Sunday Reading – 08/30/15

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.

Here’s How Rats End Up In Toilet Bowls – If you don’t like rats, you might want to sit down for this — but maybe don’t sit on the toilet.

Intrigued by the question of how rats make it into toilet bowls (and yes, it does happen), National Geographic put together this brief video tracing the rodents’ paths from street to sewer, sewer to indoor plumbing and, ultimately, into the toilet. Perhaps the most incredible part is how easily a rat can navigate the sharp 180-degree U-turn within the actual toilet pipes, all while underwater.

Watch this video

Per National Geographic, rats are naturally strong swimmers and can tread water for three straight days, paddling underwater with their back legs while the front paws steer. They can also hold their breath for up to three minutes.

Rats also have unique ribs that flex around joints along their spines, the video notes. This allows the creatures to compress their ribcages to fit through small openings, thereby navigating pipes with ease. Read More > in the Huffington Post

Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left? – After two centuries of relentless automation, why are there more jobs than ever? Certainly, tens of millions of jobs have been lost. Whatever happened to the myriads of hostlers, blacksmiths, coopers, sucksmiths, millers, tallowmakers, wheelwrights, sicklemen, puddlers, telegraphers, stockingers, fellmongers, saddlers, ploughmen, knackers, bleacherers, weavers, thatchers, and scriveners? Most of these jobs have been either wiped out entirely or largely taken over by machines.

The advance of massively more productive machinery has clearly not led to mass unemployment. The number of people employed in advanced economies has never been higher. For example, since 1950 the number of Americans employed has nearly tripled, rising from about 58 million to nearly 149 million today. During that time the proportion of adults in the civilian workforce rose from 55 percent in 1950 to peak at 65 percent during the dot-com boom in 2000. The ratio has now dropped to 59 percent, but the lower rate is widely understood to reflect the fallout from the Great Recession, Baby Boomer cohort retirements, and younger individuals spending more time in school.

…Despite all these jobs and more lost to automation, U.S. employment continued to steadily rise. Why? Because technological progress is a “great job-creating machine,” argue Ian Stewart, Debapratim De, and Alex Cole, three economists at the business consultancy Deloitte. The trio argues that “the current discourse is biased towards the job-destroying effects of technological change due to the relative unpredictability of its creative aspects.”

Analyzing technological and employment trends over the past 150 years in the United Kingdom, the three find that while machines have eliminated millions of jobs, they have also conjured into existence many more. Even better, living standards dramatically improved as the technological destruction of old jobs proceeded.

How? First, technology substitutes for labor, thus raising productivity and lowering prices. Since 1950, the percent of British incomes spent on food and clothing has fallen from 35 and 10 percent to 11 and 5 percent, respectively. In addition, the real price of automobiles has been halved. In 1948, a television in the U.S. would have cost the equivalent of $12,000 in today’s money. Since then, the price of a TV has since fallen by 98 percent. Read More > at Reason

Antioch to negotiate exclusively with City Ventures on controversial downtown site – The Antioch City Council has voted to negotiate exclusively with developer City Ventures on building homes on a 1.5-acre lot that the city owns near the waterfront, the Bay Area News Group reports.

The closed vote is already running into opposition from residents who had hoped to build an event center on the downtown site, which sits at Second and E streets.

“We’re crushed,” said Joy Motts, treasurer of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation, which had pushed for the event space. “All we asked them is let us try. They have nothing to lose. If it fails, they can do whatever they want to do.”

The city said it had been in talks with four potential developers. But it decided that although it doesn’t have a contract with City Ventures, it will now work only with the developer on creating plans.

“We’re looking at housing,” said City Manager Steve Duran. The city is pushing to re-zone the area for mixed use development, with an estimated 18 homes possible at the site. It has said in the past it hopes to use those new residents as an anchor for the ferry service it wants to establish, as well as a revenue for downtown businesses. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site – When hacker group Impact Team released the Ashley Madison data, they asserted that “thousands” of the women’s profiles were fake. Later, this number got blown up in news stories that asserted “90-95%” of them were fake, though nobody put forth any evidence for such an enormous number. So I downloaded the data and analyzed it to find out how many actual women were using Ashley Madison, and who they were.

What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.

Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.

When you look at the evidence, it’s hard to deny that the overwhelming majority of men using Ashley Madison weren’t having affairs. They were paying for a fantasy. Read More > at Gizmodo

Stuff Business People Say

Is Polyamory Next? – The Youngs are women in a committed relationship who love and care for and look after each other. They share domestic duties and financial responsibilities. They share a bed and make love. They have a child (courtesy of sperm donation and in vitro fertilization) and intend to have two more. They were united in a ceremony in which they wore beautiful white wedding gowns and were walked down the aisle by their fathers. They are just like any ordinary Massachusetts opposite- or same-sex married couple. Only they’re not a couple. Doll, Kitten, and Brinn Young are a throuple. And, for now at least, Massachusetts, like other states, does not recognize as marriages “polyamorous” unions (romantic partnerships of three or more persons).

But Doll, Kitten, and Brinn think that’s unfair and should change. They want marriage equality for themselves and other polyamorists. They are proud that their home state was in the vanguard of legally recognizing same-sex partnerships as marriages, thanks to the bold intervention of the liberal-dominated Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. But they insist that the same principles that generated what they and most liberals (and, it seems, more than a few conservatives) believe to be “marriage equality” for gays should produce the same result for other sexual minorities, especially polyamorous people like themselves.

If gender doesn’t matter for marriage, they ask, why should number matter? “If love makes a family”, as the slogan went when the cause being advanced was gay marriage, then why should their family be treated as second class? Why should their marriage be denied legal recognition and the dignity and social standing that come with it? Doll, Kitten, and Brinn love each other and are as committed to each other and their child and future children as are, say, Donald Trump and his third wife, or Elton John and his husband. They find fulfillment in their long-term sexual partnership, just as opposite- and same-sex couples find fulfillment in theirs. The dignity of their relationship, not to mention their own personal dignity, is assaulted, they believe, when their marriage is treated as inferior and unworthy of legal recognition. Their child and future children are stigmatized by laws that refuse to treat their parents as married. And to what end? How does it harm the marriage of, say, John and Harold, the couple next door, if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes the Youngs’ marriage? Indeed, what justification can be given—what legitimate state interest can be cited—for dishonoring Doll, Kitten, and Brinn and their marriage? Surely, the only explanation, apart from religious scruples of the sort that may not constitutionally be imposed by the State, is animus and a bare desire to harm people who are different? Read More > at The American Interest

The Cut Man: Life as the Bearer of Bad News in the NFL – A public dismissal in any industry can be brutal. Professional football is more public than most, probably running neck and neck with politics in the grand showcase of ignominy. We treat the two similarly. Football, at times, trumps our focus on politics, and politics often is scored like a game on the gridiron. In the end, we all should realize more people than just a superstar center or your congressional rep are affected: Family, friends, coworkers and competitors all feel the sting of the Turk.

The Turk is the NFL’s equivalent of the Grim Reaper, the skeletal figure of mythology who comes draped in a black cloak and carrying a scythe to collect those summoned…to death. Only in football, death’s personification comes in the form of a twentysomething dressed in workout shorts and a team t-shirt. “Ted wants to see you, and don’t forget to bring your playbook.”

Much has been chronicled from the NFL player’s viewpoint regarding the process and pain of being cut. Pick up almost any biography spun out of an NFL career and you’ll find at least a few pages, if not an entire chapter, dedicated to “the beginning of the end.”

Do Fortune 500 companies send a clerk to operations, hunting down a senior manager about to be served up to the chopping block?

During my watch as GM, the list was usually passed on to (you guessed it) an unlucky intern tasked with tapping the player out of the downstairs locker room for an upstairs visit or attempting to get the player to answer his cell on that particular day, delivering news that could mean nothing good. Everything afterward was formality: a replay of the message from the head coach, turning in your playbook, picking up a garbage bag at Equipment, stopping by to see the trainers and turning in your to-do checklist to my assistant.

Unlike the X marks scratched across that pink slip, the only thing etched across the player’s face was disappointment. How could he not be disappointed? For many summoned, the journey had been filled with nothing but excitement, hope and optimism a mere three or four months earlier. That same disappointment was too often reflected in my own expression breaking the news that, “We’re letting you go.”

Breaking the news to rookies was always the most difficult, as many had never failed (at least at football) a day in their lives. They’d been the leading rushers, the team captains, the All-Conference players for as long as they could remember. An entirely new emotion had to be faced, one of failure on many levels. Reactions ranged from shock to numbness to tears, and I tried to be as insightful to their pain as possible. Read More > at Bleacher Report

Japan Has Aged Out of its Economic Miracle – …The devastated Japanese economy did not surpass its prewar peak until 1953. But by then the foundations had been laid for the country’s spectacular rise. Soon its fast-selling exports ranged from the first transistor radios (Sony) to the first giant crude-oil tankers (Sumitomo). The first Honda Civic arrived in the United States in 1973, and by 1980, Japanese cars claimed 30 percent of the U.S. market. Japan, totally dependent on crude-oil imports, was hit hard by the OPEC oil price rises of the 1970s, but it adjusted rapidly by pursuing energy efficiency, and in 1978 it became the world’s second largest economy. By 1985 the yen was so strong that the United States, feeling threatened by Japanese imports, forced its devaluation through the Plaza Accord. But even afterward the economy soared: In the five years following January 1985 the Nikkei index rose more than threefold.

It was too good to be true; indeed, the success reflected the working of an enormous bubble economy driven by inflated stock and real estate prices. In January 2000, ten years after its peak, the Nikkei was still at only half its 1990 value, and only recently has it risen above even that low mark.

Once-iconic consumer electronics manufacturers like Sony, Toshiba, and Hitachi now struggle to be profitable. Toyota and Honda, global automotive brands once known for their unmatched reliability, are recalling millions of vehicles. Takata’s defective air bags recently resulted in the biggest recall of a manufactured part ever. And Yuasa made unreliable lithium-ion batteries for the Boeing 787. Add to this the rapidly changing governments, the March 2011 tsunami followed by the Fukushima disaster, and worsening relations with China and South Korea, and you get a worrisome picture indeed.

But in the long run the fortunes of nations are determined by population trends. Japan is not only the world’s fastest-aging major economy (already every fourth person is older than 65, and by 2050 that share will be nearly 40 percent), its population is also declining. Today’s 127 million will shrink to 97 million by 2050, and forecasts show shortages of the young labor force needed in construction and health care. Who will maintain Japan’s extensive and admirably efficient transportation infrastructures? Who will take care of millions of old people? By 2050 people above the age of 80 will outnumber the children. Read More > at IEEE Spectrum

California Voters Want Policing Reforms That Politicians Won’t Deliver – On Wednesday, the ACLU of Southern California released the results of a statewide survey that it commissioned to gauge the attitudes of likely voters toward policing reforms.

The results were overwhelming:

84 percent favor requiring police officers to wear body cameras.

74 percent of survey respondents believe the public should have access to footage from those body cameras any time that a police officer stands accused of misconduct. A narrow majority believes that the public should have access to all footage.

As for investigations into misconduct by police officers, 79 percent believe the public should have access to the findings if there has been wrongdoing, and 64 percent believe the public should have that same access anytime a cop is even accused.

It is a testament to the political clout of police unions in the Golden State that policies favored by large majorities of Republican, Democratic, and independent voters are not policy. In Los Angeles, body cameras will roll out in greater numbers this Wednesday, but the LAPD has no plans to allow the public to see the footage generated. Statewide, the results of investigations into police-officer misconduct are sealed from public view under some of the most restrictive laws in the country, often passed by Democratic-controlled legislatures and signed by Democratic governors. Jerry Brown, the current governor, signed one of the worst laws during his last go-round in Sacramento, during the late 1970s. The Democrats who control the state now have yet to reverse it, despite the fact that rank-and-file Democrats are the biggest supporters of transparency. That is an embarrassing failure, and many of their Republican rivals in Sacramento are no better or worse. Read More > in The Atlantic

Netflix Is Dumping Anti-Virus, Presages Death Of An Industry – For years, nails have been hammering down on the coffin of anti-virus. But none have really put the beast to bed. An industry founded in the 1980s, a time when John McAfee was known as a pioneer rather than a tequila-downing rascal, has survived despite the rise of umpteen firms who claim to offer services that eradicate the need for anti-virus.

Now, however, movie streaming titan Netflix is hammering a rather significant nail in that old coffin, one that could well lead to the industry’s final interment. Because Netflix, a well-known innovator in the tech sphere, is the first major web firm to openly dump its anti-virus, FORBES has learned. And where Netflix goes, others often follow; just look at the massive uptick of public cloud usage in recent years, following the company’s major investment in Amazon Web Services.

Let’s take a second to look at the decline of the anti-virus industry. Anti-virus has been the first line of defence for many firms over the last quarter of a century. Generally speaking, AV relies on malware signatures and behavioural analysis to uncover threats to people’s PCs and smartphones. But in the last 10 years, research has indicated AV is rarely successful in detecting smart malware. In 2014, Lastline Labs discovered only 51 per cent of AV scanners were able to detect new malware samples.

Despite its shortcomings, many are still required to keep hold of their AV product because they’re required to by compliance laws, in particular PCI DSS, the regulation covering payment card protections. There’s also the argument that AV is necessary to pick up the “background noise”, as Quocirca analyst Bob Tarzey describes it. “Despite more and more targeted attacks, random viruses are still rife and traditional AV is still good at dealing with these,” he claims. Major players, including Symantec SYMC +0.00% and Kaspersky, continue to make significant sums, even if results aren’t stellar.

But it’s now possible to dump anti-virus altogether, and Netflix is about to prove it. The firm has found a vendor that covers those compliance demands in the form of SentinelOne. As SentinelOne CEO Tomer Weingarten told me, his firm was given third-party certification from the independent AV-TEST Institute, validating it can do just what anti-virus does in terms of protecting against known threats, whilst providing “an additional new layer of advanced threat protection”. Its end-point security doesn’t rely on signatures, it monitors every process on a device to check for irregularities and does not perform on-system scans or require massive updates like anti-virus, Weingarten said. Read More > at Forbes

When the truth hurts – In 2006 in California, Anne Wojcicki co-founded the personal genetics company 23andMe, with the mission of ‘helping people access, understand and benefit from the human genome’. For around $100 and a saliva sample, anyone can receive detailed information about their ancestry. If you live in the UK, you also get a range of health information, including genetic risks. 23andMe’s big selling point is the idea that the more we know about our genetics, the better decisions we make.

Better genetic information certainly has huge potential to help people optimise their health and live longer. Knowing you’re at increased risk of certain diseases gives you the option of taking steps to reduce that risk. In 2013, when the actress Angelina Jolie found out she had the BRCA1 gene and an estimated 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer at some point over her life, she opted to have a preventative double mastectomy – reducing her risk to 5 per cent. Jolie clearly felt that this information made her much better off.

But more genetic information isn’t always better. Unlike for breast cancer, there are no clear preventative measures you can take if you find out you have a high risk of developing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. If that knowledge is going to be a dark cloud over your life, you might reasonably prefer not to know. Information about biological relatives has helped to reunite families, but it has also torn them apart. When ‘George Doe’ (an alias) gave his parents the ‘gift’ of genetic testing, he found out that he had a half-brother that no one else in his family knew about. His ‘gift’ to his parents turned out to be a divorce.

Every day, we’re forced to make decisions about how much we want to know. Sometimes we opt to remain ignorant: by choosing not to learn about the health risks we might face later in life, by putting off finding out how our partner really feels about our relationship, or by avoiding feedback on how well we’re performing at work. When is it worth facing these painful truths, and when are we genuinely better off not knowing? Read More > at Aeon

California Can’t Save the World From Climate Change – Governor Jerry Brown celebrated last week when a recently published study – from researchers affiliated with Columbia University, the University of Idaho, and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies – determined climate change is, in fact, a contributor to the state’s drought. However, Brown’s celebrations may be premature. The study determined that just 8% to 27% of the precipitation irregularity between 2012 and 2014 can be attributed to climate change and only 5% to 18% of the anomaly for 2014 – the only year, thus far, that researchers determined reached record-breaking conditions. Nevertheless, climate change impacts California’s water supply, but interestingly Governor Brown’s climate change-drought rhetoric doesn’t match his actions.

If indeed climate change has been a major contributor to California’s drought conditions, then the current conditions should be thought of as California’s new normal when it comes to water availability. If that is the case, then California must comprehensively reform its water system. Instead, Sacramento’s drought policy has been to conserve our way out of the dry-spell and hope-and-pray that the brewing El Niño conditions bring historically epic levels of rain and snowfall this winter to replenish the estimated 12 trillion gallons of water needed to reach pre-drought levels.

While conservation is a necessary component to deal with the drought, a conservation-only policy isn’t sufficient under this new normal. Municipal water only accounts for between 10% and 14% of California’s total water use. As such, a 25% reduction in municipal water use – the current statewide mandated conservation level – will only result in a mere 2.5% to 3.5% drop in California’s total water consumption. If, as the study suggests, California’s drought conditions are more likely than not to be the new normal, more action is absolutely required.

With Sierra Nevada snowfall occurring both less often and for a shorter period, California’s current reliance on converting snowpack into developed water needs reassessment. Not only does California need to expand its water storage capacity in order to catch more of the snowpack that does exist, it also must find ways to develop other types of water sources, including rainfall and ocean water. Currently, California lets approximately 21 million acre-feet of water drain into the Pacific Ocean in an average year – or in other terms, about half of California’s average annual use flows away untapped. Moreover, California’s 800-plus miles of coastline present an opportunity to develop new sources of water. New technological advancements are making desalination both more cost effective and environmentally-friendly. Building out new water supplies, while infrastructure intensive, is a necessity under the new normal. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Terror and Surprise on the Paris Express – Terrorists rely on concealment in order to launch surprise attacks.

Last week’s attempted attack on a high-speed train traveling from Holland to Paris via Belgium involved successful concealment, up to a point. At that point, the passengers surprised the terrorist.

Islamist terrorist Ayoub El Khazzani managed to evade security agency surveillance in at least five countries. Despite strict Belgian and French gun- and ammunition-control laws, not only did Khazzani acquire an AK-47 assault rifle, but when the moment came to wage armed jihad, he successfully evaded rail station security and slipped his AK with 200 rounds of ammo on board an elite trans-European express.

Wait, police spokesmen are wont to say, in a free society the cops can’t be everywhere all the time. Too true. And when targeting free societies, terrorists bank on it. Concealed in the open may be an oxymoron. Yet terrorists do conceal themselves in open societies by passing as peaceful members of that society.

Khazzani passed as peaceful. He intended to surprise the train passengers, and he did, sort of. Reliance on surprise makes terror attacks a type of ambush. By definition, in an ambush, attackers strike from concealed positions. In a military ambush, where soldiers ambush soldiers, the attackers must remain concealed until the second they trigger the ambush. If surprise is lost and the ambush is discovered, the ambushers lose their advantage.

Khazzani muffed the transition from concealment to attack. A French banker, identified as Damien A., saw him in a lavatory with his weapon. He grabbed at Khazzani. Khazzani ran into the rail car where passenger Mark Moogalian (an American living in France) accosted him.

Now Khazzani is targeting unarmed civilians. Blown ambush? Shouting? No problem. He has firepower. He shot Moogalian.

But other passengers had more surprises. Instead of cowering, they responded heroically. First one, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, got to Khazzani, and then a second, and then four were on him. He could not aim the weapon. In the hand-to-hand struggle, he pulled a pair of box cutters and wounded Stone. He drew a pistol. But Stone’s friends, Oregon Army National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos and California college student Anthony Sadler, kept battering him. British businessman Chris Norman joined the fight. They disarmed and pinned Khazzani. To emphasize his disapproval, Skarlatos used the AK’s muzzle to make repetitive metal impressions on Khazzani’s head. Did the message get through? Khazzani was a finger twitch from eternity. Read More > at TownHall

ESPN’s Uncomfortable, Unnerving Relationship With The NFL – Maybe it’s all just a coincidence. Stranger things have happened. Given enough time and enough events, things just happen to align. After all, Walt Disney DIS +2.23%-owned ESPN is the biggest sports outlet, and the NFL is the most popular sport in America. Given enough news and enough stories, could ESPN simply appear to be favoring the NFL with biased stories, peddling misinformation, and making moves to protect the NFL?

I’m not the first to whisper these words. And, given the amount of money that ESPN pays the NFL to air games, well, every story that favors the NFL as the league continues to be mired in controversy begs the question, is ESPN afraid to not only bite the hand that feeds, but is also pandering to them?

ESPN has oddly handled the controversial stories in the NFL, with the Ray Rice story being one.

But it’s the Deflategate matter that has really called into question whether ESPN has been carrying water for the NFL and Goodell. By now you’ve probably been made aware of the whole story of how Tom Brady had allegedly been involved in a scheme to deflate footballs. That originated with a story by ESPN insider Chris Mortensen that said 11 of 12 New England Patriots footballs were deflated below league standards as part of the AFC Championship game. But the problem is, when you look at emails between the Patriots and the NFL, you’ll find that the story was clearly a plant of misinformation and that the only source that would have had a reason to pass on the misinformation to Mortensen was the NFL. The whole case against Brady in the court of public opinion begins with that ESPN story. And while Mortensen said on the Dan Le Batard Show that he could have done a “better job vetting” the story, he backtracked saying of the story, the footballs were “significantly under inflated.”

…There’s nothing saying ESPN is sitting there with Goodell and is complicit in some grand scheme to become a mouthpiece for the NFL at every turn. What should be a real concern is that one day something like that could happen. That the relationship between a major league and media power broker will become so tight that they become nothing more than a PR arm of a league. Some may say that it’s already happened. I’m not willing to go there, mostly because the thought of it spells the beginning of the end for independent voices in the media. But what I am willing to say is the relationships are becoming unnerving and edging on uncomfortable. ESPN, prove me wrong. Read More > at Forbes

New study: NFL players aren’t arrested as often as you may think – During the past decade, the NFL has at times found itself in the middle of some troubling headlines, ranging from situations such as Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring, to Plaxico Burress’ nightclub incident, to the general reputation of the Bengals a decade or so ago.

But according to a new study, the NFL isn’t in the middle of a crime epidemic, no matter the public perception.

A new UT Dallas study, published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, revealed that between 2000 and 2013, the arrest rate for NFL players was considerably lower than the arrest rate for the general population. According to the study, “The National Felon League? A Comparison of NFL Arrests to General Population Arrests,” the general population’s arrest rate during that time span was almost twice as high as the arrest rate for NFL players.

“The majority of NFL players don’t commit crimes, they’re not arrested,” said Dr. Alex Piquero, one of the study’s authors. “Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the majority of the NFL players aren’t out there being arrested.” Read More > at CBS Sports

No, You Do Not Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day – If there is one health myth that will not die, it is this: You should drink eight glasses of water a day.

It’s just not true. There is no science behind it.

And yet every summer we are inundated with news media reports warning that dehydration is dangerous and also ubiquitous.

These reports work up a fear that otherwise healthy adults and children are walking around dehydrated, even that dehydration has reached epidemic proportions.

…Many people believe that the source of this myth was a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that said people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. But they ignored the sentence that followed closely behind. It read, “Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”

…Contrary to many stories you may hear, there’s no real scientific proof that, for otherwise healthy people, drinking extra water has any health benefits. For instance, reviews have failed to find that there’s any evidence that drinking more water keeps skin hydrated and makes it look healthier or wrinkle free. It is true that some retrospective cohort studies have found increased water to be associated with better outcomes, but these are subject to the usual epidemiologic problems, such as an inability to prove causation. Moreover, they defined “high” water consumption at far fewer than eight glasses.

Water is present in fruits and vegetables. It’s in juice, it’s in beer, it’s even in tea and coffee. Before anyone writes me to tell me that coffee is going to dehydrate you, research shows that’s not true either. Read More > in The New York Times

Refugees race into Hungary as border fence nears completion – Thousands of refugees, most fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have been snaking northward through the Balkans in recent days, confronting a Europe woefully unprepared to deal with them at every step.

Most endured a perilous crossing to Greece aboard rafts and boats, some barely fit to sail. They traversed Greece, a nation paralyzed by economic crisis and too poor to handle a flow of people that in July hit a record high. At the border with Macedonia late last week, they trudged through a wall of riot police, who fought them back with tear gas before relenting. Now, the asylum-seekers, thousands a day, are racing into Hungary, which is rushing to complete a barbed-wire border fence by the end of the month to force them to seek other routes.

It is a long parade of misery unparalleled in Europe in recent years. But the continent has so far failed to agree how to respond. Amid a refugee crisis that by some measures is the worst since World War II, individual nations are being left to improvise their own measures. In Hungary, that is taking the form of 108 miles of barbed wire and fencing.

The crisis is shaking fundamental tenets of European life, including the principle of free movement between most of the nations of the European Union. It is fueling a surge of anti-migrant sentiment in the countries that are housing the bulk of the asylum-seekers, Germany and Sweden. And it is straining the weakest countries, such as Greece, that are on migration’s front lines. Read More > in The Washington Post

Mad Dash: Young OSU fan worried about Michigan heart surgery – The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is one that contains a multitude of stories, but the latest may be the most heartwarming one you’ll ever encounter. Ivan Applin is a 10-year old Ohio State fan who lives in Toledo, but needed to have an operation to have holes in his heart fixed at the Congenital Heart Center at University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. When he sat down to discuss the procedure with his doctor, Applin was concerned about his heart, but maybe not in the way you’d expect.

“He asked if the Michigan doctors were going to make his heart love University of Michigan instead of Ohio State,” his mother Jennifer laughs.

His pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Ronald Grifka, assured Applin that he’d wake up loving the Buckeyes as much as ever, and that’s just what happened. The operation went off without a hitch, and Applin is eager to get back to playing soccer, and assume, watching Ohio State this fall. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

Oakland Loses Legal Battle Over Nation’s Largest Pot Shop – A federal court has rejected the City of Oakland’s last-ditch attempt to save the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary.

In its decision Thursday, the three judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that the city did have standing to intervene in the government’s civil forfeiture suit against Harborside Health Center. Still, the panel concluded, the U.S. Justice Department’s push to shut down the dispensary was also justified.

“The end result is Oakland and its 400,000 residents have no recourse,” said Attorney Cedric Chao, who represented Oakland in the suit. Despite the impending hit to the city’s tax revenue, “they cannot seek relief in the courts,” he added.

As to whether or not the city will ask a larger panel of the 9th Circuit to review the case, Chao said the city had not yet decided. He will now confer with city officials to determine their next move; if the court’s decision stands after further appeal, the forfeiture proceedings will reopen in federal district court. Read More > in California City News

East Bay developer pleads guilty in $230 million mortgage loan scheme – An East Bay developer who was a top executive at Discovery Sales Inc., created by builder Albert Seeno, has pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud in a case prosecutors said eventually cost banks $75 million.

Ayman Shahid, 39, of Danville, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Oakland on Monday. He is now working with prosecutor to help bring down eight other defendants involved in a $230 million mortgage loan scheme at the height of the financial crisis from 2006 to 2008.

He will face between 70 to 87 months in prison.

“Shahid and his co-conspirators were responsible for saddling the banking system with dozens of fraudulent mortgage loans without regard for the damage those loans would cause to individual home-buyers, downstream investors, and ultimately the U.S. economy,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in a statement.

The fraud focused on 325 homes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Shahid said Discovery offered incentives to buyers while inflating the homes’ value and even paid part of the loans initially so buyers would default. Buyers often weren’t required to put down any of their own money. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

The Jarryd ‘Hayne Train’ Has Arrived in San Francisco and Isn’t Leaving Anytime Soon – Even after three trips to the NFC Championship game the past four seasons, optimism for the San Francisco 49ers 2015 season has been tumultuous at best. It began with Jim Harbaugh quickly leaving for the University of Michigan and continued with the sudden retirements of star linebacker Patrick Willis, starting lineman Anthony Davis and the much publicized sudden retirement of Chris Borland due to future health concerns.

Just when things seemed to calm down in Santa Clara, volatile but immensely talented linebacker Aldon Smith exhausted his final chance with the team when he was allegedly pulled over for drunk driving amongst other charges. Now it seems the team still can’t fix the turf problems that have plagued them since Levi’s Stadium opened officially before last season.

With the numerous personnel losses, the national pundits aren’t exactly predicting the 49ers to become the first team to play the Super Bowl at home when Levi’s Stadium hosts the Super Bowl next February.

For a fan-base that has witnessed almost only bad news when the 49ers since the end of last season, the emergence of Jarryd Hayne has been a welcome breath of fresh air to the team that will take any and every piece of good publicity these days.

Who is Jarryd Hayne you ask?

He’s the two-time Australian Rugby League Player of the Year and the 2009 Rugby League International Federation’s International Player of the Year. For quick consult of his talents in rugby, look no further than the video below to see his absolute dominance of the National Rugby League (NRL). Read More > in Forbes

Bay Area egg prices soaring after avian flu, cage restrictions – Six-dollar eggs at Safeway? It’s becoming the new normal.

Benchmark egg prices in California have gone up by 150 percent in a year, from $1.45 per dozen large eggs last August to $3.61 today, according to the USDA. While the avian flu outbreak this spring that resulted in the killing of 48 million domestic chickens and turkeys, mostly in the Midwest, continues to have a ripple effect across the country, a perfect storm of additional factors in California, namely the rollout of Proposition 2 and higher chicken feed prices, are wreaking havoc on Bay Area supermarket egg prices and limiting the supply of eggs to local restaurants, ice cream shops and bakeries.

…Eggs have been unpredictable at grocery stores, too. Last week at San Francisco’s Diamond Heights Safeway, prices started at $5.99 a dozen, with one brand available to club card members for $4.49. At SoMa’s Whole Foods, the least-expensive eggs were $3.29 per dozen. Representatives at both supermarkets declined comment.

California produced 18 percent fewer eggs between May 2014 and May 2015, whereas the country’s egg production is expected to drop only 4 percent this year, according to USDA statistics. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Before a Robot Takes Your Job, You’ll Be Working Side By Side – …Forrester takes a less dire view. Examining workforces at large companies across industries, including Delta Airlines Inc., Whole Foods Market Inc., and Lowe’s Companies Inc. as well as many startups, analyst J.P. Gownder estimated that automation would erase 22.7 million US jobs by 2025 — 16% of today’s total. However, that decline would be offset somewhat by new jobs created, making for a net loss of 7%, or 9.1 million jobs.

…Of course, the rise of robots would create some degree of employment, the report noted. People whose jobs were replaced by robots could find themselves working in robot repair. For every 10 jobs consumed by automation, one new job would be created in software, engineering, design, maintenance, support, or training.

The remaining nine jobs would be wrung from a wide variety of industries and roles. Office support, construction, and sales would suffer the greatest impact, the report found. Self-help services would replace cashiers, retail salespeople, and real estate brokers and agents. Repair workers, plumbers and electricians would fall to smart household gadgets.

The seeds of such changes are already evident in customer-service professions, the report observed. Robots deliver room service to guests at Aloft hotels. Kiosks, not humans, take orders at Schlotzsky’s Deli in Austin, Texas. Lowe’s hardware chain is testing Oshbot, a robotic sales assistant that can answer questions, show customers a map of the store, or lead them directly to the products they seek. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

You Can’t Time the Market – …Unless maybe you’re planning to retire tomorrow. Are you planning to retire tomorrow? I don’t mean “soon.” I mean, are you planning to retire on Aug. 25, 2015? Because if not, there’s no reason for you to be looking at the day-to-day movements in your 401(k). You probably lost a lot of money in the last week. And you know what you can do about that? Nothing.

Oh, sure, you could try to time the market by selling now, waiting for it to bottom, and buying back. A lot of people get rich doing this in novels, particularly novels set in the Great Depression. You know why they’re able to do this? Because the author gets to cheat; they have the prices right there in front of them, and they can whisper them to their character, maybe along with a plausible rationale as to how they should know this is the top, and then recognize the bottom when it comes along. In the real Great Depression, a lot of people took a bath attempting this strategy, because what they thought was the bottom turned out to be a temporary pause before the market dropped into the basement, then got out a pick and a shovel and started digging through the bedrock.

…Attempting to time the market, like most other active trading strategies, produces at best a modest premium that roughly pays for the work needed to generate the excess profits. (At worst, you lose much more in herd behavior and trading fees than you gain in value.) But that’s for people who do this for a living. The odds that you, who have so many other things to think about, are going to wade into the market and outperform the professionals are approximately the same as the odds of you getting up out of your armchair, wandering down to the nearest major league sports arena, and outperforming the folks on the field.

That’s why all the best financial advice is to buy broad market funds and then just hold them. I’ve interviewed a fair number of finance professors over my years as a columnist. These people spend their lives studying how to make money in financial markets. You know what they do with their nest eggs? That’s right, all the ones I’ve ever talked to had the overwhelming majority of their money in the same boring Vanguard or TIAA-CREF index funds. Read More > in Bloomberg View

California, and particularly the Bay Area, has worst regulatory climate for small businesses, study says – A new study from the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute has ranked the regulatory climate for small businesses in California the worst out of all 50 states — and the Bay Area is a prime example of why.

The reasons? Costly regulations on short-term disability insurance and a minimum wage that’s 25 percent higher than the national average.

“California’s regulatory policy makes it more difficult and more costly for current and potential entrepreneurs,” said study author Wayne Winegarden, a senior fellow at PRI and a partner in the consulting firm Capitol Economic Advisors, in an interview Friday. “These higher costs reduce the amount of business growth and reduces the ability of small businesses to withstand economic shocks because their buffers are smaller. More broadly, the regulations are raising the cost of living for all Californians.”

…“Due to the large litany of anti-growth regulations in the lowest ranked 10 states, significant improvements to their regulatory environments require broad-based regulatory reforms in addition to adopting right-to-work laws,” said the report.

That includes pressing lawmakers to reduce family leave mandates, ideally deferring to the federal regulations as opposed to including additional state mandates and eliminating energy policies, such as policies that subsidize politically favored energy sources, that increase the costs of electricity and other forms of energy. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

California limits hybrid rebates to households earning less than $500,000 – Hundreds of Californians with household incomes of $500,000 or more have collected state subsidies for buying electric and hybrid cars under a program that is criticized as a taxpayer handout to the wealthy..

Money for the subsidies comes from a surcharge on vehicle registration fees and a portion of the smog fee paid by California motorists. There were no income limits for the subsidy when the program was enacted in 2010.

The average household income in California is just over $60,000, noted Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. Subsidies for residents who make $250,000, he said, amount to “welfare for the rich” and “a slap in the face to average Californians.”

“Clean” cars typically cost more than those that run on gasoline. State authorities say they are trying to find the right balance between providing an incentive for the growth of the electric car industry and helping low- and moderate-income drivers buy the vehicles.

State regulators, in response, are restricting the subsidies to Californians who earn less than $250,000 or couples taking in less than $500,000. But that standard is also under fire from some lawmakers and anti-tax activists, who ask why subsidies worth up to $5,000 are given to people who can already afford the cars. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Why salad is so overrated – As the world population grows, we have a pressing need to eat better and farm better, and those of us trying to figure out how to do those things have pointed at lots of different foods as problematic. Almonds, for their water use. Corn, for the monoculture. Beef, for its greenhouse gases. In each of those cases, there’s some truth in the finger-pointing, but none of them is a clear-cut villain.

There’s one food, though, that has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.

It’s salad, and here are three main reasons why we need to rethink it.

Salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition. The biggest thing wrong with salads is lettuce, and the biggest thing wrong with lettuce is that it’s a leafy-green waste of resources.

…One of the people I heard from about nutrition is organic consultant Charles Benbrook. He and colleague Donald Davis developed a nutrient quality index — a way to rate foods based on how much of 27 nutrients they contain per 100 calories. Four of the five lowest-ranking foods (by serving size) are salad ingredients: cucumbers, radishes, lettuce and celery. (The fifth is eggplant.)

Those foods’ nutritional profile can be partly explained by one simple fact: They’re almost all water. Although water figures prominently in just about every vegetable (the sweet potato, one of the least watery, is 77 percent), those four salad vegetables top the list at 95 to 97 percent water. A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian (1-liter size: 96 percent water, 4 percent bottle) and is only marginally more nutritious. Read More > in The Washington Post

Smart DNA nanobots mount a deadly attack on cancer cells, First human trial this year – Cancer is one of the biggest killers in the world. Every year it takes more than 8 million lives which amounts to approximately 50% of the amount diagnosed with the disease. The most unfortunate is the suffering that the patient and the family has to go through. This is primarily due to the side effects of chemotherapy drugs and related treatments.

The disease form tumors in tissues or in body flow system as a result of abnormal cell growth caused by DNA damage. Although, there is a debate, it’s generally believed that cancer is caused by genetic and environmental reasons. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment are among the most used conventional cancer treatment methods. Surgery is quite effective if the cancer is identified at the initial stage. Chemotherapy uses drugs to battle malignant cancer cells and quite widely used in treatment of both early and advanced stages of cancer. Radiotherapy use ionizing radiation such as X-Rays and gamma rays to kill remaining cancer cells after chemotherapy and/or surgery treatment.

Chemotherapy is at the heart of any conventional cancer treatment procedure. It has been used quite effectively and the efficiency and the specificity of the drugs to the cancer cells have been increased over the years. However, chemotherapy drugs still greatly lacks the ability of specifically target only the cancer cells. When conventional chemotherapy drugs are injected in to the blood stream they will be distributed across the body attacking both cancer and normal cells. This can set off various side effects depending on the type of the cancer, location of the tumor, type of the drug, dosage and the general health of the patient. The side effects can range from headaches to painful mouth sores, to permanent damage to vital organs in the body.

It’s quite right to say, developing a drug system that only target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed is the holy grail of cancer research. Two years back a group of scientists from Harvard’s Wyss Institute made a huge advancement towards this goal by designing and fabricating a nanobot that can autonomously target a cancer cell and deliver a payload of chemotherapy drugs. Read More > at Ninithi

Governor’s Aides Urge CalPERS to Speed Up Rate Hike – CalPERS took another step last week toward a gradual long-term rate hike, a move to lower the risk of big investment losses as the maturing pension system enters a new era.

Retirees are beginning to outnumber active workers. Pension payments to retirees are no longer covered by employer-employee contributions and investment income. Now “negative cash flow” forces the sale of some investments to cover annual pension costs.

The new need to routinely sell some investments (see two charts at bottom) is one of the reasons the California Public Employees Retirement System is expected to have even more difficulty recovering from investment losses in the future.

After a loss of $100 billion in the recent recession, the CalPERS funding level dropped from 100 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2009. It has not recovered, despite a major bull market in which the S&P 500 index of large stocks tripled. Read More > at Public CEO


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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