Sunday Reading – 05/24/15

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.

The ‘living concrete’ that can heal itself – It’s the world’s most popular building material, and ever since the Romans built the pantheon from it some 2,000 years ago, we’ve been trying to find ways to make concrete more durable.

No matter how carefully it is mixed or reinforced, all concrete eventually cracks, and under some conditions, those cracks can lead to collapse.

“The problem with cracks in concrete is leakage,” explains professor Henk Jonkers, of Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands.

“If you have cracks, water comes through — in your basements, in a parking garage. Secondly, if this water gets to the steel reinforcements — in concrete we have all these steel rebars — if they corrode, the structure collapses.”

But Jonkers has come up with an entirely new way of giving concrete a longer life.

“We have invented bioconcrete — that’s concrete that heals itself using bacteria,” he says.

The bioconcrete is mixed just like regular concrete, but with an extra ingredient — the “healing agent.” It remains intact during mixing, only dissolving and becoming active if the concrete cracks and water gets in. Read More > at CNN

Transportation automation – In March, engineers from Delphi Automotive set out to drive from San Francisco to New York City. The catch? No one would be driving the car.

The group’s Audi SUV was outfitted with an array of sensors and computers allowing the vehicle to drive itself. While it may sound like science fiction, industry leaders say this future is rapidly approaching. However, despite this inevitability, many cities and counties are not yet considering how autonomous vehicles will benefit them.

“In five years, 50 percent of the things you do as a driver will be eliminated by technology.”
That’s according to Randy Iwasaki, executive director of California’s Contra Costa (county) Transportation Authority (CCTA). That’s why he is working to stay ahead of the autonomous vehicle curve.

Iwasaki calls his region the “hub of innovation for automated vehicles,” as much of the technology behind the trend is currently being developed in nearby Silicon Valley. He says researchers and engineers there are working on the world’s next generation of mobility, and the county is doing its best to facilitate this.

On March 31, CCTA and industry leaders came together for the Redefining Mobility Summit in Concord, Calif., to discuss the future of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies. There, the GoMentum Station project was unveiled.

“We’ve created the largest secure autonomous vehicle test bed in the United States,” Iwasaki says. “It’s strategically located 38 miles north of the Silicon Valley, and about an hour to the west of Sacramento where all the [state’s] regulations are going to develop.”

He says the facility will provide a location for auto manufacturers and engineers to develop autonomous and connected vehicle technologies. With approximately 2,100 acres for testing, the facility provides a secure location for prototype vehicles to operate in real-world conditions.

Converted from a now-obsolete military base, Iwasaki says the facility offers 20 miles of roadway for vehicles to navigate. Read More > at American City and County

How Bleak Is the Outlook for the 2015 San Francisco 49ers’ Defense? – Schadenfreude is a German word that essentially means “finding joy in the misfortune of others.” Yet another song in the score of Avenue Q, this is a feeling that most other NFC teams must be experiencing at the expense of the Niners. What happened to shake our confidence in the security of these former defensive juggernauts?

First and foremost, the entire linebacking corps was decimated. They lost two 2014 stalwarts to retirement, one an established star in the league and the other a blossoming rookie. The first, veteran inside linebacker Patrick Willis, retired on March 10th due to complications with a big toe injury.

Similarly, 2014 rookie Chris Borland came on in Week 6 in relief of Willis and amassed an insane 101 total tackles in those following eight starts. Borland had played through concussion concerns in college at Wisconsin and then was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve with an ankle injury in late December. He retired just a week after Willis, citing his long-term health as his motivation.

Retirement also claimed the heart and soul of the defensive line for these 49ers this past week: defensive lineman Justin Smith retired at age 35, after 14 seasons in the NFL.

Free agency also saw quietly productive veteran backup Dan Skuta depart to join the Jacksonville Jaguars. Starting cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox — both top-40 options in 2014 by Pro Football Focus’s grading — also left for greener pastures, with the former moving to Washington and the latter joining the Tennessee Titans. Read More > at numberFire

The Common Perception Is True – It really is nearly impossible to fire a federal employee. – …The 1978 statute and the myriad rules propagated there-after require a lousy employee first to be given notice of his shortcomings, allowed to pre-sent counter-evidence, then provided help and opportunities to improve. If the cock-ups continue, another meeting will be scheduled where the supervisor must marshal still more evidence. Should the boss dare to proceed with demotion or termination, the employee is entitled to be represented by an attorney.

Any adverse action against the employee can be appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the MSPB, which may overturn the decision for violating baroque legal standards. It is a grueling process, and very few supervisors can muster the time and energy to pursue it. Consider the case of S. P. O’Hara, who was caught viewing porn on his work computer in February 2012. It took a year and a half for the Department of Homeland Security to clear all the hoops required to fire him. He appealed to the MSPB, which did not decide his case until April 2015. (It supported his termination.)

Tucked in a cheekily titled appendix to the report (“Clearing up the confusion”) is the factoid that received so much buzz: “Perception: It is impossible to fire a Federal employee. Reality: From FY2000-2014, over 77,000 full-time, permanent, Federal employees were discharged as a result of performance and/or conduct issues.” That sounds like a big number that indicates the system is working. It is not.

The 77,000 employees the MSPB says were fired over the past 15 years averages out to 5,133 employees annually, or just 0.26 percent of the 1,940,000 civil service workforce. But the percentage is even lower. MSPB told me that 41 percent of the fired employees were in their first-year, probationary period. These employees lack the extensive job protections of permanent federal employees. Adjusting to include only those employees past their probationary period, we arrive at a figure of just 0.15 percent of federal employees who are shown the door each year. Statistically, that is pretty close to “impossible.” Read More > in The Weekly Standard

California faces a tough test to tame its unquenchable thirst for water – Sacramento’s dated infrastructure — and thinking, some critics say — is emblematic of the challenges California faces in its push to carry out the order by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to cut statewide water use by 25 percent.

The Golden State has been lax about its water use since it was founded in the mid-1800s, experts said. State lawmakers passed legislation requiring all cities to gradually install water meters just a decade ago, and only last year took steps to start measuring the amount of groundwater taken by homeowners, ranchers and farmers. Few states still have such a hands-off approach to pulling water from the earth.

Across the state, a quarter of a million homes still lack meters, many in the dry Central Valley, Gleick said. Occupants of those homes pay a flat monthly fee for water — or nothing at all, in a few cases — because there’s no way to track how much they use, he said.

Sacramento stands out because the city barred meter installation — not wanting to raise water rates — until the state overrode the legislation in 2004. Today, more than 60,000 homes and businesses there lack water meters, the most non-metered properties of any city in the state. City officials hope to add 16,000 meters by 2016 to the 74,000 it installed over the last 10 years. Read More > in The Washington Post

Round-up: Harris, Sanchez, Glazer & Kim K’s Butt – Bottom line on the new Merv and Mark Poll: Kamala Harris looks strong, but far from inevitable, in the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer.

With only 531 shopping days until the 2016 election, the Field Poll out this week shows Attorney General Harris, who’s been a candidate for what feels like a year already, leading the field with 19 percent. Democratic rival Loretta “Big Whoop” Sanchez, who jumped in last week, has 8 percent, and the other declared wannabes are running for the exercise.

The vast majority of voters said they are more interested in a) the NBA playoffs; b) stories about coffee as an aphrodisiac and c) additional tweets of Kim Kardashian’s big butt.

…The most risible feature of Steve Glazer’s 10-point victory in Tuesday’s special election in the 7th state senate district, was the speed with which organized labor’s spinners, led by our friend Steve Mavigilio, aggressively tried to discount it.

Such whining we’ve not heard since all the rug rats were here for Christmas:

This low turnout special election was a special circumstance where a Democratic candidate was able to pander to Republican voters to gain an edge. Our opponent received less than 30 percent of the Democratic vote, which will not be sustainable in future elections in a Democratic-leaning district. His campaign was bankrolled by a record-shattering $5.1 million in spending; $2 million from a Los Angeles developer more and than $1.3 (sic) from a PAC funded in part from the tobacco industry plus millions more from corporate education interests that we were unable to match.

…The best post-election piece we saw is at Fox and Hounds, where Tony Quinn penned a spot-on analysis attributing the result to labor’s failure to understand the top-two primary, its over-reliance on sleazy, old-school mailers and its apparent inability to comprehend that most district voters agree with Glazer on outlawing BART strikes. Read More > at Calbuzz

Suicides in U.S. Are Up, Especially in Rural Areas – Suicide remains a deeply strange phenomenon. Its disturbing nature is likely bolstered by what we perceive to be a grotesque violation of our basic biological strive for survival. Though biomedical science has exterminated many of the ailments which cut human life short in previous generations, it has yet to conquer the demons that haunt our minds. Suicide is a problem in rich and poor countries alike, and perhaps the most paradoxical study of the subject found that suicide rates tend to be highest in places with the highest levels of happiness.

New research has added yet another layer of complexity. The CDC reports that in the United States, suicide rates increased in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties from 2004 to 2013.

There are two trends that stick out: (1) While suicide rates are up everywhere, small cities, towns and rural areas showed the largest increase. In those places, suicide rates increased by about 20%, while they only increased by about 7% in large cities. (Note: “Large fringe” refers to suburban counties.) (2) Suicide rates are lowest in cities and gradually worsen as the counties become more rural. In 2013, the suicide rate was 17.6 per 100,000 people in rural areas, but only 10.3 per 100,000 in large cities.

Another study released in March corroborate these results: Young people aged 10-24 living in rural areas are about twice as likely to commit suicide as those living in cities. Again, over time, the rural suicide rate increased at a greater pace.

What is driving this trend? That is hard to say. An analysis in The Atlantic suggests that greater access to guns, feelings of social isolation, fewer doctors, and stigmatization of mental illness all possibly contribute to the higher suicide rate in rural America. Whatever the cause, America’s suicide epidemic is getting worse. Read More > at Real Clear Science

San Jose population tops 1 million – More and more people seem to know the way to San Jose.

Led by the boom in the high-tech sector, the city of San Jose has joined the ranks of the 1 million resident club.

California’s third-largest city topped the demographic marker this month, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

San Jose becomes just the 10th American city to hit the million-person milestone – and the third in California. In addition to Los Angeles and San Diego, the other cities on the list include Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia and Phoenix. New York City remains the nation’s most populous berg with more than 8 million residents.

California is also home to four of the fastest-growing cities in term of raw population numbers. That list includes the state’s three largest cities along with Irvine. Read More > at California City News

Hacking the Brain – …In many ways, we’re already living in a world of constant neuroenhancement. There’s methylphenidate (a k a Ritalin), intended to treat ADHD and narcolepsy and now used by test takers and paper-writers the world over. In controlled trials, the drug has been shown to improve memory, concentration, and motivation in individuals who have no cognitive impairment. There’s modafinil, developed to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. In people who have gotten a full night’s rest, it has been shown to increase executive function, memory, and attention—and in those who have gone without much sleep, it has helped stave off symptoms of sleep deprivation. There’s also donepezil, developed to treat Alzheimer’s. Like other anti-dementia drugs, it has been shown in clinical trials to improve both verbal and procedural memory (the memory we use to perform a complex set of actions, like driving a car) in healthy individuals.

None of these, of course, is the mythical “smart pill,” a supplement we could take to instantly boost our IQ by 10 points. Instead, each targets specific components of intellectual output: memory, concentration, motivation. And sometimes those functions come at the expense of others. Increase concentration with Ritalin, for instance, and your creativity could suffer. But the day may come, says Guoping Feng, a neuroscientist at MIT, when we understand neural mechanisms well enough to design personalized pills that can bolster your particular strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Several biotech companies are looking to do just that.

…Down the road, the most controversial approach to neuroenhancement could be a way not of stimulating the brain but of reengineering it. Until a few years ago, such a possibility was purely theoretical, the realm of philosophical debates and ethical quandaries. Now, however, researchers have developed a genome-editing technology called crispr (or, more technically, Cas9), which scientists could use to change any part of an embryo’s genome, one nucleotide at a time. It was developed to fight disease by correcting mutations before a baby is born. But one can imagine a day when we are able to identify genes associated with cognitive ability and manipulate them for higher output. Granted, that day is a long way off. “There’s no single gene for intelligence. We can’t just go in and change one gene and become cognitively enhanced,” Feng says. What we can do now is gain a deeper knowledge of the relationship between the genome and brain function—and perhaps in a few decades, we’ll be in a position to evaluate whether such tinkering is a good idea. Read More > in The Atlantic

California may really be the best place to live – In the perennial debate over the best places to live, it’s hard to escape California — and not just because of the weather.

The Golden State — particularly, broadly speaking, the San Francisco Bay Area — dominates this list of rankings by, which breaks it down by city (more than 100,000 people), town (fewer than 100,000 people) and suburbs and judges them by 10 categories.

Picking the best place to live, of course, depends on the criteria. In this case, “things to do” in the area matters most, with a 20% weighting, followed by “easiest commute” with 15% and the local school system at 12.5%. Weather is at the bottom of the list, with a 5% weighting.

Not surprisingly, many of these cities are pricey when it comes to housing (10% weighting). Zillow lists the median home value in Palo Alto (best town to live in) at $2.3 million; it’s $914,000 in Berkeley (No. 2 city).

One reason California pops up so frequently on the lists is its sheer size. “It just has a lot more towns, cities, metros compared with other states. Most states have one, maybe two major metros. California has six,” says Mark Tressler, vice president of product development at Pittsburgh-based Niche.

Still, the state of California doesn’t rank first among states as a whole, he said. That would be New York, followed by Colorado and Minnesota — and then California. Read More > at Market Watch

East Bay Senate race shows how state politics are changing – Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer beat Concord Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in the Democrats-only race for an East Bay state Senate seat, but the real losers may be labor unions and Democratic leaders who don’t see that the political game in California has changed.

Glazer, a 57-year-old campaign consultant and former aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, took the lead for the Seventh State Senate District seat when the first vote-by-mail results were released minutes after the polls closed Tuesday and never looked back. By night’s end, he beat Bonilla by more than 10,000 votes, 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent. He won easily in both Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

…The complaints about Glazer’s efforts to appeal to Republicans and independent voters ignore the changes taking place in California elections with the advent of the top-two primary system, in which the two biggest vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff.

“Bonilla’s labor allies made no attempt to do anything but rally their Democratic base,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP consultant who now publishes the California Target Book, which focuses on state campaigns. “Bonilla could only hope that Republicans and independent voters stayed home, and they didn’t.”

The top-two system was designed to force candidates to appeal to all the voters in their district, even those who don’t much like them or agree with them.

…The flood of mailers painting Bonilla as the choice of labor and party leaders didn’t bring Democrats to the polls, said Katie Merrill, a Democratic consultant who has worked for Bonilla in the past.

While Democrats have a registration edge in the district, they don’t march in lockstep with the more progressive wing of the party, she said.

“They’re used to voting for people like (former Rep.) Ellen Taucher, a moderate Democrat,” Merrill said. Glazer collected votes from moderate Democrats “and made a strong effort to appeal to Republicans and independents.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Realignment, Incarceration, and Crime Trends in California – When California’s historic public safety realignment was implemented in October 2011, many were concerned about the impact it would have on crime rates. In a 2013 report, we found that realignment did not increase violent crime in its first year, but that it did lead to an increase in auto thefts. In this report, we assess whether these trends continued beyond realignment’s first year. We find that both the prison and jail populations increased slightly since 2012, which means that the number of offenders on the street did not rise from the 18,000 during realignment’s first year. This is likely to change with the implementation of Proposition 47, which further reduces California’s reliance on incarceration. Our analysis of updated state-level crime data from the FBI confirms our previous findings. Violent crime rates remain unaffected by realignment, and although California’s property crime rate decreased in 2013, it did not drop more than in comparable states—so the auto theft gap that opened up in 2012 has not closed. Research indicates that further reductions in incarceration may have a greater effect on crime trends; the state needs to implement effective crime prevention strategies—and it can learn about alternatives to incarceration successfully implemented by the counties as well as other states.

California’s public safety realignment, prompted by a federal court mandate to reduce overcrowding in its expensive prison system, is in its fourth year of implementation. The reform decreased the state’s reliance on incarceration by changing the sentencing of non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual felonies and modifying the sanctions for parole violators. Importantly, realignment shifted the responsibility for many lower-level offenders from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to county jail and probation systems.

Realignment reduced the prison population by about 27,000 by September 2012, the first year of the reform. County jail populations increased by only 9,000, which offset roughly one third of the decline in the prison population. The overall reduction in incarceration meant that more former inmates were on the street, which led to concerns about realignment’s impact on the long-run decline in state crime rates. Though 2012 crime data revealed increases in both violent and property crime, our 2013 PPIC report showed that these concerns were mostly unwarranted. We found no evidence that the increase in violent crime was greater than increases in appropriate comparison states. Part of the increase in property crime could be attributed to the prison population decline, but that impact was modest and limited to auto thefts. Read More > at Public CEO

United No Longer – Alabama factory workers voted for the fifth time in two years to break ties with the UAW on Tuesday.

Workers at NTN-Bower voted 74-52 to boot the union off the premises of the manufacturer, making it the third time anti-union employees have beaten UAW Local 1990 in the last 18 months.

The 22-vote margin is a bit smaller than the fourth ballot held in February, in which workers voted 82-50. The union filed challenges to the fourth ballot before the regional National Labor Relations Board, alleging that management interfered with the campaign. The NLRB ordered a fifth ballot in May.

The union had managed to narrowly win one of the five secret ballot elections in January. Those results were dismissed after it was revealed that somebody had stuffed the ballot boxes: 148 were counted, but only 139 workers voted.

Alabama is a right-to-work state, allowing workers to opt out of any union without fear of losing their jobs. A slim majority of 140 eligible employees were members of the union in 2013 when 74 workers paid dues. Local 1990 has seen its support from the shop vanish throughout the two-year process. Membership fell to 62 in 2014 after the first two votes were overruled. Read More > at The Washington Free Beacon

UK’s Cameron announces new plans as UK immigration rises – In his first speech on immigration since he won a second term in the general election, Cameron outlined stricter controls targeting illegal migrant workers, including giving police new powers to seize their earnings.

“While a strong country isn’t one that pulls up the drawbridge, it is one that properly controls immigration,” he said.

The data showed that 641,000 immigrants came to Britain last year, up by more than 100,000 since 2013. Of those, just more than half were from within the European Union.

Under EU rules, citizens from the 28-nation trade bloc have the right to live and work legally inside Britain.

Cameron focused his speech on illegal migrants – although there are no official figures indicating how many people enter or remain in Britain illegally. Banks will be forced to check accounts against illegal migrant databases, while local authorities will be given powers to speed up evictions of migrants who are in the country illegally. Read More > from the Associated Press

China may have edge in race to build California’s bullet train – Chinese state firms are poised to be strong contenders in the race to make high-speed trains that will sprint between Los Angeles and San Francisco, part of a $68 billion project to bring the service to the United States for the first time.

While “bullet train” manufacturers from Germany, Japan, South Korea, and France are expected to be among those jockeying for the estimated $1 billion train contract, China’s ability to offer low prices and hefty financing appear to make it the one to beat, say lobbyists and industry insiders.

Lacking experience in the technology, California must turn to foreign firms to build the trains – albeit domestically and with American workers – setting off a geopolitical race to grab a foothold in the nascent U.S. high-speed rail industry.

Germany’s Siemens is expanding its rail factory in Sacramento to incorporate a “high-speed lot.” Japan has voiced its interest, boasting a record of no fatal accidents in over 50 years operating high-speed trains. France’s Alstom, which produces rail cars in upstate New York, is also a potential contender. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Why California Needs More Police – California has long been distinguished by its sparse policing, with its small police departments unable to keep pace with population growth in vast cities. When Governing magazine crunches FBI data to show what you might call policing density across the country, the list of lowest per capita police staffing is typically dominated by midsize California cities like Anaheim, Irvine, Bakersfield, Stockton, Santa Ana, and Riverside.

But in recent years, police shortages in nearly every major city in the state—and most of the mid-level cities—have become significantly worse. In San Diego, instead of keeping apace with a growing population, the police department has 300 fewer officers than a decade ago, and half the current force of 1,800-plus officers could be eligible for retirement by 2017, according to multiple reports. The Fresno Police Department has seen a decline of more than 100 officers over the past decade. Los Angeles, after years of work mostly closely associated with former Chief Bill Bratton, reached its goal of 10,000 officers two years ago—and then immediately started seeing a slippage, as it struggled to find enough qualified people to replace retiring and departing officers. And the number of the police department’s civilian staff—analysts, technicians—is off more than a quarter since 2007, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In Oakland, which has one of the highest robbery rates in the country, the police force has lost nearly a quarter of its sworn officers since 2009. Even a plan from new Mayor Libby Schaaf to add 40 cops won’t make much of a dent, and funding it will require freezing other positions. Under the proposed 2015 to 2016 budget, Sacramento would top 1,000 staff for the first time since the recession, when the department lost more than 300. And San Jose may offer the bleakest picture for police staffing. That sprawling city of 1 million people now has fewer than 1,000 street-ready officers; some projections show the number dropping below 900 by the middle of next year. Some cops have blamed the decline—the department is more than a quarter smaller than in 2008—on a years-long battle between the police union and city hall over benefits and wages.

The impacts of such declines are seen in slower response times and in departments’ inability to investigate crimes like burglary. Cops also have to cover more ground and have less time to develop deep relationships within the neighborhoods they cover. Breakdowns in police-community relations are an inevitable result. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Study: Too Many Californians Are Ignoring Jury Duty – If you’ve ever avoided that jury summons like the plague, you’re hardly alone. A new study released last week shows that about one-fifth of Californians in the state’s most populous counties fail to respond to jury duty—a trend which experts find extremely troubling.

“Too many Californians are failing to participate when called to serve on a jury, and it is harming our system of justice,” said the California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, which issued the report.

The information is based on an analysis of failure-to-appear rates in 14 California counties last year. According to the survey, more than 7.5 million jury summonses were issued in the 14 counties in 2014. Of those, nearly 1.5 million people failed to show, and that doesn’t even include the 982,000 notices which were returned as non-deliverable.

Ventura County had the highest rate of no-shows, with over 45 percent of its citizens failing to heed their jury summons. San Diego County followed close behind with a failure-to-appear rate of 31 percent, just above Los Angeles’ 30 percent. San Joaquin residents were the most likely to appear, with just 3.9 percent skipping jury duty. Read More > at California County News

Californians See the Housing Affordability Crisis as a Threat to the California Dream – California’s housing prices are the 2nd highest in the country (second only to Hawaii); according to Zillow, Californian home values and rental prices are roughly 2½ times and 1½ times, respectively, the national averages. Homeownership is a signifier of upward economic mobility, but many Californians cannot afford these daunting prices threatening the California Dream.

Property ownership enables individuals and families to put their equity to work leading to enhanced opportunities for economic mobility and the California Dream is best characterized by the belief that, by coming to the Golden State and working hard, (and with a dash of good luck), an individual can strike success. Yet with homeownership out of reach for the median household, and rental prices just as much a strain on household budgets, the Golden State Poll tested a series of concerns related to the affordability crisis. Three-fourths of Californians named “younger generations will have a difficult time owning a home” (28 percent), “low-income individuals/families being priced out of the area” (17 percent), “middle-income individuals/families being priced out of the area” (15 percent), or “I’m being priced out of the area in which I currently live” as their top concern, showing deep anxiety that the lack of affordable housing is seriously impacting most Californians ability to achieve the cornerstone of success. In fact, a plurality named one of the four California Dream-centric concerns as the top concern across all demographics and regions.

Californians appear to have accurately assessed the problem. But when it comes to the solution, they seem to put short-term gratification over long-term, sustainable results. Among the three state-level and three local government policies to improve housing affordability tested, Californians sided with solutions that will attack the crisis’ symptoms, but do little to address the underlying cause. 54 percent strongly or somewhat support Sacramento subsidizing regional public transportation to ease commutes over increasing the renter’s tax credit (40 percent) or relaxing CEQA to encourage more housing construction (33 percent). On the local government policies, 47 percent strongly or somewhat support passing more rent control laws over changing zoning laws (38 percent) or relaxing open space requirements (36 percent), both which would encourage more construction. The only long-term solution to California’s housing affordability crisis is more housing supply. But that takes time. And it appears Californians are less willing to wait, even if those policies solve the problem. Read More > at Public CEO

Rise in Home Building Suggests U.S. Economy Is Regaining Momentum – Home building across the nation accelerated in April, far exceeding expectations and suggesting that the economy was getting back on track after overall growth ground to a halt during the first quarter of the year.

Home construction last month rose 20.2 percent over March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.135 million, the highest number since 2007 and the biggest percentage jump in almost 24 years, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.

The sunny report wiped out a particularly dismal showing in March and offered a measure of optimism for a housing market that has been slow to recover since the recession.

But most economists were cautious in their reading of the month’s data, seeing it as a sign that the housing market was simply returning to a more normal state after the cold and snowy start to the year that kept many builders from breaking new ground. Read More > in The New York Times

These Are the Four Types of Drunk College Students, According to Science – …With the bounty of data from the surveys, Winograd, Steinley, and Sher utilized modeling software in an attempt to identify behavioral clusters. Were there common trends buried in the responses?

Indeed there were. Four distinct clusters emerged, representing the sought-after “drunk types.”

They dubbed the first “Hemingway.” It was the largest type, roughly half male and half female. People under this category set themselves apart by retaining a fair amount of their mental faculties when under the influence.

…Winograd and her partners labeled the second group “Mary Poppins.” The least prevalent type, and mostly female, it described people who were particularly agreeable when sober and who remained agreeable when intoxicated.

“The Mary Poppins group of drinkers essentially captures the sweet, responsible drinkers who experience fewer alcohol-related problems compared to those most affected,” the researchers described

…Winograd and her partners labeled the second group “Mary Poppins.” The least prevalent type, and mostly female, it described people who were particularly agreeable when sober and who remained agreeable when intoxicated.

“The Mary Poppins group of drinkers essentially captures the sweet, responsible drinkers who experience fewer alcohol-related problems compared to those most affected,” the researchers described

…The researchers termed the fourth and final type “The Nutty Professor.” About 50-50 male and female, this type described subjects who tended to be introverted when sober but became extroverts when drunk, similar to how Professor Sherman Klump transformed into Buddy Love in the movie of the same name. Read More > in Real Clear Science

California drought: People support water conservation, in theory – Californians widely support Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for mandatory water cuts amid the deepening drought, according to a new poll of state residents — but many don’t know if they can pitch in.

The survey results released Tuesday by the San Francisco-based Field Poll show that while nearly two-thirds of respondents agree that water agencies should be forced to reduce consumption by an average of 25 percent, more than 4 in 10 homeowners say they don’t have the ability to cut back much.

And 7 in 10 homeowners are alarmed by the prospect of higher water rates — a tool often employed by water managers to temper demand — saying hikes of 15 or 25 percent would be a serious problem.

These responses don’t bode well for state officials who, starting next month, are requiring communities to reduce water use between 4 and 36 percent compared with what they used in 2013. Specific targets are based on an area’s historic water use, with bigger guzzlers facing the steepest cuts. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Glazer wins easy victory over Bonilla in state Senate runoff – Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer won a surprisingly easy victory over fellow Democrat Concord Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla on Tuesday night in what had been a nasty, hard-fought contest for an East Bay state Senate seat.

Although he was reluctant to declare victory before all the votes were in, Glazer expressed little doubt about the outcome.

“It looks very positive,” he said from his election night party in Orinda. “I’m gratified for the voters and volunteers who embraced my message of putting problem-solving ahead of partisan interests.”

While Bonilla didn’t concede the election when she came out to thank supporters at her Concord headquarters shortly after 10 p.m., she and her campaign staff knew they had come up short. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

The Economy Is Still Terrible for Young People – Let’s start by singing the necessary praises. Last year was was the best for job-creation this century. We’re in the middle of the longest uninterrupted stretch of private-sector job creation on record. After creating mostly low-paying service jobs for the first few years of the recovery, the labor market is finally churning out more high-skill jobs. All of these things should be great news for young people.


But a deeper look at the Young-American Economy today suggests that, in contrast to the overall labor market, it is still sort of terrible.

To start with the camera lens zoomed all the way out: The majority of young people aren’t graduating from a four-year university. Rather they are dropping out of high school, graduating from high school and not going to college, or dropping out of college. Millennial is often used, in the media, as a synonym for “bachelor-degree-holding young person,” but about 60 percent of this generation doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

And how are they doing, as a group? Young people don’t seem to have a jobs problem—their jobless rate is a bit elevated, but not alarmingly so. Rather they have a money problem. The jobs they’re getting don’t pay much and their wages aren’t growing. A recent analysis of the Current Population Survey last year found that the median income for people between 25 and 34 has fallen in every major industry but healthcare since the Great Recession began. Read More > in The Atlantic

Michael Wolff: Television Has Outgrown Nielsen – Television remains television: a historical idea, a physical thing, something judged by neatly fixed standards (Nielsen). At the same time, it arguably has become a much broader notion, much harder to capture and to measure and, in the transformation, a much richer and influential business.

From the TV-industry point of view, it has been frustrating and more and more confounding that television continues to be defined as a business consisting of a fixed screen in the home, whose use is measured by Nielsen. By that definition, television has lost as much as 30 percent of its audience.

That missing audience, however, by most indications, is still pursuing television shows, just not on “television.” An episode of MTV’s Teen Wolf may have an aggregate television viewership of 8 million, but there is, too, a largely unaccounted for and mostly unmonetized 100 million streams of the show. Reaching something of crisis proportions, virtually every significant television show has seen a meaningful part of its audience move from conventional box to venues outside of traditional measurement, with, arguably, a whole new audience added to it. Meaning television, depending on how you define it, has gotten much larger rather than much smaller.

At the same time, this new audience or this shifted audience — however much it might be eagerly consuming the same basic TV product — is being claimed by new platforms. These new platforms maintain that this loss for television is a gain for them. This is a gain that is not measured by traditional television standards — that is, Nielsen (hence, which might then be credited back to traditional television). Rather, the value of these new platforms lies in the argument that they are not limited by television behavior or its measurements, that they are creating a new entertainment value proposition measured in advancing share price — pay no attention to old-fashioned ratings. Read More > in The Hollywood Reporter

California’s Winemakers Figured Out How To Beat Epic Droughts Over 100 Years Ago – California’s current drought is in its 4th year, and as NASA and other governing bodies declare a State of Emergency and decry the lack of water in the Golden State in the style of Chicken Little, the sky is not falling–at least not for many of the state’s grape growers. In fact, the answer to California’s drought, and the serious sanctions it’s causing across irrigation-dependent vineyards may be even simpler than a rain dance: dry farming.

While it’s often used as a parallel selling point to “Certified Organic” for pricey bottles at swanky wineries, “dry farming” is the ultimate in simple and ancient irrigation techniques. Farmers simply let nature water their crops with rain and residual soil moisture. In essence, dry farming is the Toyota Prius of the wine industry, while traditional drip irrigation–which uses 100-200 gallons of water per vine, per season–is comparable to driving a Hummer H3. A Hummer can dominate almost any terrain, but is usually unnecessary and extremely wasteful.

Wasting wasn’t what the first viticulturists in the Bear Republic–Spanish Missionaries–were after when they planted vines for sacramental wine in the late 1700s. Occupied by their religious duties like converting an entire New World to Catholicism, these monks were far too busy to water their grapevines. As a result, the vines they planted dug deep into the California soil–sometimes over 40 feet–in search of water, developing strong and complex root systems as they went. Read More > at Vinepair

The Truth About the Ways People Lie – All of our pants are almost constantly on metaphorical fire, is the basic impression I got after watching the new documentary Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies. The film is a fascinating exploration of the current scientific research on the little things that nudge people into lying, cheating, and stealing, and most of the research comes from behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the Duke professor and best-selling author of books like Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

The film will be screening for a short time in New York at the IFC Center, starting this Friday. (For bonus social-science nerd fun, Ariely and director Yael Melamde will be at the Friday and Saturday shows to answer audience questions.) But Science of Us got an advance screener of the film, so, herewith, some of the most interesting findings on dishonesty the documentary covers. (All direct quotes in the post are taken from the film. Honest.)

Some of the most interesting insights into human dishonesty have stemmed from a 20-item set of math problems. In much of his research on lying, Ariely has favored something called the matrix experiment, a set of 20 straightforward math problems that anyone could solve, were they given enough time. The trick is, as Ariely explains, they never give their study volunteers enough time. The participants get just five minutes to answer as many questions as they can; then, they take their papers up to the front of the room and shred them. Next to the shredder is one of the experimenters, and the students are instructed to tell this person how many questions they answered correctly, and they’ll be paid the according amount of dollars.

But there’s a second trick: The shredder didn’t actually shred their papers. It only shred the sides, so the researchers can later see who was telling the truth. On average, people solve four problems correctly, but they tend to report getting six right. Read More > at New York Magazine

Bill allowing beer bikes advances in California Legislature – California lawmakers have advanced a bill that would allow so-called beer bikes to operate on streets, but leaves cities to decide if alcohol is allowed on board.

The Senate on Monday unanimously passed the bill by Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat. SB530 would create a vehicle safety standard for a growing new crop of bike buses that allow up to 15 people to pedal at slow speeds.

Beer bikes have been popping up in Sacramento and San Diego as a riding tour, often with stops at bars and restaurants.

Pan says current state law does not include a definition for this type of vehicle, creating legal uncertainties. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Is It Ordinary Memory Loss, or Alzheimer’s Disease? – Fears about memory issues, commonplace among those of us who often misplace our cellphones and mix up the names of our children, are likely to skyrocket as baby boomers move into their 70s, 80s and beyond.

Many may be unwilling to wait to have their memories tested until symptoms develop that could herald encroaching dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, like finding one’s glasses in the refrigerator, getting lost on a familiar route or being unable to follow directions or normal conversation.

But nor do people have to endure the extensive assessment my friend had. Simple tests done in eight to 12 minutes in a doctor’s office can determine whether memory issues are normal for one’s age or are problematic and warrant a more thorough evaluation. The tests can be administered annually, if necessary, to detect worrisome changes.

However, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, more than half of older adults with signs of memory loss never see a doctor about it. Although there is still no certain way to prevent or forestall age-related cognitive disease, knowing that someone has serious memory problems can alert family members and friends to a need for changes in the person’s living arrangements that can be health- or even lifesaving. Read More > in The New York Times

Uber Vs. Taxis: One City’s Incredibly Simple Solution To The Turf War – From coast to coast and overseas, ride share companies like Uber and Lyft are kicking taxi ass, and taxi drivers are urging governments to impose restrictions on them. But this week, the city of Long Beach, Calif. took the opposite tack: encouraging taxis to operate more like ride share companies.

It’s almost too simple. Because fares and other conditions for the taxi trade are regulated by municipalities, operators can’t move with the market on pricing and ease of use. William Rouse, general manager of Long Beach Yellow Cab, the city’s sole licensed taxi operator, blames the decline in taxi ridership on “increased competition from businesses that don’t face the same regulatory burdens.”

So working together with Yellow Cab, the city council of Long Beach (population: 469,000) this week approved a pilot program that removes taxis’ fare floor, allowing Yellow Cab to discount fares as conditions warrant, comparable to ride sharing services’ less expensive fares. The company will also get an ordering app, be allowed to increase its fleet size from 175 to 199 cars, and be permitted to add additional capacity at peak times.

Yellow Cab will also get a new branding identity, Yellow of Long Beach (note the missing word “cab”). Read More > at Forbes

As California withers, federal water bill mired in secrecy – Feinstein and her staff power the Senate’s drought legislation effort, which so far has labored beneath what several California water experts independently called a “cone of silence.” Though the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will pass a drought bill this summer, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Western growers last week, it’s the Senate that will make or break legislation.

“We’ve met with people. We’ve talked with people,” Feinstein said. “We’ve taken ideas. We have done everything we can.”

Some other California Democrats, though, denounce Feinstein’s efforts as “very disappointing” and the “same old story.” Politically, the vibes are not good.

Feinstein and House Republicans agreed last year on language to boost water exports south of the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, encourage the completion of water storage project feasibility studies and capture more runoff from early storms, among other provisions. A version passed the House in December and died in the Senate.

…A third California Democrat who represents part of the 1,100-square mile Delta, Rep. John Garamendi, allowed that Feinstein’s staff had asked him what he wanted in a California water bill. But when Garamendi asked what else is in the bill, he said, he was shut out.

“Sen. Feinstein is moseying around with something, but she won’t tell us what,” Garamendi said in an interview. “Same old story. . . . Those of us that represent the Delta and San Francisco Bay are not included in the process.”

Advocates of Feinstein’s approach counter that it’s pointless to bring in the Northern California Democrats since they will never vote for the drought legislation anyway, as it could end up steering. Read More > at  McClatchy DC

State’s revenue will be healthy without Prop. 30 taxes, Gov. Jerry Brown’s finance department says – When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his revised state budget late last week, the news that California is swimming in black ink rightfully stole the show.

But tucked away on one of the final pages of the 104-page summary of the spending plan was a surprising revelation: Not only will the budget survive when Proposition 30’s temporary taxes are phased out, but general fund revenues are also expected to continue climbing.

In some ways, the startling projection was the opening salvo in what could become a highly charged ideological battle over the 18 months leading up to the November 2016 election — whether to extend taxes the Democratic governor had beseeched voters to pass to prevent California’s fragile education system from crumbling.

Proponents of extending Proposition 30 will argue that the state’s economy is now humming because 55 percent of California voters were wise enough to tax the rich. But Brown, a socially liberal but tightfisted politician, would ironically end up on the same side as a coalition of Republicans, anti-tax zealots and business people determined to lower taxes because they believe that would ultimately lead to a healthier economy with a more reliable revenue stream. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Strap in for a Long Oil Price War – Saudi Arabia has strong-armed the rest of OPEC into going along with its strategy not to cut production in a bid to gain market share on U.S. shale firms, and ahead of the cartel’s semi-annual meeting next month there’s little sign that any dip in output is forthcoming. By abdicating the role of the global swing producer, OPEC believed it would put pressure on the relatively high-cost shale boom, forcing producers to trim production as certain plays became unprofitable.

But U.S. firms haven’t assumed that role as readily as the Saudis would have hoped. Rather, they’ve been hard at work innovating their way to profitability even at $65 per barrel. True, shale growth is expected to slow this year and the next, but it isn’t going away. Combine that with production growth from other non-OPEC producers, and what the cartel is left with is a longer-term price war than it likely bargained for.

The Saudis have the funds to make up for the budget shortfalls cheap oil is foisting upon them, but the rest of OPEC isn’t anywhere near as well prepared. Nigeria, Iran, and Venezuela have all agitated for the cartel to take action, though none have volunteered to be the one to actually make the necessary cuts. Saudi Arabia is realistically the only member capable of meaningfully moving the market, but it no longer seems willing to take one for the team, as it were, and cut production. As the IEA pointed out, this price war is only just beginning. Read More > at The American Interest


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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