Sunday Reading 09/22/19

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.

This year’s flu season may be a bad one. Here’s why you need a flu shot. – Flu seasons are notoriously unpredictable, but there are already clues that the upcoming season may be especially difficult.

Flu season in the Southern Hemisphere can be an indication of what’s to come in the Northern Hemisphere, and the recent flu season in Australia, where winter has just ended, arrived early and with a vengeance. A particularly virulent flu strain, H3N2, dominated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that last year, there were 37 million to 43 million flu illnesses in the U.S., and 36,400 to 61,200 flu-related deaths.

Last year’s flu season ran from Oct. 1, 2018, to May 4.

Is it too early to get the flu vaccine?

No. Doctors say people should get the flu vaccine now, and certainly before Thanksgiving. Read More > from NBC News

Nearly half of the U.S.’s homeless people live in one state: California – More than half a million people are homeless each night in the United States, a new White House report has found. And nearly half of them are concentrated in one state: California.

All told, 47% of all unsheltered homeless people nationwide — meaning those who sleep in areas not meant for habitation, such as sidewalks, parks, cars and abandoned buildings, rather than in shelters — live in the Golden State, according to a new report on homelessness from the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Unsheltered homeless people represent just over a third (35%) of the overall homeless population nationwide.

At the city level, four of the five cities with the highest rate of unsheltered homelessness are in California: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa and San Jose. Seattle joins the California municipalities in the top five. Read More > at MarketWatch

Who invented Rock, Paper, Scissors and what’s the best way to win consistently? – … As to the exact genesis of Rock, Paper, Scissors, however, this appears to originate in hand games from China, supposedly going back about two thousand years, though primary documented evidence of this is scant. That said, the trail gets much more clear starting around the 17th century which saw some of these games having migrated over to Japan and explicit references to them in surviving text. One of those games, in turn, spread from Japan throughout the world in surprisingly recent times. We are, of course, referring to Rock, Paper, Scissors

…As for the direct ancestor to Rock, Paper, Scissors, that is the game of jan-ken, which has been played in Japan going back to around the 17th century and uses the Rock, Paper (or cloth), Scissors trio of hand gestures we’re all familiar with.

Interestingly, up until relatively recently, these games were primarily used as drinking games, particularly extremely popular at Chinese and Japanese brothels. Beyond used for getting tipsy, they were also used for a similar purposes as a game like strip-poker…

As to how it then spread the world over, this wouldn’t actually happen until much more recent history, based on documented accounts seemingly occurring between the 1920s and the 1950s.

As to why this particular hand gesture game caught on in the wider world when so many others did not, it’s speculated that it’s because it is one of the simplest to understand and play, as well as that it makes a very effective and seemingly random way to settle a dispute or decide something between two individuals.

Fast-forwarding to today, the game has even become a competitive sport with various organizations formed in different countries. For example, in 2002, the brothers Walker formed the World RPS Society and formalized the rules for international competition. They held the “Rock, Paper, Scissors World Championships” in Toronto every year from 2003 to 2009, which was even televised on Fox Sports Net at one point. Read More > at Today I Found Out

The truth about eating eggs – If there was such a thing as a perfect food, eggs would be a contender. They’re readily available, easy to cook, affordable and packed with protein.

“The egg is meant to be something that has all the right ingredients to grow an organism, so obviously it’s very nutrient dense,” says Christopher Blesso, associate professor of nutritional science at the University of Connecticut in the US.

Eating eggs alongside other food can help our bodies absorb more vitamins, too. For example, one study found that adding an egg to salad can increase how much vitamin E we get from the salad.

But for decades, eating eggs has also been controversial due to their high cholesterol content – which some studies have linked to an increased risk of heart disease. One egg yolk contains around 185 milligrams of cholesterol, which is more than half of the 300mg daily amount of cholesterol that the US dietary guidelines recommended until recently.

…But researchers haven’t definitively linked consumption of cholesterol to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. As a result, US dietary guidelines no longer have a cholesterol restriction; nor does the UK. Instead, emphasis is placed on limiting how much saturated fat we consume, which can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Foods containing trans fats, in particular, increase our LDL levels. Although some trans fats occur naturally in animal products, most are made artificially and are found in highest levels in margarines, snacks, and some deep-fried and baked foods, such as pastry, doughnuts and cake.

…The discussion on the health effects of eggs has shifted partly because our bodies can compensate for the cholesterol we consume.

“There are systems in place so that, for most people, dietary cholesterol isn’t a problem,” says Elizabeth Johnson, research associate professor of nutritional sciences at Tufts University in Boston, US.

In a 2015 review of 40 studies, Johnson and a team of researchers couldn’t find any conclusive evidence on the relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease. Read More > from the BBC

A 2-year study says that using Facebook may destroy your physical and emotional health – Want to stay healthy, both emotionally and physically? Researchers from UC San Diego and Yale have some simple advice for you: Limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook. While this may sound like typical anti-social media crankiness from academia, this time they have some impressive research to back up their case. Holly Shakya, assistant professor at UC San Diego, and Yale professor Nicholas Christakis spent two years following 5,208 adults who are part of a Gallup long-term study. After asking permission, they monitored these subjects’ Facebook use directly from Facebook, rather than asking subjects to report their own use. (People often don’t realize how much time they spend on the social network.) And they checked in with subjects on their emotional and physical well-being, as well as their body-mass index (BMI), three times over the course of two years.

“Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being,” the researchers wrote in a Harvard Business Review article. “These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year.” Yikes.

Why is too much Facebook bad for your emotional health? Previous research has shown that the social network creates a sort of false peer pressure. Since most people are cautious about posting negative or upsetting experiences on Facebook, the social network creates a misleading environment where everyone seems to be doing better and having more fun than you are. As the researchers put it, “Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison.” Read More > at Business Insider

The Average American Lives 18 Miles From Their Mom – Older parents might suffer from the effects of empty nest syndrome, but according to data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, when kids in America fly the coop, they don’t go very far.

The New York Times analyzed the survey of older Americans and found that on average, adults live just 18 miles from mom (researchers tend to focus on mothers because they are often the caregivers, and generally live longer than their male counterpart). The analysis also found that only 20 percent of Americans live more than a few hours from their parents by car.

It’s worth reading the full analysis over at the Times, but generally speaking, the close proximities are a result of families who rely on each other for support, both financially and practically. Americans have become less and less mobile over the course of the last few decades, in particular those with less education and lower incomes. Read More > at Mental Floss

Did California Just Abolish Single-Family Zoning? – From the passage of statewide rent control to the failure of a bill legalizing more home construction near transit and job centers, it hasn’t been a great year for free market solutions to California’s housing shortage. That is, at least, until you consider the quiet success of efforts to allow for more accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

In the waning days of the 2019 legislative session, state lawmakers passed a series of bills loosening up zoning rules governing ADUs, sometimes known as granny flats or in-law suites. These reforms—which build on legislation passed in 2016—put additional limits on the powers of local governments to regulate ADUs to death, and allow more homeowners to convert their garage or tool shed into affordable rental housing.

“The big news is that we have effectively ended single-family zoning in California,” says Matthew Lewis, director of communications for California YIMBY, an advocacy group that sponsored two of the three ADU bills.

The first bill, AB 68, lets homeowners build up to two ADUs on their property by right. That means local governments don’t have the discretion to deny these projects or impose additional conditions on their approval outside of what’s already spelled out in the city’s zoning code.

In addition, the bill restricts the size, setback, and parking requirements local zoning codes can impose on ADUs. It also reduces the time local governments have to approve new units from 120 days to 60 days.

Two other bills, AB 881 (also sponsored by California YIMBY) and SB 13, prohibit local governments from requiring that an owner occupy the new units, and reduce the fees homeowners can be charged to build them. Read More > at Reason 

Congress Plans To Vote on Marijuana Banking Bill Next Week – The SAFE Banking Act—the acronym stands for “Secure and Fair Enforcement”—would let banks and other financial institutions do business with state-legal marijuana businesses without incurring the wrath of the federal government. The bill will get a floor vote in Congress next week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D–Md.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalese (R–La.) announced today that the legislation would be part of next week’s House calendar. The bill was introduced in March by Rep. Ed Pearlmutter (D–Colo.) and cleared the House Finanical Services Committee with a bipartisan 45–15 vote later that same month. But since then the bill has been stalled, even though it has more than 150 cosponsors and has support from bank lobbyists and from attorneys general in 33 states.

Unless it gets derailed at the last minute, the bill appears to be the first federal marijuana legalization measure to reach the floor of either chamber of Congress.

…Next week’s vote should be fairly straightforward, at least by congressional standards. Because leaders from both parties have agreed to the bill, it will be brought to the floor under a suspension of the usual rules. That means no amendments will be allowed on the floor, though Marijuana Moment reports that Pearlmutter is trying to make some changes before the vote.

A companion bill in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D–Ore.), has 33 cosponsors. But that total includes only four Republicans, making passage through the upper chamber more of an open question. Read More > at Reason

Why We Love to Call Everything a Bubble – …It’s a fact, though, that ever since the financial crisis, people have been claiming nonstop that we’re in one bubble or another. In 2010 you could find warnings that a new dot-com bubble was forming or that Canadian real estate was in one. In 2011 there were postmortems (LOL) of a Bitcoin bubble—hardly the last of those. Thanks to Google searches, I could go on, but you get the point. Calling bubbles is a popular sport, even if winning is tougher than it looks.

But why is making those calls so popular? Well, for one thing it allows you to feel sophisticated. You can furrow your brow, shake your head sagely, talk about how “history always repeats itself,” and then cite something you once read in Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. And as pointed out by Mark Dow, a longtime trader and the brains behind the Twitter account @BehavioralMacro, there’s a nice element of unfalsifiability to bubble calls. “You can’t prove something isn’t a bubble,” he says, “because tomorrow ‘could be the day.’ And there’s always a tomorrow.” Furthermore, the world has, in Dow’s words, “disaster myopia.” With the business cycle increasingly being driven by financial markets and with the crisis of 2008 still seared into people’s minds, a bubble is the easiest, most vivid metaphor to use.

Helene Meisler, a stock market columnist who’s been active in the market for four decades, offers a similar explanation for the current obsession with bubbles: “I have often thought that we are all products of when we ‘grew up’ in the market. So, for example, folks who grew up in the ’70s are always looking for inflation. Those who grew up in the ’80s are always on alert for a crash.” Read More > at Bloomberg

Hammer time: US construction index at record high, more work than workers – Optimism in the U.S. construction industry has reached a record high, with builders forced to push off work because finding help is difficult due to the historic unemployment low.

The new Commercial Construction Index, compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and USG Corp., climbed to a record high in the third quarter, with 77% of commercial contractors optimistic about their future.

The index, provided to Secrets in advance of its release, also found that “half of all contractors” expect higher revenue and the expectations for bigger profits next year also surged.

“Contractors are thinking about the future and are optimistic about what’s ahead,” said Christopher Griffin, CEO of USG Corporation. “Continued levels of confidence around backlog and profit suggest nonresidential construction will continue to play an important role in overall sector growth,” he added.

The Chamber noted that the industry is running short of workers and that 61% of commercial contractors plan to hire in the next six months. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Turns out smartphones aren’t making millennials grow horns after all – Demonizing smartphones and millennials is a favorite past time among certain segments of the population, and earlier this year there was an excellent opportunity for both when a science journal published a dubious article claiming that using smartphones or tablets led to forward head posture which caused a bony protuberance to grow at the back of the skull. This was quickly picked up and reported as ‘smartphones causing young people to grow horns’.

The article was widely panned for its scientific inaccuracies, and now the journal Scientific Reports has published a correction to the article, in an unusual and embarrassing move for both the authors and the journal editors.

The authors had to correct significant chunks of the paper, including materials from the abstract, discussion, methodology, results and competing interest statement. Read More > at Engadget

Is America Alone in its Vaping Hysteria? – As the nation continues to grapple with the vaping outbreak, recently, the Trump Administration announced a ban all flavored e-cigarettes. While the ban could cost 90,000 jobs, more importantly it won’t stop the genesis of this outbreak. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), illicit substances are the culprit of this epidemic, not legal pods. The U.S. instead should take notes from how other countries regulate e-cigarettes, which could end this war on vaping.

England, which has a 14 percent smoking rate, recognizes the importance of vaping. Recently in London, two hospitals have allowed vape shops on their premises to help curb smoking, calling it a “public health necessity.” While foreign to the U.S., England understands that with 80,000 people dying annually from smoking, every person they can get on vaping is a life saved. In fact, England now boasts a lower smoking rate among teenagers at 6 percent compared to the U.S. at 8.1 percent.

But England is not alone in their efforts to reduce smoking. In France, the French High Council for Public Health recommends e-cigarettes as an effective mean to quit smoking while Canada doesn’t even classify e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. Read More > at Real Clear Health

The FDA has opened a criminal investigation into vaping – The Food and Drug Administration opened a criminal investigation into the vaping supply chain earlier this summer, it has emerged. The Office of Criminal Investigations started the probe following reports of a vaping-related lung illness. The agency now says more than 530 people have been affected, and seven deaths have been attributed to the illness thus far.

Officials suspect a type of chemical exposure is to blame, but the cause of the illness has not yet been verified. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. All of the cases are linked to vaping or e-cigarette use. Some affected people used e-cigarette products with THC, while others used nicotine ones or those with both THC and nicotine. Some people used black market products.

The agency isn’t targeting individuals for their personal use of controlled substances through the investigation, according to Mitch Zeller, the director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. The probe extends across several states, hundreds of cases and a broad range of products and substances, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told reporters on a conference call. Read More > at Engadget

Existing-home sales rise 1.3% in August — the market was expecting sales to fall – Sales of previously-owned homes jumped 1.3% in August as falling mortgage rates continued to entice consumers.

Existing-home sales occurred at a 5.49 million seasonally-adjusted annual pace in August, up from a 5.42 million rate in July, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected the average annual rate of existing-home sales to fall to 5.39 million.

Existing-home sales increased by 2.6% year-over-year in August.

The median sales price increased 4.7% from the prior year to $278,200. The decline in mortgage rates and continued short supply of homes has buoyed home-price growth in recent weeks. The total inventory of homes on the market has fallen 2.6% year-over-year to 1.86 million.

Sales increased substantially in the Northeast, rising 7.6% from July. Sales also edged upward in the Midwest (3.1%) and the South (0.9%). The West saw a slowdown in existing-home sales, with a 3.4% drop from the prior month. Median home prices have increased since August 2018 for every region except the Northeast. Read More > at MarketWatch

13 Real-Life, Character Driven Films To Check Out In Theaters This Fall – Big-budget franchise flicks like “Rambo 5,” “Terminator 6,” “Frozen 2,” and “Star Wars 9” are set to hit theaters over the next few months. The advertising blitz will be unrelenting—and, if history proves any guide, profitable. In years ahead, we can expect Hollywood to deliver more of the same. That is, unless moviegoers vote differently with our dollars by eschewing blockbuster sequels in favor of character-driven, grounded-in-real-life stories.

While spectacle movies can be fun, are original scripts and unfamiliar characters worth spending a few bucks in theaters? It’s an open question that involves watching previews and reading reviews, two helpful (although not infallible) means of determining interest in a film. these 13 upcoming fall films—many with limited releases and from independent producers—may be worth setting a calendar reminder to catch on the big screen.

October Releases

The Current War (Oct. 4) – Sometimes production setbacks can improve a film. After producer Harvey Weinstein was indicted over Me Too revelations, Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as American inventor Thomas Edison was caught in the turmoil and went unreleased for over a year.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon took the opportunity to recut his biopic. “The Current War” pits Edison against Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) in a battle of wits and technology, along with co-star wattage from Tom Holland and Katherine Waterston.

Miss Virginia (Oct. 18) – Education is a deeply personal, charged issue at the intersection of public policy and family values. Yet few filmmakers have found a way to tell absorbing educator-centric stories, with “Won’t Back Down” and “Stand and Deliver” as notable exceptions.

After eight years of work, Moving Picture Institute will release “Miss Virginia” which dramatizes recent school-choice battles. Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”) portrays Virginia Walden Ford and Niles Fitch (“This Is Us”) her son. They set out to convince bureaucrats in D.C. to open education options for low-income families.

No Safe Spaces (Oct. 25) – Universities have long been revered as forums of open inquiry, where college students and faculty alike can question anything. In recent years, forces on the left (and sometimes even the right) have sought to enforce ideological uniformity on campuses, resulting in censorship.

In “No Safe Spaces,” talk radio host Dennis Prager teams up with comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alum Adam Carolla for an ambitious documentary on free speech battles. Along with shocking footage of campus riots, leading voices such as author Jordan Peterson, CNN host Van Jones, actor Tim Allen, former CBS journalist Sharyl Attkisson, and Professor Cornel West give their takes.

November Releases

Harriet (Nov. 1) – She escaped inhumane conditions as a slave, then journeyed south more than a dozen times to rescue 70 others. A forerunner of generations of human rights activists, Christian abolitionist Harriet Tubman will be portrayed by film and stage star Cynthia Erivo (“Widows,” “The Color Purple”).

Filmed in Virginia last fall, the biopic reportedly also dramatizes Tubman’s role as a Union spy during the Civil War. With a screenplay co-written by Gregory Allen Howard (“Remember the Titans”) and director Kasi Lemmons, “Harriet” spotlights a freedom fighter all Americans should know. Read More > in The Federalist

Will the Antitrust Investigation into Google Benefit Consumers? – Last week, 50 state attorneys general (AGs) from around the United States, including those in Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, announced they have opened a sweeping investigation into Google’s activities. Front and center are concerns over competition in the advertising and search markets. As one of the state AGs explained, “Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information.” Yet any investigation into the competitive practices of Google must reckon with the complex nature of innovation online and changes in the law. And given the options for addressing any perceived problems at the AGs’ disposal, it’s likely that consumers won’t be much better off after the investigation has concluded.

According to the document demands of the investigation, the state AGs are looking into Google over its “overarching control of online advertising markets and search traffic.” Since there is no formal complaint, the exact legal arguments that could be wielded against the search giant are unclear.

…Paxton also indicated the particular market of interest when he wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Each year more than 90% of Google’s $117 billion in revenue comes from online advertising. For reference, the entire market for online advertising is around $130 billion annually.” As with any antitrust case, selecting the relevant market is the first step, and in trotting out these numbers, the state AGs have made it clear that their focus is on the online ad market.

These figures misrepresent the extent of Google’s reach into the ad market. As Patrick Hedger of the Competitive Enterprise Institute pointed out, the Google revenue statistic is global while the online market figure is domestic. In reality, Google’s share of the online advertising market in the United States is 37 percent and falling. According to industry watcher eMarketer, “Google and Facebook’s share of new digital ad dollars is declining…. This year, they will garner nearly 48% of new expenditures. By comparison, that figure was nearly 73% in 2016.”

Further, fixating on the online ad space is a misstep because the truly relevant market would include all of advertising. Since digital ads are about half of the total ad market, Google’s share of the total market comes to 20 percent. Read More > at American Action Forum

The Tunnel of Samos – One of the greatest engineering achievements of ancient times is a water tunnel, 1,036 meters(4,000 feet) long, excavated through a mountain on the Greek island of Samos in the sixth century B.C. It was dug through solid limestone by two separate teams advancing in a straight line from both ends, using only picks, hammers, and chisels.This was a prodigious feat of manual labor. The intellectual feat of determining the direction of tunneling was equally impressive. How did they do this? No one knows for sure, because no written records exist. When the tunnel was dug, the Greeks had no magnetic compass, no survey instruments, no topographic maps, nor even much written mathematics at their disposal. Euclid’s Elements, the first major compendium of ancient mathematics, was written some 200 years later. Read More > at Fermat’s Library

Should Failing Schools Be Closed? What the Research Says – In many cases, schools are closed in response to declining populations or other factors that led to a substantial decline in available resources. In other cases, school boards and elected officials struggle with the decision of what to do with persistently ineffective schools. Should they supply such schools with additional resources and attention to spur improvements? Or is it better simply to close schools where students consistently underperform and to enroll them in others?

This paper argues that, based on the available research, closing persistently ineffective schools can be a promising strategy for improving the educational outcome of the students who attend them. When considering whether to close a school, policymakers must weigh the interests of that school’s current (and future) students, the students attending the school or schools that will receive the displaced students, and the quality of the schools that displaced students will attend. The paper describes the underlying theory and the empirical evidence related to the effect of school closure on each of these groups, in the short and long run.

It is important for educators and policymakers to continually work to improve existing schools, regardless of their current effectiveness. Even so, the evidence strongly suggests that it is better for school systems to close persistently ineffective schools than to continue providing them with an unending supply of resources. Read More > from the Manhattan Institute

Report: Anti-Semitic Harassment at U.S. College Campuses Hits Historic Levels – Anti-Semitic harassment on college campuses aimed at pro-Israel students jumped by 70 percent in the past year, the highest levels ever seen, according to a new study showing that the endorsement of anti-Israel causes by students and professors has created an unsafe environment for Jewish students.

Harassment of students who expressed pro-Israel ideologies jumped 70 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to a new report by the AMCHA Initiative, a campus organization that monitors anti-Semitism on more than 400 college campuses and that has recorded some 2,500 anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S. since 2015.

AMCHA found in its latest report that while examples of classical anti-Semitism decreased overall, there has been a major spike in students being targeted for hate speech and violence due to their open support for the state of Israel.

The findings jibe with anecdotal evidence seen across the country of Jewish and pro-Israel students experiencing violence and harassment from those associated with the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which aims to wage economic warfare on Israel. The BDS movement has put major resources into its campus activities and it appears to be bearing fruit across the United States. Read More > in The Washington Free Beacon

Millions of Americans’ Medical Images and Data Are Available on the Internet. Anyone Can Take a Peek. – Medical images and health data belonging to millions of Americans, including X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, are sitting unprotected on the internet and available to anyone with basic computer expertise.

The records cover more than 5 million patients in the U.S. and millions more around the world. In some cases, a snoop could use free software programs — or just a typical web browser — to view the images and private data, an investigation by ProPublica and the German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk found.

We identified 187 servers — computers that are used to store and retrieve medical data — in the U.S. that were unprotected by passwords or basic security precautions. The computer systems, from Florida to California, are used in doctors’ offices, medical-imaging centers and mobile X-ray services.

The insecure servers we uncovered add to a growing list of medical records systems that have been compromised in recent years. Unlike some of the more infamous recent security breaches, in which hackers circumvented a company’s cyber defenses, these records were often stored on servers that lacked the security precautions that long ago became standard for businesses and government agencies. Read More > at Governing

The Real Robot Threat – In the fall of 1989, the peoples of Eastern Europe rose up against their Communist oppressors. The tyrants ruling these nations had no moral compunction about shooting their subjects down, but fortunately, they couldn’t count on their armed forces to do it. So the Iron Curtain fell, and two years later, even the mighty Soviet Union was brought down when the Red Army, sent into Moscow, refused the orders of those attempting to brutally reinstate Stalinist rule.

But imagine what might have occurred had those soldiers been not human beings but robots, lacking in any sympathy or humanity, ready, willing, and able to reliably massacre anyone the authorities chose to be their targets.

This is the threat posed by the emerging technology known as “autonomous weapons.”

For decades, science fiction has speculated on the theme of robot servants rising up to overwhelm their human masters. Such scenarios remain fantasy, because they require self-reproducing machines with a will to power and the ability and desire to cooperate with each other to carry off a grand collective design — which at this point, anyway, is still quite far-fetched. Instead what we have seen are drone weapons, most typically aircraft, under human command, executing reconnaissance and strike operations by remote control. The military advantages offered by such systems are obvious. Drone fighters, for example, cost much less than piloted fighters, can pull 20 g’s without blacking out, are utterly fearless, and can be sent on one-way missions, if necessary, without human loss. So we are sure to see more of them, and analogous systems developed for land and sea fighting. Read More > at National Review

The Cancellation Of Shane Gillis Was A Missed Opportunity For Nuance – Shane Gillis is not the perfect martyr for comedy. Unlike, say, Dave Chappelle’s controversial new special, the jokes that got Gillis fired from “Saturday Night Live” weren’t funny. They also weren’t satire; they were cheap, angry jabs at the lowest-hanging fruit. I don’t think the clips reflect well on his talent or personal character, although I’m no expert on either.

But without the space to make mistakes, comedians might refrain from the kind of risk taking that leads to great work. This is where it gets tricky. Nobody should deliberately be made to feel inferior for his race or sex, but comedians should be able to make jokes about both. Gillis failed to thread that needle. But how do we create a genuinely healthy space that tolerates the mistakes while not endorsing them, and leaves room for great, risk-based satire?

Naturally, people called for Gillis’s head. I think that’s the most interesting part of this story. For defenders of comedy, it’s easy to rally behind someone like Chappelle. For his detractors, and for Gillis’s, it’s easy to cancel them. Media elites seem clearly to prefer the former, which is presumably why “SNL” opted to let Gillis go.

Unlike Twitter’s coterie of blue-checkmark comedy police, “SNL” viewers don’t need their comedians to be politicians. It’s highly unlikely Gillis would have caused NBC enough bad press to affect the show’s ratings, but corporate executives time and again seem unaware those complaints emanate from a sliver of the public, and aren’t actually representative.

…“I think we have, as a society, become excessively punitive and vindictive concerning people’s statements and expressions we disagree with or find offensive. I don’t think people should be losing jobs unless it’s truly beyond the pale and egregious,” tweeted Yang, who plans to sit down with Gillis soon. Baked into that point is a subjective evaluation that Gillis’s mockery of Asian-Americans was not “truly beyond the pale and egregious.” Read More > at The Federalist

E-Cigarette Restrictions Raise a Question: Can Governors Unilaterally Ban Products They Don’t Like? – New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) this week announced that he plans to impose an “emergency” ban on e-cigarettes in flavors other than tobacco and menthol. Like the recent decision by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to impose a similar ban in her state, Cuomo’s move is based on an alarmingly broad understanding of a governor’s authority to prohibit products in the name of “public health” without new legislation.

Cuomo’s plan involves convening the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council, which has the power to “amend and repeal sanitary regulations” with the approval of the health commissioner, who is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Those sanitary regulations may “deal with any matters affecting the security of life or health or the preservation and improvement of public health in the state of New York.”

That is a potentially sweeping mandate, encompassing not just traditional public health threats such as pollution and communicable diseases but anything people do that may affect their “life or health.” In this case, Cuomo is asserting the authority to ban the vast majority of vaping products. But he could just as easily (and more plausibly) decide that conventional cigarettes, which are far more dangerous than e-cigarettes, should be banned. And under his reasoning, that move would not require legislative approval. Likewise with alcoholic beverages, highly caloric food, big sodas, fast cars, fireworks, guns, or any other product that may cause disease or injury.

The New York Times reports that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) would like to follow the example set by Cuomo and Whitmer, but “he said it did not appear he could instate an outright ban on e-cigarette products without legislative action.” California’s Health and Safety Code does not seem to include the sort of broad language on which Cuomo and Whitmer are relying, which may explain why Newsom reached that conclusion. Read More > at Reason

Photographer Takes Photos Of Cats High On Catnip, And The Results Are Brilliant – Nowadays, it seems we become more and more obsessed with animals, and love being surrounded by them. Social media are full of photos of cute and adorable pets, and we just can’t get enough.

Andrew Martilla is an animal photographer who was once allergic to cats. Today, he lives with his girlfriend and their three cats. The couple takes care of foster kittens outside D.C., too.

This professional animal photographer and now a confessed crazy cat man, has been featured in hundreds of publications, articles, and galleries, and captured the photos for the book Shop Cats of New York.

His photos are a treat for any cat lover. Read More > at Healthy Food House

SF Restaurant Leaders Sound Alarm on Industry Crisis at City Hall Meeting – In an hours-long City Hall hearing yesterday to address the state of SF restaurants, chefs and business owners described an industry experiencing death by a thousand cuts. Pointing to wide-ranging issues — hefty permitting fees and a slow inspection process; nearly insurmountable minimum wage and healthcare costs; employee retention difficulties amid soaring rents and poor public transit options; and increased competition and costs from online delivery — restaurateurs pleaded with City Supervisors to make changes, and quickly.

San Francisco’s 5,200 restaurants generate $4.7 billion in taxable sales to the city and provide for 3,600 jobs in SF, restaurant industry veteran and Golden Gate Restaurant Association representative Laurie Thomas told Supervisors in her remarks yesterday. But based on her numbers, garnered through Yelp, restaurant closures have begun to outpace openings by nine percent. “We’re seeing a troubling trend,” said Thomas, who owns Rose’s Cafe in Cow Hollow, but whose North Beach restaurant, Rose Pistola, closed in 2017 after 21 years in business.

“We’re all painfully aware of increased rents and inflexible landlords,” added Thomas, who suggested a vacancy tax on landlords to encourage them to rent. Thomas also proposed that restaurant owners be a part of the city’s process to address gross receipts and payroll tax reform: Healthcare spending requirements and minimum wages, which have leapt up 52 percent since 2012, make it difficult to stay afloat, Thomas said.

During a period for public comment, a parade of other restaurant professionals painted a troubling portrait of their industry. “My partners and I have started to consider new projects,” said Che Fico chef and partner David Nayfeld, “but we’ve started to see San Francisco as a non-viable market.” Read More > at Eater SF

Housing group sues Whittier over Granny Flats – Construction of backyard homes is one of the key fronts in California’s housing war. Now, the California Association of Realtors has a plan to make sure cities are permitting these accessory dwelling units (ADU).

C.A.R has formed a nonprofit to file suit against cities which it says are skirting housing laws. The Californians for Homeownership’s first order of business: getting ADUs approved in the L.A. County city of Whittier.

“C.A.R. has long supported affordable housing through its legislative efforts and we want to make sure that cities comply,” said C.A.R. President Jared Martin of the group’s lawsuit (Yahoo Finance).

“State law is simple: If you own a single-family home in California and your garage can be safely converted to housing, you are allowed to convert it,” said Matthew Gelfand, the in-house litigator for the Californians for Homeownership nonprofit. “Whittier is one of a small number of cities that is refusing to comply with the state law. These cities hope that they can get away with their illegal behavior because homeowners are ill-equipped to sue. Our lawsuit sends Whittier and cities like it a clear message: No city is above the law.”

Effective 2017, state law makes it much easier for homeowners to add ADUs to existing structures. 5,000 homeowners in the City of Los Angeles are now applying to build ADUs on a yearly basis. A number of municipalities are still alleged to be non-compliant, however. Californians for Homeownership has been monitoring these cities and policies for more than a year. Read More > at California City News

Taxing your electric car to pay for highway repairs is gaining momentum – Momentum is growing in Congress for some sort of federal tax or fee on electric vehicles.

“Those who use the roads need to contribute to the work that’s being done,” said Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. “And at this point, electric vehicles, which are a growing part of the transportation network, don’t pay anything because they don’t use gasoline.”

Barrasso heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In July, it approved a $287 billion plan to build and repair highways and bridges — but so far senators have not come up with a way to raise that money.

The traditional funding source has been the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, last increased in 1993. But as vehicles become more fuel efficient, and electric vehicles become more popular, the government is likely to collect less and less from the fuel tax, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects.

Barrasso has proposed ending the federal tax credit for electric vehicles and imposing a highway user fee that would be paid when a driver files a tax return.

Many lawmakers supported the idea of making owners of electric vehicles pay for their road use. Read More > at McClatchy

First ‘High-Tech Census’ Raises Stakes for Local Government – Basically, when the 2020 U.S. Census arrives next spring, it will be seeking to accurately count a vastly different country than the one it surveyed 10 years ago.

The reference day used for the Census will again be April 1, as it has been since 1930, and the geographic space the Census covers will be the same. So too will the people, for the most part. What has changed since the federal government took its last sweeping decennial count of the population, however, is the way society engages with, shares, uses and values information.

The United States has counted its citizenry every 10 years since 1790, collecting data that includes age, gender, ethnicity and address, among other fields. Once the count is finished, the information is used by the federal government to plan how to best serve residents in a number of ways, including funding for health care, education, transportation, employment services and more. It is also used to help determine where to build vital infrastructure such as schools, roads and hospitals. Then there’s political representation: Census data helps determine how many congressional seats certain areas get to represent them at the state and federal levels.

…When it comes to understanding how the count is taken, it is perhaps most important for local and state governments to realize there has been a major change for 2020: For the first time ever, residents can fill out the Census online. For whatever reason, however, this has been misconstrued by some to mean that all citizens will be required to do this, and that the old methods — mail, phone and in-person visits — have been abandoned. Terri Ann Lowenthal is a nationally recognized Census expert who was the staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Census oversight subcommittee from 1987 to 1994. She also covered the Census Bureau for the 2008 Obama Presidential Transition Team. This year, she is advising many state and city Census support efforts.

…The idea that the Census is important because it influences funding and representation is perhaps an over-simplification. Andrew Reamer is a research professor at the George Washington Public Policy Institute at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a nationally recognized expert in what Census data is used for, and specifically how it affects funding.

…“Businesses use data derived from the Census to find out where to locate operations,” Reamer said. “Target and Starbucks never locate a new operation without looking at the Census data. They have to understand how many people live in an area, what are their characteristics, how much money they have. If you’re Target, you don’t have cookie-cutter stores. Data will affect what you have inside, how you market, and how you advertise.” Read More > at Governing

Full-day kindergarten could soon be required in every California school – Kindergartners across California could soon be spending more time in their classrooms if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs a bill approved by the state Legislature last week.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 197, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would require every public elementary school, including charter schools, to offer at least one kindergarten class the same length as 1st grade, beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

Schools will be exempt if they don’t have enough kindergarten classrooms to offer a full-day class for all students and have to offer one part-day kindergarten class in the morning and one in the afternoon in the same classroom.

Full-day kindergarten is defined as any program lasting more than four hours, not including recess time. For example, a program beginning at 8:30 and ending at 1:30, would be considered full-day. Currently, California only requires part-day kindergarten, which lasts between three and four hours a day, not including recess time. Read More . at EdSource

The Myth That the Polar Bear Population Is Declining – Many of us watched the viral video in horror. A starving polar bear scavenging for food on barren land, his ribs visible beneath a jaundiced white coat.

“This is what climate change looks like,” said National Geographic.

The magazine explained that because of melting sea ice, precipitated by climate change, more of these mammals are starving. They pointed to a new study in Science suggesting that polar bears require much greater caloric intake in their diet than previously believed.

The video, shot by photographers Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier on Somerset Island, sparked outcry over the decimation of polar bears due to global warming.

While many remember the footage of the polar bear, fewer are aware of what followed.

As Michele Moses recently explained in The New Yorker, scientists accused National Geographic of “being loose with the facts.” There was no evidence, many pointed out, that the bear’s condition was the result of climate change. The bear simply could have been old, ill, or suffering from a degenerative disease.

Mittermeier admitted as much a year later.

“I can’t say that this bear was starving because of climate change,” she wrote in National Geographic.

Perhaps we made a mistake in not telling the full story—that we were looking for a picture that foretold the future and that we didn’t know what had happened to this particular polar bear.

That picture of a single starving bear arguably did more to advance the issue of climate change than any white paper or IPCC report could have. Unfortunately, the footage tells us relatively little about the actual state of the polar bear population.

While you’ll find no shortage of headlines declaring that polar bears face extinction, the numbers tell a different story.

Data from conservation groups and the government show that the polar bear population is roughly five times what it was in the 1950s and three or four times what it was in the 1970s when polar bears became protected under international treaty. Read More > at the Foundation for Economic Education

America Is Becoming the New King of the Oil Market – America’s oil production is booming. The country’s crude oil output is on track to average 12.2 million barrels per day (BPD) this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA). That’s an increase of 1.2 million BPD from 2018’s record output.

Because of that gusher of new supply, the country now rivals Saudi Arabia as the global oil kingpin. It even briefly overtook that nation as the leader in crude oil exports earlier this year. With more supply on the way and additional export infrastructure under construction, America is emerging as a dominant force in the oil market.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released its monthly report on the oil market. The main theme was America’s growing “energy dominance.” The IEA noted that the country’s oil exports to other nations rose above 3 million BPD during June. When added to the volume of refined products and other energy liquids it ships out, America exported nearly 9 million BPD that month. That allowed it to “briefly overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil exporter,” according to the IEA. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Why you shouldn’t fear the gray tsunami – The aging of the world is happening fast. Americans 65 and older are now 16% of the population and will make up 21% by 2035. At that point, they will outnumber those under 18. In China the large numbers of people born before the one-baby policy was introduced in 1979 are swelling the ranks of older people, even as younger age groups shrink. Other countries are even older. Japan leads—more than a quarter of its population is 65 or older—but Germany, Italy, Finland, and much of the rest of the European Union aren’t far behind. A quarter of the people in Europe and North America will be 65 or older by 2050.

Not only is the overall population aging; you will probably spend much more of your life being old. In 1960, if you were 65, you could expect to live to around 79. These days, you’re expected to live to nearly 85. If you’re already 75, you should expect to live until 87.

It’s a huge shift that is changing our economy, our social and cultural values, and even the way we perceive and plan our lives.

The conventional wisdom is that an aging population is toxic for economic growth. Who will do all the work? How will we pay for all those old people’s medical and welfare programs? Economists like to call it the dependency ratio: the size of the working-age population relative to those too old (or too young) to have a job. And they like to show scary projections of how this demographic crisis is coming to get us.

The warnings sound ominous. The gray tsunami. The demographic cliff. The demographic time bomb. But maybe what’s truly not aging well is all the fretting about an inevitable crisis.

The truth is that economists don’t know much about how an aging population will affect us.

“There has been a productivity hit,” says Nicole Maestas, an economist at Harvard. “It’s big, and it’s economically meaningful.” She and her colleagues have calculated, on the basis of data from 1980 to 2010, that a 10% increase in the population age 60 and older has decreased growth in GDP per capita by 5.5%. It means, if the past is any lesson, that the aging US population could slow economic growth by 1.2 percentage points this decade and 0.6 percentage points in the next. Some of this will be because fewer people are working, but two-thirds of it will be because the workforce is less productive on average. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Afghans Want Peace, but Not Like This – Yet despite a rise in violence in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul—and across the country—Sadar, 28, said that while he wants the violence to stop, he’s glad a long-negotiated peace deal between the Taliban and the United States fell through.

His view is shared by many who see the deal as unfit for a country that has seen decades of war and is on the verge of another presidential election, scheduled for Sept. 28, with President Ashraf Ghani seeking a second five-year term.

While people across the country want peace, many fear a large-scale U.S. troop withdrawal could strengthen Taliban rule and increase violence. While people across the country want peace, many fear a large-scale U.S. troop withdrawal could strengthen Taliban rule and increase violence.A lack of clarity has bothered many who say that the details of the deal were kept secret from almost the entire country, including the majority of the Afghan government, which had been sidelined during the talks.

A quick deal without negotiations with the Afghan government could see the Taliban become even more powerful or strengthen groups such as the Islamic State. Read More > at Foreign Policy

A Conspiracy of Entitled Incumbents – Less than a year after California voters rejected rent control in a statewide ballot proposition, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed legislation imposing it. For rental units 15 years or older, rent increases will be limited to 5 percent annually. The negative consequences of the new law are extensive. Older buildings, likely to require the most maintenance, will fail to recover costs—leading to “shabbification.” New construction, desperately needed in a state with an estimated housing shortage of millions of units, will also dwindle. Developers confront a future with limited returns on investment. And, as always with rent control, incumbent renters—assured cheap housing, regardless of their income—will benefit, while newcomers see only “no vacancy” signs.

How to explain such a policy? Legislators, no doubt, hear complaints from tenants struggling with rising rents, but California’s ill-advised action has deeper causes. The state has failed to convince, or coerce, local governments to permit the construction of new, relatively low-cost housing—or much housing at all. The Yimby (Yes in My Backyard) movement, led by State Senator Scott Wiener, sought to provide financial incentives for municipalities to permit new building along transit lines and commercial corridors. But municipalities have shown limited interest in “up-zoning” to permit housing other than single-family homes. Mostly zoned for one-family properties, places like San Jose have some of the nation’s highest housing prices.

Persuading localities to change—or at least to relax so-called exactions, or required public improvements imposed on new developments—remains challenging. Homeowners benefit mightily from the status quo, as prices for one-time starter homes shoot over $1 million—and Proposition 13, a tax cap that ensures home values rise as property taxes remain stagnant, insulates them from dynamics that, in most parts of the country, compel empty-nesters to consider moving out. The roots of NIMBY-ism are bipartisan: environmentalists impose rules and costs, while older homeowners shield themselves from market forces and shift local costs to the state, through income and sales taxes. Rent control is a conspiracy of entitled incumbents. Now count entitled tenants among them. Read More > at City Journal

Five things to know now about California’s new vaccine law – In California, children are required to be vaccinated, or have a medical exemption, to attend school. The new law creates a review process that gives public health officials the final say on those waivers, with the authority to reject them. Reasons for medical exemptions must still follow strict guidelines, and doctors will now be barred from charging any fees for exams or forms related to such dispensation.

The law, signed by the governor Monday, requires doctors to examine patients and submit their recommendations to the state Department of Public Health. State officials will then cross-check recommendations against guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices or the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Currently, the state is not involved in how students are granted medical exemptions. Parents get them from doctors and submit them to schools, and schools with kindergartens are required to submit aggregate data to the state each autumn. The state does not receive exemption forms or information about doctors writing exemptions, according to the Department of Public Health.

Starting next year, parents will continue to get waiver letters from doctors, as they do now, and submit them to schools. Starting in 2021, the state is to have a standardized form and a new submission process: Doctors will send exemptions directly to the state for review and dissemination to schools.

Once the law takes effect in January, a state health official will begin reviewing all medical exemptions at schools in which fewer than 95% of students are vaccinated, from doctors who submit five or more exemptions in one year and from schools that have not shared vaccination rates with the state. Read More > at CALmatters 

Housing action just half-a-loaf – Gavin Newsom’s first legislative session as governor began with promises to vigorously confront California’s huge and ever-growing housing shortage.

“If we want a California for All, we have to build housing for all,” Newsom told legislators in his State of the State address in January, pledging to crack down on cities that don’t meet their quotas of zoning land for new housing and to reduce or eliminate red tape that discourages housing investment.

The session ended last week with housing construction in decline and little or no action to overcome local footdragging and reform CEQA, but with passage of a statewide rent control law that, if anything, will retard housing development even more.

While the legislation keeps one Newsom pledge on housing, as construction declines, he and lawmakers are not doing much to reverse the trend.

A fairly tough bill to overcome local not-in-my-backyard opposition to high-density rental housing was sidelined in the Senate under rather mysterious circumstances, but a weaker version did make it through.

The survivor, Senate Bill 330, purports to prevent local governments from taking extraordinary actions to delay or block housing projects, but it’s more a defensive move rather than one to proactively cut red tape or compel cities to accept more construction.

Bottom line: During his campaign for governor, Newsom set a goal of building 3.5 million new units of housing by 2025. Nothing that occurred in the Capitol this year would even begin to make that happen. Read More > at CALmatters

How drones are dramatically changing warfare – The attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities by Houthi rebels using a fleet of 10 drones loaded with explosives has caused serious damage and will result in a global production cut of around five percent. The Houthi strike was the second aimed at Saudis oil facilities after a previous effort last month resulted in minimal damage.

The Houthi drones were likely supplied by Iran, which has a large drone fleet and has been arming the rebel group in Yemen for years. Saudi Arabia is likely to launch retaliatory strikes against both the Houthis and Iran.

Drones have become a new frontier in warfare allowing activist groups and nations access to a potent weapon that can be used for surveillance or as a remotely piloted bomb. Just last week, activists from a group called Heathrow Pause threatened to fly drones into the exclusion zone around the London airport to disrupt flights and protest climate change. Police arrested 16 of the activists and no flights were disrupted.

The scale of the drone problem and the rate at which it is growing is staggering. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, just two years ago there were around one million drones in the US. This year that number will reach two million. Globally, there are around three million drones flying today. The drone industry worldwide will be worth around $82 billion by 2025.

In the US today, there are around 122,000 commercial drone pilots who fly drones to survey farmland, take video of property for sale or inspect construction sites. In addition, there are a further 800,000 people who own drones and fly them for fun. Read More > at Spectator USA

Dead Bodies Move for Over a Year, Striking Find for Death Investigations – Researchers at Australia’s first ‘human body farm’ have observed that dead bodies move significantly when they decompose and believe the movement could be important in death investigations.

Researcher Alyson Wilson made the discovery using time-lapse cameras to film the decomposition of a donor body in 30-minute intervals over 17 months.

The body farm is the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), which was set up three years ago to investigate human decomposition under a variety of conditions to replicate crime scene scenarios.

“What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body,” Ms Wilson said.

“One arm went out and then came back in to nearly touching the side of the body again.” Read More > at American Security Today

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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