Sunday Reading – 12/30/18


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.

California officer’s killing reignites sanctuary law fight – The shooting death of a California police officer has reignited the debate over sanctuary laws, with a sheriff all but blaming the statewide immigration policy for the killing as he announced the arrest of a man living in the U.S. illegally.

A two-day statewide manhunt ended Friday with the arrest of Gustavo Perez Arriaga, who came out with his hands up as a SWAT team prepared to raid a home in Bakersfield, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of where Cpl. Ronil Singh was shot in the small town of Newman before dawn Wednesday.

Perez Arriaga was captured while planning to flee to his native Mexico, authorities said.

Sheriff Adam Christianson, who led the investigation, blamed California’s sanctuary law for preventing local authorities from reporting Perez Arriaga to U.S. immigration officials for deportation after two previous drunken driving arrests.

“We can’t ignore the fact that this could have been preventable,” Christianson told reporters, asking why the state was “providing sanctuary for criminals (and) gang members. It’s a conversation we need to have.” Read More > from the Associated Press

Flu cases on the rise in the United States, CDC says – Flu activity is increasing in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

As of the week ending December 22, nine states are experiencing high flu activity — Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Carolina — as well as New York City. That’s an increase from the previous week, when two states, Colorado and Georgia, experienced high flu activity. Seven states and Puerto Rico are experiencing moderate flu activity. Among the four states along the southern US border, flu activity increased to high in New Mexico and moderate in Arizona, the CDC noted. Read More > at CNN

Washington could become the first state to legalize human composting – When Americans die, most are buried or cremated. Washington could soon become the first state to allow another option: human composting.

The novel approach, known as “recomposition,” involves placing bodies in a vessel and hastening their decomposition into a nutrient-dense soil that can then be returned to families. The aim is a less expensive way of dealing with human remains that is better for the environment than burial, which can leach chemicals into the ground, or cremation, which releases earth-warming carbon dioxide.

“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat, who is sponsoring a bill in Washington’s Legislature to expand the options for disposing of human remains. The recomposition bill would also make Washington the 17th state to allow alkaline hydrolysis, the dissolving of bodies in a pressurized vessel with water and lye until just liquid and bone remains. Pedersen plans to introduce the bill when the new legislative session begins next month. Read More > at NBC News

How Big Data Has Created a Big Crisis in Science – There’s an increasing concern among scholars that, in many areas of science, famous published results tend to be impossible to reproduce.

This crisis can be severe. For example, in 2011, Bayer HealthCare reviewed 67 in-house projects and found that they could replicate less than 25 percent. Furthermore, over two-thirds of the projects had major inconsistencies. More recently, in November, an investigation of 28 major psychology papers found that only half could be replicated.

Similar findings are reported across other fields, including medicine and economics. These striking results put the credibility of all scientists in deep trouble.

What is causing this big problem? There are many contributing factors. As a statistician, I see huge issues with the way science is done in the era of big data. The reproducibility crisis is driven in part by invalid statistical analyses that are from data-driven hypotheses – the opposite of how things are traditionally done.

In a classical experiment, the statistician and scientist first together frame a hypothesis. Then scientists conduct experiments to collect data, which are subsequently analyzed by statisticians.

That process – hypothesize, then gather data, then analyze – is rare in the big data era. Today’s technology can collect huge amounts of data, on the order of 2.5 exabytes a day.

While this is a good thing, science often develops at a much slower speed, and so researchers may not know how to dictate the right hypothesis in the analysis of data. For example, scientists can now collect tens of thousands of gene expressions from people, but it is very hard to decide whether one should include or exclude a particular gene in the hypothesis. In this case, it is appealing to form the hypothesis based on the data. While such hypotheses may appear compelling, conventional inferences from these hypotheses are generally invalid. This is because, in contrast to the “lady tasting tea” process, the order of building the hypothesis and seeing the data has reversed. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Survey: Average Person Forms A First Impression In Just 27 Seconds! – You better have your introduction down to a speedy art on that next blind date or job interview. A recent survey finds you only have about 27 seconds to make a good first impression on someone new.

In fact, the survey of 2,000 Americans revealed that seven out of ten people say they decide how they feel about new people before the person even says a word. The study, commissioned by Dollar Shave Club, sought to find out what assumptions we make when meeting someone new, why we make those assumptions, and how fast it takes us to judge a new book by its cover.

Researchers found that in order to leave positive first impressions, smiling, being polite, smelling nice, being a good listener, and making eye contact are most important. Conversely, smelling bad, acting arrogantly, and dressing poorly were the top ways to leave a bad impression.

A person’s scent was found to be extremely memorable. The overwhelming majority of respondents (85 percent) said they’ll have a more favorable opinion of someone if they don’t have body odor. Yet interestingly, only 68 percent say they actually put a lot of thought into how they smell before going on a date.

Speaking of dating, three in five respondents said they make first impression judgments on dates much faster on average than they would in other social situations. What’s more, the average respondent believes that they know just 15 minutes into a first date whether they want to go on a second date and 20 minutes in whether or not they want to go home with someone. Similarly, researchers found the average person claims they’d end a date after 16 minutes if it was going poorly. Read More > at Study Finds

Deployed US Navy Has a Pregnancy Problem, and It’s Getting Worse – A record 16 out of 100 Navy women are reassigned from ships to shore duty due to pregnancy, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group.

That number is up 2 percent from 2015, representing hundreds more who have to cut their deployments short, taxing both their unit’s manpower, military budgets and combat readiness. Further, such increases cast a shadow over the lofty gender integration goals set by former President Barack Obama.

Overall, women unexpectedly leave their stations on Navy ships as much as 50 percent more frequently to return to land duty, according to documents obtained from the Navy. The statistics were compiled by the Navy Personnel Command at the request of The DCNF, covering the period from January 2015 to September 2016. Read More > from The Stream

This Insane Battle To Block a New Apartment Building Explains Why San Francisco and Other Cities Are So Expensive – Bob Tillman has spent nearly five years and $1.4 million on a legal battle to turn his coin-operated laundromat into an apartment building. His saga perfectly encapsulates the political dysfunction that’s turning San Francisco—once a beacon for immigrants and home of the counterculture—into an exclusive playground for the ultra-wealthy.

The median cost of a single-family home in San Francisco is already five times the U.S. average, and the city now has the highest rent per square foot of any municipality in the nation. The explanation for the crisis is simple: As the city’s population has surged, developers have found it nearly impossible to construct more housing. About 80 percent of San Francisco’s existing buildings were already standing in 1980.

Tillman has owned his small laundromat in the Mission District for 20 years. In 2013, with the housing market hitting record highs, he decided to tear it down and build an eight-story, 75-unit apartment building. (Christian Britschgi first covered Tillman’s project for Reason back in February.)

At first, it didn’t seem like a controversial project: Nobody lives above the laundry, the building wouldn’t displace anyone, it qualified for a density bonus and streamlined approval process under state law, and the site was already zoned for housing. While San Francisco passed a comprehensive zoning code in 1978 that restricted the construction of new housing to certain areas, mandated design elements, and limited the height of new structures in some parts of the city to just 40 feet, none of those regulations stood in the way of Tillman’s plans.

“If you can’t build here, you can’t build anywhere,” he told Reason.

But San Francisco developers are still required to get permission from city officials for any new construction, so, in early 2014, Tillman began submitting paperwork to the City Planning Department. He went through an environmental review, an application for a conditional use permit, and multiple public hearings.

In late 2017, the Planning Commission was ready to vote on Tillman’s project, three and a half years after he first applied to build. That’s when the real fight started. Read More > at Reason

If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours – ProPublica and the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, or HRS, the premier source of quantitative information about aging in America. Since 1992, the study has followed a nationally representative sample of about 20,000 people from the time they turn 50 through the rest of their lives.

Through 2016, our analysis found that between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.

Only one in 10 of these workers ever again earns as much as they did before their employment setbacks, our analysis showed. Even years afterward, the household incomes of over half of those who experience such work disruptions remain substantially below those of workers who don’t. Read More > at ProPublica

California maneuvers to make bigger impact in 2020 election – Early voting in California’s primary will overlap with the traditional early nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. That could force the sprawling field of Democrats to navigate those states as well as California’s notoriously complex landscape, where campaigning is done through paid political ads.

Strategists estimate it could cost at least $5 million for a candidate to compete in California, an amount that could be prohibitive for all but the best-funded contenders. Nascent campaigns are asking themselves if they should gamble on California.

“Everyone’s going to play in Iowa, everyone’s going to go to New Hampshire,” said Ben Tulchin, a San Francisco-based pollster who worked for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. “But there are only 3-4 of the top-tier candidates who will compete in California.”

The nation’s biggest and second-most-diverse state has long complained about being effectively shut out of the presidential nominating process because its primary usually comes months after the initial four contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill moving the state’s primary up to the earliest date permissible.

California is slated to vote on March 3, the first day allowed for a state that’s not in the traditional early state lineup. And because of California’s early-voting system, voters will get primary ballots starting 30 days before the primary, which coincides with the Iowa caucuses. Read More > in the Associated Press

One year of legal pot sales and California doesn’t have the bustling industry it expected. Here’s why – When Californians voted in 2016 to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, advocates of the move envisioned thousands of pot shops and cannabis farms obtaining state licenses, making the drug easily available to all adults within a short drive.

But as the first year of licensed sales comes to a close, California’s legal market hasn’t performed as state officials and the cannabis industry had hoped. Retailers and growers say they’ve been stunted by complex regulations, high taxes and decisions by most cities to ban cannabis shops. At the same time, many residents are going to city halls and courts to fight pot businesses they see as nuisances, and police chiefs are raising concerns about crime triggered by the marijuana trade.

“The cannabis industry is being choked by California’s penchant for over-regulation,” said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a pro-legalization group. “It’s impossible to solve all of the problems without a drastic rewrite of the law, which is not in the cards for the foreseeable future.”

After voters legalized marijuana two years ago under Proposition 64, state officials estimated in there would be as many as 6,000 cannabis shops licensed in the first few years. But the state Bureau of Cannabis Control has issued just 547 temporary and annual licenses to marijuana retail stores and dispensaries. Some 1,790 stores and dispensaries were paying taxes on medicinal pot sales before licenses were required starting Jan. 1.

State officials also predicted that legal cannabis would eventually bring in up to $1 billion in revenue a year. But with many cities banning pot sales, tax revenue is falling far short of estimates. Based on taxes collected since Jan. 1, the state is expected to bring in $471 million in revenue this fiscal year — much less than the $630 million projected in Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Sugar taxes have not reduced obesity rates anywhere – A global study found taxes on soft drinks, snacks, alcohol and tobacco are more likely to change the lifestyle behaviour of vulnerable poorer consumers. At the same time, most of the tax revenues would come from higher income households. Poorer sections of society are disproportionately affected by non-communicable diseases (NCDs) linked to lifestyle, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, said the authors. NCDs were described as a “major cause and consequence” of poverty.

The findings, from a series of articles published in The Lancet medical journal, were reported shortly before a controversial sugar tax on soft drinks comes into force in the UK on Friday.

However the findings were strongly challenged by Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs. He said: “The claim that poor people disproportionately benefit from these taxes is absurd.

“Sugar taxes have not reduced obesity rates anywhere in the world and smoking is much more prevalent among the poor than among the rich, despite decades of high taxes on tobacco. There is precious little evidence that poor people benefit from being taxed. On the contrary, sin taxes drive them further into poverty.” Read More > at IEA

2018 will be the first year with no violent tornadoes in the United States – In the whirlwind that is 2018, there has been a notable lack of high-end twisters.

We’re now days away from this becoming the first year in the modern record with no violent tornadoes touching down in the United States. Violent tornadoes are the strongest on a 0 to 5 scale, or those ranked EF4 or EF5.

It was a quiet year for tornadoes overall, with below normal numbers most months. Unless you’re a storm chaser, this is not bad news. The low tornado count is undoubtedly a big part of the reason the 10 tornado deaths in 2018 are also vying to be a record low. Read More > in The Washington Post

A California Court Finds Social Media Posts Aren’t a First Amendment Right – Social media has created a slew of new issues in the courts and forced judges to ponder the legal import of postmodern concepts like Facebook friends and Instagram followers.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Packingham v. North Carolina that social media platforms are the new “public square,” and access to them is protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are no limitations on how social media can be used when an ex-convict is on probation. For example, a California state appeals court just found in AA v. The People that a “narrowly tailored” limit on social media use for a juvenile on probation—in this case for a felony offense—was legal for rehabilitation purposes and to protect a crime victim. (It is common for adults and juveniles serving probation for a felony offense to have many limitations imposed on their conduct and communications as part of the terms of conditional release.)

The decision is interesting not only because it shows just how deeply social-media use has penetrated the culture, but also the extent to which some believe they need to publicize their activities. Read More > in Quartz

Who Wins When Cash Is No Longer King? – Replacing checkout lanes with sensors and cash registers with swiveling iPads (frictionless shopping is the term of art here) makes for a novel shopping experience, one that Amazon hopes will help it gather shopper data to increase profits. Shoppers pay via the bank account attached to their Amazon profile, and each purchase is recorded and analyzed for insights into their behaviors and preferences. A sophisticated camera system—using the same technology that steers self-driving cars—monitors shoppers’ movements within the store. Even what they don’t do is recorded: For example, customers who pick up a carton of milk and then set it aside for a less expensive brand could have coupons sent to them.

Arguments against uploading the grocery store to the cloud include potential job losses for cashiers and baggers, but also cybersecurity and IT failures, particularly during disasters. Imagine dozens of shoppers running for sensors in the panicked hours ahead of tornadoes or winter storms. (Amazon has said its Go stores can handle an influx of shoppers, up to fire code.)

December report from the United Kingdom also raised the issue of surveillance and abuse. Couples with shared bank accounts can easily track each other’s purchases in a cashless economy, which could make it easier for abusers to harass their spouse.

Still, cashless is catching on. A second Amazon Go location in the Financial District, a few blocks west, opened this week. Walmart and Tesco are exploring similar cashless stores. The popular fast-casual restaurant Sweetgreen, the men’s retailer Bonobos, and the Drybar hair salon have all sworn off paper bills, advising employees to simply turn people away if they can’t pay digitally. Visa just awarded 50 small businesses, almost all of them fast-casual food spots,  $10,000 each for winning its “cashless challenge.” Read More > in The Atlantic 

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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