Sunday Reading – 12/04/16

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

Here’s why daylight saving time isn’t worth the trouble it causes – …The practice of resetting clocks is not designed for farmers, whose plows follow the sun regardless of what time clocks say it is. Yet many people continue to believe that farmers benefit, including lawmakers during recent debates over changing California DST laws. Massachusetts is also studying whether to abandon DST.

Changing our clocks does not create extra daylight. DST simply shifts when the sun rises and sets relative to our society’s regular schedule and routines. The key question, then, is how people respond to this enforced shift in natural lighting. Most people have to be at work at a certain time – say, 8:30 a.m. – and if that time comes an hour earlier, they simply get up an hour earlier. The effect on society is another question, and there, the research shows DST is more burden than boon.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the first thinkers to endorse the idea of making better use of daylight. Although he lived well before the invention of light bulbs, Franklin observed that people who slept past sunrise wasted more candles later in the evening. He also whimsically suggested the first policy fixes to encourage energy conservation: firing cannons at dawn as public alarm clocks and fining homeowners who put up window shutters.

To this day, our laws equate daylight saving with energy conservation. However, recent research suggests that DST actually increases energy use.

This is what I found in a study coauthored with Yale economist Matthew Kotchen. We used a policy change in Indiana to estimate DST effects on electricity consumption. Prior to 2007, most Indiana counties did not observe DST. By comparing households’ electricity demand before and after DST was adopted, month by month, we showed that DST had actually increased residential electricity demand in Indiana by 1 to 4 percent annually. Read More > at The Conversation

Are Online Shoppers Paying Too Much? – Consumers who shop in stores may have an advantage to those who shop online. New research by ICSC studied 547 products in several categories at 124 stores across the country earlier this summer.

The survey found specific categories, such as beauty products, women’s apparel, women’s accessories and women’s shoes, were significantly less expensive in-store, for the same products, with an average cost savings of 7% across those categories.

ICSC’s Tom McGee says, “There’s no replacement for the social and emotional aspects of going shopping, nor the ability consumers have to touch, see and try out merchandise when they visit a physical store.”

Women’s Apparel Pricing Favors In-Store
• Athletic wear 19% savings
• Pants/jeans/shorts 10% savings
• Shirts/blouses/tops 8% savings
• Dresses 2% savings

Read More > at Connect Media

FDA Salt Guidance Could Kill More People Than It Saves – So, the science of salt is settled, right? Actually, no. The FDA asked for public comments on its draft guidelines and it evidently received sufficient pushback that it extended the deadline for comments until December 2, 2016. As I reported earlier more and more studies are calling into question that idea that reducing salt consumption at the population level will actually result in net health benefits. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study in August 2014 finding that people who consume less 1,500 milligrams of sodium (about 3/4ths of a teaspoon of salt) are more likely to die than people who eat between 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium per day (1.5 and 3 teaspoons of salt).

The free-market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has submitted comments that show that the FDA’s confident claim that reducing salt consumption by Americans will save lives is at best, a hope, and at worst, tragically wrong. The CEI comments to the FDA nicely summarizes the relevant scientific studies. Here is the nub of the issue:

Reduced sodium consumption affects different individuals in different ways. Only an estimated 17 to 25 percent of the population is “salt sensitive”—they experience higher blood pressure with increased dietary sodium—while 75 percent are considered salt resistant and will experience no change in blood pressure with altered dietary sodium. However, an estimated 11 to 16 percent of the population are inverse salt sensitive, which means reduced dietary sodium can increase their blood pressure. With this heterogeneity in response to salt, trying to force a population-wide reduction in sodium availability in order to reduce incidences of hypertension would be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. Read More > at Reason

Unemployment is 4.6 percent, but a more realistic rate is higher – The national unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in November, the Labor Department said Friday. But relying on that one headline number as an indicator of the economy’s direction ignores important information just below the surface.

Every month on “Jobs Friday,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a bunch of data, each point of which provides its own unique perspective on an aspect of the nation’s employment situation. Economists look past the official unemployment rate — that 4.6 percent figure, also known as the “U-3” rate — to other metrics that give their own nuanced view of jobs in the country.

One of those figures is called the U-6 rate, which has a broader definition of unemployment than the U-3 does. In November, that figure fell two-tenths of a point, to 9.3 percent.

The official unemployment rate is defined as “total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force,” but doesn’t include a number of employment situations in which workers may find themselves. The U-6 rate is defined as all unemployed, plus “persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of a labor force.”

In other words: The unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged. Read More > at CNBC

Magazine behind UVA rape hoax begs Obama to do something about fake news – The man responsible for publishing one of the greatest media hoaxes in recent memory thinks it might be a good idea if the government provided the press with subsidies to help it fight fake news.

Jann S. Wenner is the co-founder and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, which published a story on Nov. 19, 2014, alleging that “Jackie,” a student at the University of Virginia, had been gang-raped as part of a fraternity initiation.

The report was proven to be totally false, however, and “Jackie” a wild fabulist, but not before UVA suspended the fraternity and the university itself suffered a major blow to its reputation.

Wenner defended the since-retracted story and its author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, right up to the bitter end.

In an interview published this week, Wenner wondered aloud in a conversation with President Obama whether the federal government should provide media with subsidies to help them combat the rising tide of fake news stories on social media. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

The slow death of the manual transmission – …But the real death of the stick shift will be electric vehicles. Because of the nature of electric motors, a gear box is unnecessary. These cars are capable of accessing their torque at all times. You don’t have to downshift to fourth to access the extra power needed to pass a slow-moving car; you just stomp on the accelerator, and there it is.

This is why Tesla’s Ludicrous mode is so amazing. There’s no need for the driver or an automatic transmission to shift gears. It’s just an eye-popping surge of power until you reach top speed or apply the brakes.

Of course, not every electric car will be the quarter-mile-eating Model S. Expect to see more Chevy Bolts in the future — solid, utilitarian vehicles that will get you to your destination without the stress of running out of charge. The reality is, that’s what people want, and who can blame them? If SUVs and the coming wave of EVs didn’t kill the manual transmission, gridlock surely will. Read More > at Engadget

The OPEC deal is done. Here’s what to expect from oil markets next – OPEC has agreed to cut production by about 1.2 million barrels per day, or about 4.5 percent of current production, to 32.5 million barrels per day.

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia faces the unenviable tasks of policing cartel members and keeping crude prices within a range that will relieve pressure on oil-producing countries’ economies, but which will dissuade non-OPEC producers from increasing output.

Analysts broadly expect an agreement to boost oil prices above $50 a barrel and keep them there. Prices have wavered between about $40 and $54 since the spring.

But OPEC now has a difficult needle to thread. Oil rigs began popping up in U.S. oil fields when prices approached $50 a barrel, and analysts believe high-cost producers outside OPEC will further ramp up production if crude prices rise above $55 a barrel.

That includes U.S. shale drillers, which have built a backlog of partially completed wells in anticipation of a price recovery. Once prices rise, they could switch on that production-in-waiting. Read More > at CNBC

Record cold coming to ‘almost entire USA’ – Low temperature records set to be SHATTERED – While we end November on a warm note here in the eastern US, there are changes unfolding across the Northern Hemisphere that will likely bring a widespread very cold air mass into the US next week. This cold air mass is first going to arrive in Alaska this upcoming weekend with some spots in that state plunging to 40 degrees below zero and way below normal for early December. After that, the cold air dives into the western US during the first half of next week and then it’ll likely blast into the eastern US late next week. In fact, by the time Saturday, December 10th rolls around, there may be colder-than-normal conditions all the way from Alaska to the southeastern US. Beyond that, it looks like this colder pattern will indeed have some staying power as we move deeper into the month of December. Read More > at Climate Depot

Why Facebook Can’t Fix Fake News – Imagine going on Facebook and finding no political posts—just your friends and their updates. It would feel like pulling on clean underwear after wearing a single pair for a week on a desert hike.

Fake news? That’s only the start of the tempest about to roll through Facebook headquarters. The site is turning into a septic tank of polluted politics. It’s becoming a party you want to leave because everybody got drunk and obnoxious. No new social network is going to beat Facebook by copying Facebook, but we might get fed up with all the politics and fake crap on Facebook and turn to something refreshingly different. Right there you can see the leak in Facebook’s tire: the left glove that drops and leaves an opening for a rival to punch it in the face.

…Then, over the past two years, Facebook aggressively morphed into a media site. It set up deals with publishers to populate all our timelines with stories. It subtly encouraged users to post stories and to “like” and comment on them. Facebook, of course, did this with its own goals in mind. To maximize profit, Facebook needs to keep users engaged and on the site as long as possible, and to get those users to create or interact with all the content in their feeds. That thrum of activity helps Facebook’s algorithms more deftly target ads to more people, which makes Facebook even more attractive to advertisers.

…It’s hard to say whether Facebook is the chicken or the egg in this wave of political propaganda—whether it helped create the acidic and divided politics around the world or if the ugly political environment merely found an accommodating home on Facebook. No doubt it was some of both, and the result is that our feeds are now overwhelmed with wingnut political content that gets amplified even if it’s crazy. During the election, a lot of Facebook users just didn’t care if something was true, says Paul Mihailidis, a media literacy professor at Emerson College. “They saw it as a way to advocate,” he says. “They see a catchy headline, and the default is to share.” If you look globally—the U.S., the U.K., France, Colombia, the Philippines—politics are getting more caustic, not less. In this kind of environment, all the media outlets that now rely on Facebook’s audience are driven to flood us with click-worthy headlines that play to our fears and anger. Every trend line points to more of what we’re growing to hate on Facebook. Read More > at Newsweek

You deserve a seat today: McDonald’s expanding table service – McDonald’s wants to makes its fast-food outlets feel more like restaurants, with plans to eventually expand table service across its U.S. locations.

The world’s biggest burger chain says it has been testing the service at about 500 of its more than 14,000 domestic stores. Customers in those stores order at the counter or at kiosks and sit down and wait for an employee bring out their food, a change that McDonald’s says improves customer satisfaction.

McDonald’s says it will expand the offering in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., early next year. Bringing the change to all its stores could take years, as it would require franchisees to invest in remodelling and more training for employees. Read More > at The Record

Relax, artificial intelligence isn’t coming for your job – There is a pervasive underlying fear from generations raised on dystopian science fiction that artificial intelligence and robotics will be the undoing of humankind. Eventually, the conventional thinking goes — even the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are on board here — artificial intelligence will become smarter than the organic variety and terrible things will happen as machines take over the planet.

In reality, however, it’s much more likely AI isn’t going to destroy us — or even take our jobs. In fact, it’s very likely going to help us do our jobs better. Think about that for a moment. The idea that AI could help us work smarter is not nearly as sexy as the notion of robot overlords taking over Earth — but it is a much more realistic view of artificial intelligence technology in 2016. It’s worth noting, that’s as true for the line worker at a factory as it is for a salesperson or knowledge worker.

While it may seem like every software engineer in Silicon Valley is trying to create the perfect algorithm to replace human workers, many are simply trying to find ways to make you a better employee by combining the power of the computer with your creative working brains. Read More > at Tech Crunch

ESPN Loses Another 555,000 Subscribers Per Nielsen – Last month ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers according to Nielsen media estimates, which was the worst month in the company’s history. This month things weren’t much better — ESPN lost another 555,000 subscribers according to Nielsen media estimates, meaning that the worst month in the history of ESPN has now been followed up by the second worst month in ESPN history. ESPN has now lost a jawdropping 1.176 million subscribers in the past two months.

Putting that into perspective, that means nearly 20,000 people a day are leaving ESPN for each of the past two months.

If that annual average subscriber loss continued, ESPN would lose over seven million subscribers in the next 12 months. And at an absolute minimum, these 1.176 million lost subscribers in the past two months will lead to a yearly loss in revenue of over $100 million.

According to Nielsen ESPN now has 88.4 million cable and satellite subscribers, a precipitous decline from well over 100 million subscribers just a few years ago

…Now, ESPN isn’t alone in terrifying subscriber losses, all channels are being hit by the losses, but ESPN is by far the most expensive cable and satellite channel so it loses much more money than anyone else.

Indeed, every month ESPN is losing more money via subscriber losses than every other sports cable network combined. Read More > at Outkick the Coverage

How flushing your toilet could help create biofuel – …In fact, science may soon make your toilet bowl a viable alternative energy source. Your flushes can produce two or three gallons of biofuel per year when the wastewater is treated using a process, developed scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, called hydro-thermal liquefaction (HTL).

HTL emulates the way crude oil forms naturally, when biomass decays under high pressure and heat for millions of years — but it only takes 45 minutes.

Research engineer Justin Billing says the technology works with any wet organic waste materials, such as sewage, algae, feedstock, or animal manure. These were once considered poor sources for biofuel because older processes required drying them out, but this does not. All it takes is pressure and heat — you must bake the material at 660 degrees Fahrenheit.

James Oyler, the President of Genifuel Corporation acquired the license for the technology and plans to put it to good use. He focuses on wet waste materials because there’s a lot of it and it costs money to dispose of it.

“We can avoid the disposal costs, completely eliminate the waste and turn it into fuel,” Oyler explained. Read More > at Popular Science

Outline emerges of Oakland stadium deal to keep Raiders – With the clock ticking, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is betting big that a combination of $600 million in private money from Ronnie Lott’s investment group, $200 million in public money and an equal amount from the National Football League will be enough to keep the stadium-hungry Raiders from moving to Las Vegas.

At this point, the deal — which is being shuttled between the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors for approval — is just a broad outline of possible funding sources. There has been no input from Raiders owner Mark Davis, who down the road may be asked to sell part of the team to Lott and his partners.

“That’s something they will talk about after the stadium deal gets done,” said one source who is privy to the talks but not authorized to speak on the record.

Davis would be asked to kick in an additional $300 million. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California regulates cow farts – California is taking its fight against global warming to the farm.

The nation’s leading agricultural state is now targeting greenhouse gases produced by dairy cows and other livestock.

Despite strong opposition from farmers, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in September that for the first time regulates heat-trapping gases from livestock operations and landfills.

Cattle and other farm animals are major sources of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. Methane is released when they belch, pass gas and make manure.

…Regulators are looking for ways to reduce so-called enteric emissions — methane produced by bovine digestive systems. That could eventually require changes to what cattle eat.

But the biggest target is dairy manure, which accounts for about a quarter of the state’s methane emissions.

State regulators want more farmers to reduce emissions with methane digesters, which capture methane from manure in large storage tanks and convert the gas into electricity.

The state has set aside $50 million to help dairies set up digesters, but farmers say that’s not nearly enough to equip the state’s roughly 1,500 dairies. Read More > from the Associated Press

Calories on fast food menus not changing eating habits, study says – Does it help to know that a double quarter-pounder with cheese delivers 740 calories? Probably not, a new study suggests.

Starting next May, fast-food chains with more than 20 locations in the United States must display calorie counts on menus. But this study questions whether the well-intended regulations will actually steer customers to less-fattening foods.

Research in Philadelphia, where such rules already exist, indicate as few as 8 percent of fast-food eaters make healthy choices based on menu calorie counts, the study found.

“The success of such a calorie-labeling campaign, however, requires that target consumers simultaneously see the calorie labels, are motivated to eat healthfully, and understand how many calories they should be eating,” said Breck. He is a doctoral candidate at NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in New York City.

Simply presenting calorie information is not enough, he and his colleagues stressed. Read More > at UPI

Report: Beer Volumes Declining in Markets Where Recreational Cannabis is Legal – Legalized marijuana is harshing the buzz of three longtime craft beer meccas, according to a new report from Cowen and Company.

In Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where recreational cannabis use has been legalized, the beer business is underperforming, according to Vivien Azer, Cowen and Company’s managing director and senior research analyst specializing in the beverage, tobacco and cannabis sectors.

Azer unpacked the latest Nielsen data in those three states — beer markets that have “collectively underperformed” in the last two years — and found that “the magnitude of the underperformance has increased notably,” with beer volumes falling more than two percent year-to-date and trailing the overall U.S. beer market. Read More > at Brewbound

Los Angeles Residents Sue Chipotle Because Their Burritos Contained More Than 300 Calories – Three Chipotle customers in Los Angeles are filing a class-action lawsuit against the Mexican fast-casual chain for misrepresenting the amount of calories in its new chorizo burrito. An in-store sign advertising the new spicy sausage filling showed a picture of a chorizo burrito and a calorie count of 300. In fact, the chorizo alone contains 300 calories. Once you add a tortilla, white rice, black beans, tomato salsa, and cheese, as the sign suggests, you get a meal that clocks in at around 1,050 calories, according to Chipotle’s online nutrition calculator.

Three separate California customers felt not just misled by the sign but also wronged by it. One of them bought a chorizo burrito because of the sign, but afterward “felt excessively full and realized that the burrito couldn’t have been just 300 calories,” according to the complaint reviewed by My News L.A. Even though the chorizo filling has been available only since October, the class-action lawsuit would cover “all people who bought food at Chipotle for four years leading up to the filing of the complaint,” because the plaintiffs claim the chorizo signs fall into a pattern of misleading nutritional information promulgated by Chipotle.

I hope the plaintiffs have more evidence behind that claim, because it’s easy to see how Chipotle’s misleading chorizo signs might have resulted from human error rather than malice. Perhaps more relevant to the damages sought by the plaintiffs, it is hard to see how eating 1,050 calories when you believe you’re eating 300 calories does any lasting harm to a person, absent some medical condition that requires strict control of one’s caloric intake. You know what you can do when you’ve accidentally eaten too much? Not eat for a while. Maybe take a walk or do some gentle stretching to promote digestion. Believe it or not, within a few hours you won’t feel “excessively full” anymore, and a few hours after that you’ll even be ready to eat some more. The miracle of the human metabolism! Read More > at Slate

Northern California’s Most Dangerous Cities – What cities in Northern California are the most dangerous? Which cities are the safest? We looked at the most recent crime data from the FBI, analyzing violent crime throughout the state. Oakland has a reputation for being a dangerous, crime ridden city, and after looking at the data, we feel it’s well deserved. Together with the team at BenchMark, we analyzed these many types of crimes, along with the population of the cities throughout California, to come up with our rankings.

We only included cities in our study with a minimum population of at least 30,000 residents, to avoid having too small of a sample size. To come up with our rankings, we took the total population of each city across the state, and divided it by the total amount of violent crimes committed in that city. In addition, we have included a sortable table at the bottom of the page, with crime statistics from every city in California. If you’re interested to see where your city ranks, you can take a look for yourself.

#12 Salinas, California POPULATION: 158,185
#11 Antioch, California POPULATION: 110,537
#7 San Francisco, California POPULATION: 863,782
#6 Santa Cruz, California POPULATION: 64,076
#1 Oakland, California POPULATION: 419,481

Read More > at Li & Lozada Law group

U.S. wants test-track network for self-driving cars – The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to create a national network of proving grounds where automakers can safely test self-driving cars, Secretary Anthony Foxx said this week.

Such facilities could include race tracks and test tracks at car factories. Universities, corporate campuses and even the urban cores of cities could choose to participate by allowing autonomous vehicle testing on their properties.

…The program does not offer financial incentives. And automakers, which are racing each other to develop self-driving technology, may be hesitant to share much information with competitors.

“Before we make an application, we have to go back to our partners and say, ‘What do you think?’” said Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

The authority runs GoMentum Station, a testing facility for autonomous vehicles on the site of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station. Three companies — Honda, Uber’s Otto and EasyMile — use the station’s grid of roads to test self-driving cars, trucks and shuttle buses.

A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September even authorized tests of vehicles without brakes, steering wheels or human occupants at the site.

Iwasaki said the authority would consider applying for inclusion in the Transportation Department’s proving ground network. But first, it must weigh whether participation would add a new layer of regulation without bringing much benefit in return. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Move Over, Big Tobacco — Make Room for Big Soda – For years now, activists such as CSPI have been agitating for a tax on sodas and other sugary soft drinks. They have been making headway under the rubric of aiming to improve public health. Thus far, sweetened soft drink taxes have been approved by voters in Berkeley CA, Philadelphia PA, Boulder CO, San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, CA. Can others be far behind?

Supposedly, these taxes are enacted to reduce consumption of such beverages, but by the way, they will obviously also increase government revenue. And will those funds really be used for public health initiatives, or more to fix potholes and fulfill other governmental responsibilities? More to the point, will these taxes really benefit public health — by supporting measures to educate consumers, for example? Will we see a concomitant drop in obesity rates, especially among children and teens, if they drop their sugary beverage consumption?

Further, we don’t know whether or not such taxes will make a substantial difference in the amount of sugary beverages consumed, and more to the point, will decreased consumption lead to lower rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes? In Mexico, which passed a national tax of about 10 percent on sugary beverages in 2014, there has been an approximately only a 6 percent decline in their consumption. And it’s too soon to know if there has indeed been an impact on obesity and diabetes rates. Read More > at the American Council on Science and Health

Wettest start in 30 years to rainy season in Northern California, but don’t forget the drought – It’s only a beginning. But it’s a strong beginning, and it offers at least a rain gauge’s worth of hope to a state enduring its fifth year of drought.

The National Weather Service said Monday that the rainy season in the northern Sierra Nevada is off to its wettest start in 30 years. Mountain conditions are critically important to monitoring the drought because a major share of the state’s water supply is stored for months as snow.

Citing state data from a string of eight gauges scattered around the northern Sierra, the service said precipitation has come in at about twice the average for this time of year, making for the wettest kickoff to the water year in 30 years. The water year, as defined by climatologists and others, begins Oct. 1.

However, the strong start doesn’t guarantee an end to the drought, or even meaningful relief.

As it is, the rainy beginning is largely the result of one of the wettest Octobers ever, which dumped four times as much rain on the Sacramento region as normal, said weather service forecaster Travis Wilson. Already, there are signs of a slowdown: Despite the wet Thanksgiving weekend, November has been relatively dry, with the Sacramento area getting only about half the normal rainfall. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

California Democrats got their supermajority. Now what? – …With the victory, Democrats reclaimed the theoretical ability to pass taxes, amend political spending laws, move constitutional amendments to the ballot or enact quick-implementing legislation without Republican support. The achievement both underscores the total dominance of Sacramento Democrats and tests the ideological divides in a caucus increasingly split between more liberal and business-friendly members.

In other words: Just because you have a two-thirds margin doesn’t mean all of them will vote together.

Having the margin helps leadership “gain the majorities they need for majority-vote bills when there’s disagreements within the caucus, which is inevitable,” said former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who oversaw the last Senate supermajority, but “it’s not a magic wand. You have differences within the caucus. It can be a bit overrated when it comes to passing a lot of two-thirds bills.”

While Brown has focused on combating climate change, legislators have faced mounting pressure from business and local government groups to secure a transportation funding deal

…Yet even supermajority margins in both houses won’t ensure a compromise passes. Moderate Democrats in the Assembly have pushed back on more expansive climate policies, like a proposal to slash petroleum use by half, by warning of increased energy prices burdening poor constituents. Campaigns in tight districts emphasized a similar point, sending out mailers warning that Democratic challengers supported policies that would drive up prices.

That could make a gas tax increase a tough sell, particularly for vulnerable Democrats who just survived bruising election fights. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Wet fall should help winter birds migrating to Central Valley – A wet autumn should continue a trend this year of improving habitat for Swainson’s hawks, western sandpipers and other migratory birds that arrive in the Sacramento Valley via the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route, each winter.

This year’s wet spring relieved drought conditions and led to an increase of California’s waterfowl population, according to an August report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The state’s population of ducks had dropped dramatically in 2015 because of the drought, but earlier this year the number of breeding ducks in California was up 30 percent over the year before, according to the wildlife service.

Migratory birds that fly south from Alaska each winter gather in wildlife areas throughout California, including the Cosumnes River Preserve south of Elk Grove. The 50,000-acre preserve, filled with wetlands and meadows, is co-owned by state and local governments and nonprofits including the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited.

December is the best time to visit the preserve. It’s when the winter migratory population reaches its peak – almost 80,000 birds in recent years, said Harry McQuillen, preserve manager. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Hackers breach Muni, demand a $74,000 ransom as SFMTA lets passengers ride free – A widespread cyberattack on San Francisco’s Muni transportation system is finally over, the agency which runs it says, but it resulted in free rides for passengers over the weekend and a demand from hackers of 100 Bitcoin, or about $74,000.

“[Hackers said] they had compromised more than 2,000 computers in the Muni network in addition to agency-wide functions like payroll, email, and real-time bus locations,” Slate reports.”To cope, the transit agency was assigning routes to bus drivers via hand-written notes on bulletin boards, the San Francisco Examiner reported. It doesn’t appear to have paid the ransom, though $73,000 is a pittance relative to the potential damage.”

…Riders looking to buy tickets on Saturday were greeted by the message “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted” on all Muni. Rose said the SFMTA allowed riders to ride Muni for free “as a precaution” and said anyone using Clipper cards was not affected, as those are issued and monitored by an outside agency. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

California’s Initiative ‘Brutality’ – California’s initiative process is, in a word, “brutal.” That was the official judgment six years ago when hundreds of experts in direct democracy from all over the world came to San Francisco for a five-day conference. (Full disclosure: I was one of the conveners of the event). The visitors’ goal was to develop best practices for the use of initiatives and referendums, tools that have become more popular in localities and states around the world. By the end, a governing rule had developed: Do the opposite of what California does, and you should be all right.

What is the nature of our initiative “brutality”? No place on earth operates direct democracy at the expense and media scale of California. Our rules require interests or individuals sponsoring initiatives to have millions of dollars of money to qualify measures, and millions more to prosecute campaigns. We demand that voters cast ballots on some of the longest lists of measures in the world, all in one sitting (San Franciscans faced 42 state and local measures combined this month). We permit almost any idea on the ballot, including measures that would take away civil rights. And no place on earth is so inflexible when it comes to initiatives; only in California are statutes established by initiative automatically exempt from legislative amendment.

Describing this system as “direct democracy” is actually inaccurate. It’s not very direct – initiatives are used to circumvent the legislature or other interests, rather than bring people together. And it’s not very democratic, since access is limited to the rich and voters are bludgeoned by so many measures, on top of ballots full of candidates. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Why Fake Data When You Can Fake a Scientist? – Hoss Cartwright, a former editor of the International Journal of Agricultural Innovations and Research, had a good excuse for missing the 5th World Congress on Virology last year: He doesn’t exist. Burkhard Morgenstern, a professor of bioinformatics at the University of Gottingen, dreamt him up, and built a nice little scientific career for him. He wrote Cartwright a Curriculum Vitae, describing his doctorate in Studies of Dunnowhat, his rigorous postdoctoral work at Some Shitty Place in the Middle of Nowhere, and his experience as Senior Cattle Manager at the Ponderosa Institute for Bovine Research. Cartwright never published a single research paper, but he was appointed to the editorial boards of five journals. Apparently, no one involved in the application processes remembered the television show Bonanza, or the giant but amiable cowboy named “Hoss” who was played by actor Dan Blocker. Despite Cartwright’s questionable credentials, he was invited to speak at several meetings such as the 5th World Congress on Virology—typically a mark of recognition as an expert.

…Cartwright, Uhnemann, Borat, and others are, in some sense, sting operations built to expose the growing practice of gaming the metrics by which scientific publications are judged. The number of publications a scholar has, how many times they have been cited, who the co-authors are—metrics like these should all be secondary to the quality of the work itself, but often they are actually more important.

“Scientists no longer publish to share results with their colleagues, but rather to improve their ‘metrics,’ ” laments Morgenstern. These metrics can have real impact on scientists’ careers.

…The fact is that professional advancement for scientists around the world is becoming more and more challenging in an era of ever-scarcer funding for research and tightening competition for faculty spots. To succeed in the publish-or-perish environment of academia, most scientists hit the lab and play within the rules. Others, though, hatch schemes.

The nuclear option is faking data. But the complexity of the modern scientific publishing environment has opened a host of new, more sophisticated approaches: fluffing up resumes with scam appointments to editorial boards, adding nonexistent authors to studies (or real, high-powered co-authors who didn’t participate in the research), and even publishing junk journal articles for the sake of publication count. Read More > at Nautilus

More bad pension news for California cities – California’s pension funds continue to face a fusillade of bad news, including new reports showing that retirement benefits consume 20 percent of Los Angeles’ general-fund budget. Put another way, one out of every five dollars the city spends goes to a retired city worker, a percentage that has quadrupled in the past 14 years. That’s an astounding number that is crowding out other public services. Things are even more troubling in San Jose, where pensions and retiree health care now consume nearly 28 percent of the budget.

State officials have been giddy that the budget is “balanced” and are eager to spend more money on new programs. But reports a few months ago show the state deeply in the red ($175 billion) under new accounting procedures that reflect pension debts. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, CalPERS, had investment returns of a measly 0.6 percent last year. Even that union-dominated fund’s top investment officials seem concerned.

During a presentation at the CalPERS Board of Administration meetings earlier this month, Chief Investment Officer Ted Eliopoulos played a video interviewing investment gurus who suggested that CalPERS’ expected rates of return are unrealistically high. In public-pension funds, it’s all about the return rates. For private-sector peons, a rate of return is a rate of return. If I invest in a mutual fund and get a 7 percent rate of return, that’s what I get. If it’s 2 percent, that’s that. I live either with the benefits of soaring investments or the bad news if my investment choices are subpar.

In the public sector, it’s a giant game through which officials can present as rosy an investment scenario as possible. Government employees are guaranteed specific pension benefits based on a formula. Pension funds invest contributions set aside by employers and employees and make a guess at their future returns. If investments outperform, there will be few “unfunded liabilities.” If they underperform, these debts amass and local governmental employers are forced to increase their contribution rates. This means diverting more money from their budgets and, ultimately, taking more from taxpayers. Read More > at The American Spectator

Why down-ballot Democrats could be in the minority for years to come – …A variety of factors could ensure that even with a President Donald Trump, Democrats remain in the minority for years to come. Let’s run through them:

…Some results are still coming in, but it looks as if in 2017, Republicans will continue to control up to 69 of 99 state legislative chambers. And controlling state legislative chambers is one of the keys to controlling government. Once a decade, in most states, lawmakers get to draw the very lines that elect state and congressional lawmakers.

In theory, lawmakers are recalibrating their districts to better reflect new census data. In practice, many lawmakers also take this redistricting opportunity to rejigger the lines to benefit their parties for the next decade.

…November was a tough election cycle for Senate Republicans, who were defending 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs, many in states that Obama won twice.

It will basically be the reverse in 2018. Democrats are defending 10 seats in states that Trump won, sometimes by double-digit margins. Midterms are normally kind to the party not in power, but this map shows serious head winds for Democrats.

…To drive that point home, let’s run through the partisan control of 2017 again:
•Republicans will control 68 or 69 of 99 state legislative chambers, a 2-to-1 advantage over Democrats.
•They will control at least 33 of 50 governors’ mansions, and Democrats will control 15 (or 16 if they hang onto a slim lead in North Carolina’s governor’s race). Winning North Carolina would be impressive, but Democrats are still 10 seats away from a majority of governors’ mansions. (Though Democrats are actually looking forward to the 2018 map, where Republicans will be defending 12 seats in states that Obama won twice.)
•Republicans will control 238 of 435 congressional seats, a 24-seat deficit for Democrats.
•And Republicans control 52 of 100 Senate seats, a number that could grow in 2018. Read More > in The Washington Post

We now date six people at once, study claims – Any young person who’s tried to explain the concept of “seeing” someone to their parents will be able to testify that the dating

It’s no longer as simple as going for dinner and a movie and instantly becoming boyfriend and girlfriend – we “see” people, often more than one at a time.

The extent of this trend has been revealed in a new study which claims it’s now normal to date an incredible six people at once.

Assuming the average person isn’t out on a date every night of the week, we can also infer that two dates with the same person must be pretty spread-out too.

The results of the study, carried out by eHarmony Australia, reinforce the idea that in today’s dating society, people are loath to commit to one person, seemingly always wanting to keep their options open.

And although there seems to be a new dating tactic arising every week – have you been benched, breadcrumbed or unghosted of late? – it seems the trend for ghosting, where you simply stop replying to a potential suitor’s messages and inexplicably disappear, is still going strong. Read More > at the Independent


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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