Sunday Reading – 08/21/16

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.

Rob Manfred, MLB considering radical changes to game – Major League Baseball, alarmed by the game’s lack of action this season is considering making the most radical changes to the game in more than a century.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said that baseball is contemplating everything from altering the strike zone to limiting the number of pitching changes in a game, to curtailing the number of shifts, to even installing 20-second time clocks for pitchers.

If these changes are implemented, it would lead to perhaps the most radical rule changes since baseball reduced the number of balls to four in 1889 to constitute a walk. Certainly, it would have more impact than the American League installing the DH in 1973.

Anything and everything will be under review, Manfred said, in hopes of breathing life into offenses, providing more action, while also quickening the pace of games.

All changes must be negotiated with the MLB Players’ Association. MLB and the MLBPA are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement; the current one expires Dec. 1. Read More > in USA Today

Bay Area homes: Median price now $735,000 but July sales are lowest in 5 years – If you’re looking for a price break on your next house, you may have to keep waiting.

Faced with famously high prices and a tight housing supply, homebuyers grew shy last month. Across the Bay Area, single-family home sales in July fell 13.4 percent from the year before — the fifth consecutive month of year-over-year declines in the number of houses sold.

CoreLogic’s latest report shows sluggish activity for the nine-county region, which suffered its slowest July in five years. The picture was similar on the Peninsula and in the East Bay: For the sixth straight month, year-over-year sales fell in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties, where home sales were down 14 percent, 12.1 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. In Contra Costa County, sales declined for the fourth consecutive month, and were down 16.9 percent. Read More > in the East Bay Times

How Big Is A Fart? Somewhere Between A Bottle Of Nail Polish And A Can Of Soda – Q: How much space does a fart take in your body? — Inbal R., age 5

Placed under the microscope, even the dullest grain of sand develops a personality. So it goes with farts. (Or “flatulence,” as they say in the scientific literature.) Farts may seem largely interchangeable, but each one is special. Even just your own farts are a circus sideshow of intestinal gas: big ones, little ones, stinky ones, oddly fresh ones. There is not enough scientific evidence to say that no two farts are alike — but you can rest assured that they are a riot of diversity.

As a result, it’s impossible to say exactly how much space a generic fart takes up in the body. I can, however, tell you about the range of specific farts, as captured in scientific experiments. For instance, a 1997 study of 16 Americans found a volume-per-fart range of 17 milliliters to 375 milliliters.1 Imagine a bottle of nail polish — that’s a rough analogy for the volume of the daintiest of poots. Now imagine a can of soda. That’s the volume of a really big stinker. Your body is a wonderland.

But there are another couple of questions floating around this data. First, obviously, “How does one collect a fart?” And I’ll get to that in a bit. But second, and perhaps more important, is this: “Why study the gas volume of farts?” That’s a really interesting question if for no other reason than the fact that Dr. Michael Levitt, a researcher at Minneapolis Veterans Affairs and the grande sieur of fart research, doesn’t think there’s much value to the data. “It’s just physiological fact,” he told me. It’s interesting to know the volume of a fart, but it doesn’t have a lot of deeper meaning. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

5 ways transportation will radically change by 2026 – Right now, the way we get around can seem fairly lackluster.

That’s mostly because we’ve become accustomed to emerging forms of transportation, like high-speed rails and airplanes, that were considered revolutionary not too long ago.

But we’re entering an era of new forms of transportation that will make the way we get around more efficient, faster, and simply cooler.

We spoke to Peter Diamandis, a board member of Hyperloop One, on what we can expect in just 10 years. Here’s what he had to say:

  1. The Hyperloop will make transportation between cities easy and fast and could be operating worldwide by 2026.
  2. Flying cars could be a reality in just 5 years.
  3. Fully driverless cars will be on the road in 5 years.
  4. The model of “every car in a garage” will die down and be replaced by a fleet-based service.
  5. Space tourism will become a reality thanks to the efforts of SpaceX and Blue Origin. Read More > at Business Insider

If California legalizes pot, will TV ads be far behind? – …For California voters, the way legal pot would be advertised in California figures to be a central feature of the Proposition 64 campaign. Whether and where consumers could encounter pot ads touches overarching worries about whether kids will be exposed to the pitches.

The hazards of unfettered advertising have loomed over legalization efforts nationally. An official report in Oregon, written to help advise policymakers about youth prevention after the state legalized pot, warned of “substantial marketing and advertising of marijuana products.” A report overseen by Lt. Gavin Newsom in the run-up to California’s campaign cautioned that “as a commercial industry develops there are risks of targeted advertising similar to prior tobacco campaigns.”

Much of the debate has focused on television’s role. The California measure’s champions reject the warning, leveled by opponents, that legalization will flood the airwaves with pot ads.

…So while it’s accurate for proponents to say federal law prohibits marijuana advertisements, the federal government also prohibits possessing or selling marijuana. Yet dispensaries have thrived from Denver to Seattle.

And while the Justice Department memo gives some clear guidelines, the Federal Communications Commission has been studiously silent. The federal regulator, which has the power to grant and revoke broadcasting licenses, declined comment. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Uber’s self-driving cars will pick up their first customers this month – Uber’s self-driving taxis will get their first real-world test in Pittsburgh this month, with the semi-autonomous vehicles assigned at random to customers using the company’s app. According to a report from Bloomberg, the test fleet will consist of modified Volvo XC90 SUVs, with each car supervised by a human in the driver’s seat (a legal requirement) as well as a co-pilot taking notes. The trips themselves will be free, with a tablet in the backseat informing the passenger about the car’s capabilities.

Pittsburgh has been the home of Uber’s self-driving ambitions since 2014, when the company began its quest to poach engineers from the robotics department of the city’s Carnegie Mellon University. By early 2016, says Bloomberg, Uber had a team of hundreds of engineers, roboticists, and mechanics at its Advanced Technologies Center. Self-driving test vehicles were soon spotted around the city, and in May the company released its first official photo of a prototype vehicle — a modified Ford Fusion.

The company has iterated quickly since then, and this month’s deployment of semi-autonomous vehicles to actual (non-paying) customers is a significant step. Tesla’s Autopilot software has been slowly increasing its functionality for drivers (despite a fatal crash in July that’s currently being investigated by the NHTSA), and Google’s self-driving fleet has been undergoing extensive testing, albeit with custom cars limited to speeds of 25 miles per hour. However, with this pilot program Uber is testing a rudimentary version of its final vision for self-driving cars: to replace its one million plus human drivers. Read More > in The Verge

Macy’s closings—another bad sign for malls – Macy’s is closing 100 stores nationwide—and the vast majority are located in auto-centric suburban shopping malls. Amid these closures, the department store chain reported that it looking at opening three downtown stores in New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

In many ways, we are seeing a reversal of the 1960s and 1970s, when downtowns emptied out and retailers fled for distant suburban locations. Downtowns are now growing in population, which is bringing retail back.

Macy’s announcement comes on the heels of many national retail chains announcing closings in 2016—including Kmart/Sears, Sports Authority, and Walmart. Most of these stores are located on drive-only commercial strips or in power centers—a few of the closures, mostly Sears, involve malls.

Macy’s is getting pressure from Amazon and competitors such as TJ Maxx, and the retailer is focusing on boosting online sales—so cutting costs and closing the lesser performing stores makes sense. Nevertheless, Macy’s decision will create major vacancies in nearly 100 suburban malls around the US—and that’s another bad sign for enclosed shopping malls.

Many malls are already struggling. The website has more than 400 stories of malls around the US, many of which are struggling or dead. A total of about 1,500 enclosed shopping malls were built nationwide. About 1,200 remain open today. According to planner and retail expert Robert Gibbs, many malls are doing very well. About a third of them have low sales per square foot and suffer from poor locations where the market has changed or new malls were constructed in the trade area. Read More > at CNU

Mayor Silva: Stockton Council Members Have Broken the Law – Well, this is a mighty strange turn of events.

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva—you know, the one who was just arrested for allegedly videotaping stripping teens—says it’s his disapproving city council members who have actually broken the law, and now he wants the D.A. to investigate.

Silva sent a letter to District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar Friday, complaining of what he believes to be “a substantial violation of a central provision of the Ralph M. Brown Act” by the city’s elected leaders.

Silva’s taking issue with a recent press conference, which we reported on here. It was attended by all members of the Council except Silva, but was not placed on the public agenda beforehand. The mayor said that constitutes a violation of the state’s open meetings law. Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi, who attended but stood off to the side, has also expressed reservations over its legality.

City Attorney John Luebberke thinks it’s much ado about nothing. Jim Ewart, attorney with the California Newspaper Publishers Association, agreed. Read More > at California City News

Target to open small-format store in S.F.’s Stonestown Galleria – Target is opening a new store in San Francisco, adding to its growing empire of small flexible-format locations in urban areas.

The 32,000-square-foot store at 3251 20th Ave. in the Stonestown Galleria will be the fifth such location in San Francisco and the ninth in the Bay Area when it opens in July 2017. The company is also opening a new store in Palo Alto in July 2017, one in Marin City in March 2017 and a Cupertino location in March 2017.

Smaller than a typical full-size Target, flexible format locations focus on quick-trip shopping targeted to the surrounding population with an assortment of groceries, portable technology and accessories, apparel, cosmetics and pharmacy services.

The flexible-format concept is part of Target’s push to gain presence in dense, urban areas where the typical store couldn’t open before.The company currently operates 23 flexible-format stores nationally and will continue to open additional locations, including nine stores opening in fall 2016 and 16 more in the next two years. Read More > in The San Francisco Business Times

Giant Coral Reef in Protected Area Shows New Signs of Life – In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead.

On the floor of a remote island lagoon halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, the giant reef site had been devastated by unusually warm water. Its remains looked like a pile of drab dinner plates tossed into the sea. Research dives in 2009 and 2012 had shown little improvement in the coral colonies.

Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find Coral Castles, genus Acropora, once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record?

This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples — unmistakable signs of life.

If Coral Castles can continue to revive after years of apparent lifelessness, even as water temperatures rise, there might be hope for other reefs with similar damage, said another team member, Randi Rotjan, a research scientist who led and tracked the Phoenix Islands expedition from her base at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Read More > in The New York Times

84 percent of California water agencies choose zero as conservation target – Under fire from water agencies who were losing millions of dollars in lost water sales, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration two months ago dropped all mandatory water conservation targets and allowed cities, water districts and private water companies across the state to set their own targets.

Now, the results are in: 343 urban water agencies — or 84 percent of the 411 largest in the state — gave themselves a conservation target of zero for the rest of this year.

…Among those with “zero” as their targets were most of the biggest water departments and agencies in California, representing tens of millions of people. They include the cities of San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Contra Costa Water District and the Marin Municipal Water District.

…Even as they emphasized that California’s five-year drought is not over, Brown administration officials worked Tuesday to put the best face on the new numbers.

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, noted that her agency required each water provider to pass a “stress test” that demonstrated it had enough water either in reservoirs, groundwater storage or contracts with other agencies to get by in case the drought continues for another three years. Read More > in The Mercury News

BART to San Jose gets funding promise – Tunneling BART through downtown San Jose received a $20 million boost on Tuesday, a significant and not-so meager amount for the six-mile extension from the future Berryessa station east to Santa Clara.

The cap-and-trade funds approved by the state Transportation Agency set in motion the flow of almost hundreds of millions more in state money and federal aid. If voters approve a half-cent increase in the Santa Clara County sales tax in November, local bucks for the $4.7 billion extension will be rolling in for many years.

State officials have committed to several years of further aid. It’s the promises behind the $20 million that are so vital.

…This is almost the identical game plan used to pay for the $2.1 billion extension phase from Warm Springs in Fremont to Berryessa in North San Jose that is now under construction: Get a long-term commitment from Sacramento (more than $800 million), go to the Federal Transit Administration for more ($900 million) and fill in the financial gaps with the local contributions.

That 10-mile stretch to Berryessa could open late next year. The Fremont to Warm Springs link should open soon. Read More > in The Mercury News

Ford plans to have fully autonomous cars on the road in 5 years – At the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California the automaker announced it would have a fully autonomous car on the road with a ride sharing service in 2021. CEO Mark Fields said self-driving cars will be as important to Ford as the assembly line. “We’re designing the first generation of autonomous vehicles specifically for ride sharing and ride hailing,” Fields told the audience.

During the event Fields said, “today we’re no longer just an auto company, we’re also a mobility company.” The CEO stressed that its regular vehicles will continue to be available for folks that still want to drive. The company just sees ” Smart Mobility” as an additional revenue stream. So the F150 and Mustangs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Ford CTO Raj Nair talked about how automaker decided to stop worrying about incremental steps and go full bore with self-driving vehicles. “We abandoned the stepping stones of driver assist technologies and decided to take the full leap to fully autonomous,” Nair said. He also said the carmaker would triple its development fleet by the end of the year (to 30) and triple it again next year. Read More > at Engadget

Bay Area school districts offering up to $10,000 signing bonuses – Bay Area schools districts desperate to fill a rash of spots with qualified candidates have started offering signing bonuses of as much as $10,000 per teacher, as the competition for teaching talent heats up.

Certain specialties like math, science and language immersion are particularly difficult to fill, the Mercury News reports, and can command anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 in signing bonuses in schools districts ranging from Pittsburg to Mt. Diablo.

Factors driving away teachers from the Bay Area a familiar mix to many local employers: A brutally high cost of living, a vacuum left by baby-boomer teachers retiring and too few credentialed teachers being produced in the first place.

“This is the most challenging situation I’ve encountered,” Donna Lewis, assistant superintendent in the San Mateo-Foster City School District, told the paper.

Other school districts offering hefty signing incentives include a $5,000 bonus for speech-language pathologists in Mt. Diablo, $1,000 signing bonus for special education teachers or a referral in Oakland, and as much as $10,000 in Pittsburg. Despite that amount on the table, Pittsburg still has 19 positions to fill before the fall session begins tomorrow. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Uber and Lyft Want to Replace Public Buses – …In Uber’s early days, it said it wanted to be “everyone’s private driver.” Now the company and its main U.S. competitor, Lyft, are playing around with the idea of becoming the bus driver, too. Uber has partnered with a handful of local public transportation agencies to strike deals like the one in Pinellas Park, which it expanded earlier this month. Later this month Lyft plans to launch a partnership with Centennial, Colorado, its first deal where a local government will subsidize its rides. The company also said it has helped a dozen transit agencies apply for federal grants that would pay for a portion of Lyft fares in situations where its drivers would effectively become part of the public transportation system.

…Governments already pay for taxis in some situations, but the deals with Uber and Lyft could usher in more fundamental change, and with it, tensions. What happens to people without smartphones? How do Uber and Lyft serve disabled riders? What happens if the cities come to rely on the apps, only to have the private companies decide the partnerships are no longer a sensible business venture for them? And do public governments want to encourage the replacement of public sector jobs with the contract work that defines the sharing economy?

As officials grapple with those questions, it’s hard to ignore the real savings for governments—and real revenue for Uber and Lyft. In 2014, Americans spent $15 billion in fares on public transportation at the 850 public transit agencies that share data with the Federal Transit Administration. The operating expenses at those agencies was $42 billion. Much of the remaining 65 percent of the cost of running the systems came from public subsidies.

Suburban areas with less density and lower ridership are particularly expensive to run, making ride hailing an attractive alternative, said Adie Tomer, a fellow at Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “If they can provide better outcomes for your population and do it at either the same cost if not lower, that’s a win-win for society,” he said. “This could start spiraling very fast.” Read More > in Bloomberg

Week Under Review: Preseason continues to showcase how badly it needs shortening – What an amazing first week of preseason action! Blaine Gabbert played enough snaps against the Texans to take a clear lead over the injured Colin Kaepernick by default in the race to be Chip Kelly’s starter. Antonio Brown appeared in midseason form as he blew past Lions corner Darius Slay on multiple occasions. The Vikings-Bengals soiree in Cincinnati was overflowing with fans.

The only problem is all that stuff all happened in scrimmages at joint practices.

Then came the “game” action. The first week of preseason games has become so dull it now rivals the last for sheer lack of star power. We at SI proudly unveiled our list of the Top 100 NFL players last week. Eight of the top 10 (including Brown) didn’t suit up this weekend. And many, many, so many more joined them. Most of the starting quarterbacks that were forced to play didn’t last more than two series—heck, Drew Brees threw just one pass.

Most players, and really, most sensible people in general, understand that a four-game slate is too long. The first and last weeks of the preseason closely resemble a Pro Bowl gone bad, and there must be a push to reduce to two games when the CBA expires after the 2020 season at the latest. (Among the 75 other things players need to use their leverage for this time.)

As it should, player safety has always been the rallying cry of the masses that strongly prefer to see the preseason cut in half. Ask poor No. 2 pick Carson Wentz, who suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s Eagles-Bucs game under the protection (or lack thereof) of an offensive line mostly destined for the chopping block. What a significant blow to Wentz and the Eagles given that the rest of his preseason may be wiped out, an absolutely crucial learning period for a young, developing quarterback. Conversely, veterans are extra cautious not to put themselves in danger. There’s a reason Rob Gronkowski hasn’t seen preseason action since 2012 and is doubtful to break that streak in the coming weeks. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

The New Landscape of Labor – It’s been a rough recovery for American labor. In the aftermath of the 2007 financial meltdown and the deep recession that followed it, unions have bled more than 1.3 million members. Sharp declines in construction, manufacturing, and transportation jobs have battered private labor; tax shortfalls and high costs have led state and local governments to pare budgets, and hence public-union jobs. Meantime, unions face growing public resentment. Four states in recent years have adopted right-to-work policies, which let workers opt out of joining unions. Polls show that the public is increasingly questioning the efforts of labor groups and the economic toll they impose. Government unions may have dodged a bullet in late March, when an evenly divided Supreme Court refused to overturn state laws that allow obligatory worker fees, but unions have recently lost other key court cases, undermining their ability to organize.

The Great Recession and the underwhelming Obama recovery have, in other words, reshaped the map of labor in the United States. Private unions began to rally somewhat in 2012 but thus far have regained only 42 percent of the members they lost. A disproportionate share of that rebound, moreover, has occurred in right-to-work states—not because these states are welcoming labor environments but because they’ve done better economically than union-friendly states. Public unions have yet to boost their rolls, six years after the recession ended. It was commonly observed, after 2009, that government unions had grown larger in membership than private ones—but this advantage proved short-lived. Three years ago, private unions regained their old lead.

Unions typically lose members in recessions. But years into an economic recovery, the striking decline in government-union membership and the limited recovery of private unions bode poorly for the labor movement. And with America perhaps facing another economic slowdown, things could soon get worse for unions. Read More > at City Journal

12 Jaw-Dropping Driverless Car Facts – Jim McBride, Ford’s (NYSE:F) technical leader of autonomous vehicles, told ZDNet recently that the transition to self-driving cars will be a “paradigm shift” very similar to our transition from using horse-drawn carriages to automobiles.

Of course, lots of technology is overhyped these days. But there are plenty of reasons McBride’s assessment is likely to be spot on. Here are 12 of them.

1. Driverless cars will save lots of lives. One of the most important reasons driverless car technology is gaining steam is because the cars could save about 33,000 lives every year in the U.S. alone. We could see up to a 90% reduction in traffic fatalities and save about 10 million lives worldwide every decade.

2. The amount of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles on the road will grow quickly. IHS Automotive estimates that by 2035, there will be 76 million vehicles on the road with some level of self-driving technology. By that same year, about 10% of the vehicles sold will be fully autonomous.

9. Driverless cars can see in complete darkness. Ford’s driverless cars can drive completely in the dark, without the need of headlights or street lamps. The company said recently that its autonomous cars went 60 mph around curved roads with absolutely no light. It’s all part of Ford’s plan to release fully autonomous vehicles with a Level 4 autonomy (no driver interaction) by 2021.

11. Self-driving shuttles could be in use in just two years. China-based tech giant Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) is already testing fully autonomous vehicles on public roads in China right now, and the company aims to have driverless public transportation shuttles on the road by 2018. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Is a Little Radiation So Bad? – Nuclear radiation is dangerous. It can cause cancer, birth defects and (in the sci-fi-movie world) 50-foot-tall humans and man-eating insects the size of buses.

Such a dark view of radiation has shaped public fears, and for decades it has been part of the foundation of nuclear policies. It has been accepted by an alphabet soup of federal agencies as well as national and international scientific bodies. It has affected how old atomic-weapons sites are cleaned up, nuclear power plants operated and radiation used in medicine.

The scientific basis for this view is known as the linear no-threshold model, or LNT, which holds that any amount of radiation increases someone’s cancer risk, with the danger rising along with the dose.

But Carol Marcus scoffs at the LNT model. As science, it’s “baloney,” she said, essentially in the same category as “the Earth is flat.” The white-haired, 77-year-old professor of nuclear medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, with both an M.D. and Ph.D., is on a campaign to change the way America treats radiation.

Dr. Marcus advocates an approach that holds that low radiation doses aren’t harmful and could even benefit people’s health—a phenomenon known as “hormesis,” possibly reducing cancer rates by stimulating the body’s protective systems. Among other things, she wants the NRC to raise by 50-fold its allowable annual radiation dose to the public. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Audi cars will start talking to city traffic systems this fall – If you’ve ever been stuck at a red light that seems to last an eternity, you’ll be happy to know that Audi announced that it’s going to start work with municipalities to tell its cars when a light is about to turn green. The automaker says this is the first step in a Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) partnership with cities that will be launching this fall.

The Audis won’t be talking to the traffic lights directly, instead the vehicles will use their built-in LTE connection to get information from a participating city’s central traffic control system. Using that data and GPS, the cars will be able to show on the dashboard when an upcoming signal will turn green.

The system does not use the upcoming DSRC V2V (vehicle to vehicle)/ V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) standard. Instead it uses partner Traffic Technology Services to establish a data relationship with the municipalities. As a vehicle enters a “zone” it requests a one-time unique token to establish communication with the infrastructure to request the stop light phase. Read More > at Engadget

Are Rotisserie Chickens a Bargain? – When you stroll through the supermarket, looking for a dinner that won’t take too much effort and won’t involve a lot of junk food, you’ll see raw chicken breasts and chicken thighs and whole chickens. They are pale and cold, and turning them into roasted chicken or chicken piccata will take time.

But then there are the rotisserie chickens. They are golden and warm and herb-scented and ready to eat. You could grab one off the shelf this very moment. And even though the deli has done all the work, it doesn’t seem more expensive. It seems like an unbelievable bargain.

Is it any wonder that Americans will buy one billion rotisserie chickens this year, most of those from supermarkets or discount stores with grocery operations?

The price point of rotisserie chickens has captured consumers’ interest almost as much as the chickens themselves. At a typical supermarket, it might cost $7 or $8, the same as a fresh whole chicken in the refrigerator case. Less, in some stores. And the store pays for the herbs and the heat.

Why is rotisserie chicken so cheap? The Internet is full of posts wondering about this, and positing theories. One goes like this: Rotisserie chickens were about to pass the sell-by date in the refrigerator aisle, and the store recoups most of that money by cooking them. Another that has more credence: They’re a loss leader to bring people into the store to buy other things. To some extent that’s true, though stores don’t generally lose money on them.

But neither scenario tells the real story. Read More > at Priceonomics

The Basic Income Is the Worst Response to Automation – We’ve been hearing a drumbeat recently of claims that a universal basic income—in effect, a monthly welfare check sent to everyone—is going to be necessary to save all the poor unfortunate souls put out of work by self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robots, and other new forms of automation.

We are told that the basic income will be “the only way to keep the country’s economy afloat” in an age of automation, or that it will be necessary to absorb millions of truckers thrown out of middle-class jobs by the advent of autonomous vehicles.

… have already thrown some skepticism at the idea that there is going to be a traumatic transition that will throw middle class people out on the streets without warning—rather than a long and gradual transition over decades, to which people can adapt. The future doesn’t come that fast, and we will get a chance to see it coming. The best response is to encourage people to respond to technological progress and to seek out the new jobs that will become available as the old ones fade away.

Yes, automation is going to disrupt the economy, just as technological progress has always disrupted the economy, continually, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. But helping people to adjust by putting them on a permanent welfare subsidy is the worst and cruelest response, precisely because it pays them not to adapt to the new economy.

Let’s take a step back and look at the history here. There is nothing really new about the technological claims in favor of a basic income. The fear that new technology would put people out of work permanently, as well as the promise that it would make it possible for us to live in a utopia of uninterrupted plenty without the necessity of toil—these claims are as old as the Industrial Revolution itself. They have been made for every previous advance in technology, long before autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. Read More > at Real Clear Future

Breaking Down USA’s 1,000 Summer Olympic Gold Medals – The United States became the first nation to win 1,000 Olympic gold medals Saturday night, and the four women who put America over the top by claiming the 4×100-meter medley relay in swimming couldn’t have been any more appropriate.

Going into the Rio Olympics, the USA sat at 977 golds, the defunct Soviet Union was stuck at 395 and Great Britain was highest among the other nations that are still in business, at 245.

Those lopsided numbers are a testament to the consistency of the American Olympic effort, dating all the way back to the start of the modern Games in 1896. Make no mistake, there have been some rocky periods, but even in its worst years, the USA has never left a Summer Olympics worse than third on the medals table.

…More so than anything, the Summer Games are a track meet, and the U.S. has always been stocked with sprinters and jumpers, especially on the men’s side. All time, the U.S. total of 332 track golds heading into the Rio Games dwarfs the Soviet Union’s 64 and Britain’s 56.

In the short-track events—the 100, 200, 400, 110 and 400 hurdles and the 4×100 and 4×400 relays—the U.S. has won 120 of a possible 178 golds all-time. And the U.S. men have earned at least 15 gold medals in each of those events.

No other nation has won any of those events more than three times. Read More > at Bleacher Report

America Is Smashing Russia and OPEC’s Grip On The Oil Market – For decades it was thought U.S. oil production had peaked around 1970, as thirty years of declining production set in and the OPEC cartel’s manipulation of oil supply and prices gave a number of politically sensitive regions an uncomfortably large degree of influence over global markets.

But in 2009, driven by the newly economically viable hydraulic fracking extraction method, U.S. oil production rose, and it kept rising until global oversupply forced U.S. production cuts last year.

After initially downplaying shale’s potential to rival OPEC’s monopoly, Saudi Arabia launched what critics called a price war against the new industry in 2014: it refused to cut production when many other OPEC states wanted to do so, and Riyadh contended that it was merely letting the market take its course. This continues to glut the market, with the Saudis hitting a new all-time production high just last month.

But while their strategy of oversupply may have made some high cost operators economically unviable, including those in OPEC member states Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela, U.S. shale extractors have proven highly adept at cutting costs. This has opened up a profit margin even below that which Saudi Arabia needs to fund its welfare state, which the International Monetary Fund believes could go bankrupt in five years without major policy changes. Read More > at The National Interest

California for whom? – California has been bleeding people to other states for more than two decades. Even after the state’s “comeback,” net domestic out-migration since 2010 has exceeded 250,000. Moreover, the latest Internal Revenue Service migration data, for 2013-2014, does not support the view that those who leave are so dominated by the flight of younger and poorer people.

Of course, younger people tend to move more than older people, and people seeking better job opportunities are more likely to move than those who have made it. But, according to the IRS, nearly 60,000 more Californians left the state than moved in between 2013 and 2014. In each of the seven income categories and each of the five age categories, the IRS found that California lost net domestic migrants.

Nor, viewed over the long term, is California getting smarter than its rivals. Since 2000, California’s cache of 25- to 34-year-olds with college, postgraduate and professional degrees grew by 36 percent, below the national average of 42 percent, and Texas’ 47 percent. If we look at metropolitan regions, the growth of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees since 2000 has been more than 1.5 to nearly 3 times as fast in Houston and Austin as in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Even New York, with its high costs, is doing better.

In fact, the only large California metropolitan area which has seen anything like Texas’ growth has been the most unlikely – the Inland Empire. The coastal areas, so alluring to the media and venture capitalists, are losing out in terms of growing their educated workforces, most likely a product of high housing prices and, outside of the Bay Area, weak high-wage job growth.

The location of migrants tells us something about where the allure of California remains the strongest and where it has been supplanted. Almost all of the leading states sending net migrants here are also high-tax, high-regulation places that have been losing domestic migrants for years – New York, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. In contrast, the net outflow has been largely to lower-cost states, notably Texas, as well as neighboring Western states, all of which have lower housing prices. Read More > in The Orange County Register

California’s Rich-Poor Gap: The Reality May Surprise You – Where in California has the gap between rich and poor grown most since the Great Recession?

The Bay Area, home of your Zuckerbergs and Steyers and some of the most expensive zip codes in the country, seems like a logical answer. Over the past decade, what other part of California has minted as many members of the “1 percent” as Silicon Valley?

But according to research from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, income inequality in the Bay Area has worsened only marginally, at least when compared to other parts of the state. In 2007, Bay Area households at the top 10 percent of incomes made about 10.6 times what Bay Area households at the bottom 10 percent of incomes brought home. By 2014, they made about 11.6 times as much.

While that 10 percent increase in the income gap is notable, it pales in comparison to almost every other region in the state. The “90/10” ratio grew by over 30 percent in the greater Sacramento region and in the more rural counties north of the Bay Area. The Inland Empire in Southern California, still reeling from its foreclosure crisis, saw the biggest jump in income inequality in the state at more than 40 percent. Read More > at KQED


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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One Response to Sunday Reading – 08/21/16

  1. mrdupray says:

    So, . “It’s just physiological fact,” he told me. It’s interesting to know the volume of a fart, but it doesn’t have a lot of deeper meaning.

    Does that mean us old farts just occupy space but have no deeper meaning??

    Sent from my iPhone


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