Sunday Reading 07/21/19


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.

Dropping F-Bomb Increases Pain Tolerance By A Third, Study Finds – Can’t help but shout an expletive every time you stub your toe? Don’t feel too bad, you may actually be doing yourself a favor. A new study finds that swearing when injured has a measurable effect on pain tolerance. In fact, dropping the F-bomb specifically when in pain increases tolerance by up to 33%.

The study, led by a group of language and psychology experts in the United Kingdom, explored how effective established, new, and invented swear words can be in increasing pain tolerance and pain threshold.

Researchers still aren’t sure why real swear words affect pain tolerance, but they hypothesize that the deep emotional connection with swear words could be the reason why they help people tolerate pain.

The study was funded by the pain reliever Nurofen. Read More > at the Study Finds 

Proving Hitchcock Right, Bird Attacks Are Turning Violent This Summer – Many people who have long lived in harmony with the birds have noticed an uptick in their aerial assaults this season. Bird-on-human attacks are growing more common as people encroach on their habitats, says Lori Naumann, information officer at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

As red-winged blackbirds nest from April to the end of July, it is the males’ job to defend their mates and young. “It’s kind of like getting between a mama bear and her cub,” Ms. Naumann says.

To understand a belligerent blackbird, one must appreciate its point of view, says Kevin McGowan, a professor at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

The males become aggressive only during nesting season, and “they’re trying to be a protective parent,” says Dr. McGowan, who has experience getting strafed. “We can all respect it even if we don’t want them whacking us in the back of the head.”

One of the most abundant songbirds in North America, red-winged blackbirds can usually be found around wetlands, marshes and grassy fields. These habitats are shrinking, with 60,000 freshwater wetland acres lost annually, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

When regular habitats aren’t available, says Dr. McGowan, the birds will move closer to humans. They like to attack from behind and will probably stay away if you keep them in your line of sight, he says. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

There’s a 72 percent chance of a major Bay Area quake by 2043 – According to a USGS fact sheet first published in 2014 and then updated in 2016, there’s a “72 percent probability of one or more magnitude 6.7 earthquakes from 2014 to 2043 in the San Francisco Bay Region.”

Of the five major fault lines that lace the region, seismologists anticipate about a 33 percent chance that the Hayward Fault—which runs beneath Oakland—will go off during that period.

The nearby Calaveras Fault is the next most dangerous one, with a 26 percent chance. The San Andreas Fault sits at 22 percent, with the Concord Fault at 16 percent and the San Gregorio fault at six percent.

There’s also a roughly 13 percent chance of smaller and less noteworthy faults—including ones yet to be discovered—being the trigger.

But no matter which fault plays host to the next massive quake, it will spell trouble for the entire region: “Earthquakes this large are capable of causing widespread damage; therefore, communities in the region should take simple steps to help reduce injuries, damage, and disruption,” according to the report. Read More > at San Francisco Curbed

A look inside the black market for weed shows the huge threat to legal businesses – “The black market is a huge problem,” said Patricia Heer, an attorney and founder of Cannabis Law Digest. “In some states, it’s between 70% and 80% of sales.”

Many saw legalization of marijuana as a huge economic opportunity, but the reality is its potential isn’t fully realized. An underground economy is cutting into the profits of legal businesses. New Frontier Data, a Denver-based company that studies cannabis trends, estimates there are $70 billion in illegal sales nationally — seven times the size of the legal market. This means the legal market is “capturing only a fraction of total demand,” the company said in a summary of U.S. cannabis demand trends released this month.

In California, early projections anticipated annual cannabis tax receipts of more than $1 billion by 2018. But those predictions were far off, with $345 million actually collected last year, according to the state’s legislative analyst’s office and tax records. The black market is widely cited as a major reason for the lower numbers.

It’s not hard to see why.

A team of CNBC producers carrying hidden cameras visited 10 illegal cannabis dispensaries across LA. Some allow open consumption of weed. Others offer free cannabis for a positive review on Weedmaps, an online listing of legal and illegal cannabis businesses around the country. Others are open past 10 p.m. None of this is allowed under state regulations.

And despite a legal limit on the daily amount of cannabis stores are allowed to sell, there’s no limit in many of the illegal stores. Read More > at CNBC

Let’s Be Honest, Do You Really Need to Poop Every Day? Doctors Explain – Let’s talk about poop—seriously. The state of your bowel movements isn’t exactly a glamorous topic, but it’s one of the best ways to keep track of what’s going on inside your body.

That’s because your poop (stool, feces, whatever you prefer to call it, really) is literally the last stop in your gastrointestinal tract. It’s made of everything that’s left after your body absorbs nutrients from the foods you eat and liquids you drink.

Everyone has their own version of “normal” poop. Some people go a couple of times per day, while others get by fine with just one trip to the toilet. The colors and textures of your poop (yes, we are going there) can also point to different aspects of your health—from solid hydration to inflammation in your gut.

But what about the way you go No. 2? Is it bad to poop right after eating? Should you poop every day? And why is it that you always get constipated on vacation?

…There’s no rule that says you must go once a day. “On average, people go once or twice a day,” says Dr. Schnoll-Sussman. “But many people go way more.” And not pooping for a day, two, or even three can also be fine. In short, if you feel OK—no upset stomach, no trouble making it to the bathroom on time—then you probably don’t need to worry. Read More > at Yahoo! Lifestyle

33 California offices put data at risk, auditor finds – A lack of oversight and failure to adopt comprehensive security standards has placed sensitive data that 33 California state offices collect and maintain at risk, State Auditor Elaine Howle revealed Tuesday.

The audit found that state entities not required by law to report compliance with the California Department of Technology’s data privacy and information security policies — in other words, any body outside of the governor’s direct control, such as the state judiciary and other elected offices — are far more likely to have incomplete or nonexistent information security measures. As a result, Howle wrote, external oversight over the information security practices of these agencies is likely to improve their practices.

…The audit surprised some security professionals, such as Ben Sadeghipour, the head of hacker operations at bug bounty company HackerOne, who said California is usually a leader in IT security. The state passed a groundbreaking consumer data privacy act and an internet of things privacy law last year. California’s former chief information security officer, Peter Liebert, created a program last year designed to help state agencies under the purview of the state technology department assess their cybersecurity maturity for the purpose of illuminating to agency leaders where improvement is needed most.

“When you are a large government agency like the State of California dealing with the data of almost 40 million residents, it is absolutely critical to have consistency across information security policies, especially among the numerous government entities who are tasked with handling, storing and safeguarding personal data,” Sadeghipour told StateScoop in an emailed statement. Read More > at StateScoop

Americans still upbeat about the economy, consumer sentiment survey shows – A measure of consumer confidence rose slightly in July and clung near a 15-year peak even in the face of rising economic headwinds that are likely to spur the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates in a few weeks.

The consumer sentiment survey edged up to 98.4 this month from 98.2 in June, according to a preliminary reading from the University Michigan. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a reading of 99.0.

A gauge that measure what consumers think about their own financial situation and the current health of the economy slipped to 111.1 from 111.9.

Yet another measure that asks about expectations for the next six months advanced to 90.1 from 89.3.

Put another way, Americans are a bit less optimistic right now, but they expect the economy to improve slightly in the near future. The juxtaposition likely reflects a recent flareup in trade tensions with China and Mexico that have since died down.

One interesting note: Consumers see slightly lower inflation in the year ahead, but somewhat higher inflation further out. Read More > at MarketWatch

Can Learning a Foreign Language Prevent Dementia? – You may have heard that learning another language is one method for preventing or at least postponing the onset of dementia. Dementia refers to the loss of cognitive abilities, and one of its most common forms is Alzheimer’s disease. At this time, the causes of the disease are not well understood, and consequently, there are no proven steps that people can take to prevent it. Nonetheless, some researchers have suggested that learning a foreign language might help delay the onset of dementia.

To explore this possibility more deeply, let’s look at some of the common misconceptions about dementia and the aging brain. First of all, dementia is not an inevitable part of the normal aging process. Most older adults do not develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. It is also important to remember that dementia is not the same thing as normal forgetfulness. At any age, we might experience difficulty finding the exact word we want or have trouble remembering the name of the person we just met. People with dementia have more serious problems, like feeling confused or getting lost in a familiar place. Think of it this way: If you forget where you parked your car at the mall, that’s normal; if you forget how to drive a car, that may be a signal that something more serious is going on.

The idea that dementia can be prevented is based on the comparison of the brain to a muscle. When people talk about the brain, they sometimes say things like “It is important to exercise your brain” or “To stay mentally fit, you have to give your brain a workout.” Although these are colorful analogies, in reality the brain is not a muscle. Unlike muscles, the brain is always active and works even during periods of rest and sleep. In addition, although some muscle cells have a lifespan of only a few days, brain cells last a lifetime. Not only that, but it has been shown that new brain cells are being created throughout one’s lifespan.

A separate study, conducted in India, found strikingly similar results: bilingual patients developed symptoms of dementia 4.5 years later than monolinguals, even after other potential factors, such as gender and occupation, were controlled for. In addition, researchers have reported other positive effects of bilingualism for cognitive abilities in later life, even when the person acquired the language in adulthood. Crucially, Bialystok suggested that the positive benefits of being bilingual only really accrued to those who used both languages all the time.

But as encouraging as these kinds of studies are, they still have not established exactly how or why differences between bilinguals and monolinguals exist. Because these studies looked back at the histories of people who were already bilingual, the results can only say that a difference between the two groups was found, but not why that difference occurred. Further research is needed to determine what caused the differences in age of onset between the two groups. Read More > at MIT Press

Nutrition Science Is Broken. This New Egg Study Shows Why. – IT’S BEEN A TORTUOUS PATH FOR THE HUMBLE EGG. For much of our history, it was a staple of the American breakfast — as in, bacon and eggs. Then, starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it began to be disparaged as a dangerous source of artery-clogging cholesterol, a probable culprit behind Americans’ exceptionally high rates of heart attack and stroke. Then, in the past few years, the chicken egg was redeemed and once again touted as an excellent source of protein, unique antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, and many vitamins and minerals, including riboflavin and selenium, all in a fairly low-calorie package.

This March, a study published in JAMA put the egg back on the hot seat. It found that the amount of cholesterol in a bit less than two large eggs a day was associated with an increase in a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and death by 17 percent and 18 percent, respectively. The risks grow with every additional half egg. It was a really large study, too — with nearly 30,000 participants — which suggests it should be fairly reliable.

So which is it? Is the egg good or bad? And, while we are on the subject, when so much of what we are told about diet, health, and weight loss is inconsistent and contradictory, can we believe any of it?

Quite frankly, probably not. Nutrition research tends to be unreliable because nearly all of it is based on observational studies, which are imprecise, have no controls, and don’t follow an experimental method. As nutrition-research critics Edward Archer and Carl Lavie have put it, “’Nutrition’ is now a degenerating research paradigm in which scientifically illiterate methods, meaningless data, and consensus-driven censorship dominate the empirical landscape.”

Other nutrition research critics, such as John Ioannidis of Stanford University, have been similarly scathing in their commentary. They point out that observational nutrition studies are essentially just surveys: Researchers ask a group of study participants — a cohort — what they eat and how often, then they track the cohort over time to see what, if any, health conditions the study participants develop. Read More > at Undark

The Future of the City Is Childless – In high-density cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., no group is growing faster than rich college-educated whites without children, according to Census analysis by the economist Jed Kolko. By contrast, families with children older than 6 are in outright decline in these places. In the biggest picture, it turns out that America’s urban rebirth is missing a key element: births.

Cities were once a place for families of all classes. The “basic custom” of the American city, wrote the urbanist Sam Bass Warner, was a “commitment to familialism.” Today’s cities, however, are decidedly not for children, or for families who want children. As the sociologists Richard Lloyd and Terry Nichols Clark put it, they are “entertainment machines” for the young, rich, and mostly childless. And this development has crucial implications—not only for the future of American cities, but also for the future of the U.S. economy and American politics.

The counties that make up Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia shed a combined 2 million domestic residents from 2010 to 2018. For many years, these cities’ main source of population growth hasn’t been babies or even college graduates; it’s been immigrants…

Cities have effectively traded away their children, swapping capital for kids. College graduates descend into cities, inhale fast-casual meals, emit the fumes of overwork, get washed, and bounce to smaller cities or the suburbs by the time their kids are old enough to spell. It’s a coast-to-coast trend: In Washington, D.C., the overall population has grown more than 20 percent this century, but the number of children under the age of 18 has declined. Meanwhile, San Francisco has the lowest share of children of any of the largest 100 cities in the U.S.

The modern American city is not a microcosm of life but a microslice of it. It’s becoming an Epcot theme park for childless affluence, where the rich can act like kids without having to actually see any.

…But the economic consequences of the childless city go deeper. For example, the high cost of urban living may be discouraging some couples from having as many children as they’d prefer. That would mean American cities aren’t just expelling school-age children; they’re actively discouraging them from being born in the first place. In 2018, the U.S. fertility rate fell to its all-time low. Without sustained immigration, the U.S. could shrink for the first time since World World I. Underpopulation would be a profound economic problem—it’s associated with less dynamism and less productivity—and a fiscal catastrophe. The erosion of the working population would threaten one great reward of liberal societies, which is a tax-funded welfare and eldercare state to protect individuals from illness, age, and bad luck. Read More > in The Atlantic

The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Was A Triumph Of American Exceptionalism – Like many of the most inspiring adventures in history, the American moon landing is a comeback story. The United States began the space race trailing the Soviet Union. In 1957, the U.S.S.R. stunned the world when they successfully launched the Sputnik satellite into orbit. The first man in space was not an American but Soviet Yuri Gagarin.

Those involved in the first days of NASA were flabbergasted at the early Soviet success. Space correspondent Jay Barbree recalls the sentiment of the time: “These people couldn’t build a refrigerator…how can they get into orbit?”

Rather than looking at the initial score in the space race and giving up, Americans saw the deficit they had to overcome and were emboldened. The Soviets touched a nerve. Unknowingly, they reinvigorated the determined, persevering, and rugged streak embodied in the very nature of the United States. In the drive to remain the preeminent leader in science and engineering, the NASA missions tapped into something deep within the American character.

The space program that led to men landing on the surface of the moon is part of the grand narrative of Americans braving forth and conquering the unknown. The Apollo program and the Mercury and Gemini missions that preceded them were victories of innovation, adaptation, and a hungry (and distinctively American) competitive instinct. Although there were certainly some non-American-born engineers and scientists working for NASA in the 1960s, the entire endeavor was fundamentally American in its ethos. Read More > at The Federalist

Manholes in Berkeley will now be called ‘maintenance holes’ – At a Tuesday night city council meeting, Berkeley became the first city in America to ban the use of natural gas piping in new construction. But that was not the only utility-related issue they saw fit to attend to. No, there was another matter on deck: Eliminating the gendered connotations of words like “manhole” in the city municipal code.

No longer will the streets of fair Berkeley be dotted with manholes, nary a womanhole or nonbinaryhole in sight. With Tuesday night’s vote, they have all been transmuted into “maintenance holes,” that highest, hardest glass manhole-cover finally shattered.

The item, originally on the council agenda for March 12, was sponsored by councilmembers Rigel Robinson, Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett and Lori Droste, reports Berkeleyside. The ordinance eliminates all gendered pronouns from the city code, replacing “she” and “he” with “they.” Read More > from SFGate

Trump administration says it’s moving Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado to cut costs and improve decisions – The Trump administration said Tuesday that it can save taxpayers millions of dollars, make better decisions and trim a “top heavy” office in Washington by moving the headquarters of the nation’s biggest land agency to Colorado and dispersing scores of jobs across 11 states in the U.S. West.

Interior Department officials said they hope to open the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters in the western Colorado town of Grand Junction and complete most of the job shifts by September 2020.

Moving the bureau, which is part of the Interior Department, out of Washington is a long-cherished goal of Western state politicians who cite the preponderance of public lands in their part of the country.

The bureau oversees nearly 388,000 square miles of public land — 99% of it in 12 Western states… Read More > at MarketWatch

Unauthorized immigrants face public backlash in Mexico, survey finds – Mexicans are deeply frustrated with immigrants after a year of heightened migration from Central America through the country, according to a survey conducted by The Washington Post and Mexico’s Reforma newspaper.

More than 6 in 10 Mexicans say migrants are a burden on their country because they take jobs and benefits that should belong to Mexicans. A 55 percent majority supports deporting migrants who travel through Mexico to reach the United States.

Those findings defy the perception that Mexico — a country that has sent millions of its own migrants to the United States, sending billions of dollars in remittances — is sympathetic to the surge of Central Americans. Instead, the data suggests Mexicans have turned against the migrants transiting through their own country, expressing antipathy that would be familiar to many supporters of President Trump north of the border. Read More > in The Washington Post

Senator pledges to ‘break up the higher education monopoly’ with new laws – Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, “is introducing two pieces of legislation this week that will expand federal aid for people pursuing vocational education and will put higher education institutions on the hook for students unable to repay student loans,” his office stated in a press release.

“[W]e have a system that preferences students who want to attend a four-year college over Americans who want to learn a skill,” Hawley stated, claiming that the current system “protects higher education institutions that have been padding their endowments with taxpayer money while they raise tuition.”

Hawley’s two proposed bills would address these purported defects. One would “make more job-training and certification programs, like employer-based apprenticeships and digital boot camps, eligible to receive Pell Grants through an alternative accreditation process.” This policy would “reduce reliance on debt and maximize opportunities for students to pursue their dreams.”

The second, more significant bill would force colleges to foot the bill for students who default on their loans: Read More > at The College Fix

New clues on why women’s Alzheimer’s risk differs from men’s – New research gives some biological clues to why women may be more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s disease and how this most common form of dementia varies by sex.

At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, scientists offered evidence that the disease may spread differently in the brains of women than in men. Other researchers showed that several newly identified genes seem related to the disease risk by sex.

Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases in the U.S. are in women and “it’s not just because we live longer,” said Maria Carrillo, the association’s chief science officer. There’s also “a biological underpinning” for sex differences in the disease, she said.

Some previous studies suggest that women at any age are more likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s. Scientists also know that a gene called APOE-4 seems to raise risk more for women than for men in certain age groups.

At the same time, women with the disease in its early stages may go undiagnosed because they tend to do better on verbal tests than men, which masks Alzheimer’s damage.

The new studies add more evidence and potential explanations for suspected variations between how men and women develop the disease. Read More > from the Associated Press

Costly Electric Vehicles Kill Economic Growth and Won’t Save the Planet – In an era when electric vehicles (EVs) are shaking up the auto industry, who knew that the plain old gasoline car could still be appealing?

And yet, gasoline cars have turned out to be a surprising bright spot in the auto industry’s universe of late. Evidence of that came in a recent analysis of vehicle sales in 2018. In the U.S., combustion vehicles accounted for 97.02% of total vehicle sales of 17.3 million. Although sales of electric vehicles (EVs) reached 361,307, an increase of 80% over 2017, EVs accounted for only 2.08% of all cars sold in this country last year – and that’s even with a tax credit of up to $7,500 for EVs.

Producing EVs with a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline cars is the easy part. Getting people to buy them is the hard part. Despite 10 years of tax-credit subsidies, EVs aren’t exactly achieving the sort of pace needed to replace gasoline cars anytime soon. John Heywood, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, predicts that at mid-century, 60% of light-duty vehicles will still have combustion engines.

The reason? Using batteries as the primary source of a vehicle’s power supply remains far too expensive, especially for middle- and lower-income Americans.

Yet a coalition of automakers, environmental organizations and electric vehicle suppliers has launched a campaign to save the tax credit. But extending the tax credit would be a mistake. It would be bad news for taxpayers, shackling our economy with huge, growth-killing costs. Ending the tax credit, on the other hand,would save taxpayers about $20 billion over the next decade, according to the Manhattan Institute.

Because of battery limitations, most EVs are small to medium-sized sedans. But consumers want bigger cars. As recently as 2014, sedans accounted for a majority of personal vehicle sales. Today, with consumers buying more SUVs and pickups, sedans account for far fewer auto sales. Relatively inexpensive gasoline, along with the perceived safety of larger and heavier vehicles, is helping spur the move to larger vehicles that are likely to remain well ahead of EVs for the foreseeable future. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

Age of Amnesia – A healthy appreciation for the past is being lost. Today, historical analysis is increasingly shaped by concerns over race, gender, and class. There are repeated campaigns, particularly in and around schools, to pull down offensive statues and murals—including of George Washington—and to rename landmarks to cleanse Western history of its historical blights.

It is not surprising to find that a worrying number of  students possess remarkably little knowledge of history or of how civilization developed. The number of history degrees being awarded is down 33 percent this decade to the lowest on record, and history departments, like the even smaller classics departments, are increasingly run by progressive critics with little conservative or liberal input. University summer reading lists largely ignore the great texts of Homer, Confucius, Shakespeare, Milton, de Tocqueville, Marx, or Engels. Professors have faced criticism for assigning too many books written by dead white males who, as a group, are linked to such horrors as slavery, the subjugation of women, and mass poverty. Books written before 1990, suggests the Guardian’s Ashley Thorne, represent “a historical cliff beyond which it is rumored some books were once written, though no one is quite sure what.”

These trends are combining to produce what the late Jane Jacobs called a “mass amnesia,” cutting Western societies off from knowledge of their own culture and history. Europe, the primary source of Western civilization, now faces a campaign, in both academia and elite media, to replace its art, literature, and religious traditions with what one author describes as “a multicultural and post racial republic” supportive of separate identities. “The European ‘we’ does not exist,” suggests French philosopher Pierre Manent. “…  European culture is in hiding, disappearing, without a soul.”….

Intellectual intolerance thrives when the heritage of the past—with its mixed and inconvenient lessons—is sent down the memory hole. In feudal times, classical heritage was replaced by rigid religious dogma. Today’s clerisy uses the education system, the media, and the means of cultural production to impose its standards of “privilege” and value, and to decide who deserves special dispensations.

Throughout history, those who assume an absolute superiority of belief rarely demonstrate a natural inclination to skepticism or doubt. Education and culture are not prerequisites for enlightenment; academicians, entertainers, and scientists thrived in the Soviet Union, and in Nazi Germany, they served as a “stronghold” of the party and, later the regime.Academics, artists and journalists can prove to be the most vociferous conformists and enforcers of orthodoxy. Read More > at Quillette

California readies $1.6B high-speed rail design contract – California officials on Tuesday moved toward awarding a $1.65 billion contract to design and construct the tracks and system for the first segment of its beleaguered high-speed rail project.

The action taken by the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors was a first step in moving ahead with a contract they hope to award by next summer. It’s part of the authorities plan to get track up and running in the state’s Central Valley ahead of a 2022 deadline to meet the requirements of federal grants the Trump administration is now trying to take back.

U.S. and international businesses can apply for the contract, and whoever wins it would be responsible for designing and building rail infrastructure along 119 miles (192 kilometers) in the Central Valley as well as maintaining it for a period that could be as long as 30 years. A U.S. subsidiary of German rail giant Deutsche Bahn AG has already been awarded a $30 million contract for early operation of the trains.

The $1.65 billion is just a sliver of the $79 billion it’s estimated to cost to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Read More > from the Associated Press

Wave of Hispanic Buyers Shores Up U.S. Housing Market – The homeownership rate for Hispanics has increased more during the past several years than any race or ethnic group, including whites. The rate, which hit a 50-year low in 2015, has risen 3.3 percentage points since then, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The overall U.S. homeownership rate bottomed in the second quarter of 2016 and has grown 1.3 percentage points since then. For blacks, the homeownership rate has fallen to its lowest level on record in the first quarter of this year. This marks the first time in more than two decades that Hispanics and blacks, the two largest racial or ethnic minorities in the U.S., are no longer following the same path when it comes to owning homes.

Minorities bore the brunt of the 2008 housing bust and their return to homeownership has been mixed. Now, a growing population of young Latinos increasingly eager to buy homes offers fresh hope to a slowing housing market, where sales of existing homes have fallen on an annual basis for the past year. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

California Can’t Afford To Be An Economic One-Trick Pony – For the past decade, the soaring stock prices and nosebleed valuations of Silicon Valley’s IPOs and unicorns has been a boon for California, helping create a record budget surplus of almost $22 billion.

High income jobs are particularly skewed. Over the past decade higher wage business and technical services jobs in the Bay Area increased by 34%, while the state overall saw an increase of 19% in those jobs.

When the stock market is booming and technology company valuations are soaring (like today), the Bay Area (defined as the 9 counties around San Francisco and Silicon Valley) contribute as much as 40% of the total income tax revenues of the state. California’s income taxes are the nation’s highest and account the largest part of the budget; half comes from those making over $500,000 annually, much of it from capital gains. In 2016, according to the Franchise Tax Board, the Bay Area contributed 38% of the $63.7 billion total income tax base, almost twice its share of overall population.

But if the stock market drops for tech issues, as occurred between 2000 and 2002, the Bay Area’s contribution to state coffers drops, down more than $9 billion a year in that period. This constituted 75% of the loss in state revenue; the region’s share of total state taxes dropped to 31% in 2002 from 44% in 2000.

The implication is clear. And a serious tech stock market decline is not inconceivable. Some mega money losing IPOs have proved wobbly and tech firms face growing threats in terms of regulation and slowing sales. Looking at previous tech-driven declines, the state could lose as much as $12 to $15 billion a year in the next tech recession, wiping out two-thirds of the state’s 2019 surplus. Since other areas of the state would be likely to suffer in a tech pullback as well, the overall impact could move California from a surplus to a deficit very quickly.

The employment story parallels the budget impact. Overall California has seen below average job growth in the past 10 years. The state’s 12% increase in jobs was driven largely by an almost 20% growth in the Bay Area while the rest of the state’s lower growth was only 9%.

So, what happens if Silicon Valley companies see a serious dip in stock market value? In the tech wreck of 2000, we saw the net destruction of 174,101 jobs in the state of California from 2001 to 2003. Overall, the state saw a 1.2% decline in its jobs base while business and professional services jobs dropped 6.1% drop in the state’s base and 16.2% in the Bay Area.

When Gov. Newsom describes California as “the envy of the world” he can rest assured that every region would like more of Silicon Valley’s billions. Yet he would be less correct in talking about the rest of the economy, such as manufacturing, which has underperformed both the nation, and well behind such competitors as Nevada and Arizona.

The state’s other big blue-collar industry — construction — remains below past peaks and now faces a weaker housing market. Despite all the bloviating from Sacramento, housing construction has been slowing; California’s rate of new housing permits has fallen behind the national average, making construction workers’ economic prospects even dimmer. Moves to gut the remnants of the fossil fuel industry, a high wage, heavily unionized employer could leave many workers facing the prospect of unemployment. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

She says she married a pirate’s ghost — and she wants you to stop calling her crazy – Amanda Large Teague was meditating the first time she says she met the ghost of a 300-year-old Haitian pirate. She thought he was rude to interrupt her solitude, so she told him to leave. Then he showed up again.

The third time he visited, Teague, of Belfast, said she decided to talk with him.

After she communicated with the ghost for several months, Teague said, she became convinced he was Jack Teague, who she later claimed had inspired the character of Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. (Experts challenge these assertions.)

Teague’s beliefs, which fall under the umbrella of New Age spirituality, test the boundaries of what types of faith people in Western cultures are willing to accept. Though experts say Teague’s story is an outlier and not representative of most New Age spirituality, the range of beliefs — which includes reincarnation and astrology — is more common among Americans than it may seem…

Teague now identifies generally as pagan, although she still feels drawn to some elements of Wicca. She said she and Jack had a two-part wedding: the ceremony performed by self-described Celtic shaman Patrick Eamon Carberry, who she said was a legal wedding officiant in Northern Ireland, and a pagan ceremony that drew from Wiccan tradition several months later.

Wicca has exploded in popularity in the United States in recent decades. Surveys by Trinity College in Connecticut found 340,000 people identified as Wiccan in 2008, compared with 8,000 people in 1990, Quartz reported. Although the Pew Research Center estimates Wiccans and pagans make up just 0.3 percentof the country, 60 percent of U.S. adults — including people who practice traditional faiths and those who are religiously unaffiliated — accept at least one belief that would be considered New Age.

In New Age spiritualities, communicating with people who have died is common. Pegi Eyers, author of “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community,” told The Post that New Age practitioners frequently consider themselves to have relationships with spirits. Teague’s situation, though, is less common. Eyers said she could not be sure whether Teague genuinely believed she had married the ghost of a Haitian pirate. Read More > in The Washington Post

Scientists close in on blood test for Alzheimer’s – Scientists are closing in on a long-sought goal — a blood test to screen people for possible signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

On Monday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, half a dozen research groups gave new results on various experimental tests, including one that seems 88% accurate at indicating Alzheimer’s risk.

Doctors are hoping for something to use during routine exams, where most dementia symptoms are evaluated, to gauge who needs more extensive testing. Current tools such as brain scans and spinal fluid tests are too expensive or impractical for regular checkups.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form. There is no cure; current medicines just temporarily ease symptoms. Dozens of hoped-for treatments have failed. Doctors think studies may have enrolled people after too much brain damage had occurred and included too many people with problems other than Alzheimer’s.

A blood test — rather than subjective estimates of thinking skills — could get the right people into studies sooner. Read More > at Stat News

Dark Days Ahead? – As power outages go, the Broadway Blackout of 2019 was pretty modest. About 73,000 customers lost power in parts of Manhattan’s Midtown and Upper West Side neighborhoods for several hours just as evening fell on the city’s central entertainment district. Some people were briefly trapped in trains and elevators, but the lights were back on by midnight. In the meantime, cast members of suddenly cancelled Broadway shows took to the sidewalks to sing a few numbers. Patrons at bars continued to drink by the light of their phones. One couple even said their wedding vows by candlelight.

In all, it was a happy contrast to the devastating blackout of 1977, which triggered two days of mayhem (“even the looters were getting mugged,” noted the New York Post). But the temporary inconvenience was not something to take lightly. Blackouts like this are warning signs of underlying rot in our electrical grid. And they may well get worse before they get better. New York governor Andrew Cuomo, stepping in for New York City’s habitually AWOL mayor, Bill de Blasio, called the outage “unacceptable.” Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas noted that New York wants “to be the center of the universe, but we cannot even keep the lights on for a Saturday evening.” Under the green-energy policies being implemented in New York and elsewhere, such blackouts could become more commonplace in the future.

An investigation is ongoing, but the problem may have started with a transformer fire on 64th Street. Transformers are critical components of the power grid: electricity travels from power plants through high-voltage power lines; transformers then step that power down to the lower voltages our homes and offices run on. Transformers are designed to shut down when they get too hot or overloaded, but every so often, one suddenly explodes instead. And, since transformers typically contain a few gallons of mineral oil (which serves as a coolant), the failed transformer can go up in a fireball.

It happens more often than you might think. Transformer explosions have rocked New York City multiple times in recent years, including a cascading series of failures in 2006 that knocked out power to parts of Queens for more than a week. And transformers are just one of many vulnerable components in our aging electric grid. In 2015, the Department of Energy calculated that 70 percent of the transformers in the U.S. are at least 25 years old. The majority of the grid’s circuit breakers and transmission lines are also well past their prime. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. energy infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in its most recent Infrastructure Report Card. “Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy,” the group noted. Read More > at City Journal

Letting Homeless Students Sleep on Campus—In Their Cars – Homeless community college students would be able to sleep in their cars on campus under a proposed bill making its way through the California State Legislature.

The bill, which passed the state Assembly 60-8 in May, requires any community college with parking facilities on campus to provide overnight access to enrolled students in good standing who are taking at least six units per semester.

The measure is not intended as a long-term solution for homelessness among students in California, according to Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Democrat and the bill’s main sponsor. But with the problem of students without shelter at a “crisis point”—19 percent of community college students in California experienced homelessness in the previous year, according to a March report—it’s a move that could help, he said.

The measure has broad support in the legislature but has faced opposition from a handful of education organizations, including the Community College League of California and the Association of California Community College Administrators. The bill, opponents said, is too broad for a school system as diverse as California’s, where campuses differ greatly in their size and the resources they can provide students.

Lawmakers in the state Senate amended the bill to address some of those concerns, including a sunset date at the end of 2022 and exempting community colleges that enact other programs to address student homelessness, including emergency housing grants, hotel vouchers and rapid rehousing referral services. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and goes next to the appropriations committee. If passed, community colleges would have to implement the overnight parking requirements by April 1, 2020. Read More > at Route Fifty

No ‘Bee-Apocalypse,’ Thanks to Free Markets – Warnings of an impending “bee apocalypse” became widespread in 2006, after some commercial beekeepers reported the mass disappearance of worker honeybees from a substantial proportion of their hives, leaving behind larva, young bees, queen bees, and supplies of honey. That winter, between 651,000 and 875,000 of the nation’s estimated 2.4 million commercial colonies were lost to the phenomenon, dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Similar mass colony losses have been documented 23 times since 1868. The current outbreak is associated with infestations of invasive varroa mites; with new diseases, including Israeli acute paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema; with exposures to some pesticides applied to crops or used to control in-hive parasites; and with poor nutrition stemming from inadequate forage.

Commercial beekeepers across the United States lost 40.7 percent of their honeybee colonies from April 2018 to April 2019, according to the latest annual survey conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland. That loss is a slight increase over the annual average of 38.7 percent, which is roughly double the normal rates prior to the appearance of CCD…

“Thanks to a robust market for pollination services, [commercial beekeepers] have addressed the increasing mortality rates by rapidly rebuilding their hives, and they have done so with virtually no economic effects passed on to consumers,” explained Regan. “It’s a remarkable story of adaptation and resilience, and the media has almost entirely ignored it.”

new study in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists confirms that beekeepers have readily adapted to the challenges posed by CCD. Among other things, they find that “the CCD-induced increase in pollination fees increased the retail price of a $7-per-pound can of Smokehouse Almonds by approximately 1.2% or 8.4¢.” Read More > at Reason

Crime continues to drop in California. Here are the numbers for your county – Most violent and property crimes fell last year, continuing an ongoing decline in California, according to statistics released this month by the state Attorney General. The trend toward a less violent society is not consistent across every region, but overall — and with a few exceptions — people are committing fewer crimes per capita today than a decade ago.

It’s true for nearly every crime category tracked by the California Department of Justice. The rate of rape cases has risen dramatically, however, in large part because law enforcement officials broadened the definition of the crime in 2013 and, experts say, people now are more likely to report their attack to law enforcement than in previous decades.

The dramatic drop in violent crime since a peak in the early 1990s has been the subject of intense study, but few criminologists and statisticians are willing to pinpoint a single cause. (Although eliminating leaded gasoline has some scientists intrigued.) More likely, a confluence of factors comes into play.

Looking back over decades, there are few clear and comprehensive answers as to why crime has dropped so much, said Magnus Lofstrom, a corrections expert and policy director at Public Policy Institute of California. One is definitely demographic: We’re an older society today than we were before, he said. Other factors could include the ebb and flow of drug markets, changes in policing and incarceration policies and sentencing rules. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

California Ranks as One of Worst States to Retire – California ranks 43rd overall in a new national Bankrate.com report that ranks the best states in which to retire. The Golden State needs to polish up a few areas including affordability, where it ranked No. 49 and crime, No. 34, though it ranks among the top 20 for culture, weather and wellness.

Nebraska topped the rankings, followed by Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota and Florida.

Maryland was the worst state for retirement and New York was the second worst, mainly because it comes in last in affordability – the study’s most important metric.

The study examined 11 public and private datasets related to the life of a retiree, comprised into five categories (weightings in parentheses): affordability (40%), wellness (25%), weather (15%), culture (15%) and crime (5%). Read More > at Connect

No Place For Old Men: Middle-Income Seniors Facing A Shortage Of Housing Options – There will be 14.4 million middle-income seniors by 2029, and 56% of them will not be able to afford private-pay senior housing at today’s market rates, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. How is the senior housing industry going to deal with that?

“Today’s housing stock simply cannot accommodate the influx of middle-income seniors projected to need seniors housing and care within 10 years,” NIC Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace said. “Making seniors housing accessible to more middle-income seniors in the next decade requires innovation by real estate developers and investors to create and deliver affordable options.”

The NIC report defines middle market seniors as those who are 75 and older with annual financial resources of roughly $25K to $95K. They are unlikely to qualify for Medicaid but may not be able to afford private senior housing, either assisted or independent living.

Rick Lynn, recently appointed senior vice president in Bellwether Enterprise’s Chicago office to lead its new seniors housing group, said demand for affordable housing options for seniors is only continuing to grow as baby boomers retire, but funding to build housing isn’t.

“Some programs exist at the state and federal levels to help finance homes for seniors, but there aren’t enough to meet the need,” Lynn said.

He said the middle is largely being left out. Read More > at Bisnow

How to survive the fake news about cancer – As a cancer researcher deeply involved in science outreach, I can attest that few subjects provoke quite the emotional response that cancer does. There is not a family in the world untouched by the disease, and the word itself is enough to induce a sense of fear in even the hardiest among us. Cancer is oppressive and all-pervasive: half of us alive today will experience a direct brush with it. But despite its ubiquity, it remains poorly understood and falsehoods around it can thrive.

Online, dubious claims about cancer are rife, from outright “cures” to assertions of a conspiracy to suppress “the truth” about it. In 2016, more than half of the 20 most shared cancer articles on Facebook consisted of medically discredited claims. And this goes far beyond Facebook – the Wall Street Journal recently revealed that YouTube was hosting accounts with thousands of subscribers that promoted bogus cancer treatments…

A quick web search reveals ostensible treatments ranging from the vaguely scientific-sounding to the profoundly esoteric. The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) non-exhaustive list of debunked claims numbers more than 187, while Wikipedia’s list of bogus cures run from “energy-based” to “spiritual healing”. Other claims involve hyperbaric oxygen therapy,cannabis oilshark cartilage, ketogenic diets and baking soda.

There is increasing concern that such fictions risk eclipsing reputable information. Macmillan Cancer Support recently appointed a nurse specifically to debunk online stories, prompting the Lancet Oncology to comment: “How has society got to this point, where unproven interventions are being chosen in preference to evidence-based, effective treatments? Unfortunately, disinformation and – frankly – lies are widely propagated and with the same magnitude as verified evidence.”

Whether born out of a desire to help, or naked charlatanism, the net impact of such misinformation is overwhelmingly negative. Patients engaged with unproved treatments for cancer are more likely to reject conventional treatment, or delay life-saving interventions. This comes at a terrible cost; patients who subscribe to alternative approaches are more than twice as likely to die in the same period as those who rely on conventional therapies. Worse again, it is not uncommon for promoters of dubious information to resort to scaremongering over conventional therapy. Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy are frequently dismissed as “poisons”, imperilling lives. Cancer is frightening, and promises of simple cures can be alluring. Read More > in The Guardian

Why It’s Probably Better for the Planet to Throw Plastic in the Trash – Starting as early as 2017, municipalities across the country, from Douglas County, Oregon to Nogales, Arizona to Broadway, Virginia, to Franklin, New Hampshire, began landfilling many recyclables or simply canceling their recycling programs altogether. The impetus for this disconcerting change? China.

Where once China offered a market for the world’s plastic bottles, tubs, and other packaging to be turned into – for example – polyester clothing, now, that market is gone. This means that recycling costs have skyrocketed. A few years ago, Franklin, New Hampsire could sell recyclables for $6 per ton. Now, it costs the town $125 per ton to recycle that same stuff!

Municipalities across the country are facing this startling arithmetic, so hundreds are choosing the drastically cheaper option: throw most traditionally recycled materials in the trash, instead.

While that might sound horrifying, Thomas Kinnaman, an environmental economist from Bucknell University, says it’s actually a blessing in disguise.

“China’s ban may actually reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans,” he told NPR’s Planet Money podcast. “China was not very careful about what got into their oceans for a long period of time, and if some of the plastic piles were just too corrupted they could do whatever they wanted with it.”

Moreover, landfilling waste is not the evil many assume it to be. Modern landfills in the developed world are highly regulated, with sophisticated systems to protect groundwater, methods of compacting trash as tightly as possible, and even ways of siphoning off methane gas and burning it to produce electricity. Despite the myth that we’re running out of landfill space, current estimates indicate that the U.S. has about 58 years until we need to build additional facilities. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Oil markets will see another glut in 2020, IEA predicts – The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the return of an oversupplied oil market next year, despite the recent rollover of an OPEC-led pact designed to restrain any glut.

The energy agency said the “main message” of its closely-watched report was that oil supply in the first six months of 2019 had exceeded demand by 0.9 million barrels per day.

“This surplus adds to the huge stock builds seen in the second half of 2018 when oil production surged just as demand growth started to falter,” the Paris-based IEA said Friday.

Neil Atkinson, head of the oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC on Friday that in addition to the remainder of this year, the outlook for 2020 is also for “considerable oversupply because we are getting big growth from the United States and some other countries.” Read More > at CNBC

JEDI: How we got here – After months of delays, the Pentagon is preparing to award a winner this summer in the department’s massive Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract.

This has not been a smooth road. The award is the culmination of months of contract protests, internal investigations and conflict-of-interest allegations that have bedeviled the source selection of the lucrative cloud contract that the Department of Defense had hoped to streamline and award in April.

Now, with only Microsoft and Amazon Web Services still in the running, and a federal court soon ruling whether the Pentagon’s single-vendor approach was illegal, the market is left to wonder how the lucrative JEDI contract ever reached this controversial point.

JEDI is a intended to be a general-purpose cloud for the Department of Defense. The Pentagon announced plans for JEDI in a memo in November 2017, laying out an acquisition strategy that included choosing a single cloud provider for an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, which allows the government to receive an unspecified amount of services for an unspecified amount of time.

The single provider will provide the department with unclassified, secret and top-secret services.

The contract could potentially be worth $10 billion over 10 years, which has prompted concerns within government and industry about the DoD being locked into the services of the winning vendor. But the contract does have exit ramps for the DoD after year two, five and eight. Read More > at the Federal Times 

How a Tiny Mountain Town Quadrupled Parking Fees – A lot about Nevada City, California, could be described as quaint. The main drag, Broad Street, is a sloping corridor of Gold Rush-era shops and inns. During the holidays, horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps transform it into a Victorian Christmas fantasy. Last year, to fight wildfire risk, the vice mayor launched a fundraiser for a livestock brush control program, calling it “GoatFundMe.”

But now this popular weekend retreat in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevadas, population 3,000, has shed one of its defining throwback features. Last month, the city council voted to raise the hourly rates of parking meters from 25 cents to a full dollar.

It was the first cost increase in decades, if ever, said Erin Minett, a recently elected city council member who pushed for the increase…

And lastly, the town will be putting the extra funds to good use: fighting flames. Surrounded by dense forests, Nevada City is one of 188 communities in California listed for extreme wildfire danger, and residents fear they’ll face the same fate as Paradise, the mountain enclave destroyed in last year’s fire season. Of the estimated $550,000 a year that the new parking rates will generate, 20 percent will pay to clear flammable undergrowth, Minett said, and for an emergency siren at city hall to help people evacuate. Read More > at Route Fifty

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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