Sunday Reading – 10/04/15

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 Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret – We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.

Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Huh? You’re wondering what I’ve been smoking! Everybody knows about the spread of war, the rise of AIDS and other diseases, the hopeless intractability of poverty.

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty. Read More > in The New York Times

Op-Ed Affordable-housing problem lies, in part, with government – …But let’s just focus on California. Government exertions — and there have been plenty — have barely amounted to a rounding error in the total supply of housing stock. Since the mid-1980s, California’s various programs to subsidize, incentivize and mandate affordable housing have produced all of 7,000 units a year, “or about 5 percent of total public and private housing construction,” according to a May 2015 report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The LAO study, which should be required reading for anyone who seeks to make or influence housing policy in the Golden State, includes a recommendation that government recognize its own limitations when intervening in the lower-end residential real
estate market.

“The scale of these programs — even if greatly increased — could not meet the magnitude of new housing required,” it states. What’s needed are “broader changes that facilitate more private housing construction,” it says.

But if policymakers and activists are serious about getting housing prices down, they need to acknowledge their own role in bidding the market up. Prices — even in housing — are a function of supply and demand, and politicians along California’s coast have been systematically pinching supply for decades.

For example: “Development fees — charges levied on builders as a condition of development — are higher in California than the rest of the country,” the LAO report notes (and the difference is substantial: $22,000 versus $6,000, on average). It takes seven months to get a building permit in coastal areas (compared with 4 1/2 months nationally), 12 months to get a rezoning variance (compared with 9 months), and projects subject to the state’s intensive Environmental Impact Review process take an average of 21/2 years to approve.

When you make a good more expensive to produce, you’re going to get less of it. Housing stock in the L.A. metro area grew by just 20% between 1980 and 2010, according to the LAO report, compared with 54% on average in other American metropolitan areas. When you add statutory limits to housing growth, a California coastal favorite, the fog behind the state’s persistently high housing prices lifts still further. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

For The First Time In 6 Years, No NFL Players Were Arrested Last Month – The NFL has no shortage of players with rap sheets. Thirty three players have been arrested in 2015, according to The San Diego Tribune’s NFL arrest database. Whether it’s Aaron Hernandez or Aldon Smith, football players making headlines for committing crimes feels like a routine part of the news cycle.

This past September, however, not a single NFL player was arrested, as Reuters reporter Mike Rosenberg pointed out on Thursday.

No September arrests also means no punishments have been doled out by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In 2015 already, players have been suspended for a total of nine games, losing out on income and playing time. Job security-wise, this also means no players had to be cut because of an arrest. Out of the 33 NFL player arrests in 2015, tw of them lead to the player being released by his team.

A clean month for the league should also see the NFL player arrest rate drop. It’s already significantly lower than those of men ages 20-39 in the general population, an August study from the Journal of Criminal Justice found. The problem, however, is that NFL players are more likely to be arrested for violent crimes.

The last player arrest came in late August, when San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks was charged with sexual battery. Read More > in the Huffington Post

Can Digital Books Ever Replace Print? – From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.

By 2009, it was impossible to ignore the Kindle. Released in 2007, its first version was a curiosity. It was unwieldy, with a split keyboard and an asymmetrical layout that favoured only the right hand. It was a strange and strangely compelling object. Its ad-hoc angles and bland beige colour conjured a 1960s sci-fi futurism. It looked exactly like its patent drawing. (Patent drawings are often abstractions of the final product.) It felt like it had arrived both by time machine and worm hole; not of our era but composed of our technology.

…The way we consume media changes over time. The largest changes can be explained, in part, through the lens of value proposition. For example: is the value proposition of reading a printed newspaper, with its physicality, its smell, its serendipity, its utility as a fly-swatter, greater than reading a newspaper’s website, which is immediate, universally accessible, networked, and sharable? Precipitous drops in print subscriptions indicate no. We readers see far greater value in the instant access and quick updates of the web than in the physicality of the printed broadsheet.

…But in the past two years, something unexpected happened: I lost the faith. Gradually at first and then undeniably, I stopped buying digital books. I realised this only a few months ago, when taking stock of my library, both digital and physical. Physical books – most of all, works of literary fiction – I continue to acquire voraciously. I split my time between New York and Tokyo, and know that with each New York trip I’ll pick up a dozen or more volumes from bookstores or friends. My favourite gifts, to give and to receive, are still physical books. The allure of the curated front tables at McNally Jackson or Three Lives and Company is too much to resist.

The great irony, of course, is that I’ve never read more digitally in my life. Each day, I spend hours reading on my iPhone – news articles, blog posts and essays. Short to mid-length content feels indigenous to the size, resolution and use cases of smartphones, and many online publications (such as this very site) display their content with beautiful typography and layouts that render consistently on any computer, tablet or smartphone. Phones also allow us to share articles with minimal effort. The easy romance between our smartphones and short-to-mid-length articles and video is part of the reason why venture capitalists have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into New York publishing upstarts such as Vox, Vice and Buzzfeed. The smartphone coupled with the open web creates a near-perfect container for distributing journalism at a grand scale.

But what of digital books? What accounts for my unconscious migration back to print? Read More > at Aeon

The War of Amazon, Apple and Other Near-Monopolies – Amazon has announced that it will stop selling Google Chromecast and Apple TV devices at the end of the month. Why? Because these devices don’t fully work with Amazon’s streaming video service. Amazon is apparently willing to anger some of its customers in order to deliver a competitive edge to its own streaming services.

We’ll get to the morality and wisdom of this move in a minute, but let’s stop to note that this is yet another skirmish in a long battle between the tech giants of our era. Four companies — Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple — are all jockeying to control as much of our technology experience as possible. A legal expert that I interviewed a few years back called it “the war of the APIs,” but it goes well beyond that. Each company is trying to leverage the dominance it has in one area to push into as many other areas as possible, while simultaneously trying to undercut the other firms that are already there.

So when Apple announced that its mobile devices would finally permit ad-blocking apps, that was a win for consumers — and also a blow for Google, which makes its money off of those ads. Google, of course, has already challenged Apple where it makes its money, on pricey mobile devices. And now Amazon would like to force both of those behemoths to support its streaming video service — or steer consumers toward devices, like Roku, which already do.

This is exactly the sort of activity — leveraging a quasi-monopoly to gain dominance in another market — that caused the Justice Department to go after Microsoft in the 1990s. And indeed, one already hears rumblings about applying net neutrality rules to content providers (providers who, ironically, supported net neutrality as a way to keep cable companies off their turf). If Comcast can’t give preferential treatment to XFinity over Netflix, then why should Apple TV be allowed to favor iTunes content over Amazon Video? Read More > in Bloomberg

New ozone standard too strict for business, too weak for environmentalists – Air quality may improve, but business groups say the economy will take a hit from the stricter ground-level ozone standard adopted Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA issued a final regulation limiting ozone to 70 parts per billion over eight hours, down from a limit of 75 parts per billion adopted in 2008.

The new standard is not as strict as environmentalists wanted or business groups feared. A study released by by the National Association of Manufacturers a year ago estimated that an ozone standard of 60 parts per billion standard would cost $3 trillion in compliance costs from 2017 to 2040, making it the most expensive federal regulation ever.

Still, business groups criticized the 70 parts per billion standard.

“While the pain could have been even more acute with a tighter standard, this rule will mean fewer jobs and less economic opportunities in communities across the U.S.,” said Karen Kerrigan, president of the Center for Regulatory Solutions, a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

Nearly 1,000 counties around the U.S. will not meet the new ozone standard, according to the American Petroleum Institute. This could jeopardize new oil and natural gas production, manufacturing expansions and infrastructure projects in these areas. Read More > in the Sacramento Business Journal

RoboCab: Driverless Taxi Experiment to Start in Japan – From the country where hotels are operated by robots and androids serve as clerks at department stores comes the latest unmanned project: the robot cab.

Japan’s cabinet office, Kanagawa prefecture and Robot Taxi Inc. on Thursday said they will start experimenting with unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The service will be offered for approximately 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, with the auto-driving car carrying them from their homes to local grocery stores.

According to the project organizers, the cabs will drive a distance of about three kilometers (two miles), and part of the course will be on major avenues in the city. Crew members will be aboard the car during the experiment in case there is a need to avoid accidents.

Robot Taxi Inc., a joint venture between mobile Internet company DeNA Co. and vehicle technology developer ZMP Inc., is aiming to commercialize its driverless transportation service by 2020. The company says it will seek to offer unmanned cabs to users including travelers from overseas and locals in areas where buses and trains are not available. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Nevada Shines Light Onto America’s Future – It used to be neighboring California foreshadowing the ways in which the nation as a whole was heading. Now it’s Nevada that, perhaps more than any other state, offers a glimpse into the future. The change that has occurred so rapidly there — from having a population that was overwhelmingly white to one that will soon be mostly people of color — is under way in most of the nation, or will be in the coming decades. The Census Bureau has predicted the country as a whole will be majority nonwhite by the year 2043.

The “diversity explosion,” as Brookings Institution demographer William Frey calls it, is most pronounced among the young. Already, a majority of K-12 students across the nation belong to minority groups. According to Frey, since 2000 all but four states have actually seen a decline in their population of whites under 20, while all but two states have experienced growth among young people of color. “The continued dispersion of Latinos and Asians into Las Vegas and Nevada is emblematic of what’s happening everywhere,” Frey says.

You don’t have to embrace diversity to recognize that it’s coming. In this sense, Nevada might serve as a warning. Although Hispanics have accounted for nearly half the state’s growth in recent years, in terms of policy response, they have remained mostly an afterthought. Few government programs have evolved in order to serve a more diverse population. When it comes to social services and education, in particular, Nevada is still catching up. “There’s no doubt we’re behind,” says Dale Erquiaga, the state superintendent of public instruction. Read More > at Governing

California’s new Death Row — Virginia – California has a new Death Row — it’s called Virginia. Death penalty opponents, federal judges and defense attorneys have been so successful at blocking capital punishment in California that a San Quentin Death Row inmate has more to fear from being extradited for a capital murder to another state than seeing his sentence carried out here. There has been no execution in California since a federal judge effectively halted the practice in 2006.

Take serial killer Alfredo Prieto. In 2005, Prieto was on San Quentin’s Death Row for the 1990 rape and murder of 15-year-old Yvette Woodruff in Riverside County, when DNA evidence linked him to three 1988 murders in Virginia. Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California sent Prieto to Virginia, where killers sentenced to death actually face the likelihood of execution. (Authorities say evidence links Prieto to nine murders.) In 2010, a Virginia jury sentenced Prieto to death for the murder of Rachel Raver and Warren Fulton, both 22. Prieto is scheduled for lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Virginia Thursday night. Just 13 inmates have been executed in California since the death penalty resumed in 1978. Prieto will become the second√ California Death Row prisoner to be executed in another state. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

For Marijuana in California, Line Between Legal and Illegal Gets Hazy – …The new laws abolish collectives and cooperatives. Instead there will be state licenses for commercial growers, distributors and sellers, and additional licenses required in cities and counties that choose to be “wet” jurisdictions instead of “dry.”

The Wild West days are over. From now on, the medical marijuana industry will have to answer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Board of Equalization, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Consumer Affairs, Cal OSHA, the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the new chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

Growers will be assessed fees and fines for any impact on streams, rivers, lakes, fish or wildlife. They’ll be required to label each plant with a government-assigned “unique identifier,” part of a “track and trace” program that follows every product from seed to sale.

Weighing and measuring devices will be strictly regulated. Facilities will be required to have adequate security systems to prevent theft. New tax reporting requirements will log the movement of commercial cannabis and cannabis products through the distribution chain, capturing names, addresses, license numbers, transaction dates and taxes due.

There will be new regulations for production and labeling, pesticide standards, requirements for inspections, batch testing and tamper-evident packaging, workplace safety standards, and enforcement measures against doctors who engage in “excessive recommending.”

And unions have entered the picture. Licensed facilities with more than 20 employees will be required to enter into a “labor peace agreement” and all growers are required to use a “licensed transporter” to get their products to the market.

All government departments may charge fees to cover the cost of implementing the new regulations, and that’s on top of license fees and taxes.

Welcome to California. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Temporary Delta drought barrier now being removed – OAKLEY — State workers are dismantling a temporary emergency rock barrier today and expect it to be breached soon, allowing water to again flow past the barrier into Frank’s Tract.

The barrier was installed last May to help keep San Francisco Bay seawater from fouling the drinking water supplies for 25 million people. State officials had said that because of the extreme drought, they needed the temporary barrier to prevent the seawater from intruding upstream and degrading water pumped from the Delta.

Some critics, however, complained the barrier shifted currents, disrupted boating, harmed wild fish and threatened the nearby levees.

Workers began removing the barrier, which spans a 750-wide channel between Jersey and Bradford islands, in early September. The full removal is expected to be completed by Nov. 15, according to state officials. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Baseball’s culture clash: Vast majority of brawls involve differing ethnicities – A scene from the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse at Oakland’s Coliseum last week neatly captured the blending of cultures that’s so prevalent in baseball.

As Shin-Soo Choo highlights flashed on a TV screen, a group of seven Latin players sitting around a table – some born in the U.S., others abroad – howled in delight while the Korean outfielder yelled “take that’’ in Spanish at the sight of every line drive.

Baseball teams regularly bring together people from diverse backgrounds striving for a common cause, which in the best of circumstances results in the quintessential melting pot. But when the dynamic changes and the bonding element is replaced by the fire of competition, a different kind of brew arises and sometimes boils over.

A USA TODAY Sports study of 67 bench-clearing incidents in Major League Baseball over the past five seasons found the main antagonists hailed from different ethnic backgrounds in 87% of the cases.

…Baseball confrontations often start with a hitter getting plunked, and though there may be several reasons for their high rate among different ethnic groups, many cases point to a culture clash. Baseball has long held to a tradition of unwritten rules of etiquette whose interpretation may vary, with factors such as age and country of origin as part of the mix.

How much is a hitter allowed to “pimp’’ or admire a home run? When is a bat-flip acceptable and when is it offensive? To what extent can a pitcher celebrate getting a big out? What’s the difference between rejoicing over a favorable play and showing up the other team? What kind of actions demand retaliation?

Nobody knows for sure, but there are consequences – typically in the form of a fastball to the ribs or a hard slide – for those who break the code. Read More > at USA Today

New laser could spot signs of cancer in exhaled breath – A new type of compact infrared laser promises to make it easier to identify specific molecules at very low concentrations within complex chemical samples. That is the claim of physicists in Germany and Spain, who have created the high-power, ultrashort-pulsed, broadband laser. They add that the device shows particular promise for spotting molecules within exhaled breath that are indicative of certain kinds of disease.

Molecular spectroscopy, or “molecular fingerprinting”, involves shining a laser beam spanning a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum through a liquid or gas and then comparing the beam before and after it travels through the sample – the specific wavelengths absorbed revealing the composition and structure of molecules within the sample. Most molecular vibrations can be stimulated by mid-infrared radiation (2–25 μm), and therefore laser light covering this part of the spectrum is very useful for molecular fingerprinting. Read More > at Physics World

Can Apple succeed in the car business? – …“The shift to electric reduces the mechanical complexity of cars a great deal,” media and tech analyst Benedict Evans wrote in his blog post titled “Ways to Think About Cars.” He added: “No transmission or internal combustion engine means far fewer moving parts. That may also change the sophistication and capital required to design and build cars, which, in turn, may change who can build them and how they get built. Gear boxes and premium sports transmissions turn into software in the same way that electromechanical calculating machines or cameras got turned into software.”

“The industry is on the verge of a fundamental shift from combustion engines to electric ones,” echoes Ben Thompson of the website “Thus, if Apple were ever to start making cars, from an industry perspective right now is just about the perfect time.”

Several auto makers are now buying Apple CarPlan, a system that integrates iPhone functionality with a vehicle’s infotainment system. This is what has encouraged Apple to get into the business itself. But the question of whether it is taking on more than it can chew at the hardware end is still up for debate.

“Although it has an outstanding supply chain that would be the envy of any company on the planet, it has never manufactured anything on the scale of a motor vehicle, or for that matter even remotely close to it,” Christopher Morris wrote on the ValueWalk blog. Then again, plans seem to be to produce only about 10,000 models in the 2019 inaugural. Apple has no manufacturing plants in the United States. Everything is now done in China. “Design in the U.S., manufacture in China” has become the company’s formula for success. Can this be carried through with automobiles?

With a pot of $203 billion in cash, there is a world of options that wouldn’t occur to ordinary companies. Apple could simply buy a smaller auto manufacturer and turn its facilities over to producing its new brand. BMW is frequently mentioned as a target. There is grumbling of discontent that some of this ready cash should be returned to stockholders, but Apple’s stock is holding steady at about $110. With the possibility that the company might become a player in the auto industry, many are predicting shares could rise to $160. After all, Tesla is now selling at just under $250. Read More > at Fuel Freedom

Officials: California meeting water conservation target – A state water official said Californians have met a mandate to save water for a third consecutive month during the grinding drought.

The State Water Resources Control Board on Thursday will release statewide conservation figures for August.

Max Gomberg, a senior climate scientist for the board, declined to provide specific figures ahead of the announcement but said he expects the results to meet the 25 percent savings goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

However, Gomberg warned that Californians can’t allow themselves to be distracted by the hype of a coming El Nino weather pattern that has raised hopes that it will break California’s four-year drought.

He said an El Nino doesn’t guarantee a wet winter for California and urged people to keep saving water. Read More > in the Associated Press

Appeals court rules that ban on pay for college athletes is illegal – Ruling that the Supreme Court has not settled the issue, and setting the stage for the Court to do so, a federal appeals court declared on Wednesday that the main college sports organization’s total ban on any pay for students who play football or basketball at major schools is illegal under federal antitrust law. But, it also ruled by a divided vote that those athletes should not be paid even one dollar more than what it costs them to attend college while they are there. It voided a judge’s order that they get paid $5,000 for each year of play, after they have left the campus.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in a case that applies only to so-called Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association — that is, the big-time programs — and only for basketball and football players at that level. But it creates a conflict with other federal appeals courts on an issue that the NCAA has long treated as vital to the very existence of college football as a game for amateurs, not professionals.

The NCAA has vigorously defended its “amateur athlete” view every time it has been challenged by student athletes who sought compensation, and it has long held the view that its rules are totally exempt from antitrust law — an exemption it traces to a 1984 Supreme Court decision dealing with television rights for college football games. The Ninth Circuit disagreed with that argument Wednesday.

The organization has strong reasons for taking the issue on to the Supreme Court, to defend a view of amateurism that it has held for perhaps ninety-four years and that it has reinforced with strict rules against athlete compensation for sixty-seven years. (The NCAA’s amateurism view gained significantly earlier this year, when the National Labor Relations Board found it had no authority to rule on a plea by Northwestern University football players that they should have a legal right under federal labor law to join a union to bargain for pay and other benefits related to their sports careers in college. That decision could not be appealed.) Read More > at ScotusBlog

6 next-gen electric vehicles taking on Tesla – Tesla tears up the headlines like nobody’s business. The California-based company makes the most widely coveted luxury electric vehicle in existence, and it just officially launched its next car, the Model X, last night. The automaker has garnered attention from car enthusiasts, green technology fans and even those with budgets too small to pay for a single Tesla hubcap. Even the consumer buying guides love Tesla’s cars. The company might be the best and biggest dog in the fight for the moment, but that could change. In the coming years, more than a handful of carmakers are getting into the electric-vehicle game to entice would-be Tesla owners to spend their hard-earned dollars elsewhere. Read on for a look at the upcoming EVs that could give Elon Musk & co. a run for their money. Read More > in Engadget

Council approves stricter indecent exposure law – After a series of passionate speeches about the indecency of topless protesters, the blaming of women as sexual attack victims and the time wasted discussing the issue in general, Springfield City Council narrowly voted to implement a stricter indecent exposure law Monday evening.

“I suspect when somebody writes the history of Springfield about this particular time, that chapter is going to be titled, ‘The Summer of Our Disappointment,’” Mayor Bob Stephens said. “Because there’s plenty of disappointment to go around.”

Stephens was one of four who voted against the new law, as it passed 5-4.

Women are now required to cover a greater percentage of their breasts in public, and both sexes must cover 100 percent of their buttocks.

What actually needs covered up? City and county government reporter Stephen Herzog explains the proposed changes to Springfield’s indecent exposure ordinance. See the video at > Springfield News-Leader

Ballot measure would create a lot more California lawmakers – If you thought the ‘kill the gays’ initiative would be the last jaw-dropping ballot measure proposed in California for awhile, just wait until 11,550 state legislators get into office.

That’s how big the California Legislature would grow under a ballot initiative cleared for signature gathering on Tuesday by the California Secretary of State.

The proposal by John Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe attorney, seeks to cut the size of legislative districts to 5,000 residents in the Assembly and 10,000 in the Senate. That would effectively grow the size of the upper house to 3,850 members and the lower house to 7,700, estimated the legislative analyst in a fiscal analysis.

The ultimate effect, said Cox, would be that special interest groups could no longer buy off politicians who need bundles of cash to stage major campaigns. And if any of the 11,550 legislators became corrupted by special interest money, it would be easy for any competitor to overthrow them in a small, neighborhood election. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

From Marinovich to Russell to Carr: Have the Raiders Finally Found Their Quarterback? – The Raiders are no strangers to offensive futility. Even before hitting the point-scoring wasteland of this past decade, much of Oakland’s recent history has been spent searching for a quarterback. The Rich Gannon era was like stumbling onto an oasis in the desert, more happenstance than a plan: Gannon was 33 when he arrived from Kansas City, where Elvis Grbac had edged him out for the starting job. In Oakland, he went to four straight Pro Bowls — the only four of his career — and miraculously won the MVP in 2002. Considering what had happened before and what’s happened since, Oakland deserved that bit of luck.

Marc Wilson is the first name Oakland fans will roll their eyes at. The Raiders drafted him 15th overall in 1980 as the long-term replacement for Ken Stabler, but when stopgap quarterback Dan Pastorini broke his leg, the Raiders turned to 32-year-old Jim Plunkett instead of the rookie. A few months later, Plunkett helped Oakland win its third Super Bowl. Wilson was eventually handed the reins, but he never did much with them. He started 60 games and finished his career with 102 interceptions and just 86 touchdowns. In 1988, Oakland moved on from Wilson, first rolling with former Washington quarterback Jay Schroeder, and then drafting Todd Marinovich 24th overall in 1991. While the Marinovich project was famously short-lived, the miss that hurts the most is the most recent. In taking JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007, the Raiders passed on Joe Thomas, Calvin Johnson, and Adrian Peterson, all for a quarterback who started 25 games in his career.

…While Carr and Cooper are two big-time talents, they’ve been aided by an underappreciated offensive line. Without much fanfare, the Raiders have assembled one of the league’s more effective groups, especially when it comes to pass protection. Left tackle Donald Penn, cut in March 2014 from a Tampa Bay team that experienced some of the worst tackle play in football last season, has found new life in Oakland. Last year’s third-round pick, Gabe Jackson, is blossoming into a stout left guard, and newly signed center Rodney Hudson has been a welcome addition.

Through three games, no quarterback in football has been pressured less often than Carr (13 percent of his dropbacks). The importance of that has been twofold. First, it’s allowed the Raiders to avoid some of the issues Carr dealt with in college when faced with pressure. And second, it’s given Musgrave the chance to utilize plays that rely on slower-developing route combinations to create space. Read More > at Grantland

Do Millennials Really Deserve Their Bratty Reputation? – Millennials—who are they, why are they here, what do they want, and when will they get a move on? Numbering in the tens of millions in the United States and the billions worldwide, a demographic bulge whose birth years are loosely defined as extending from 1982 to 2004, Millennials, Generation Y, Gen M’ers, Generation Next, or Millies—as I prefer to call them, for the sake of catchiness—inspire an animosity, suspicion, and wary prejudice usually reserved for misunderstood, aberrant minorities, such as the original X-Men. The first generation of digital natives and Facebook fiends, Millies possess the biological attributes of other Earth dwellers but appear to represent an evolutionary hop into a future that seems stuck in traffic. Ready to take on a world that isn’t making room for them, they’re thwarted, slowly, awkwardly, fitfully integrating into adult society and doing a remarkable job of getting on everybody’s nerves. They walk among us, though most of them don’t appear to mind where they’re going, their eyes and forefinger scrolling down ghostly screens as they maintain constant textual linkage with fellow mutants and finesse their flat affect. They work among us, although if the testimonies of executives, middle management, and Human Resources can be credited, Millies require a constant drizzle of compliments and acknowledgments—strokings and pokings—to remain motivated or at least stop fidgeting. Whatever Millies do or consume, they want to feel special, because so many of them have been treated as special all of their lives. This perception is at the hard nub of the resentment against their generation—the notion that they’re a spoiled, entitled legion of precious snowflakes who expect prizes just for showing up, pout when they’re insufficiently petted, and never go anywhere without slathering on creamy layers of self-esteem.

Is this group caricature anywhere close to fair, or a more virulent strain of traditional intergenerational bigotry? “I see something nasty in the getoffmylawnism that we get today that I don’t really remember previously,” the blogger Duncan Black noted at Eschaton. “I see a lot of hatred of the youngs. It’s troubling and weird.” Washington Post Wonkblog contributor Christopher Ingraham also sees a whole lot of hatin’ goin’ on, but believes it’s for the wrong reasons. Forget “the derisive talk of selfies and selfishness and Snapchat,” Ingraham wrote. “If you do want to hate on millennials, at least do them the credit of hating them for the right reasons,” he advises, helpfully coming up with five biggies, based upon recent polling. (1) Millennials are the most unpatriotic generation, a disgrace to everything John Wayne growled for. (The upside to this, though neocons will not see it as such, is that Millies “are also far less supportive of the use of military force and may have internalized a permanent case of ‘Iraq Aversion,’ ” according to a Cato Institute white paper called “Millennials and U.S. Foreign Policy.”) (2) For all their multi-culti airs, Millies are as racist in their attitudes as older coots. (3) They are the most clueless, duh generation when it comes to the news. (4) They’re the leading vaccine skeptics, “seven times as likely as seniors to believe in the unequivocally discredited link between vaccines and autism.” (5) They are queasy about free speech and expression, though I don’t consider the survey Ingraham cites on publishing Muhammad cartoons a convincing example. A better citation might have been the wave of “trigger warnings,” safe places, “micro-aggressions,” and virtuoso claims of victim status that are turning so many universities into high-rent nurseries. It is such coddling and cocooning of educated Millennials within a comfort zone patrolled by helicopter parents and their proxies that provoked the novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis to diaper-pin them as the hypersensitive “Generation Wuss.” The little wussies are fickle, too. Read More > in Vanity Fair

Hot Toddies Are Actually Good for Fighting Colds – Good news for those prone to nightcaps and chronic congestion: hot toddies might actually be good for you after all! Like any miracle cure, there’s still a catch… you can’t drink too much. A recent article on VinePair praised bourbon’s ability to naturally decongest all the crummy snot in your body, saying “the alcohol dilates the blood vessels, making it easier for your mucus membranes to deal with the infection.”

However, you should limit your intake to only one ounce of bourbon, as too much delicious whiskey can both dehydrate you and inflame the mucus membrane. Honey, the other vital ingredient in a hot toddy, also acts as a natural chest decongestant, according to a 2007 study which says some “parents rated honey most favorably for symptomatic relief of their child’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.” On the other hand, too much of that isn’t favorable either, as its chemical makeup is pretty damn close high-fructose corn syrup. Just goes to show you that too much (or too little) or anything will kill you [Ed. note: honey probably won’t kill you outright]. Read More > at Thrillist

Mapping California crime rates — how does your city stack up? – Crime fell across the Bay Area between 2013 and 2014, according to FBI data released Monday, mirroring state and national trends that have continued for the past couple of decades.

San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley and Antioch saw notable year-to-year dips in violent crime, which includes murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Violent crime in East Palo Alto — which ranked as the third most dangerous city in the Bay Area in 2013, according to the FBI — dropped nearly 65 percent.

The trend line wasn’t negative in all Bay Area cities. Pacifica and Martinez each experienced a nearly 36 percent increase in violent crimes.

Roughly 92 percent of California cities in the FBI’s 2014 Uniform Crime Reports database were mapped, and all cities in the Bay Area are represented. The small cities of Vernon and Industry, which had the highest property and violent crime rates in the state by huge margins, were intentionally removed to prevent skewing the data. See the Maps > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Brains under pressure: Concussion crisis continues to haunt the NFL – For eight months, Kevin Kolb wasn’t Kevin Kolb. He was somebody else. Concussion No. 4 changed him. ¶ At night, he’d stare at the ceiling for four hours straight. His sleep cycle was warped beyond repair. ¶ In the morning, he’d brush his teeth in front of the mirror and see a cloud form around his face. Forget coffee. One cup spiraled him into a “whole different realm.” When people spoke to Kolb, he couldn’t digest the information. His short- term memory? Shot. ¶ Worst of all, his vision could blur at any moment. ¶ “Almost like you’re drunk,” Kolb said, “like everything is fuzzy all the way around you.” ¶ And that nearly killed him one day in Western New York. ¶ After yet another sleepless night, four weeks after that concussion in Buffalo’s 2013 exhibition game against Washington, Kolb drove toward the team facility in Orchard Park from his residence in Lakeview. Suddenly, without even knowing, Kolb began veering into the middle of the road as another car approached him head-on at 50, 55 miles an hour.

“We would’ve hit each other had not I… he reacted, honestly. He reacted. I didn’t react.”

Kolb immediately pulled to the side of the road to catch his breath and collect his thoughts.

He never played another NFL snap.

The scary reality? This is normal. Scarier? The science behind concussions is still new but damning.

Last week, the nation’s largest brain bank studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) updated its study — 87 of 91 former NFL players the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have analyzed tested positive for the disease rooted in repetitive trauma to the head. CTE can cause headaches, memory loss and concentration issues in the short term and potentially cognitive issues, dementia and/or depression in the long term. Read More > in The Buffalo News

The transformative potential of self-driving electric cars – Public discussions about electric vehicles, self-driving cars, and the future of transportation seem weirdly circumscribed to me. The value of alternative vehicles always seems to be judged against their ability to swap out for today’s internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

But viewing electric vehicles and self-driving cars simply as substitutes for ICE vehicles misses the forest for the trees. The enormous bulk of the potential lies not in replacing units in today’s transportation system, but in generating new systems. It is the system benefits that are at once most difficult to predict and most rich with possibility.

Back in 2010, I reviewed a book called Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century. It is super, super nerdy, written by engineers, but it opened my eyes to one of the key advantage electric vehicles have over traditional ICE cars. Here’s how the authors put it:

A traditional [ICE] car requires elaborate systems of reservoirs, tubes, valves, and pumps to distribute the gasoline, oil, water, air, and exhaust gases, but a battery-electric automobile replaces most of these complicated distribution systems with wires connecting the batteries to the wheels.

…That’s it. What becomes clear when you think about it this way is that there is an almost unlimited array of form factors an electric vehicle could take. It could have one or two wheels with a gyroscope (e.g., a Segway), three wheels, four wheels in a diamond shape or the traditional rectangle, six wheels, retractable wheels. It could be a modular vehicle on which wheels can be added or removed. It could be the traditional long, low chassis, an upright chassis, or any other shape or orientation of chassis you can imagine. The user interface could be a touchscreen, a joystick, pedals, levers, or, in the case of a self-driving car, nothing.

…Basically, we’re all driving around in quasi-military vehicles, designed to go 100 miles an hour for 300 miles. Yet most of the time, we drive to work and the grocery store, slowly, in traffic. Actually, scratch that: About 95 percent of the time, we aren’t driving at all; we leave our cars and trucks sitting, parked. Read More > at Vox

Could Jim Tomsula be one-and-done with San Francisco 49ers?


‘Killer bees’ found in the Bay Area for the first time – An Africanized breed of honeybees — sometimes known as “killer bees” because of their swarming, aggressive and deadly nature when a colony is threatened — has found its way to the Bay Area for the first time, researchers say.

The bees were found in a Lafayette subdivision called Reliez Valley, near the southeast side of Briones Regional Park, by UC San Diego researchers who have been tracking the bees’ movement throughout the state. Until now, the bees had been detected only as far north as Mariposa County in California’s more inland Central Valley, but they were probably attracted by the Bay Area’s warming temperatures.

Joshua Kohn, a professor of biology at UC San Diego, said it is hard to tell at this point how many of the bees are in the area.

“The sampling is a little sparse up north,” he said from his office at the university. But there is most likely more than one colony, he said.

“Normally honeybees forage within about a mile of their hive, though they can go up to about 5 miles,” Kohn said. “There is no way we found a member of the only Africanized bee colony in that region.”

While the bees can pose a threat of danger to humans, Kohn said, people should not be too concerned. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Pension problems have not gone away – Nearly two years ago, this column reported on an official financial forecast from the northern California city of Stockton’s bankruptcy proceedings showing that within a few years after exiting bankruptcy the city was likely to re-enter it.

It was an official document, circulated by former Republican Assemblyman and Board of Equalization member Dean Andal, who is well respected for his understanding of fiscal matters. The city pooh-poohed the suggestion – and provided its own economic analysis, although it refused to share the detailed data with the media or the public.

The bad news was easy to believe. Stockton’s bankruptcy exit plan didn’t address the fiscal elephant in City Hall (unfunded pension liabilities). The city was following the basic route taken by the Bay Area city of Vallejo, which also went bankrupt and soon again faced deep fiscal problems.

The crux of Stockton’s plan was a voter-approved tax and spending plan. Measure A raised the city’s sales tax by three-quarters of a cent. Measure B was an advisory vote for how the money would be spent. The tax-hike campaign promised significant new spending on popular programs, especially law enforcement in that crime-plagued city. Voters approved the measures.

Now, after collecting the tax for 15 months, the data seems to confirm what Andal had been saying. “After only one full budget year, the city has already broken three fundamental promises and is destined to return to insolvency within four years,” wrote Andal in a letter this month to supporters and opponents of the 2013 ballot measures.

…The Stockton situation is of statewide importance because it’s clear the state’s unfunded pension liability crisis has not gone away even in relatively good economic times. “All these budget problems show up at the service level,” Andal told me. He says Stockton faces “service insolvency” – i.e., a budget so troubled the city cannot provide adequate levels of public services.

Stockton spent $38 million in legal fees in a nationally watched bankruptcy proceeding. Judge Christopher Klein ruled that cities could cut pension benefits in bankruptcy. Stockton officials chose not to do so, relying instead on other cuts and sales-tax increase. Now that their numbers might not be adding up, it puts the city in a difficult position, Andal argues, given it already has the highest sales tax allowed by law, the highest utility tax in the Central Valley and some of the highest developer fees. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Trust in the media is at an all-time low. That’s a terrible thing for all of us. – And now for today’s least shocking statistic: Just four in 10 Americans say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the media to report the news fairly and accurately, according to new data from Gallup. That matches historic lows the media also “achieved” in 2012 and 2014.

And while Republicans trust the media less than Democrats do, the numbers across all party affiliations are in rapid decline from even a decade ago.

There’s little evidence that the whole trusting-the-media thing is going to get more popular; people under 50 years old are far more skeptical of the idea of media as fair arbiters than those over 50. Read More > in The Washington Post

Two halves of California have wide gap in health costs – When it comes to health care costs, it’s clear: Where you live matters. And in California, the gap is especially sharp between the north and south.

Take, for instance, common procedures like a cesarean section or a total knee replacement. The total average price tag for a typical C-section in the four-county Sacramento area is $28,828; in east Los Angeles County, it’s $17,567, according to a health care comparison tool unveiled last week by state officials and Consumer Reports magazine.

And that knee replacement? It’s about $42,488 in the Sacramento Valley but drops to $27,276 in east Los Angeles County.

…What accounts for the price difference between north and south? It’s simple, some experts say: lack of competition. Northern California tends to be dominated by larger hospital chains such as Sutter Health and Dignity Health, while Southern California has smaller hospital alliances and more independent doctor groups. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Powerful developer accused of improper lobbying in $6 billion East Bay redevelopment bid – Lennar Urban, one of the largest Bay Area developers with thousands of units in the region, has been accused by rival Catellus Development Corp. of improperly lobbying the city of Concord over rights to develop a giant $6 billion mixed-use project at the city’s former naval base. In response, Concord has cancelled a planned Tuesday vote to pick one of the developers and may investigate the claims.

The Concord City Council was set to pick either Lennar or Catellus after naming the two developers as finalists as part of a nine-year redevelopment process. The project is zoned for up to 12,000 units of housing and more than 6 million square feet of commercial space, making it one of the largest project sites in the Bay Area.

The city cancelled the vote after Catellus lawyer Andrew Giacomini, a managing partner at law firm Hanson Bridgett, wrote a letter to City Manager Valeria Barone accusing Lennar of trying to influence the decision with backroom meetings with city officials, despite signing an agreement not to lobby the city. Catellus cited the relationship between Lennar and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, whom it described as “a high powered out-of-town lobbyist.” Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Could Genentech have a $5 billion blockbuster MS drug? – Genentech Inc. could seek regulatory approval early next year for an experimental drug that in a late-stage trial showed that it could slow progression of a tough-to-treat form of multiple sclerosis, at least in the short term.

The drug, a humanized monoclonal antibody called ocrelizumab, would be a huge win for the South San Francisco-based biotech powerhouse, as well as its parent company Roche (SWX: RO), and MS patients.

Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB)’s Tim Race told Reuters that the drug could generate $5 billion in annual sales. There currently are no treatments that get out in front of the primary progressive form of MS; most drugs treat the disease’s debilitating symptoms, including muscle weakness and fatigue.

Genentech said it will submit ocrelizumab to the Food and Drug Administration early next year for approval in both primary progressive and relapsing forms of the disease.

There is no cure for MS, though the disease typically subsides before inexplicably flaring up. But primary progressive MS, which affects about one in 10 MS patients, is different from relapsing MS because symptoms steadily worsen without the flareups. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

The Corporate Battle For Global Internet Connectivity – Twenty years ago less than one percent of the world was connected to the internet. In 2015, roughly forty percent of the global population can log on to the World Wide Web. For these people, the internet has become an essential medium for business development, communication, education, and innovation.

The UN has even declared internet access a basic human right.

Unfortunately, this right is not afforded to everyone.

Today, more than four billion people are left in digital darkness. High infrastructure costs, and cultural and language barriers make providing internet access to remote and rural areas complicated.

In just the past few years, however, corporate giants and individual entrepreneurs have invested big money to change this. Most of these efforts have focused on providing access to remote locations where traditional internet strategies are cost prohibitive.

…Connecting the entire planet with one network is a job for a space-based strategy, specifically in Low Earth Orbit (also known as LEO, which is the space between 100 miles and 1,200 miles above the surface of the Earth).

There are currently companies providing internet access with space-based strategies, like ViaSat, but they place a small number of satellites in a higher orbit known as Geosynchronous Orbit (also known as GEO, which is the space that exists about 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth), and they don’t provide it to globally. ViaSat, for example, has three satellites and only covers the US and Canada. Read More > at TechCrunch

Jurassic Pigeon – “Conservation has done 40 years of ‘Save the pandas. Save the rhinos. If they go extinct, everything will go to hell.’ And it’s been a lot of doom and gloom with not a lot of emphasis on, ‘Here’s a problem, how do we solve it?'” laments ecologist Ben Novak, lead researcher for the Revive and Restore project at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Novak wants to solve the problem of species endangerment by retrieving genetic material from bygone, taxidermied animals and revivifying it with help from their surviving cousins. It’s all part of a “de-extinction” campaign being funded by the Long Now Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit project that includes the Whole Earth Catalog’s Stewart Brand, novelist Neal Stephenson, musician Brian Eno, and others. Founded in 1996, the foundation is dedicated to “long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.” Long Now wants to bring back everything from the humble passenger pigeon to the majestic woolly mammoth.

The last passenger pigeon died in 1914, wiped out by humans armed with low-tech muzzle-loaded shotguns and nets. Prior to their eradication, the birds acted as catalysts to biodiversity, clearing forests and spreading guano in a way that promoted new plant growth and animal habitats. But the kind of method Long Now favors for bringing the pigeons back always runs into the same objection/cultural reference: Jurassic Park.

Novak argues that the focus should be less on fear of unleashing the unknown and more on adding new devices in the biodiversity toolbox. “The real moral fiber of the conservation movement for the past 40 years has been, ‘Extinction is forever, so prevent it,'” he says. “In my mind, ‘extinction is forever’ should’ve never been the foundation of motivation to begin with, because it implies there’s a finite end to solutions.” Read More > at Reason

Dan Walters: Democrats seek cure for apathy – California’s Democratic politicians were jolted when voters – especially their voters – largely ignored last year’s elections.

Just 25 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in the June primary and just 42.2 percent voted in November, by far the lowest percentages ever recorded.

The turnout was particularly low in heavily Latino, heavily Democratic Los Angeles County, mirroring what has been happening in local elections. In this year’s Los Angeles city elections, just 8.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Last year’s ultra-low turnouts eroded Democrats’ commanding lead in voter registration and helped Republicans gain in some key legislative contests.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Democratic politicians want to do something about it. They say they want to improve small-d democracy, but there is little doubt they also want to enhance big-D Democratic dominance.

Those few Los Angeles voters last spring approved two ballot measures that would shift future city and school board elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, coinciding with statewide elections.

That probably will boost turnout in the city a bit, but it’s scarcely a cure-all, given very low participation in statewide elections.

For that, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature have another remedy, or so they hope. A bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature would make voter registration of citizens over the age of 18 automatic when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Nature replants its own burned forests, environmentalists say – During the dry summer of 2011, wind gusts sent a 75-foot aspen tumbling into a power line, sparking a fire on federal land that burned for five weeks over an area the size of Manhattan. All that was left in the hottest burn zones was a silent swath of blackened trees and ash-covered ground..

Federal foresters decided the towering ponderosa pines would never return and declared the area dead, the first step in a process to allow timber companies to harvest trees on public land that would otherwise be off-limits.

But a growing body of fire research indicates that the federal salvage strategy creates more problems than it solves by stunting tree regrowth, denying habitat to a variety of species and increasing the risk of erosion.

Salvage logging destroys the forest’s initial regrowth efforts in nutrient-rich soil and needlessly removes shrubs that are probably beneficial to sapling trees, short-circuiting the natural life cycle of the forest, according to research. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

This mayor wants to publicize who’s on welfare and where they live – If you receive government assistance in the state of Maine, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald thinks the public has a right to know about it.

In a Thursday column for the Twin City Times, Macdonald said a bill will be submitted during Maine’s next legislative session “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.”

Proposals to target welfare recipients and reform assistance programs have become lightning rods for broader discussions on how the poor are treated and how taxpayer dollars are used.

Kansas lawmakers received both national criticism and praise this summer after approving a law limiting how people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program can use their benefits. And at least 13 states have some sort of drug testing laws for public assistance applicants or recipients.

Macdonald, a local Republican mayor who is up for reelection in November, can’t submit a state bill himself, so he would need a state lawmaker to back the plan in the legislature. Read More > in The Washington Post

Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges – A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services to join other faculty and administrators, at the university I’m associated with, for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when in comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide? Read More > in Psychology Today


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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