. This would be a disaster felt on a global scale, which is why scientists are looking at this thing closely.

On Thursday, a team from the University of Utah published a study, in the journal Science that for the first time offers a complete diagram of the plumbing of the Yellowstone volcanic system.

The new report fills in a missing link of the system. It describes a large reservoir of hot rock, mostly solid but with some melted rock in the mix, that lies beneath a shallow, already-documented magma chamber. The newly discovered reservoir is 4.5 times larger than the chamber above it. There’s enough magma there to fill the Grand Canyon. The reservoir is on top of a long plume of magma that emerges from deep within the Earth’s mantle.

This system has been in place for roughly 17 million years, with the main change being the movement of the North American tectonic plate, creeping at the rate of roughly an inch a year toward the southwest. A trail of remnant calderas can be detected across Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, looking like a string of beads, marking the migration of the tectonic plate. A similar phenomenon is seen in the Hawaiian islands as the Pacific plate moves over a hot spot, stringing out volcanoes, old to new, dormant to active. Read More > in The Washington Post

Why Do Mosquitoes Like To Bite You Best? It’s In Your Genes – A study that asked a few dozen pairs of twins to brave a swarm of hungry mosquitoes has revealed another clue to the cluster of reasons the insects are more attracted to some people than others: Genes matter.

“Twins that were identical were very similar in their level of attractiveness to mosquitoes, and twins that were [not identical] were very different in their level of attractiveness,” says James Logan, a medical entomologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who led the study. “So it suggests that the trait for being attractive or unattractive to mosquitoes is genetically controlled.”

It’s long been known that female mosquitoes, which need the proteins in a blood meal to make their eggs, are more drawn to certain people than others, and that various factors are involved.

Women who are pregnant seem to attract the insects more than women who aren’t, for example, and people infected with the malaria parasite seem to be most attractive during the period when the parasite is most transmissible.

In their own previous research, Logan and his colleagues found that people who are bitten less frequently seem to “smell differently to mosquitoes.” It’s almost as if they produce a natural repellent, he says. Read More > at NPR

New Balance of Power – …Put another way, the United States is overtaking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as the vital global swing producer that determines prices. That remarkable change has been building since 2008, as American shale fields accounted for roughly half of the world’s oil production growth while American petroleum output nearly doubled. And shale production methods have proven highly adaptable to market conditions.

Not coincidentally, nearly all the advantages of the price swing are moving in Washington’s direction. Most American consumers and industries have benefited from a sharp drop in gasoline prices and other energy costs. And abroad, the economies of oil-producing adversaries like Russia and Venezuela are reeling.

…Last Nov. 27 was a turning point for OPEC at its meeting in Vienna. It was a turbulent session, though behind closed doors, where the firebrand oil ministers of Venezuela and Iran faced off with the dour Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies. The Venezuelans and Iranians, backed by Algeria, Nigeria and a few other countries that need every cent they can get from their oil exports, argued that OPEC should slash production to strengthen prices exactly as the cartel did when the crude price tumbled during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, and again after the tech bubble popped in the early 2000s, and finally as it did again just six years ago.

But the Saudis and their Gulf allies said no. They argued that if they cut production, they would merely lose market share to the surging American producers who were increasing daily production by a million barrels year in and year out with no end in sight. The decision effectively forfeited the cartel’s traditional role as the global oil swing producer — the one and only supplier with the volume of production to raise and lower prices by managing the cartel’s output.

The decision came as a shock to the oil market. From the moment OPEC decided to keep its production constant at 30 million barrels a day, a fairly gradual price retreat that began in July morphed into a nose dive as commodity traders dumped their oil positions. Many independent American producers saw the move as a direct attack on them, but it was really a throwing in the towel to the new reality of growing American oil output. Read More > in The New York Times

U.S. Shale Fracklog Triples as Drillers Keep Oil From Market – Think the U.S. is awash in crude now? Thank the fracklog that it’s not worse.

Drillers in oil and gas fields from Texas to Pennsylvania have yet to turn on the spigots at 4,731 wells they’ve drilled, keeping 322,000 barrels a day underground, a Bloomberg Intelligence analysis shows. That’s almost as much as OPEC member Libya has been pumping this year.

The number of wells waiting to be hydraulically fractured, known as the fracklog, has tripled in the past year as companies delay work in order to avoid pumping more oil while prices are low. It’s kept crude off the market with storage tanks the fullest since 1930. The fracklog may slow a recovery as firms quickly finish wells at the first sign of higher prices.

…The U.S. fracklog has ballooned as drillers wait for prices to recover, with oil wells making up more than 80 percent of the total.

The Permian Basin, which covers parts of Texas and New Mexico, had the biggest collection of unfracked wells as of February, with 1,540 waiting to be completed. The count totaled 1,250 in Texas’s Eagle Ford formation and 632 in North Dakota’s Bakken shale. Read More > in Bloomberg

143 Million Americans at Risk From Damaging Quakes – If you don’t live in California or Alaska, you probably don’t think that much about the risk of earthquakes. But research indicates that you may be ignoring the risk at your peril.

More than 143 million Americans living in the lower 48 states are at risk from potentially damaging ground shaking from earthquakes, warns a new report, released Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America. Up to 28 million are likely to experience a strong quake during their lifetime.

The study, presented by Kishor Jaiswal, a contract researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, is based upon an analysis of the 2014 National Seismic Hazard Maps, which USGS develops from the latest data on earthquake faults collected by researchers. The researchers figured out how many Americans were at risk by using information on infrastructure and population from LandScan, a modeling system developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The risk assessment is a big jump from a 1994 study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which estimated that 75 million Americans in 39 states were at risk from quakes. Read More > at Discovery News

‘Killing Jews is Worship’ posters will soon appear on NYC subways and buses – New Yorkers are used to aggressive advertising. Banners for breast implants. Billboards for condoms. But a federal judge’s ruling has opened the door for far more controversial posters on buses and subways across the city.

“Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” reads one such ad next to the image of a young man in a checkered headscarf. “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”

The poster is at the center of heated legal debate over public safety and free speech. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) cannot stop the controversial ad from running on scores of subway cars and buses.

The MTA has argued that the ad could incite violence against Jews, but Koeltl rejected that idea.

…Making the case all the stranger is that the posters are not the work of an Islamist group, but rather a pro-Israel organization. Read More > in The Washington Post

Get Windows 10: Microsoft’s hidden roadmap for the biggest software upgrade in history – What was already an open secret has now been confirmed (apparently accidentally) by one of Microsoft’s partners in the PC supply chain. Thanks to offhand remarks from AMD’s president and CEO Lisa Su, we now know that Microsoft is planning to launch Windows 10 at the end of July. (Previously, Microsoft had only committed to “this summer” as a launch date.)

But what will actually happen when the appointed date rolls around? That poses some interesting logistical questions for Microsoft.

The Windows 10 upgrade program is going to be one of the largest software delivery projects in history. Microsoft is offering full, free upgrades for every PC currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 Service Pack 1 (excluding those running Enterprise editions, which don’t qualify for the free upgrade).

That means a 2GB+ upgrade package downloaded to each PC.

…There’s actually a road map hidden in plain sight, included with a recent optional update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. An XML file installed with that update contains important clues about a program called GWX: Get Windows 10.

KB3035583 describes itself innocuously enough: “This update enables additional capabilities for Windows Update notifications when new updates are available to the user. It applies to a computer that is running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1).” Read More > at ZDNet

Trying to Save the Environment By Buying Locally Sourced Food? You Might Be Making It Worse. – If you’re among the growing number of Americans who see locally sourced food as a way to cut carbon emissions, think again. Efforts to live a “greener” lifestyle are laudable but the reality is, shopping at a local farmer’s market is better for your palate than it is for the planet.

Many mistakenly believe that buying locally grown food is better for the environment because it reduces “food miles” — the distance between where food is grown and where it is ultimately consumed. The theory is that the less food has to travel, the less damage is done by fossil fuels burned in the transportation process.

But looking only at food miles as a measure of environmental impact ignores the benefits of “economies of scale”— a term that describes the ability to produce larger quantities at a lower cost per unit.

Food produced “at scale” (i.e. in larger quantities) is also shipped in larger quantities than food grown on smaller, local farms that ‘buy local’ advocates champion as the greener choice. While the energy required to transport thousands of pounds of food on a semi-truck might be high in total, the energy used per pound is much lower.

As James McWilliams at Texas State University points out, “a truck with 2,000 apples [traveling] over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pick-up truck 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market.”

In other words, shortening the distance food travels doesn’t necessarily reduce its environmental footprint. Read More > at The Journal by IJReview

Earth Day, bah! Hybrid, EV owners shift to SUVs – Owners of gas-electric hybrids and battery electric vehicles are less and less likely to trade for another one, according to data from auto buying and research site Even more surprising: they are increasingly likely to shift to SUVs.

The disenchantment with clean-air fuel savers appears to be the result mainly of relatively low fuel prices, though there also seems to be a decline in their being seen as “special.”

“For better or worse, it looks like many hybrid and EV owners are driven more by financial motives rather than a responsibility to the environment,” says Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell. “Three years ago, when gas was at near-record highs, it was a lot easier to rationalize the price premiums on alternative fuel vehicles. But with today’s gas prices as low as they are, the math just doesn’t make a very compelling case.”

It’s a blow to the sentiment of Earth Day today, the 45th annual fete for the planet.

And it’s bad news for automakers, who need to sell more and more alternative-power vehicles to meet tightening federal fuel-economy rules. Read More > USA Today

S.F., Oakland and San Jose named worst cities in the U.S. for renters – No newsflash here: San Francisco, after recently beating out Manhattan for both price and scarcity of offerings, has been crowned the worst city in the country for renters. But according to Forbes, the second worst city is not Manhattan. It’s Oakland. And the third worst: San Jose.

Studying the jump in rents from the last quarter of 2014 to now, as well as the vacancy rate, median household income, % of income paid for housing, as well as comparing the cost of renting to that of covering the average mortgage, Forbes listed the best and worst rental markets.

And apparently, the whole Bay Area kind of sucks: KQED writes “Over the past year, vacancy rates for all three cities are under 4% and rental costs have surged 12.8% in SF, 10.5% in Oakland, and 11.3% in San Jose. Will the bubble ever burst? Or are we all destined to be priced out, singing a bitter elegy for our former hometowns on our way out?” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

No autism-vaccine link, study finds – No association was found between autism and getting the MMR vaccine, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA.

The study of 95,000 children with older siblings also examined those at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), namely those who have an older autistic sibling. No link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism was found in these high-risk children, researchers said in the study.

Researchers led by Dr. Anjali Jain of the Lewin Group in Falls Church, Va., and colleagues examined records from a large health insurer to search for such an association. They checked the status of children continuously enrolled in the health plan from birth to at least 5 years old during 2001 to 2012. The children also had an older brother or sister continuously enrolled for at least six months between 1997 and 2012.

“Consistent with studies in other populations, we observed no association between MMR vaccination and increased ASD risk among privately insured children. We also found no evidence that receipt of either 1 or 2 doses of MMR vaccination was associated with an increased risk of ASD among children who had older siblings with ASD.” Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

CSI Is a Lie – Forty years ago, Bob Dylan reacted to the conviction of an innocent man by singing that he couldn’t help but feel ashamed “to live in a land where justice is a game.” Over the ensuing decades, the criminal-justice system has improved in many significant ways. But shame is still an appropriate response to it, as the Washington Post made clear Saturday in an article that begins with a punch to the gut: “Nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000,” the newspaper reported, adding that “the cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death.”

The article notes that the admissions from the FBI and Department of Justice “confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques—like hair and bite-mark comparisons—that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.”

…In the face of this national scandal, two elected officials have distinguished themselves at the federal level: senators John Cornyn and Patrick Leahy (a former prosecutor), cosponsors of forensic reform legislation that offers significant improvements. In short, their bill would strengthen federal oversight of crime labs, invest in research into best practices, and provide a training and certification regime. But their bill doesn’t go far enough, especially given the federal government’s own problems with shoddy forensic science.

The most compelling reform agenda that I’ve come across was summarized seven years ago by Radley Balko, an investigative journalist with significant experience unmasking shoddy crime-scene analysis, and Roger Koppl, director of the Institute for Forensic Science Administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University. They focused on a huge conflict of interest at the core of the current system—the fact that forensic lab analysts often work for the police and prosecutors. Read More > in The Atlantic

There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America – …The first thing to note is that the overall child mortality rate in the United States has literally never been lower. In 1935, for instance, there were nearly 450 deaths for every 100,000 children aged 1 to 4. Today, there are fewer than 30 deaths for every 100,000 kids in that age group — more than a tenfold decrease.

…As of 2008, the homicide rate for kids under the age of 14 stood at a near-record low 1.5 cases per 100,000, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And the homicide rate for teens ages 14 to 17 plummeted from 12 homicides per 100,000 in 1993 to just 5.1 in 2008, another near-record low.

Long story short: for a kid between the ages of 5 and 14 today, the chances of premature death by any means are roughly 1 in 10,000, or 0.01 percent.

…The FBI has several decades of data on missing persons now, and those numbers show that the number of missing person reports involving minors has been at record low levels in recent years. Overall, the number of these reports have fallen by 40 percent since 1997. This is more impressive when you consider that the overall U.S. population has risen by 30 percent over that same time period, meaning that the actual rate of missing person reports for children has fallen faster than 40 percent.

But even these numbers include an awful lot of scenarios that you wouldn’t typically worry about when letting your kid walk to the park. For instance, among all missing persons cases (adults and children) in 2014, roughly 96 percent were runaways — kids or adults deliberately trying to escape a situation at home. In fact, only 0.1 percent of missing persons cases were what we’d think of as a “stereotypical kidnapping” — where a complete stranger tries to abduct somebody and carry them off by force. These figures comport with a more detailed analysis of child-only abductions carried out by the Justice Department in 2002. Read More > in The Washington Post

Why the New Limits on Drug-Sniffing Dogs Matter – Today, as Damon Root noted this morning, the Supreme Court ruled that in the absence of reasonable suspicion, police officers who extend a traffic stop for the purpose of walking a drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle are violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable seizures. As I noted last fall, this case is more important than it might seem because of the leeway the Court already has given cops and their dogs.

In the 1983 case U.S. v. Place, the Court said a canine olfactory inspection does not count as a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, meaning police do not need probable cause, or even reasonable suspicion, to conduct one. That decision set the stage for Illinois v. Caballes, the 2005 case in which the Court said walking a dog around a car during a routine traffic stop does not violate the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights, provided the encounter is not “unreasonably prolonged” for that purpose. And last year, in Florida v. Harris, the Court confirmed what judges generaly had assumed, ruling unanimously that a police dog’s alert, which may be erroneous, imagined, invented, or deliberately triggered, by itself is enough to justify a search unless the defendant can show the dog is unreliable—a tall order when the evidence on that point is controlled by the police, who have little incentive to collect it.

In practice, those three decisions, coupled with the multiplicity of excuses for traffic stops, mean that a cop with a dog can search vehicles at will. One remaining constraint on that power is the availability of dogs. The case decided today, Rodriguez v. U.S., involved a traffic stop by an officer who already had a dog but who called for backup before putting it to work, thereby extending the traffic stop by seven or eight minutes. Yet the Court’s reasoning, which says a driver should not be detained any longer than necessary to complete the work related to the justification for the stop (in this case, issuing a warning for driving on the shoulder), also would prohibit a cop from waiting for a dog and its handler to arrive. Read More > at Reason

California Assembly Democrats Seem Determined to Completely Eliminate Minor Party Candidates – On April 15, the Assembly Elections Committee passed AB 372, a bill which seems motivated by a desire to completely rid the November ballot of minor party candidates. Even though the bill has a Republican sponsor, it received no votes from either Republican member of the committee. But it passed because 4 of the 5 Democrats on the committee voted for it.

Ever since the top-two system went into effect in 2011, there have been virtually no minor party candidates on the November ballot for Congress or partisan state office. There were only three such minor party candidates in 2012, and just three in 2014. All six of the minor party candidates were running in races in which only one person had filed to be on the primary ballot. So, the minor party candidates noticed there was only one person on the primary ballot, and they all then filed to be write-in candidates in the primary. In all six cases, the minor person then placed second in the June primary, with write-in votes, and were allowed on the November ballot.

AB 372 says if someone places first or second in the primary via write-in votes, that person still can’t be on the November ballot unless, after the primary is over, he or she pays a filing fee of 1% of the annual salary of the office (for US House and legislature), or 2% of the annual salary (for statewide office). California does not ask declared write-in candidates to pay a filing fee, because in 1972 the State Supreme Court enjoined the filing fee for write-in candidates, in Steiner v Mihaly. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

How San Juan Capistrano ruling impact water conservation efforts – Gov. Jerry Brown reacted angrily to a state appeals court ruling Monday that will hamper his efforts to force urban water users to cut their use by 25%

“The practical effect of the court’s decision is to put a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “My policy is and will continue to be: Employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California.”

In the 28-page ruling, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that while tiered rates that rise incrementally based on a customer’s usage are “perfectly consonant” with the law, the tiers still must correspond to the cost of delivering the service. The case involved San Juan Capistrano, in southern Orange County.

Brown had ordered Californians to cut their water use in urban and industrial areas around the state. Some cities, such as Beverly Hills, would have to cut their usage by as much as 36% under guidelines established by Brown’s administration.

But the court’s ruling effectively makes those regulations impossible to implement. The court struck down the city’s policy of tiered water rates, in which the water district charges customers more the more water they use. Those threats of rate hikes were to be implemented by local water agencies around the state to help the state achieve it’s 25% reduction goals.

The ruling in effect limits water agencies ability to charge more for increased use, removing a tool from the local government tool kit to get Californians to cut their water use.

“The water agency here did not try to calculate the cost of actually providing water at its various tier levels,” the three-judge court wrote in the unanimous ruling. “It merely allocated all its costs among the price tier levels, based not on costs, but on predetermined usage budgets.” Read More > at California City News

Do grades matter? Depends if you’re asking Google or Goldman Sachs – Goldman Sachs and Google are both thought of as companies that compete for talent. But they have different ways of spotting it.

One of the best-known—and surprising—results of Google’s internal research into hiring and success is that academic track records don’t really matter. In a New York Times interview (paywall), HR chief Laszlo Bock said university grades are “worthless as a criteria [sic] for hiring.” At the People Analytics Conference April 10-11 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, Bock reiterated the point:

We did a bunch of analysis and found that grades are a little predictive your first two years, but for the rest of your career don’t matter at all.

Other companies, however, have found something different. At the same conference, Goldman Sachs managing director and operations data lead Afsheen Afshar spoke about the investment bank’s own data-intensive efforts to see if it’s missing potentially interesting candidates. The result is a very different way of thinking about the grade-point averages that universities use to measure academic achievement: “GPA isn’t the whole story, but it is part of it,” Afshar said at a panel discussion. “Leadership went into the analysis thinking it might not mean anything, but it does matter.” Read More > at Quartz

Report: Bay Area ill-prepared for coming superstorm’s floods – With California stuck in a remorseless drought, most people in the Bay Area probably aren’t worried about getting too much rain. But a new report claims they should be.

In a study released Monday, the nonprofit Bay Area Council argues the region is ill-prepared for a rare but inevitable superstorm powerful enough to drop 12 inches of rain in a week. Flooding from such a storm, predicted to occur once every 150 years or so, would wreak $10.4 billion in economic damage, almost as much as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, according to the council, a public policy organization backed by some of the Bay Area’s top businesses.

The report, “Surviving the Storm,” calls for the implementation of various infrastructure projects, from levees and sea walls to wetlands and detention basins, and planning and coordination at all levels of government.

A 150-year storm would be the second-wettest in recorded California history after the system that caused the Great Flood of 1862, when 34 inches of rain fell on San Francisco between Dec. 24, 1861, and Jan. 21, 1862, according to the report.

Though California is bone-dry at the moment, the report notes the state’s climate is growing increasingly volatile. Last year was the hottest ever in California and one of the driest in 500 years, the reports claims; meanwhile, the state has seen three of the wettest years in recorded history since 1980. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Automakers to gearheads: Stop repairing cars – Automakers are supporting provisions in copyright law that could prohibit home mechanics and car enthusiasts from repairing and modifying their own vehicles.

In comments filed with a federal agency that will determine whether tinkering with a car constitutes a copyright violation, OEMs and their main lobbying organization say cars have become too complex and dangerous for consumers and third parties to handle.

Allowing them to continue to fix their cars has become “legally problematic,” according to a written statement from the Auto Alliance, the main lobbying arm of automakers.

The dispute arises from a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that no one thought could apply to vehicles when it was signed into law in 1998. But now, in an era where cars are rolling computing platforms, the U.S. Copyright Office is examining whether provisions of the law that protect intellectual property should prohibit people from modifying and tuning their cars. Read More > at AutoBlog

In New Millennium, No Jobs for Millennials – Young people bounce back from adversity faster than their elders, right? Not when it comes to American jobs. Six years after the U.S. economy began expanding from the worst recession since the Great Depression, people ages 25 to 34 are having a harder time finding jobs than other workers.

This is the new normal. Men and women at the peak of their physical and mental development are increasingly frustrated in the job market precisely at the point when they are poised to launch careers and start families. Since the new century’s first recession in 2001, the unemployment rate for these young Americans has stayed higher than the rate of overall unemployment, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

What’s most striking is that the gap is wider now than it was in 2009, in the depths of the financial crisis. That’s an indication that the economic recovery hasn’t helped younger workers as much as it did after 20th-century slumps, Bloomberg data show.

…There probably is no single cause for this stubborn disparity. Economists say it is derived from the growing percentage of people older than 55 who aren’t retiring, the displacement of jobs caused by computers, limited mobility and a lack of the types of skills that employers are seeking. Read More > in Bloomberg

Frederick’s of Hollywood goes bust – Lingerie retailer Frederick’s of Hollywood Inc. has closed all its brick-and-mortar stores and will operate online only.

“We no longer have store locations,” the Los Angeles-based company said on its website, adding that its online store offers the same products and will provide free shipping.

In February, Fredrick’s said it planned to close one-third of its 93 stores, reported MarketWatch. Chief Operating Officer Bill Soncini said at the time the company was “re-engineering the whole business,” which included closing 31 unprofitable stores. Read More > in The San Francisco Business Times

The FDA Might Finally Crack Down on Homeopathy – On a recent afternoon in midtown Manhattan, I popped into a chain drug store and picked up some $12 sleep tablets whose label promises both “courage and peace of mind” and “focus when ungrounded.” I also got a $17 tube of cream offering “rapid, soothing relief of pain” from conditions as varied as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bug bites. Both products sat on shelves alongside familiar drugs such as Tylenol and Claritin, which regulators have carefully scrutinized for safety and effectiveness. The half- dozen products I bought—labelled as “homeopathic”—aren’t vetted for either.

Homeopathic remedies are based on an idea, developed at the end of the 1700s, positing that the substances responsible for medical problems, when delivered in highly diluted doses, can cure diseases instead. Since then, homeopathy has had staying power. In 1938, a U.S. senator (and homeopath) named Royal Copeland bolstered the practice by passing a law classifying homeopathic treatments as drugs. And in the 1970s, a wave of interest in New Age and alternative medicine again brought homeopathy to the fore. Scientists now agree—overwhelmingly—that the remedies don’t work. But each year, billions of dollars worth of homeopathic products are sold in the U.S.

Historically, regulators have generally looked the other way. That stance may be poised to change: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is this week holding a public meeting to evaluate “whether and how to adjust the current enforcement policies” to keep up with the growing homeopathic industry and a corresponding increase in safety problems. Since 2009, the FDA has sent nearly 40 warning notices to homeopathic manufacturers and has overseen three recalls. Pulled products include zinc cold remedies that caused people to lose their sense of smell and “teething tablets” with toxic levels of the plant belladonna. Read More > in Bloomberg

Google falls from grace – …This is Google we’re talking about. The same company that dominates how we search on the Internet and therefore owns the Internet itself. It built Android, the world’s most popular operating system and generated $66 billion in revenue last year thanks to its advertising machine. Every month Google branches into sci-fi territory, investing in self-driving cars, drone deliveries, satellites, augmented reality and life extension research.

All of that sounds like a company that’s thriving, not one that is, well, “f—-d.” But Kedrosky’s comments are perhaps the most extreme version of a narrative that has gained some traction in recent months: Google’s core advertising business growth is slowing, the company is under siege on every front and its many high-profile experimental products have yet to bear fruit.

On Wednesday, that line of thinking received yet another boost as the European Union picked up its long drawn-out case against Google. The EU accused the Internet giant of anti-competitive behavior with its online shopping lists as well as the Android operating system. That was enough for many, including Kedrosky, to kick off comparisons to Microsoft, which endured a long antitrust case in the U.S. in 1998 — the same year Google launched — only to fall behind new and existing competitors like Google.

Google is not dead, dying or doomed by any estimate, but it is in for a fight. Read More > at Mashable

Digging Out – In February 2003 an avalanche killed seven students in B.C.’s Glacier National Park. None of the survivors of that day have ever talked to the media. Until now.

…The excursion fit nicely into the Alberta curriculum, which said that students were to examine the “consequences of their actions [in] relationship with the environment,” and to “assess physical hazards imposed by particular terrain and conditions (e.g., avalanche, lake and river ice, and bush travel).” Mr. Nick had a spotless record. If he found any reason to doubt the safety of Rogers Pass in the coming days, the group would ski at Kicking Horse resort instead. No questions asked.

…In remote areas like this there are no chairlifts, and skiers are on their own when it comes to moving uphill. Simpler ascents can be done on skis; other sections require hiking. The STS group planned to slowly gain altitude for the first half of the trip, allowing for a long, luxurious descent on the way back. It was hard work, and at about the halfway point they stopped to refuel. While they munched on sandwiches and trail mix, a pair of seasoned skiers came through the trees and offered a quick greeting before pressing on. “They were heading in the same direction we were, but they were kicking our ass for time,” Johnson remembers.

…Out in the open, Johnson had a better sense of the sprawling landscape that surrounded them. The grey mountain ranges stretched on for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Standing in the middle of it felt like being on another planet. There wasn’t a breath of wind; the air was cool and silent except for the murmur of skis atop virgin snow. “It was warm enough that I didn’t have my hat on. My jacket was wide open. I think I was maybe third or fourth back from the front,” Johnson recalls. “Then someone yelled.” Read More > at SportsNet

Money Shapes Power of Capitol Committees – …A KQED and analysis of data, along with interviews with current and former lawmakers, shows that the most powerful committee chairs in the state Assembly share a knack for prolific fundraising and a propensity to funnel this money to the Democratic Party and other Democrats running for office. Our analysis looked at campaign finance contributions from when each current member entered office through the end of 2014.

Generosity is clearly not the only consideration for Assembly speakers when they are assigning committees — but former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said it “absolutely” is a key factor.

The San Francisco Democrat said he was often asked why he needed to raise money when he was running virtually unopposed.

“Here’s why you need to raise money: You raise money and then the party takes it. They are very nice about that, and they take it and you are able also, because you don’t give it all to the party. You are able to help candidates you like,” he said. “And a chairmanship will usually come with that — not necessarily … the final say is between a member and the speaker, and there are other political obligations that speaker might have.” Read More > at KQED

Norway to Become First Country to Switch Off FM Radio in 2017 – In what will likely be the first of a global transition to digital radio, Norway has announced it will switch off its FM band, becoming the first country to do so. Norway will start turning off FM radio on January 11, 2017, and plans to stop transmission of the last FM signal to the country’s northernmost regions by Dec. 13 of that year.

The announcement, made by their Ministry of Culture, makes Norway the first country to do away entirely with FM radio. The move is intended to save money and allow a full transition to digital radio, which Norway argues will give listeners “access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality.”

In its statement, the Norwegian government said the cost of transmitting national radio channels through the FM network is eight times higher than via the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) system, the standard digital radio technology used across Europe. By shutting off FM, Norway’s national radio channels will save more than $25 million a year, according to official figures “releasing funds for investment in radio content,” argued minister of culture Thorhild Widvey. Read More > in The Hollywood Reporter


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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