Sunday Reading – 09/08/19

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.

Bay Area bridges to get rid of all cash lanes – The seven California state-owned Bay Area Bridges are about to join the Golden Gate bridge in getting rid of the cash payment lanes.

Drivers are encouraged to get FasTrak, for those who do not, license plate readers will track those without transponders and send them a bill.

The MTC approved a contract Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, to begin converting toll crossings at all local bridges to FasTrak and license plate readers, which has already been in place for several years at the Golden Gate Bridge.

MTC says the all-electronic tolls will save a little money and help ease back-ups during critical times…  Read More > at ABC 7

Proposed housing development in Brentwood sparking debate
view video –

The Press Fans Overblown Fears About Diet Soda—Again“It doesn’t matter if it’s sugary or diet: New study links all soda to an early death,” reported The Washington Post on September 4. It was one of many similar headlines. The implication of all of them was clear: Zero-calorie cola is a big fat lie, and if you don’t ditch it now you’re staring down a premature grave.

But let’s back up. Here’s what the paper in JAMA Internal Medicine actually found about drinks containing artificial sweeteners: People who consumed two or more per day were slightly more likely than those who abstained from all soda to die from diseases related to circulatory problems. (Consuming one or more sugar-sweetened soda per day, meanwhile, was associated with increase risk of dying from liver, appendix, pancreas, and intestinal diseases.) Whether these circulatory problems are directly related to diet soda is unknown—and there are good reasons to suspect they are not.

“Researchers cautioned that elevated soft-drink consumption may be a marker for an overall unhealthy lifestyle,” the Post points out. That is, people who consume sodas daily may also be more likely to eat out at restaurants, consume processed snacks, or engage in other dietary habits that up their disease risk.

Alternately, people who don’t drink soda at all may be more likely to engage in some behaviors—drinking more water, say, or consuming other nutritious beverages—that accrue them disease-protective benefits.

And while all sorts of people drink diet soda, it tends to be especially popular among people actively trying to lose weight and/or to give up a non-diet soda habit. Which is to say that diet drink consumers could (as that Trump tweet suggests) be heavier to begin with, or could share some other quality (such as previously high consumption of sugary drinks) that sets them up for future health problems.

The scientist behind this study tried to account for some confounding factors, such as smoking and obesity. But accounting for all lifestyle differences is impossible. Here’s what the lead researcher, Neil Murphy, told the Post:

We recognize that a possible explanation for the positive associations found for artificially sweetened soft drinks is that participants who were already at greater health risk (those who were overweight or obese; those with prediabetes) may have switched to artificially sweetened soft drinks to manage their calorie and sugar intake.

Even the notoriously pro-nanny-state Center for Science in the Public Interest urged caution about the latest research. “This new European study is somewhat inconsistent with earlier findings,” the group’s director of nutrition told the Post. Read More > at Reason

The coming death of just about every rock legend – But there’s another sense in which rock is very nearly dead: Just about every rock legend you can think of is going to die within the next decade or so.

Yes, we’ve lost some already. On top of the icons who died horribly young decades ago — Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, John Lennon — there’s the litany of legends felled by illness, drugs, and just plain old age in more recent years: George Harrison, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty.

Those losses have been painful. But it’s nothing compared with the tidal wave of obituaries to come. The grief and nostalgia will wash over us all. Yes, the Boomers left alive will take it hardest — these were their heroes and generational compatriots. But rock remained the biggest game in town through the 1990s, which implicates GenXers like myself, no less than plenty of millennials.

All of which means there’s going to be an awful lot of mourning going on.

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

A few of these legends might manage to live into their 90s, despite all the … wear and tear to which they’ve subjected their bodies over the decades. But most of them will not. Read More > at The Week

Forget what you may have been told. New study says strangers step in to help 90 percent of the time – The idea first gained traction after the 1964 killing of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old New Yorker who, it was believed at the time, was killed as 38 people looked on. While the number of eye witnesses was later found to be untrue, the story has become a cautionary tale to explain high-profile tragedies and the decaying of society.

But new research suggests we should take a rosier view of human nature.

Bystanders will intervene 9 times out of 10 to assist the victim in a public fight, an international team of researchers found in a study called “Would I be helped?,” published in American Psychologist this summer. After reviewing surveillance footage of more than 200 violent altercations around the world, the researchers concluded that having more bystanders around makes it more likely that someone will intervene.

…The researchers also found that there was no statistically significant difference in the rates of bystander intervention across the three cities studied. Philpot said this suggests that “people have a natural propensity to help others in distress,” no matter their nationality.

Philpot was inspired to conduct the study after noticing that many of his peers in the social sciences, as well as members of the media, took for granted the idea that bystanders are generally indifferent to the plight of others. He also noticed that most previous research into bystander intervention relied on laboratory experiments or self-reported accounts of violent incidents, both of which can be “unreliable” and sometimes “strip out complexity,” he said. Read More > in The Washington Post

Guest Editorial: Don’t believe the lie of zero-emission cars – The IFO study concludes the CO2 emissions from battery cars are “in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine, and are otherwise much higher.”

The institute’s study included everything that emits CO2 from the moment production of the vehicle’s energy source begins. When accounting for the emissions involved in producing diesel fuel and emissions involved in producing mining-intensive battery production, the Tesla Model 3 in Germany (battery car) emitted up to 181 grams of CO2 per kilometer – including emissions involved in producing kilowatts for the battery. That compares to 141 grams of CO2s produced by the diesel-powered Mercedes C22d.

A 2018 study by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Berylls Strategy Advisors came to a similar conclusion, citing the extraordinary amount of carbon pollution caused by the production of lithium-ion batteries. The research concluded the average vehicle owner in Germany could drive a conventional car more than 31,000 miles before catching up to the emissions caused by a Nissan Leaf battery car.

The New York-based Manhattan Institute in 2018 came to the conclusion Elective Vehicles produce more CO2 pollution than new gasoline vehicles.

“Today’s vehicles emit only about 1 percent of the pollution than they did in the 1960s, and new innovations continue to improve those engines’ efficiency and cleanliness,” said economist Jonathan Lesser, who authored the Manhattan Institute study.

In addition to the pollution they cause, electric car owners should know about the social injustice their vehicles cause around the globe. Read more > in The Daily Sentinel

Vegans and vegetarians may have higher stroke risk – People who eat vegan and vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease and a higher risk of stroke, a major study suggests.

They had 10 fewer cases of heart disease and three more strokes per 1,000 people compared with the meat-eaters.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at 48,000 people for up to 18 years.

However, it cannot prove whether the effect is down to their diet or some other aspect of their lifestyle.

Diet experts said, whatever people’s dietary choice, eating a wide range of foods was best for their health. Read More > at BBC

Private payroll growth way above Wall Street estimates despite recession fears – Company payrolls surged by 195,000 in August, well above Wall Street estimates and at a time when fears have been growing about a looming recession, according to a report Thursday from ADP and Moody’s Analytics.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for a gain of just 140,000 following July’s 142,000, which was reduced downward by 14,000 from the original count. August’s growth was the best showing since the 255,000 added in April.

The numbers come amid speculation that the decade-long economic expansion is coming to an end. The New York Federal Reserve puts the chance of a recession at 39% in the next 12 months, the highest level since the Great Recession that ended in mid-2009.

“Businesses are holding firm on their payrolls despite the slowing economy,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, said in a statement. “Hiring has moderated, but layoffs remain low. As long as this continues recession will remain at bay.” Read More > at CNBC

Here’s how much sleep you should get a night to avoid heart attacks according to new study – Sleep is essential for good health, but too much or too little of it can be detrimental, according to a new report.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder recently conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, to explore the association between sleep and cardiovascular disease.

To do so, they examined the self-reported sleep habits and medical records of about 461,000 people aged 40 to 69. The participants had never had a heart attack at the beginning of the assessment and were followed for seven years.

After analyzing the results, the scientists found those who slept fewer than six hours nightly were 20% more likely to have a heart attack during the study period, compared to those who got six to nine hours of shuteye. Those who slept more than nine hours nightly were 34% more likely.

The team also evaluated those who were genetically susceptible to heart disease. Those in that group who slept six to nine hours a night were 18% less likely to have a heart attack. Read More > at the AJC

Uber’s Nightmare Has Just Begun – Since 2009, Uber has grown into a hundred-billion-dollar company. It’s become so big and popular that it’s hard to imagine the world without it.

Hardly anyone “takes a taxi” anymore. Everyone “Ubers”…

After years of extraordinary growth, Uber launched an IPO on May 10.

An IPO, as you may know, is when a company first sells shares in the public markets. It marks the first time individual investors can buy the stock.

I understand, Uber is a colossal technology company that has become part of everyone’s lives.

It has changed the way we commute. It even disrupted culture.

Who would have thought we would take rides from strangers in their personal cars on a regular basis?

But while Uber is a disruptive company, it’s a terrible business… and its stock is a horrendous investment.

Every business has to eventually make more money than it spends. Period.

Yes, you can sacrifice profit to win customers at the beginning… but eventually you have to make money to cover your expenses and reward investors.

The thing is, after 10 years, Uber is still highly unprofitable. Worse, its losses are growing at astronomical levels.

Last year, it lost $1.8 billion… while last quarter, it lost a whopping $5 billion.

To put this in perspective…

In its IPO, Uber raised $9 billion…

… five of which it has already burned. IN A SINGLE QUARTER.

As I wrote in May, Uber loses 25 cents on every dollar it brings in and an average of $1.20 on every ride.

It’s burning money so fast that it lost more in the nine months leading up to the IPO than Amazon did in its first seven years!

Now, here’s simple math.

If you are losing money as a business, you have two options: cut your expenses or raise prices.

Uber’s biggest expense is driver pay. It pays back to drivers about 80% of all the money it generates.

That means to turn profit, Uber has to cut driver pay… or raise its fares.

And as I’ll explain, neither is possible. Read More > at Forbes

The Knotty Question of When Humans Made the Americas Home – A deluge of new findings are challenging long-held scientific narratives of how humans came to North and South America.

North and South America were relatively lonely places for our species 13,000 years ago. The continents were the last major landmasses in the world to be populated by Homo sapiens. But the explanation of how and when this peopling happened has needed to be heavily revised in the last two decades.

“This field is bonkers right now,” says anthropological geneticist Jennifer Raff of the University of Kansas. “I think there’s a new important paper coming out every three or four months.” Indeed, no tidy, new framework has arisen to take the place of older theories. Instead, new data, including genetic findings, continue to complicate the story of how these continents came to be peopled.

…It was long a commonplace belief among anthropologists that ancestral Native Americans descended from people living in Asia who crossed into the Americas over a now-submerged open tundra bridging Russia and Alaska, the Bering Land Bridge, also known as Beringia.

From there, these people were thought to have traversed a narrow passage between glaciers covering Alaska and Canada that only opened up about 13,500 years ago. The prevalence of Clovis-style spear points, which generally date between 13,250 and 12,800 years old, suggested that the first people in the Americas spread quickly after their arrival. Scientists broadly referred to this narrative—encompassing not just the cultural artifacts but also the time frame and land bridge—as the Clovis-first model.

…In the last two decades, a handful of other sites, in North America especially, have gained wide acceptance as authentically pre-Clovis. Unlike the Clovis sites, most of these older sites have no distinct artifacts to connect them.

At Oregon’s Paisley Caves, archaeologists have dated fossilized human feces to 14,300 years ago. The Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, which Adovasio began excavating in the 1970s, has a human history that may stretch back at least 16,000 years. Beneath the Clovis layers along the shores of Buttermilk Creek in Texas, researchers have found thousands of stone tool fragments dating back 15,500 years. At a site called Arroyo Seco 2 in the Pampas grasslands of Argentina, archaeologists have found 14,000-year-old butchered animal bones. Read More > at Sapiens

Like Me Not – In a little less than four months, the social media decade will end. The 2010s were the first decade where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, Lyft, Venmo, Seamless, iPhones, and Androids were ubiquitous and impossible to escape. Those that kept their flip phones were derided as luddites “going off the grid,” hipsters who find the information age much too much to handle. These devices are not going away, but what new forms will we see? I can’t see Facebook surviving another decade: years of bad press, lying to the public, chilling Congressional testimonies, selling private information to advertisers, allowing foreign governments to hack into and manipulate their platform, influencing elections in Wisconsin and Bosnia. Generation Z is rejecting Facebook: it’s for old people, it’s bad, it’s lame. They’re right. I can’t get off this thing. It may be hell, but it’s still a town square. If you want to promote something, Facebook is the only place where you can reach your best friends, family, second cousin once removed, kids you never talked to in high school, people you met at a party seven years ago, and your former landlord. I stay activated so that I can show you this.

An ominous headline: “Facebook considers experimenting with hiding likes.” An even more upsetting subhed: “Another way to help improve users’ mental health.” Listen, the only winning move is not to play. Oscar Gonzalez writing for CNET: “Facebook is considering a test to hide likes on News Feed posts. The company already tested a similar move on Instagram in August as a way to help break users’ fixation with getting likes on their pictures… If implemented, Facebook posts will no longer show the number of likes or reactions to a post. The user who created the post can see a list of people and their reactions, but a number won’t be displayed. Wong pointed out that likes and reactions on comments were still viewable with this feature turned on.” Read More > at Splice Today

What Recession? Low Interest Rates Could Mean Tech-Fueled Growth – The financial world is buzzing with an arcane sounding issue—the inverted yield curve. Here’s what that means: The overwhelming majority of the time, the longer you want to borrow money for, the higher the interest rate. So a 30-year mortgage will typically carry a higher rate than a 15-year mortgage; that’s true of government bonds as well. Every now and then, however, that script flips, and rates for short-term debt exceed those for long-term debt, “inverting” the typical yield curve. That’s the situation now. Lend money to the US government for one month, and Uncle Sam will pay you 2.01 percent interest; lend it for 10 years, and you’ll only get 1.47 percent (per year). Here’s why that matters: An inverted yield curve historically has been a reliable indicator that a recession is on the horizon.

Every recession since 1950 has been preceded by an inverted yield curve, though the curve also inverted in 1965 and 1998 without a recession following in the next 18 to 24 months. The reason why an inverted yield curve is a reliable predictor is straightforward: If investors believe that future growth will be so lackluster that they don’t need to demand a large premium for lending money that won’t be paid back for decades, that should signal trouble. The past predictability of the inverted yield curve has led to today’s widespread assumption that the US economy is slowing and will soon dip into recession; market watchers have thus begun to view economic data with an eye toward seeing problems ahead.

But past is not always prologue. It might be foolish to dismiss the inverted curve as a potential warning sign, but it would be equally unwise not to ask whether this time is, in fact, different, and whether technology is playing a decisive and underappreciated role.

…But what if rates are falling because technology is systematically depressing prices? If a wide swath of goods and services is getting cheaper and cheaper, then people and businesses and government don’t have to spend as much for the same things. Yes, fighter jets and prescription drugs are more expensive than ever, but that’s more because of government and market distortions than because the products are more expensive to make. In many sectors of our economy, things are becoming less expensive, not more. The result: less inflation, and slower nominal economic growth (some of which is attributable to inflation), but not actual contraction of economic activity. If you buy 100 of X at $100 a pop one year, and then you buy 100 of the new version of X two years later at $90, you’ve gotten what you need for less. That’s good for you, but the country’s GDP will decrease because you spent less.

The role of deflation and technology has not been ignored, but it has hardly been front and center. A recent analysis by Ark Investments suggested that in times of profound technological innovation, such as the late 19th and early 20th century, deflation can be common. This can confuse investors and lead to wild gyrations of long- and short-term interest rates.

The Industrial Revolution unleashed mechanization, leading to a proliferation of goods at cheap prices. Today, waves of software and communications technology are having a similar effect. Add to that the early stages of artificial intelligence and robotics, which allow more output at less cost (including the challenging issue of less labor). The AI revolution is significant, but our productivity statistics, grounded in 20th-century notions of manufacturing workers making things, have a hard time capturing these changes. Then consider that increasing portions of economic activity are digital and often free to users (think Google or Facebook), further confounding our ability to gauge what’s happening and what’s likely to happen in the future. Read More > at Wired

Hispanic Unemployment Rate Ties All-Time Low -The number of Hispanics and Latinos employed set a record high in August as their national, seasonally-adjusted unemploment rate matched its record low of 4.2%, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released Friday show.

In August, the unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos, aged 16 and up, was 4.2%, down from 4.5% in July, returning to the record low of 4.2% in April and May – which broke the record low of 4.3% set two months earlier in February. BLS began tracking Hispanic-Latino employment data in 1973.

285,000 more Hispanics had jobs in August, as the 27,866,000 employed broke the record for Hispanic employment of 27,701,000 set in December 2018. The number of Hispanics participating in the workplace rose in August, as did Hispanics’ labor force participation rate, which increased from 66.4% to 66.7%.

The number of unemployed Hispanics fell by 98,000 to 1,216,000, down from 1,314,000 in July. Read More > at CNS News

The Rise of the New Left Urbanists – America’s big cities are, without exception, politically blue cities, with a new class of progressive politicians doing real damage to public order. When it comes to urban development, however, the blue monolith breaks down: socialists, city planners, cyclists, environmentalists, pragmatists, and social-justice activists are often at odds with one another. They might all support more housing, more density, and more public transportation, but they disagree sharply on the means for getting there.

In recent years, a new faction has emerged in city politics: what one might call the new Left urbanists. These activists believe that local governments must rebuild the urban environment—housing, transit, roads, and tolls—to produce a new era of city flourishing, characterized by social and racial justice and a net-zero carbon footprint. The urbanists rally around provocative slogans like “ban all cars,” “raze the suburbs,” and “single-family housing is white supremacy”—ironically, since they’re generally white, affluent, and educated themselves. They’re often employed in public or semipublic roles in urban planning, housing development, and social advocacy. They treat public housing, mass transit, and bicycle lanes as a kind of holy trinity—and they want to impose their religion on you.

Housing is the central political battleground for these progressive activists. As David Madden and Peter Marcuse write in their book, In Defense of Housing: “The residential is political—which is to say that the shape of the housing system is always the outcome of struggles between different groups and classes.” Their goal is not simply to get new housing built but to build new housing owned, operated, and controlled by the state. If they can dictate how cities construct new housing, their logic goes, they can dictate how people live—and set right society’s economic, social, and moral deficiencies. Read More > at City Journal

SF counts 4,000 homeless, addicted and mentally ill, but timeline for help still unclear – Public health officials will release a grim tally Wednesday identifying some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents: Those who struggle with homelessness, mental illness and addiction. The new data are intended to direct the city’s efforts to confront a worsening behavioral health crisis.

A review of city records revealed nearly 4,000 people are suffering the perilous trifecta. Of those 4,000, 41% are frequent users of urgent and emergency psychiatric services. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

It’s no longer a crime to refuse to help a cop after Gavin Newsom signed this law – A legal vestige from California’s Wild West days is no more.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill striking down a law that makes it a crime to refuse a police officer’s request for help.

The California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872 made it a misdemeanor for any “able-bodied person 18 years of age or older” to refuse a police officer’s call for assistance in making an arrest.

Senate Bill 192, sponsored by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, removes the law from the books. Hertzberg called the law “a vestige of a bygone era” that subjects citizens to “an untenable moral dilemma.”

The bill was opposed by the California State Sheriff’s Association, which said in a statement, “There are situations in which a peace officer might look to private persons for assistance in matters of emergency or risks to public safety and we are unconvinced that this statute should be repealed.”

Newsom did not issue a statement when he signed the bill into law. Read More > in The Modesto Bee

Bay Area Exodus Fueled by Region’s Affordability Crisis – The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more people are leaving the Bay Area than are relocating from other states. The five-county Bay Area lost a net total of nearly 35,400 people between 2013-17, not counting births and new arrivals from other countries.

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute’s Jeff Bellisario told The Mercury News, “It is a troubling sign of the affordability crisis of the region.”

Still, immigration from international locations boosted arrivals higher than departures. California’s Department of Finance reported 44,729 people immigrated from other countries to the region between July 2017 and July 2018.

Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s latest Silicon Valley Index pointed out that 30% of tech talent aged 25-44 who moved to Santa Clara County in 2017 came from outside California, including countries like India and China.

Census data showed the largest outward migration occurred in Alameda County, with nearly 13,000 more people leaving than arriving. Santa Clara County followed with nearly 8,200 departures. San Francisco experienced the lowest net losses at just 1,385 people over those five years.

Among the states where Bay Area people moved to were Texas and Oregon. A net total of more than 4,000 people moved to Texas, while more than 3,600 left for Oregon. Other states where outbound people left for included Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee and North Carolina. Read more > at Connect California

Why California May Go Nuclear – Last week, a California state legislator introduced an amendment to the state’s constitution that would classify nuclear energy as “renewable.”

If the amendment passes, it would likely result in the continued operation of the state’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, well past 2025, its current closure date.

Diablo generates 9% of California’s electricity and 20% of its clean, carbon-free electricity.

“I’m not going to argue it’s not a long shot,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham.

“But we can’t make a serious dent in slowing the warming trend in the world without investment in nuclear power.”

If Governor Gavin Newsom decides to support the legislation it would likely become law and Diablo Canyon could continue operating to 2045 or even 2065. Read More > in Forbes

The Changing Face of First-Time Homebuyers – It used to be that most Americans aspired to marry and buy a home—in that order. But Millennials today are doing things differently: They’re delaying both marriage and childbirth (if they plan on doing either at all), they’re facing greater financial barriers to homeownership and a tougher housing market than the generations before them, and that’s causing many to rent instead of buy or to live at home with their parents.

This means that first-time homebuyers in the U.S. look significantly different from 20 years ago. New homeowners aren’t much older than before—the median age in 2017 was 34, compared to 32 in 1997—but they are more diverse, which is in line with demographic shifts since the 1990s. They also reflect the changing attitude towards homeownership among Millennials: Today, a larger share of new homeowners buy before marriage and form new households at the time of purchase.

The shift is detailed in a new working paper from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, in which researchers crunched demographic data from HUD and from American Housing Surveys taken every other year between 1997 and 2017. The latest survey reports nearly 1.8 million first-time homebuyers in 2016, representing 1.5 percent of all U.S. households and 38.5 percent of home purchases that year. That’s a drop in volume from 1997, which saw 2.13 million first-time homebuyers, representing 2.1 percent of all households and 45 percent of home purchases that year. Read More > at Route Fifty

Paris is testing ‘noise radar’ that will automatically ticket loud cars – Parisians with powerful cars might want to think carefully before showing off their rides. Parts of the city (most recently the suburb of Villeneuve-le-Roi) are testing a “noise radar” system from Bruitparif that can pinpoint loud vehicles and, eventually, ticket them. The system uses four microphones to triangulate the origins of a sound and link it with CCTV footage to pinpoint whoever’s making the racket.

Just shy of 40 of the devices are in use so far, primarily near bars in Paris’ entertainment regions as well as 17 around major buildings.

The two-year trial isn’t meant to fine anyone. Rather, it’s meant to both test the viability of the technology and determine the noise levels that lead to penalties. However, people with souped-up rides might not want to get too comfortable. A draft law due for a vote this fall will let local officials experiment with noise radar fines, and Villeneuve-le-Roi intends to take advantage of it if and when the law takes effect. You might have one more incentive to drive a quiet EV — you’ll hardly make a sound even if you mash the throttle. Read More > at Engadget

The Amazon Is Not Earth’s Lungs – The Amazon produces about 6 percent of the oxygen currently being made by photosynthetic organisms alive on the planet today. But surprisingly, this is not where most of our oxygen comes from. In fact, from a broader Earth-system perspective, in which the biosphere not only creates but also consumes free oxygen, the Amazon’s contribution to our planet’s unusual abundance of the stuff is more or less zero. This is not a pedantic detail. Geology provides a strange picture of how the world works that helps illuminate just how bizarre and unprecedented the ongoing human experiment on the planet really is. Contrary to almost every popular account, Earth maintains an unusual surfeit of free oxygen—an incredibly reactive gas that does not want to be in the atmosphere—largely due not to living, breathing trees, but to the existence, underground, of fossil fuels.

Shanan Peters, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is working to understand just how it was that our lucky planet ended up with this strange surplus of oxygen. At a presentation in June, at the North American Paleontological Convention in Riverside, California, he pulled up a somewhat unusual slide.

“What would happen if we combusted every living cell on Earth?” it asked. That is, Peters wanted to know what would happen to the atmosphere if you burned down not just the Amazon, but every forest on Earth, every blade of grass, every moss and lichen-spackled patch of rock, all the flowers and bees, all the orchids and hummingbirds, all the phytoplankton, zooplankton, whales, starfish, bacteria, giraffes, hyraxes, coatimundis, oarfish, albatrosses, mushrooms, placozoans—all of it, besides the humans.

Peters pulled up the next slide. After this unthinkable planetary immolation, the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere dropped from 20.9 percent to 20.4 percent. CO2 rose from 400 parts per million to 900—less, even, than it does in the worst-case scenarios for fossil-fuel emissions by 2100. By burning every living thing on Earth.

“Virtually no change,” he said. “Generations of humans would live out their lives, breathing the air around them, probably struggling to find food, but not worried about their next breath.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Sunset Development Proposes 4,500 Homes at San Ramon’s Bishop Ranch – Sunset Development Company plans to build 4,500 multifamily homes at its 585-acre Bishop Ranch mixed-use business community in San Ramon. The company envisions creating a vibrant, engaging city center over the 25-year build-out featuring a live-work, transit-oriented, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly destination in San Ramon’s core.

Sunset Development Company’s Alexander Mehran Jr. says, “We’re excited to share these plans for residential neighborhoods with the families and businesses of San Ramon. Bishop Ranch isn’t just a project, it’s a community, and we’re proud to work with the City and residents in realizing the vision for a true city center for San Ramon,”

Already, some 30,000 employees work at more than 600 companies in more than 30 industries at Bishop Ranch. The $300-million 300,000-square-foot City Center retail complex opened last year. Read More > at Connect California

The Poorest 20% of Americans Are Richer on Average Than Most Nations of Europe – A groundbreaking study by Just Facts has discovered that after accounting for all income, charity, and non-cash welfare benefits like subsidized housing and Food Stamps—the poorest 20% of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all people in most affluent countries. This includes the majority of countries in the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including its European members. In other words, if the U.S. “poor” were a nation, it would be one of the world’s richest.

Notably, this study was reviewed by Dr. Henrique Schneider, professor of economics at Nordakademie University in Germany and the chief economist of the Swiss Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. After examining the source data and Just Facts’ methodology, he concluded: “This study is sound and conforms with academic standards. I personally think it provides valuable insight into poverty measures and adds considerably to this field of research.”

In a July 1st New York Times video op-ed that decries “fake news” and calls for “a more truthful approach” to “the myth of America as the greatest nation on earth,” Times producers Taige Jensen and Nayeema Raza claim that the U.S. has “fallen well behind Europe” in many respects and has “more in common with ‘developing countries’ than we’d like to admit.”

“One good test” of this, they say, is how the U.S. ranks in the OECD, a group of “36 countries, predominantly wealthy, Western, and Democratic.” While examining these rankings, they corrupt the truth in ways that violate the Times’ op-ed standards, which declare that “you can have any opinion you would like,” but “the facts in a piece must be supported and validated,” and “you can’t say that a certain battle began on a certain day if it did not.”

A prime example is their claim that “America is the richest country” in the OECD, “but we’re also the poorest, with a whopping 18% poverty rate—closer to Mexico than Western Europe.” That assertion prompted Just Facts to conduct a rigorous, original study of this issue with data from the OECD, the World Bank, and the U.S. government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. It found that the Times is not merely wrong about this issue but is reporting the polar opposite of reality. Read More > at Just Facts

MLB Failing to Eliminate Pace-of-Play Problems By Speeding Up Baseball – Despite efforts to speed up baseball, the average time of a nine-inning game in Major League Baseball is three hours and five minutes.

That equals the mark which was set in 2017, after which MLB and the players’ association responded by limiting the number of mound visits per game. Other time-saving measures including shortened breaks between innings and eliminating pitches being thrown during intentional walks have been imposed, but MLB games still drag on a snail’s pace.

One of the biggest reasons games are taking so long is that batters are more focused on hitting home runs and pitchers are more focused on getting strikeouts. That combination has led to batters seeing an average of 3.92 pitchers per plate appearance, the highest mark in the 21 seasons the stat has been tracked.

“It’s a direct correlation between pitching now and pitching as (recently) as five years ago,” says veteran Miami Marlins infielder Neil Walker told USA Today. “Even five years ago, pitching staffs had contact guys, sinker-slider guys. They wanted the ball put into play. Now, velocities are way up, the pitching philosophies are much different – it’s pitch to the top of the zone with fastballs, with as much velocity as you hope a guy has, and put you away with breaking balls. You see a lot more at-bats deeper into counts, a lot more at-bats that end with strikeouts or walks, a lot more foul balls. That goes hand-in-hand with what we’re seeing in regard to time and pace of play.”

In order to cut down on wasting time with pitching changes, pitchers will be forced to face at least three batters starting next year.

That’s something at least, but until there’s a philosophy change expect baseball’s pace-of-play problem to persist. Read More > at InsideHook

Death, made in Mexico: Traffickers embrace fentanyl – Developed decades ago as a painkiller of last resort, fentanyl has surpassed heroin and prescription pills to become the leading driver of the opioid crisis and is now the top cause of U.S. overdose deaths.

Last year, more than 31,000 people in the United States died after taking fentanyl or one of its close chemical relatives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No other drug in modern history has killed more people in a year.

Fentanyl started appearing on U.S. streets in significant quantities in 2013, most of it produced in China and shipped in the mail.

Today, officials say the majority is smuggled from Mexico, where it is remaking the drug trade as traffickers embrace it over heroin, which is more difficult and expensive to produce.

U.S. border agents have been intercepting increasing amounts of fentanyl. In January, they reported their largest seizure ever: 254 pounds of powder and pills hidden in a truck carrying cucumbers into Nogales, Ariz. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Military suicides top record despite government’s best efforts: ‘We have to do better’ – The disturbing number has held steady for years: Roughly 20 U.S. military veterans take their own lives each day.

The Defense Department reported a significant uptick last year in the number of active-duty and reserve men and women who died by suicide. The suicide rate among veterans ages 18 to 34, some of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, shot up dramatically from 2015 to 2016, data show.

Top officials from the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, joined by specialists from across the private sector, gathered this week to search for solutions to what has become one of the most persistent, painful and frustrating crises facing the military community. Although the nation has grappled with veteran suicides for more than a century — officials note that some of the first academic research on the issue appeared in 1915 — many of the core challenges remain.

Beneath the startling figures on veteran suicides is an especially troubling number: Of the 20 who die by suicide each day, roughly two-thirds have had little or no regular contact with the VA. That suggests an unwillingness to seek help or a lack of knowledge about where to look. Read More > in The Washington Times

Forget The Amazon Hype, Fires Globally Have Declined 25% Since 2003 Thanks To Economic Growth – The whole world is burning, The New York Times, CNN, and mainstream media outlets around the world have declared in recent days.

The Amazon could soon “self-destruct” reports The Times. It would be “a nightmare scenario that could see much of the world’s largest rainforest erased from the earth,” writes Max Fisher who notes, “some scientists who study the Amazon ecosystem call it imminent.”

“If enough [Amazon] rain forest is lost and can’t be restored, the area will become savanna, which doesn’t store as much carbon, meaning a reduction in the planet’s ‘lung capacity,’” reports The New York Times.

It’s not just the Amazon, though. Africa, Siberia, and Indonesia are also apparently going up in smoke. Claims The New York Times, “in central Africa, vast stretches of savanna are going up in flame. Arctic regions in Siberia are burning at a historic pace.”

Any reader of the New York Times and other mainstream media outlet would be forgiven for believing that fires globally are on the rise, but they aren’t.

In reality, there was a whopping 25 percent decrease in the area burned from 2003 to 2019, according to NASA. Read More > at Forbes

Walmart Edges Into Providing Primary Medical Care – Walmart, which has established urgent care clinics in stores in Texas, Georgia and South Carolina, is planning to open a stand-alone clinic next to its store in Dallas, Georgia, in September. This new clinic will be called Walmart Health, as opposed to the others, which are Walmart Care Clinics.

The new facility will offer a wider array of healthcare services than the existing Walmart clinics, including primary care, dental, mental health counseling, lab tests, X-rays and audiology. That represents a deeper push by the retail giant into the healthcare sector, and the retailer may open more of them, CNBC reports, citing anonymous sources.

Though its clinic accepts insurance, presumably Walmart is also looking to capture business from the uninsured, who face higher costs but also often lack a usual source of care. A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation report says that half of uninsured patients cite the lack of a usual source of care as a barrier to healthcare. Read More > at Bisnow

About Kevin

Mayor - 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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