Sunday Reading – 11/15/15


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.

Kaiser strike next week: Will other unions back NUHW walkout? – If the National Union of Healthcare Workers’ 1,400 mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente walk out next week — or some significant percentage of them — will other Kaiser unions support them?

The planned strike, set to begin Monday, Nov. 16, at Kaiser hospitals and clinics throughout Northern California, could involve roughly 1,400 NUHW members including psychologists, therapists and social workers.

Unlike many recent strikes by NUHW and other health care unions in the region, this one isn’t expected to be just a one- or two-day walkout.

It will last “for as long as it takes” to win NUHW’s contract, staffing and patient safety demands, spokesman Justin DeFreitas told me early this month. Its last strike against Kaiser, in January, lasted a week.

One smallish union, 650-member Local 39 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, has given Kaiser notice of “a concurrent sympathy strike,” Kaiser spokesman Jessie Mangaliman confirmed Friday morning.

No other unions have notified Kaiser of plans for sympathy strikes, Mangaliman said Friday. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Football Physics: The Forces Behind Those Big Hits – It’s impossible to talk about football these days without talking about the problem of big hits. The giant dramatic collisions between players moving at high speed are at once one of the great attractions of the sport for (some) fans, and one of the biggest threats to its popularity. The toll these big hits take on the long-term health of players has many fans reconsidering their allegiances, on ethical grounds.

Understanding what’s going on with these plays also involves a good deal of physics. Most of this is the simple classical physics of momentum and energy, but the central issues are frequently misunderstood. And thinking about how to properly understand what’s going on turns out to lead into thinking about Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The classic example of a problematic hit for the NFL is one where a wide receiver making a catch collides in mid-air with a defender. These tend to end badly for the receiver, particularly when they’re focused on making the catch, and can’t brace for the impact. The defenders often fare a little better in these (though it’s not unusual for a big collision to send both players to the locker room with concussions); as defensive players tend to run a little larger than receivers, when we ask introductory physics students to explain what’s happening, they often make the mistake of thinking that the issue is one of force. The larger defender must exert a bigger force on the smaller receiver, leading the the greater chance of injury.

This is a very common mistake, but it is a mistake. In fact, the magnitude of the force experienced by the defender in the course of making the tackle is exactly equal to that experienced

by the receiver being tackled. This was spelled out clearly back in the 1600′s by Isaac Newton, whose Third Law of motion that read; “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” Read More > in Forbes

Microsoft Rolls Out First Major Windows 10 Update – Windows 10’s first “major” patch is being rolled out today, and it brings with it new tools that change the way enterprises manage future updates.

“With the introduction of Windows Update for Business, Microsoft is telling our enterprise customers that we’re willing to take that burden on for you, but we’re going to give you the same control and the same reporting and compliance that you have with the solutions that you use today,” Jim Alkove, corporate vice president of Microsoft Enterprise and Security, told attendees of a media gathering at the software giant’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters.

…Users should notice a performance bump once the update is applied. “Performance in everyday tasks, such as boot time now nearly 30% faster than Windows 7 on the same device,” claimed Myerson.

Cortana, the operating system’s voice-enable digital assistant, now supports pen input in the Cortana Notebook. Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer’s successor, now features tab previews that display the content of open browser tabs without leaving the current tab.

For gamers, today’s Windows 10 update for Xbox One offers a fresh new interface with a snappier, more streamline mode switching, social-inspired community features and a revamped Store designed to make it simpler for users to find and purchase games. “The New Xbox One Experience is a complete transformation of Xbox One, integrating the speed and versatility of Windows 10,” said Mike Ybarra, director of Program Management for Microsoft Xbox, in a Nov. 12 announcement.

It also introduces backward compatibility, allowing owners to play games originally released for the system’s predecessor, the Xbox 360. The first batch of supported games include 104 titles, with more to come. Read More > at eWEEK

The Dream Life of Driverless Cars – …One of the most significant uses of 3-D scanning in the years to come will not be by humans at all but by autonomous vehicles. Cars are already learning to drive themselves, by way of scanner-­assisted braking, pedestrian-­detection sensors, parallel-­parking support, lane-­departure warnings and other complex driver-­assistance systems, and full autonomy is on the horizon. Google’s self-­driving cars have logged more than a million miles on public roads; Elon Musk of Tesla says he’ll probably have a driverless passenger car by 2018; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers says autonomous vehicles ‘‘will account for up to 75 percent of cars on the road by the year 2040.’’ Driver-­controlled cars remade the world in the last century, and there is good reason to expect that driverless cars will remake it again in the century to come: Gridlock could become extinct as cars steer themselves along a cooperatively evolving lacework of alternative routes, like information traversing the Internet. With competing robot cars just a smartphone ­tap away, the need for street parking could evaporate, freeing up as much as a third of the entire surface area of some major American cities. And as distracted drivers are replaced by unblinking machines, roads could become safer for everyone.

But all of that depends on cars being able to navigate the built environment. The cars now being tested by Google, BMW, Ford and others all see by way of a particular kind of scanning system called lidar (a portmanteau of ‘‘light’’ and ‘‘radar’’). A lidar scanner sends out tiny bursts of illumination invisible to the human eye, almost a million every second, that bounce off every building, object and person in the area. This undetectable machine-­flicker is ‘‘capturing’’ extremely detailed, millimeter-­scale measurements of the surrounding environment, far more accurate than anything achievable by the human eye. Capturing resembles photography, but it operates volumetrically, producing a complete three-­dimensional model of a scene. The extreme accuracy of lidar lends it an air of infallible objectivity; a clean scan of a stationary structure can be so precise that nonprofit organizations like CyArk have been using lidar as a tool for archaeological preservation in conflict zones, hoping to capture at-­risk sites of historical significance before they are destroyed.

Lidar, however, has its own flaws and vulnerabilities. It can be thrown off by reflective surfaces or inclement weather, by mirrored glass or the raindrops of a morning thunderstorm. As the first wave of autonomous vehicles emerges, engineers are struggling with the complex, even absurd, circumstances that constitute everyday street life. Consider the cyclist in Austin, Tex., who found himself caught in a bizarre standoff with one of Google’s self-­driving cars. Having arrived at a four-­way stop just seconds after the car, the cyclist ceded his right of way. Rather than coming to a complete halt, however, he performed a track stand, inching back and forth without putting his feet on the ground. Paralyzed with indecision, the car mirrored the cyclist’s own movements — jerking forward and stopping, jerking forward and stopping — unsure if the cyclist was about to enter the intersection. As the cyclist later wrote in an online forum, ‘‘two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation.’’ Read More > in The New York Times

Do performance-enhancing drugs belong in your kid’s locker room? – The revelations contained in the “Final Report” on corruption in Russian sport released by the World Anti-Doping Agency this week are enough to make Sepp Blatter and Lance Armstrong blush.

Behind the copious legal and technical details that help to make their case, the WADA investigators present a more profound motivation for their work. “The fight against doping in sport is properly characterized as a fight, since it almost always involves deliberate cheating – conduct known to be contrary to the rules of sport … and in violation of the [World Anti-Doping] Code,” they wrote.

…This reminds us that athletes are role models not just because they can run fast or hit a ball hard. As presented here, they are exemplars of the best qualities of human beings, their physical prowess a manifestation of their dedication, loyalty and perseverance. From an ethical perspective, cheating does not just violate the rules of the game but also the trust of young athletes, who are inspired to emulate their sporting heroes.

…With further advancements, it seems likely that athletes will be able to take PEDs without any risk. Once the risks are eliminated, young athletes will have little reason not to take these drugs.

Really, the problem is not that these drugs don’t work or are dangerous; it is that they work well and are becoming safer.

Russia’s violation of the code is not ultimately about widespread use of PEDs, systematic bribery or even dishonesty, but about a desecration of the fundamental virtue of sport. Doping and its corresponding deceit are just symptoms of a broader forgetting of why human beings are so attracted to athletic competition in the first place. Sadly, an abiding sense of virtue is what is missing from much of professional sports and is too often absent from the amateur ranks as well. Read More > at The Globe and Mail

MLB Has A Big Money Problem – MLB, impressively, has enjoyed labor peace longer than any of the other major North American sports. (Judging by this site’s readership demographics, it’s about 50/50 whether you even remember the 1994 strike. Christ, that makes me feel old.) But the current CBA is up after next season, and while no one’s worried yet, it’s clear that the biggest battle between the owners and the union is going to be about the most fundamental grievance. There’s more money in baseball than there’s ever been, and the players are getting the smallest share they’ve ever known.

The best bellwether of pending labor fights isn’t the MLBPA, which has an interest in keeping its cards close and its rhetoric private. Instead it’s the agents, especially Scott Boras, who is powerful and tenured enough to share his opinions on MLB financial issues without fear of offending (because he’s already offended everyone over one thing or another). Boras held court yesterday, going after the Marlins, urging the Dodgers, Tigers, and Red Sox to spend on his clients, criticizing MLB’s qualifying offers, service-time manipulation, and incentivization of tanking. But it was his comments on the revenue split that were the most telling.

Scott Boras said industry revenues currently split 57/43 in favor of owners; he said they should be “divvied up in a different fashion.”

…But the simplest and biggest reason for the spike in owner profits is the rise of regional sports networks, often partially owned by the teams themselves. The money has come in comically oversized lumps—the Dodgers’ 25-year deal with Time Warner is worth more than $8 billion, for example.

That influx of cash has not been paced by a commensurate increase in spending on payroll. More money is coming in, and much of it is staying in the owners’ hands. Read More > at Deadspin

Ballot proposal would divert high-speed rail money to water – Two well-known Republican state lawmakers submitted language Thursday for a ballot initiative that would ask California voters to redirect about $8 billion in bond money from the state’s high-speed rail project to build water storage.

Board of Equalization member George Runner and Sen. Bob Huff of San Dimas, the former Senate minority leader, said they filed language for the initiative with the attorney general’s office.

The ballot proposal would also authorize shifting $2.7 billion in unspent water bond money to water storage construction and amend the state constitution to give drinking water and irrigation priority from California’s limited water supply.

“This initiative secures our water future by building long-overdue expansions of existing facilities and new projects to store, deliver and recycle water for our families, farms and businesses,” Huff said in a statement.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Voters in 2008 approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for the project to link Northern and Southern California by high-speed trains, but many have now soured on it and have questioned whether it will cost the $68 billion that has been projected. Project leaders have faced criticism for its planned route, engineering proposals and insufficient federal funding dedicated to it.

A March survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found residents were about evenly split on whether they support the rail project. Read More > in the Associated Press

Why Businesses Leave California – …The study was conducted by Joseph Vranich, the president of Spectrum Locations Solutions, a site-selection consultancy based in Irvine, Calif. Using publicly available records, mostly media and government reports, Vranich searched for what he calls “California divestment events” — business decisions to shun the state. These come in three types: companies that left the state entirely; companies that expanded in other states rather than in California; and a few companies that had planned to grow in the Golden State but changed their minds.

Vranich found records of 1,510 divestment events occurring in California between 2008 and 2014, but that number is an incomplete accounting of the situation. “Experts in site selection generally agree that at least five events fail to become public knowledge for every one that does,” he writes, concluding that the real total is probably more than 9,000 divestment events for this period.

To no one’s surprise, Texas was the main beneficiary of California divestment events during each year of the study. After Texas, the top destinations for escaping California businesses were, in order, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia.

California’s elected officials dismiss stories about businesses leaving the state as anecdotal propaganda, but it’s hard to argue with the 200-plus pages of divestment events that Vranich’s report lists. Vranich has been conducting similar studies and publicly sharing his findings about thousands of ex-California companies since 2010, yet despite all the evidence, Governor Jerry Brown has made several public statements over the past few years denying a “mass exodus” of California businesses.

Brown has a long history of making excuses when businesses reject his state. When Toyota announced it was uprooting three California plants and consolidating its headquarters in Plano, Texas, the Wall Street Journal quoted Brown as saying, “We’ve got a few problems, we have lots of little burdens and regulations and taxes. But smart people figure out how to make it.” The Journal’s retort: “California’s problem is that smart people have figured out they can make it better elsewhere.”

To be fair, Silicon Valley has enjoyed a boom in the last few years. However, as The Economist noted last year, “whereas venture-capitalists and coders may be rushing to California, others cannot wait to leave,” as the state still faces substantial problems of its own making. “Beyond the gilded strip of land between San Francisco and San Jose is another California, an inhospitable place plagued by over-regulation, mindless bureaucracy, high taxes and endless lawsuits,” in addition to the nation’s highest income-tax rate and highest minimum wage. Read More > at National Review

Univ. of Missouri student: ‘Several of us are afraid to disagree with other students’ – An innocent man lost his job. Racial tensions are at an all time high. Faculty members refuse to acknowledge students’ First Amendment rights. Campus authorities are policing speech.

This is my reality as a student at the University of Missouri.

I believe in liberty for all people, but the current climate on campus runs counter to that. Some friends tell me they are afraid to voice their opinions lest they come under fire from the administration or peers – or the police.

The University of Missouri police department sent an email urging students to report offensive or hurtful speech – not because it is illegal – but so the Office of Student Conduct could take disciplinary action against these students.

Several of us are afraid to disagree with other students, who in turn may report us to the authorities so we can be “dealt with.” Many students have told me they are also afraid to speak out against the protest narrative, afraid they will be called “racist” and become campus pariahs.

What’s lost is honest dialogue. Read More > at The College Fix

Why Is American Culture — Still — So Obsessed With Fundamentalist Mormonism? – This weekend, Showtime aired Prophet’s Prey, Amy Berg’s riveting documentary about now-jailed fundamentalist Mormon “prophet” Warren Jeffs, who has been tried and convicted of aiding and abetting child marriage in his polygamist cult. Many worse accusations against Jeffs are floated throughout the film, including rape, embezzlement, child abuse, and maybe even bumping off his aging father so he could assume the mantle of prophecy.

…Watching a documentary about a religious sect’s child abuse, brainwashing, and law-skirting might not seem like a leisure activity, but it’s part of a recent cultural fascination with the smaller world Jeff runs, and the larger world he runs in. The past decade has seen an explosion of media about the thousands of fundamentalist polygamist Mormons still living Joseph Smith’s original creed of plural marriage (the regular LDS church outlawed polgyamy in the late 19th century). There have been a number of sensational memoirs by escaped polgyamist wives, as well as documentaries, nonfiction books, and long-form journalism. All this is supplemented by popular shows like Big Love and Sister Wives, as well as quite a few Lifetime movies and a surprisingly dark and gritty reality series.

I’ve been personally hooked on the topic since I read Jon Krakauer’s true-crime book Under the Banner of Heaven and started watching HBO’s Big Love. I started dropping lingo like “living the principle” “the prophet,” and “the priesthood.” I paged through the escape memoirs and blogs, read all the articles on Big Love‘s backstory. I became particularly fascinated by the idea that if I accidentally drove through Short Creek (technically the twin cities Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah), I’d be followed by cameras and possibly harassed, deemed suspect for merely passing through a community that’s more forbidding to outsiders than any neighborhood I can think of in my native New York City. That’s what sucked Krakauer in, initially — he took a wrong turn in Colorado, got followed, got the creeps, and has been “chasing” this story ever since. He, along with investigator Sam Brower, are our two guides through this world in Prophet’s Prey, although the emotional centerpiece is the handful of ex-FLDSers who talk angrily, tearfully, and wisely about the life they left behind. Read More > at Flavorwire

Could Self-Driving Vehicles Destroy The Oil Business? – …Self-driving vehicles may be the answer. Researchers at the University of Texas have conducted a realistic simulation of vehicle use in cities that took into account traffic congestion and rush-hour use. They found that if our vehicle fleet was fully autonomous, every shared autonomous vehicle could replace 11 conventional vehicles. As their study showed, the world would only need 800 million vehicles to supply transportation services for nine billion people, or 200 million fewer cars than what already exists in the global vehicle fleet. That doesn’t sound like a bright future for either the automobile or petroleum industries.

The UT simulations showed that riders would wait for an average of 18 seconds for an autonomous vehicle to show up. Each vehicle would serve 31-41 travelers a day. Importantly, less than 0.5% of travelers waited for more than five minutes for an autonomous vehicle to arrive. Equally important, shared autonomous vehicles reduce the average cost of an individual’s travel by as much as 75% versus a conventional driver-owned vehicle.

A global vehicle fleet of autonomous vehicles could easily be electrified since they would be able to go off to be recharged and cleaned during periods of low demand without sacrificing service quality for travelers. We know that one of the key objectives of autonomous vehicles is for them to be able to travel faster, in tighter spacing and in smaller-sized units. This means that we will need less material for constructing these vehicles with a favorable impact on overall energy and material needs besides less fuel. Here is another example of savings from fewer vehicles due to an autonomous vehicle fleet. We would also have fewer vehicles needing to be parked, which means that upwards of 20% of urban land currently devoted to parking could be transformed into close-in housing and businesses. Increased urban density could further reduce overall energy demand by boosting the use of mass transit. Read More > at OilPro

Appeals court rejects challenge to California death penalty – California’s death penalty survived a legal challenge Thursday when a federal appeals court reversed a lower court ruling that had found it was unconstitutional because of excessive delays.

Without discussing the merits of a murderer’s claims, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court was barred from considering a novel constitutional theory that found delays in carrying out executions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled last year that California’s death penalty was an empty promise with unpredictable delays that led to arbitrary and rare executions that violated the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, but only 13 have been executed.

The appeals court did not address the validity of claims by a Los Angeles man sentenced to die for the 1992 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother because the lower court applied a new constitutional theory instead of federal law that existed at the time of his conviction.

“Many agree … that California’s capital punishment system is dysfunctional and that the delay between sentencing and execution in California is extraordinary,” Justice Susan Graber wrote. “But ‘the purpose of federal (review) is to ensure that state convictions comply with the federal law in existence at the time the conviction became final, and not to provide a mechanism for the continuing re-examination of final judgments based upon later emerging legal doctrine.”

The unanimous ruling by three justices appointed by Democrats comes as the state revamps its execution procedures and supporters and opponents of the death penalty take to the streets to get dueling referendums on the state ballot next year. Read More > in the Associated Press

Newport Beach ordinance will ban marijuana growing and sales – Marijuana growing, dispensaries and delivery will be illegal in Newport Beach under a new ordinance.

The Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the first reading of an ordinance banning the cultivation, processing, distribution and delivery of cannabis in the city.

Councilman Keith Curry commended law enforcement’s work in crafting the ordinance, saying “it’s something I’ve been asking for,” according to Times Community News.

Newport Beach’s municipal code previously did not address medical marijuana, though dispensaries have not been allowed to operate in the city, according to City Manager Dave Kiff. Though there are no brick-and-mortar pot dispensaries operating in Newport Beach, several online services say they deliver marijuana to people in the city.

The ban is in response to the state’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Oct. 9. The act, which becomes effective Jan. 1, will create California’s first statewide licensing and operating rules for pot growers, manufacturers of cannabis products and retail outlets since state voters legalized medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago.

The act also states that unless cities take immediate action to enact rules or bans for medical marijuana in their areas, the state will become the sole authority for licensing and regulation, according to Newport Beach Mayor Ed Selich.

…According to a Newport Beach staff report, several California cities have reported offensive odors, illegal sales and distribution, trespassing, theft, violent robberies, fire hazards and other problems related to the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Record number of Millennials are living with their parents – That last recession was the Millennial generation’s Great Depression.

The number of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 living with their parents has reached numbers not seen since the 1940s, according to Census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center.

A whopping 42.8% of Millennial men are mooching off mom and dad — the largest share than at any point since 1940, when 47.5% remained home.

And young women are stuck in arrested development too, with with 36.4% crashing with their folks or relatives — roughly the same numbers as 1940.

Experts believe the twenty- and thirtysomethings are hanging onto their parents’ apron strings because they tend to delay marriage and get college educated.

“College students — including those enrolled part-time and at community college — are significantly more likely to live with family than young adults who are not in college,” said Pew Center senior economist Richard Fry. Read More > in the New York Daily News

Leaked Comcast Docs Confirm What Everybody Knew: Broadband Usage Caps Are About Profit, Not Congestion – For many years the broadband industry relentlessly argued that broadband usage caps were necessary to protect networks from congestion. Unless ISPs were allowed to meter broadband usage, we were told, the rise in Internet video would clog the world’s tubes, resulting in a mammoth network apocalypse known as the exaflood. Years later, with the exaflood debunked as fear mongering nonsense and most engineers pointing out that caps don’t really fix congestion anyway, the broadband industry was forced to admit half of the obvious: that broadband usage caps weren’t about congestion.

Still, as the nation’s biggest ISP and current leading proponent of the “necessity” of usage caps, Comcast has tried to tap dance around this fact. Until now. On the heels of the news that Comcast was expanding its usage caps and overage fees yet again, an employee leaked Comcast’s talking points about caps to 4Chan and Reddit. The six-page support document confirms what everybody already knew; namely that usage caps are about raising rates to protect legacy TV revenues, not about congestion.

Yes, as Comcast has shifted away from the congestion excuse it has tried to argue that imposing a glorified rate hike on all of its users is somehow about…fairness. Under Comcast’s new proposal, customers face a usage cap of 300 GB a month, after which they pay $10 per each 50 GB consumed. Users also have the option of paying $30 to $35 to return their connection to its original, unlimited status. Of course nobody under the proposal pays less, and understandably, users suddenly forced to pay $30 to $35 more for the same connection they had yesterday aren’t seeing the fairness. Read More > at TechDirt

Penalize cities that don’t build housing, Bay Area Council says in controversial new report – Cities in the nine-county Bay Area that do not build enough housing to keep pace with the region’s growth should be be punished by having their ability to approve or reject development projects stripped, argues a new report from the Bay Area Council.

The council argues that the entire area must work together to create enough infrastructure, transit and housing to create livable conditions and reasonable commute times that keep the region competitive with other urban powerhouses.

The business group’s recently released “Roadmap for Economic Resilience” suggests creating”super agencies” across the Bay Area that would oversee, approve and fund projects that reach those goals, superseding local planning authorities already in place.

It also theorizes that if a city or area drags its feet on development, the state could expand “by right” approvals– meaning that if a proposed project complied with local zoning and building codes, cities would be powerless to block it. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Three indicted in JPMorgan hacking case – On Tuesday, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office unsealed an indictment against three individuals charged with hacking several financial institutions, financial news publishers, and other companies.

In a statement to Reuters, JPMorgan confirmed that the recently unsealed indictment is connected to last year’s hack, which impacted 83 million households.

Monday’s indictment focuses on Gery Shalon, Joshua Samuel Aaron, and Ziv Orenstein.

In court documents shared with CSO Online, the prosecutors say that between 2012 and 2015, the three pulled off “the largest theft of customer data from a U.S. financial institution in history” by stealing the personal information of more than 100 million people.

The three men were first named earlier this year in an indictment related to stock and trading fraud. In addition to JPMorgan, the group targeted eleven other companies, though the twenty-three count indictment doesn’t name the victims. Read More > at Network World

Flag Football: The Alternative for Concerned Parents – …Parents nationwide facing the question of when or whether to let their child play tackle football are finding refuge in flag football. In this sport, players pull a detachable fabric strip, or flag, attached to the hips of opposing players, rather than tackling them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended expanding non-tackling leagues as a way to limit exposure to collisions. Two University of Minnesota physicians go further in an editorial to be published in the American Journal of Bioethics early in 2016, saying public schools should end tackle football programs because of the sport’s concussion risks.

The fastest-growing flag football leagues are slicker and better organized than previous ones, parents say. The largest carries the cachet of the National Football League.

Statistics for flag football are mixed. Participants in football leagues for 5-to-17-year-olds affiliated with NFL Flag surged 52% in three years to more than 260,000 in 2014. And another operator, i9 Sports, has seen a 40% increase in participation over five years for its flag football leagues for 4-to-17-year-olds.

The Sports and Fitness Industry Association tracks a 5% rise among 13-to-17-year-olds and a slip among younger children: Participation in flag football nationwide for children ages 6 to 12 was down 6% in 2014 from 2013.

NFL Flag is coed but made up of about 80% boys, according to the NFL. It is operated by USA Football, the sport’s national governing body. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Researchers developing roads that charge your electric car while you’re driving – At least two universities are testing or preparing to test wireless charging stations embedded along roadways that will incrementally recharge vehicles as they drive over them.

Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR) in Greenville, S.C., has been testing stationary wireless vehicle charging and is now preparing to test mobile wireless recharging for vehicles.

Clemson’s R&D project is backed in part by a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and is in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Toyota, Cisco and other companies.

The university’s stationary wireless charging technology uses magnetic resonance to create a field between a ground charging coil and a copper coil embedded in a vehicle through which electricity can pass. Key to the technology is the Wi-Fi communications system, created by researchers at Oak Ridge that allows the ground and vehicle charging systems to talk to one another.

Stationary wireless vehicle charging is an emerging technology already commercialized by Evatran and Bosch. The two companies unveiled their PLUGLESS vehicle charging system at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Read More > in Computer World

Open The Books On The EPA And We Find Appalling Waste – The last several months have been bad ones for the Environmental Protection Agency.

On August 5, EPA employees blundered into creating one of the worst toxic spills in American history when they allowed three million gallons of wastewater to flow into the Animas River in Colorado. The spill occurred during an attempted cleanup of an abandoned mine, despite warnings that their activity was creating the likelihood of a “blowout.”

But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did offer that she was “absolutely, deeply sorry this ever happened.”

Later in the same month, a federal court ruled that its proposed “waters of the United States” regulation – an immense grab of new power I wrote about here – was in violation of its congressional grant of authority and promulgated in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. Judge Erickson therefore ordered a stay on the rule. (Decision available here.)

Then, early in October, a report by former Maine senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen showed that the agency had trampled all over the law to kill the Pebble Mine project in Alaska. EPA officials had, he concluded, “orchestrated the process to reach a predetermined outcome.” Cohen’s study is available here.

On top of all the evidence of incompetence and lawlessness comes a report by Open the Books finding enormous spending by the EPA on a wide array of goodies.

Quoted here, Adam Andrzewski, the founder of Open the Books, said, “Everyone is under the impression that the EPA is spending money to ‘clean the environment.’ But, it turns out EPA is running a $160 million PR machine, $715 million police agency, a near $1 billion employment agency for seniors, and a $1.2 billion in-house law firm.” Read More > at Forbes

The Climate Agenda Behind the Bacon Scare – Headlines blaring that processed and red meat causes cancer have made this steak-and-bacon-loving nation collectively reach for the Rolaids. Vegans are in full party mode, and the media is in a feeding frenzy. But there is more to this story than meets the (rib)eye.

With United Nations climate talks beginning in a few weeks in Paris, the cancer warning seems particularly well timed. Environmental activists have long sought to tie food to the fight against global warming. Now the doomsayers who want to take on modern agriculture, a considerable source of greenhouse-gas emissions, can employ an additional scare tactic: Meat production sickens the planet; meat consumption sickens people.

Late last month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—part of the World Health Organization, an arm of the U.N.—concluded that red meat, like beef and pork, is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, and that processed meat is an even greater cancer threat. The IARC placed foods like bacon, sausage and hot dogs in the same carcinogen category as cigarettes and plutonium.

…First, the report largely addresses only one cancer—colorectal—while making passing mention of other cancers, like stomach and prostate. Yet the evidence linking red meat and colorectal cancer is unconvincing. The authors write that “positive associations were seen with high versus low consumption of red meat in half of those studies”—hardly enough conclusive evidence to justify a stern cancer warning.

The working group even admits in the same paper that “there is limited evidence for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat” and “no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies.” Despite this, the agency placed red meat in its second-highest carcinogen category, alongside DDT and the human papillomavirus, HPV.

…Sensationalist reporting makes processed meat sound more dangerous than even the IARC report claims. A headline at NBC News reads: “Ham, Sausages Cause Cancer; Red Meat Probably Does, Too, WHO Group Says.” Another by the national desk at Cox Media Group runs: “Bacon poses same cancer risk as cigarettes, world health group claims.” This is a case where many journalists and policy makers fail to give proper scrutiny to claims that advance the prevailing political narrative. When a report advises eating less meat, few bother to check the facts, because the conclusion is already popular among them and assumed true. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

San Jose, Atlanta pensions: a tale of two rulings – Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have more in common than their last names. Both have the same broad pension story. But last week, Atlanta had a very different ending.

With growing pension costs eating into their city budgets, the two men pushed through reforms that could require employees to pay more for their pensions — up to 16 percent of pay more in San Jose, up to 10 percent of pay more in Atlanta.

Both were accused of pension reforms that led to police flight, depleting the force and reducing public safety. The two mayors, both lawyers, said city laws (the charter in San Jose’s case) say that pensions can be changed.

But in both cities, the employees or unions filed lawsuits contending their pension benefits are “vested rights,” protected by contract law, that can only be reduced if offset by a comparable new benefit.

Two years ago a superior court judge ruled the San Jose employee contribution increase violated employee vested rights. The city dropped the appeal this year in a settlement of the lawsuits against Measure B, approved by 69 percent of voters in 2012.

Last week the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the Atlanta employee pension contribution increase, approved by the city council four years ago, did not violate the vested rights of employees. Read More > at Calpensions

California gets C-minus for integrity – One night in March 2014, state Senator Leland Yee stood before a fancy dinner thrown in San Francisco by the Society of Professional Journalists to receive the Public Official Award — for a second time.

Yee, a San Francisco Democrat running for secretary of state, was saluted for “his courage to oppose his own Democratic Party leaders and the governor in 2013 with public criticism of efforts to weaken the California Public Records Act by loosening disclosure requirements for local governments.”

A week later, Yee, wearing handcuffs, appeared in federal court, accused of taking bribes from FBI agents, political racketeering and even running guns in the Philippines. On July 1, 2015, Yee, 66, pleaded guilty.

Given California’s failing grade – F – for public access to information, perhaps it’s fitting that one of the few legislators willing to stand up for open records in California was living a secret criminal life and faces the possibility of a lengthy term in federal prison.

Yet despite Yee’s troubles the overall picture suggests California takes accountability and transparency relatively seriously. The Golden State achieved a score of 73, or a C-, in the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of state government accountability and transparency by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. The score placed the nation’s most populous state second only to Alaska, the fourth-least populous. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Half of California’s undocumented immigrants could qualify for Medi-Cal – Half of California’s undocumented immigrants — about 1.4 million — have incomes low enough to qualify for full Medi-Cal benefits should California legislative proposals to offer coverage to the undocumented ever be enacted.

That is among the key findings of a Public Policy Institute of California report released Monday night which examines current policy options to provide health coverage to the state’s undocumented immigrants.

Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in this state, is a government funded healthcare program for the poor and disabled. While it is unavailable to most undocumented immigrants, Gov. Jerry Brown in June signed a state budget that for the first time funds the plan for an estimated 170,000 children under age 19 living in California illegally. The cost of the plan, expected to begin next year, is $40 million, rising to $132 million annually over time.

But Medi-Cal for undocumented adults — who were included in the original legislation proposed by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens — was dropped after the state estimated the cost at more than $1 billion. Lara has said he plans to push ahead with a plan to provide comprehensive Medi-Cal benefits to those whose incomes are low enough to qualify. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Stores Realize It’s Dumb to Open Earlier and Earlier on Thanksgiving – On Monday, Target and Toys R Us announced plans for Black Friday weekend. Surprising no one whatsoever, both will indeed be launching “Black Friday” sales the day before, with stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, just like they did last year. Then Best Buy followed suit by saying it too would host store hours on Thanksgiving, same as last year.

Yet while the “Black Thursday” trend is very much alive, the fact that most stores—including Target, Toys R Us, and Best Buy—are keeping the same Thanksgiving hours as last year rather than expanding them is noteworthy, perhaps indicating that retailers have reached the point of diminishing returns with Turkey Day store hours.

…Meanwhile, some retailers are shying away from opening on the holiday: Staples will stay closed on Thanksgiving this year, and H&M announced on Monday that it too won’t bother opening on the holiday. Both stores were open for shopping on Thanksgiving Day 2014. And outdoor specialty chain REI surprised the retail world with the decision to remain closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

One reason that stores may be reluctant to keep opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving is that they don’t want to aggravate workers and family-minded consumers more than they already have. On Facebook, Target was inundated with angry comments on Monday after it posted Thanksgiving Day store hours. “VERY disappointed in Target and their lack of respect for family!!” was a typical response. Read More > at Money

California missile test: Social media nightmare or exactly what the Navy wanted? – There’s no longer any doubt that thousands of West Coasters witnessed an unarmed missile — and not a comet or an alien craft — streaking across the sky Saturday night.

What remains open to interpretation: Why?

Why test-fire a missile within sight of the nation’s second-largest city, terrifying some and leading thousands more to flood Twitter and Facebook with wild speculation about the glowing craft?

The answer: It’s complicated.

Loren Thompson, a military analyst who used to teach nuclear strategy at Georgetown University, told The Washington Post that the Navy finds itself in a tough position. Naval officials can’t make public pronouncements about their tests without risking more attention from foreign spies who are known to linger off the Pacific coast in foreign trawlers in hopes of monitoring military operations.

“However,” Thompson said Monday, “I’m not sure the Navy realized that launching at night next to the L.A. Basin may have attracted such a huge audience. The launch was at about 6 p.m., but if it had occurred several hours earlier or later it would have been a much smaller audience.”

He added: “We have entered an era when anybody can reach a large audience using social media and the blogosphere, so the military needs to look closely at the implications of testing close to population centers.” Read More > in The Washington Post

Croatia’s conservatives win, helped by tougher stance on migration – Croatia’s conservative opposition won the country’s first election since it joined the European Union in 2013, partial results from Sunday’s election showed, but its narrow victory meant lengthy coalition talks were likely to follow in the next days or weeks.

The new government will have to nurture a tentative economic recovery after six years of recession and deal with thousands of migrants from the Middle East streaming through the tiny Adriatic state on their way to western and northern Europe.

Preliminary results after counting half of the votes showed Croatia is heading toward a hung parliament, with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) winning 61 seats in the 151-seat parliament and the ruling centre-left Social Democratic Party and its allies winning 53 seats.

“This victory puts us into position to take responsibility for leading the country. Ahead of us is a struggle to secure a better life in Croatia,” the HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko said.

The conservative alliance HDZ favours a tougher stance than its main rival on the migrant issue, seeking stricter border controls to manage the flow of people crossing the small Adriatic state of 4.4 million.

Croatia has become a transit hub for migrants, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who want to travel north. Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said this week that 320,000 migrants had passed through the country so far this year, at a daily rate of 5,000 or sometimes 10,000. Few linger in Croatia, one of the poorest EU states where unemployment is at 16%, well above the bloc’s 9% average. Read More > in at EurActiv

FEMA tells Californians: Buy flood insurance for El Niño – right now – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is urging California residents to purchase flood insurance ahead of what is predicted to be one of the state’s most powerful El Niño storm systems ever this winter – with the caveat that most homeowner or business insurance policies do not cover flooding.

“Preparation really is the key to resiliency,” Mary Simms, external affairs officer at FEMA, told the Business Times Monday. “Now is really the time for Californians to take steps to prepare for El Niño. One of the most powerful things property owners can do now is to buy flood insurance because you can’t purchase it at the last minute.”

Simms said that because most flood insurance takes 30 day to go into effect, Californians should hurry to buy coverage now, before the worst of El Niño deluge hits during the state’s rainiest period, which historically happens in January.

…Insurance can be pricey, however. Although the average premium nationally is approximately $705, in California, the average premium is approximately $850. Simms said the state’s higher average annual premium in California is due to the “increased value of buildings” compared to other parts of the U.S. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Jerry Brown’s tunnels meet flurry of criticism, but will it matter? – Gov. Jerry Brown’s response to the latest volley of opposition to his plan to divert water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta lacked the cheekiness he exhibited in May, when he playfully told his critics to “shut up.”

He accused opponents of doing a “profound disservice to California’s future,” but the subtext was the same: No matter how difficult the financing or loud resistance to the project may grow, the fourth-term governor is plowing ahead.

He says the $15.5 billion project, with implications for everything from the area’s farming community to its scenic drives, will bring stability to a water system on which millions of Californians rely.

“The Delta pipeline is essential to completing the California Water Project and protecting fish and water quality,” he said in a statement Oct. 30. “Without this fix, San Joaquin farms, Silicon Valley and other vital centers of the California economy will suffer devastating losses in their water supply.”

In recent weeks, opponents protested at the state Capitol and submitted volumes of critical comments to state and federal officials on the environmental impact of the plan. A wealthy Stockton-area farmer and food processor, Dean Cortopassi, qualified for the November 2016 ballot a measure that could complicate the project, if not stop it altogether. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Why do all the other supermarket checkout queues always move faster than yours? – It is an age-old mystery that has baffled frustrated shoppers for decades: why do the other checkout queues always seem to move faster than yours?

But a new book dedicated solely to the topic claims to enlighten us with the simple answer – we only notice how fast the other queues are moving when ours is moving slowly.

Author David Andrews reveals that we experience time differently when waiting as opposed to when we are engaged in a process, the Sunday Times reports.

So if you do happen to choose the fastest line at the checkout, you would not necessarily recognise the fact because you too focused on unloading the trolley and paying.

“Our minds are rigged against us,” Mr Andrews writes in Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?

“Regardless of time actually spent, the slowest line will always be the one you are standing in.” Read More > in The Telegraph

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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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