Sunday Reading – 02/07/16


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.

Does God Decide, Care Who Wins the Super Bowl? – An old gospel hymn says God’s eye is on the sparrow, but what about panthers and broncos? Not the ones from Carolina and Denver matched up for the National Football League’s Super Bowl 50, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research.

The poll found most Americans are skeptical about divine intervention on the football field. They say God doesn’t determine who wins or loses. And most believe God has bigger things to be concerned about.

The phone survey of 1,000 Americans found almost 9 out of 10 (85 percent) say “no” when asked, “Does God determine winners and losers in the Super Bowl?” About 1 in 10 (11 percent) says “yes.” One in 25 (4 percent) doesn’t know.

Americans who identify as evangelicals (15 percent), as members of a non-Christian faith (18 percent), or as attending a religious service at least once a week (13 percent) are more likely to say God determines the Super Bowl winner. So are those with graduate degrees (15 percent). Read More > at LifeWay Research

Should biologists stop grouping us by race? – More than a decade after leading geneticists argued that race is not a true biological category, many studies continue to use it, harming scientific understanding and possibly patients, researchers argued in a provocative essay in Science on Thursday.

“We thought that after the Human Genome Project, with [its leaders] saying it’s time to move beyond race as a biological marker, we would have done that,” said Michael Yudell, a professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University and coauthor of the Science paper calling on journals and researchers to stop using race as a category in genetics studies. “Yet here we are, and there is evidence things have actually gotten worse in the genomic age.”

Categorizing someone as “black” can affect medical care, research has shown. Doctors might miss cystic fibrosis in “black” patients because it is considered a “white” disease, a 2015 study suggested. Similarly, because blood disorders called thalassemias are considered a Mediterranean/white disease and sickle-cell anemia a black disease, they are sometimes misdiagnosed when they strike the “wrong” racial group, Yudell and his colleagues wrote.

Using race as a category has other harmful consequences. The higher rates of hypertension and breast cancer deaths among African Americans, for instance, likely reflect socioeconomic, environmental, and other nongenetic factors. “So many health disparities are not about race but are about social conditions,” such as education, and access to health care, Yudell told STAT, so analyzing health data through the prism of race can blind scientists to factors that contribute more to those disparities. Read More > at Stat

Super Bowl 50 Further Divides San Francisco – …But these festive trappings cannot mask the tensions that have roiled San Francisco in recent years — tensions that are coming to the surface as football fans flood into town and attend over-the-top pregame events. In a city divided over gentrification, sky-high housing prices and the technology industry’s influence on local government, even the nation’s biggest party has become a battleground.

The cost of hosting the Super Bowl — estimated at about $5 million for the city — has unleashed a storm of anger among residents already resentful of the influx of expensive restaurants, high-end stores and rich, young tech workers who have snapped up apartments in historically low-income neighborhoods. To tidy up for the tourists, the city’s large homeless population has been swept out of view, which some people here see as evidence that this city, long a seat of leftist activism, has sold itself to corporate interests.

Some residents say city funds would have been better spent on affordable housing or on addressing the homeless encampments that dot the sidewalks. Last year, the mayor kicked up controversy when he said that the homeless would have to leave the streets before the Super Bowl; he has since backed away from those comments. But on Wednesday, advocates for the homeless staged a sizable protest, setting up a tent next to Super Bowl City, only to be surrounded by police officers in riot gear.

Just how much money the Super Bowl will bring is unclear. Sports economists have questioned the benefits, arguing that the tourists who flock to the game often just displace others who would have come instead, especially in a city like San Francisco, where hotels are almost always near capacity. The city lost more than $10 million hosting the America’s Cup yacht race in 2013, a public fiasco still fresh in many minds. Read More > in The New York Times

Lone Star Shale Producers Defy OPEC – For a state that prides itself on being “bigger” in every sense of the word, Texas is managing to handle smaller oil profit margins awfully well, as a number of producers in the state’s two shale basins are keeping output up despite plunging prices.

And even as some producers find ways to turn a profit with today’s profits, many in the industry that have seen their margins erased are nevertheless still busy pursuing a forward-looking strategy: drilling but not yet fracking wells. This approach essentially lines up projects to bring online the minute prices rise high enough to justify them. This so-called “fracklog” is a widespread phenomenon, and it’s growing. For Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world’s petrostates, that’s a terrifying prospect, because it means what if and when we see the global glut erased and prices start trending back upwards, these new American supplies will flood the market and bring those prices right back down again.

And while producers amass this fracklog, plenty of companies are innovating ways to keep output up despite the fact that America’s oil benchmark is currently lingering below $32 per barrel. The shale boom isn’t done yet. Read More > at American Interest

The Tragic Data Behind Selfie Fatalities – The selfie is inescapable.

Though in its waning days as a buzzword, it continues to pervade every facet of daily life. In the course of any given week, “selfie” is mentioned in 365,000 Facebook posts and 150,000 tweets. A comb of Instagram hashtags turns up more than 50 million results for the word.

Like any wide-spread activity, the selfie is not immune to tragedy. In pursuit of the ultimate profile pic, stick-yielding youths often go to extremes: They perch themselves on cliffs. They pose beside wild animals. They play chicken with oncoming trains. And sometimes, they don’t make it out alive.

While selfie deaths have received a fair amount of coverage (last year’s viral post about how more people die from selfies than shark attacks comes to mind), the extent of the problem, and the data behind it, hasn’t been appropriately explored.

So, we went through three years of news archives, compiling every reported instance of a selfie-related death (that is, a death that was precipitated by taking a selfie). This is by no means a conclusive study (there are, no doubt, unreported cases), but it still gives us a visage into both the scope of the issue, and those who are affected by it. Here’s what we found: since 2014, 49 people have died while attempting to photograph themselves; the average age of the victims is 21 years old, and 75% of them are male. Read More > at PriceEconomics

Scientists have discovered what causes Resting Bitch Face – Queen Elizabeth has it. So does fashion designer Victoria Beckham. And actress Kristen Stewart — poor thing, she’s practically the poster girl.

Among the slew of pop culture icons said to be afflicted with so-called Resting Bitch Face (alternatively known as Bitchy Resting Face), the vast majority are women, though Kanye West is among the male examples. All of them have been mocked by Internet commenters for having a certain unintentional expression when their faces are not in motion — a look best described as vaguely annoyed, maybe a little judgy, perhaps slightly bored.

Since the RBF meme took over the Internet in 2013, fueled by a viral mock-PSA about “Bitchy Resting Face,” legions of people have identified the dreaded phenomenon in celebrity listicles, in their own social circles, even in the mirror.

…But there was one big difference, she added. FaceReader, being a piece of software and therefore immune to gender bias, proved to be the great equalizer: It detected RBF in male and female faces in equal measure. Which means that the idea of RBF as a predominantly female phenomenon has little to do with facial physiology and more to do with social norms. Read More > in The Washington Post

Will Robots Make Humans Unnecessary? – …The Luddites were an occasionally violent group of 19th-century English textile workers who raged against the industrial machines that were beginning to replace human workers. The Luddites’ anxieties were certainly understandable, if—as history would eventually bear out—misguided. Rather than crippling the economy, the mechanization the Luddites feared actually improved the standard of living for most Brits. New positions that took advantage of these rising technologies and the cheaper wares they produced (eventually) supplanted the jobs that were lost.

Fast-forward to today and “Luddite” has become a derogatory term used to describe anyone with an irrational fear or distrust of new technology. The so-called “Luddite fallacy” has become near-dogma among economists as a way to describe and dismiss the fear that new technologies will eat up all the jobs and leave nothing in their place. So, perhaps the HR assistant who’s been displaced by state-of-the-art applicant tracking software or the cashier who got the boot in exchange for a self-checkout kiosk can take solace in the fact that the bomb that just blew up in their lives was just clearing the way for a new higher-skill job in their future. And why shouldn’t that be the case? This technology-employment paradigm has been validated by the past 200 or so years of history.

Yet some economists have openly pondered if the Luddite fallacy might have an expiration date. The concept only holds true when workers are able to retrain for jobs in other parts of the economy that are still in need of human labor. So, in theory, there could very well come a time when technology becomes so pervasive and evolves so quickly that human workers are no longer able to adapt fast enough.

…So why might 2016 be so much more precarious than 1930? Today, particularly disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, \3D printing, and nanotechnology are not only steadily advancing, but the data clearly shows that their rate of advancement is increasing (the most famous example of which being Moore’s Law’s near-flawless record of describing how computer processors grow exponentially brawnier with each generation). Furthermore, as the technologies develop independently, they will hasten the development of other segments (for example, artificial intelligence might program 3D printers to create the next generation of robots, which in turn will build even better 3D printers). It’s what futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil has described as the Law of Accelerating Returns: Everything is getting faster—faster.

…”I believe we’re reaching an inflection point,” explains software entrepreneur and author of the book Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford (read the full interview here).”Specifically in the way that machines—algorithms—are starting to pick up cognitive tasks. In a limited sense, they’re starting to think like people. It’s not like in agriculture, where machines were just displacing muscle power for mechanical activities. They’re starting to encroach on that fundamental capability that sets us apart as a species—the ability to think. The second thing [that is different than the Industrial Revolution] is that information technology is so ubiquitous. It’s going to invade the entire economy, every employment sector. So there isn’t really a safe haven for workers. It’s really going to impact across the board. I think it’s going to make virtually every industry less labor-intensive. ”

To what extent this fundamental shift will take place—and on what timescale—is still very much up for debate. Read More > at PC Magazine

Anger and citizenship – The Iowa caucuses are in the rear-view mirror, the New Hampshire primary looms on the horizon, and by most media accounts, the leitmotif of Campaign 2016 is “anger.” As in: a lot-of-Americans-are-angry-and-that-explains-the attraction-of-certain-candidates, whether that be the anti-political-correctness anger of Donald Trump voters, the anti-government anger of Ted Cruz voters, or the Obama-hasn’t-been-radical-enough anger of Bernie Sanders voters. For those of us with long cinematic memories, it’s rather reminiscent of the Howard Beale character in Network, urging people to stick their heads out the window and holler, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I get it. My own reactions to the papers I read daily, the magazines I read weekly, and the news programs I watch occasionally are not often conducive to a happy blood pressure reading. Yet whatever my sympathies may be with this, that, or the other wrath du jour, I hope that, as the 2016 campaign unfolds, the electorate will begin to understand that anger is not a particularly healthy metric of public life.

The first Marquis of Halifax, George Savile, a 17th-century English statesman and a notable phrase-maker, ranks second only to the immortal Dr. Johnson in the number of entries in The Viking Book of Aphorisms. There, I find this small gem: “Anger is never without an argument, but seldom with a good one.” Does that ring a bell or two, my fellow Americans? It should, given the character of the presidential “debate” thus far. And that warning bell suggests that we’ve got a problem. For serious debate, conducted with civility, is the lifeblood of democracy.

Civility does not preclude passion. Given the gravity of the issues before us in 2016 – which involve the future of freedom around the world and the dignity of the human person here at home – passion is entirely welcome. But passion is not anger. Anger is a glandular thing. An angry politics is a politics of the gut. A passionate politics, informed and disciplined by reason, can be a politics of the intelligence, a politics of great ideas: a politics, if you will, of sound moral judgment. And sound moral judgment is rarely, if ever, the child of anger. Read More > at Denver Catholic

Enough With Ethanol – …Here is a stunning factoid: Iowa grew 2.4 billion bushels of corn on 13.2 million acres of land in 2014. Much of that corn is used as feedstock for animals and for ethanol plants. Less than 4,000 acres out of those 13.2 million are used for sweet corn– the tasty variety humans eat, and the kind you see at roadside stands and farmer’s markets across the state. In total, 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop, the world’s largest, is used to produce ethanol.

Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, observed that ethanol “costs more than traditional fuel, and it’s worse for the environment than traditional fuel. It’s a terrible, terrible deal.”

What are the problems with ethanol? It leans on a subsidy that smacks of a giveaway to a narrow, special-interest group. It is inefficient and expensive. It has been blamed for increasing food costs. It puts toxic pollutants into drinking water. It makes water bills for Midwestern residents higher. Runoff from the vast quantities of fertilizer used to grow all that corn each summer creates a huge algae bloom and dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nor is ethanol even a green energy source — it barely generates more energy than it takes to produce it, which is only a marginal improvement from when it was a net negative source of energy. That improvement is courtesy of more productive farming techniques and more efficient methods of converting the biofuel into burnable alcohol. But it still increases emissions of nitrogen oxides, a main ingredient in smog, and other hazardous pollutants. The Environmental Working Group argues that ethanol causes more environmental problems than it solves. Read More > at Bloomberg

Honda Orders Stop-Sale on 2016 Civic, Official Recall Pending – Honda has issued a stop-sale and safety-recall notice for 2016 Civics equipped with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine due to a manufacturing inconsistency that could cause engine damage or failure. Although an official campaign number has not yet been issued by NHTSA, what appears to be official Honda dealership correspondence detailing the action was recently posted to an enthusiast forum on the CivicX website, indicating the stop-sale of vehicles currently in dealer inventory and the plans to recall and inspect affected vehicles already in customers’ hands.

Issued on January 30, 2016, Honda Service Bulletin number 16-017 states: “A small number of engines were produced with piston pin snap rings that may not be completely seated. If the snap ring is not completely seated, it will come out allowing the piston pin to contact the cylinder wall which can damage the engine.”

While Honda has not yet taken official public action, the automaker told Autoblog, “While the specific details of this action are still being determined, American Honda has provided preliminary information to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration and intends to provide more details in a formal notification to NHTSA on Friday, February 5.” Honda also said that cars with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine were not affected. Read More > at Car and Driver

San Francisco’s tech bros told: quit changing the gayborhood – When Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist who led the creation of the Aids Memorial Quilt, went to his local gay bar in the Castro district, he saw something that shocked him.

“The tech bros had taken over The Mix. They commanded the pool table and the patio. These big, loud, butch guys. It was scary,” he said. “I’m not heterophobic, but I don’t want to go to a gay bar and buy some guy a drink and have him smirk and tell me he’s straight. They can go anywhere. We can’t.”

Residents of San Francisco’s historically gay Castro district are worried that it’s changing, as speculators come in to flip the few remaining ramshackle old Victorians and the old-timer gay bars shutter. In a recent small survey, 77% of people who have lived in the neighborhood for 10 or more years identified as gay, while only 55% of those who moved in the past year did.

When an iconic building was on the market earlier this year, it was between two potential tenants: a gay strip club and a SoulCycle. The SoulCycle won. This winter, The Gangway, the oldest gay bar in town, is closing down. Read More > in The Guardian

Silicon Valley’s High-Tech Super Bowl Stadium Could Be a Target for Hackers – As many as a million fans in Denver orange and Carolina blue are expected to descend on the Bay Area this weekend for the Super Bowl. Of those, some 70 thousand of the luckiest, wealthiest, and best connected will get to watch the game from inside the state-of-the-art Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

Completed in 2014, the stadium lives up to the reputation of its Silicon Valley home. Crammed full of networking equipment and 400 miles of fiber-optic cable, it was built with an outsize capacity for supporting Internet-connected devices. Underneath the stadium seats, 13,000 wi-fi access points broadcast a free wireless network to the assembled fans, who are never more than 10 feet from a node. The entire arena can handle a traffic load that’s four times higher than NFL’s minimum standard for football stadiums.

The stadium’s connectivity is aimed at solving a problem that is increasingly plaguing older venues: During well-attended games, cell and wireless networks can easily get clogged up when too many fans tweet, post photos, and stream video all at once. The networks built into Levi’s Stadium are designed to banish this modern nightmare—but their sheer scale makes the stadium an attractive target for cyberattacks.

…Herberger estimates that between fans’ mobile devices and the stadium’s built-in connections, there will be somewhere around 100,000 devices connected to the stadium this weekend. In one potential attack, hackers could infiltrate attendees’ phones through a security hole in stadium infrastructure—its wi-fi network, for example, or its official app. By infecting a large group of devices, the hacker could establish a botnet, a network of connected devices that work together to complete larger-scale attacks like sending spam or flooding a server with requests in a denial-of-service attack. The huge network “becomes a gigantic single point of failure, like the Death Star, for a bot,” Herberger said. “It’s a nice, juicy target to conscribe into your botted army.”

…If you’re one of the bigwigs or high-rollers attending the game, how can you keep your own devices safe? Make sure you’re connecting to the authentic stadium wi-fi and not a malicious knockoff—or better yet, avoid wi-fi in favor of generally more secure mobile data. Installing a virtual private network can help keep more sensitive information safe.

But the best thing to do is use your device as little as possible, and disconnect from networks unless you’re using them. “Consider everything public,” Herberger said. “If you’re afraid of seeing it on The New York Times, then don’t do it.” Read More > in The Atlantic

The Chipotle Effect: When Companies Believe Their Own Hype – Earlier this week the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally closed the books on the investigation of the E. coli outbreaks at multiple Chipotle locations last December. The news of dozens (at one point thought to be hundreds) of customers getting sick made headlines nationwide and drove the burrito purveyor into a frenzy of apologies and promises of improved safety.

Other than telling us that people have stopped getting sick, though, the government investigators don’t seem to be providing us with much information on what caused the outbreaks. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells attempted to reassure customers and investors alike at a recent conference, saying that due to the company’s increased emphasis on food safety, the risk of another infectious outbreak was “near zero.”

Whether it was the carnitas or the cilantro-lime rice, though, there’s good reason to think that it could happen again. The problem with Chipotle is much bigger than rules about which head of lettuce is washed in which sink. It’s about what happens when corporate marketing becomes more important that the product itself, and it can only be fixed by understanding what a company like Chipotle exists to accomplish in the first place.

Instead of focusing on actual food quality, the company seems to have been distracted by lifestyle trends and politically popular marketing gimmicks. Last April, the company announced that it had fully eliminated from its menu any ingredients that had been improved with genetic engineering. Despite agreement among food safety experts that genetically modified foods face no novel health risks, Chipotle invested a large amount of time and effort attempting to eliminate all GM ingredients from their operations. By September, however, the company’s lawyers were responding to a lawsuit alleging that they had failed, and had misled customers with their claim.

On the flip side, the company has also famously been unable to obtain steady supplies of some of the ingredients that do meet their requirements, like non-conventionally raised pork. They even warned investors in 2014 that the effects of global climate change might cause them to stop serving guacamole, although the Washington Post quickly responded by reassuring readers that “Chipotle’s guacamole isn’t going anywhere (for now).” Read More > at Forbes

State water board extends mandatory water conservation measures through October – Despite record January rainfall, above-average snowpack and rising reservoirs, the state water board stuck to its conservation guns Tuesday, extending the existing drought-related emergency regulations — with minor adjustments — for eight more months.

The State Water Resources Control Board sent a message to California urban water users: A few months of El Niño-fueled storms do not a drought-buster make. So, residents had better keep conserving.

“We look at this as an insurance policy, or as increased security in case the drought continues,” explained Max Gomberg, SWRCB climate and conservation manager.

An extension of the May 1 plan takes effect Feb. 13, the date the plan expires. The new regulations will continue the governor’s goal of 25 percent water conservation through October but provides relief for cities and private water suppliers that can show they’ve added residents, are in a hotter climate zone, and have supplemented potable water with recycled or desalinated supplies. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Long-term marijuana use tied to worse verbal memory in middle age – As marijuana becomes more accessible to young and old alike in the U.S., researchers warn that long-term use of the drug may cause lasting harm to at least one type of brain function.

A new study based on following thousands of young adults into middle age finds that long-term marijuana use is linked to poorer performance on verbal memory tests, but other areas of brain function do not appear to be affected.

“We did not expect to find such a consistent association with verbal memory for chronic exposure to marijuana,” especially since the link held even when other factors like cigarette smoking, alcohol use and other behavioral factors associated with marijuana use were accounted for, said lead author Dr. Reto Auer of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

…Researchers found that as past years of marijuana use increased, verbal memory scores decreased. In practical terms, the results meant that for every additional five years of exposure, 50 percent of marijuana users would remember one less word from a list of 15 tested words.

“Recreational marijuana users use it to get high, to benefit from the transient change it produces,” Auer told Reuters Health by email. “But this transient effect might have long term consequences on the way the brain processes information and could also have direct toxic effects on neurons.” Read More > from Reuters

Unemployment: The All-but-Certain Fate of Too Many Poor Black Boys – Study after study has proven that when children are sequestered in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, their educational and economic opportunities are stunted, creating enduring cycles of poverty.

But a new paper, written by a team of researchers led by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty, indicates that these findings have yet another critical element: Concentrated poverty can be significantly more detrimental to young boys than to young girls.

In America it’s generally been true that men are more likely to be employed than women. According to the most current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even as women have entered the workforce in greater numbers, men’s labor-force participation rate is around 69 percent, while women’s is around 57 percent. This division in the labor force holds among middle- and upper-income families, but Chetty and his fellow researchers find that when poor kids become adults, a reverse gender-employment gap appears, with poor boys more likely than poor girls to become unemployed adults.

…But the outcomes are significantly worse for poor black boys. Girls from poor families are more likely to find work and to get further in school than boys who grew up in similar circumstances. The researchers detected a similar gender gap among poor children who grew up in single-parent households, but of all the variables tested, growing up in concentrated poverty and growing up in an area that was predominately black were the strongest predictors of adult male unemployment. Read More > in The Atlantic

Sometimes, life presents us with unbearable dilemmas—like when you drop your last cookie on the kitchen floor. Do you quickly pick it up and eat it? Does eating a cookie off the floor make you a savage? When you drop a piece of food on the ground, how much time do you really have before it becomes contaminated?

Agencies find new water source from the sewer – In the wake of drought and environmental concerns, more water agencies in California and across the West are finding a new water source for human consumption in an unexpected place: the sewer.

The treated sewer water isn’t going directly to your tap after treatment. In most cases, it’s put into an aquifer and withdrawn later — years later.

Meanwhile, underground microbes and the natural filtration of the aquifer further improve the water quality, said Cindy Forbes, deputy director of the California Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water, in a telephone interview.

“Water injected today can’t leap in front of water injected yesterday,” Forbes said, explaining why the treated sewer water will stay in the ground for a long time.

The market for treated wastewater first moved to outdoor use, like watering golf courses, schools and parks.

Now, with environmental and drought concerns and population growth, the use of this water is being planned for humans in a larger way. Read More > in the Daily Bulletin

Here’s how marijuana legalization would work in California – California was the first state to allow medical marijuana. Now, two decades later, voters are expected to be asked whether to legalize recreational use of the drug.

The legalization measure most likely to qualify for the statewide November ballot is the product of months of negotiations between groups with varying interests, from drug-law reformers, to growers and distributors, to famous financiers and politicians. Here’s a primer.

Q: So, is California going to legalize pot?

A: The state’s marijuana industry is often described as a wild west of sorts: There are no regulations, taxes or environmental protections for recreational cannabis. The measure would legalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six plants by adults over the age of 21, and create laws for distribution and sale. It would impose a 15 percent tax on retail sales, and cultivation taxes of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves. Localities could ban recreational marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions with local voter approval.

Q: Could I grow my own?

A: Personal cultivation is allowed, but no more than six plants could be cultivated, harvested, dried or processed in each home or apartment, or on its grounds. The initiative would allow industrial hemp to be grown as an agricultural product as well as for agricultural or academic research.

Q: What about children?

A: Marijuana businesses would be banned from locating within 600 feet of schools, and cannabis products could not be advertised or marketed to children. Specifically, the law says pot products can’t be designed in a way that appeals to kids, or could easily be confused with candy or other enticements. Advertising could only be displayed where roughly 72 percent of the audience is expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by audience-composition data. Minors convicted of marijuana-related offenses would have to complete drug-prevention education or counseling and community service.

Q: Could you drive after you’ve smoked?

A: The measure would retain existing laws that make it illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana. Here’s how it would work: The California Highway Patrol would get $3 million a year for four years to come up with protocols to determine whether a driver is too high to drive. Motorists also would be barred from having an open container of marijuana or pot products while driving, operating or riding in the passenger seat of a car, boat or aircraft.

Q: Could you go to work high?

A: The law would maintain the rights of employers to require drug-free workplaces or enact policies prohibiting marijuana use by employees during work hours. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Oil companies doled out big donations in climate bill fight – Oil companies that convinced California lawmakers last year to abandon part of a landmark bill to fight climate change donated more than $250,000 to their campaigns for re-election in the second half of 2015 — with more money going to Democrats than Republicans.

Since the state Senate bars its members from accepting campaign checks in the final weeks of the legislative session, a large share of the money went to lawmakers in the state Assembly, with five assemblymembers receiving more than $10,000 each from Chevron, Exxon and Tesoro, campaign finance statements show.

In all, the companies donated $148,400 to Democrats and $114,400 to GOP legislators, writing most of the checks after the end of the 2015 legislative session in September, when Big Oil persuaded the Legislature to amend Senate Bill 350, a clean energy initiative that sought in part to cut the use of petroleum in cars and trucks in half by 2030. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Google Search Probe by U.S. Should Get New Look, Utah Says – U.S. antitrust officials should consider revisiting their closed investigation into Google’s search practices in light of claims by the European Union that the company manipulates results, said Utah’s attorney general.

The Federal Trade Commission’s decision in 2013 not to bring a case against the company was followed about two year later by the European Commission’s complaint accusing Google of abusing its dominance of the search-engine market.

“The issue of local search result fairness is an evolving issue in a fast-paced digital economy,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a joint letter with the attorney general for the District of Columbia. “We encourage the commission to consider new information and developments that have become available both domestically and internationally since closing its Google investigation.”

The FTC’s decision not to bring a case over whether Google skewed search results to favor its own services disappointed companies and consumer advocates who were critical of the Internet giant. Google agreed to stop certain practices, including removing restrictions on the use of its online search advertising platform and offering companies the option of keeping their content out of Google’s search results.

The decision to close the probe came after FTC staff had recommended bringing a case against Google, arguing it had unlawfully maintained a monopoly over Internet search that harmed consumers, according to a document the FTC inadvertently released as part of a public records request. Read More > at Bloomberg Business

If You Go Near the Super Bowl, You Will be Surveilled Hard – Super Bowl 50 will be big in every way. A hundred million people will watch the game on TV. Over the next ten days, 1 million people are expected to descend on the San Francisco Bay Area for the festivities. And, according to the FBI, 60 federal, state, and local agencies are working together to coordinate surveillance and security at what is the biggest national security event of the year.

The Department of Homeland Security, the agency coordinating the Herculean effort, classifies every Super Bowl as a special event assignment rating (SEAR) 1 event, with the exception of the 2002 Super Bowl, which got the highest ranking because it followed the September 11 terror attacks—an assignment usually reserved for only the Presidential Inauguration. A who’s-who of agencies, ranging from the DEA and TSA to the US Secret Service to state and local law enforcement and even the Coast Guard has spent more than two years planning for the event.

All of which means that if you’re attending the game, or just happen to be in the general vicinity of the myriad events leading up to the Super Bowl, you will be watched. Closely. The festivities started Saturday and run through February 7, when the Carolina Panthers meet the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Here’s a sampling of the technology Big Brother can use to surveil you during the Super Bowl in the Bay Area.

Coordination is key. The San Francisco Bay Area is a big, dense place, and the Super Bowl festivities stretch from the stadium in Santa Clara to the streets of San Francisco. The SFPD isn’t giving officers any time off. The FBI and Santa Clara police have spent months running drills in and around Levi’s Stadium, cribbing from, and improving upon, tactics other cities have used when hosting The Big Game. Major cities throughout the Bay Area spent the fall preparing for the madness, and have established coordination centers throughout the area. Read More > at Wired

The Guardian Angels are back! New York crime-fighting gang head back on subway patrols for the first time in 22 years after spree of slashing attacks – An infamous New York crime-fighting gang are back on patrol on the city’s subways for the first time in more than 20 years after a series of attacks on passengers.

The Guardian Angels gained fame in the 1980s as they fought against rampant crime that was synonymous with New York City right up until the mid-nineties.

Now a terrifying spree of recent slashing attacks on the subways has prompted the red-beret wearing gang to resume their patrols as they fear the city is slipping back into its dark days of crime.

‘Riders are coming up and asking us: ‘Please, you’ve got to come back in force,’ Curtis Sliwa, who founded the group in 1979, told The New York Post. ‘I think it’s become obvious that the police need help, the MTA needs help. They can’t handle it.’

Teams of 12 volunteers will now take morning or afternoon shifts to maintain a 24 hour presence on the carriages.

The Guardian Angels stopped patrolling the subways and Central Park in the 1990s after a increase in policing around the time Mayor Rudy Giuliani took office although they continued in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Read More > in the Daily Mail

Oakland Raiders have a new home waiting for them in Levi’s Stadium – Before his death in October 2011, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis had been trying to solve one of the most difficult sports riddles in California.

How do you build a new NFL stadium in such a fiscally challenged state?

Davis wanted a shiny new facility to replace his old one, which opened in 1966. But another money-saving possibility also attracted his interest. His chief executive, Amy Trask, was having discussions with the San Francisco 49ers about building and sharing a new stadium in the Bay Area.

“It certainly was not his first choice, but he did understand the economic efficiency of sharing a building,” Trask told USA TODAY Sports.

The idea pretty much died when Davis did, said Trask, now an analyst with CBS Sports. Yet now there’s even more reason to consider it again, experts and various stakeholders told USA TODAY Sports.

…But they won’t, and only one person gets to say why not: Mark Davis, who took over team ownership after his father died. Davis didn’t respond to an interview request about whether his feelings on the subject might change now that his bid to move to Los Angeles appears to be a longshot. He has steadfastly rejected the possibility of Levi’s Stadium and instead hoped to build a separate stadium in Oakland. After not making progress there, he joined forces with the San Diego Chargers to pursue a $1.7 billion shared stadium in Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles. Read More > at USA Today

Stocks end sharply higher, but post worst January since 2009 – U.S. stocks closed sharply higher on Friday, booking a second straight weekly gain but posting the worst January performance since 2009.

Friday’s surge came amid a global equity rally following a surprise decision by the Bank of Japan to push a key interest rate into negative territory that some said could push the Federal Reserve to ease up on its plans to steadily raise interest rates.

…Some market participants attributed the day’s rally to the belief that easy monetary policy around the world will force the Fed to keep its own interest rates lower for longer, providing support for stocks.

Randy Frederick, managing director, at Schwab Center for Financial Research, blamed the stock market’s monthly losses on the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates in December and said the BOJ move plus a lackluster reading on fourth-quarter U.S. growth may give policy makers pause. “It shows that the economy is softer and provides one more reason for them to hold off on another rate hike,” Frederick said.

Two other themes Friday were concerns about company earnings and the continued impact of plunging oil prices, though crude-oil futures CLH6, -4.94% ended higher on Friday. Read More > at Market Watch

Women expand their home on the range – …As unique as Schneider seems, she is far from alone. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, the number of women-operated farms increased from 5 percent to 14 percent between 1978 and 2007. Today, counting principal operators and secondary operators, women account for 30 percent of all farmers in the United States, or just under 1 million.

As striking as those numbers are, particularly when considering the financial risks and physical demands that accompany the work , researchers say they would like to learn more about the full contribution these women make, and what it means for the future of farming and ranching in the United States.

Researchers have observed some possible reasons why more women are farming and ranching. Some women regard themselves less as entrepreneurs and more as gentle stewards of the land, or bulwarks against corporations overtaking family farms and developers sweeping in with seductive offers. Others are drawn to the farm-to-fork movement, where locally grown produce and meat hold much greater appeal. Also, more women are inheriting farms and ranches.

Downsizing and mechanization have also made the work more affordable and less physically demanding — although “smaller parcels tend to require more physical labor because they are typically managed using hand tools and practices,” said Breanne Wroughton, program assistant for the California Farm Academy at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, Calif. Read More > in The Washington Post

Flint water victims can’t sue the government. That’s another crime. – Michigan’s state and local officials poisoned Flint’s water with lead but innocent federal taxpayers are the ones having to foot the cleanup bill. President Obama has pledged to hand Flint $85 million in aid money. This sounds like a lot, but the fact of the matter is that it is far less than what Flint’s victims would have gotten if a corporation — rather than government — had been the culprit. That’s because, unlike private companies, the government is shielded from liability lawsuits.

This would be an excellent argument for the wholesale privatization of public utilities, but, alas, privatization is a dirty word in the liberal lexicon.

After initially giving Michigan Governor Rick Snyder only $5 million in going away money to help Flint residents buy water filters and bottled water, President Obama finally acquiesced this week to pleas for more help and authorized another $80 million. Now he’s also considering Snyder’s request for extending Medicaid eligibility to all Flint children up to age 21 regardless of their income or insurance status.

Setting aside the Medicaid expansion, the $85 million in federal aid combined with the $28 million in state aid that Snyder has arranged, works out to on average $1,000 for each of Flint’s 99,700 residents — or about $4,000 for a family of four.

But consider the horror they are confronting:

As has been widely reported, 6.4 percent of Flint’s nearly 8,500 kids are now testing for dangerously high lead levels in their blood stream — up from 3.6 percent before the city switched them from Detroit water to toxic Flint River water. Many of these children have developed rashes and brittle bones and face the prospect of permanent brain damage, diminished IQ, and behavioral difficulties. But kids are not the only ones hurt. Around 85 people have been diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease — a particularly horrible form of pneumonia — compared to around six to 13 in a normal year. Ten of them have already died. Read More > in The Week

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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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