Sunday Reading – 10/25/15


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.

Mathis On Sports’ Alcohol Problem – Here we go again, and let’s start with Johnny Manziel scrambling into trouble last week despite his efforts to clean up his act earlier this year in rehab. He still plays for the Browns (at least for now). Steve Sarkisian wasn’t sacked as Southern Cal football coach until a second incident of intoxication became public within three months.

CC Sabathia didn’t give his bosses a choice. Out of nowhere, the star pitcher said before the Yankees’ first playoff berth in three years that he was entering an alcohol treatment program.

What should’ve happened in each case? Who knows at this point? We’re talking about yesterday’s news, because to the fickle public, none of those things involved that other stuff: drugs.

You’ve seen how this works. When it comes to vices in sports, the most consistent headlines go to those who snort, shoot or smoke illegal substances. Which brings us to the hidden truth: Alcoholism is the biggest demon among players, coaches and administrators. The majority of its victims remain deep in the shadows, and few wish to acknowledge as much.

…Times have changed, but they really haven’t. On the one hand, you can’t walk into a Major League baseball clubhouse anymore and see players openly guzzling beer after beer after games. On the other, Anheuser-Busch has been the NFL’s biggest Super Bowl sponsor for six years. Read More > at Sports on Earth

What The New York Times Didn’t Tell You – “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

If you read the recent New York Times article about Amazon’s culture, you remember that quote. Attributed to Bo Olson, the image of countless employees crying at their desks set the tone for a front-page story that other media outlets described as “scathing,” “blistering,” “brutal” and “harsh.” Olson’s words were so key to the narrative the Times wished to construct that they splashed them in large type just below the headline.

Here’s what the story didn’t tell you about Mr. Olson: his brief tenure at Amazon ended after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal it by falsifying business records. When confronted with the evidence, he admitted it and resigned immediately.

Why weren’t readers given that information? The Times boasts that the two reporters with bylines on the story, Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, spent six months working on it. We were in regular communication with Ms. Kantor from February through the publication date in mid-August. And yet somehow she never found the time, or inclination, to ask us about the credibility of a named source whose vivid quote would serve as a lynchpin for the entire piece. Did Ms. Kantor’s editors at the Times ask her whether Mr. Olson might have an axe to grind? Or under what circumstances Mr. Olson’s employment at Amazon was terminated? Even with breaking news, journalistic standards would encourage working hard to uncover any bias in a key source. With six months to work on the story, journalistic standards absolutely require it.

If only it were an isolated mistake. In fact, Kantor never asked us to check or comment on any of the dozen or so negative anecdotes from named sources that form the narrative backbone of the story. Read More > at Medium

Opinion: The NFL’s Pink October is a publicity stunt – We are in the middle of Pink October, four weeks in which the National Football League uses the gauze-thin veil of “cancer research” to justify the sale of pink merchandise and the auction of even costlier game-worn pink merchandise. It’s become such a brazen publicity stunt that each year, we’re treated to a different story about how the NFL raises just about no money to increase cancer awareness, education or screenings.

In 2013, ESPN’s Darren Rovell noted that the NFL “takes a 25% royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail), [and] donates 90% of [the] royalty to [the] American Cancer Society.” That gives the American Cancer Society just $11.25 for every $100 of pink merchandise sold. Of that, only about 70% goes to cancer programs. However, last year, Vice noted that Pink October money doesn’t go toward cancer research, but toward screenings. The argument is that screenings save lives, but even the American Cancer Society now admits that mammograms may not always be the best bet for early detection.

Meanwhile, the NFL’s Pink October has yielded only $1.1 million every year since it partnered with ACS seven years ago. That scarcely registers as a fraction of the more than $10 billion the league made in revenue last year, nor does it equal a half percent of the $226 million the league doles out from its television revenue to its 32 teams just for existing.

However, none of that indicates that the NFL actively ignores cancer. It just proves the league and its owners are cheap. No, to actively not care about cancer and its effects, it would have to openly exploit someone dying of cancer — say, former Carolina Panthers and current Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams’ mother, Sandra Hill. The Panthers brought Hill out for October breast cancer events in the past, but just about no one from the organization attended her funeral last year. Read More > at Market Watch

Did Humans Evolve Opposable Thumbs So We Could Punch Each Other? – It’s thought that our hands are what make us human. Combined with our big brains, our fully opposable thumbs enabled our ancestors to make complex tools to conquer the world. But according to biologist David Carrier of Utah State University, that’s not all they were good for. He thinks the human hand’s uniqueness was shaped, in part, so we could punch each other in the face.

Carrier introduced this off-beat hypothesis a few years ago, to much controversy. Now he and his colleagues have come out with a study that sort of supports but doesn’t confirm the idea.

In the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Carrier and his team used the disembodied arms of cadavers to show something that martial artists and street fighters already knew: that clenching your fist and wrapping your thumb around your fingers reduces your chances of breaking your hand when you punch something.

Human hands are shorter and boxier than our ape relatives, and our thumbs are proportionally longer in relation to the other fingers. This gives us the unique ability to not only manipulate tools with fine precision, but also form a fist. We’re the only animals that can. Read More > at Popular Science

Watch Out California, the Presidential Contenders Are Coming at You – Since the U.S. implemented the federal income tax code in 1913, the state and local tax deduction has existed. Those who itemize their deductions can offset their federal tax bill by the value of their state and local tax bill. The thinking was the federal code shouldn’t burden individuals with double-taxation. But in practice, the deduction simply is a federal subsidy, transferring wealth from low tax, low income states to the wealthiest living in high tax states. Here’s why: the wealthy are substantially more likely to itemize their deductions and those living in high tax states have even more incentive to do so. For instance, 58% of 2014 itemized state and local tax deductions occurred among tax filers making $100,000 or more.

In order to reduce taxes, but not blow a hole in the federal budget, Presidential contenders must offset the lost revenue that could accompany a rate reduction. The obvious choice is to limit or eliminate the more specialized deductions. According to the Tax Foundation, the biggest loser of the Presidential tax reform plans are the itemized deductions, with the state and local tax deduction clearly in the cross-hairs. As of September, five candidates have incorporated limiting itemized deductions as part of their plans, but one candidate – former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – has proposed eliminating the state and local tax deduction altogether. While his tax plan fundamentally aims to lower rates and broaden the base, as a former governor of a no-income-tax state (hence Florida was a major funder of this federal subsidy), Bush’s plan would also put an end to this Top 1% – progressive alliance.

California has a domestic migration problem – in 2014, its out-migration ratio was 1.2 persons – but those leaving aren’t who you’d naturally think. Rather than the state’s highest earners, they are middle-class young professionals, who can’t afford the intensifying Golden State squeeze. Why aren’t the wealthy heading for greener (i.e. less tax-heavy) pastures? Because, they deduct their large state and local tax bills from their federal taxes lessening the impact of California’s leaders actively increasing their taxes. In 2013, 30% of state and local tax deductions went to households in the Top 1%, with a total of 80% accumulating in the highest quintile of households. And based on 2013 IRS statistics, California federal tax filers accounted for over one-fifth of the total state and local tax deductions and those making $1 million or more accounted for almost one-third of the nation’s $1 million-plus state and local tax deductions. Needless to say, California’s progressive leaders and the state’s wealthiest both benefit immensely from the deduction. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

Gripping power for the long term? – Changes to legislative term limits approved by voters three years ago have now taken hold, creating the potential for a period of stability unseen since Willie Brown – the self-proclaimed “ayatollah of the Assembly” – left the speaker’s office in 1995. In the 20 years before that, California had just two assembly speakers. In the 20 years since, there have been 11.

Rendon, a Democrat from the Los Angeles city of Lakewood, will take over in 2016 with the possibility of holding office for nine more years. He’ll lead a house with increasing seniority, as the new term limit rules allow lawmakers to hold their positions for 12 years. That’s twice as long as they could stay in the Assembly under the old system.

And Rendon, 47, will be working across the aisle with a new Republican leader – Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley – who will take the helm next year with the possibility of staying in office for 11 more years.

Longer terms and steady leadership could have a calming affect on the Capitol, allowing lawmakers to settle into the responsibility of their positions rather than plotting their next political move. The changes may help lawmakers build expertise in areas of government – like education, water policy or health care – that are now overseen by a constantly rotating cast.

…It remains to be seen whether legislators with more time in the same office can make a difference on so many issues that have stymied the Capitol. The state has a health care system for the poor that is about to go broke. Tuition has skyrocketed at public universities. A volatile tax structure subjects government to chaotic booms and busts.

…And yet it’s possible that longer terms will wind up making politicians feel more connected to interest groups in Sacramento than voters back at home. Read More > at CALmatters

Cancer Treatment Breakthrough: Researchers Engineer A Way To Make Leukemia Cells Kill Each Other – Researchers have been battling to find the cure for cancer since we began to understand what cancer really was. A cure is the ultimate goal, but most medical professionals and patients would be ecstatic even hearing about new treatments. Current cancer treatments often come rife with side effects so severe that many choose to forgo them altogether. Stopping the growth of malicious cancer cells is the main goal of treatment, and removing them altogether is even better. The problem is, this kind of treatment almost always causes damage to surrounding healthy cells.

A treatment that changes cancerous cells into healthy, supportive cells sounds ideal. Transforming malignant cells into antibodies that would attack remaining cancer cells sounds too good to be true. Thanks to a groundbreaking study by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), this new, powerful form of cancer therapy could really be on the horizon.

…This alone would have been a success — the researchers had effectively transformed cancerous cells into non-cancerous, helpful immune system cells. The team pushed further, though, and found that with longer exposures to the antibodies and other regulated conditions, the dendritic cells matured even more. The final product was a group of cells that very closely resembled natural killer (NK) cells. One of the body’s rapid immune defenses, NK cells are capable of rapidly attacking potentially dangerous pathogens and tumors even if they don’t contain the biomarkers normally identified by other immune cells. Read More > at Medical Daily

Amid California drought, hope for the monarch butterfly – In California’s drought, the struggling monarch butterfly may have found a sprinkling of hope.

Suburban homeowners ripping out thirsty lawns are dotting their new drought-tolerant landscapes with milkweed native to California’s deserts and chaparral – plants that have the potential to help save water and monarchs at the same time, because the female monarch will only lay her eggs on milkweed.

Overall numbers of the majestic black-and-orange butterflies have dropped from 1 billion to fewer than 60 million over the past two decades as milkweed nationwide has fallen prey to development and pesticides.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $1.2 million starter investment to restore habitat; other national projects aim to distribute milkweed seeds by mail and build databases of breeding habitats as alarm grows. Whether by choice or by chance, ecologists hope California gardeners looking to save water can provide a boost to the butterflies on the West Coast.  Read More > at CBS News

East Bay parents meet over football players’ rude behavior

Parents of the Pittsburg High School marching band said their kids were roughed up by football players who didn’t clear the field while they were performing.

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/east-bay-parents-meet-over-093218228.html

ESPN president John Skipper confirms that layoffs are coming – ESPN president John Skipper wrote a memo to ESPN employees confirming the big layoffs coming to the company.

The coming layoffs were first reported by The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre in September, and Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick and Christopher Palmeri reported on Tuesday that the layoffs would be announced Wednesday.

While Bloomberg said ESPN may eliminate as many as 350 employees, an ESPN representative told Business Insider the number was closer to 300.

In a memo to employees that was also posted on ESPN’s Media Zone, Skipper says: “Beginning today, we will be enacting a number of organizational changes at ESPN to better support our future goals — a process that will include the elimination of a number of positions, impacting friends and colleagues across the organization.”

McIntyre reported that the layoffs came from a push from Disney, which owns ESPN, for the company to cut $350 million from its budget in preparation for a huge nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with the NBA. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

In defense of tipping – Danny Meyer, the New York restaurateur, may have started something. Last week, he announced he would eliminate tipping at his 13 restaurants and raise his prices. There followed a plethora of editorials and op-ed columns, most of them in support of the new policy, some of them pointing out — as you might have guessed — that tipping is anti-democratic, sexist, racist and, if it does not in some way contribute to global warming, that’s only because the study has yet to be done. Still, I love tipping.

The practice originated with European aristocracy, whence the term itself comes — “To Insure Promptitude,” thus TIP. The Financial Times editorial where I found that much-disputed fact went on to call the practice a “demeaning custom,” “outdated” and, just for good measure, “obnoxious.” That was just one of five articles the newspaper devoted to the subject. It has not been so worked up since Scotland threatened to bolt the United Kingdom.

Why? Well, there is much to criticize about tipping. Waiters usually do not share their tips with the kitchen staff, including the all-important chef. (There are, apparently, two classes of chefs: celebrity and impoverished.) It can be demeaning to rely on tips since some people like to see a waiter grovel or they like to criticize just about every aspect of the meal.

…The tip is recognition of service well-performed. It shows that I care, that I notice — that I recognize what the restaurateur way back in the kitchen does not because he cannot. Why would I want to treat everyone as if they were equally good at their tasks? I like to reward, but occasionally I like to punish. Make my meal an ordeal, make me anxious about whether you got the order straight, and no 20 percent tip will come your way. Maybe that’s not democratic, but a meal is not a town hall meeting.

Tipping, I regret, will go the way of the tie or the dinner jacket. It’s complicated. It needs to be calibrated. It’s something you learn how to do over time, and when, as a kid, I used to watch my father tip the waiter and the mai tre d’, I felt that mastering this would be almost as difficult as fatherhood itself. I’ve got most of it down now (I still don’t know what the mai tre d’ gets) — and I consider it both a responsibility and a privilege. I could go on, but my table — of course — is ready. Read More > in The Washington Post

East Bay housing officials fear impact of federal voucher cut – …At a time when rents are ballooning in Oakland, HUD has proposed lowering its “fair market rent” for Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Fair market rent — in this case for a two-bedroom home at the 40th percentile of the rental market — is the benchmark that dictates how much local housing authorities can pay for federally funded vouchers, also known as Section 8 subsidies.

Section 8 is one of the nation’s most important housing programs, and it works like this: HUD funds local housing authorities, who in turn supply vouchers to low-income residents who qualify. The housing authority cuts a check to the landlord up to the fair market rental rate, and residents then typically pitch in 30 percent of their income to cover the difference.

HUD set the fair market rent at $1,585 per month this year in the East Bay — but it will drop to $1,562 in January if the HUD secretary approves the new plan. The difference may not seem huge, but it’s just enough to wreak devastation on those hanging onto rentals by their fingernails, housing authorities say.

A spokesman for HUD said the new estimate was based on data from the 2013 U.S. Census American Community Survey and the Consumer Price Index. About 13,000 low-income residents use housing vouchers in Oakland.

Across the bay, the outlook is the opposite. HUD has already raised its fair market rent for San Francisco from $2,062 to $2,262 for a two-bedroom, enabling San Francisco’s housing authority to increase voucher subsidies, said Ed Cabrera, a spokesman for HUD in San Francisco. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

You’ve Been Misled About What Makes a Good Password – “Password must include upper and lowercase letters, and at least one numeric character.” A common scold dished out by websites or software when you open an account or change a password—and one that new research suggests is misleading.

A study that tested state-of-the-art password-guessing techniques found that requiring numbers and uppercase characters in passwords doesn’t do much to make them stronger. Making a password longer or including symbols was much more effective.

“Attacks are more sophisticated now, and those best practice countermeasures are a little bit out of sync,” says Matteo Dell’Amico, a researcher at Symantec Research. He worked with Maurizio Filippone at the French research institute Eurecom. The pair presented a paper on their work at the ACM Computer and Communications Security conference last week.

Recommendations that we include a mixture of cases, symbols, and numbers in passwords originate in the idea that it reduces the chance of a correct guess by software that systematically tries every combination of characters, says Dell’Amico. Password meters that give feedback on the “strength” of a password work on the same basis. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Why states with more marriages are richer states – There is a story gaining steam among some academics that suggests the institution of marriage — particularly marriage for parents of young children — could play an important role in strengthening the American economy. It is a story about growth and poverty, about responsibility and work ethic.

And largely, it is a story about men.

According to new research, states with a high concentration of married couples experience faster economic growth, less child poverty and more economic mobility than states where fewer adults are married, even after controlling for a variety of economic and demographic factors. The study, from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, also finds that the share of parents who are married in a state is a better predictor of that state’s economic health than the racial composition and educational attainment of the state’s residents.

It’s impossible to say for certain, from the research, whether higher marriage levels drive economic strength, or whether strong economies drive higher marriage levels. But the researchers say there is strong evidence that the two factors reinforce each other. “There’s a reciprocal tie between strong families and strong economies,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist with ties to AEI and the Institute for Family Studies, who was the lead author on the report. “That tie goes in both directions. There’s a connection between what goes on in the home and what’s happening in the larger marketplace.”

What might be behind those links? The researchers suggest it’s the effects of marriage on men – particularly younger, lower-educated men. They believe getting married and becoming a father motivate those men to work more hours, bargain for more money and make better strategic decisions — such as drinking less and not quitting a job before another one is lined up — to improve their earning power. Read More > in The Washington Post

Home builders haven’t felt this good about the housing market since 2005 – Home builders’ confidence in the housing market continues to grow, reaching a level not seen for 10 years.

That’s according to the Housing Market Index, which is based on a survey of National Association of Home Builders’ members. The index jumped three points this month to 64, continuing a five-month trend of strong numbers. The survey gauges builders’ perceptions of current sales, expectations for sales in the next six months, and traffic of perspective buyers.

“Our industry is strengthening at a gradual but consistent pace,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “With firm job creation, economic growth and the release of pent-up demand, we expect housing to keep moving forward as we start to close out 2015.”

There are, however, “pockets of softness in some markets around the nation, “ said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo.

Builders in the West were the most confident about the housing market, followed by the South, Midwest and Northeast. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

How AT&T is using drivers’ cellular data to help fix California traffic – AT&T, UC Berkeley, and California’s state transportation authority are testing a new way to get a grip on the situation—by collecting and analyzing drivers’ cell phone location data. The study leads insist that users’ privacy is protected, and the information could revolutionize how we plan and manage highways and transit.

The new California projects—Connected Corridors in Los Angeles, and SmartBay in San Francisco—are something like Google Maps on steroids. They compile region-wide cell data into big portraits, not just of where traffic is most congested, but of overall daily patterns.

“[It shows] where people . . . work, where they go for shopping, where they go for leisure, and how they choose to get there,” says Pozdnukhov. Dr. Compin says that’s “the holy grail” of transit planning.

The data will help planners develop detailed responses to congestion events—Compin says there are a stunning 5,000 to 6,000 events per year on the I-210 corridor, making up about 50% of traffic delays. By working closely with local authorities and public transit providers, Caltrans hopes to make better decisions about how to re-route traffic onto parallel corridors and local roads, and communicate changes to commuters more smoothly. The San Francisco pilot is centered on Interstate 80, and among other things, says Pozdnukhov, hopes to determine the potential impact of increased development on the Treasure Island neighborhood the highway passes through. Read More > in Fortune

Many Low-Income Workers Say ‘No’ to Health Insurance – The Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which requires employers with more than 50 full-time workers to offer most of their employees insurance or face financial penalties, was one of the law’s most controversial provisions. Business owners and industry groups fiercely protested the change, and some companies cut workers’ hours to reduce the number of employees who would be eligible.

But 10 months after the first phase of the mandate took effect, covering companies with 100 or more workers, many business owners say they are finding very few employees willing to buy the health insurance that they are now compelled to offer. The trend is especially pronounced among smaller and midsize businesses in fields filled with low-wage hourly workers, like restaurants, retailing and hospitality. (Companies with 50 to 99 workers are not required to comply with the mandate until next year.)

“Based on what we’ve seen in the marketplace, we’re advising some of our clients to expect single-digit take rates,” said Michael A. Bodack, an insurance broker in Harrison, N.Y. “One to 2 percent isn’t unusual.”

Nationwide, the Affordable Care Act has significantly reduced the number of Americans without health insurance. Around 10.7 percent of the country’s under-65 population was uninsured in the first three months of this year, down from 17.5 percent five years earlier, according to the National Health Interview Survey, a long-running federal study. Some 14 million previously uninsured adults have gained coverage in the last two years, the Obama administration estimates.

Most of those gains, though, have come from a vast expansion of Medicaid and from the subsidies that help lower-income people buy insurance through federal and state exchanges. Workers who are offered affordable individual coverage through their employers — a group that the employer mandate was intended to expand — are not eligible for government-subsidized insurance through the exchanges, even if their income would otherwise have qualified them. Read More > in The New York Times

Apple’s Tim Cook tells the car industry to expect ‘massive change’ – … “It would seem like there will be massive change in that industry, massive change,” Cook said at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference in California. “You may not agree with that. That’s what I think.

“When I look at the automobile, what I see is that software becomes an increasingly important part of the car of the future. You see that autonomous driving becomes much more important.”

His comments come after widespread reports that Apple is preparing to follow fellow tech giant Google in developing a self-driving or electric car. It is reportedly preparing to put one on sale as early as 2019, but safety and testing regulations mean it would have to make such plans public well before then.

Apple already has an onboard computer system, CarPlay, which allows cars to display calls, play music and talk to Siri, which is slowly being adopted by some manufacturers. Cook said that Apple was currently working on bringing this “iPhone experience” into cars, but opened up the possibility of doing more.

“We’ll see what we do in the future,” he said.

Apple has hired several high-profile car experts including Megan McClain, a former Volkswagen engineer with expertise in automated driving, and Vinay Palakkode, a graduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, a hub of automated driving research. Read More > in The Telegraph

Wrestling with Funding Plans to Fix the Roads – There is consensus that California’s road and highways must be fixed. There is no consensus how the fix should be paid for. The Special Session legislative meeting Friday was called a first step in finding agreement to the funding problem. The Democrats see tax increases as part of the mix; Republicans want to prioritize the use of existing dollars for the roads. The tricky part of compromise is the push for any taxes in the context of so many other tax increases that could be presented to voters.

Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a yearly funding package for the roads of $3.6 billion. The package includes a 6-cent gasoline tax increase, an 11-cent diesel tax increase, both tied to inflation, a $65 car fee and cap-and-trade funds. His proposal is little more than half what legislative Democrats and a coalition of business, labor and construction groups have called for.

Republican proposals also include cap-and-trade money. In this case, the money would be used directly for the roads. The governor’s plan would funnel cap-and-trade dollars to bus lanes and rail. The Republicans also would trim CalTrans staff, direct weight fees and other transportation monies exclusively for the roads and employee other methods without raising taxes.

Not only have the Republicans expressed opposition to tax increases but there is no certainty that all Democratic legislators would support a tax increase. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Of gods and men: how ancient Egypt was the crucible for multiple faiths – A trail-blazing British Museum exhibition about religion in Egypt after the fall of the pharaohs is to shine a light for the first time on an overlooked and difficult truth: how much the great world faiths and mythologies borrowed from each other and how many modern distinctions were made later.

The potentially provocative show, Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs, opens next week and covers the millennium after the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, when Egypt was initially part of the Roman empire and arguably the greatest melting pot on Earth.

Curators at the London museum will use a series of items, many never put on public display before, to demonstrate the level of “entanglement” of religious symbols and rituals; with Egyptian emblems regularly appearing in classical Greek designs, depicting Jewish stories that were decorated with Christian crosses and Roman wreaths.

“Over the last 10 or 15 years in scholarship, there has been growing interest across the disciplines in looking at the way religions interacted, rather than just in isolation,” said Elisabeth O’Connell, a keeper in the museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and the Sudan and a co-curator of the exhibition. “It is becoming clear that a lot of religious history has been founded on our modern distinctions simply being projected back.” Read More > in The Guardian

Midway point of season shows a fine line of separation between contenders – The stunning final play in Ann Arbor on Saturday stands alone as the most jaw-dropping, dramatic finish in a college football game since Auburn’s Kick Six in 2013, but it was also a fitting illustration of just how fine a line separates the nation’s College Football Playoff contenders through the first half of the season.

With one clumsy fumble, Michigan dropped into the shadows of the Big Ten race and Michigan State increased its chances of finishing in the top four. Elsewhere, LSU and Florida went down to the wire, Notre Dame and USC were tied in the fourth quarter, and for the second straight week, undefeated TCU had to make a comeback. Ohio State? Still winning. The selection committee’s first official ranking will be revealed on Nov. 3, and it’s worth the wait, because the biggest lesson we’ve learned halfway through the season was that there are plenty of good teams — but not one great one.

At least not yet.

“I like to get a little further along so you’re into your conference schedule,” said committee member Barry Alvarez. “You can really take a look at strength of schedule, and your numbers start to mean a little bit more.” Read More > at ESPN

Pull your finger out, doc, rectal exams aren’t the best way to find prostate cancer – …It correctly identifies the two common ways GPs screen for prostate cancer: a blood test (for a protein called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA) and the digital rectal examination, in which a doctor feels the prostate gland by inserting a gloved finger (“digit”) into a man’s rectum.

But rectal examination is less accurate than the PSA blood test, missing more cancer and causing more false alarm.

Until recently, the combination of PSA and rectal examination was recommended. If the PSA level is too high, or the prostate feels suspiciously abnormal, men usually go to get a biopsy to see if there is truly cancer in the prostate.

In news that may come as a relief to apprehensive men and short-fingered doctors alike, guidelines are changing. Both the Cancer Council and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have recently recommended doctors dispense with the rectal examination when screening for prostate cancer. Read More > in The Conversation

California Jobs Report Worse Than It Looks – Don’t be fooled by the new California jobs report out Friday that shows statewide unemployment falling below six percent for the first time in nearly a decade. The state added almost no jobs last month – and 32,000 people stopped looking for work.

The headline looks great: California’s unemployment rate dipped below six percent in September and is now the lowest it’s been since November 2007.

But not so fast.

“The main reason unemployment dropped from 6.1 to 5.9 percent was the drop in the labor force,” says Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi.

Indeed, 32,000 California job-seekers were so discouraged that they couldn’t find work, they simply stopped looking. In fact, the state added just 8,200 jobs last month:

“That’s dismal,” Adibi says. ”That’s very paltry job growth by any standard.” Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Private firms question California high-speed rail funding – Businesses that might bid to build a high-speed rail network across California are questioning whether there will be enough government funding to complete the complex and ambitious project.

That picture emerged from documents the companies submitted to the state rail authority overseeing the project, which solicited ideas for how it should approach building a first segment of 300 miles of track by 2022.

Critics have cited the lack of private investors as a major flaw in planning what would be the nation’s largest transportation infrastructure project, with a cost estimated at $68 billion. So the California High-Speed Rail Authority asked firms to suggest how to reduce costs, speed up construction and attract outside money.

…The state Legislature agreed last year to provide the first ongoing source of financial support to the project by tapping revenues from the state’s greenhouse gas emissions program in which companies buy and sell pollution credits. That amounted to $750 million over the last two fiscal years, with a promise of 25 percent of “cap and trade” revenues into the future. Voters in 2008 also approved nearly $10 billion in bonds, and the federal government has committed $3.5 billion in matching funds. Read More > from the Associated Press

Gov. Brown’s link between climate change and wildfires is unsupported, fire experts say – The ash of the Rocky fire was still hot when Gov. Jerry Brown strode to a bank of television cameras beside a blackened ridge and, flanked by firefighters, delivered a battle cry against climate change.

The wilderness fire was “a real wake-up call” to reduce the carbon pollution “that is in many respects driving all of this,” he said.

“The fires are changing…. The way this fire performed, it’s not the way it usually has been. Going in lots of directions, moving fast, even without hot winds.”

“It’s a new normal,” he said in August. “California is burning.”

Brown had political reasons for his declaration.

He had just challenged Republican presidential candidates to state their agendas on global warming. He was embroiled in a fight with the oil industry over legislation to slash gasoline use in California. And he is seeking to make a mark on international negotiations on climate change that culminate in Paris in December.

But scientists who study climate change and fire behavior say their work does not show a link between this year’s wildfires and global warming, or support Brown’s assertion that fires are now unpredictable and unprecedented. There is not enough evidence, they say. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Amazon suing more than 1,000 for fake product reviews – Amazon, the world’s largest online marketplace, is suing more than 1,000 people who it accuses of offering to write fake reviews on its website.

The web giant filed a lawsuit against 1,114 alleged fake reviewers, who it says are tarnishing its brand reputation with “false, misleading and inauthentic” reviews, GeekWire reports.

It claims the defendants – named as “John Does”, the American term for an unidentified person – offer their false review service for as little as five dollars (£3.25) on the website Fiverr.com.

Amazon has a list of all the defendants’ Fiverr account names and is seeking a court judgement to identify the people behind them. Read More > at the Independent

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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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