Sunday Reading – 12/08/19

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Los Angeles Is Spending Over $1 Billion To House the Homeless. It’s Failing. –

Read More > at Reason

Measles deaths ‘staggering and tragic’ – More than 140,000 people died from measles last year as the number of cases around the world surged once again, official estimates suggest.

Most of the lives cut short were children aged under five.

The situation has been described by health experts as staggering, an outrage, a tragedy and easily preventable with vaccines.

Huge progress has been made since the year 2000, but there is concern that incidence of measles is now edging up.

In 2018, the UK – along with Albania, the Czech Republic and Greece, lost their measles elimination status.

And 2019 could be even worse.

The US is reporting its highest number of cases for 25 years, while there are large outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine.

The Pacific nation of Samoa has declared a state of emergency and unvaccinated families are hanging red flags outside their homes to help medical teams find them. Read More > from the BBC

Here’s where the jobs are — in one chart – The November 2019 employment report showed U.S. companies added way more jobs than expected during the month as mammoth gains in health care and social services — as well as a bounce in manufacturing hiring — ushered labor statistics higher.

The government reported Friday that payrolls increased by 266,000, easily besting the 187,000 estimate economists polled by Dow Jones had forecast. The unemployment rate ticked back down to 3.5%, matching an earlier 2019 level that at the time was the lowest since 1969.

CNBC studied the net changes by industry for November jobs based on data from the Labor Department contained in the employment report.

The education and health care industry was by far the strongest during the month, adding more than 70,000 jobs for the month.

The whopping gain for health care, in particular, further cemented its place as an employment juggernaut in the United States for the foreseeable future, thanks to changing demographics and advances in medical technology. Read More > from CNBC

Delivery Only: The Rise Of Restaurants With No Diners As Apps Take Orders – Inside a bright red building in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, cooks plunge baskets of french fries into hot oil, make chicken sandwiches and wrap falafel in pita bread.

If you’ve been in a restaurant kitchen, it’s a familiar scene. But what’s missing here are waiters and customers. Every dish is placed in a to-go box or bag.

Delivery drivers line up in a waiting area ready for the name on their order to be called.

Behind the counter, racks of metal shelves hold bags of food. Each bag sports a round, red sticker with the logo of DoorDash, America’s biggest food delivery app.

DoorDash manages this building, the drivers, the counter staff — everything but the food, which is made by five restaurants that are renting kitchens here.

Not long ago, food delivery in many places was limited to pizza and Chinese takeout.

But now, thanks to apps like DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates, customers can summon their favorite dish with a tap on a smartphone screen, whether they live in a city or the far-flung suburbs.

U.S. diners spent almost $27 billion last year ordering food for delivery by app, website or text message, according to the NPD Group, a market researcher. Online delivery is still a small slice of the $800 billion restaurant industry, but it’s growing fast. Read More > at NPR

More Evidence Emerges That Federal Government Is Funding Worthless College Degrees – Americans have long suspected that, for many, a college degree simply isn’t worth the price.

American taxpayers – two-thirds of whom do not have a college degree – are likewise increasingly skeptical of the notion that they should pay off loans that someone else made the decision to take out.

With recently published College Scorecard data, American students and taxpayers have more reason than ever to reject the left’s “college for all” agenda.

The College Scorecard recently released program-level data on individual schools. Students can now go online and see how much debt the average student graduates with in a certain degree program, along with expected starting salaries.

The results indicate that choosing a major matters immensely, especially when relying on federal student loans to finance one’s education.

According to The Wall Street Journal, 15 percent of programs graduate students who carry more federal student loan debt than their annual income.

Interestingly, graduate programs – which are generally perceived to be good investments – are some of the worst offenders.

Students who graduate from the University of Miami Law School, for example, hold a median total debt of $150,896, but earn a starting salary of just $52,100. Even more problematic, students who obtain a master’s degree from New York University in film/video and photographic arts graduate with a median total debt of a whopping $168,568, but earn a median starting salary of $29,600.

Those findings are particularly concerning, considering that there is virtually no cap on how much students can borrow for graduate school under the PLUS loan program. Read More > at Intellectual Takeout

Map: these cities are considering decriminalizing psychedelics – Six months ago, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and peyote. Oakland, California soon followed. Now, more than 100 cities could do the same.

Oakland-based Decriminalize Nature, which advocates for psychedelics reform, has created a map showing which cities could be next. It contains 5 color coded pins for cities where resolutions have been introduced, where discussions are just beginning, and more.

“The bulk of cities featured on the map are in the very early stages of advancing reform, with most being identified with a cream colored pin that means activists in those jurisdictions have reached out to Decriminalize Nature and received the group’s information packet about next steps,” Marijuana Moment notes.

Cities like Berkeley, Chicago, Portland, Santa Cruz and Port Townsend, Washington are past the discussion stage and could see votes to decriminalize soon.

In addition to the local efforts, California activists are pursuing a statewide ballot measure for 2020. Read More > at California City News 

Special Report: 2020 U.S. census plagued by hacking threats, cost overruns – In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau faced a pivotal choice in its plan to digitize the nation’s once-a-decade population count: build a system for collecting and processing data in-house, or buy one from an outside contractor.

The bureau chose Pegasystems Inc, reasoning that outsourcing would be cheaper and more effective.

Three years later, the project faces serious reliability and security problems, according to Reuters interviews with six technology professionals currently or formerly involved in the census digitization effort. And its projected cost has doubled to $167 million — about $40 million more than the bureau’s 2016 cost projection for building the site in-house.

The Pega-built website was hacked from IP addresses in Russia during 2018 testing of census systems, according to two security sources with direct knowledge of the incident. One of the sources said an intruder bypassed a “firewall” and accessed parts of the system that should have been restricted to census developers.

…The U.S. Constitution requires a decennial census to determine each state’s representation in Congress and to guide the allocation of as much as $1.5 trillion a year in federal funds. Census data is also crucial to a broad array of research conducted by government agencies, academics and businesses, which rely on accurate demographic statistics to craft marketing plans and choose locations for factories or stores.

In a worst-case scenario, according to security experts, poorly secured data could be accessed by hackers looking to manipulate demographic figures for political purposes. For example, they could add or subtract Congressional seats allocated to states by altering their official population statistics.

The Census Bureau says its information-technology overhaul is on-track. Systems supporting initial census operations – such as creating its address database and hiring workers – are “fully integrated with one another, performance-tested, and deployed on schedule and within budget,” bureau spokesman Cook said. Read More > at Reuters

Diabetes drug has unexpected, broad implications for healthy aging – Metformin is the most commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, yet scientists still do not fully know how it works to control blood sugar levels. In a collaborative effort, researchers from the Salk Institute, The Scripps Research Institute and Weill Cornell Medical College have used a novel technology to investigate why it functions so well. The findings, which identified a surprising number of biochemical “switches” for various cellular processes, could also explain why metformin has been shown to extend health span and life span in recent studies. The work was published in Cell Reports on December 3, 2019.

“These results provide us with new avenues to explore in order to understand how metformin works as a diabetes drug, along with its health-span-extending effects,” says Professor Reuben Shaw, co-corresponding author of the paper and the director of Salk’s NCI-designated Cancer Center. “These are pathways that neither we, nor anyone else, would have imagined.” Read More > at Salk

Uber passengers in California can ‘favorite’ drivers – Uber is getting some new features in California. While the favorite driver option has been live in the UK for some time, passengers in CA will, from early 2020, have the option to bookmark drivers they’d like to ride with again. Drivers will also now be given more trip information upfront — such as a passenger’s ultimate destination — allowing them to make more informed decisions about the rides they accept. Finally, drivers will be able to accept only the trips they want to take without it affecting their Uber Pro status.

According to Uber, these changes are designed to help drivers “build their business” on the platform, and “earn on their own terms.” The company also says it has plans to make fare structures more straightforward in the coming months — all undoubtedly moves to appease the drivers and civil rights groups that continue to shine a spotlight on Uber’s controversial gig economy policies. Read More > at Engadget

California pulls back clean-vehicle rebates to point them at lower-income buyers – Starting in December, those looking to buy electric vehicles with a price tag of more than $60,000 won’t qualify for California’s clean-vehicle rebate. The rebate is also disappearing for plug-in hybrids with less than 35 miles of all-electric range.

The California Air Resources Board approved these changes, effective Dec. 3, as part of a move to distribute the state’s resources toward lower-income communities, and away from wealthy buyers.

Standard rebates for fully electric vehicles that qualify will be reduced from $2,500 to $2,000, while the rebate for plug-in hybrids will drop from $1,500 to $1,000. Rebates for fuel-cell vehicles will fall from $5,000 to $4,500. Rebates for low- to moderate-income buyers will stay at $4,500 for EVs, $3,500 for plug-in hybrids and $7,000 for fuel-cell vehicles.

Whereas previously consumers could qualify for two rebates, starting in December they will be limited to one in a lifetime. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Oakley Boy Scout troop scammed out of more than $5,000 by Christmas tree contractor – A troop of Boy Scouts in Oakley was scammed out of more than $5,000 — the money they paid up front for Christmas trees to sell.

It appears, was pocketed by the person contracted to provide the trees and somehow, the troop has still managed to open up their lot.

Empty crates now sit where trees should be standing.

This year, it’s a lighter load for Boy Scout Troop 152’s Christmas tree lot at Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church in Oakley.

Normally they order and receive up to 800 trees to sell leading up to the holiday.

But this time around they have only 396 and they’re lucky to even have that. Read More > at KRON4

The Hunt for a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease – In September of this year, pharmaceutical companies Biogen and Eisai announced that they were halting Phase 3 clinical trials of a drug, elenbecestat, aimed at thwarting amyloid-β buildup in Alzheimer’s disease. Although the drug had seemed so promising that the companies elected to test it in two Phase 3 trials simultaneously, preliminary analyses determined that elenbecestat’s risks outweighed its benefits, and the drug shouldn’t be moved to market. The cancellation “amounts to a further step in the unwinding of Biogen’s expensive, painful, and ultimately fruitless investment in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) drug development,” analyst Geoffrey Porges told Reuters at the time.

Biogen’s misfortune is just the latest in a slew of late-stage Alzheimer’s drug failures. Six months earlier, the company had halted another set of parallel Phase 3 trials due to lack of efficacy of a different drug candidate, aducanumab (though after further data analysis, Biogen announced that it will seek approval for aducanumab after all). And between 2013 and 2018, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson all terminated Phase 3 or Phase 2/3 trials due to poor early results. Yet some Alzheimer’s researchers say they think they’ve spotted a silver lining in this cloud of bad news—a hint in the data from these studies about how future work might meet with more success.

In some of these trials, Alzheimer’s patients who were at earlier stages of the disease did better than those with more advanced cognitive decline, says Colin Masters, a neuroscientist at Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Australia who was not involved in the trials. This indicates that the key to finding an effective treatment might be to catch subjects before their condition advances too far, he adds. “The idea is very firmly in our minds that you have to go before the onset of cognitive decline, and you may be successful then in actually delaying the onset of cognitive decline by five years, which would be a major advance.”

Thanks to the recent development of new detection technologies that yield more-precise and reliable measurements of circulating proteins, RNAs, and other molecules, the field is hoping to do just that. Using these analytic tools, which weren’t available just a few years ago, multiple labs around the world are now searching for new biomarkers of the disease to develop blood tests that can screen for early signs of Alzheimer’s, differentiate it from conditions with similar symptoms, or track its progression.  Read More > at The Scientist 

State Probe Says PG&E Missed Deadly Flaw on Line That Sparked Camp Fire – State public utilities investigators say that PG&E overlooked critical maintenance problems on the high-voltage power line that sparked last year’s devastating Camp Fire in Butte County — a failure they trace to years of inadequate inspections and maintenance of the line.

The newly released report from the California Public Utilities Commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division said PG&E’s lapses included a long-term failure to perform a close-up inspection of the transmission tower where the fire began — despite indications of possible problems there.

A Cal Fire investigation found that a “C-hook” connector on the nearly century-old tower snapped the morning of Nov. 8, 2018, allowing an electrified cable to swing against the steel structure. The resulting arc provided the spark that touched off the blaze, which killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise and incinerated nearly 14,000 homes.

Investigators found that the broken C-hook was badly worn before it broke, an issue that escaped PG&E’s attention during routine ground-based inspections of its Caribou-Palermo 115-kilovolt line along the Feather River.

The CPUC’s report said equipment problems on the tower were reported as early as 2009 and that under PG&E’s own policies, those issues should have prompted a “detailed climbing inspection” of the structure. Read More > at KQED

ATF: 423M guns in America, 1.2 per person, 8.1B rounds of ammunition a year – America’s love affair with guns is only getting stronger.

New federal data shows that there are 422.9 million firearms in circulation, or about 1.2 guns for every person in the country.

What’s more, despite years of criticism of modern “assault-style” rifles such as the AR-15 and AK-47, there are a record 17.7 million in private hands, proving that it is the most popular gun around.

And last year alone, the arms industry produced 8.1 billion rounds of ammunition.

The figures are from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and were crunched by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry trade group. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Flip-Phone Congress Left Behind as Tech Charges Forward – Technological advancements are rapidly changing the American economy and workforce. At the same time, lawmakers increasingly appear to lack the capability to understand and respond effectively to this transformation. Flip phone-wielding lawmakers may have been cutting edge in the 1990s, but not in today’s Congress, which routinely grapples with complex scientific and technological issues such as gene editing, cryptocurrency, facial recognition and digital privacy. Not to mention, they must oversee $150 billion in federal R&D funding that helps fuel future innovations.

Out of 541 members, the current Congress has only two scientists and 11 engineers. Most have backgrounds in law or business, which is obvious when hearings start to get technical. This gap has to be filled by congressional staff and support agencies. Yet only 15% of senior congressional aides themselves think staff have the knowledge, skills and abilities to support members’ official duties. And just 24% think staff have enough access to high-quality, nonpartisan expertise within the legislative branch, according to a 2017 survey.

Earlier this month, a congressionally directed report identified gaps in science and technology expertise and capacity on Capitol Hill. The report recommends Congress significantly ramp up its technical expertise on committees, and at support agencies like the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service. A recent study by Harvard’s Belfer Center came to a similar conclusion, finding that “Congress has not shown that it has the necessary capacity and expertise to fully exercise its constitutional duties … (and) has appeared unprepared to reckon with emerging technologies and their effects on society.” Read More > at Governing

California Is 2019’s State with the 3rd Worst Elder-Abuse Protections – WalletHub Study – With the share of U.S. adults aged 65 and older expected to be 1 in 5 by the year 2030 and as many as 13 out of every 14 elder-abuse cases going unreported, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2019’s States with the Best Elder-Abuse Protections as well as accompanying videos.

To determine which states fight the hardest against elder abuse, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 16 key metrics. The data set ranges from share of elder-abuse, gross-neglect and exploitation complaints to presence of financial elder-abuse laws.

Elder-Abuse Protections in California (1=Best; 25=Avg.)

  • 50th – Elder-Abuse, Gross-Neglect & Exploitation Complaints*
  • 15th – Total Expenditures on Elder-Abuse Prevention*
  • 28th – Total Long-Term Care Ombudsman-Program Funding*
  • 43rd – Number of Eldercare Organizations & Services*
  • 19th – Number of Certified Volunteer Ombudsmen*
  • 15th – Nursing-Homes Quality

*Per resident aged 65+

For the full report, please visit: Read More > at WalletHub

Male Transjacking Will Ultimately End Women’s Sports – This Friday, the top four NCAA Division III women’s soccer teams face off in the national semifinals. One of the final four teams’ goalkeepers, Isa Berardo, is a male transgender playing as a female for Pomona-Pitzer Colleges.

Not surprisingly, the male goalie has dominated the field against opposing female players, giving his own a chance to win the national championship thanks to his physical advantages in a key position. This is increasingly happening throughout women’s sports, at all levels from elementary school through professional competitions. It’s creating not equality, but inequality.

In 2016, Therese Johaug, a Norwegian three-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion, received an 18-month suspension from the sport she loved after it was discovered that the team-approved lip balm she was using to treat her badly sunburned lips contained a performance-enhancing steroid.

A devastated Johaug lamented, “I feel I did everything right. I went to an expert who gave me the ointment, and I asked him if the cream was on a doping list. The answer I got was ‘no.’”

But the powers that be were undeterred from their well-established hard line of fairness, and Johaug was forced to watch the 2018 winter Olympics from the sidelines.

It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances that raises the question: If chemicals from a necessary, medicated lip balm can be construed as such an unjust physical advantage, how on Earth can athletic authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the litany of physical advantages the transgender men increasingly competing in women’s sports so obviously possess in their male bodies?

This question remains unanswered, as the International Olympic Committee continues to waffle over the rules for participation in Olympic women’s events. Their rules presently allow men to participate as women, provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 consecutive months.

These standards completely fail to consider the host of other advantages inherent in the male body: increased 02 capacity, overall musculature, bone size and density, increased joint stability, and lower body fat, to name a few. These advantages don’t magically disappear with the wave of a synthetic estrogen wand. Read More > in The Federalist

FBI assesses Russian apps may be counterintelligence threat – All mobile apps developed by Russian entities may be counterintelligence threats to the United States, the FBI has assessed in a letter sent to the Senate’s minority leader.

“The FBI considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia … to be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data the product collects, its privacy and terms of use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the Government of Russia that permit access to data within Russia’s borders,” Jill Tyson, the assistant director for the FBI’s office of congressional affairs, wrote in a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, that CyberScoop obtained.

The bureau’s concerns about Russian counterintelligence operations come in response to an inquiry Schumer sent to the FBI this summer about whether Americans’ data on FaceApp was being provided to the Kremlin.

The FBI has assessed that the Russian photo-aging app, which became a viral sensation earlier this year, is among possible counterintelligence threats, according to the letter.

“In light of FBI’s warning that FaceApp, and similar applications developed in Russia, poses a potential counterintelligence threat to the United States, I strongly urge all Americans to consider deleting apps like FaceApp immediately and proceed with extreme caution when downloading apps developed in hostile foreign countries,” Schumer said. “The personal data FaceApp collects from a user’s device could end up in the hands of Russian intelligence services.” Read More > at CyberScoop

What’s Behind the Success of Target’s Growth Rejuvenation? – Target recognizes the challenging retail environment and the choices available to the customer. To gain and retain shoppers, it must provide exceptional service with ever-increasing convenience. Gone are the days where it pays to place the milk in the farthest corner of the store to expose the consumer to more items in the hopes they make impulse purchases. Its stock is up 87.2% to $124.38 near its all-time-high of $126, significantly outpacing the S&P 500 growth of 24.4%

Target is bucking the downward trend in the retail industry, reporting growth in sales, profit, and foot traffic. In its Q3 earnings results, it reported comparable-store sales growth of 4.5%, earnings-per-share growth of 18.2%, and a traffic increase of 3.1%. The 4.5% growth in sales this quarter shows consistent and steady progress, compared to 5.1% growth last year. It is one of the few retailers, along with Walmart, battling successfully with the Amazon effect and the retail apocalypse.

Target is the first retailer offering same-day drive-up service in every state across the U.S., and it’s available at all its 1,750 stores. Drive-up is its highest-rated service, with 500% growth in the quarter. Having an online order brought to a car offers convenience. An internet order can be in the possession of a customer in a Target parking lot usually within an hour.

In-store order pickup is not a new initiative; it was started five years ago and is gaining popularity. This year, with fewer shopping days between Black Friday and Christmas, the option to order online and pick up within an hour will drive sales from buyers pressed for time. Customers picking up items in-store offers higher margins because it leverages existing store assets.

Shipt is a same-day delivery company that Target acquired in Dec. 2017 for $550 million. It offers the option to have orders delivered to homes on the same day for $9.99 per order. The acquisition increased the choices available in order fulfillment and is available on over 65,000 items from Target’s site. It’s proving to be fruitful as sales volume fulfilled by Shipt saw 100% growth in its most recent quarter. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Retailers Revamp Staffing as Fewer Shoppers Visit Stores – Some chains, including Target, Walmart and Best Buy Co., have posted strong sales in recent years by adapting to the shift to online shopping. They use their stores to handle deliveries or convince shoppers to pick up orders rather than wait for an Inc. package.

Target says it now sources 80% of its online orders from stores, not warehouses. At the Brooklyn store around 80 workers handle internet orders, collecting products from shelves or putting items into boxes in the backroom for delivery.

Target retrained the bulk of its 300,000 year-round U.S. workers over the past year, giving them new titles and responsibilities. The Minneapolis, Minn.-based retailer hopes to mold each into an expert for a specific area of the store such as the beauty department, toys or online fulfillment to offer better customer service and use labor spending more efficiently. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Why the World Needs Bloodsucking Creatures – The exhibition, called “Bloodsuckers,” includes displays of other live animals—mosquitoes, ticks and leeches—interspersed throughout the gallery. And dozens of preserved specimens, arrayed down a long, curving wall, offer a glimpse into the diverse world of the roughly 30,000 species of bloodthirsty organisms across the globe. Among these critters are vampire moths, which can pierce the thick skins of buffalo and elephantsVampire snails target sick and dying fish, making for easier prey. The oxpecker birds of Africa pluck ticks and other insects off large mammals—and then slurp blood from their hosts’ sores.

Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrates at the Royal Ontario Museum and co-curator of the exhibition, knows that these animals are likely to make some visitors shudder. But to him, blood-feeders are the loveliest of organisms, the result of a refined evolutionary process. Leeches are a particular favorite of Kvist’s, and his research focuses on the evolution of blood-feeding behavior, or hematophagy, in these predatory worms. Sometimes he even affectionately lets the leeches in his lab gorge themselves on his blood.

…While medical professionals no longer believe that leeching can cure everything from skin diseases to dental woes, leeches are still valued in medicine today. Hirudin, the anticoagulant in leech saliva, is unrivalled in its strength, according to Kvist. It’s synthesized in labs and given to patients in pills and topological creams to treat deep vein thrombosis and prevent strokes. Leeches themselves make appearances in hospitals. They’re helpful to doctors who perform skin grafts or reattachments of fingers, toes and other extremities. Newly stitched arteries heal more quickly than veins, so blood that is being pumped into the reattached area doesn’t flow back into the body, which can in turn prevent healing. Read More > at Smithsonian magazine 

Car burglaries in some California cities are at crisis levels. Prosecutors say their hands are tied – An epidemic of car burglaries in San Francisco over the last few years has led one Democratic lawmaker to propose plugging a loophole in state law that allows some break-ins to go unpunished, but the Legislature has balked at prosecutors’ requests to make obtaining convictions easier.

The proposal, which would eliminate a requirement that prosecutors prove a car’s doors were locked at the time of a break-in, has been shelved two years in a row in legislative committees. Lawmakers struggling with prison crowding and public pressure to enact criminal justice reform have been reluctant to do anything to put more people behind bars.

But local officials and the legislator behind the bill say the legislation is needed to help chip away at a statewide car burglary problem that they believe has reached crisis levels in some cities.

“It’s ridiculous that under current law you can have a video of someone bashing out a car window, but if you can’t prove that the door is locked you may not be able to get an auto burglary conviction,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced the legislation at the request of the San Francisco district attorney’s office.

…Wiener said he was never given an explanation by colleagues who decided to hold the bills in committee, but he said lawmakers have generally been reluctant to approve any measure that has the potential to put more people behind bars. The solidly liberal California Legislature has tried to address prison overcrowding in the last decade by reducing the penalties for many crimes and blocking bills that might increase the number of people going to jail or prison. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Another showdown over crime looms – No California ballot would be complete without at least one measure about crime and punishment and 2020 will be no exception.

A referendum seeking to overturn California’s landmark ban on cash bail in criminal cases will once again test voters’ sentiments about the treatment of accused lawbreakers.

Under the legislation, those accused of minor, non-violent offenses would almost automatically be freed while awaiting trial and other defendants would be evaluated for their flight risk with judges having the final word on who would remain locked up.

SB 10 would, in effect, erase an entire industry, California’s 3,000-plus bail bond agencies, and, not surprisingly, they decided to fight back. Very quickly, a bail industry coalition raised money to qualify a referendum for the 2020 ballot to overturn the new law, whose implementation is now suspended until the voters have spoken.

Bail agents are clearly poised to spend millions of dollars to preserve their livelihoods and now the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is committing itself to finance a pro-SB 10 campaign.

The SEIU has couched its support for SB 10 in terms of civil rights and protecting poor people from a rapacious industry. However, it also has a financial interest in the outcome because ending cash bail would mean adding thousands of new unionized workers to county probation departments for evaluating defendants.

So the stage is set for another political showdown on crime, with the particularly tricky procedure of a referendum. The question on the ballot will be whether voters want to keep SB 10 in force, so the bail agent coalition will be seeking a “no” vote while SEIU and other supporters will want voters to say “yes.” Read More > at CALmatters 

Men who smoke marijuana daily may be more likely to get testicular cancer – A study published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open found that men who smoked one marijuana cigarette, or joint, daily for 10 years or more had an estimated 36% increased risk of developing testicular cancer compared with men who had never smoked the substance.

To come to their conclusion, researchers analyzed 25 studies that looked at the link between marijuana use and testicular cancer, lung cancer, oral cancer, and head and neck cancer.

Though the researchers found no association between regular marijuana use and lung, neck, or oral cancer, they did find that regular weed smoking over many years could heighten a man’s risk of testicular cancer. Read More > at Insider

Stop Obsessing Over Sleep—Your Brain Will Thank You – Sleep, once no more glamorous than taking a shower, is now perched at the pinnacle of the well-being-as-a-lifestyle trend. The irony is that by agonizing over sleep, it’s also turning into a source of anxiety—the kind of thing that keeps people up at night. Fears over bad sleep are getting the TED treatment and topping best-seller lists.

In his semi-pop-science distillation of research, Why We Sleep, UC Berkeley psychologist Matthew Walker warns that sleep loss is an epidemic that could have dire consequences. Our chronically overtired brains make our bodies more susceptible to diabetes, cancer, and other diseases, he argued. Getting a good 40 winks, on the other hand, would improve memory and mood, and even make us feel and look younger. “Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity,” Walker proclaimed in his 2019 TED talk. “It is your life support system. And it is Mother Nature’s best attempt at immortality.”

Who among us would scoff at immortality?

And so we’ve slipped Oura rings onto fingers and wrapped Fitbits and Apple Watches around wrists. Beneath sheets and mattresses we’ve concealed Beddits and Emfits, sensors that promise to monitor heart rates and sleep cycles from their discreet hiding places. We track our REM and non-REM cycles, scrutinizing the length, quality, and depth of our rest on Reddit forums like r/sleep and r/Biohackers, where users write about the benefits of cold showers and question the need for pillows.

All this measuring, rating, tracking, and comparing now amounts to a new sleep disorder that some scientists are calling orthosomnia. A coinage of Greek origin that merges “straight” or “correct” with “sleep,” orthosomnia is a condition where anxiety over proper sleep metrics actually induces insomnia. Read More > at Wired

‘They Can’t Stop Us:’ People Are Having Sex With 3D Avatars of Their Exes and Celebrities – You can buy a belly button online. It can be an innie, outtie, twisted to the left or the right, and placed on a virtual body. You can also buy a variety of penises, pubic hair, breasts, and tongues, all of which can be tweaked to look however you want. Cobble these together, use a photograph to algorithmically generate a person’s face, and you might be able to make a 3D avatar of someone who is walking around in real life. Import them into another program, and you can have sex with them in virtual reality, without that person ever giving consent.

On forums like Reddit, marketplaces like Patreon, and on standalone websites, communities of anonymous users are making, selling, and getting off to the computer-generated likenesses of celebrities and other real people. The 3D models that emerge from these communities can be articulated into any position, animated, modified, interacted with in real time, and manipulated in ways that defy the constraints of physical reality.

Today, the results are mostly crude. Unlike the most sophisticated deepfake videos traded online, no one is going to mistake any of the 3D models Motherboard has seen during our reporting for actual images of a real person. But the technology to create photorealistic 3D models of real people is rapidly approaching—and it’s getting easier for the average user to access those tools and programs. Read More > at Vice

California banned plastic bags. So why do stores keep using them? – Three years ago, California voters upheld a state law prohibiting single-use plastic grocery bags. Environmentalists declared victory. Business groups cried government overreach.

But for all the furor, shopping bags made from plastic film remain commonplace in checkout lines across the state.

Supporters say the law’s impact has been a proverbial mixed bag: While the number of plastic bags used in the state has decreased by as much as 80%, the “ban” is far from sweeping.

That’s because the law contains an exception, pushed by lobbyists for grocers and some plastic companies, that allows stores to sell thicker plastic bags for 10 cents.

The new bags, while classified as reusable, closely resemble their single-use predecessors and are often thrown away after one transaction. Still, they satisfy the law because they can be used 125 times without falling apart. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Thousands in California Sign Up for Airplane Commute – Flying over rush hour traffic might sound like dream, but a team of entrepreneurs in Southern California wants to make it a reality — shuttling thousands of long-distance commuters between airports from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Their new start-up FLOAT — which stands for fly over all traffic — is set to carry its first passengers in January for a monthly charge starting at $1,250, or about $60 a day if used Monday through Friday. By comparison, helicopter companies charge roughly $200 a trip for similar service.

“Our target is the super commuter, commuting more than 90 minutes each way,” said co-founder Arnel Guiang, a graduate of UC San Diego, who got the idea after suffering with four-hour roundtrip commutes in the Los Angeles area. Read More > at Governing

Can People Really Learn to ‘Speed Read’? – Reading is a complex task that requires coordination between multiple mental systems, she explained. You have to first see the word; retrieve its meaning and any other information associated with it (such as its grammatical role in the sentence); relate the word to the rest of the sentence and its broader context; and then figure out where to point your eyes next.

Sometimes a glitch in the process requires you to go back and reread. This all happens fast: a skilled reader can read about 200 to 300 words per minute. Speeding up this process while retaining accuracy is almost impossible, she said.

“The scientific community is pretty consistent in our skepticism about speed reading,” said Schotter, who wrote a recent review paper on the topic. “Someone who is claiming to help people speed read is usually making money off those claims.” Read More > at Real Clear Science

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At Dawn They Slept – December 7th

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory….. With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

With these words 75 years ago the United States declared war with Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the US and thus began the conflagration know as World War II. The war lasted four years, ending in Europe on May 7th 1945 and in Japan on September 2nd. The estimated loss of life during this war varies between 50 and 70 million people.

I asked my mom what she remembered of that day:

My mother was 11. In 1941 my mother’s parents purchased a fixer upper high on a hill in San Francisco. They were all at home because Sunday (even then the shipyards worked six days a week) was the only day my grandfather had friends and relatives who could help him with the house. On that day, they were pouring cement walkways from the backyard down to the basement. The men were out working and my mother and friends were in the kitchen when my grandmother heard the news on the radio. As soon as she heard she went to where the men were working and announced to them that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. At least that was the first report. The men paused in what they were doing and voiced their concern as to how they would be affected by the U.S. entering into the war. My grandfather was 39. The other men were around the same age, but considered they might be drafted into the service even though they were a bit too old. My grandfather was working at Mare Island out of Vallejo at the shipyards — a war-effort job — which usually deferred those men from being drafted. Even though war wouldn’t be declared until the following day, everyone was certain that with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. had no choice but to enter the war. My mom remembers being worried about the war even just hearing about the war in Europe and sensed the concern of the adults. And on the next day, even before FDR declared war, young men from every walk of life were lined up four across and around the block to sign up for the military (the old guys needn’t have worried).

Unprepared to enter the war, it was amazing how everyone in the country became united (a few dissenters, of course) and sacrificed anything and everything for the war effort. Factories immediately retooled to manufacture for the war. It was truly a united America for the next 4 years. Rationing took place very soon and everyone was issued a ration book: meat, canned good, shoes, gasoline. Just about everything was either rationed, difficult to get or impossible to get.

My dad was 14 living in Berkeley. Somewhere around the age of 12 or 14 he joined the Sea Scouts and fell in love with sailing and the water. Around 15, maybe younger because he did lie about his age, he joined a “Bay Waters Only” section of the Merchant Marines. As he grew more and more interested in being a part of the war, he brought home papers for his parents to sign telling them his participation would be for Bay Waters only. Without reading it through, they signed. It was full parental release for him to become a Merchant Seaman and off he went. They sent him to Cooks and Bakers school in Santa Catalina (which was taken over for Merchant Marines and Naval training). (My parents found his graduating photo when they were there in the 80s.) He was then assigned to a sea-going tugboat where he cooked for about 18 to 20 fellow seaman. While not a fighting ship, it did have guns and each seaman had a station if duty called. Their main job throughout the war was to tow portable dry docks from one Pacific island to another, where ever there was a need for ship repair. My mom has often said that while his roll was not one of banner waving and glory, it was an important cog in the wheels of war. Without the ability to repair the naval ships in the war theater, the Navy would have been hard pressed to get a wounded ship “home” for repairs on the Pacific coast of America.

He was in the Merchant Marines ages 15, 16 and 17. It was during a brief leave back for some R and R that he turned 18. He had not re-registered for the Merchant Marines, and while home received his Greetings letter from Uncle Sam commanding him to report to his draft board, which he did. Usually when one is drafted, they go into the Army, but because of his training as a cook and baker, the sent him over to the Navy. They also examined his eyes and found him to be 4F because of his poor eyesight (A 4F rating by the American Selective Service System meant you were physically unfit for service). However, still wanting to use his skills, they assigned him to a WAVES unit (women’s’ Navy at that time) located at Seattle, WA., where he cooked (with other sailors) for that branch of the military. I believe he entered the Navy in June of ’45 and the war ended in August of ’45. Not sure when he was discharged, probably somewhere in 46 or 47. As a sailor, he never set foot on a Navy vessel much to his disappointment.

At 0753 hours the first wave consisting of 40 Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bombers, 51 Aichi D3A1 “Val” dive bombers, 50 high Altitude bombers and 43 Zeros struck airfields and Pearl Harbor Within the next hour, the second wave arrived and continued the Attack.

When it was over, the U.S.losses were:

USA : 218 KIA, 364 WIA.
USN: 2,008 KIA, 710 WIA.
USMC: 109 KIA, 69 WIA.
Civilians: 68 KIA, 35 WIA.
TOTAL: 2,403 KIA, 1,178 WIA.

USS Arizona (BB-39) – total loss when a bomb hit her magazine.
USS Oklahoma (BB-37) – Total loss when she capsized and sunk in The harbor.
USS California (BB-44) – Sunk at her berth. Later raised and Repaired.
USS West Virginia (BB-48) – Sunk at her berth. Later raised and Repaired.
USS Nevada – (BB-36) Beached to prevent sinking. Later repaired.
USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) – Light damage.
USS Maryland (BB-46) – Light damage.
USS Tennessee (BB-43) Light damage.
USS Utah (AG-16) – (former battleship used as a target) – Sunk.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) – Light Damage..
USS San Francisco (CA-38) – Light Damage.
USS Detroit (CL-8) – Light Damage.
USS Raleigh (CL-7) – Heavily damaged but repaired.
USS Helena (CL-50) – Light Damage.
USS Honolulu (CL-48) – Light Damage..

USS Downes (DD-375) – Destroyed. Parts salvaged.
USS Cassin – (DD-372) Destroyed. Parts salvaged.
USS Shaw (DD-373) – Very heavy damage.
USS Helm (DD-388) – Light Damage.

USS Ogala (CM-4) – Sunk but later raised and repaired.

Seaplane Tender
USS Curtiss (AV-4) – Severely damaged but later repaired.

Repair Ship
USS Vestal (AR-4) – Severely damaged but later repaired.

Harbor Tug
USS Sotoyomo (YT-9) – Sunk but later raised and repaired.

188 Aircraft destroyed (92 USN and 92 U.S. Army Air Corps.)

Pearl 1

Pearl 2

Pearl 4

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Everything you wanted to know about buying (the right) gifts for your parents

Published: Dec 3, 2019 10:40 a.m. ET – MarketWatch – By MEERA JAGANNATHAN

As Catherine Collinson’s octogenarian father and stepmother downsized from a 4,000-square-foot home to a 1,400-square-foot, single-story home in a retirement community, their message to the rest of the family was clear: No more stuff, unless it’s functional or of great sentimental value.

“In the end, they were able to keep their most sentimental items for themselves or within the family — but the process of downsizing was an ordeal,” Collinson said. While they love their new home, she added, “they just don’t have much space for amassing a lot of new things.”

“Get gifts that would give pleasure. If your parent has some kind of a disability and you want to get something like a grabber tool, get it for them — but don’t make it your holiday gift.”

—Karl Pillemer, Cornell University gerontology professor

When her dad visited a few weeks ago, Collinson, her brother and her sister-in-law opted for a more personal gesture: bringing him to an Antarctic dinosaurs exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He had devoted his career as a geologist to Antarctic research.

“Our super-fun day at the museum was an opportunity for him to relive his adventures and share the stories behind the stories of the discoveries on display — and it was an opportunity for my family to learn more about his life and work,” said Collinson, the CEO and president of the nonprofit Transamerica Institute and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Gift ideas for parents can prove particularly difficult — in part because they often buy themselves whatever they want. “This is not true for everyone, but one reason why it may be hard to shop for parents is the typical difference in resources: Parents likely have more ability to buy what they want than their offspring do,” said Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University gerontology professor.

But the task is not impossible. Here’s how to get your parents something of real value that will endure well beyond the holiday season.

Rule No. 1: Favor long-term value over the surprise factor

Sometimes people want to give an exciting or unexpected gift, but in the end it might not demonstrate an understanding of the recipient’s taste, whether the gift would fit into his or her life, or whether the item offers long-term value, Pillemer said.

Think back to items or experiences in which your parents have already expressed interest. You might even buy a gift that rekindles a long-lost passion they abandoned years ago, like a camera for a one-time amateur photographer.

Rule No. 2: Don’t buy your elderly parents a reminder of their age

Pillemer urges adult children to “ignore virtually every gift” they might find on holiday gift lists for elderly parents, such as grabber tools, jar openers and Roombas. Gifts that appear specifically geared toward people’s advanced age can simply make them more depressed, he said.

Instead, Pillemer said, “get gifts that would give pleasure.” “If your parent has some kind of a disability and you want to get something like that, get it for them — but don’t make it your holiday gift,” he said.

Rule No. 3: Give the gift of time

You could gift time with yourself: Most parents love being a part of our lives, but they may be on a fixed income in retirement, Collinson said. A plane ticket for them to visit you would be a meaningful gift, she said.

Do something for your parents that they might lack the time or know-how to easily do for themselves, said Pillemer. For instance, digitizing old family photos would be an outstanding gift, he said.

Or, if your parents are in the market for a financial planner or advisor, vet one for them, Collinson said — performing due diligence on candidates’ reputations, fee structures and compatibility with your parents’ financial situation.

“People in this generation are busy, and often what they’d really need is some time affluence,” Laurie Santos, a Yale University psychology professor, said in an email. “Gift cards to sites like TaskRabbit allow people to hire folks to help on projects. Even a yard care or cooking service can help people spare a few extra hours, which goes a long way toward improving our well-being.”

Rule No. 4: Help them become lifelong learners

Some research suggests that learning new skills can yield cognitive benefits for older adults. If your retired mother has embarked on a memoir-writing endeavor, can you send her to a writers’ workshop? And if you know your dad is interested in learning how to play the guitar or tap dance, buy lessons, Pillemer suggested.

You can purchase gift certificates for $50 or more for Road Scholar, an educational travel nonprofit geared mostly toward over-50 adults that offers all-inclusive (if somewhat pricey) programs for solo travelers, couples and grandparents traveling with grandkids. The organization boasts a variety of edifying adventures — think summer camp in the Ozarks, a nature lover’s tour of Costa Rica and a deep dive into the civil-rights movement — in all 50 states and 150 countries.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) also provide classes for older adults through 124 colleges and universities, with an emphasis placed on affordability, said David Blazevich, the Bernard Osher Foundation’s senior program director. Collinson’s father has taken Osher courses for years at Colorado State University on topics like Photoshop and climate change, and also teaches a class on Antarctica.

OLLI membership is often required and ranges from $16 at some schools to $680 at others; each includes various numbers of courses, lectures, activities and benefits, Blazevich said. “Higher-cost programs offer a range of membership options at lower price points as well,” he said. Course fees range from about $10 for a single-session class at some schools to $265 for longer classes at others.

Rule No. 5: Get them a tech gift they’ll actually use

Smart video-calling devices make a great gift, Pillemer said, “especially if there are grandchildren involved.” Facebook’s  Portal products range in price from $129 to $279.

And while some older folks are reluctant to make the jump from physical books to e-readers, “many of them find it transformative,” Pillemer said. An e-reader allows parents to adjust font size and access a huge range of books, he said — and it can give those in the oldest age group a “newbie-level introduction” to electronic devices, including experience using a virtual keyboard and downloading. An Amazon Kindle starts at $89.99.

“For an older person with little experience, make part of your gift showing him or her how to use it,” he said.

Rule No. 6: Help them slow the damaging effects of aging with exercise

“Finding a way to help promote physical activity and exercise among older adults promises to have profound effects on health and quality of life,” said Nathan LeBrasseur, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic and expert with the American Federation for Aging Research. And physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective.

Find something that aligns with your parents’ interests and style. If they are exercise-averse, try to match their existing interests with something that would simply get them out of the house (a greenhouse membership for your gardening mom) or require a greater degree of physical activity (dance-based fitness classes for your dad who used to cut a rug), LeBrasseur said.

“A small contribution to a hobby shows you understand the parent: For example, there are few runners who can’t use another top-quality hat or premium socks,” Pillemer said. “You can overcome the money differential with that kind of creativity that conveys warmth and knowledge of the other person.”

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Saturday, December 7th – Oakley’s Christmas Tree lighting

The city of Oakley’s Christmas Tree lighting is set for this Saturday, December 7th, rain or shine!

Join us at Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street, as we light up the tree. Festivities begin at 4:00 p.m. with crafts, cocoa, and cookies, followed by the tree lighting at 6:00 p.m. And don’t forget to bring your camera for photos with Santa!

Please note the planned caroling has been cancelled due to predicted rain.

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East Bay Regional Park District – Featured Activities in East Contra Costa for December

Sunday, December 8, 9-11:30am, Winter Birds In Contra Costa, Contra Loma
Saturday, December 14, 9-11am, Dunes Restoration Day, Big Break
Sunday, December 15, 9-11:30am, Winter Birds In Contra Costa, Black Diamond Mines
Sunday, December 22, 9-11:30am, Winter Birds In Contra Costa, Round Valley


Discover even more fun! Search activities online by park, date, or other keywords. Or you can browse through a PDF of our bi-monthly activity guide, Regional in Nature.

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Rainfall Totals in Oakley through November, 2019

From the unofficial Romick rain gauge

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December 3, 2019 – Giving Tuesday


GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world on December 3, 2019 and every day.

It was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past seven years, this idea has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.

One of the best ways to get involved is in your own community. The Friends of Oakley – A Community Foundation is currently collecting food and toys, through Friday, December 13, at locations throughout Oakley:

Almond Grove School,

Delta Vista Middle School,

Freedom High School,

Gehringer School,

Iron House Elementary,

Laurel Elementary,

Oakley Elementary,

Oakley OUESD District Office,

O’Hara Park Middle School,

Orchard Park School,

Vintage Parkway Elementary,

Bank of the West,

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,

Diablo Vista Dental,

Diamond Hills Sports Club,

ECC Bank (Bank of Agriculture and Commerce),

Kiddie Academy,

Renewed Life Church,

Oakley City Hall,

Oakley Grocery Outlet,

Oakley Police Department,

Oakley State Farm,

Sunshine House

Travis Credit Union


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