Sunday Reading – 11/20/16


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.

How A Lawsuit Over Hot Coffee Helped Erode the 7th Amendment – In 1992, an elderly woman in New Mexico bought coffee at a McDonalds drive through, spilled it on herself, and successfully sued for nearly $3 million.

The account is the poster child for the absurdity of the American legal system. Nearly every late night comic has a bit about suing over hot coffee. In a Seinfeld episode, Kramer burns himself while hiding coffee in his pants as he enters a movie theater. “You’re gonna walk out of [the courtroom] a rich man,” his lawyer tells him confidently as they prepare to sue the coffee shop. The anecdote is also popular with politicians. “We’re a litigious society,” George Bush told supporters while pressing to curtail frivolous lawsuits. “But there have to be limits.”

There’s just one problem: the story is incredibly distorted. The elderly New Mexico resident, Stella Liebeck, was not greedy and her lawsuit was not frivolous. In fact, it’s an example of America’s civil justice system working as intended.

…McDonalds served Mrs. Liebeck coffee at 180-190 degrees fahrenheit. According to her surgeon, “Any hot liquid, if it’s in the range of 180 degrees or hotter, if it’s in contact with your skin for more than just a few seconds… if you’re lucky it will produce second degree burns. If you’re not as lucky, you will get 3rd degree or full thickness burns requiring skin grafts and surgery.” Liebeck spent a week in the hospital, amassing hospital bills of $10,000.

Still, Liebeck did not sue. Her family wrote a letter to McDonalds asking them to pay her hospital bills and check whether its coffee machine was faulty. McDonalds rebuffed them, offering $800, so they found a lawyer. But even the outcome of the lawsuit — a $2.9 million verdict that people saw as Liebeck hitting the jackpot — was a fiction.

…The jury decided to award Liebeck $200,000 — less than the $300,000 recommended by a mediator in a settlement that McDonalds rejected before trial. The jury, however, decided Liebeck was 20% at fault since she spilled the coffee, so they gave her $160,000. In addition, they awarded her around $2.7 million (two days of McDonalds coffee revenue) in punitive damages. In civil cases, since there are no criminal sentences, punitive damages exist to ensure companies change their behavior. The judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000, for a total of $640,000. McDonalds appealed and later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount believed to be between $400,000 and $600,000. Read More > at Priceonomics

We asked 86 burglars how they broke into homes – Do you ever wonder whether your home security system or “Beware of Dog” sign actually keeps burglars away?

We did too. So KGW’s investigative team sent letters to 86 inmates currently serving time for burglary in the Oregon Department of Corrections. The inmates were asked to respond anonymously to 17 questions detailing how they broke in, when the crime occurred and what they were looking for.

What we learned could help you keep your home safe from burglaries.

1. How did you typically break into a home or apartment?

Most inmates broke in through an unlocked door or window. Several burglars kicked the door open.

4. What time of the day did you prefer to break in?

Burglars prefer breaking in early morning or afternoon.

6. Did pets in the home, like a dog, make you think twice?

If a homeowner had a big, loud dog most burglars would stay away. Smaller dogs don’t seem to bother them.

7. Did you typically knock on the front door before breaking into a home?

Yes. All of the inmates who responded said they would knock on the front door before breaking in.

. If you heard a radio or TV on inside the home, would you still break in?

Most burglars feared someone might be home if they heard a radio or TV. They wouldn’t break in. Read More > at KGW

Whole-fat milk consumption associated with leaner children, research finds – Children who drink whole milk are leaner and have higher vitamin D levels than those who drink low-fat or skim milk, new research suggests.

Children who drank whole (3.25 per cent fat content) milk had a Body Mass Index score that was 0.72 units lower than those who drank 1 or 2 per cent milk in the study published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

That’s comparable to the difference between having a healthy weight and being overweight, said lead author Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital.

The study did not assess why consuming higher fat content milk was associated with lower BMI scores. But Dr. Maguire hypothesized that children who drank whole milk felt fuller than those who drank the same amount of low-fat or skim milk. If children don’t feel full from drinking milk, they are more likely to eat other foods that are less healthy or higher in calories, said Dr. Maguire. Therefore children who drink lower fat milk may actually consume more calories overall than those who drink whole milk. Read More > at Medical Express

Crawling has some fitness experts going gaga – On any given morning, as the sun peeks over the horizon, Danielle Johnson can be found crawling down the hallways of her Rochester, Minnesota, home.

It may sound bizarre, but Johnson crawls every day to strengthen her core muscle groups.

“You can crawl in many ways. You can crawl on your hands and knees. You can also prop up on your toes and just hover, one or two inches above the ground, which is really going to pull in those core muscles and work those muscles effectively,” said Johnson, a physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.

“Then, as you start to move, you’re working on your shoulder girdle, you’re working on your hips,” she said. “If I could give one exercise to almost everybody, this would be it.”

Crawling has been used as a physical therapy tool, Johnson said, and now it has been adopted for strengthening and fitness.

The idea of turning crawling like a baby into exercise has been championed by the training system Original Strength, which repurposes fundamental movements into a fitness regimen. Read More > at CNN

Study: West Nile Virus Is Deadlier Than the CDC Says – Disease researchers in Atlanta today announced the results of a study that found that West Nile virus is more dangerous than previously believed, with a mortality rate more than triple what the Centers for Disease Control previously tallied.

“For many people in the United States today, West Nile virus is the much more serious mosquito-borne threat,” said Dr. Kristy Murray, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, the principal author of the study. “And that threat may persist even for patients who appear to have survived the infection unscathed.”

The study, which used Texas infections between 2002 and 2012 as its data set, found that people were dying from the disease long after doctors had declared them free of infection. The authors of the yet-unpublished study presented the news at the 2016 Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. According to an ASTMH release:

The researchers found there were 286 people who died in the acute phase of WNV. But after examining causes of deaths and symptoms from the initial infection, Murray and her colleagues concluded that 268 people who survived infection subsequently died early (they call it “delayed mortality”) due to the virus. Read More > in the Dallas Observer

Riddle of the day: Samuel was born first, but his twin brother Ronan is older. How is that possible? – In Cape Cod, twin boys born early Sunday morning wound up trapped in a paradox because of that scourge of the space-time continuum: Daylight Savings Time. Emily and Seth Peterson of West Barnstable, MA welcomed their boys Samuel and Ronan after 1 AM on Sunday. Samuel was born first, but according to their birth certificates, Ronan is actually older. Rather than try to explain the logic and risk going mad myself, I’ll let this viral Facebook post from Cape Cod Healthcare do it for me:

Answer: Samuel was born at 1:39 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6 and by the time Ronan was born 31 minutes later, #DaylightSavingsTime had ended for the year and the time fell back by an hour, making Ronan’s official time of birth 1:10 a.m. Samuel and Ronan were born at Cape Cod Hospital to parents Emily and Seth Peterson of West Barnstable. Read More > at Some Parenting

Stockton Sends Its Mayor Packing – Councilman Michael Tubbs will become the youngest and first African-American mayor in Stockton’s history, having defeated sitting mayor Anthony Silva with 70 percent of the vote on Tuesday. The 26 year-old Stanford grad thanked the community for believing in him and vowed to pursue an aggressive agenda aimed at curbing crime and boosting economic development in the city.

Silva had a steep hill to climb. He was already facing various controversies when he was arrested for allegedly leading and secretly videotaping a strip poker game with a group of teens at a youth camp he runs. Tubbs is no stranger to legal troubles either, but he was looking pristine in comparison. Then, just before the election, he landed an unprecedented endorsement from President Barack Obama.

Tubbs’ seat on the city council has been won by Jesus Andrade. Andrade’s opponent, Sam Fant, will stand trial for felony conspiracy and election fraud, a judge ruled just before the election. Appointed incumbent Dan Wright also won over challenger Steve Colangelo in District 2, while Michael Blower lost to challenger Susan Lenz in District 4. Read More > at California City News

Welcome to the New Era of Easy Media Manipulation – Have you noticed how bizarre social media and the news cycle has been lately?

In the age of digital media, journalism is changing significantly. Widely available storytelling and distribution tools, misinformation spreading like wildfire, social media filter bubbles—headlines and stories are increasingly vying for attention, plastered across a smorgasbord of platforms. Can media get any stranger? Without a doubt.

The videos we watch and podcasts we listen to may themselves soon be seamlessly manipulated, distorting the truth in new ways. Photoshop was just the beginning. Advanced media creation tools today are cheaper than ever, and innovative tech is accelerating the bleeding edge, further blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

One of the latest developments was introduced last week at Adobe Max conference in San Diego. Engineered to make audio editing easier, Adobe’s Project VoCo allows users to edit voices by rearranging words or saying phrases never actually recorded—all via typing. Read More > at Singularity Hub

Does marijuana weaken heart muscles? – Just last week, five more states voted to legalize recreational marijuana, but users may want to be cautious. A study released Sunday suggests that marijuana use can weaken heart muscles, particularly in young men. The study was presented at the annual scientific conference of the American Heart Association in New Orleans.

Recognizing the possible adverse health effects of smoking pot to get high, the researchers examined the link between marijuana use and heart health.

The researchers, from St. Luke’s University Hospital Network, focused on patients with stress cardiomyopathy, a sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscle that prevents it from pumping. Patients with the condition, which has been said to mimic a heart attack, can experience acute chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness.

The muscle weakness is most often caused by acute stress or grief, such as a breakup or the death of a loved one. However, according to Dr. Amitoj Singh, the lead investigator of the study, at least two cases of stress cardiomyopathy in medical literature have been related to marijuana use.

Greater availability of marijuana, particularly for recreational use, has heightened concern in the medical community about cardiac risks, sparking Singh’s interest. Read More > at CNN

Poll: Newsom emerges as frontrunner in California governor’s race – Nostalgic for the barrage of TV ads and pundit commentary about the 2016 election? Take heart: The horse race for the wide-open California governor’s race — in 2018 — has already begun.

And the front-runner is the most familiar name: Gavin Newsom, who has made no secret about his quest to wipe the word “lieutenant” from his current job title.

Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor and current lieutenant governor, got a huge jump-start by announcing his candidacy in February 2015 and received backing from 23 percent of likely voters, according to a new Field-IGS Poll released Tuesday.

What is surprising in the first survey of the 2018 race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown are the less familiar names — from California’s much less popular party — who were next on the list.

A pair of Republican mayors — San Diego’s Kevin Faulconer and Fresno’s Ashley Swearengin, who picked up some recognition in her unsuccessful bid in 2014 for state controller — polled second and third, raising hopes in the GOP camp that Republicans can find a candidate to challenge the Democrat’s stronghold on the Golden State. Read More > in The Mercury News

Apple, a Trendsetter No More – Apple Inc.’s next hot product category may be…Google’s failed Glass project from 2013.

The company is considering glasses that could combine digital information with what a person sees, my Bloomberg News colleagues reported late Monday. If the idea sounds familiar, it’s because of the similarity to technology behind Pokemon Go, the hit smartphone game of 2016. It was also the aim of Google Glass, before the company now called Alphabet Inc. put that project on hold for reprogramming.

Apple’s possible foray into a similar field isn’t immediately inspiring. That’s not to say the company needs to be first in digital glasses or augmented reality — a catch-all term for technology that mixes real-world images with computerized information or digital images — to be the best. Apple has a track record of taking not-entirely-original and niche ideas and transforming them into something grander.

Apple cribbed the idea for the Macintosh from unused research at Xerox. There were digital music players before the iPod. There were smartphones before the iPhone. Tablet computers preceded the iPad. In each case, however, Apple made technology that was better, easier to use — even magical. That Apple magic turned fringe products into mainstream ones, and reshaped the trajectory of the technology industry.

That was the Steve Jobs version of Apple. After more than five years with Tim Cook at the helm, we’re still not sure if this Apple can make the leap from niche idea to world-changing technology. The first major product debut under Cook, the Apple Watch, hasn’t yet become an obvious hit. (To be fair, no other companies have found major success with wearable computers.)

More ominously for Apple, it’s no longer the technology trendsetter. Yes, Apple has brought us better smartphone cameras and fingerprint sensors, but there are more areas where it has whiffed. Cook has been saying for five years that the TV industry is broken and needs an overhaul. He was right. Now the way people watch television is being upended by Netflix Inc., by “cord cutting” and by video on smartphones. Apple is barely a participant in that transformation. Read More > at Bloomberg

Riyadh Is Reeling from Bargain Oil Prices – When you live by the price of crude, it follows that you also die by it. That’s what the oil-soaked kingdom of Saudi Arabia is experiencing, and a new report from Wood Mackenzie shows that of all of the Middle East’s petrostates, it’s the Saudis that are suffering the most as a result of the collapse in crude prices over the past 29 months.

According to this new report, the Saudis fiscal deficit is now equivalent to a whopping 20 percent of the country’s GDP, and goes on to show that if Riyadh wants to balance its budget this year, it would need oil prices to hit $92 per barrel.

Barring some major supply disruption, that’s not going to happen. Oil prices are currently trading at exactly half of the reported Saudi breakeven price, and even the most optimistic readings of the effects of a potential OPEC production cut later this month only predict prices rebounding to somewhere in the range of $65. And let’s not forget that if and when that happens, hungry American shale companies will be pouncing on the opportunity to ramp up their own output, necessarily denting the impact of OPEC’s cuts. Read More > at The American Interest

Democrats Got Wrecked Again in State Legislative Races, and it Matters More Than You Might Think – Just a little over two years after they used their control of the state House, state Senate, and governor’s mansion to pass a bevy of progressive policies—one of the nation’s highest minimum wages, tighter gun laws, and huge spending on rural broadband internet, to name a few—Democrats will be the minority party in both chambers of the Minnesota legislature next year.

They are the latest victims in a four-cycle-long electoral tidal wave that has flooded state legislatures with Republicans and cost Democrats nearly 1,000 seats, leaving them able to dictate policy in only a handful of states. Helped along by some friendly redistricting and a national backlash against the federal government, Republicans will continue to set the policy agenda in the majority of states, have a crucial backstop to protect their congressional majority, and are potentially one more successful cycle away from being able to exercise the ultimate power in U.S. politics: amending the Constitution.

In Minnesota, Republicans erased a 38-28 Democratic majority in a single election and will enter the 2017 session with a one-seat majority in the state Senate (they flipped the state House in the 2014 midterms). Aside from Donald Trump’s shocking win in the presidential race, the outcome in Minnesota might have been the biggest surprise of election night, but it fits within a national trend. Democrats are struggling to hold legislative majorities, even in typically blue-ish states like Minnesota.

In red or purple states? Forget about it.

In Pennsylvania, where the legislative chambers historically have swung back-and-forth between the two major parties, Republicans have made gains in four consecutive cycles and now have the largest state House majority since 1958 (depending on how you’re counting, it might be the largest since the 1940s when the legislature had fewer seats) and have a nearly veto-proof edge in the state Senate too.

The story is the same across the map. Republicans now control both legislative chambers in 32 states, up from 30 before last week’s election. As recently as 2010, Republicans controlled as few as 14 states. Read more > at Reason

FBI: Hate crimes against Muslims up by 67 percent in 2015 – The number of hate crimes reported to police increased by about 6.7 percent last year, led largely by a 67 percent surge in crimes against Muslims, according to FBI statistics released Monday.

Civil rights groups had been raising concerns about an anti-Muslim backlash in the U.S. even before the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, late in the year. The reporting period covers calendar year 2015, but comes at a time of heightened tensions following last week’s presidential election.

There have been reports of racist and anti-religious instances since Tuesday that have sparked outrage, including students at one school who chanted “white power” and a videotaped assault in Chicago that showed black men beating a white man as onlookers screamed, “You voted Trump!” In 2008, after Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s first black president, there were also suspected cases of alleged hate crimes tied to the election.

In 2015, there were 257 incidents of anti-Muslim bias compared to 184 incidents the prior year. The total is second only to the surge in hate crimes following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Read more > at CBS News

Silicon Valley’s Secessionist Fever Dream – Many of the California tech industry’s leaders are unhappy with the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. This being Silicon Valley, they’ve come up with an innovative response: Secede from the union.

…Silicon Valley won’t take this sitting down. Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of transportation startup Hyperloop One, has promised to fund a campaign for California to become its own nation. Supporters are working on an initiative to put a referendum for California secession on the 2018 ballot. On Wednesday, residents gathered in front of the capitol building in Sacramento to rally for independence.

Whether or not secession works out, people like Altman have plenty of backup plans. In an earlier interview with the New Yorker, Altman explained his preparations for the apocalypse: “I have guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force, and a big patch of land in Big Sur I can fly to.” Plan B is to fly to New Zealand with billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

Okay, this is why half the country hates the wealthy elite. They can muck things up all they want, and simply leave when the going gets tough. And they love to experiment with other people’s lives. Thiel cofounded the Seasteading Institute, a movement to build independently governed floating cities. Larry Page has designs on a regulation-free Google Island, Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars, and Tim Draper wants to carve up California and turn Silicon Valley into a ministate.

…California’s secession is unlikely to go any better. It became the world’s sixth largest economy thanks in large part to transfers from the rest of the country. The Bay Area tech industry received much of its early funding from the U.S. Navy for things like radios and aeronautics research, which created demand for vacuum tubes and San Jose’s mercury mines. The biggest buyers of early silicon circuits were the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Read More > at Bloomberg

American Elections Will Be Hacked – It’s over. The voting went smoothly. As of the time of writing, there are no serious fraud allegations, nor credible evidence that anyone hacked the voting rolls or voting machines. And most important, the results are not in doubt.

While we may breathe a collective sigh of relief about that, we can’t ignore the issue until the next election. The risks remain.

As computer security experts have been saying for years, our newly computerized voting systems are vulnerable to attack by both individual hackers and government-sponsored cyberwarriors. It is only a matter of time before such an attack happens.

…Here’s my worry. On the day after an election, someone claims that a result was hacked. Maybe one of the candidates points to a wide discrepancy between the most recent polls and the actual results. Maybe an anonymous person announces that he hacked a particular brand of voting machine, describing in detail how. Or maybe it’s a system failure during Election Day: voting machines recording significantly fewer votes than there were voters, or zero votes for one candidate or another. (These are not theoretical occurrences; they have both happened in the United States before, though because of error, not malice.)

We have no procedures for how to proceed if any of these things happen. There’s no manual, no national panel of experts, no regulatory body to steer us through this crisis. How do we figure out if someone hacked the vote? Can we recover the true votes, or are they lost? What do we do then? Read More > in The New York Times

Five fixes that would make these sports dramatically better – 1. Real-time baseball replay: I actually think replay in baseball is outstanding. I just happen to think the way they go about it is significantly less than outstanding. Look, the one thing baseball replay was supposed to do was to remove the egregious calls that can affect — and sometimes ruin — outcomes of games.

Here’s how you do that: In the same way umpires have to decide quickly whether a throw beat a runner, a manager should have to decide if they think the call was wrong. No more consulting for 45 seconds or a minute with the clubhouse while they check six angles. If you think the call was wrong, you have five seconds to say so. That’s it. If it means adding an extra challenge to both teams, that’s fine because the time saved will still be a net positive.

3. Half the distance to the goal: Few things drive me battier than a football team stuck deep in its own territory that gets flagged for, say, holding. If the ball is at the 4-yard line, that means what normally is a 10-yard penalty is instead a 2-yard penalty, which seems ridiculously random and arbitrary.

My solution: inside the 20, keep the ball where it is. But extend the first-down marker the necessary amount of yards. So if it’s first-and-10 from the 5 and there’s a hold, instead of moving the ball to the 2½-yard line, move the first-down marker from the 15 to the 25.

4. The ground can’t cause a fumble: This one is easy. Says who?

We see the ground cause fumbles every week. Especially in an era of ultra-conservative ball control, make it inherent on the ball carrier to keep the ball in his hands until he truly is down. If he can absorb a vicious hit from the safety and hold on, how bad must grass really be? Read More > in the New York Post

Do Polygraph Tests Actually Work? – The polygraph is based on the theory that the act of lying elicits an emotional response, and that measuring this response can distinguish lies from the truth. This idea can be traced all the way back to the Inquisition, when suspects were sometimes made to swallow bread and cheese. If the food stuck to their palette, the lack of saliva was seen as an indication of a guilt.

In the early 19th century, American psychologist William Moulton Marston—building on the work of others before him—carried out research that claimed to show a correlation between systolic blood pressure and lying. Though this research attracted skepticism, Berkeley police officer John Larson used it to create the first polygraph machine in 1921, which measured both blood pressure and breathing rates.

Larson’s protege Leonarde Keeler later refined this ‘cardio-pneumo psychogram’, making it portable and adding a way to measure electrical activity in the skin. In doing so, he created the prototype for the modern-day polygraph, which today measures a range of physical changes that examiners claim can be used to detect deception.

…Nearly one hundred years since its invention, the polygraph has never been able to achieve the scientific consensus the courts required. Instead it lurks in the background of the justice system, used by police to obtain confessions, or by suspects desperate to prove their innocence. It’s widespread only where the Supreme Court ruling does not apply: daytime television and intelligence agencies like the CIA.

The reason for this is simple. The polygraph can be an effective interrogation tool. But when it comes to detecting lies, it simply doesn’t work.

…To put it bluntly, the polygraph can be an effective interrogation tool in the hands of the right examiner, but there’s a real danger of the test producing ‘false positives’ (misclassifying innocent people). And minorities facing biased assumptions of their guilt are especially likely to be nervous during a polygraph and fail the test. Read More > at Priceonomics

“Platooning” Autonomous Vehicles are Coming to Michigan – Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign a bill passed by the Michigan State Legislature Thursday that would make the state the first in the country to make it legal to operate driverless cars on the road without a driver or a steering wheel. A provision in the new Michigan law would also allow for the “platooning” of autonomous commercial trucks.

According to the bill “platooning” is defined as “a group of individual motor vehicles that are traveling in a unified manner at electronically coordinated speeds.

The provision is great news for Uber which, with its recent acquisition of the autonomous truck company Otto, has expressed intentions to overhaul the trucking industry in the United States. The company had its first test — a beer-run — in October in Colorado.

Telsa has also staked a claim in the future of driverless trucking, announcing plans in July to start producing all-electric semi trucks in 2017. Read More > at Inverse

Making California housing affordable again will require new laws, more avenues to build – How can California increase the number of homes that people can afford?

By giving more money to cities that build sufficient affordable housing, some said at a housing summit last week in Los Angeles. Or cutting off funding to those that don’t.

Or by allowing developers to bypass the local process in cities and counties with insufficient affordable housing. Allowing single-family homeowners to build and rent out granny flats. And by streamlining the approval process for affordable housing projects.

Those were some of the ideas batted around at an industry brain-storming session Thursday on the state’s “affordability crisis.” Hosted by the California Association of Realtors, the summit drew about 100 economists, state and local officials, homebuilder representatives and affordable housing developers and advocates.

…With jobs and population growing faster than people are building homes, rent and home prices are outpacing incomes.

For example, Southern California added four new jobs for every new home built from 2010 to 2015. Typically, a new unit is needed for every 1.5 new jobs.

In the Bay Area, six jobs were created for each new housing unit built. Read More > from the Associated Press

Teslas in the Trailer Park: A California City Faces Its Housing Squeeze – If there is anything that just about every Californian agrees with, it is that it costs too much to live in the state. Over the last few years, the price of buying a home or renting an apartment has become so burdensome that it pervades almost every issue, from the state’s elevated poverty rate to the debate about multimillion-dollar tear-downs to the lines of recreational vehicles parked on Silicon Valley side streets.

The town of Mountain View, Google’s home, wants to do something about that. Given new marching orders from a reform-minded City Council that was swept into office here two years ago, Mountain View is looking to increase its housing stock by as much as 50 percent — including as many as 10,000 units in the area around Google’s main campus.

“We need to provide housing because there’s a housing shortage,” said Lenny Siegel, a Mountain View councilman. That may seem an obvious tautology, but it turns out to be highly contentious in a state where most cities and suburbs are still dominated by anti-growth politics that seek to maximize the construction of tax-generating offices while minimizing the number of budget-depleting residents. Read More > in The New York Times

California’s 58 counties need governance reform – State Sen. Bob Hertzberg puts it succinctly, albeit accurately: “58 counties in California are accidents of history.”

…As California’s population expanded in the late 19th century, it was divided, and redivided into 58 counties, then the state’s fundamental local governments.

The counties’ populations now range from 1,200 in Alpine County to over 10 million in Los Angeles – more than all but seven states – and except for the city and county of San Francisco, all have five-member boards of supervisors.

Counties also evolved from purely local governments into, primarily, agents of state and federal governments in dispensing health and welfare services and the conflicts between those two roles are one aspect of their shortcomings.

County supervisors’ constituents are mostly interested in local services such as roads, sheriff’s patrols and fire protection, but mandates of state and federal overseers take precedence.

…Although the hearing was supposedly about all counties, the focus was largely on Los Angeles and intermittent efforts to change its governing structure by enlarging the board and creating an elected executive office.

…There is, however, another option – abolishing counties altogether, substituting expanded city governments for local services, and leaving all-consuming health and welfare services to multipurpose regional governments or the state itself. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

The Zoo Hypothesis: Are aliens avoiding Earth? – In 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi asked a very important question over lunch at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Based on the number of galaxies we know exist, how many stars are inside those galaxies, and how many planets potentially orbit those stars, probability states that there should be alien life.

So, where is everybody?

This question – known as the Fermi Paradox – raised a lot of eyebrows, because it’s a logical thought when considering just how vast our Universe is. While there are many different hypotheses out there that attempt to concoct an answer, one of the best and most thought-provoking is the zoo hypothesis.

The zoo hypothesis was thought up in 1973 by MIT radio astronomer John Ball. He posited that, yes, there might well be intelligent aliens out there, but maybe they are simply ignoring us, forcing us to live in a cosmic ‘zoo’ or wildlife sanctuary where they can monitor our activity without disturbing it. Read More > at Science Alert

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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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