Sunday Reading – 10/06/19

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.

Gas prices spike in Bay Area. Here’s why you’re paying more. – The price of a gallon of gasoline shot up in the past week, hitting an average of $3.98 in San Jose, $4 in Oakland and $4.18 in San Francisco, according to a survey from GasBuddy. The per-gallon amounts reflect respective average increases of 26.4 cents, 25 cents and 29.2 cents.

Gasoline prices haven’t been this high in the region since April, when California was dealing with outages at some refineries on the West Coast as well as the yearly shift to more expensive summer-blended gasoline. Before then, the last time gas prices passed the $4 barrier was in 2014.

“Oil prices have cooled back off after Saudi Arabia brought a significant portion of oil production and processing back online, helping the national average to begin moving lower again, but don’t tell California — who saw a massive spike of nearly 25 cents per gallon in the last week, fueled by refining issues there,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.

“While most of the country will likely see prices tip-toe lower as oil prices have moved lower, California will see prices move higher in the week ahead, with increases also possible in those areas that receive their gasoline from California — including Las Vegas,” DeHaan said in a release. “Prices (in California) will eventually start following the national average lower, but it may be several weeks before it becomes noticeable.” Read More > at the San Francisco Business Times

Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice. – Public health officials for years have urged Americans to limit consumption of red meat and processed meats because of concerns that these foods are linked to heart disease, cancer and other ills.

But on Monday, in a remarkable turnabout, an international collaboration of researchers produced a series of analyses concluding that the advice, a bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines, is not backed by good scientific evidence.

If there are health benefits from eating less beef and pork, they are small, the researchers concluded. Indeed, the advantages are so faint that they can be discerned only when looking at large populations, the scientists said, and are not sufficient to tell individuals to change their meat-eating habits. Read More > in The New York Times

California’s water year starts with a large increase in reservoir storage. Here’s why – California is enjoying an increase in average water reserves due to increases in snowfall and precipitation, according to the Department of Water Resources.

Statewide, the reservoir is at 128 percent of average, which is about 29.7 million acre-feet. Some of the biggest increases include Lake Oroville, which is currently at 102 percent of its average, compared to 62 percent this time last year; Shasta Lake is at 126 percent (88 percent in 2018) and San Luis Reservoir is at 132 percent (117 percent last year).

According to the DWR, the state’s snowpack was at 175 percent of the annual average on April 1. The increase was helped by more than 30 atmospheric rivers, many of which making landfall in Northern California. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

3 Reasons to Pick Walmart Over Amazon Prime – and Walmart have been in an arms race to win over customers. Each wants to crowd out the other to gain market share, and both have been pulling out all the stops.

What was once a baseline of two-day shipping has moved to one-day, with same-day becoming a bigger part of the plan for both companies. It’s a competition that has been good for consumers, giving them a strong choice to make.

You don’t, of course, have to pick one company over the other. But when it comes to paying for Prime, it may be smart not to do that. Walmart does not have the same digital selection as Amazon, but it probably has what you need. Here are three reasons to make that choice.

1. You don’t want to pay a membership fee
Amazon charges $119 a year, or $12.99 a month, with the main benefit being free two-day shipping (which is slowly becoming free one-day shipping). Prime has included a robust video service and a lot of other perks, but many customers likely join for the free shipping.

Walmart offers free two-day shipping (to eventually become one-day) on a few million items for orders over $35. If you regularly order enough to meet that threshold, it may make sense to not pay for Prime.

Walmart allows customers to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS) and to buy online and return in-store (BORIS). Amazon does take returns at its Whole Foods locations and through its partnership with Kohl’s, but there are far fewer of those locations than Walmart has. Amazon also has more limited BOPIS options at Whole Foods and through pickup point locations. Read More > at The Motley Fool

158,269,000: Record Number of Employed in September; 3.5% Unemployment Rate Best Since 1969 – … the number of employed Americans reached a record high last month, climbing 319,000 from August’s record 157,878,000 to 158,269,000. At the same time, the number of unemployed Americans set a Trump-era low at 5,769,000.

Those two strong numbers pushed the nation’s unemployment rate to 3.5 percent in September — down two-tenths of a point from last month, and the lowest rate since December 1969.

The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said the economy added 136,000 jobs in September, as employment in health care and in professional and business services continued to trend up. Employment in government also continued its upward trend in September, with 22,000 jobs added. On a negative note, manufacturing employment dropped in September, losing 2,000 jobs.

In September, the civilian non-institutional population in the United States was 259,638,000. That included all people 16 and older who did not live in an institution (such as a prison, nursing home or long-term care hospital). Of that civilian non-institutional population, 164,039,000 were in the labor force, meaning that they either had a job or were actively seeking one during the last month.

That produced a labor force participation rate of 63.2 percent, the same as it was in August, and a Trump-era high. The higher this number, the better.

Of the 164,039,000 who were in the labor force, 5,769,000 were unemployed, which put the unemployment rate at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Read More > at CNS News

Is This The End Of The Lithium-Ion Battery? – Researchers have been in a race to find ways to improve lithium-ion batteries. They are also looking to develop alternatives to the lithium-ion battery that would be lower cost and more sustainable to manufacture. And they may just have found one.

Aluminum-based batteries would be cheaper to make, because aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen and silicon. Aluminum is also light-weight and could be ideal for use in batteries.

Yet, for years scientists have stumbled in the research about aluminum batteries because they have yet to crack the code of what materials to use for the anode and cathode of the battery so that it could enable efficient energy storage with enough energy content.

Now scientists from Sweden and Slovenia say they have found a way to have efficient aluminum batteries with lower environmental impact and lower production costs.

Compared to the lithium-ion batteries today, the new concept could lead to “markedly lower production costs” of aluminum batteries, the scientists say.

Another advantage is that there already exists an established industry for aluminum manufacturing and recycling. With lithium-ion batteries, recycling is one major issue as few economically feasible technologies for battery recycling currently exist. Read More > at Oil Price

‘It’s the New Form of Affordable Housing’: More People Are Living in Their Cars – When a homeless count was conducted in Seattle this year, the city realized that more people are living in their car than ever before and 46 percent more than the year prior. In King County, which surrounds Seattle, around 25 percent of the homeless population is reported to live in their vehicles.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Seattle.

There’s been an explosion in many major cities — from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., to San Francisco — of “vehicular homelessness.” The issue is of particular concern on the West Coast, where rents have skyrocketed and the number of homeless people who don’t live in shelters is up 20,000 from 2015 to 2017.

The rise of people sleeping in their cars presents unique challenges for cities and homeless advocates. Read More > at Governing

California Local Governments Gain a Pathway to Establish Public Banks – Legislation that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law this week clears the way for cities and counties to form and own public banks, an idea that has drawn interest in recent years both in and out of the state, while also spurring opposition from the banking industry.

The law authorizes local governments in California to deposit their money in public banks and to invest in them as well. Supporters say localities are currently forced to deposit their money in large out-of-state banks that prioritize profits rather than local priorities.

Public banks, they contend, would be better positioned to offer financing with attractive interest rates for things like public infrastructure projects, affordable housing and small businesses.

Public banks in California would not be allowed to offer retail banking services that are already available where they’re operating, although they could partner with a private bank or credit union to do so—the goal here is to keep the banks from competing with local financial institutions.

AB 857 itself does not establish any public banks. But it outlines a process where local governments could set them up if they gain approval from state regulators and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The banks would need FDIC deposit insurance.

Under the bill, which goes into effect in January, California’s commissioner of business oversight could not issue more than two public bank licenses in a given year. Local governments would be allowed to create a total of 10 banks. Read More > at Route Fifty

Gavin Newsom gives California districts more power to block charter schools with new law – California school districts will soon have more power to block proposed charter schools under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Thursday.

The new law will let districts consider how proposed charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, would affect traditional schools in the district and whether they would siphon money from schools already in financial distress. High performing charter schools will be eligible for seven-year renewals, compared with five years for middle-performing charter schools.

It will also let districts close charter schools that aren’t serving some student populations, such as students with disabilities.

The California Charter Schools Association, The state’s most prominent charter-advocacy organization, went neutral on the bill after negotiations with Newsom’s office and the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Poll shows Californians have a positive view of pot legalization, want to see more dispensaries in their cities – The majority of California cities still prohibit commercial weed, but voters say they want to see more legal dispensaries in their cities.

A new poll conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies shows that 63% of California voters support permitting cannabis shops where they live. The poll was paid for by the Los Angeles Times.

Overall support for legalization is also up. 68% of respondents say legalization has been a good thing. 69% of those in Los Angeles County feel Prop 64 has had a positive impact.

“There hasn’t been any real buyer’s remorse about the initiative. If anything, support has gone up,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS poll.

Support for dispensaries remains lowest in the Inland Empire. Even there, it was 54%. Read More > at California City News

The “Retail Apocalypse” May Last 2 More Years – The bankruptcy of fast-fashion retailer Forever 21 was the 35th major bankruptcy this year, with over two-thirds of them in retail. And it likely won’t be the last.

Coresight Research says over 8,500 stores have closed this year, 47% more than last year and ahead of the record 8,000 or so that shut down in 2017. It estimates as many as 12,000 stores will close in 2019, offset by only 3,500 openings year to date.

Brick-and-mortar stores will not vanish because of e-commerce, but there’s a real possibility it may grind down the retail industry for several more years as it falls into a more sustainable equilibrium. It’s a change that could fundamentally alter the retail landscape.

There’s the temptation to minimize the carnage being inflicted on retailers by noting that just a handful of companies make up a large percentage of the store closures. Payless Shoes, for example, accounted for 2,300 of the total after it filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and Gymboree, Charlotte Russe, and discount chain Fred’s each contributed hundreds more. But there are a number of retailers in expansion mode.

Target (NYSE:TGT) has opened 100 mini stores in the past two years with an ongoing commitment to open 30 more each year.Dollar General (NYSE:DG) opened over 900 stores last year and is more than halfway to achieving its goal of opening 1,000 stores this year.

So where a relatively small number of retailers represent most store closures, an even smaller number of retailers are responsible for the bulk of store openings this year as well. Read More > at The Motley Fool

The ‘retail apocalypse’ is a myth, and that’s good news for the shopping industry and downtowns – The “retail apocalypse” is a concept being actively promoted through media headlines, and it is largely based on recent closures among national chain stores. However, it is easily debunked with real data. The total number of retail establishments and aggregate retail sales are actually increasing, and new chain stores and restaurant openings are keeping up with chain store closures.

Increasing retail establishments: The hypothetical Retail Apocalypse should be supported by a decline in the total retail establishments, but that’s not the case. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 1,044,509 establishments for 2018, for a net gain of 2,413 establishments over 2017 (1,042,096). The 2018 figure also represents a net gain of more than 20,800 establishments since a retail trough in 2011, a low point resulting from the Great Recession.

New stores offset the closings: The growth of retail trade can be tough to imagine given all of the announcements of store closings across the nation, and particularly with media channels fanning the flames. Chain store closings get inflated coverage because it helps sell news channels. With that primary objective, reporters too quickly ignore new store and restaurant openings that offset the closures.

To further debunk the myth of a Retail Apocalypse, LandUseUSA conducted an in-depth survey of announced chain store closings and openings… The inventory includes the top 40 largest chain store closures and the top 40 largest chain store openings. Based on these inventories, at least 8,342 chain store locations will close in 2019, including 2,590 Payless shoe stores. Others are in the hundreds and include Gymboree (-805), Dress Barn (-650), Charlotte Russe (-520), Fred’s Super Dollar (-440), Family Dollar (-390), Shopko (-363), Sears/Kmart (-145) and the Gap (-115).

Here are some more facts to put this in context. First, the top 40 chain store closures represent a mere 0.8% of all retail establishments reported in 2018. That is 8 stores out of every one thousand (8/1,000); and the other 99.2% of all retail establishments (992 out of every thousand) are actually growing in total numbers.

Furthermore, the nation’s new chain store openings will total at least 5,124 in 2019 (0.5%). There are also 2,500 net new restaurants opening in 2019 (this is a conservative estimate), which helps make up any remaining gap between store openings versus closings. Read More > at Public Square

‘Coal is still king’ in Southeast Asia even as countries work toward cleaner energy – Coal is still a dominant fuel in the rapidly growing economies of Southeast Asia, even amid a general global move toward cleaner energy sources, data from several recent reports show.

“The narrative surrounding coal has been pessimistic across the world. This will result in the gradual slowdown of new coal-fired capacity in Southeast Asia,” said Jacqueline Tao, research associate at Wood Mackenzie, a commodity consultancy.

“However, the reality of rising power demand and affordability issues in the region mean that we will only start to see coal’s declining power post-2030,” Tao said on Sept. 25 when the consultancy released a new report.

“Coal is still king in Southeast Asia’s power market,” according to Wood Mackenzie. Read More > at CNBC

The Unwanted Wars – Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever – The war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’ entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in recent memory.

A conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies, an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq. Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility.

When it comes to the Middle East, Tip O’Neill, the storied Democratic politician, had it backward: all politics—especially local politics—is international. In Yemen, a war pitting the Houthis, until not long ago a relatively unexceptional rebel group, against a debilitated central government in the region’s poorest nation, one whose prior internal conflicts barely caught the world’s notice, has become a focal point for the Iranian-Saudi rivalry. It has also become a possible trigger for deeper U.S. military involvement. The Syrian regime’s repression of a popular uprising, far more brutal than prior crackdowns but hardly the first in the region’s or even Syria’s modern history, morphed into an international confrontation drawing in a dozen countries. It has resulted in the largest number of Russians ever killed by the United States and has thrust both Russia and Turkey and Iran and Israel to the brink of war. Internal strife in Libya sucked in not just Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but also Russia and the United States.

There is a principal explanation for such risks. The Middle East has become the world’s most polarized region and, paradoxically, its most integrated. That combination—along with weak state structures, powerful nonstate actors, and multiple transitions occurring almost simultaneously—also makes the Middle East the world’s most volatile region. It further means that as long as its regional posture remains as it is, the United States will be just one poorly timed or dangerously aimed Houthi drone strike, or one particularly effective Israeli operation against a Shiite militia, away from its next costly regional entanglement. Ultimately, the question is not chiefly whether the United States should disengage from the region. It is how it should choose to engage: diplomatically or militarily, by exacerbating divides or mitigating them, and by aligning itself fully with one side or seeking to achieve a sort of balance. Read More > at Foreign Affairs 

Californians surveyed: Rising concern about homelessness, a split on Newsom, and no home-state edge for Kamala Harris – Californians are increasingly pessimistic about the future of the state and are more worried about housing and homelessness than ever before.

And at least according to one major poll, they’re beginning to take it out on Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Democratic state Legislature.

In new survey results released today, the Public Policy Institute of California found that more likely voters now disapprove of Newsom’s job performance than approve.

But the new round of numbers are in sharp contrast to a survey released on Monday by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, which found likely voters approving of Newsom by a margin of nearly 20 percentage points.

The PPIC poll also found that 1 in 4 Californians now point to housing and homelessness as the “most important issue facing people in California today.” Of the 1,700 adults surveyed, 15% listed “homelessness” as a top concern and 11% named housing.

Another 15% said “jobs and the economy.”

While jobs are a perennial concern for Californians, this is the first time the state’s homeless crisis was a top source of public angst, said PPIC president Mark Baldassare. Read More > at CALmatters

FBI: Homicide Down in 2018 – Murder is on the decline in America, according to a new FBI report.

The nation’s top federal law enforcement agency found that homicides fell by 6 percent in 2018. The decline in homicides is part of a 3 percent drop in the violent crime rate, according to the Uniform Crime Report, the FBI’s annual tally of crimes reported to local police departments. The 2018 decline follows several years of slight increases in homicide and violent crime, driven largely by spikes in major cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Overall, violent crime rates fell by just under 4 percent, from 383.8 offenses per 100,000 people to 368.9, the report shows. That decline reflects not just the 6 percent reduction in the homicide rate, but also decreases in the robbery and aggravated assault rates. Among violent crimes, only the rate of rapes increased, rising from 41.7 rapes per 100,000 people to 42.6. The property crime rate fell for the 19th consecutive year. Read More > at The Washington Free Beacon 

California’s First Online Community College Opens Its Virtual Doors to Students – California’s first fully online, free community college opened for business Tuesday, allowing students to apply and register for a range of career pathway programs.

Calbright College, the state’s 115th community college, aims to serve what it calls “stranded” California adults who are underemployed, working multiple part-time jobs or stuck in jobs that don’t pay living wages.

The California Community Colleges system estimates that roughly 8 million adults, between 25 and 34, fall into this category. The college is currently offering three online programs, which will lead to industry certifications in cybersecurityinformation technology and medical coding. Read More > at KQED

Woman who sleeps in $500 EMF-blocking sack wants area-wide Wi-Fi limits – A British woman has been in the news recently for diagnosing herself with a sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation and sleeping in a $500 EMF-blocking sack. She reportedly stays in the sack, from time to time, for 30-hour stretches.

The woman—70-year-old Rosi Gladwell of Totnes, Devon—helps lead a small advocacy group on the topic of EMF-related health issues, and she even got the mayor of a Spanish village to look into ways to limit Wi-Fi access for residents. She fears that the introduction of 5G mobile networks will kill her.

Now seems like a good time to remind readers that there is no evidence to support the idea of “electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” The World Health Organization calls it “idiopathic environmental intolerance with attribution to electromagnetic fields,” or IEI-EMF.

Dozens of studies have found that people who claim to be sensitive to the non-ionizing radiation from mobile phones and Wi-Fi are unable to determine when they’ve actually been exposed.

Nevertheless, many people believe themselves to be afflicted. A 2007 survey in the UK found that 4% of people felt they were sensitive to radio-frequency EMF. And, as Ars has reported before, “electrosensitives” have flocked to the EMF dead-zone around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Federal and state laws restrict transmissions in a 10-mile radius that might interfere with the observatory’s sensitive radio telescopes, creating a haven for those in fear of low-frequency radiation. Read More > at ars TECHNICA

NRA 1, San Francisco Board of Supervisors 0 Remember last month when San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization and ordered city employees to “take every reasonable step to limit” business interactions with the NRA and its supporters? The one that our David French labeled “a retaliatory public attack on constitutionally protected speech”?

The NRA sued, and lo and behold, San Francisco is backing down, before the suit even went to court.

In a formal memo to city officials, San Francisco mayor London Breed declared that “no [municipal] department will take steps to restrict any contractor from doing business with the NRA or to restrict City contracting opportunities for any business that has any relationship with the NRA.”

The memo declares, “resolutions making policy statements do not impose duties on City departments, change any of the City’s existing laws or policies, or control City departments’ exercise of discretion.” Read More > at the National Review 

After Uber, Americans spent more on taxis and less on public transit – You can trace Uber’s rise in America in the data.

Average annual household spending on local taxis, a category that includes Uber and Lyft, more than tripled from 2015 to 2018, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey. The average US household spent about $70 per year on taxis in 2018, up from $20 in 2015 (adjusted for inflation). Over the same period, estimated average household spending on local public transit like trains and buses declined by 15%, from $98 to $83. Read More > at Quartz

Black Sox Forever – Reflections on the centennial of America’s greatest sports scandal

On the eve of the 1919 World Series, the White Sox were unquestionably baseball’s best team. Three players on its roster would eventually enter the Hall of Fame, and there might have been twice that many had the fixers been eligible for consideration. Even now, Jackson, the illiterate South Carolina sharecropper’s son, is ranked among the game’s greatest hitters. Eddie Cicotte, a 29-game winner in 1919 who was en route to the magic 300-win milestone, had a superlative career earned-run average of 2.38; and at 26, Lefty Williams, the team’s Number Two starter, was proving nearly as dominant.

But the White Sox also had the game’s most tight-fisted owner, Charles Comiskey, and, in an era when players were bound to their teams for life by the Reserve Clause, he exploited even his stars. Some of them, anyway—a sharp class divide existed on the ballclub, and it played out both in the locker room and in the pay differential. While the canny, Columbia-educated future Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins (known to resentful teammates as “Cocky” Collins) earned $15,000 that season, the blue-collar Cicotte was paid barely half that. Yet, it was not Cicotte’s salary but a clause in his contract that proved decisive to what followed: he was guaranteed a $10,000 bonus in the unlikely event that he won 30 games that year. Once Cicotte reached 29, though, with five starts still to go, Comiskey ordered manager Kid Gleason to stop using him.

The Sox’s Game 1 starter in the series, Cicotte had been reluctant to commit to the fix—but when he promptly hit the Cincinnati Reds’ leadoff batter, it was a signal that the deal was on. Given that the superiority of the White Sox was reflected in the betting odds, the first indication that something might be amiss—at least for those paying attention—was that so much money had suddenly been wagered on the underdog Reds. Several sportswriters who knew the team intimately, including the legendary Ring Lardner, made note of the improbable plays that seemed to occur at just the wrong moments—a bobble or misplayed fly ball here, a boneheaded decision there—and with grim humor came up with a parody of a popular standard:

I’m forever blowing ballgames,
Pretty ballgames in the air,
I come from Chi, I hardly try,
Just go to bat and fade and die.

The Reds would go on to win what was then a best of nine series, five games to three. Yet for the Sox, the games would produce one unlikely hero in the person of the unheralded lefthander Dickey Kerr. The team’s third starter, unaware of his teammates’ subterfuge, Kerr pitched so brilliantly that the Sox won both his starts. (What’s less remembered is that Kerr’s career ended soon thereafter, when he was suspended by Comiskey and subsequently blackballed for holding out for better pay.) It would be a full year, the closing days of the 1920 season, before everything came to light, but once it did, photos of the disgraced eight dominated front pages everywhere. It remains difficult to fathom the scandal’s impact on the public, one almost unimaginably less jaded than we are today. “He’s the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote five years later in The Great Gatsby, in introducing Meyer Wolfsheim, modeled on real-life fix mastermind Arnold Rothstein. Read More > at City Journal

Humanity will outlive climate change and nuclear war, no matter how bad it gets – Despite our best efforts, we’re not going to wipe ourselves out.

We’re like ants: We’re vulnerable to being killed en masse, but the species will survive because, like ants, we’re numerous and dispersed. No matter how many supposedly humanity-ending threats you hurl—literally, in the case of ballistic missiles—humans will continue to crawl the Earth. This comfort may be cold, but it’s still a fact.

Consider the enumerated threats, beginning with a pandemic. A century ago, the Spanish flu caused a staggering 20-50 million deaths, more than WWI. Still, the toll amounted to less than 3% of the world population. As ghastly as it was, the Spanish flu didn’t even rise to the level of decimation; viruses can slay, but they can’t annihilate. If past mortality is prologue, a millennial has less chance of succumbing to a new pandemic than dying in an auto accident.

OK, well what about climate change, now recognized as a non-hoax by 75% of Americans? It’s not the heat per se that will waste us, but the knock-on effects. Low-lying nations will turn into aquariums and Caribbean countries will be pummeled and pelted by savage storms. The economic disruptions will be severe, including ones you might not have considered, such as the damage to your investment portfolio: Five of the world’s 10 largest companies are in the fossil-fuel business.

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, 5 million people will perish due to the consequences of climate change. Nonetheless, if aliens visit Earth in 2050, they’ll still find billions of humans. Indeed, probably more than walk the planet today.

OK, but what about the mother of all catastrophes, massive nuclear war? The world’s militaries currently have more than 10,000 nuclear weapons teed up. Let’s dismiss the possibility that diplomacy or common sense will continue to fend off their use, and assume that, one fine day, all adversaries push their respective buttons. Let’s further suppose that only one weapon is dispatched to any particular urban area; that none of the missiles ever misfire or are intercepted; and—just to remain consistently dark—that the bombs are 100% effective, killing each and every inhabitant of the target city and its immediate surroundings. (The actual fraction in Hiroshima was about 30%.)

The simplest and deadliest scenario is that the world’s 10,000 most populous urban areas will be targeted and thoroughly obliterated. This includes all cities the size of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or larger. Each will witness its own deadly mushroom cloud, and destruction by both blast and radiation. Read More > at Quartz

New report shows over half of people have considered leaving California – Are you ready for another story about the great California exodus? Because UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies is bringing it.

In a new poll, the researchers found that 52% of California’s registered voters have considered leaving the state. The reason? You guessed it. High housing costs, high taxation, and also the political environment.

Some things to note:

  • Of those who said they had considered leaving, 24% said they had given it serious thought.
  • Housing was cited as the #1 cause for 71% of respondents. Taxes were cited by 58% and politics were cited by 46%.
  • Republicans and/or conservatives were more likely to have considered leaving, especially for political reasons.
  • Voters in the Central Valley and Southern California (outside L.A. County) were more likely to cite taxes and/or the political climate.

There’s at least one silver lining.

Another question in the poll updated a 50-year time series asking Californians how they would describe the state as a place to live. The results of the latest poll are somewhat more upbeat than recent past measures. Half the of state’s registered voters (50%) now describe California as “one of the best places” to live, up from 43% who felt this way in 2013, the last time this question was posed. However, here too, partisanship and political ideology play a prominent role, with Democrats and liberals nearly three times as likely as Republicans and conservatives to describe California as one of the best places to live.

The Berkeley IGS relied on responses from 4,527 of the state’s registered voters, selected randomly and polled from September 13 – 18. Read More > at California County News

California is the first state to allow college athletes to make money and hire agents – California will let college athletes hire agents and make money from endorsements, defying the NCAA and setting up a likely legal challenge that could reshape amateur sports in the U.S.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday he signed the law that would let athletes at California universities make money from their images, names or likenesses. The law also bans schools from kicking athletes off the team if they get paid.

The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. It does not apply to community colleges and bans athletes from accepting endorsement deals that conflict with their schools’ existing contracts

California is the first state to pass such a law. Read More > at MarketWatch

Why Your Dog Likes Sticking Its Head Out the Car WindowMost dogs have a weird quirk or two that (usually) makes them all the more lovable. But unlike other common canine behaviors — such as butt sniffing, tail chasing and kicking a leg during an epic belly rub — their car etiquette is less understood.

Sticking heads out of windows, understandably, hasn’t gotten much attention in animal behavior research. But experts have a pretty good hunch as to why an open car window is your dog’s idea of a good time. And it’s not because Rover is glad to be getting out of the house for a bit.

“Dogs receive more olfactory stimulation with their heads fully outside the car versus inside the car. And even having the windows down only a few inches seems to provide enrichment and stimulation that dogs will seek out,” says Natalie Zielinski, director of behavior services at the Wisconsin Humane Society.

The canine olfactory system is highly developed and far superior to ours. For starters, a dog’s nose is equipped with a complex maze of 300 million scent receptors, compared to our measly 5 million. The more receptors, the more sensitive the nose is.

And dog noses aren’t just cute — they’re practically designed to savor smells. Dogs have two air passages, one for breathing and one dedicated to smelling. To top things off, the canine olfactory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing smells, is 40 times larger than that of a human. Read More > at Discover

There Is No Impending Bird Apocalypse – What happens when the marketing campaign for new research gets more attention than the science.

When a major new study on North American bird populations appeared in the journal Science last week, it included all the trappings of a typical scientific paper, along with one, less conventional addition: The study also came with its own hashtag, #BringBirdsBack.

Certainly, the central finding of the research team, led by Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, seemed likely to trigger strong public reaction, on and off social media. Since 1970, the researchers estimated, the North American bird population had declined by roughly 2.9 billion birds, a 29 percent drop. It was, the researchers wrote, “an overlooked biodiversity crisis.”

The finding received widespread media coverage. “Where Have All the Birds Gone?” a headline in the Seattle Times asked. A piece in Vox wondered whether the trend would end in a “bird apocalypse.” (Not necessarily, the piece conceded.) And the headline on a front-page story in the New York Times declared “Birds Are Vanishing From North America.” The dramatic opening line of the piece: “The skies are emptying out.”

The declines were certainly notable, but some ecologists have begun to question whether the calculus undertaken in the paper truly warranted this sort of language and the ominous future it seemed to suggest. And those concerns have raised further questions among some scientists—and even some reflection among authors of the paper themselves—about how high-stakes research, the constraints of high-profile journal publishing, and sophisticated publicity can sometimes combine to drive a story into the news cycle while eclipsing important uncertainties, and perhaps even delivering an incomplete message to the public.

…As public attention to the study has intensified, though, not all ecologists are convinced that the numbers in the news actually present such a clear-cut picture. In a post on the academic blog Dynamic Ecology, Brian McGill, a macroecologist at the University of Maine, praised the study, even as he questioned whether the data actually pointed to an impending bird apocalypse.

In the post, McGill observes that, of the 2.9 billion birds lost, many belong to species that are not native to North America. Just two of those species—the European starling and the house sparrow—account for close to 15 percent of the net population loss recorded by the researchers. “The irony is that land managers and conservation agencies have actually spent a lot of money to try to drive down or eliminate invasive species,” McGill said in an interview with Undark.

McGill also argues that, for many other species—especially those that thrive on farmland—population numbers may have actually been inflated in 1970, a result of generations of forest clearance and prairie destruction. By that reckoning, some of the decline may not be a catastrophic drop, but simply a return to an earlier baseline population that precedes the arrival of Europeans.

…A slightly different framing of the exact same data, Arnold continued, could have yielded an accurate, more nuanced story—but then it also would have been less likely to earn a place in what is arguably the world’s most prominent science journal, and all the predictable publicity that came with it. “I’m pretty sure if I tried with the same analysis, and focused on the fact that I could do a really cool and sophisticated analysis based on 500-plus species, that would never get past the editor’s eye,” he said. “It would have ended up somewhere. But certainly not in Science.” Read More > at Slate

TV Long View: Premiere Week Lows and the Industry’s New Normal – Same-day Nielsen ratings for network series have fallen precipitously in the past five years, and delayed and multiplatform viewing isn’t likely to get all of those losses back.

Here is a partial list of shows that have had their lowest-rated season premieres in the past couple of weeks: Modern Family, The Good Doctor, Young Sheldon, Law & Order: SVU, Empire, NCIS: New Orleans, American Horror Story. It would be no surprise to see the likes of The Flash and The Walking Dead join that group when they open their seasons in early October.

Ad-supported TV is swimming against a years-long tide of declining viewership, coupled with an explosion of other places to watch programming — everything from Netflix to Twitch.

On top of that, networks are adapting to the changing landscape by trying to reach viewers via their own apps and digital platforms, which makes it awfully easy for a viewer to miss an episode when it airs, forget to set the DVR and still be able to catch up.

As a result of all those changes, same-day Nielsen ratings — the numbers that are released every morning — have fallen precipitously in recent years. Some of that audience has in fact migrated to delayed viewing or other platforms, but some of it is just gone. Read More > in The Hollywood Reporter

Urinals banned from newly remodeled Portland Building – The City of Portland banned urinals in the remodeled Portland Building.

Urinals, for those who have never been in a men’s bathroom, are porcelain receptors without seats or lids that allow men to quickly relieve themselves.

The total remodel will cost taxpayers $195,000,000. A spokeswoman said she did not have a break out on how much the bathroom work cost.

She also said no one from the city was available to talk about banning the urinals.

In an email to employees last February, Chief Administrative Officer Tom Rinehart wrote:

“We will continue to have gender-specific (male and female) multi-stall restrooms that are readily available to any employee that prefers to use one. But, there will be no urinals in any restroom in the building. This will give us the flexibility we need for any future changes in signage.”

The city has redesigned all the bathrooms to be gender neutral– which means urinals are banned eve’ in the men’s room. Read More > from KGW

Help Your Teens Clean Up Social Media Before Cancel Culture Comes For Them – It’s not uncommon to hear about people who become internet famous or otherwise are thrust into public view, only to be ruthlessly attacked by cancel culture because of old, long-forgotten online behavior. Carson King is the most recent example of this. Famous for a beer money sign that went viral, he won hearts and public opinions when he decided to donate the money he raised to a children’s hospital.

What a wholesome, winsome, good-natured story. The kind we need right now, right? Until the Des Moines Register had a reporter dig into his Twitter history, uncovering tweets from nearly a decade ago when a teenaged King quoted a TV show and said things in bad taste.

There’s a lot of smart conversation happening on how to combat cancel culture and how to potentially pull back on some of the most damaging aspects of it, but right now, words said online can come back to bite people years and years later — particularly words said in public forums such as Twitter or on public Facebook posts.

Parents of teens and young adults must be aware of cancel culture and the future ramifications of internet behavior for their children and start actively addressing it. It’s just as important as talking about being kind to people in real life, because the electronic record of their online stupidity can be pulled up and used against them in job situations and other adult interactions.

…If any of these sites serve as an online journal and you or your teen is loathe to lose that record, don’t despair. Platforms now offer the option to download your archive, quickly and cleanly, before clearing things off. Save that file somewhere securely, and then purge. I suggest doing this at least every six months. Schedule it like you do a dental cleaning or changing your furnace filter.

Get ahead of the crowd before the outrage mob comes for you. It doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything other than being a human, full of imperfect and randomly stupid moments. We all have them. Rather, it means you and the young adults in your life acknowledge the reality in which we live, one where an ill-thought-out moment can become a massive headache years later. Read More > at The Federalist

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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1 Response to Sunday Reading – 10/06/19

  1. Hal Bray says:

    Government banks will be the final straw in the suicide of California government. Unable to constrain themselves from acts of stupidity, government will bypass trying to pass bond or tax measures and will borrow from, in reality, themselves to implement stupid ideas that voters won’t pass. Bank Board members, management, and employees will be a maze of “inclusiveness and diversity”, rather than competence and compensation will drain the banks as banks hire their buddies and political patrons in high paying jobs. At least Joe Biden, Nanccy Pelosi, and John Kerry’s children will not have to go to Ukraine to get wealthy on graft.

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