Sunday Reading – 01/27/19

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.

The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story – On Friday, January 18, a group of white teenage boys wearing MAGA hats mobbed an elderly Native American man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, chanting “Make America great again,” menacing him, and taunting him in racially motivated ways. It is the kind of thing that happens every day—possibly every hour—in Donald Trump’s America. But this time there was proof: a video. Was it problematic that it offered no evidence that these things had happened? No. What mattered was that it had happened, and that there was video to prove it. The fact of there being a video became stronger than the video itself.

The video shows a man playing a tribal drum standing directly in front of a boy with clear skin and lips reddened from the cold; the boy is wearing a MAGA hat, and he is smiling at the man in a way that is implacable and inscrutable. The boys around him are cutting up—dancing to the drumbeat, making faces at one another and at various iPhones, and eventually beginning to tire of whatever it is that’s going on. Soon enough, the whole of the video’s meaning seems to come down to the smiling boy and the drumming man. They are locked into something, but what is it?

…In the golden hour at the Lincoln Memorial, the lights illuminating the vault, Phillips stands framed against the light of the setting sun, wiping tears from his eyes as he describes what has happened—with the boys, with the country, with land itself. His voice soft, unsteady, he begins:

As I was singing, I heard them saying, ‘Build that wall, build that wall.’ This is indigenous land; we’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did … We never had a wall. We never had a prison. We always took care of our elders. We took care of our children … We taught them right from wrong. I wish I could see … the [young men] could put that energy into making this country really great … helping those that are hungry.

It was moving, and it was an explanation of the terrible thing that had just happened—“I heard them saying, ‘Build that wall.’ ” It was an ode to a nation’s lost soul. It was also the first in a series of interviews in which Phillips would prove himself adept—far more so than the news media—at incorporating any new information about what had actually happened into his version of events. His version was all-encompassing, and he was treated with such patronizing gentleness by the news media that he was never directly confronted with his conflicting accounts.

…Celebrities tweeted furiously, desperate to insert themselves into the situation in a flattering light. They adopted several approaches: old-guy concern about the state of our communities (“Where are their parents, where are their teachers, where are their pastors?”: Joe Scarborough); dramatic professions of personal anguish meant to recenter the locus of harm from Phillips to the tweeter (“This is Trump’s America. And it brought me to tears. What are we teaching our young people? Why is this ok? How is this ok? Please help me understand. Because right now I feel like my heart is living outside of my body”: Alyssa Milano); and the inevitable excesses of the temperamentally overexcited: (“#CovingtonCatholic high school seems like a hate factory to me”: Howard Dean).

…But the wild, uncontrollable internet kept pumping videos into the ether that allowed people to see for themselves what had happened.

The New York Times, sober guardian of the exact and the nonsensational, had cannonballed into the delicious story on Friday, titling its first piece “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March.”

…The full video reveals that there was indeed a Native American gathering at the Lincoln Memorial, that it took place shortly before the events of the viral video, and that during it the indigenous people had been the subject of a hideous tirade of racist insults and fantasies. But the white students weren’t the people hurling this garbage at them—the young “African American men preaching about the Bible and oppression” were doing it. For they were Black Hebrew Israelites, a tiny sect of people who believe they are the direct descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, and whose beliefs on a variety of social issues make Mike Pence look like Ram Dass.

The full video reveals that these kids had wandered into a Tom Wolfe novel and had no idea how to get out of it.

It seems that the Black Hebrew Israelites had come to the Lincoln Memorial with the express intention of verbally confronting the Native Americans, some of whom had already begun to gather as the video begins, many of them in Native dress. The Black Hebrew Israelites’ leader begins shouting at them: “Before you started worshipping totem poles, you was worshipping the true and living God. Before you became an idol worshipper, you was worshipping the true and living God. This is the reason why this land was taken away from you! Because you worship everything except the most high. You worship every creation except the Creator—and that’s what we are here to tell you to do.”

…It was heating up to be an intersectional showdown for the ages, with the Black Hebrew Israelites going head to head with the Native Americans. But when the Native woman talks about the importance of peace, the preacher finally locates a unifying theme, one more powerful than anything to be found in Proverbs, Isaiah, or Ecclesiastes.

He tells her there won’t be any food stamps coming to reservations or the projects because of the shutdown, and then gesturing to his left, he says, “It’s because of these … bastards over there, wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.”

The camera turns to capture five white teenage boys, one of whom is wearing a MAGA hat. They are standing at a respectful distance, with their hands in their pockets, listening to this exchange with expressions of curiosity. They are there to meet their bus home.

…I would not be surprised if more videos of this kind turn up, or if more troubling information about the school emerges, but it will by then be irrelevant, as the elite media have botched the story so completely that they have lost the authority to report on it. By Tuesday, The New York Times was busy absorbing the fact that Phillips was not, apparently, a Vietnam veteran, as it had originally reported, and it issued a correction saying that it had contacted the Pentagon for his military record, suggesting that it no longer trusts him as a source of reliable information.

How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press. Read More > in The Atlantic

Do Kids Need School? Inside the ‘Unschooling’ Movement – Anita Rios-Sherman has six children under the age of 18, and five of them are on the autism spectrum. When the local school system failed to meet the needs of her oldest son, Rios-Sherman decided to try a homeschooling curriculum. When one of her kids resisted, she took a more radical step: drop the curriculum altogether, and let her son decide what he wanted to spend his time learning. In her view, he benefited from a totally unstructured approach. Next, she tried the same method with her other children. It’s an education philosophy known as “unschooling.”

On a typical weekday, the Rios-Shermans might visit a local museum, go to the park, watch a documentary, play with each other at home, or surf the internet.

“Most days we just kind of finish up where we left up the day before on a project, or sometimes we’re just spontaneous,” says Rios-Sherman. “There are many things about the unschooling philosophy that work well for kids on the autism spectrum. A lot of it has to do with allowing them to explore their passions and them not having to earn that time.”

There are unschooling groups in every major American city, with some specially themed versions—even Pagan unschooling. The movement dates back to the 1970s and was shaped by the work of educator and author John Holt.

Holt argued that children are natural learners, who intuitively act as “scientists”, learning through the empirical processes of observation, experience, and trial-and-error. Rather than fostering that instinct, schools quash it with standardized curricula that discourage creative and independent thought. Holt ultimately concluded that any intervention, by either teachers or parents, to direct the education of a child is more likely to disrupt learning than to encourage it. Read  More > at Reason

L.A., San Francisco, and San Diego Among Top 50 Bed Bug Cities – It’s that time of year again, with pest control company Orkin releasing its annual list of the most bed bug-infested cities. This time, one major SoCal locale has made the top 5.

Los Angeles took the No. 4 spot on the list of cities teeming with these blood-sucking insects. It was trumped only by Baltimore, MD, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, IL.

Orkin releases the rankings every year based on its internal treatment data. New York, Cincinnati, Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia rounded out the top 10. But two other Golden State cities also landed in the top 50: San Francisco (#12) and San Diego (#8).

“Bed bugs are the number one urban pest in many cities today,” said Orkin entomologist Chelle Hartzer. “They are master hitchhikers, so no one is immune. Sanitation has nothing to do with prevention: from public transit to five-star resorts, bed bugs have been and can be found everywhere humans are.”

Gee, that’s comforting.

To learn more about America’s most bed bug-infested cities, click here. Read More > at California City News

The NFL’s Most Valuable Teams: The Yardage Gets Tougher On Prices – National Football League team values have plateaued.

On average, values increased 2% during the past year, to $2.57 billion. It was the smallest increase since 2011, when values increased an average of 1.4%. Adjusted-for-inflation values fell by 0.7% this year.

Main reason: the dearth of people who have the liquid wealth to buy 30% of an NFL team. When Jerry Richardson put the Carolina Panthers up for sale after last season, some pundits were predicting the team could go for $3 billion. Billionaire David Tepper got the team for $2.3 billion because he was the only person sitting at the table with enough cash to satisfy the league’s financing rules.

The NFL has the strictest ownership requirements among the four major U.S. leagues. In a team sale, the general partner must own at least 30%, and the maximum amount of debt at the team level is $350 million. If a team is sold for $2.3 billion, for example, the minimum equity by the GP would be $585 million, assuming the maximum amount of debt has been secured for the team by the GP.

In other words, it takes much more than being a member of the Forbes 400, where many fortunes have been made via real estate or privately run companies. It takes liquid wealth. Read more > at Forbes

Please Stop Buying Your Pets Grain-Free Food – As we increasingly think of our pets as family instead of property, we are spending more than ever on products for them—particularly ones we think might improve the quality (and duration) of their lives. We now have memory-foam dog beds and plastic nail caps for cats as an alternative to declawing. These shifting consumer demands have also led to some of the most significant changes in the pet-food industry in the past hundred years as previously unheard-of diets have come to dominate the space. Dog and cat foods that are vegan, vegetarian, organic, raw, ketogenic, all-natural, and (perhaps most significantly) grain-free are now exploding in popularity. The money consumers spend on them has similarly ballooned, from $16 billion in 2007 to more than $29 billion in 2017. Grain-free dog food alone, according to the New York Times, accounted for just 15 percent of pet food sold in specialty stores in 2011, but by 2017, that figure had climbed to 44 percent.

The prevalence of grain-free pet foods has been something of a head-scratcher for veterinarians, who largely see the movement as a solution in search of a problem. A 2016 statement from the Clinical Nutrition Center at Tufts University read, “There is no reliable evidence that suggests that it is harmful to feed grains as a group to dogs or cats,” advice that seems to have largely fallen on deaf ears. Through either an ill-defined sense of what constitutes “healthy,” or the false but prevalent belief that grain-free diets can correct for pets’ allergy-related health issues, owners are betting on grain-free diets at an accelerating pace. But food allergies are rare in cats and dogs to begin with. If they do exist, they’re generally caused by animal proteins like beef or chicken, rather than grain. In other words, unless you have specifically been told otherwise by your vet, there’s no real reason to give your pet grain-free food. Read More > from Slate

Venezuelan Crisis Boils Over as Opposition Leader Declares Himself President – When Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for his second term as Venezuela’s president earlier this month, the ceremony took place at the country’s Supreme Court—rather than, as is typical, in front of the National Assembly.

The change in venue was not merely an aesthetic choice.

Five days earlier, when the Assembly opened its new session, opposition leader Juan Guaidó stood in front of his colleagues and accused Maduro of being a “dictator” and “usurper” who had used a fraudulent election to claim another six-year term as the nation’s chief executive.

In the days since Maduro’s January 10 inauguration, things have moved quickly. The United States, Canada, and 17 Latin American countries signed a declaration refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s government. Some have cut off diplomatic ties with Venezuela. Those official actions have bolstered unofficial efforts to oppose Maduro in the streets of Caracas and other cities, where people impoverished by the Venezuelan regime’s socialist policies have clashed with the military, which (along with the courts) remains loyal to Maduro.

In the midst of huge protests Wednesday that marked the anniversary of the 1958 uprising that toppled a military dictatorship, Guaidó declared himself to be the interim president of Venezuela—a bold move that was quickly endorsed by President Donald Trump and other world leaders.

Clearly, a new phase in the long simmering Venezuelan crisis is beginning. Whether Maduro can cling to power likely depends on whether he can use the country’s military to crush the current uprising—similar to what happened in 2017 when an anti-Maduro uprising was violently suppressed. Hopefully, the military will abandon Maduro. If it does not, the country may tip towards civil war. Read More > at Reason

Boeing’s self-flying taxi completes its first flight – Multiple companies have outlined plans for flying taxis, but Boeing just took an important step toward making them a practical reality. The aircraft maker has completed the first test flight of its autonomous electric VTOL aircraft, verifying that the machine can take off, hover and land. It’s a modest start, to put it mildly — the taxi has yet to fly forward, let alone transition from vertical to forward flight modes. That still puts it ahead of competitors, though, and it’s no mean feat when the aircraft existed as little more than a concept roughly one year ago.

When finished, the vehicle will serve as an “urban air mobility” solution that shuttles passengers across town in situations where ground transportation would be slow or impractical, with a peak range of 50 miles. The electric powerplant isn’t just for the sake of environmental responsibility — it would ensure the aircraft is quiet enough to operate without irritating people below. There are plans for a cargo-oriented counterpart that could haul up to 500lbs of goods, and it’s poised to move from indoor to outdoor testing in 2019.

The greater challenge might be to find customers for these vehicles. Local governments have been receptive to tests, but they still have regulatory and practical hurdles to clear. Where do you place their landing pads? Where and when would these aircraft be allowed to fly? Companies have to develop flying taxis to answer at least some of these questions, though, and Boeing is at least inching forward on that front. Read More > at Engadget

LA teachers strike may be over, but in Sacramento, the debate has just begun – The Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles reached a deal Tuesday, ending nearly two years of deadlocked negotiations. The strike—the first in 30 years at the district—had impacted more than a half-million students and disrupted the city for more than a week.

The deal includes 6 percent teacher pay raises, as LAUSD had proposed, as well as nurses staffed at every campus, more counselors and librarians and lower class sizes, a key teacher demand.

Also included, however, are actions that will call on the state to address some of the strike’s more controversial flashpoints, from the growth of charter schools to California’s low rank compared with other states in public school funding.

…Both Caputo-Pearl and Beutner spoke of how the teacher strike heightened public awareness of the need to invest more in public education in California and beyond. Both leaders said the strike had been decades in the making and partly the result of the underfunding of public education by the state and federal government.

They, as well as Garcetti, also pointed to a 2020 ballot measure that would overhaul Proposition 13 and bring in between $6 billion and $10 billion for cities and schools as one of the next steps in securing more resources for public schools.

…Beutner said the district is spending “every nickel we have” toward the contract agreement. He added that the district still has “tremendous concerns over insolvency.”

In L.A. and across the state, many school districts have braced for budget deficits amid financial pressures over growing pension obligations, shrinking enrollments and growing populations of special needs students that cost more to teach. In the weeks leading up to the strike, the district increasingly sought to pressure Newsom and the Legislature to intervene in the Los Angeles impasse, believing that many of the core issues in the dispute can only be truly addressed at the state level. Read More > at CALmatters

Harley-Davidson Is in a Funk It May Never Recover From – Business cycles affect every business in different ways, and the motorcycle industry is no stranger to ups and down. But Harley-Davidson‘s (NYSE:HOG) recent drop in sales seems to be more than just the result of a business or economic cycle, because normal patterns would suggest that the company should be growing on the back of a strong economy and rising wages. Underneath the headlines, there may be a structural decline taking place at the motorcycle icon.

Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle sales are down dramatically in the U.S. over the last four years, and it’s having a hard time attracting new customers. Given changes in consumer behavior, there’s no reason to think a turnaround is near.

If declining sales of motorcycles were a one-time event, it wouldn’t be a big problem for Harley-Davidson. But at this point, we can say that sales are in a structural decline in the U.S. motorcycle market.

In the U.S., sales have plummeted since 2015 and were down 8.7% through the third quarter of 2018. Harley-Davidson has about a 50% market share in the U.S. and 10% in Europe, so the U.S. decline is especially noticeable.  Read More > at The Motley Fool

More Bad News for China – The Wall Street Journal (paywalled) reports that China’s economy is growing at its slowest rate since 1990 — and that those are the official figures, which, as the article notes, are viewed increasingly skeptically by economists. Of course, the official 6.6 percent growth rate would be the envy of all developed countries, but for China, it’s a continuation of a slowdown that underscores the major challenges facing the Chinese Communist Party and government in the next decade. As I argued in my book, The End of the Asian Century, decades of sweeping problems under the rug have caught up with China. From a labor shortage (thanks to the One Child Policy), which drives up labor costs, to malinvestment and crony capitalism, along with horrific environmental damage, China’s vaunted economic model was unsustainable in the long run. The extraordinary growth that China underwent from the 1980s onward was real, and yet in starting from such a low base, extraordinary growth was possible if even modest economic reforms were implemented.

Today, the reform program has all but stalled, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure will likely be known for its big promises and few accomplishments. That’s one reason why he has placed such a big emphasis on the Made in China 2025 program, to make China the world’s leader in high-tech development and manufacturing, and on the Belt and Road Initiative, to open up new markets. Yet, just like Japan in the 1980s, his grandiose plans are unlikely to achieve their aim. Not only is the Chinese economy still dependent on capturing (read: stealing) foreign intellectual property, the role of state-owned enterprises is growing in crucial sectors (even if absolute numbers have been reduced thanks to consolidation and privatization). Moreover, the lack of confidence in China’s future has spread downward from the elite (most of whom have foreign passports and send their money and children abroad) to middle-class Chinese, who are trying to protect their money by purchasing real estate abroad.

…On the other hand, a weakening China may well be a more dangerous one. One of the most disturbing aspects of China’s rise over the past two decades has been its increased suspiciousness of the world. Chinese believe that the world, which has done nothing but try to integrate their country into the global-trading and economic system, is now trying to contain China and weaken it. This leads to growing nationalism and assertive positions over Chinese interests. Xi Jinping’s rhetoric has grown more strident, threatening Taiwan and repeatedly ordering his military to prepare for war. A Chinese leadership that faces potential unrest at home over a darkening economic picture may use foreign adventurism to release domestic pressure. Similarly, Beijing may act preemptively to ensure that it grabs as much territory in the South China Sea, for example, as it can while it is still far stronger than its neighbors. As it sees its economic and potentially military strength wane, it might decide it can’t wait. Hence, all the talk about reunifying Taiwan with China. A weaker China could turn out to be the greater threat, ironically, than a confident, stronger one (as was Japan in the early-1940s). Read More > at National Review 

A Rising Threat to Pregnant Women: Syphilis – Syphilis continues to make a dismaying comeback in the United States.

Between 2012 and 2016, the rate of primary and secondary syphilis among women increased 111 percent. Over the same period, the rate of congenital syphilis increased by 87 percent.

The sexually transmitted disease is caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum. The bacterium also can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.

Up to 40 percent of infants with syphilis are stillborn. The rest appear normal at birth; if left untreated, however, they may develop a number of serious symptoms, from bone pain to deafness and blindness.

Infected babies are treated with penicillin. Infants who picked up the bacterium while passing through the birth canal generally fare better than those infected during pregnancy. Read More > in The New York Times

Washington Forced Segregation on the Nation – In 1940, the federal government required a Detroit builder to construct a six-foot-high, half-mile-long, north-south concrete wall. The express purpose was to separate an all-white housing development he was constructing from an African-American neighborhood to its east. The builder would be approved for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan guarantee he needed only if he complied with the government’s demand.

Today, most African Americans in every metropolitan area remain residentially concentrated or entirely separate. That fact underlies or exacerbates many of the nation’s most serious social and economic problems, from relatively low intergenerational mobility to the disproportionate prevalence of hostile encounters between police and disadvantaged black youths in neighborhoods without access to good jobs. The Detroit wall offers a striking illustration of an underappreciated truth about this shameful situation: Racial segregation in America was, to a large degree, engineered by policy makers in Washington.

Beginning in the 1930s, civil rights litigators won court victories that desegregated law and graduate schools, then colleges and, with 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, elementary and secondary schools. These legal victories helped to spur a civil rights movement that, in the 1960s, forced an end to racial segregation in public transportation, in public accommodations, in employment, and in voting.

Yet despite those victories, America has left untouched the biggest segregation of all: Progress in the desegregation of neighborhoods has been minimal.

Americans have rationalized our failure to achieve desegregated neighborhoods by adopting a national myth shared by the left and the right, by blacks and whites: that what we see around us is de facto, not legally enforced, segregation. It’s the result not of a government design to keep the races separated but rather of private prejudice, the personal preferences of both blacks and whites to live with same-race neighbors, and income differences that make integrated communities unaffordable to many African Americans.

This is a small part of the truth. In reality, explicit government policy in the mid-20th century—imposed in the name of promoting safety and social harmony—was the most powerful force separating the races in every metropolitan area, and the effects of that policy endure. Because racial segregation results from the open, racially explicit, purposeful action of federal, state, and local governments, our residential racial boundaries are unconstitutional; because they are unconstitutional, we have an obligation to ensure that our government remedies them; because we have forgotten the history of how residential segregation was created by government, we are handicapped in our ability to address it.

During the Depression, to provide lodging for lower-middle-class white families, the New Deal created America’s first civilian public housing. Some projects were built for black families as well, but these were almost always separate from the white projects. At the time, many urban areas were sites of considerable diversity, with black and white workers living within walking distance of downtown factories and other workplaces. Communities near train stations were often integrated, for example, because railroads would hire only African Americans as baggage handlers or Pullman car porters.

When Franklin Roosevelt became president, the nation was facing a desperate housing shortage. Many black and white working families lived in neighborhoods that, while integrated, could rightly be described as slums. To improve the quality of housing, as well as to provide jobs for construction workers, one of the first New Deal agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), demolished housing in many such integrated neighborhoods and built explicitly segregated housing instead. The policy created racial boundaries where they had not previously existed or reinforced them where they had taken root, giving segregation new government sanction. In Atlanta’s “Flats,” the government demolished a neighborhood that was about half white and half black to build a public housing project for whites only, with a separate project for African Americans farther away. In St. Louis’ DeSoto-Carr neighborhood, housing in a similarly mixed neighborhood was demolished to build a project for African Americans only, with a separate project for whites built in a different part of the city. Read More > at Reason

‘Goat Fund Me’ Campaign Wants to Raise Money for Firefighting Goats – California’s devastating wildfires are now simply a way of life for residents—and things will likely only get worse. Since the president’s solution for combating these climate change-fueled disasters is to threaten to cut FEMA funding for the state, local governments are taking matters into their own hands. The plan: Goat Fund Me.

The tactic of using herds of goats to clear the flammable dry brush in forest areas has become increasingly popular. Now, the town of Nevada City, California, wants to deploy its own goat army to clean up its surrounding areas as soon as possible. Authorities in Nevada City are attempting to quickly subsidize their preventative measures through the power of crowdfunding and catchy branding.

Goat Fund Me, a campaign launched by Nevada City Vice Mayor Reinette Senum, aims to raise $30,000 that will be used to bring in several large herds of hungry goats for the purpose of eating up the wild brush on city land. Though wildfires in California are becoming a year-round problem, the winter season remains the best time for Nevada City to prepare itself. “We can go out and pursue grants but that takes months, and we don’t have months,” Senum told Wired. Read More > at Gizmodo

1,500 private jets expected at Davos, despite global warming being a major concern – As the number of extremely wealthy people worldwide has grown, so too has the market for private flights.

Despite global warming being one of the major issues discussed at Davos every year, some 1,500 private jets are expected this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to an estimate from Air Charter Service, up from 1,300 last year. “We have had bookings from as far as our operations in Hong Kong, India and the U.S.,” Andy Christie, private jets director at ACS, said in a statement. “No other event has the same global appeal.”

“There appears to be a trend towards larger aircraft, with expensive heavy jets the aircraft of choice,” Christie said. “This is at least in part due to some of the long distances travelled, but also possibly due to business rivals not wanting to be seen to be outdone by one another.” Over the past five years, most private jets have come from or are going to Germany, France, U.K., U.S., Russia and United Arab Emirates, he added. Read More > at Market Watch

Is anything private in the digital age? – Most of us think we have control over our online privacy with the security settings of social platforms – and some less trusting people opt out of social media altogether.

But two new studies, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, show you can’t even have a contacts list or listen to music without revealing personal information to Big Brother.

In the first study, led by James Bagrow from the University of Vermont in Burlington, US, researchers used information theory to amalgamate data from over 30 million Twitter posts by nearly 14,000 users.

Results showed they can predict our activities and interests from just eight to nine of our contacts with 95% accuracy.

That means it’s not just our own online activity that is telling – the study found that posts written by our online friends can predict just as much about our behaviour.

“It shows that information about you is embedded in your interactions with friends,” explains co-author Lewis Mitchell from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“Just like if I overhear one side of a phone conversation it tells me something about the person on the other end of the line, so do your friends’ social media posts tell me something about you.

“And if you delete your account, it doesn’t necessarily help, because you can still in principle be profiled from the digital traces left by your interactions with friends.”

If a user avoids or leaves an online social network, a “shadow profile” can be created from information posted by social contacts. Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook collects information on people who are not users.

Other research has revealed that data derived from friends can be used to predict such private information as friendships, religion, whereabouts and sexual preferences, David Garcia writes in a related editorial. Read More > at Cosmos

Murders in Mexico rise by a third in 2018 to new record – Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

Investigators opened to 33,341 murder probes compared with the previous year’s record of 25,036, according to information from the Interior Ministry published on Sunday.

Mexico has struggled with years of violence as the government has battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious internecine fighting.

The complexity of fighting criminal groups is a major test for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who assumed office in December, vowing to try a different approach to his predecessor.

Former President Enrique Pena Nieto presided over a 40 percent rise in murder investigations across his six-year mandate from his first full year in office in 2013.

Of Mexico’s 32 regions, the central state of Guanajuato registered the highest number of murder probes opened in 2018, at 3,290, more than three times as many murder probes as the 1,084 investigations opened in 2017. Read More > in Reuters

All The Adults Involved Failed The Covington Catholic School Boys, And Should Be Ashamed – …No sooner had the boys gotten on their bus than they were thrown under it by their school and the Covington diocese, who issued a joint statement condemning the students’ actions and saying the matter was under investigation that appropriate action would be taken. Um, if the matter is under investigation, doesn’t that suggest it might be good to wait before condemning the behavior? Could it be that there’s more to the story than a short, viral video?

The school and the diocese owed these boys a full hearing before coming to any conclusion. They now owe them an apology.

And then there’s the media, which likes to look at itself as the arbiter of truth but too often shows itself to be the opposite: a mindless, blind, and lumbering monster that sustains itself on a diet of half-truths, innuendo, and lies. In a time when the technology at our fingertips should make it easier than ever to track down a story, that technology is instead used to rapidly spread a half-baked and incomplete version of events before all the details have come in. Read More > in the Federalist

Blood moons explained: Why the moon turns red during lunar eclipses – Several times per decade, the moon passes through Earth’s shadow and changes the color from white to “blood” red, but what causes it to change color during a total lunar eclipse?

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly through the Earth’s innermost shadow and can be seen for several hours across half the globe.

Although the moon is passing through the Earth’s shadow, it does not go dark. Instead, the moon appears a rusty orange or dark red.

This change in color can be traced back to the light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The red component of sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere is preferentially filtered and diverted into the Earth’s shadow where it illuminates the eclipsed moon, making it appear red or ‘blood’ color,” said Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University. Read More > at AccuWeather

Opinion: These 3 leading economic indicators show no recession is coming – The late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen once lyricized that “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” That’s sort of how we feel about financial markets right now. After a dismal stock-market performance in the fourth quarter of 2018, market participants were clearly panicked and seeing a “crack in everything.” However, we think that investors may see some light in 2019 as the U.S. economy avoids recession.

Importantly, while Citi’s economists believe that the U.S. economy will likely slow in 2019, perhaps to a pace of about 2% by year-end, they remain in the camp that sees this as a modest slowdown and not the start of a recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth).

There are obviously a lot of economic data points that one can point to, but we want to highlight three leading economic indicators that we think are important: the yield curve, jobless claims, and credit conditions for both commercial and industrial firms. Read More > at Market Watch

The high price we pay for low-rent housing -Cascade Village sounds like a mountain hamlet, but it’s the name of a somewhat shabby block of 74 low-rent apartments in the southern edge of Sacramento.

A few days ago, Sacramento city officials announced that they will float a $25 million bond and loan the proceeds to the 55-year-old complex’s owner, Bayside Communities of Walnut Creek, to finance a $28 million rehabilitation project.

“It’s very important we preserve our affordable housing stock, or we could lose it,” Christine Weichert, the assistant director of Sacramento’s Housing and Redevelopment Agency, told the Sacramento Bee.

Residents of Cascade Village, whose rent payments are subsidized by the federal government, will be moved into temporary quarters while their apartments, about 750 square feet each, are spiffed up with remodeled kitchens and bathrooms and new appliances, plus handicapped access.

That’s good news for them, certainly, but it raises a serious issue: Why is it costing so bloody much?

That $28 million works out to $378,000 per unit, which happens to be somewhat higher than the median price of a single-family home in the Sacramento area that would be much larger than a Cascade Village unit, plus have a garage and a yard.

To put that in another context, Sacramento’s $25 million bond would fully purchase homes for 100 families – a third more than the 74 families now living in Cascade Village. Read More > at CALmatters

J.C. Penney Struggles to Avoid Same Fate as Sears – J.C. Penney Co.’s sales are falling, its stores are stuck in malls and the turnaround strategy keeps changing. Now, three months after the embattled retailer hired a new chief executive, a handful of senior positions remain vacant.

The series of events are prompting analysts and other industry experts to question whether Penney can avoid the fate of fellow department-store operator Sears Holdings Corp., which filed for bankruptcy and barely staved off liquidation.

“Penney is a broken business,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. “They are looking at a very problematic 2019. It’s the mistakes of the past coming home to roost.”

The Plano, Texas-based chain was once the go-to apparel retailer for middle-class families. It and Sears had once dominated American retailing but lost their customers, first to discounters like Walmart , then to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains like T.J. Maxx. The shift to online shopping hastened their decline.

A strengthening economy brought Penney’s problems into sharper focus. It scaled back discounts and private brands, and focused on appliances at the expense of apparel. At a time when consumers have been spending, Penney posted a 3.5% decline in holiday sales and said it would close more stores, following a string of weak results. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

US Oil Boom Is Defying Expectations, Experts Say – The United States is expected to churn out far more oil in 2019 than what international analysts originally forecasted.

The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based organization that helps coordinate energy policies for industrial countries, released its latest oil market report Friday, noting exceptional numbers for the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

The agency reported U.S. oil production is expected to rise by 1.3 million barrels a day in 2019. While this number is lower than the record-smashing 2.1 million increase producers enjoyed in 2018, it’s more than double what the IEA initially expected to see in 2019.

The forecast illustrates the latest in the country’s shale oil boom, which has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years thanks to the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and an administration that has fostered a more conducive environment for fossil fuel development. Already, the U.S. is the largest international crude oil producer, with output expected to top 12 million barrels per day in 2019 and reach 12.9 million by 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest report. Read More > in The Tennessee Star 

More Airports May Ditch the TSA and Use Private Security Instead – Tens of thousands of travelers standing in interminable security lines this holiday weekend will, at least momentarily, entertain fantasies of revenge against the Transportation Security Administration. Airports could actually do something about the hated agency, and a few are weighing a radical option: firing TSA screeners and hiring private replacements.

The frustration over queue times—which have topped two and three hours at airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte and Denver—has prompted new attention by airport executives to the TSA’s little-known Screening Partnership Program , in which the federal agency solicits bids for a contractor to handle airport screening. The contractors must follow the same security protocols as federal officers, with similar wages and benefits.

…The power to replace TSA employees with private screeners dates to the birth of the agency in 2002, shortly after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Congress designated five airports at the time to offer screening by private firms as a way to compare the federal approach. Another 17 smaller airports have since joined the original five. The most recent to make the switch to private security screeners, Punta Gorda Airport in Florida, expects to finish the transition next week. San Francisco International is the largest U.S. airport with private screeners.

Now other large airports are researching private-sector alternatives. “I’ve talked to a number of airports and I know they’re inquiring and doing their homework,” said Ian Redhead, one of the original five with private screeners. “I don’t think it’s an idle threat. Airport directors don’t make idle threats like that because it really doesn’t accomplish anything.” Read More > at Skift

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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