Sunday Reading – 03/06/16


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.

You Think the 2016 Election Is Nasty? CNN Documentary Series Will Show You Nasty. – Sick of the petty, scurrilous venality of the 2016 presidential race and its all-but-certain-to-be-catastrophic outcome? Take a trip back to 1960 with CNN’s new documentary series Race for the White House for a respite that will dash away any nostalgic nonsense in your head about how politics, once upon a time, were noble, civic exercises.

Scabrous name-calling! Empty-headed sloganeering! Religious bigotry! Vile dirty tricks! Zombie voters! If there’s a crooked or sleazy element of American politics that the race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon didn’t have, I can’t imagine what it would be.

Race for the White House will explore a different election each week, going back as far as the Lincoln-Douglas race of 1860. (Plus side: No Facebook memes or reality-TV stars. Minus: It ended in a war that killed three-quarters of a million people.) But CNN couldn’t have chosen more wisely for an opening episode than the Nixon-Kennedy election, which for millions of Americans too young to remember it has been mostly defined by what happened later: the martyrdom in Dallas and the odiferous cloud of Watergate. CNN. Sunday, March 6, 10 p.m. Read More > at Reason

California Commuters Continue to Choose Single Occupant Vehicles – …The recent release of the 2014 American Community Survey data provides an opportunity to gauge how California commuters have responded to this shifting policy. The data clearly reflects that even with the well-documented and rapidly rising costs[1] of the state’s traffic congestion and costs associated with the deteriorating condition of the state’s roads, California workers continue to rely on single occupant vehicles for the primary mode of commuting. Moreover, their reliance on this mode of travel continues to grow both in absolute and relative terms.

A number of important observations from this data:

  • The number of workers relying on single occupant vehicles has grown throughout this period. The only exceptions are 2008 and 2009 as the number of workers declined during the recession.
  • The number of workers using carpools in 2014 is essentially the same as those choosing this mode in 1980. Furthermore, this number has not varied widely throughout the entire period shown.
  • The total number of workers using public transit (bus, streetcar, trolley, subway, railroad, or ferryboat) for commuting purposes has nearly doubled since 1980, but has yet to break the 1 million level.
  • The substantial investments in public transit, bike lanes, and other alternative modes have not produced major gains in commuter use. Instead, these investments appear to have simply shifted the choices made by commuters who already are committed to getting to work through modes other than single occupant vehicles. From 1980 to 2000, public transit use grew by 116,000 while “other” modes dropped by the same amount. From 1980 to 2005, public transit use grew by 121,000 while “other” modes dropped by 113,000. In the following years, 1/3 of the growth in public transit and “other” modes was offset by reductions in carpool use. Read More > at California Center for Jobs and the Economy

49ers suddenly look like NFL’s worst franchise – Oakland at least has a quarterback. Cleveland at least has a vision. Jacksonville, Tennessee and Tampa Bay have both a quarterback and a vision. Washington has a 2015 playoff appearance and a proven general manager to justify its direction.

San Francisco has … a fancy stadium.

The NFL’s typical bottom-feeders must feel relieved. Considering every team’s current state and near-future outlook, nobody has it worse than the 49ers. They haven’t floated in mediocrity while fishing for success like the others. No, they found success and treated it like a thorn in their side.

People say comfort is the enemy of success, and sure enough, “uncomfortable but successful” is a good way to describe Jim Harbaugh’s four-year run with the 49ers. His tenure consisted of three consecutive NFC title game appearances, but it ended when Harbaugh got the boot after years of reported friction between the coach and team executives.

In the 14 months since, the 49ers ditched stopgap Jim Tomsula and hired maybe the world’s only coach who can out-ego Harbaugh. What could possibly go wrong? Read More > in the Sporting News

Fido vs Spot — Animal vs Robot

Immune Engineering – Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start. – The doctors looking at Layla Richards saw a little girl with leukemia bubbling in her veins. She’d had bags and bags of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. But the cancer still thrived. By last June, the 12-month-old was desperately ill. Her parents begged—wasn’t there anything?

There was. In a freezer at her hospital—Great Ormond Street, in London—sat a vial of white blood cells. The cells had been genetically altered to hunt and destroy leukemia, but the hospital hadn’t yet sought permission to test them. They were the most extensively engineered cells ever proposed as a therapy, with a total of four genetic changes, two of them introduced by the new technique of genome editing.

…The T cells created by Cellectis could have even broader applications. The previous treatments use a person’s own cells. But some patients, especially small children like Layla, don’t have enough T cells.

Foreseeing this problem, Cellectis had set out to use gene editing to create a more highly engineered but ultimately simpler “universal” supply of T cells made from the blood of donors. The company would still add the new DNA, but it would also use gene editing to delete the receptor that T cells normally use to sniff out foreign-looking -molecules.

“The T cell has a huge potential for killing. But the thing you can’t do is inject T cells from Mr. X into Mr. Y,” Choulika says. “They’d recognize Mr. Y as ‘non-self’ and start firing off at everything, and the patient will melt down.” But if the T cells are stripped down with gene editing, like the ones that were sitting in Great Ormond’s freezer, that risk is mostly eliminated. Or so everyone hoped.

In November, Great Ormond announced that Layla was cured. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

‘Little Trumps Are in Every European Country’ – This side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump tends to be portrayed as something of a unique event. He’s broken every rule, slaughtered every sacred cow, and defied every political prediction: He’s stronger than ever. To explain him, many American commentators, particularly his critics, have suggested that the Republican presidential contender has latched onto some specific quirk in America’s national psyche, or identified an inherent weakness in the U.S. political system or failing on the part of its current political parties.

“America’s elites deserve Donald Trump,” suggested an article in The Week, blaming the businessman’s rise on the inability of Democrats and Republicans to meet the needs of middle-class whites. BuzzFeed floated the notion that “America can’t stop watching Donald Trump” because he’s better than most American reality TV. A recent Washington Post piece explored “the uniquely American appeal of Trump’s favorite insult.” Then there’s Rolling Stone’s investigation into “how America made Donald Trump unstoppable.” (The answer, according to Matt Taibbi: The “flaw in the American Death Star” is that “it doesn’t know how to turn the cameras off, even when it’s filming its own demise.”)

But from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Donald Trump story looks very different.

From the perspective of many anxious op-ed writers in Western Europe, Trump isn’t an anomaly. Instead, he’s part of a dramatic populist surge occurring across Western democracies at the moment, on both the political left and the right.

“From Spain to Sweden to Poland, populist protest parties are spreading,” wrote Josef Joffe last month in the German newspaper Die Zeit. All that differs is the terminology: “In America the ‘mainstream media’ is the enemy. Here it is [called] the ‘Lügenpresse [lying press].’ Here they rage against ‘those at the top,’ there against the ‘elites.’”

“In nearly every European country they are on the move now, the little Trumps,” declared Evelyn Roll in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, warning against the dangers of nationalism. Read More > in The Atlantic

Declines in Unintended Pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011 – The rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States increased slightly between 2001 and 2008 and is higher than that in many other industrialized countries. National trends have not been reported since 2008.

…Less than half (45%) of pregnancies were unintended in 2011, as compared with 51% in 2008. The rate of unintended pregnancy among women and girls 15 to 44 years of age declined by 18%, from 54 per 1000 in 2008 to 45 per 1000 in 2011. Rates of unintended pregnancy among those who were below the federal poverty level or cohabiting were two to three times the national average.

…After a previous period of minimal change, the rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States declined substantially between 2008 and 2011, but unintended pregnancies remained most common among women and girls who were poor and those who were cohabiting. (Funded by the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.) Read More > in The New England Journal of Medicine

Borges: Ballpark tobacco ban is tough to chew on – Major league players are receiving one-page written reminders this week from their union, as well as MLB management, that smokeless tobacco, aka chaw, is a banned substance in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, including inside their ballparks.

Having spent 10 days walking the streets of San Francisco during Super Bowl week, be assured not all substances are banned there, but I digress.

What one wonders is exactly how will such a ban be enforced inside the Red Sox clubhouse, bullpen and dugout? Has government intrusion come to such a point that members of the ATF will stalk through the dugout examining stained paper cups and trying to match the DNA with Hanley Ramirez?

…This raises an interesting point. You go to AT&T Park in San Fran and you can smoke weed in the bleachers without fear of retribution from the local constabulary (although it’s still against ballpark rules). Pop a pinch between your cheek and gum and you’re a law-breaker.

Really?

It seems so because the smokeless tobacco ban in ballparks in those three cities, with more sure to be added soon, applies not only to players but to all other team personnel, umpires and fans. Roll some weed, no problem. Chew some leaf, you’re in handcuffs? Read More > in the Boston Herald

Genetic Ancestry Is Basically a Horoscope – In 2014 and 2015, DNA testing companies 23andMe, Ancestry, and Family Tree DNA all reported having more than one million customers. Chief among the companies’ offerings are tests to reveal your genetic history, dating back hundreds or even thousands of years. A hundred bucks and a simple cheek swab can show you your true ethnicity and uncover past relations you never knew you had!

Ancestry summarizes the offer’s intuitive appeal prominently on their website: “Who knew a kid from Queens was descended from royalty?”

But while testing one’s DNA to uncover ancient family links may be popular, that doesn’t make it accurate. Many scientists say the tests are about as meaningful as a horoscope.

Think about it. As you travel back in time though your family history, the number of ancestors you have roughly doubles with every generation. Using the most conservative estimate of generation time — 32 years — in the year 1152, you had as many as 134,217,728 potential ancestors. And since genes are scrambled with every generation, it’s very likely you share little to no genetic relation to most of them. They might as well be strangers! Read More > at Newton Blog

Fairfield sheepdog delivers large & rare 17 puppy litter – On an organic Fairfield farm lives what may be California’s largest litter of puppies ever.

The rare sheep-herding dogs called Maremma are typically found in Italy, but what is more impressive is the number of puppies mom Stella delivered–17.

John Costanzo, Stella’s owner, wasn’t planning to have a litter. In fact he tried to prevent it.

Once Stella went into heat, she was kept in the barn, but the father jumped over a 4½ foot fence and clawed through a tiny opening to get to her.

The puppies are about four weeks old and a handful for this already busy farmer. “It looks all cute and wonderful, but it’s a lot of work, but we’re really blessed,” Costanzo said. “We’re really thankful but it’s constant, constant feedings, constant attention.” Read More > at KTVU

El NIño’s Long-Awaited Grand Performance Is On Its Way to California – After a crushingly dry February, it looks as if early to mid-March is likely to bring California some of the serious moisture it needs from the 2015-16 El Niño event–and perhaps some unwanted flooding and mudslides. Long-range models are increasingly confident that the low-latitude jet stream that’s been dodging the California coast for weeks will finally plow into the state over the next 10 to 15 days, hauling copious amounts of Pacific moisture inland with it. The last few runs of the GFS and ECMWF models have become especially bullish on the development of one or two atmospheric rivers (ARs) heading into California over the next week or two. Roughly 30% to 50% of annual precipitation in the West Coast states occurs from just a few AR events per year.

The first significant storm should plow into northern and central California this coming weekend, followed by a stronger series of storms affecting most of the state during the following week. The 0Z Wednesday operational run of the GFS model doused parts of the central and northern California and Sierra Nevada with 10” to 20” of precipitation over the ten-day period ending at 7:00 pm EST Friday, March 11. The GEFS and ECMWF ensembles, though less dramatic than individual runs, still paint a very wet picture for the state. It remains unclear how far into southern California the biggest rains and mountain snows will extend. The outlook for very heavy precipitation is a bit more confident from central California all the way north to Washington. Already, some California reservoirs are releasing water: though this may seem odd while the region is still in drought, it’s a long-employed strategy to help reduce the odds of flooding when torrential rains are predicted.

The stormy weather is coming just in time for the close of the El Niño Rapid Response Field Campaign being conducted by NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. The project includes flights from a NOAA Gulfstream IV hurricane-hunting aircraft, as well as hundreds of radiosonde and dropsonde launches profiling the remote Pacific atmosphere. An extra week has been added to the project’s flight schedule, which will now run through March 10. See our blog post from January 12 for more on this project. Read More > from the Weather Underground

Zero’s electric motorcycles replace range anxiety with fun – It’s quiet. In fact, it’s completely silent. The motorcycle is on and ready to whisk me away. But before I twist the throttle, I sit and listen to the birds, traffic and a neighbor yelling at a barking dog. Everything but the Zero DSR electric bike is filling my ears. I finally roll on the accelerator and I’m off. The weird, but distinct whine of an electric engine coupled with a surprising explosion of power is equal parts perplexing and invigorating. This is the future of bikes and it’s spectacular.

The 2016 Zero Motorcycles DSR and FXS are the new bikes from the small Northern California-based company. While its competitors (Mission Motors and Brammo) have disappeared, its flourished. It’s done so by focusing on consumer bikes (instead of super bikes like Mission Motors) and keeps churning out two-wheeled — and quiet — transportation that gets better every year.

Both bikes carry on the company’s desire to keep its designs simple. Instead of adding a transmission, the motorcycles are driven directly by a more efficient Z-Force 75. There’s no clutch; just twist and go. It took a few rides to stop reaching for the lever with my left hand as I left a stop light. But once I realized that I had the power to zip out of any situation with a twist of the handlebar without having to downshift, that muscle memory became a thing of the past.

…The motocross-inspired bike weighs less than 300 pounds but has 44 horsepower and 70 pounds of torque. It’s a wheelie machine whether you want it to be or not. It’s light weight, nimbleness and almost unlimited supply of power made my commute to work far more exciting than it normally is. Best-case-scenario: the FXS has a range of 90 miles in the city but, hit the highway, and you’ll only get 37 miles. Read More > at Engadget

Big Rise in Psychiatric Hospitalizations for California’s Latino Youth – Psychiatric hospitalizations of Latino children and young adults in California are rising dramatically — at a much faster pace than among their white and black peers, according to state data.

While mental health hospitalizations of young people of all ethnicities have climbed in recent years, Latino rates stand out. Among those 21 and younger, they shot up 86 percent, to 17,813, between 2007 and 2014, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. That’s compared with a 21 percent increase among whites and 35 percent among African Americans.

No one knows for certain what’s driving the trend. Policymakers and Latino community leaders offer varying and sometimes contradictory explanations. Some say the numbers reflect a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services for Latinos and a pervasive stigma that prevents many from seeking help before a crisis hits.

Others blame stress from the recent recession, family disintegration and an influx of traumatized children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America. Read More > at KQED

Record-Breaking Gun Sales Continue Through February – Record breaking gun sales continued once again in the month of February.

There were 2,613,074 firearms-related background checks performed by the FBI over the 29 days in February, a record for the month. February is now the ninth month in a row that has seen a record number of checks. The month saw fewer checks than the single-month record set in December 2015, but also saw an increase in checks over last month.

This February’s numbers bested the previous record, set in 2013, by more than 300,000 checks. In the first two months of 2016, there were 5,158,876 checks run through the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System. That’s more than half the 10,036,933 checks run in all of 2006, just a decade ago.

This year is a continuation of a record-setting trend, which began in 2015. February 2016 is the tenth month in a row to set a record. 2015 also holds the all-time record for background checks in a single year. Read More > at The Washington Free Beacon

Sports Authority Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection – Sports Authority is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The retailer said Wednesday that it plans to close or sell about 140 stores and two distribution centers, in Denver and Chicago. The Englewood, Colorado, company has 463 stores in 41 states and Puerto Rico. The store closings are expected to take up to three months.

Sports Authority stores will remain open and run on normal schedules during the Chapter 11 process. The company’s website will continue to function, and the chain plans to honor warranties on items purchased at its stores or online.

“We are taking this action so that we can continue to adapt our business to meet the changing dynamics in the retail industry,” CEO Michael Foss said in a written statement. The executive said that it needs fewer stores as consumers are increasingly shifting to online shopping. Read More > at ABC News

California Reservoirs Are Dumping Water in a Drought, But Science Could Change That – There’s a rule in California that may seem bizarre in a drought-stricken state: in the winter, reservoirs aren’t allowed to fill up completely.

In fact, even as this post goes up, a handful of reservoirs are releasing water to maintain empty space.

The practice, which has long inflamed combatants in California’s water wars, is due to a decades-old rule designed to protect public safety. If a major winter storm comes in, reservoirs need space to catch the runoff and prevent floods.

But with advances in weather forecasting, some say this preemptive strategy is outdated. A new, “smart” flood control system could save water in years when Californians need it most.

At one of the state’s major reservoirs — Folsom Lake, east of Sacramento — the volume of water spilling from the dam has swollen eight-fold in the past few weeks, sending billions of gallons downstream, much of it into San Francisco Bay.

Early in February the reservoir reached a key threshold: 60 percent full, which is the highest water level allowed during the winter months, according to rules from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency. Read More > KQED

Oscar’s problem isn’t really race — it’s class – …Yes, it exposed the vast cultural distance from “white Hollywood” to black working-class folks a few miles away. But Rock would’ve gotten the same reactions at cineplexes from Des Moines to Bay Ridge.

Because so much of what Hollywood makes — and even more of what it singles out for honors — just doesn’t connect to the lives of most Americans, black or white.

“Trumbo” — which drew a Best Actor nomination for Bryan Cranston — is about a 1940s screenwriter imprisoned after refusing to testify before congressional anti-Communist hearings. Eddie Redmayne earned another Best Actor nomination for his transgender role in “The Danish Girl.”

These movies appeal to Hollywood’s self-satisfied elite — and little farther.

…The academy’s problem isn’t simply that it’s “so white.” It’s that, like so much of the American elite, it has absolutely no idea how the other half lives — or what it likes. Read More > in the New York Post

Watch an Antelope Brutally Slay a Drone

Read More > in Popular Mechanics

Banning GMOs Would Hurt Nature – Today some 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted about 181 million hectares of GMO crops in 2014, with about 40 percent of that in the United States. In the United States, modern biotech crop varieties make up almost all the corn (89 percent), soybeans (94 percent) and cotton (91 percent) planted each year. A new study by agricultural researchers at Purdue University asks what would happen if activists got their wish and planting modern biotech crop varieties was banned globally? The researchers reported:

Eliminating all GMOs in the United States, the model shows corn yield declines of 11.2 percent on average. Soybeans lose 5.2 percent of their yields and cotton 18.6 percent. To make up for that loss, about 102,000 hectares of U.S. forest and pasture would have to be converted to cropland and 1.1 million hectares globally for the average case.

Greenhouse gas emissions increase significantly because with lower crop yields, more land is needed for agricultural production, and it must be converted from pasture and forest. …

The price changes for corn were as high as 28% and for soybeans as high as 22%. In general, the price increases for the reference and average cases were higher than those observed previously for biofuel shocks. Food price changes in the U.S. amount to $14-$24 billion per year. As expected, welfare falls both in the U.S. and globally.

The additional area of land that would have to be plowed up to sustain current levels of production is about the size of Connecticut. Read More > at Reason

The Electric Car Revolution Is Now Scheduled for 2022 – The long-awaited, oft-delayed electric car revolution is now scheduled for 2022.

That’s according to a report from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which posits that in just six years, the biggest obstacle to the sale of EVs—they cost too much—will be obliterated and cars that run on electricity will cost less than those that run on dead dinosaurs.

“By 2022,” the report says, “the unsubsidized total cost of ownership of BEVs [battery electric vehicles] will fall below that of an internal combustion engine vehicle.” From there, the report projects a steadily increasing rate of adoption, reaching global sales of 41 million—25 percent of total market share—by 2040.

That’s a remarkable prediction given that today, EVs make up less than 1 percent of new car sales in the US. Read More > at Wired

Analysis A threat ahead: California Democrats losing the fight for younger voters – The state Democratic Party convention held here over the weekend presented an occasionally jarring contrast: Democrats gathered at what seemed like a 50th college reunion for veteran politicians, and at the same time one of the biggest rounds of applause came at the mention of Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate few of those politicians support.

The split, largely generational given the youthful tilt of the Vermont senator’s supporters, underscored a hard truth for California Democrats that was barely discussed during the celebratory convention:

Numbers-wise, the party’s heading for trouble.

That’s not to suggest that Democrats are about to lose elections in California; they retain strength at the ballot box. But as those who built the party into supremacy in the 1990s age out, Democrats are having a hard time attracting newer voters, who are allying themselves with no party at all. They are choosing, if they register, to officially be nonpartisan.

For now, the effect on Democrats has been limited because those independent voters, bridling at the conservative views of national Republicans, have had nowhere to go but with the state’s biggest party. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

IRS Says 114,000, 334,000, 724,000 Taxpayer Accounts Were Hacked – Wall Street Journal, IRS Says Cyberattacks on Taxpayer Accounts More Extensive Than Previously Reported:

The Internal Revenue Service said Friday that more than twice as many taxpayer accounts may have been hit by cybercriminals than the agency previously reported, with hackers gaining access to as many as 724,000 accounts and attempting to break into an additional 575,000.

The disclosure is the second revision by the IRS in the last six months and comes as Americans are preparing their tax returns for 2015.

Last August, the IRS said cybercrooks used stolen Social Security numbers and other data to gain access to taxpayer information for as many as 334,000 accounts, up from a number of 114,000 announced in May 2015.

The hackers targeted “Get Transcript,” an IRS application that allowed taxpayers to obtain tax return information for prior years, but not the main IRS database. Such information is valuable for thieves who hope to make false returns appear more legitimate and evade antifraud filters. …

One prominent lawmaker, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R., Utah) called the new IRS breach revelations “deeply concerning.” The Senate Finance Committee Chairman said, “Taxpayers deserve better from the IRS, but sadly we are reminded time and again of the agency’s incompetence.” Read More > at Tax Prof

U.S. Has Record 10th Straight Year Without 3% Growth in GDP – The United States has now gone a record 10 straight years without 3 percent growth in real Gross Domestic Product, according to data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The BEA has calculated GDP for each year going back to 1929 and it has calculated the inflation-adjusted annual change in GDP (in constant 2009 dollars) from 1930 forward.

In the 85 years for which BEA has calculated the annual change in real GDP there is only one ten-year stretch—2006 through 2015—when the annual growth in real GDP never hit 3 percent. During the last ten years, real annual growth in GDP peaked in 2006 at 2.7 percent. It has never been that high again, according to the BEA.

The last recession ended in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. In the six full calendar years since then (2010-2015), real annual GDP growth has never exceeded the 2.5 percent it hit in 2010.

“The average growth rate for economic recoveries since the 1960s is 3.9 percent ranking the Obama recovery, with an average GDP growth rate of just 2.1 percent, among the slowest in history,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R.-Ind,), who chairs the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. Read More > at CNSNews

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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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