Sunday Reading – 11/18/18

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.

Batkid Is Now Cancer-Free After Stealing Everyone’s Heart In San Francisco – Miles Scott, who stole everyone’s heart as a 5-year-old leukemia patient when he took over San Francisco as Batkid in 2013, has been in remission for five years, the Make-A-Wish Foundation announced.

Scott is now 10 years old and has reached the important milestone, which for many is the point when someone can be considered cancer-free. BuzzFeed News reached out to Make-A-Wish, which organized the citywide event, for more information.

In 2013, Scott told Make-A-Wish that he wanted to be Batman for a day. The nonprofit is known for arranging experiences (aka granting wishes) for kids with critical illnesses.

With the help of the late mayor Ed Lee and more than 20,000 volunteers, the city of San Francisco was transformed into Gotham to make Scott’s dream come true. The San Francisco Chronicle printed a special issue for Scott’s “bat day.” The police chief specially asked for the then 5-year-old’s help to stop the Riddler from destroying the city, and even President Obama sent Batkid words of encouragement. Read More > at BuzzFeed

The Government Says Falconers Have to Give up Their Privacy and Free Speech Rights in Order to Own Birds. Now the Falconers Are Suing. – The short video shows three California game wardens, armed and wearing bulletproof vests, demanding to search the home of Fred Seaman while he stands around, only partly dressed. He’s a falconer in California, and he has been for 30 years.

The game wardens don’t have a warrant, and they don’t believe they need one to enter Seaman’s home. Remarkably, this is happening because Seaman is attempting to follow the law. He’s a legally licensed falconer in California, and part of California’s regulations grants the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to conduct unannounced inspections of any facility where falcons are being cared for.

The regulations don’t require that the wardens have reasonable suspicion that the birds are being mistreated or that any sort of illegal behavior is happening. And if Seaman resists or refuses to let them in, he could lose his falconry license and be forced to surrender the birds.

This is how falconers have been treated under state and federal law, and some of them have finally had enough. With the assistance of the Pacific Legal Foundation, they’re suing. Read More > at Reason

Flawed bullet train planning adds billions to cost, years to schedule, says audit – California’s embattled high-speed rail project has been beset by “flawed decision making and poor contract management” that have led to billions of dollars in cost overruns and significant delays in construction in the San Joaquin Valley, according a report issued Thursday by state Auditor Elaine Howle.

Howle’s audit, requested earlier this year by the state Legislature, is a sharp critique of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency tasked with planning and developing the state’s bullet-train system.

Among its key findings is that the authority, in an effort to beat the clock on a federal deadline for spending stimulus grant funds, awarded contracts for its first construction segments in the Valley long before it had finished planning, acquired enough land or fully assessed other potential risks to cost and schedule

“Despite being aware of risks associated with beginning construction before completing critical planning tasks, the Authority began construction in 2013 – a decision that has led to contract changes, project delays and cost overruns,” the report states.

The audit also takes the authority to task for significant lapses in its ability to oversee its contractors and consultants, review invoices and approve changes to billions of dollars in construction and consultant contracts. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

California’s Legislators Lack Private Sector Experience – Back in the days of adding machines and manual ledgers, final election results in California were usually done by midnight on election day. Sometimes there would be a few precincts counting ballots into the wee hours of the morning, and you wouldn’t know a result till the next day. Fast forward to 2018, and the age of global interconnectedness, with instantaneous algorithmic management of everything from power grids to Facebook feeds, yet here in California the complete results of the 2018 midterms won’t be available until December 7th. Go figure.

While California’s ability to count ballots runs contrary to the otherwise dazzling march of progress, by now we have enough information to offer a pretty good look at California’s state legislature for 2019-20. The Democratic supermajority has been reestablished. With 28 confirmed seats in the Senate, and 56 in the Assembly, the Democrats hold 70 percent of the seats in both houses. Even if Republicans achieved the unlikely capture of all four Assembly seats that remain too close to call, nothing would change. Overall, so far there are 84 Democratic legislators, and only 32 Republicans.

When one considers the professional background of California’s politicians, a clear pattern emerges. And while compiling this data requires some degree of subjective interpretation, no reasonable interpretation would fail to reveal dramatic differences in experience between Democrats and Republicans.

Read More > at Fox and Hounds

An open letter to my American friends, re: your shambolic election process – You probably don’t need those pesky foreigners butting in and telling you that the recent – and continuing – controversies in Florida and Georgia (themselves only the latest in a seemingly never ending succession of controversies surrounding election enrolments, procedures and counts) are sad and pathetic. Nevertheless, take it from this pesky foreigner: they are sad and pathetic. And worst of all unnecessary. The leader of the free world and the world’s largest developed democracy can do better than have the results of its nation- and state-wide elections constantly overshadowed by the allegations of electoral fraud. It’s tearing the United States apart and it’s doing nothing to your international reputation.

I write this not with condescension or glee but as a friend who wants to help. Furthermore, I write as an Australian, from a country, which has always been on the forefront of electoral best practice and thus has much to offer by way of experience and example. In 1856, the state of South Australia adopted universal male suffrage as well as secret ballot as a way to conduct election, the latter reform adopted later that year by Tasmania and Victoria and over the next few years by the remaining states. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, political reformers in the United States and Great Britain would fight – eventually successfully – for the adoption of “the Australian ballot”, as it became known overseas. It is now the international standard. It seems to me that it’s time for America to again look Down Under for inspiration on how to improve its democratic process. Our Australian system is not perfect and it’s not 100 per cent foolproof (what is?) but it has been by and large free of fraud or the perception of fraud and its integrity is acknowledged by all sides of politics as well as the general voting public (voting in Australia is compulsory but I don’t recommend it for the US).

Secure enrolment – Tired of non-citizens enrolling (and voting Democrat (allegedly))? Or counties where more people end up enrolled (and voting) than are actually eligible to vote? Easy – to enrol to vote in Australia you need to present a driver’s licence or a passport or have someone who is already enrolled confirm your identity. This last option potentially opens the door to mischief, since you could make a chain of fraudulent enrolments based on the first, genuine link, but even with that proviso, the Australian system seems to me a lot tighter than the American seemingly free-for-all. Before an election, every person on the electoral roll is mailed a little card by the electoral commission with the voter’s details and a unique barcode. To be able to receive a ballot at the polling station you need to either present the card to be scanned or if you have forgotten to bring it with you you need to show a valid ID for your name to be marked on the voters’ list. Failing either, you can query your absence on the electoral roll and lodge a provisional vote, whose validity will be carefully assessed as part of the overall count, but it is a relatively rare occurrence. To an Australian, an argument that requiring an ID to vote is tantamount to “voter suppression” seems pretty ridiculous. Virtually everyone has got some sort of an ID; the tiny remainder can be accommodated separately. Read More > in The Daily Chrenk

New population research shows half the world’s countries are disappearing – Researchers have found a “big surprise” in world demographics data.

An unprecedented study of the world’s population revealed that fully half of the world’s countries have fallen below a fertility pattern that can support the continuance of the human race.

Everyone knew that the population decline was bad. No one knew it was this bad.

“It’s a surprise even to people like myself,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, who worked on the study. “The idea that it’s half the countries in the world will be a huge surprise to people.”

In fact, University of Washington’s Murray told CNN on November 9, “The world is really divided into two groups. In a generation, the issue’s not going to be about population growth. It’s going to be about population decline or relaxing immigration policies.”

The results published November 8 in The Lancet medical journal followed trends in every country from 1950 to 2017.

Over that time period, the world average of 4.7 children per woman has dropped to 2.4 in 2017.

But if you look at it country by country you see a wide disparity.

Countries with the fewest children include Poland, South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Japan. In Taiwan, women average only 1 child. The most fertile countries include several in Africa, as well as Afghanistan, with an average 4-7 children per family. Read More > at Aleteia

AI toilets will scan your poop to diagnose your ailments – AI that screens out spam and recognizes your mom’s face is so 2017. Get ready for smart toilets that’ll scan your poop using artificial intelligence to save you a trip to the doctor.

That’s what Sanjay Mehrotra, chief executive of memory chipmaker Micron Technology, expects as AI spreads to yet another corner of our lives.

“Medicine is going toward precision medicine and precision health,” Mehrotra said at the Techonomy 2018 conference in Half Moon Bay on the Pacific coastline south of San Francisco. “Imagine smart toilets in the future that will be analyzing human waste in real time every day. You don’t need to be going to visit a physician every six months. If any sign of disease starts showing up, you’ll be able to catch it much faster because of urine analysis and stool analysis.” Read More > at c|net

New Report Shows How Incredibly Wrong Obama Was About Energy Independence – On Tuesday, oil prices fell for the 12th consecutive decline. And amid that decline, the International Energy Agency forecasts that the U.S. will account for 75% of the growth in global oil production through 2025.

That’s a stunning finding that shows how dynamic the domestic oil and gas industry has become.

Crude oil production in the U.S. has climbed more than 67% in just the past six years. And the Department of Energy expects it will climb an additional 11% next year.

Earlier this year, U.S. production hit 11 million barrels a day, surpassing Russia as the world’s largest oil producer, after having blown past Saudi Arabia in February. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

PG&E could face financial trouble if utility is found responsible for California’s worst wildfire – In a grim sign for the Northern California utility giant, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Wednesday that if it is deemed responsible for the fire that destroyed much of Paradise, the liability would exceed its insurance coverage.

The cause of California’s most destructive and deadliest wildfire has not yet been determined. But PG&E said a transmission line in the area went offline 15 minutes before the fire was first reported, and the company found a damaged transmission tower near where investigators said the fire began. Investigations are underway on the cause of the Camp fire, which has destroyed more than 10,300 structures and killed at least 56 people.

In a corporate filing Wednesday, PG&E said that if its equipment caused the fire, it “would be expected to have a material impact on PG&E Corporation’s and the Utility’s financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, and cash flows.”

Since the fire began Thursday, PG&E stock has lost half its value. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Jerry Brown signed $1 billion in wildfire prevention—and none of it applies to the fires this year – …The longer answer is that the complex negotiations that produced the new law left a glaring gap for 2018 fire damage. Many provisions of Senate Bill 901 have not yet taken effect, and even when they do, will impact the state gradually.

A key aspect will likely take years, if not decades, to complete: Thinning forests and removing dead and dying trees that have turned huge swaths of California into kindling. The law calls for spending $200 million a year over five years on clearing trees and brush to make forests less fire-prone—but the money doesn’t start flowing until 2019.

It also requires utility companies to come up with fire prevention plans—but those don’t begin until next year, either.

And it creates a 5-member Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery within the governor’s office to decide whether utilities can pass costs onto customers and suggest broader changes to liability laws. No commissioners have been named yet, and its first report isn’t due until July 1.

Even the most controversial and hard-fought part of the law—which makes it easier for utility companies to absorb the cost of fire damages by borrowing money and charging customers to pay it back over many years, a provision critics deemed a bailout—does not apply right now. It covers fires that burned in 2017, and those that start in 2019, but not any blazing this year. Read More > at CALmatters

F.D.A. Seeks Restrictions on Teens’ Access to Flavored E-Cigarettes and a Ban on Menthol Cigarettes – Stopping short of its threatened ban on flavored e-cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday that it would allow stores to continue selling the products, but only from closed-off areas that are inaccessible to minors.

At the same time, the agency moved to outlaw two traditional tobacco products that disproportionately harm African Americans: menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

The proposed menthol ban would be the most aggressive action the F.D.A. has taken against the tobacco industry in nearly a decade, and it was notable given the Trump administration’s business-friendly approach to regulatory issues.

…Still, the plan to sequester flavored e-cigarettes in stores, rather than ban selling them, was surprising to many people since details of a stronger proposal leaked out widely from the agency over the past week. Members of Congress sent out news releases, praising the agency for a ban that did not materialize. Federal law already prohibits the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes to anyone under 18.

But lawyers said the agency did not have the legal authority to impose such a ban without going through a long, complicated process that would have inevitably ended up in protracted court battles. Read More > in The New York Times

10 Things That Are Practically Obsolete Now that We Have Smartphones – Here’s a list of ten things that our smartphones have replaced. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but I think you’ll get an idea of what revolutionary technology our phones have become. Enjoy!

10. Landlines and payphones

Obviously, the biggest thing that our smartphones have made obsolete is the landline phone and everything that goes along with it. For starters, it’s nice not to have to pull over and look for a payphone when you need to make a call. Of course, handsfree laws are causing many people to have to stop to call others, but that can happen anywhere these days.

9. Flashlights

I can remember for years the conventional wisdom that a flashlight was an essential item to have handy for safety purposes. Nowadays, it seems crazy to have an extra flashlight nearby when your smartphone can light the way for you.

8. Calculators

For years, many of us kept a calculator in the desk drawer at home or work just to keep us from having to do hard math ourselves. It came in handy, especially because those cheap battery-powered calculators lasted forever. Doing math with a pencil and paper was a thing of the past.

7. Timers

Here’s an innovation that we don’t think about much. These days we have timers that allow us to throw out those old kitchen timers and keep up with time just like we keep up with everything else – on our smartphones. Read More > at PJ Media

Contra Costa County Setting Itself Up To Be Next Bay Area Hub If Only The Jobs Will Follow – Several large-scale projects in Contra Costa County could transform the suburban county into a thriving employment center with live-work-play dynamics. The region’s biggest challenge will be actually getting to that point. Many investors and developers think the county is well on its way.

“What is wonderful about Contra Costa County is that it is unmatched quality of life if you can afford to live here in terms of work, play, live opportunity,” East Bay Leadership Council President and CEO Kristin Connelly said during Bisnow’s recent Future of Contra Costa event. “I’m a huge champion of the East Bay. We are poised to be the center of the mega-region in Northern California because of our assets.”

While more development is occurring in Contra Costa County, many cities are struggling to be attractive to employers, and many residents are still commuting elsewhere for their jobs. The East Bay Leadership Council found that 78% of Contra Costa workers commute to Western Alameda County, San Francisco or San Jose, Connelly said.

…In nearby Concord, a huge master-planned development in the works could attract large employers. The city partnered with FivePoint to develop 2,300 acres at the Concord Naval Weapons Station that will create one of the largest developments in the entire Bay Area.

…In East Contra Costa County, the Streets of Brentwood retail property may also undergo a dramatic transformation now that it is under new ownership.

Fairbourne Properties President and Managing Director David Harvey said his company bought the property earlier this year for about $85M and has plans to turn the troubled open-air shopping center into more of a mixed-use development. The center is already a huge draw for the region with an AMC Theatres with a revenue of $750K per screen.

As full-priced apparel retailers continue to struggle, Fairbourne Properties is looking into replacements for the vacancies whether that be restaurants or entertainment components or health clubs. Harvey said he also anticipates some of the vacant land on the other side of the property could be turned into a residential component. Read More > at Bisnow

First tally of U.S.-Russia polar bears finds a healthy population – Not all polar bears are in the same dire situation due to retreating sea ice, at least not right now. Off the western coast of Alaska, the Chukchi Sea is rich in marine life, but the number of polar bears in the area had never been counted. The first formal study of this population suggests that it’s been healthy and relatively abundant in recent years, numbering about 3,000 animals.

The study by researchers at the University of Washington and federal agencies is published Nov. 14 in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group.

“This work represents a decade of research that gives us a first estimate of the abundance and status of the Chukchi Sea subpopulation,” said first author Eric Regehr, a researcher with the UW’s Polar Science Center who started the project as a biologist in Alaska with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Despite having about one month less time on preferred sea ice habitats to hunt compared with 25 years ago, we found that the Chukchi Sea subpopulation was doing well from 2008 to 2016. Read More > at UW News

Climate contrarian uncovers scientific error, upends major ocean warming study – Researchers with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University recently walked back scientific findings published last month that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change.

In a paper published Oct. 31 in the journal Nature, researchers found that ocean temperatures had warmed 60 percent more than outlined by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

However, the conclusion came under scrutiny after mathematician Nic Lewis, a critic of the scientific consensus around human-induced warming, posted a critique of the paper on the blog of Judith Curry, another well-known critic.

“The findings of the … paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media,” Lewis wrote. “Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results.”

Co-author Ralph Keeling, climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, took full blame and thanked Lewis for alerting him to the mistake.

Keeling said they have since redone the calculations, finding the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC. However, that increase in heat has a larger range of probability than initially thought — between 10 percent and 70 percent, as other studies have already found.

“Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Keeling said. “We really muffed the error margins.” Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Juul cuts flavored nicotine supply to stores and shutters its social media – E-cigarette company Juul Labs will stop supplying over 90,000 brick-and-mortar stores with its fruity and dessert-flavored pods, the company announced today. It’s also quitting Facebook and Instagram in an effort to dampen the popular vape’s appeal to underage consumers. The announcement follows rumors from last week that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon announce a flavor ban to combat youth vaping.

E-cigarettes are teens’ favorite way to get nicotine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the number of teenage vapers is rising: at an event hosted by The Washington Post today, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb teased research that’s due to be announced this week that he says shows that high school vaping has increased 75 percent since last year. For middle school students, the increase was 50 percent.

The FDA has been putting pressure on Juul, in particular. The agency “conducted an unannounced on-site inspection” of the company’s San Francisco headquarters earlier this fall in search of product design and marketing details that could help explain the product’s popularity among teens. In a statement posted to Juul’s webpage today, CEO Kevin Burns called the underage use of e-cigarettes like Juul an “unintended and serious problem.” He echoed Gottlieb’s own words, saying, “We want to be the off-ramp for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes, not an on-ramp for America’s youth to initiate on nicotine.” Read More > at The Verge

USPS gets record high stamp price hike as losses mount – The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) requested and received a record hike for the price of stamps as it posts yet another year of losses.

During the 2018 fiscal year, the Postal Service recorded a net loss of $3.9 billion, which is an increase of more than $1 billion over the losses it suffered in 2017. Overall volume declined by 3.2 billion pieces, which includes a 3.6 percent decline in first-class mail volume – its main source of revenue.

Part of the agency’s problem is worker compensation and retiree health benefit costs, which increased by more than $800 million and $221 million, respectively, during the most recent fiscal year.

The Postal Service was unable to pay $6.9 billion it owes the federal government to prefund pensions and health benefits for workers, as has been the case for several years. It has more than $120 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities.

In order to offset some losses, the Postal Service proposed a slew of price increases that were approved Opens a New Window.  on Wednesday by the Postal Regulatory Commission – slated to take effect in 2019. Priority Mail Express prices will rise by 3.9 percent, while Priority Mail will increase 5.9 percent – those prices aren’t adjusted in line with inflation, but rather with perceived market conditions. First-class mail prices will rise by 10 percent.

The price of a “Forever” stamp is set to rise by 5 cents to 55 cents, a 10 percent and record nominal price adjustment. The price to ship a small flat-rate box will increase to $7.90, from $7.20, while a large flat-rate box will rise by more than $1 to $19.95. Read More > at Fox Business News

Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? – The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.

If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.

Polyamory is a household word. Shame-laden terms like perversion have given way to cheerful-sounding ones like kink. Anal sex has gone from final taboo to “fifth base”—Teen Vogue (yes, Teen Vogue) even ran a guide to it. With the exception of perhaps incest and bestiality—and of course nonconsensual sex more generally—our culture has never been more tolerant of sex in just about every permutation.

But despite all this, American teenagers and young adults are having less sex.

To the relief of many parents, educators, and clergy members who care about the health and well-being of young people, teens are launching their sex lives later. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. (And no, they aren’t having oral sex instead—that rate hasn’t changed much.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate has plummeted to a third of its modern high. When this decline started, in the 1990s, it was widely and rightly embraced…

Over the course of many conversations with sex researchers, psychologists, economists, sociologists, therapists, sex educators, and young adults, I heard many other theories about what I have come to think of as the sex recession. I was told it might be a consequence of the hookup culture, of crushing economic pressures, of surging anxiety rates, of psychological frailty, of widespread antidepressant use, of streaming television, of environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, of dropping testosterone levels, of digital porn, of the vibrator’s golden age, of dating apps, of option paralysis, of helicopter parents, of careerism, of smartphones, of the news cycle, of information overload generally, of sleep deprivation, of obesity. Name a modern blight, and someone, somewhere, is ready to blame it for messing with the modern libido. Read More > in The Atlantic

An Inside Look at China’s Reeducation Camps“The schooling has only one goal: To banish thoughts of religious extremism and violent terrorism from people’s minds and to heal ideological sicknesses.” Quote from a member of the Communist Youth League at a seminar in Hotan, Xinjiang in March 2017.

About 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities are currently in detention according to research conducted by the United Nations. Beijing’s “fight against terror” has led to the construction of likely hundreds of reeducation camps.

DER SPIEGEL spoke with three former prisoners and a dozen families whose relatives are allegedly in indoctrination camps in Xinjian. All of them speak of brainwashing meant to bring the Muslims into line.

For months, Beijing denied that these camps even existed. But because international pressure continued to increase, the government recently changed its strategy. Instead of refuting the camps’ existence, it proudly declared them to be an opportunity for “voluntary professional education” with integrated language training.

The governor of the Xinjiang region told the Chinese state news agency that Muslims were being taught how to become “law-abiding citizens.” He claimed they not only learn Chinese in the camps but could also take courses in e-commerce or cosmetics. At A UN meeting last week, American and Western European diplomats called on China to end the internment of Muslims in the Xinjiang region. China’s deputy foreign minister rejected the accusations as politically motivated. Read More > in Der Spiegel

NY taxpayers to pay $48,000 per Amazon HQ job – New York state is kicking in more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer-funded incentives for getting half of Amazon’s second headquarters located in a section of Queens.

The Seattle-based company made its long-awaited announcement Tuesday, saying Long Island City and Alexandria, Virginia, will each get 25,000 jobs. The online retailer also said it will open an operations hub in Nashville, creating 5,000 jobs.

New York state’s incentives are nearly triple those of Virginia’s, while Tennessee’s are $102 million.

According to Amazon, the cost per job for New York taxpayers is $48,000, compared to $22,000 for Virginia and $13,000 for Tennessee. Read More > at Fox 5 NY

Exclusive: 72 percent say media ‘dividing Americans,’ spreading ‘hate’ – Nearly three-quarters of the country believes that the media is “dividing Americans” along political, racial, and gender lines, a stunning condemnation of the press, according to a new national survey.

What’s more, the Zogby Analytics poll provided to Secrets said that the media bias is sparking hate and misunderstanding.

And while Americans also blame President Trump for dividing voters, the survey analysis said the media is worse. Those surveyed, said Zogby Analytics, “felt the mainstream media spreads hate and misunderstanding, also felt that President Trump is responsible for the spread of hate and misunderstanding, but more voters overall, and in most sub-groups, blame the media slightly more!”

Overall, 72 percent said “the mainstream media has played a major role in dividing Americans along racial, gender and political lines. This has led to a spread of hate and misunderstanding among some people.”

Only two-thirds said the same about Trump.

While 7-in-10 men and women agreed that the media is to blame for dividing the nation, Republicans were nearly unanimous while just 51 percent of Democrats said the press was to blame. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Smart Dust Is Coming. Are You Ready? – Imagine a world where wireless devices are as small as a grain of salt. These miniaturized devices have sensors, cameras and communication mechanisms to transmit the data they collect back to a base in order to process. Today, you no longer have to imagine it: microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), often called motes, are real and they very well could be coming to a neighborhood near you. Whether this fact excites or strikes fear in you it’s good to know what it’s all about.

Outfitted with miniature sensors, MEMS can detect everything from light to vibrations to temperature. With an incredible amount of power packed into its small size, MEMS combine sensing, an autonomous power supply, computing and wireless communication in a space that is typically only a few millimeters in volume. With such a small size, these devices can stay suspended in an environment just like a particle of dust. They can:

  • Collect data including acceleration, stress, pressure, humidity, sound and more from sensors
  • Process the data with what amounts to an onboard computer system
  • Store the data in memory
  • Wirelessly communicate the data to the cloud, a base or other MEMs

The potential of smart dust to collect information about any environment in incredible detail could impact plenty of things in a variety of industries from safety to compliance to productivity. It’s like multiplying the internet of things technology millions or billions of times over. Here are just some of the ways it might be used:

  • Monitor crops in an unprecedented scale to determine watering, fertilization and pest-control needs.
  • Monitor equipment to facilitate more timely maintenance.
  • Identify weaknesses and corrosion prior to a system failure.
  • Enable wireless monitoring of people and products for security purposes.
  • Measuring anything that can be measured nearly anywhere.
  • Enhance inventory control with MEMS to track products from manufacturing facility shelves to boxes to palettes to shipping vessels to trucks to retail shelves. Read More > at Forbes

Democrats win back a supermajority in California’s Legislature – California Democrats cemented supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature on Monday, giving Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom more partisan allies in the state Senate and Assembly when he takes office in January.

Election results announced on Monday showed Democrats winning two Central Valley Senate seats previously held by Republicans, allowing the party to regain the two-thirds majority they held in the chamber before former state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton was recalled from office in June over his vote last year to raise the gas tax.

The party also is expected to pad its existing supermajority in the state Assembly.

A supermajority is the threshold of votes needed for Democrats to override vetoes by the governor and pass tax increases or craft statewide bond measures without GOP legislative support…

Having a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature will help Newsom on strictly party-line issues, experts said.

But the election of moderate Democrats backed by businesses “may make it more difficult for Newsom to gain those absolute two-thirds majorities on some key issues,” Gerston said. “In California, more than ever, it’s not only whether a legislator is a Democrat; it’s what kind of Democrat.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

A bubbling pool of mud is on the move, and no one knows why – When it comes to matters of geology and rumbling earth in California, the San Andreas Fault is usually the star of the show. But this time around, the area near the infamous fault has caught people’s attention due to a mysterious pot of bubbling mud.

Refusing to stay in place, a roiling mass of carbon dioxide and slurry-like soil is migrating across the state at a pace of 20 feet a year. So far, it’s carved a 24,000-square-foot basin out of the earth, and it’s set to continue its crusade until whatever’s driving it dies out. Scientists currently have no real idea why it’s moving or if it can be stopped.

So, what do we know about it?

Currently located just north of Niland, the mud pot is moving toward Union Pacific Railroad tracks and giving engineers there a headache. A well dug to depressurize the source of the gas had no effect. Steel walls driven 80 feet into the ground were also nonchalantly circumvented; the mud pot simply ducked under them and continued its freakishly linear path of destruction.

“No one has seen a moving mud pot before,” says David Lynch, a consulting physicist who has long studied the area’s geothermal features. Mud pots and mud volcanoes also generally don’t emit much water, but this one is extremely vigorous, producing somewhere around 40,000 gallons of water a day. Lynch and other experts have taken to calling it a “mud spring.”

So, why is it moving? “That is the big question, and I don’t know the answer,” Lynch says. It isn’t accelerating, as some news outlets have reported, and it certainly didn’t move 60 feet in a single day. Contrary to a handful of reports, there is no link between seismic changes in the area and the mud pot’s road show. Read More > at National Geographic

Amid a Bay Area exodus, Sacramento struggles to stay affordable – Sacramento’s relative affordability has attracted streams of people fleeing the high rents and housing prices in the Bay Area. Along the way, California’s capital city has become less affordable.

Rents rose by a record 9.6 percent last year, one of the sharpest increases in the country, according to the real-estate data firm Yardi-Matrix, and by another 2.5 percent this year. A report by the Urban Displacement Project last year found that an astonishing 95,000 low-income households live in Sacramento neighborhoods that “are already undergoing or are at risk of becoming hotbeds of displacement.”

Home values in the city have risen too —by 30 percent over the past three years, according to Zillow — though at $315,000, the price of a median home is far less than it is in the Bay Area. Read More > in The Mercury News 

Smartphones raising a mentally fragile generation – San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge sees smartphones and social media as raising an unhappy, compliant “iGen.”

QUESTION: What is the iGen?

ANSWER: The iGen is the generation born in 1995 and later, and they’re the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. They spend a lot more time online, on social media and playing games, and they spend less time on non-screen activities like reading books, sleeping or seeing their friends in face-to-face interactions.

Those children are growing up more slowly. By the age of 18, they are less likely to have a driver’s licence, to work in a paying job, to go out on dates, to drink alcohol or to go out without their parents compared to teens in previous generations.

So iGen’s probably the safest generation in history and they like that idea of feeling safe.

QUESTION: You have researched the behavior and health of millions of teenagers. What have you observed?

ANSWER: Around 2011 and 2012, I started to see more sudden changes to teens, like big increases of teens feeling lonely or left out, or that they could not do anything right, that their life was not useful, which are classic symptoms of depression.

Depressive symptoms have climbed 60 percent in just five years, with rates of self-harm like cutting (themselves) that have doubled or even tripled in girls. Teen suicide has doubled in a few years. Read More > at France 24

Every City Should Have a Toy Library – …By the 1930s, the Heckscher Foundation for Children ran two toyeries where children could play with toys, check them out, and make crafts. Others followed suit. A consensus had formed that, as with playgrounds and book libraries, funds should be set aside for playing with toys. Monkey bars worked their bodies, reading worked their minds, but there was something else, something both physical and mental, that happened when they worked their fingers. Imagination. Socialization. Freedom.

An American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report, published in August 2018, makes the same argument Cash did from the depths of the Great Depression: “The most powerful way children learn isn’t only in classrooms or libraries but on playgrounds and in playrooms.” Play is essential for the development of social, emotional, language, and cognitive skills—and play is threatened by academic expectations, mobility limitations, and screens.

The solutions to these problems are many: bringing back recess (cut by many schools in favor of more class time), reducing homework, and creating safer pedestrian and bike routes to schools and playgrounds. But spaces in which to play, and a constantly renewable source of things to play with, are essential to improving early childhood outcomes. The toy librarians of the 1930s had it right: Toys should be free. And the library is the perfect platform, because citizens already understand it as a public good and distribution hub. Read More > in The Atlantic

How Autonomous Vehicles Could Shape Future Development – Autonomous vehicles are poised to dramatically change cities’ roads, from congestion to safety to commuting patterns, but developers think the innovation will also have a profound impact on the types of buildings that can be constructed.

The greatest constraining factor to urban real estate development, ZOM Living CEO Greg West said, is parking. Building entrances for people to walk in is easy, he said, but constructing entrances and garages to store hundreds of cars is a major challenge.

If autonomous vehicles can drop people off at work and not have to remain parked there all day, he said it could open a world of opportunity for development.

Designing buildings with parking garages requires creating wide podiums on the lower levels with a slimmer tower rising to the upper floors, West said, but the opportunity to build without parking would completely change that.

“If you take that podium away you can have a slender tower on a smaller piece of real estate,” West said. “It’s much less expensive to build, and it makes it possible to build on lots of places in cities that were previously not possible to build on because of their adjacencies, size and configuration. I think the evolution of technology and the requirement of parking to be in a building is really going to change cities in a very dramatic way.” Read More > at Bisnow

There Are 200 California Inmates Fighting the Camp Fire. After Prison, They Likely Won’t Be Allowed to Become Firefighters – About 200 inmates are among the thousands of firefighters still doing battle with the massive wildfire that has destroyed the town of Paradise, California, and killed at least 31 people.

Once they are released from prison, however, most of them will be prohibited from joining the fire crews that they currently work alongside. It’s a cruel irony that demonstrates just how difficult life can be for the formerly incarcerated—even those with needed, practical skills—who continue to be punished long after they have paid their debt to society, and bad policy that effectively prevents the state from calling upon well-trained, experienced firefighters when wildfires erupt.

According to local media reports, there are 200 inmates from 16 different fire crews helping fight the dangerous Camp Fire, which is now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. As of Monday morning, the fire had burned more than 113,000 acres and was only 25 percent contained. There are also inmate firefighters helping to battle two blazes in southern California, including one that has burned the set of Westworld and prompted an evacuation of Malibu.

Those inmate fightfighters are volunteers who earn $2 a day, and $1 an hour when fighting an active fire, while working alongside professionals who get paid an average of $74,000 per year. Those significant cost savings are part of the reason why convicts can account for up to half of the firefighting personnel on the scene at any California wildfire, according to a 2017 profile of the state’s inmate firefighter program by The New York Times. Read More > at Reason

Only 15 of S.F.’s 102 neighborhoods have median home values of less than $1 million – There are only 15 neighborhoods (out of 102) in the city of San Francisco where median home values are less than $1 million, according to a recent report from Trulia.

The real estate listing company’s report reveals that over the past year, the San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland metropolitan areas saw the largest increases in the nation in the quantity of homes valued at or above $1 million.

The city with the biggest jump in million-dollar neighborhoods — neighborhoods whose median home value is at or above $1 million — was Fremont, which is grouped into the Oakland metropolitan statistical area. Eleven of its 27 neighborhoods achieved million-dollar status in the past year alone, pushing it to a total of 21 million-dollar neighborhoods. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Rural America’s Favorite Store Is Moving Into the Big City – …Then Dollar General arrived and locals wondered: What was rural America’s favorite retailer doing in hipsterville?

The answer becomes apparent as soon as you step inside. Dubbed DGX, the store is about half the size of Dollar General’s regular 9,000-square-foot stores. Carrying everything from bug spray to beer, it’s a tidy mashup of a drugstore, convenience store and corner grocer, but with lower prices and free Wi-Fi. The NoLibs DGX store opened last year, joining one in Raleigh, North Carolina, and another in Nashville, Tennessee, with many more on the way.

Dollar General Corp. Chief Executive Officer Todd Vasos sees a huge opportunity in urban, millennial shoppers, who are starting to settle down and look for reliable, affordable places to shop. The company is doing fine without them; same-store sales have increased for 28 straight years, and the stock has returned double that of the S&P 500 over the past three. But Vasos needs to win in cities to achieve his goal of opening another 13,000 U.S. stores on top of the existing 15,000. About a third of the company’s locations are currently in metro markets, and they are moving toward 40 percent.

..Dollar General has long catered to depressed, sparsely populated rural areas—the very antithesis of neighborhoods like NoLibs. But the company is betting that millennials, artisanal aspirations notwithstanding, like a good deal as much as anyone. Read More > at Bloomberg

For the first time, researchers say Facebook can cause depression – Spending too much time on “social media” sites like Facebook is making people more than just miserable. It may also be making them depressed.

A new study conducted by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania has shown — for the first time — a causal link between time spent on social media and depression and loneliness, the researchers said.

It concluded that those who drastically cut back their use of sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat often saw a marked improvement in their mood and in how they felt about their lives. Read More > at Market Watch

Here’s When Social Security Will Run Out of Cash – Social Security is unequivocally the nation’s most important social program. Each month, over 62 million Americans take home a benefit check, of which 62% of aged beneficiaries lean on to comprise at least half of their income. Without Social Security, retired workers, the elderly, and even the surviving spouses and/or children of deceased workers could see considerably higher rates of poverty.

But for as much as Social Security has done over a nearly eight-decade period, it hasn’t kept the program from running into trouble. A number of ongoing demographic changes, compounded with inaction from Congress, is sending Social Security down a tumultuous path. In fact, fear regarding Social Security’s long-term outlook has become so apparent that a Pew Research Center survey in 2014 found that 51% of millennials didn’t expect the program to be there when they eventually retire.

Social Security has problems, but running out of cash isn’t one of them.

The big question a lot of folks (especially millennials) are probably asking about Social Security, given its many problems, is this: When, exactly, will the program run out of cash?

Believe it or not, the honest answer, assuming no changes to the way Social Security is funded, is never.

…But the biggest concern of all is the inflection point the program has hit. According to the newest annual Trustees report, Social Security will expend more than it collects in revenue this year for the first time since 1982. Though the amount of estimated net cash outflow ($1.7 billion) is relatively small next to the $2.89 trillion currently held in asset reserves, this outflow is expected to increase rapidly beginning in 2020 and beyond.

Where the misconception that Social Security is running out of cash comes into play is based on the Trustees’ latest prediction that the program’s asset reserves will be exhausted by 2034. Should this excess cash run out as forecast, an across-the-board cut to benefits of up to 21% may be needed to sustain payouts through 2092, without the need for any further cuts. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Newsom will find stack of Brown’s leftovers – Gavin Newson will not begin his governorship in January with a budget deficit, but nevertheless, Gov. Jerry Brown will leave him a stack of knotty managerial and policy issues that cannot be ignored.

The two most obvious are Brown’s two pet public works projects, twin tunnels to carry water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a north-south bullet train.

Brown’s departure two months hence will doubtless leave two managerial messes still simmering – a service meltdown in the Department of Motor Vehicles compounded by allegations of corruption among DMV clerks, and allegations that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has been falsifying reports on psychiatric care of inmates mandated by federal courts.

Brown resisted efforts in the Legislature to require the DMV’s long wait times and voter registration errors to be probed by the state auditor’s office. But pressure for an audit will crank up again when the Legislature returns to Sacramento, especially with new revelations about clerks taking bribes to give driver’s licenses to applicants that flunked tests. Read More > at CALmatters

Six interesting benefits of kissing – Not so many people know that kissing has health benefits. Well, despite the fact that kissing can be many things from sweet, loving, intense, to passionate, it’s been proven that there are actually health benefits that come with kissng.

Studies have revealed that individuals who kiss more often significantly decrease their levels of stress and are known to have even greater relationship satisfaction.

1. Boost ‘happy hormones’
Studies have disclosed that kissing triggers the brain to release a cocktail of chemicals that leave you feeling so good by igniting the pleasure centers of the brain. These chemicals include oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which make you feel euphoric and encourage feelings of affection and bonding.

2. Lowers anxiety
Kissing has been shown to decrease stress hormone cortisol while increasing serotonin – a chemical responsible for maintaining mood balance – levels in the brain. It has also been shown to have similar benefits to meditation, mainly from its ability to release oxytocin, also known as the ‘love’ hormone.

3. Reduce blood pressure
Kissing also helps to dilate blood vessels, which may help lower blood pressure. Read More > at evewoman

French study: the human race has peaked – From a biological perspective, the human species has reached its peak. We are now at our strongest, our fastest, our largest and have reached the limits of our biological lifespan. We can no longer become stronger, faster and longer. Attempts to extend our maximum life span even further will fail. Sports scientists at the Universite Sorbonne Paris Cite report this in Frontiers in Physiolology. Read More > at ergo-log

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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