Sunday Reading – 05/10/15

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.

Oakland City Council meetings: Too bizarre to be scripted – If Visit Oakland, the agency that promotes tourism, is looking for another way to enhance the city’s growing reputation as a travel destination, it should consider adding the Oakland City Council meetings to its list of attractions, because it’s quite the show.

Tourism officials might even want to contact the Arts & Entertainment cable network and pitch “Oakland City Hall” as the latest in reality television, because it’s just too bizarre to be scripted.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, the crowd in the council chambers and viewers at home watched protesters storm the meeting, unfurl a banner and take over the meeting. Activists chained themselves to one another, stood in front of the council dais and proceeded to recite their list of demands.

For the next two hours, any Oakland resident who channel-surfed to KTOP, the city owned cable channel, could witness the mayhem for themselves.

Council President Lynette Gibson-McElhaney chose to do nothing. No one was arrested, cited or removed from the chamber. Police, who were present, were never ordered to clear the room. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Five Rude Emails You Send Every Day – Even the most likeable and well-mannered among us can still look like jerks in an email. Writing an email that comes across just like you do in person is a fine art.

During a conversation, you adjust your tone, facial expression, gestures and posture in order to fit the mood of what you’re conveying. You do this because people tend to be much more responsive to how you say things than to what you actually say.

Email strips a conversation bare. It’s efficient, but it turns otherwise easy interactions into messy misinterpretations. Without facial expressions and body posture to guide your message, people look at each word you type as an indicator of tone and mood.

Most of the mistakes people make in their emails are completely avoidable. The following list digs into these subtle mistakes and hidden blunders.

1. The Compulsive CC And Reply All

CCing people all the time is one of the most annoying things you can do via email. I’d say it’s the most annoying, but this honor is bestowed upon the excessive “reply all.” If someone sends an email to you and a bunch of other people, do you really think every recipient needs to get another email from you saying “thanks”? They don’t, and when you do this, it sends people climbing up a wall. Read More > at Forbes

Political answers scarce as water in parched California – For much of the century since William Mulholland, the visionary or villainous engineer who brought water from the Eastern Sierra to Los Angeles, opened the floodgates of his aqueduct and declared, “There it is. Take it!” Californians have done just that — and most of the time their political leaders haven’t had to worry too much about the result.

But in the fourth year of the Golden State’s epic drought, the water shortage is having real consequences, not only for the everyday lives of residents, but for the policies and political fortunes of their elected officials as well. A crisis that is estimated to have cost the state’s economy more than $2 billion last year alone has upended an unsustainable status quo and raised uncomfortable questions for politicians from Gov. Jerry Brown to local mayors.

Brown’s executive order last month ordering mandatory reductions averaging 25 percent for water use in urban areas was widely praised, if almost certainly overdue. But the governor has also been faulted for not asking for comparable conservation from the state’s vast agribusiness industry, which requires a gallon of water to produce a single almond, more than 20 gallons to grow an ounce of asparagus and more than 100 gallons to raise an ounce of beef. (In fairness, growers have already had water supplies cut — in some cases sharply — by longstanding rules and market forces.)

…Conditions here are not that bad — yet. But it is hard not to believe that California is in the midst of yet another radical transformation in its existence, one that’s likely to affect the state for decades to come and force a long-lasting reallocation of resources, heightening longstanding tensions between north and south, environmentalists and businesses, farmers and fishermen, and residential and commercial water customers.

…California’s water supply has long been controlled by a complex network of federal, state and local authorities. Washington has a powerful role, not only because of environmental laws but also because of its major investment in dams and aqueducts, including Hoover Dam and the Colorado River system, and the massive Central Valley Project, which transports water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to the state’s agricultural heartland.

…Meantime, not all Californians are suffering equally. Some enclaves in the Central Valley are almost completely without water, having to truck in supplies for showers and cooking, while lush municipalities like Beverly Hills continue to use more than their share and would face reductions of 36 percent under Brown’s recent order. It will be up to local water authorities to decide how to enforce the cutbacks, through higher rates or fines and penalties for overuse. Brown imposed the mandatory reductions because earlier efforts at voluntary conservation had not produced the needed results, but the evidence so far suggests that hitting his targets will not be easy.

The State Water Resources Control Board reported this week that cumulative water savings since last summer have totaled just under 9 percent, while most of the state’s water suppliers issued only a handful of waste notices in March, despite receiving thousands of complaints. Read More > at Politico

East Bay residents to get steady diet of foul water – The acrid tap water that flowed for several days last month into thousands of East Bay homes, prompting a flurry of complaints about its bad taste and smell, will be making an extended comeback starting next week — perhaps through the year, or longer.

California’s drought combined with legal obligations to protect threatened fish species will require the East Bay Municipal Utility District to switch to its unsavory reservoir of water for most of its 1.4 million customers beginning on Sunday. And the water district expects to rely on this supply until at least next winter, when they hope substantial rain and snow will replenish the reservoir.

EBMUD employees call the sour water “the taste of drought.”

Residents in Oakland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek and other East Bay cities can expect the sour taste to return Tuesday, because it takes time for the new water to travel the 90 miles from its Pardee Reservoir source.

Usually, EBMUD draws from lower valves deeper in the reservoir where the water is colder and not affected by sunlight and algae. But that colder water must be released into the Mokelumne River so that salmon can spawn, per a 1998 settlement among EBMUD, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The fish need about 70,000 acre-feet — or 22.8 billion gallons — between now and September, and another 70,000 acre-feet in the next 6 months. (One acre-foot is equivalent to covering a football field in about a foot of water). Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Opinion: Finally, war on Prop. 13 breaks out – A political war over taxes that’s been brewing for nearly four decades finally erupted Thursday – maybe.

A union-led coalition of liberal groups launched a campaign to change Proposition 13, the iconic 1978 property tax limit, seeking billions more in revenue from commercial and industrial property owners.

The coalition, Make It Fair, declared its intention to place a “split roll” measure on the 2016 ballot, keeping Proposition 13’s limits in place for homes, residential rental properties and farms, but allowing upward revisions in taxable values on other properties.

The “maybe” qualifier is that, privately, sponsors of the measure indicate it would be dropped if many of the same groups decide to ask voters to extend Proposition 30, the temporary sales and income tax hike approved in 2012.

Their reasoning, probably valid, is that were the ballot to contain two major tax increases, voters might reject both.

There are also proposals for higher cigarette taxes and a new tax on oil extraction kicking around.

The backers of all the pending tax measures assume that 2016 would be a good time to make their moves because voter turnout in a presidential election year is likely to be much higher than it was in 2014 or will be in 2018 and that usually means a more liberal, pro-tax electorate. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Bay Bridge news gets worse: Tower rod fails key test – One of the steel rods anchoring the tower of the new Bay Bridge eastern span has failed a key integrity test, suggesting it became corroded and broke during years when it was soaking in water, The Chronicle has learned.

The test result raises the possibility that hundreds of other rods that have been steeped in water in the bridge’s foundation in recent years are in danger of cracking, which could reduce the stability of the 525-foot-tall tower in a major earthquake.

State officials remained optimistic Thursday that corrosion was not to blame, and stressed that Caltrans isn’t certain of the rod’s condition because workers have not removed the 25-foot-long fastener from its sleeve.

Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for the state Transportation Agency, confirmed that the rod had failed what is called a mechanical pull test, in which crews tug on the fastener to see if it moves. If everything is right with the rod, it should stay in place. This rod moved during Wednesday’s test, Lacy said. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Tax cheats kept jobs at IRS, audit finds – The IRS fired just two out of every five employees found to be tax cheats over a decade-long span, according to a new federal audit.

Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration found that 1,580 employees willfully violated tax law from October 2003 to September 2013. The IRS was supposed to fire all of those staffers, under a 1998 law.

But the inspector general found that the IRS commissioner saved 960 of them — 61 percent in all — who were instead given counseling, reprimands or suspensions.

The audit comes at an awkward time for the IRS. John Koskinen, the IRS chief, has been saying for months that more than $1 billion in budget cuts have amounted to “tax cuts for tax cheats,” by hurting the agency’s ability to investigate crimes. Read More > in The Hill

No, there’s no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment – I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.

To be sure, there are some kinds of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment. But those narrow exceptions have nothing to do with “hate speech” in any conventionally used sense of the term. For instance, there is an exception for “fighting words” — face-to-face personal insults addressed to a specific person, of the sort that are likely to start an immediate fight. But this exception isn’t limited to racial or religious insults, nor does it cover all racially or religiously offensive statements. Indeed, when the City of St. Paul tried to specifically punish bigoted fighting words, the Supreme Court held that this selective prohibition was unconstitutional (R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992)), even though a broad ban on all fighting words would indeed be permissible. (And, notwithstanding CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s Tweet that “hate speech is excluded from protection,” and his later claims that by “hate speech” he means “fighting words,” the fighting words exception is not generally labeled a “hate speech” exception, and isn’t coextensive with any established definition of “hate speech” that I know of.)

The same is true of the other narrow exceptions, such as for true threats of illegal conduct or incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct (i.e., illegal conduct in the next few hours or maybe days, as opposed to some illegal conduct some time in the future). Indeed, threatening to kill someone because he’s black (or white), or intentionally inciting someone to a likely and immediate attack on someone because he’s Muslim (or Christian or Jewish), can be made a crime. But this isn’t because it’s “hate speech”; it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend. Read More > in The Washington Post

Water Rationing and California’s Drought – Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order, the State Water Resources Control Board developed specific reduction targets for each major urban water supplier, ranging from 8 percent to 36 percent of per-capita water use in 2013. The proposed “emergency” cutbackswould take effect as early as June 1 and last nine months, to Feb. 28.

For most cities, 2015 will be the first year in the four-year drought that deeply affects them; it has been mostly an environmental and agricultural drought until now. Statistically, a fifth dry year seems likely.

If the urban water-use reductions were imposed gradually over a longer period, they could be achieved through changes in plumbing and building codes, landscaping ordinances and water pricing. But for urgent drought conservation this year, such measures are unlikely to yield enough water savings. Well-motivated voluntary conservation efforts will help, but not by much — usually 5 percent to 10 percent reductions use, as seen last year.

For this year, many California cities will look to water rationing, particularly those facing reductions of 15 percent or more. Read More > at Public CEO

How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case – The New Orleans Advocate recently published a shocking story that details the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases and familial DNA searching.

In 1996, a young woman named Angie Dodge was murdered in her apartment in a small town in Idaho. Although the police collected DNA from semen left at the crime scene, they haven’t been able to match the DNA to existing profiles in any criminal database, and the murder has never been solved.

Fast forward to 2014. The Idaho police sent the semen sample to a private lab to extract a DNA profile that included YSTR and mtDNA—the two genetic markers used to determine patrilineal and matrilineal relationships (it’s unclear why they reopened the case after nearly 20 years). These markers would allow investigators to search some existing databases to try to find a match between the sample and genetic relatives.

The cops chose to use a lab linked to a private collection of genetic genealogical data called the Sorenson Database (now owned by, which claims it’s “the foremost collection of genetic genealogy data in the world.” The reason the Sorenson Database can make such an audacious claim is because it has obtained its more than 100,000 DNA samples and documented multi-generational family histories from “volunteers in more than 100 countries around the world.” …Sorenson promised volunteers their genetic data would only be used for “genealogical services, including the determination of family migration patterns and geographic origins” and would not be shared outside Sorenson. Its consent form states:

The only individuals who will have access to the codes and genealogy information will be the principal investigator and the others specifically authorized by the Principal Investigator, including the SMGF research staff. Read More > at Electronic Frontier Foundation

Telesurgery tests highlight the limits of the Internet – Telesurgery has the potential to bring surgeons in contact with patients anywhere, any time. In a remote robotic-assisted surgery, a doctor would be able to guide a mechanical device at a far away location to perform the procedure. The use of robotics in surgeries has been successful, as long as the operator and the device are in the same OR. But putting distance between the two has been problematic. The whole process relies on a strong network or Internet for connectivity, which invariably results in some amount of latency. Even the slightest lag can have serious implications. With a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Florida Hospital Nicholson Center has completed a series of tests that reveal improvements in bandwidth technology are making telesurgery safer.

For telesurgery to become a viable option, it’s essential to know how much latency a surgeon can tolerate before it starts to impact the outcome. The center’s tests concluded that a lag of up to 200 milliseconds (about the same time as the blink of an eye) didn’t affect a surgeon’s ability. 107 experienced surgeons completed simulated exercises, both with and without induced latency for comparable results. Most of those surgeons noticed a delay between 300 and 500 milliseconds and were able to compensate for it, but anything higher was considered too risky.

Telesurgery is of particular interest to the US military because it promises to make the best healthcare available to wounded soldiers near a battlefield. With that in mind, most remote surgery experiments have been focused on overcoming harsh environments and long distances. Read More > at Engadget

Bank of America finds many Bay Area small businesses still recovering from Great Recession – Nearly two-thirds of Bay Area small business owners say they’re still recovering from the Great Recession that officially ended in June 2009, a Bank of America survey found.

That’s quite telling, and underscores a disconnect between those running Main Street businesses and those in Washington touting the economy’s strength.

California’s largest bank was quick to say that Bay Area small-business owners are more optimistic today than they were just a year ago.

The bank found that 59 percent of survey respondents in the Bay Area expect the local economy to improve over the next 12 months, up from 49 percent in spring 2014. Bay Area respondents are also more confident in growth in the national economy, 55 percent vs. 48 percent a year ago; and for the global economy, 40 percent vs. 35 percent. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Boom in Latino Evangelical churches underscores growing population – …Urbina became part of one of the most dramatic trends in American religion: The rapid growth of Latino evangelicals, many of whom are leaving a Catholic church that has long dominated religious life in their homelands.

Though the majority of American Latinos still identify as Catholic, the percentage has dropped from 67 percent in 2006 to about 59 percent in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center study released last year. Meanwhile, the number of Latinos who identify as Evangelical rose by more than a quarter — up from 14 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2013, making Latino evangelicals the fastest-growing religious group in the country.

Locally, Latinos who now call themselves Evangélicos say there are several reasons they’re happier at their new churches: being able to participate in spiritual practices, gatherings and festivities that connect to the cultural traditions of their home countries; hearing messages of hope that help them rise above hardships; and finding ways to become leaders as immigrants in a new land. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

The 40-Hour Work Week Is a Thing of the Past – The phrase “nine to five” is becoming an anachronism.

About half of all managers work more than 40 hours a week, according to a new survey from tax and consulting firm EY, and 39% report that their hours have increased in the past five years. Little wonder, then, that one-third of workers say it’s getting more difficult to balance work and life.

The survey, which fielded opinions from 9,699 full-time employees in eight countries, raises some questions about the sustainability of the current pace of work, said Karyn Twaronite, who heads up diversity and inclusion efforts for EY and commissioned the study.

Employees report that their responsibilities at work have increased while wages have largely stayed flat. And while technologies like company-provided smartphones and remote-work software have bought workers some flexibility, they also keep “people tied to work seven days a week,” Ms. Twaronite noted.

Fifty-eight percent of managers in the U.S. report working more than 40 hours a week, surpassed only by managers in Mexico, where 61% say they’re working those hours. By comparison, just over a third of U.K. managers and under a fifth of managers in China report working beyond 40 hours. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

A Surprise for Evolution in Giant Tree of Life – Researchers build the world’s largest evolutionary tree and conclude that species arise because of chance mutations — not natural selection.

Honeycreepers, small birds inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands, have a rich assortment of beak shapes. Some species have long, thin beaks suited to plucking insects from leaves. Others possess thick beaks good for cracking open tough seeds. According to the classic view of evolution, natural selection drove the development of these different species. Each variant adapted to suit a different ecological niche. But Blair Hedges, a biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, has proposed a provocative alternative: Adaptation had little to do with it. It was simply a matter of chance and time.

This controversial proposal stems from efforts by Hedges and collaborators to build the world’s most comprehensive tree of life — a chart plotting the connections among 50,000 species of Earth’s vast menagerie. Their analysis suggests that speciation is essentially random. No matter what the life form — plant or animal, insect or mammal — it takes about 2 million years for a new species to form. Random genetic events, not natural selection, play the main role in speciation. Read More > at Quanta Magazine

There’s an Uber for Everything Now – The fabulously wealthy may call their servants by ringing a little bell. In the lifestyles of the geeky and lazy, one can now summon a household staff just by tapping on a smartphone.

I’ve got a maid, masseuse, doctor, chef, valet, personal shopper, florist and bartender. Each has his own app and can arrive at my door in as little as 10 minutes.

Yes, this sounds ridiculous. But it might also be the future of how busy nonbillionaires get all kinds of chores done.

A concierge economy is sprouting up on phones, and no place more so than in my city of San Francisco, the capital of Internet La La Land. These startups like to say they’re just like Uber, the car service that has upended transportation, because they use phones to connect customers with nearby workers on demand.

There’s an Uber for everything now. Washio is for having someone do your laundry, Sprig and SpoonRocket cook your dinner and Shyp will mail things out so you don’t have to brave the post office. Zeel delivers a massage therapist (complete with table). Heal sends a doctor on a house call, while Saucey will rush over alcohol. And by Jeeves, cutesy names are part of the schtick—Dufl will pack your suitcase and Eaze will reup a medical marijuana supply. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

US Energy Independence in Sight? – The US Energy Information Administration’s latest Annual Energy Outlook features the key finding that the US is on track to reduce its net energy imports to essentially zero by 2030, if not sooner. That might seem surprising, in light of the recent collapse of oil prices and the resulting significant slowdown in drilling. EIA has covered that base, as well, in a side-case in which oil prices remain under $80 per barrel through 2040, and net imports bottom out at around 5% of total energy demand. Either way, this is as close to true US energy independence as I ever expected to see.

It wasn’t that many years ago that such an outcome seemed ludicrously unattainable. I recall patiently explaining to various audiences that we simply couldn’t drill our way to energy independence. The forecast of self-sufficiency that EIA has assembled depends on a lot more than just drilling, but without the development of previously inaccessible oil and gas resources through advanced drilling technology and hydraulic fracturing, a.k.a. “fracking”, it couldn’t be made at all. The growing contributions of various renewables are still dwarfed by oil and natural gas, for now.

Every forecast depends on assumptions, and it’s important to understand what would be necessary in order for conditions to turn out as the EIA now expects in its “reference case”, or main scenario. This includes a gradual but pronounced oil-price recovery, to average just over $70/bbl next year, $80 within five years, and back to around $100 by the end of the 2020s. That helps support a resumption of oil production growth next year, followed by a plateau just above 10 million bbl/day–surpassing 1971’s peak output–for the next decade and a gradual decline thereafter. EIA also expects natural gas prices to head back towards $5 per million BTUs by the end of this decade, in tandem with a further 34% expansion of US gas production by 2040.

However, attainment of zero net imports also depends on the continuation of some important trends, including energy consumption that grows at a rate well below that of population, and a continued decoupling of energy and GDP growth. This is crucial, because through 2040 EIA assumes the US population will grow by another 20% and GDP by 85%, while total energy consumption increases by just 10%. That has important implications for greenhouse gas emissions, too. Energy-related emissions barely grow at all in this scenario. Read More > at Energy Outlook

State begins Delta salinity barrier to protect water supplies in drought – The state has begun building an emergency salinity barrier in the Delta to keep seawater from fouling drinking water supplies for 25 million people.

The state Department of Water Resources reported Tuesday that shoreline preparation work began recently after the state received environmental permits to build the rock dam across West False River between Jersey and Bradford islands in Contra Costa County.

Some critics complained the barrier would disrupt boating and harm wild fish.

State officials say that because of the drought, they need the temporary barrier this summer to prevent seawater from San Francisco Bay from intruding upstream to degrade drinking and irrigation and drinking water pumped from the Delta.

The barrier also will enable upstream reservoirs to save water that otherwise would have to be released to flow into the Bay to fight salinity intrusion, officials said. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

California lawmakers stall roadside test for drugged drivers – An Assembly committee has rejected making California one of more than a dozen states that allow police to conduct roadside testing for marijuana and other drugs.

AB1356, by Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale, would have allowed police to use a device similar to Breathalyzers used to chart blood alcohol levels. However, these devises detect drugs in the driver’s system.

The bill did not garner enough votes to advance from the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Republicans supported it, but four Democrats abstained.

The bill had support from law enforcement organizations but was opposed by defense attorneys and the Drug Policy Alliance. Read More > in the Associated Press

The World’s First Self-Driving Semi-Truck Hits the Road – “AU 010.”

License plates are rarely an object of attention, but this one’s special—the funky number is the giveaway. That’s why Daimler bigwig Wolfgang Bernhard and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval are sharing a stage, mugging for the phalanx of cameras, together holding the metal rectangle that will, in just a minute, be slapped onto the world’s first officially recognized self-driving truck.

The truck in question is the Freightliner Inspiration, a teched-up version of the Daimler 18-wheeler sold around the world. And according to Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, it will make long-haul road transportation safer, cheaper, and better for the planet.

…The Freightliner Inspiration offers a rather limited version of autonomy: It will take control only on the highway, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles and staying in its lane. It won’t pass slower vehicles on its own. If the truck encounters a situation it can’t confidently handle, like heavy snow that covers lane lines, it will alert the human that it’s time for him to take over, via beeps and icons in the dashboard. If the driver doesn’t respond within about five seconds, the truck will slow down gradually, then stop. Read More > in Wired

McDonald’s restructuring plan leaves investors feeling hungry – …There are five basic improvements McDonald’s needs to implement that Easterbrook barely mentioned, say industry experts.

Here’s the deal: As any McD’s purist will tell you, the company should stick to the basic hamburger, fries and milk shake, experts say, and get rid of salads, sandwiches and other items that try to appeal to too many people.

In short order, the experts say: simplify the menu; eliminate the dollar items; rethink the customers experience; emphasize quality and value over price and invest in franchisees.

“The strategy of getting people in for a cheap meal, raises more concerns about the quality of the food,” said restaurant consultant, Arlene Spiegel. “Customers think, ‘What are they putting in the food that they can afford to charge just a dollar for it.’ ”

Franchisees have been clamoring for changes.

“The battle cry from the franchisees has been to go back to the basics,” said Richard Adams, founder of Franchise Equity Group, a consultant to McDonald’s franchisees. Adams also owned a McDonald’s franchisee for 12 years and was an executive at the company’s Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters. Read More > in the New York Post

Microsoft launches Office 2016 consumer preview, pushing universal apps to Windows phones ‘soon’ – The next generation of Office is coming, and you can see it now: Microsoft opened up Office 2016, to public preview on Monday morning. The company also said that its current generation of Office universal apps will go live on Windows phones soon.

Microsoft is still on track to ship the new version of Office 2016 by this fall, company executives said at its Ignite conference in Chicago, as they try to convince an audience of IT professionals to adopt the Microsoft vision.

The Office 2016 preview track will be much like the Windows 10 Insider program. Users can download the new Office 2016 software and will receive new preview updates as Microsoft rolls them out. Read More > at PC World

Bad news for older folks: Millennials are having fewer babies – First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.

These days, with the proliferation of niche dating apps and sexting platforms, there’s no shortage of innovations to help secure the first milestone in that sequence. But while romance may still blossom, the other two signposts seem to be in short supply. And the dearth of the last one — childbearing — may have ominous consequences for the economy.

A report released last week by the Urban Institute found that millennial women are reproducing at the slowest pace of any generation in U.S. history. Childbearing fell steeply in the years immediately following the “Great Recession,” with birthrates among women in their 20s declining more than 15 percent between 2007 and 2012.

…But for economic reasons — including cultivating the next generation of Americans to work and pay for the benefits of their many, many elders — we still need more babies.

Preferably, these will be babies born within wedlock, if for no other reason than the greater financial stability usually associated with having two married parents. Unfortunately, however, another key driver of lower birthrates — especially among non-Hispanic whites — is that young people are putting off marriage, too. The key force behind the decline in marriage, as with childbearing, seems to be finances, not dramatic changes in young people’s aspirations for marital bliss. As a recent Pew report showed, a plurality of never-married Americans age 25 to 34 say the main reason they haven’t tied the knot is that they aren’t yet “financially prepared” to do so. Read More > in The Washington Post

Sex, betrayal, rage mark testimony in death of Bell Gardens mayor – He was hardly discreet about his affairs..

Daniel Crespo, the mayor of Bell Gardens, bought one girlfriend a ring during a trip to Las Vegas for a faux wedding. He sent his wife an audio recording of him bragging to a co-worker about his dalliances. He rented out a six-bedroom home he owned, but kept one room empty so he could rendezvous there with women on his lunch breaks and after work.

His wife, Lyvette, called the room his “man cave” and knew about the affairs, which were often the subject of angry and threatening texts, a prosecutor told grand jurors last month.

…Last month, after hearing from prosecutors and numerous witnesses, the grand jury indicted Lyvette Crespo on a charge of voluntary manslaughter with an allegation that she was armed with a handgun at the time of the crime. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as killing without prior intent and during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.

Lyvette Crespo, 43, has pleaded not guilty.

Her lawyer, Eber Bayona, has insisted that the killing was justifiable and in defense of Lyvette Crespo and her son. The lawyer said Lyvette Crespo had suffered decades of abuse by her husband and was trying to protect her son when she opened fire. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Crude on the Rails – Striking oil in North America is easy these days. What’s tricky is getting the stuff to customers. The U.S. has passed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer and Canada’s recoverable reserves are the third-biggest globally. But existing pipelines don’t have the capacity or don’t go to the right places, and building more has proven politically challenging. That means record volumes of oil are traveling by rail, adding a contentious new element to the fierce debate about the safety and environmental impact of the region’s energy renaissance.

Environmental concerns lie at the heart of efforts to block permits for rail terminals where oil would be delivered to refineries. Safety takes center stage in accidents involving oil trains. On Feb. 16, a train carrying oil from North Dakota derailed and ignited in West Virginia, forcing the evacuation of more than 100 residents and endangering the drinking water supply. There were four major North American oil-train derailments in six months leading up to a conflagration in rural New Brunswick, Canada, on Jan. 7, 2014. The deadliest incident came on July 6, 2013, when a runaway train hauling 72 carloads of crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, causing an explosion that killed 47 people, incinerated 30 buildings and transformed the downtown into a smoldering hellscape. The investigation that followed raised questions about trains operated by a single engineer and about the soundness of the tanker cars involved in the crash. To increase safety, the U.S. and Canadian governments set new tank car standards in May. Most of the U.S. oil shipped by rail comes from North Dakota because there aren’t enough pipelines to take it from there to coastal refineries. Read More > at Bloomberg

Cal Fire Says Fire Conditions In 2015 Is Worst On Record – Cal Fire says the timing of this year’s rains and four years of drought will combine to make fire conditions in 2015 the worst on record.

“We measure the fuel moisture content of all of the vegetation -the brush and the trees and we track that over the course of time and compare it month to month each year,” says Ken Pimlott, Director of Cal Fire. “And we put it through formulas and determine how much energy and how much heat it will put out when it’s burning. And we have seen -we saw it last year and we will see it again this year- we’ll be reaching records for potential heat output for times of the year that would normally not be burning in those conditions.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott urged homeowners to clear space and conserve water.

“We don’t have water to water lawns and unnecessary landscaping. So, what that means is, is you need to remove that vegetation as it dries. We don’t want your dry lawn and your dry brush to contribute to more of the fire hazard. So, stop watering your lawn and remove it.” Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Protester brutality hits Oakland again – “Peaceful protest turns violent,” read The Chronicle headline about the May 1 protest in Oakland that ended badly. Police arrested about a dozen people after activists trashed new cars and smashed bank windows. I love that headline. It makes it seem as if it’s an anomaly when an Oakland protest ends with errant sparks and glass shards — even though a social-justice demonstration in Oakland has a better chance of ending with vandalism than a Hollywood marriage has in ending in divorce.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf had warned that violence would not be tolerated, but to no effect. Saturday morning police Chief Sean Whent and she had to admit that they had failed to anticipate — and thus prevent — the violence. “A very small group of people with rocks in their pockets and malice in their hearts disturbed what was otherwise a positive day in Oakland,” said Schaaf.

If Schaaf wants a different outcome, she should tell the protest community this: When the sun goes down, go home. Make it easier for police to curb what I would call “protest brutality.”

…How many times do activists expect small businesses to absorb the costs of brute vandalism before they pack up and leave? As Russo said: “Smashing up the business of the guy who does upholstery and windows for cars” for a living — just what cause does that advance? Read More > in the San Francisco Chroncile

What Didn’t Happen Next – A couple of ISIS wannabes tried to shoot up an exhibition of cartoons in Garland, Texas, and the police put them down before the civilians could get to them: a triumph for duty and marksmanship.

What didn’t happen next?

There is a mosque in Garland, Texas. It was there yesterday, it’s there today, and it will be there tomorrow. After two radical Muslims attempted to massacre some infidels down the road a bit, there was no angry mob of Texans storming the place with F-350s and rifles. If any vehicle full of armed men rushed to the Muslims’ place of worship, you can be sure that it was the local police exercising an abundance of caution and nothing more.

It’s easy to be snarky–”Oh, yay for us! No massacre, give Texas a cookie!” But only those parochial minds with the narrowest of experience could fail to appreciate how unusual that is in the world. Instead of retaliation, we have open-handed toleration that verges on the destructive. Read More > at the National Review

Stephen Curry’s rise from taffy-ankled weakling to the most entertaining NBA MVP ever – Head down, eyes rimmed with tears, Stephen Curry crawled to the sideline in a December exhibition matchup against the Sacramento Kings in 2011. The 161-day NBA lockout had just ended a few days prior and preseason had just begun. Curry was defending rookie Jimmer Fredette before a crossover by the Kings guard led to Curry spraining his right ankle at the top of the key. Once he made it to the bench, he clung onto the shoulders of two teammates as they walked him back to the locker room, an all-too familiar scene.

Curry’s first few years in the NBA reads more like a Sisyphean tragedy than the start of a superstar career. He was unanimously voted into the rookie all-star game in a freshman year where he averaged 17.5 points and 5.9 assists a game, coming second to Tyreke Evans in the Rookie of the Year race. Despite the lingering doubts about his size and physicality, he had rolled the boulder up the hill.

Then the tricky guard felt the collapse of his hard work. While pushing the ball up against the San Antonio Spurs in Dec. of 2010, Curry rolled his right ankle as he tried to pivot at the perimeter. He would then go on to sprain that same ankle another seven times that season, missing eight games total. Surgery was performed at the end of the year in order to reattach and strengthen the torn and ravaged ligaments. He averaged, 19 points and six assists, but the cost had been severe.

The next year, the burden almost crushed him and the prospects of a lengthy career completely. After the injury against the Kings, he sprained the same ankle again in the second game of the season against the Chicago Bulls. Then again, then a strained tendon, then another sprain. The injuries piled up so much that Curry only appeared in 26 games total in 2011-2012. His season was ended by another surgery to repair the damaged right ankle.

Stephen Curry was now deep in the pool of wasted talents whose names are whispered by talking heads daydreaming about what could have been. Read More > at SB*Nation

Hands-Free Cars Take Wheel, and Law Isn’t Stopping Them – A General Motors promotional film envisions the future: Drivers enter the highway, put their cars on “autopilot” and sit back as the vehicle takes over and heads for the horizon. The film’s date? 1956.

Sixty years later, automakers are making that dream a reality.

But the technology has sprinted ahead so fast that lawmakers and regulators are scrambling to catch up with features like hands-free driving that are now months away, rather than years.

This summer, Tesla, the maker of high-end electric cars, is promising to equip its Model S sedan to take over highway driving under certain conditions. In January, Audi will introduce a vehicle that can pilot itself through traffic jams. And next year, Cadillac will offer no-hands highway driving with its “Super Cruise.”

Limited forms of hands-free driving have already arrived. Luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti offer “lane keeping” features that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel for periods of time on straight stretches of road.

But the innovations have prompted the question: Is it legal? Read More > in The New York Times

Budget surplus, Prop. 30 sunset lead tax reform talks – Of most immediate concern to most lawmakers is the disposition of what is likely to be $4 billion more in general fund revenue than the Brown administration anticipated in its January budget.

Because of requirements set down in Proposition 98, the minimum school funding guarantee passed by voters in 1988, the lion’s share of that money must go to K-14 schools. Yet there are reasons the Legislature might consider alternatives.

Advocates for social service programs argue that the crisis in school funding has passed and that California now ranks closer to the middle nationally in per pupil spending.

Meanwhile, they say, state support for safety net programs remains well behind pre-recession highs. There’s a bill pending, in fact, that would increase the state grant to low-income seniors and the disabled because California’s share of the grant currently is at the minimum allowed by federal law, according to the California Budget Project.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst has also warned for years about the mechanics of Proposition 98 that tend to crowd other services out of the budget.

There would seem to be little support in the Legislature for suspending Prop. 98 in order to move more money to other programs – but there is a history of budget writers manipulating revenue numbers to aid with all sorts of outcomes.

…But the measure’s primary components – increasing the sales tax by a quarter cent and hiking income taxes on the state’s highest wage earners – are temporary. The sales tax-hike expires the end of next year and the income tax increase goes away in 2018. Read More > in the Cabinet Report

Immigrants to U.S. From China Top Those From Mexico – Move over, Mexico. When it comes to sending immigrants to the U.S., China and India have taken the lead.

China was the country of origin for 147,000 recent U.S. immigrants in 2013, while Mexico sent just 125,000, according to a Census Bureau study by researcher Eric Jensen and others. India, with 129,000 immigrants, also topped Mexico, though the two countries’ results weren’t statistically different from each other.

For the study, presented last week at the Population Association of America conference in San Diego, researchers analyzed annual immigration data for 2000 to 2013 from the American Community Survey.

The mandatory annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau asks where respondents lived the year before. Researchers counted as an “immigrant” any foreign-born person in the U.S. who said they previously lived abroad, without asking about legal status. (So while the data include undocumented immigrants, it may undercount them.) Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

The Magic Kingdom and the H-1B – ComputerWorld recently published an account that gets at an important aspect of the immigration debate that doesn’t often take center stage: the H-1B and L-1 visa program for high-skilled immigrants. At issue is the allegation that Disney fired anywhere between 135 and “several hundred” of its IT staff and replaced them with workers mainly from India, many of whom were presumed to be on H-1B’s. The article goes on to note that Disney is at the forefront of a movement to raise the cap on the number of these visas issued each year:

Disney CEO Bob Iger is one of eight co-chairs of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a leading group advocating for an increase in the H-1B visa cap. Last Friday, this partnership was a sponsor of an H-1B briefing at the U.S. Capitol for congressional staffers. The briefing was closed to the press.

One of the briefing documents handed out at the congressional forum made this claim: “H-1B workers complement – instead of displace – U.S. Workers.” It explains that as employers use foreign workers to fill “more technical and low-level jobs, firms are able to expand” and allow U.S. workers “to assume managerial and leadership positions.”

For the sponsoring company, what could be better? Management gets the compliant, lower-cost foreign labor often associated with outsourcing without having to deal with the hassles of unreliable remote monitoring or the overhead of having to open a satellite office in Bangalore.

But for foreign workers, there’s a catch: the employee is tied to the company that sponsors the visa. She cannot switch jobs, quit to found a startup, or indeed leave in protest of lower pay or dissatisfaction without forfeiting her immigration status. Moreover, upon termination, she is required to leave the country (unless, as is unlikely, she is able to find a second, established employer here in the U.S. to sponsor her directly). Read More > at The American Interest

Cops Probed Whether Kiss Exchanged By Seven-Year-Old Classmates Was “Unnatural And Lascivious” – The tipping point for the downfall of our civilization is near.

Police in Manatee County, Florida, were called to investigate a report that two seven-year-old kids were kissing at school — on the lips!

Florida police last week investigated whether a kiss exchanged by seven-year-old elementary students amounted to “lewd and lascivious” behavior, according to an incident report.

Responding to “allegations” that the children kissed “on the lips” during class last Tuesday, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy was dispatched to the school to investigate, according to the report, which includes a charge description as “unnatural and lascivious.”

The report, which contains redactions, does not indicate the source of the kissing “allegations.”

Deputy April Culbreath reported speaking with a teacher who “witnessed the incident.” Thereafter, Culbreath concluded that there was “no indication that there was anything sexual about this incident” and no evidence that Florida state law had been violated.

Well, I’ll bet those kids will think twice before they kiss anyone again.

Is it a requirement for teachers at American schools to be mentally unbalanced? Or are teachers just totally besotted with fear that the children in their charge might grow up without their help? Read More > at PJmedia


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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