Sunday Reading – 11/27/16


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.

LA County counted on Prop 47 to save money. It hasn’t yet – A California law that turned some felony offenses into misdemeanors to save costs has had no monetary benefits so far for Los Angeles County, according to a report presented on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heard updates from eight department leaders – including Sheriff Jim McDonnell – on whether or not Proposition 47 has had any cost saving effects. Overall, departments either reported increased workloads or else a lack of a solid data system to track offenders.

McDonnell offered a sobering view of the jails since Proposition 47 was passed in November 2014, saying that the inmate population has increased, especially among those with mental health problem. Increases also occurred because of AB 109, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2011. That law allows for current non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offenders to be released from California prisons to be supervised at the local level.

“We have fewer people going to prison, but not to jail,” he told the Board. “The burden is shifted to our communities and we need to be upfront with them.”

He said crimes in some categories have increased since Proposition 47 passed,from 67,000 to 72,000 arrests. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

How the American West Became Overrun with Wild Horses – …Altogether, nearly 45,000 American wild horses live in federally administered corrals and pastures—facilities that one federal advisory board member likens to “prisons”—all to the tune of roughly $56 million per year.

The Bureau of Land Management’s “off-range” adoption facility system is only one element of the federal government’s ungainly effort to manage America’s wild horse and donkey population. The BLM also rounds up feral horses with helicopters and hires air rifle-toting sharpshooters to trek into the mountains and dart fertile mares with birth control serum. The goal: to keep these notoriously procreative animals from overrunning the western rangeland, destroying the ecosystem, and jeopardizing the interests of ranchers and oil and gas drillers.

And yet, forty-five years after the program’s implementation, the wild horse population continues to grow. As of this year, some 67,000 horses live on tracts of federal land that the BLM estimates is suitable for fewer than 27,000. Now, with its horse holding system reaching capacity, the government is running out of places to warehouse these icons of the national spirit. Read More > at Priceonomics

To save SF Bay and its dying Delta, state aims to re-plumb California – The report’s findings were unequivocal: Given the current pace of water diversions, the San Francisco Bay and the Delta network of rivers and marshes are ecological goners, with many of its native fish species now experiencing a “sixth extinction,” environmental science’s most-dire definition of ecosystem collapse.

Once a vast, soaked marsh and channel fed by the gushing Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the Delta has diminished dramatically over the previous century as those rivers and their mountain tributaries have been diverted to irrigate Central Valley farms and Bay Area urbanity. With winnowing supplies of Chinook salmon available for food, Orcas off the coast are starving. So, too, are seals and fish-eating birds. And the Gulf of the Farallones, a national marine sanctuary, is suffering from a lack of freshwater fed by the Bay.

Those grim conclusions in this fall’s report by scientists at the Bay Institute, an environmental group focused on the bay’s ecosystem, would normally have set off alarm bells— except that those warnings have been sounding for decades. That’s about as long as state agencies have been in the planning process to re-plumb the region that supplies close to half of California’s water and supports world-leading agricultural production, fisheries and tourism.

The state’s goal: recalibrate the water flows that have drained vital rivers down to as low as 10 percent of their natural levels—just a fifth of the 60 percent flow scientists say is necessary to preserve the ecosystem.

But the mechanism for change—the state water board’s much-anticipated update to its Bay-Delta plan—is running “way, way behind,” according to board officials. The plan hasn’t had a significant update in more than two decades. And recent progress has been agonizingly slow. Read More > at CALmatters

New Restrictions on Public Comments Stir Debate at OC Supervisors’ Meetings – On Election Day earlier this month, while the citizens of Orange County were exercising one of their most cherished freedoms by casting ballots, the county’s elected Board of Supervisors was busy changing their rules to limit how often and how long people can speak at public meetings.

Under the previous rules, members of the public could address the board when individual action items come up for up to three minutes per item, and up to nine minutes total per meeting. There was also a general public comments period near the end of the meeting for topics not on the agenda.

That all changed on Election Day, when the board voted to stop allowing public comments when individual items come up. They instead moved all public comments to the beginning of their meetings, where each person now has a single three-minute speaking period, regardless of the number of agenda items they want to address.

The new restrictions – which were buried on page 110 of the meeting’s supplemental agenda document without a staff report – were put forward by Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, who argued they would make it easier for the public to comment quickly without having to wait for hours to speak. Read More > at the Voice of OC

Drone warfare heads under the seas as U.S. seeks advantage over rivals – As unmanned aerial drones have become a critical part of modern warfare, the Pentagon is now looking to deploy autonomous robots underwater, patrolling the sea floor on what one top Navy official called an “Eisenhower highway network,” complete with rest stops where the drones could recharge.

Although still in the development stages, the technology has matured in recent years to be able to overcome the vast difficulties of operating underwater, a far more harsh environment than what aerial drones face in the sky.

Saltwater corrodes metal. Water pressure can be crushing at great depths. And communication is severely limited, so the vehicles must be able to navigate on their own without being remotely piloted.

Despite the immense difficulties, the Navy has been testing and fielding several new systems designed to map the ocean floor, seek out mines, search for submarines and even launch attacks.

While the unmanned crafts are now able to stay out for days or weeks, the goal is to create an underwater network of service stations that would allow the vehicles to do their jobs for months — and eventually years. Read More > in The Washington Post

Scientists Believe They Finally Have The Cure For The Common Cold – As winter sets in it’s just a matter of time before the inevitable cold gets you and turns you into a snotty, bunged up wreck.

Unless you’re elderly or a baby, the common cold is by no means life-threatening. But it’s very annoying and, worse still, you get no sympathy, just people backing away in case they catch it.

However, after decades of research, the fabled cure for the common cold could be on its way in the form of a nasal spray called SynGEM, which is the brainchild of a Dutch biotechnology company.

After successful tests on mice and rats (yes, they get colds too), 36 human volunteers at London’s Imperial College are now trying out the spray, which is hoped to kill off a cold before you’ve even had time to buy that family pack of tissues.

The cure for the common cold has proved to be so illusive because a “cold” could be any of 200 different viruses, although 80% of colds are down to the usual suspects — Rhinovirus, Coronavirus and Respiratory syncytial virus. Read More > at Ask Men

Student’s Reaction to Trump Win: ‘Suck It Up, Pussies.’ Police Are Investigating This Hate Crime. – At Edgewood College, police are investigating a post-it-note that was deemed a “hate crime” by college officials.

The post-it-note says “Suck it up, pussies!” Whoever wrote it also drew a winking, tongue-out smiley face, like this:

;P

The message is evidently one student’s response to the Madison, Wisconsin, college’s overwhelming dejection following Donald Trump’s election to the presidency.

Students had been invited to express their feelings about the election by writing them on post-it-notes and placing them on a designated table. The post-it-note in question appeared in the window of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion instead, according to Campus Reform.

College Vice President Tony Chambers sent a letter to campus condemning this “act of cowardly hatred” and “intimidation.” He wrote:

A group of cross-functional college staff representing campus security, student conduct, human resources, Title IX enforcement, and diversity and inclusion measures convened Tuesday morning to discuss how to address the hateful message. This group determined that the message constituted a Hate Crime…

College officials informed the Madison police, and now the cops are investigating. They are investigating a post-it-note. With a non-threatening message and a smiley face on it. After inviting students to express their feelings via post-it-note. Read More > at Reason

Born to Move – Are we fighting thousands of years of evolutionary history and the best interests of our bodies when we sit all day?

That question is at the core of a fascinating new study of the daily lives and cardiovascular health of a modern tribe of hunter-gatherers. The findings strongly suggest that we are born to be in motion, with health consequences when we are not.

Evolutionary biologists have long believed that the basic structure of human bodies and genomes were set tens of thousands of years ago, when we were hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherers from that time who were most adept at following game or finding tubers won the baby-making lottery and passed along their genes to us, their descendants.

But we no longer live in a hunting and gathering world. Mostly we live in offices and in front of screens, where we sit and have food brought to us, creating a fundamental mismatch between the conditions that molded our bodies and those that we inhabit.

The health consequences of this mismatch are well-established. Many scientists have pointed out that the easy availability of food creates an “obesogenic” world, in which we easily gain weight and develop related health problems. Read More > in The New York Times

Pollsters go back to drawing board – Pollsters who missed Donald Trump’s surprise electoral victory are headed back to the drawing board.

Most polls predicted a Hillary Clinton victory on Election Day, with some positively bullish on the likelihood of a Clinton White House.

The final poll from the Reuters State of the Nation project put the odds at 90 percent that Clinton, the Democratic nominee, would win; The Huffington Post’s model predicted a 98.2 percent chance of Clinton winning; and The New York Times’s Upshot put them at 85 percent.

Both thought that Clinton would win the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The RealClearPolitics average of polls one day before the election had Clinton ahead by 3.2 percentage points over Trump, the Republican nominee.

The results put egg on the polling industry’s face and left it searching for answers. Clinton did win the popular vote; she held less than a percentage point lead over Trump at press time. Read More > at The Hill

New estimates suggest the ‘big one’ in San Andreas could be much worse than we thought – Researchers have forecast a mega-quake running the entirety of the San Andreas fault line in California, and it looks like the effects for those living in the state could be far worse than previously realized.

Scientists used to think that the 1,300-km (800-mile) San Andreas fault line wasn’t capable of rupturing all at once, but revised modelling by the US Geological Survey (USGS) last year showed that wasn’t the case.

And now, scientists have extrapolated from that data to see just what the ‘big one’ would really mean for people living in California. The short version: it’s not pretty.

According to the new analysis from researchers at US-based real estate intelligence firm CoreLogic, a single massive earthquake of magnitude 8.3 running the length of the San Andreas fault line could result in damage to a stunning 3.5 million homes throughout Northern and Southern California. Read More > at Science Alert

The snarling contempt behind the media’s fake news hysteria – In the wake of a stunning election result, many people — especially in the media — have struggled for an explanation. Rather than acknowledge the obvious and prosaic answer — that voters in swing states chose change rather than the status quo — analysts have sought a Unified Theory of Donald Trump’s Success. Trump couldn’t possibly have won fair and square, the assumption goes, so all that’s left is to identify whatever went wrong and banish it so this never happens again.

Over the past week, the consensus Unified Theory from the media is this: Blame fake news. This explanation started with BuzzFeed’s analysis of Facebook over the past three months, which claimed that the top 20 best-performing “fake news” articles got more engagement than the top 20 “mainstream news” stories.

Nowhere in BuzzFeed’s article does author Craig Silverman demonstrate a correlation between that data and voter persuasion, let alone a causal connection. Instead, the analysis offers a look at how articles of potentially questionable provenance could go viral quickly. That leaves a lot of questions begging in the “fake news threw the election” explanation.

There are also serious problems with the evidence BuzzFeed presents. As Timothy Carney points out at the Washington Examiner, the “real news” that Silverman uses for comparison are, in many cases, opinion pieces from liberal columnists. The top “real” stories — which BuzzFeed presented in a graphic to compare against the top “fake” stories — consist of four anti-Trump opinion pieces and a racy exposé of Melania Trump’s nude modeling from two decades ago. Read More > in The Week

The U.S. labor force’s guy problem: Lots of men don’t have a job and aren’t looking for one – As the recovery from the Great Recession continues, job growth is solid and the labor force is growing at close to its fastest pace since 2000 because more unemployed workers are coming off the sidelines.

Still, the percentage of working-age Americans in the labor force remains stuck near its lowest level since the late 1970s. Although retiring baby boomers are the main reason, there’s another troubling factor that experts predict won’t be solved by stronger economic growth.

Too many men in their prime don’t have a job and aren’t even looking for one. Experts trying to figure out the reasons are probing the roles of criminal background checks, painkillers and even video games.

In all, about 7 million men ages 25 to 54 are neither employed nor “available for work,” putting them outside the labor force. Their growing numbers worry and puzzle economists. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Rain triggers 570% surge in Los Angeles County freeway crashes – …Over Sunday and Monday, the storm dumped more than two inches of rain in San Luis Obispo County and more than an inch at Brentwood’s Getty Center in Los Angeles County, where a surge in car crashes left freeways intermittently jammed, authorities said.

According to statistics from the California Highway Patrol, between 9 p.m. Sunday and 1 a.m. Monday there were 201 reported crashes on L.A. County’s freeways — a 570% increase from the same period last week when the CHP counted 30 crashes.

Runoff also swelled the Los Angeles River and prompted the rescue of four people who were stranded on a small island near Atwater Village early Monday morning, officials said. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Big Oil: 5 Most Incredible Discoveries of the WeekBiggest-Ever US Oil Find Made: Things are bigger in Texas, especially oil deposits: The USGS announced this week that its assessment of the Wolfcamp formation in West Texas has identified the largest continuous oil and gas deposit ever found in the US. The formation holds 20 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, which is worth around $900 billion at today’s prices. But only modern techniques will be able to extract it.

Inside the Pyramid Is a Pyramid. Inside That Is Something More: Scientists have known for decades that the 100-foot-tall Kukulkan temple in Mexico’s Yucatan state sits on top of a smaller, 65-foot-tall pyramid. Now, a new scan reveals that a third pyramid is beneath the second one. The find has led to an especially apt comparison.

Smartphone Residue Says a Lot About You: Researchers at UC San Diego analyzed the molecules on smartphones to see what they could deduce about the phone’s owners—and it turned out to be a whole lot. “We could tell if a person is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray” … you get the picture. The potential benefits go beyond the trivial. Read More > at Newser

The Fastest Thing on America’s Freeways? A Full-Size Pickup – It was 27 years ago that I paid 50 bucks for a “big-body” Escort radar detector, in a transaction that seemed reasonably legitimate to me at the time, but which to my somewhat less naïve 44-year-old self looks remarkably like “receiving stolen property.” Armed with this magic box and a 302-powered 1980 Mercury Marquis Brougham coupe, I then set out to break every speed limit in Ohio with as much malice as I could summon. Needless to say, within five weeks I was one further ticket away from losing my license.

In the decades that followed, I became a devoted scholar of police procedure and behavior as it relates to catching speeders. I can tell you where cops hide, how to avoid their notice, and how to inconspicuously fade from their view after you’ve been clocked. I know how to distract and confuse cops so they give you both copies of your citation, rendering it nonexistent unless you choose to mail it in yourself. I can give you solid advice on choosing an attorney for traffic court and how to escape six-point tickets from the comfort of your own couch, a thousand miles away from the jurisdiction where you were pinched. Thanks to a particularly high-profile chronic-speeder friend, I can even tell you how to get a confiscated car returned to you and a case against you dismissed.

But you won’t need any of these tricks of the trade if you’re willing to do just one thing: Purchase and operate a heavy-duty full-size pickup truck from an American-brand manufacturer.

…The fact remains, however, that if you are driving a late-model F-250 or (as the rental agencies say) similar, particularly one that is obviously outfitted as a “work truck” with a toolbox in the bed and a few scratches around the body, you are utterly immune from speeding enforcement in at least 49 of the 50 states. (They might do things differently in Hawaii. I couldn’t tell you.) You can do 85 in a 65 or 100 in a Texas 80, no sweat. I’ve never seen a truck of this description pulled over for speeding anywhere. Not once, in three decades and over a million miles’ worth of driving. Read More > at Road and Track

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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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