June 11 & 12 2022, 6:30PM-8:00PM – Big Break Campfire: Under the Water

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Sunday Reading – 06/05/2022

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.

Does California have enough water for lots of new homes? Yes, experts say, despite drought – To some, it defies common sense. California is once again in the middle of a punishing drought with state leaders telling people to take shorter showers and do fewer loads of laundry to conserve water. Yet at the same time, many of the same elected officials, pledging to solve the housing crisis, are pushing for the construction of millions of new homes.

“It’s the first question I’d always get,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, who until last year ran the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the agency that delivers the water ultimately used by half the state’s population. “How in the world are you approving new housing when we’re running out of water?”

The answer, according to Kightlinger and other experts, is that there’s plenty of water available for new Californians if the 60-year trend of residents using less continues and accelerates into the future.

Case in point: Angelenos use 44% less water per person annually than they did four decades ago, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Some of the changes that have freed up additional water supplies in the past, and could continue to free up water, go unnoticed by many people. New development almost always includes more water-efficient faucets, toilets, appliances and showers than older homes.

Other efforts, such as building wastewater recycling plants to increase water supply, might be costly, but are needed to adapt to more severe droughts with the warming climate.

The landscaping must change too. Think fewer lush lawns and grassy median strips and more gardens filled with native plants. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

California Court Rules That Bees Are Fish – In the latest installment of a yearslong legal debate over whether bees are fish, a California appeals court has ruled that, for the purposes of the state’s Endangered Species Act, they are.

Environmentalists petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to add four bumblebee species to the list of at-risk plants and animals governed by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Roughly 250 plant and animal species are protected by the CESA, which prohibits the import, export, possession, purchase, or sale of listed species. The Commission provided notice in 2019 that the four bumblebee species were candidates for CESA protection, prompting lawsuits from agricultural groups that were concerned about the costs of adherence to the new requirements.

They also questioned the Commission’s legal authority to designate bumblebees for protection. Insects aren’t a protected category under the CESA. Candidate species may include “a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant,” according to the state’s fish and game code. And while California does protect some species of insect, these are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. That left state officials without an intuitive avenue.

Rather than let pesky biological standards get in the way, they had concluded that designating bumblebees as fish was the most fitting way to get them protected under the CESA. Legally, a fish refers to “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.” Because bumblebees are invertebrates—a protected subset of fish—the Fish and Game Commission argued that they could reasonably be designated as fish per the CESA’s terms. The trial court wasn’t having it.

But yesterday, the California Court of Appeal for the 3rd District ruled that bees could in fact qualify as fish, despite the (understandable) challenge brought forth by state almond growers and other groups. “Although the term fish is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature in the definition of fish…is not so limited,” reads the decision. “Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumble bee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species under the Act.” Invertebrates is certainly a broad category, and bees admittedly don’t have backbones, but the ruling boggles the mind nonetheless. Read More > at Reason

Dogs can detect Covid with high accuracy, even asymptomatic cases – A study published Wednesday in the journal Plos One offers further evidence that dogs can indeed be trained to detect Covid. The dogs tested in the research accurately identified 97 percent of positive cases after sniffing human sweat samples. That made them more sensitive than some rapid antigen tests.

The samples were collected at community centers in Paris from a mix of symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, as well as healthy people without Covid. The researchers found the dogs to be especially good at detecting asymptomatic infections, with a sensitivity nearing 100 percent.

Previous studies have also highlighted this canine skill: Researchers in Florida last year found that that dogs could predict positive Covid tests with 73 to 93 percent accuracy after a month of training. In a U.K. study, dogs accurately pinpointed 82 to 94 percent of positive cases.

…Grandjean said his findings suggest that dogs might be useful for detecting Covid in airports, nursing homes, schools, or sporting events. Already, dogs have helped sniff out Covid at airports in Saudi Arabia, Finland and the United Arab Emirates.

Dogs “only need a few molecules” to identify a positive case, Grandjean said. Read More > at NBC News

Can’t Find Baby Formula? Blame Tariffs and the FDA.

Auditor: Child abuse index is flawed – Since 1965, the state of California has maintained a list of adults who are credibly believed to have abused children. 

Police and prosecutors use it when evaluating suspects. Child care facilities and schools check the Child Abuse Central Index when evaluating a potential hire, as do many other public and private employers.

But according to a new report by the state auditor’s office, the database is completely unreliable.

  • Acting Auditor Michael Tilden: “Users of this database cannot depend on it to help protect children from being placed in the care of individuals with a history of abusing children.”

The blistering critique of a vital system, run by the state’s Department of Justice, by the numbers:

  • Between July 2017 and June 2021, county social workers substantiated more than 52,000 cases of child abuse
  • Only about 25,000 of those reports made it into the statewide database
  • In at least 224 incidents, authorities or child care centers were told by the state that an individual was not in the database when they should have been

What’s the hang-up? The culprit, according to the audit, is outdated technology and bureaucracy. Filing a report is a tedious process and the index can take a month or more to update. 

In response to the audit, a spokesperson from Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office provided a letter it sent to the auditor’s office and said that discrepancies between the state and county systems could be the result of different reporting requirements. 

  • Bonta’s office: “Our office has already taken several steps to strengthen CACI, including reaching out to the California Department of Social Services to ensure any additional eligible records are entered into CACI and improving tracking and follow-up with local agencies on incomplete reports.”

While the auditor’s report slams the system for allowing substantiated cases of abuse to fall through the cracks, others have criticized the system for snaring the innocent. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier this year that a foster mother named “Lynn” was placed on the index after the infant she was caring for took a tumble from her car seat. A judge later threw out the finding, but it took four years and thousands of dollars in legal fees for Lynn to get her name expunged.

  • Kerri Melucci, Lynn’s lawyer: “Due process means you have an opportunity to know what the evidence is against you, and (to) defend yourself…before they do something as damaging as declaring you a child abuser and putting you on a list that your employer could find.” Read More > at CalMatters

Survey shows dangerous rise in sun tanning as myths persist – While most people probably know it’s not safe to get a sunburn, many may not realize that tanning also increases the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging.

A new survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) found a sharp rise in both tanning and number of sunburns last year, compared to 2020. And as the summer season begins, the AAD is encouraging people to protect themselves.

“A tan is your body’s response to injury,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, a Dallas-based dermatologist.

“When you tan, you are intentionally putting your health at risk,” she said in an academy news release. “If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.”

The AAD recommends seeking shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest. Seek shade if your shadow appears shorter than you are, Houshmand advised. Read More > at UPI

New vaccine type overcomes cancerous tumor defenses – A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in the U.S. and one in Japan has developed a new type of vaccine that helps the immune system destroy cancerous tumors by overcoming their defense system. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group describes the new vaccine and its effects in mouse and rhesus macaque models.

Until recently, the only tools available to doctors treating cancer patients have been chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery. More recently, medical researchers have been exploring vaccines in the fight against cancer—the development of a vaccine against HPV-related diseases, for example, has reduced the risks of cervical and other types of cancers. Other research efforts have involved targeting peptide antigens and have proven to be effective, but only in limited circumstances. In this new effort, the researchers developed a more generalized vaccine that they believe can be used against multiple types of cancers in many types of cancer patients.

The new vaccine works by taking away one of the major defense strategies used by tumors, which is the ability to cleave T cells and natural killer cells from their surfaces. Such cells are deployed when the body detects a growing tumor and alerts the immune system. By shedding them after they affix themselves to MICA and MICB proteins on their surface, tumors are free to grow. The new vaccine works by interceding in the cleaving process, preventing the tumor from shedding the immune cells sent to kill it. The vaccine disrupts this cleaving process by increasing the density of proteins on the surface of tumor cells, which the researchers describe as “inciting protective immunity.” Read More > at Medical Xpress

Getting a wireless network under the skin to talk to the brain – Imagine that you had to have your arm amputated and now you have to manage with an artificial hand. You can move it around, push things, press a light switch.

But you can’t use your fingers to feel things, to sense whether what you are touching is hot or cold, or if you are grasping something too hard or not enough.

Now researchers at NTNU are working to develop solutions where the brain will be able to capture sensory impressions from a prosthesis, process them and use them to control movements, almost as if it were a normal hand. The NTNU approach won’t require imbedded batteries and wires.

…“The point is to communicate with the brain without having to imbed any wires in the body. Wires increase the risk of infections. They can get in the way or break. They pose a problem,” says Balasingham.

Instead, information from the sensors will be sent in the form of microwaves – radio waves in the 400 to 2500 MHz range of the electromagnetic spectrum – through the fat layer we have under the skin. Read More > at Partner Science Norway

Forest Service says it started all of New Mexico’s largest wildfire – Two blazes that grew into New Mexico’s largest ever wildfire were both started by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the agency said on Friday, prompting the state’s governor to demand the federal government take full responsibility for the disaster.

Forest Service investigators determined the Calf Canyon Fire was caused by a “burn pile” of branches that the agency thought was out but reignited on April 19, the Santa Fe National Forest said in a statement.

That blaze on April 22 merged with the Hermits Peak Fire, which the USFS started with a controlled burn that went out of control on April 6, the agency previously reported.

The combined blaze has so far torched over 312,320 acres(126,319 hectares) of mountain forests and valleys, an area approaching the size of greater London, and destroyed hundreds of homes. Read More> at Reuters

Tell your boss: Working from home is making you more productive – For the minority of Americans who’ve been fortunate enough to work from home over the past couple of years, the ride might seem like it’s coming to an end. Employers big and small are asking their employees to return to the office — just as those employees have gotten really good at working from home.

People who work remotely are reporting being more productive than they were early on in the pandemic, according to data from Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom. Bloom, who’s been studying remote work since before it was cool, has teamed up with other academics from the University of Chicago, ITAM, and MIT since May 2020, to conduct a huge ongoing survey about employees’ work arrangements and attitudes toward remote work. In April, people who worked remotely at least some of the time reported being about 9 percent more efficient working from home than they were working from the office. That’s up from 5 percent in the summer of 2020.

Why? Bloom says we’ve gotten better at it.

“When we flipped to working from home back in March 2020, we were completely unprepared,” Bloom told Recode. “We didn’t have management systems, performance review systems, meeting structures, workflows, equipment.”

Now we’re much better set up, and productivity should continue to improve as technology makes it easier, according to Bloom.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, as the worst parts of the pandemic fade, our support systems outside of work — day care, friends and family, the ability to do literally anything besides staying home — have largely returned, too. Read More > at Vox

DeLorean offers first look at its Alpha5 four seater EV – DeLorean Motor Company has revealed the first images name of its upcoming EV called the Alpha5. The main things that stand are the wedge-like supercar styling, pair of massive gullwing doors and four seats — letting it hit 88 MPH with two extra passengers or carry considerably more than 55 pounds of cocaine. DeLorean first teased its upcoming EV last month, promising a full reveal later this summer on August 18th. To be clear, it won’t be built by the original DeLorean, but rather a Texas company that purchased the rights to the DeLorean name and spare parts. 


The Alpha5 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign studio (which also designed the original DeLorean) but there’s no word if it uses stainless steel panels like the OG. It’s based on the “Medusa” concept that the original DeLorean company had been working on before it went bankrupt back in 1982. 

That vehicle was supposed to have four independent gullwing doors, but the DeLorean appears to have decided (probably wisely, given the complexity of such doors) to stick with two. From a top-front angle, the Alpha5 bears a passing resemblance to Tesla’s new Roadster with similar lines on the hood/frunk. Read More > at Engadget

50 Years After George Carlin’s ‘7 Words You Can’t Say on TV,’ Technology Is Defeating Censorship – On May 27, 1972, comedian George Carlin introduced America to the seven words you can’t say on television. Fifty years later, broadcast TV still bans those same words. But today, nobody cares.   

Not because we care less about free speech, but because cable, satellite, and streaming services have practically made those restrictions obsolete.  

Carlin used his platform to make a point that wasn’t actually about swearing – it was about the threat that government-mandated gatekeepers pose to free expression. A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) powerful enough to ban those words could potentially ban other ideas too.    

Five decades ago, those federal restrictions paired with limited private options to quickly communicate ideas to the masses, particularly a small group of newspapers with national and international reach, meant that a relative handful of government and private gatekeepers had significant influence over public discourse.  

…Social media has made it possible for everyone to say what they think and defend their ideas in writing, through spoken word, or on video. Never has an individual – regardless of their wealth or position – been able to speak so freely and build a global audience for their views. To be sure, the fact that the old gatekeepers at the FCC and legacy media have lost much of their power as technology has provided new options doesn’t mean that free expression is without challenge. But these days, the challenge to free expression comes more from ourselves.    

Increasingly, Americans are self-censoring, holding back from sharing their views – not because of threats from the state – but for fear of social or professional risks. About 40 percent of Americans today report self-censorship. This figure is particularly astounding when compared to the 1950s during McCarthyism when only 13 percent of Americans reported self-censorship.

Of course, the social media companies themselves are a new gatekeeper. TikTok has been criticized for censoring content critical of the Chinese government. Twitter made it harder for users to share content on COVID-19 that the platform deemed “false or misleading.” Yet, despite all of this, it remains true that social media and streaming platforms have allowed people who would otherwise have no platform to regularly speak to thousands of followers. Technological change didn’t advance free speech by eliminating gatekeepers but by multiplying them. Read More > at Real Clear Policy  

Do We Really Need 100 Different Federal Programs To Fund Broadband? – President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill apportioned $1.2 trillion for such projects as roads, bridges, and airports. But it also designated $65 billion “to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet” by funding broadband expansion. This included a $45 billion “Internet for All” program, under which Biden pledged to expand broadband access to all Americans by 2030.

But this was not the first tranche of federal funds dedicated to expanding internet access: The 2009 stimulus bill allocated more than $7 billion toward broadband grants for rural areas, and expenditures have grown since. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that the return on that investment has been underwhelming.

The report, titled “Broadband: National Strategy Needed to Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Digital Divide,” was released on Tuesday. Based on Biden’s pledge of getting to universal broadband access by the end of the decade, the GAO studied the government’s current broadband programs and expenditures, looking for shortcomings or areas of improvement.

What it found was a jumbled mess.

“Federal broadband efforts are fragmented and overlapping,” with “at least 133” programs “administered by 15 agencies,” the report found. These agencies varied widely, with the three largest being the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Department of Commerce. Between FY 2015 and FY 2020, these programs collectively dispensed at least $44 billion in broadband assistance. Read More > at Reason

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Meals on Wheels Diablo Region – URGENT: Diaper Drive

The work of Meals on Wheels Diablo Region is more than a meal and that sometimes means helping the people we serve access personal care items.

Right now, we have an urgent need for large and extra-large adult diapers, especially for our female clients.

Please consider donating to our Diaper Drive with a quick purchase of incontinence supplies from our Amazon Charity List. Amazon will also donate 0.5% of all Amazon purchases made on AmazonSmile.com back to our organization.

You can also purchase diapers at Target, Walmart, or a local grocery store and drop them off at our office at 1300 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94596, Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm. If you have any questions, email us at info@mowdr.org.

Donate Today – Amazon Smile

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Delta Conveyance Project New Online Tool + Other Project Updates

New Online Tool + Other Project Updates

Learn More About the Delta Conveyance Project with this Online Tool
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has published a story map that visually walks users through several key aspects of the Delta Conveyance Project. It allows users to take a tour of the State Water Project and learn how this vital water supply for much of the state is at risk. This tool also links to several resources that provide expanded information on various topics for those interested in taking a deeper dive. 

View the Story Map
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Track home prices in every Bay Area city and ZIP code

Using Zillow home values data, we are mapping Bay Area median house prices and charting changes in the housing market. See home prices near you by plugging in your address to the interactive map.

For more info: here

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Memorial Day

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” —John 15:12-14

On Memorial Day, flags should be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon, your local time. Please join Patriots honoring veterans across our great nation by observing a moment of silence at 3:00 p.m. local time for remembrance and prayer.

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Sunday Reading – 05/29/2022

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.

The coming blackouts. Do NOT say you were not warned – The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has released its latest reliability assessment for the summer of 2022 and, to put it mildly, the news is not good. In far too many states, the power grid is already nearly at full capacity, and in the next few months, that capacity will be exceeded. This isn’t a question of “if” or really even “when.” It’s just a fact. Industry experts know this and have been trying to sound the alarm for several years. Critics are trying to place the blame on climate change (as they do with everything else) in the form of extended droughts and heatwaves. Those factors definitely exacerbate the problem, but this was going to happen in the next year or so anyway. And thus far, the government has done virtually nothing about it. In a moment we’ll look at what could be done if there is sufficient will to take action. (ksl.com)

Extreme temperatures and ongoing drought could cause the power grid to buckle across vast areas of the country this summer, potentially leading to electricity shortages and blackouts, a U.S. power grid regulator said Wednesday.

NERC, a regulating authority that oversees the health of the nation’s electrical infrastructure, says in its 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment that extreme temperatures and ongoing drought could cause the power grid to buckle. High temperatures, the agency warns, will cause the demand for electricity to rise. Meanwhile, drought conditions will lower the amount of power available to meet that demand.

“Industry prepares its equipment and operators for challenging summer conditions. Persistent, extreme drought and its accompanying weather patterns, however, are out of the ordinary and tend to create extra stresses on electricity supply and demand,” said Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of Reliability Assessments.

Do the people in charge actually understand how reliant modern America is on this power? When the power grid in Texas failed in February of 2021, more than 200 people died, nearly all of them from hypothermia. Stop and think about that for a moment. Well into the 21st century, hundreds of suburban residents in one of the nation’s wealthiest states literally froze to death. That is how much we rely on a continual supply of electricity that most people simply take for granted.

As we discussed last week, this won’t just impact California and Texas. A minimum of 14 states will be hit by this in a rolling sequence. As water levels fall, you eventually reach the point where your ability to produce hydroelectric electricity from dams diminishes. Meanwhile, there are 40 coal-fired power plants scheduled to be taken offline in the name of fighting climate change. No replacement sources for all of that juice have been proposed, to say nothing of having them come online. Read More > at Hot Air

Newsom threatens statewide water restrictionsFrom CalMatters water reporter Rachel Becker: California could enact mandatory statewide water restrictions if local conservation efforts don’t produce the desired results, Newsom warned some of the state’s biggest water suppliers — including the powerful Metropolitan Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power — in a Monday meeting.

  • The summit came a few months after Newsom ordered local water agencies to ramp up their drought responses starting in June. (Today, state regulators are expected to formally approve that directive, in addition to a ban on businesses and other institutions watering decorative lawns.)
  • Water agencies called for more local control over conservation during California’s historic drought from 2012 to 2016. But in the Monday meeting, Newsom told them that their current efforts were falling short, urging “more aggressive actions” and more regular reporting of water use data
  • He also labeled recent increases in water use “a black eye,” a source in attendance said. California saw a nearly 19% increase in urban water use in March compared to two years ago, despite the deepening drought.
  • But some water watchers said Newsom, who has threatened statewide water restrictions before, is just trying to pass the buck: He’s “simply continuing to urge local agencies to become more aggressive in their own efforts to cut water use,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. “This hasn’t worked in the past and continuing on this path is unlikely to be enough.” Read More > at CalMatters

Lewd License Plates and the First Amendment – For the past seven years, in one state in this country, drivers have been able to say almost anything they wanted on their license plates. They could purchase plates that said “F*** YOU” if that’s what they felt like doing. They didn’t even need the asterisks. They could spell it right out in big letters.

That one state, you might be surprised to learn, is Maine. More than one observer has called it the “wild, wild west of vanity license plates.” At the moment, I am looking at a photograph of a plate in Maine that reads “KISMYAS.” But the wild west is being tamed. A law enacted by the Legislature in 2021 allows the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to reject any application for a plate that is profane, encourages violence, refers to genitalia or is sexually explicit in any way.

Over the past half-century, however, vanity license plates have become enmeshed in the larger controversies over just what constitutes free speech under the First Amendment. Until the 1960s, the overwhelming consensus was that freedom of speech applied exclusively to obvious political utterances, not to flags or clothing or license plates…

Meanwhile, courts had been gradually extending free speech rights to areas where they had never been applied before. The landmark case, Cohen v. California, involved a man who wore a jacket with the words “F*** the draft” in a courtroom in Los Angeles in 1968. A state court ruled that his act promoted violence and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. But the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to reverse the conviction. “One man’s vulgarity in another man’s lyric,” Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote in his majority opinion, and “it is because government officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style largely to the individual.”

THE COHEN CASE was part of an extended cycle of free speech revisionism. Another 5-4 Supreme Court ruling held that flag burning was “sufficiently imbued with elements of communication to implicate the First Amendment.” Draft card burning was similarly identified as speech.

It may seem a long stretch from draft card burning to lewd license plates, but in the past decade, judges have made a connection. A New Hampshire court ruled in 2014 that the state couldn’t ban a plate that read “COPSLIE.” A Rhode Island judge ruled that a motorist had the right to display a license plate that read “FKGAS.”

Most significantly, a California court ruled in 2020 that the state regulation prohibiting license plates that were “offensive to good taste and decency” was overly broad and thus unconstitutional. To be impermissible, the court said, the words had to be plainly profane or obscene. After that ruling came down, a legislator in Utah introduced a bill that would ban all vanity plates on the grounds that regulating them for content would create unacceptable legal problems. Read More > at Governing

DC Attorney General sues Mark Zuckerberg over the Cambridge Analytica scandal – Meta’s Cambridge Analytica woes are far from over. Karl Racine, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, has sued Mark Zuckerberg. He accused the Meta CEO of having a direct hand in making the decisions that led to the major data breach.

Racine claims that Zuckerberg “contributed to Facebook’s lax oversight of user data and implementation of misleading privacy agreements.” That, according to the suit, allowed consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to acquire personal data on more than 70 million Americans, including more than 340,000 DC residents. The company allegedly used the data to help sway voters in the 2016 presidential election through political ad targeting.

The AG previously sued Meta (then known as Facebook) over the scandal in 2018. That case is still ongoing. This time, Racine is targeting Zuckerberg directly. Under the jurisdiction’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which bans unfair and deceptive trade practices, individuals are liable for a company’s actions that they were aware of, controlled or failed to stop.

Racine is seeking a jury trial against Zuckerberg. He wants Meta’s CEO to refrain from future CPPA violations and to pay damages and civil penalties. Read More > at Engadget

Living with dogs (but not cats) as a toddler might protect against Crohn’s disease – Young children who grow up with a dog or in a large family may have some protection later in life from a common inflammatory bowel disease known as Crohn’s disease, according to a study to be presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2022.

“Our study seems to add to others that have explored the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ which suggests that the lack of exposure to microbes early in life may lead to lack of immune regulation toward environmental microbes,” said Williams Turpin, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and a research associate with Mount Sinai Hospital and the University of Toronto.

Researchers used an environmental questionnaire to collect information from nearly 4,300 first-degree relatives of people with Crohn’s disease enrolled in the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Genetic, Environmental, and Microbial (CCC-GEM) project. Using responses to the questionnaire and historical data collected at the time of recruitment, Dr. Turpin and his team analyzed several environmental factors, including family size, the presence of dogs or cats as household pets, the number of bathrooms in the house, living on a farm, drinking unpasteurized milk and drinking well water. The analysis also included age at the time of exposure.

The study found that exposure to dogs, particularly from ages 5 to 15, was linked with healthy gut permeability and balance between the microbes in the gut and the body’s immune response, all of which might help protect against Crohn’s disease. Similar effects were observed with exposure to dogs across all age groups. Read More > at Medical Xpress

How Old Are You Really? Meet Your ‘Biological Age – Biological age—a measure of health that can be more or less than your chronological age—might help determine your quality of life as you get older, scientists say. 

The idea behind biological age is that your cells and organs have ages that vary from your regular age. Many aging-research scientists believe that knowing your biological age could help you postpone or avoid Alzheimer’s, cancer, cardiovascular disease or other age-related illnesses. Some also believe biological age can better predict an individual’s lifespan. 

Other scientists agree that biological age is important but disagree that it can predict your life. They say there is no standard way to measure biological age and many of the tools in development aren’t yet proven. At the center of the debate are hopes that people can prolong their lives by changing their behaviors; a crop of companies are betting on it.

The activities that influence biological age—such as sleep, exercise and diet—are essentially the good habits we already know about. But since everybody’s genes are different, tracking your biological age could help determine which habits are most helpful and how to customize them. For one person, 10,000 steps a day could be optimal, while it is 6,000 for someone else. 

People also can attempt to lower their biological age through meditation, yoga or other ways of effectively managing stress. Some, including Dr. Sinclair, use supplements to try to make themselves younger.

Scientists studying aging hope that eventually, individuals will be able to accurately measure their biological age and uncover the steps that influence it to forestall chronic disease and possibly live longer. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Is Russia Ripe For A Coup? – Is a coup possible in Russia? Several months ago, most analysts would have dismissed the idea as absurd. Today, with the war in Ukraine going badly for Russia and President Vladimir Putin, the question is relevant. It might even be urgent. 

Indeed, that question has been supplemented by another: Can a leader who has created such an immense catastrophe for his regime and his country possibly survive?

Speculation about a possible coup is just that – speculation. Since there is no direct evidence that anyone in Moscow is plotting a coup, the best one can do, as Bellingcat’s Russia specialist Christo Grozev says, is draw conclusions from existing conditions in Russia, and hope they prove to be right.

Russia’s list of ills is long. The country is currently experiencing almost complete political isolation, impending economic collapse, growing material hardship and dissatisfaction, and a looming military defeat. It is also witnessing the galvanization of NATO, which will likely add new members, and the strengthening of the U.S. alliance with Europe. 

All of this is happening thanks to Putin, who has succeeded in reducing his country to an underdeveloped third-world state with nukes. It stands to reason that some Russian political and military elites must hope to replace the man who created this mess. That is how angry elites have reacted in other countries with comparable circumstances.

It is also how they have reacted in Russia’s past. Read More > at 1945

What it would take for cars to actually fly – Since the advent of aviation, flying cars have never progressed from prototype to reality. “Having a car attached to an airplane is hard to make efficient,” says Ella Atkins, an aerospace engineering professor and director of the University of Michigan’s Autonomous Aerospace Systems Lab. “The car is not going to notice much difference from having the parts of an airplane, but the plane is going to really be impacted by the presence of a car.”

It’s more than just impractical engineering that has grounded the flying car dream. After all, as far back as 1926, Fairchild’s foldable design seemed to have struck a crude auto-airplane compromise. But he couldn’t solve the complex matter of operating the flying craft itself. “Pilots need a lot more training and practice to become proficient than 16-year-olds who get their drivers’ licenses,” Atkins says.

Plus, flying a rusty jalopy is much riskier than driving one, even for a trained pilot. Had Vidal succeeded in coaxing manufacturers to build and sell affordable family aircraft in 1934, his grand vision of an airplane in every garage likely would have failed when the cost of upkeep began breaking family budgets. “Airplanes are very maintenance intensive,” Bednarek says. “There are a lot more costs associated with owning an airplane than with owning a car.”

…Despite so many obstacles, the transportation landscape might finally be ready for flying cars—and it’s mostly thanks to deep-pocketed investors. A collection of companies like Terrafugia, Klein Vision, Pal-V, and Aeromobil have announced plans to soon offer true hybrid flying cars , equally capable of cruising down the freeway and soaring through the skies. Bell Nexus and Joby Aviation (which in 2020 acquired Uber Elevate, the ridesharing company’s aerial initiative), have their sights set on all-electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air taxis, set to debut in 2023. “There are a couple of planned communities being designed in Northern California,” says Atkins, “with a model of actually having solar panels to charge eVTOLs for a commuter service to go in and out of the Bay area each day.”

But even as flying cars seem on the cusp of a breakthrough, a whole new class of vehicles are quickly cluttering the skies: autonomous drones that are increasingly being used for package delivery, surveillance, mapping, news, and entertainment. “The biggest obstacle to all this,” Atkins explains, “is transitioning away from voice-based air traffic control to data link.” By data link, she means enabling aircraft to communicate directly with one another, with little or no human intervention.

Before flying cars, air taxis, or drones can take to the skies in numbers, air traffic control will need a serious upgrade. Atkins envisions a mainly autonomous solution—an Urban Air Mobility, or UAM, air traffic control system. An UAM would enable aircraft to communicate directly with one other (no humans in the loop), as well as with a central command center and community-based centers, which, when combined, would be capable of handling thousands of simultaneous flights over a metropolitan area. Read More > at Popular Science

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California Is 2022’s 8th Worst State for Military Retirees – WalletHub Study

With May being Military Appreciation Month and the U.S. sending additional troops to NATO countries in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2022’s Best & Worst States for Military Retirees, as well as accompanying videos, along with its Memorial Day Facts infographic.  

To help our troops plan their years after service, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 29 key indicators of retirement-friendliness toward veterans. The data set ranges from job opportunities for veterans to housing affordability to quality of VA hospitals.

Military Retirement in California (1=Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 47th – Veterans per Capita
  • 47th – % of Homeless Veterans
  • 47th – Veteran Job Opportunities
  • 50th – Housing Affordability
  • 49th – % of Veteran-Owned Businesses

Memorial Day Facts

  • 91 – Number of members of the 117th Congress who have served in the U.S. military, the lowest total since at least World War II.
  • 3 Million – Number of people expected to travel by plane over Memorial Day weekend (up 25% over 2021).
  • 818 – Number of hot dogs consumed every second from Memorial Day to Labor Day (seven billion total).
  • 20 to 70 Percent Off – Discount shoppers can expect during Memorial Day weekend sales.

For the full report, please visit: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-states-for-military-retirees/3915

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Duck, Duck, Goose

From Delta Voice – Spring 2022

The Delta is a premier location for waterfowl. Green-winged – teals, American wigeons, Canadian geese, Northern pintails, Snow geese, mallards, and other species can all be found flockng to the region. For migrating waterfowl, the Delta is a key stop on the Pacific Flyway, who depend on it during the winter. The Pacific Flyway is one of the major flyways for migrating waterfowl, going from Alaska all the way to South America. Waterfowl come to our Delta in winter due to the mild temperatures and lush vegetation. They feed and store energy to fly to their breeding grounds in the spring. These birds migrate by the millions from as far away as Alaska, Patagonia, and even Siberia. The Sacramento Valley alone supports approximately 44 percent of wintering waterfowl using the Pacific Flyway, with more than 1.5 million ducks and 750,000 geese to its seasonal wetlands.

Our Delta wetlands shift with the seasons and have different opportunities unique to each one. Winter is bustling with birds and is the only time to see migrating birds. Spring is the breeding season for many native species, and the landscape is rich with plants in bloom. Summer offers a landscape change as plants begin to dry up in the heat, and birds are best viewed in the morning hours. Fall is the beginning of flood season for the wetlands, the most important part of their cycle that supports wildlife.

Wildlife preserves help protect habitat while providing ecological services and recreation to us. The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area supports an array of life including birds and waterfowl, and offers opportunities for bird watching, hunting, and recreation. Other areas for birding include the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge with its beautiful Blue Heron trail and the Cosumnes River Preserve. Hunting often goes hand in hand with wetland conservation, as hunters understand the importance of sustainability.

The California Duck Days Festival every April is a wonderful celebration of the importance the Delta has for waterfowl. The festival is organized by the Yolo Basin Foundation and its partners. The Foundation began in 1990 with a mission for community stewardship and appreciation for our wetlands and wildlife through outreach, education, and collaboration. Taking place in Yolo County in the heart of the Pacific Flyway, the festival has activities to learn about Delta duck species and appreciate them.

Whether you are interested in bird watching, hunting, or conservation efforts, there is an opportunity to flock together in the Delta and enjoy the many types of waterfowl that grace the waterways.

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2022’s Best & Worst Places to Start a Career – WalletHub Study

With graduation season upon us and employers planning to hire 31.6% more graduates from the Class of 2022 than they did from the Class of 2021, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2022’s Best & Worst Places to Start a Career, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To help recent graduates launch their careers in the right place, WalletHub compared more than 180 U.S. cities based on 27 key indicators of career-friendliness. The data set ranges from the availability of entry-level jobs to monthly average starting salary to housing affordability.

Best Places to Start a CareerWorst Places to Start a Career
1. Salt Lake City, UT173. Anchorage, AK
2. Orlando, FL174. Long Beach, CA
3. Atlanta, GA175. Pembroke Pines, FL
4. Austin, TX176. Newark, NJ
5. Seattle, WA177. Casper, WY
6. Boise, ID178. Detroit, MI
7. Miami, FL179. Santa Clarita, CA
8. Tampa, FL180. New York, NY
9. Portland, ME181. Shreveport, LA
10. Columbia, SC182. North Las Vegas, NV

Best vs. Worst

  • Tacoma, Washington, has the highest monthly average starting salary (adjusted for cost of living), $4,724, which is 2.8 times higher than in Juneau, Alaska, the city with the lowest at $1,669.
  • Columbia, Maryland, has the highest median annual household income (adjusted for cost of living), $104,486, which is 3.5 times higher than in Newark, New Jersey, the city with the lowest at $30,271.
  • Oxnard, California, has the highest workforce diversity, which is 2.4 times higher than in New Haven, Connecticut, the city with the lowest.
  • South Burlington, Vermont, has the lowest unemployment rate, 1.50 percent, which is 8.1 times lower than in Detroit, Michigan, the city with the highest at 12.10 percent.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit: 

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June 4-12, 2022 – California Invasive Species Action Week

The goals of the California Invasive Species Action Week (CISAW) are to increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against California’s invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources.

Prevention is the most effective strategy in managing invasive species. However, hundreds of invasive plants and animals have already established in California and are rapidly spreading each year. These invaders are negatively impacting our waters, our native plants and animals (some of them rare, threatened, or endangered), our agriculture, our health, our economy, and our favorite recreational places. Help us celebrate California’s Invasive Species Action Week, and more importantly, help stop the spread of invasive species, by volunteering to take action.

Are you planning to host an invasive species event during Action Week? Submit your event information so we can add you to the Schedule of Events! We’ll add online events, too!

Download a printable 2022 Action Week poster (PDF) in 8.5×11 in (PDF)(opens in new tab) or 11×17 in (PDF)(opens in new tab).

Enter the Youth Art Contest!

How Can You Participate?

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Sunday Reading – 05/22/2022

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

Bay Area’s biggest new housing development once again in trouble – The new developer of the Bay Area’s largest housing development, the 13,000-unit reuse of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, now says the project is not economically feasible and is demanding a series of extensions and financial guarantees in order to proceed with the plan.

In an April 27 letter to the agency overseeing the redevelopment of the mothballed naval base, developer Concord First Partners — a partnership led by the Contra Costa County-based Seeno family — says the combination of infrastructure costs, community benefits and land use requirements “all cause the project to be impracticable from an investment standpoint.”

In the letter, Concord First Partners asks for a 90-day extension of the exclusive negotiating agreement, which is set to expire on May 26. In addition, the developer wants an extra year in which to get the project approved, which would move that date from May 2024 to May 2025.

In addition the development partnership — led by Albert Seeno Jr., Discovery Builders President Louis Parsons, and well-known Oakland builder Phil Tagami — is asking the city to guarantee that it will be reimbursed for third-party costs should the City Council eventually reject their proposal.

They are also asking that the “development and disposition agreement” — which outlines what the developer will pay for the land and when it will be transferred by the Navy — be shifted from the end of the approval process to the beginning.

The dispute comes more than three years after the previous developers, Lennar and FivePoint, walked away from the project after they were unable to come to terms with the Contra Costa County Building Trades Council. That plan had called for 13,000 new homes, 2,700 acres of parks and 6 million square feet of commercial and academic space. Last October, the Concord City Council picked the Seeno group over two other builders, one of which was Brookfield Properties, among the largest developers in the world. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Invasive jumping worms have made their way into California, and scientists are worried – They clone themselves, they thrash violently like a rattlesnake when handled, they can jump a foot in the air, and now they’re in California. 

Beyond the jumping worm’s gnarly appearance (the species is also referred to as Alabama jumpers, Jersey wrigglers and crazy snake worms, but officially named the Asian jumping worm), scientists are now concerned about the “significant threat” the invasive species may have on the state. 

Amynthas agrestis is native to Japan and the Korean Peninsula, but made its way to North America through landscape plants imported from those regions. They were first spotted writhing through American soil in Wisconsin in 2013 and have since been found across the East Coast, but now they’ve reportedly headed west.

Scientists are worried about the jumping worm entering the Golden State for several reasons. “These earthworms are extremely active, aggressive, and have voracious appetites,” a recent CDFA report warns. They’re able to eat through thick layers of leaf debris, home to a vast array of smaller animals, leaving behind only nutrient-free, dry worm casings that look like taco meat. They can even rid the forest floor of birds that nest there. 

As a US Forest Service blog post shared last month states, “Jumping worms can eat all of it. They are never satiated.” The CDFA says this poses a huge threat to forest life and could also hurt biodiversity in nurseries, parks and residential gardens. The report warns that the jumping worms will likely be able to “establish a widespread distribution through California’s forest habitat and ornamental production sites, particularly in residential and commercial environments.” Read More > at SFGate

In a dramatic change, whales are now hanging around in San Francisco Bay – Before 2016, guests on a popular whale watching tour had to sail far offshore for photos of whales. But these days, migration patterns of endangered humpbacks have altered so much that the boat stays almost entirely within the bay.

“We’ve changed our tours completely,” said Kat Nazar of San Francisco Whale Tours.

In decades past, humpback whales almost exclusively swam past the bay and stayed offshore during their annual migration from April to October. Now, a rising number are coming closer to the coast. Some venture into San Francisco Bay during peak season, and a few even stay in nearby waters year-round.

The new behavior is attributed mostly to a boost in their population and warming ocean temperatures, and the changes have major implications for everyone from tourists to the shipping and crab industries.

The humpbacks’ overall change in behavior along the coast has been documented by surveys from ships, airplanes and the Farallon Islands and with new acoustic technology on buoys. All indicate that some humpback whales are here year-round and spending more time where cargo ships speed by and crab fishing boats drop their gear on long lines that can endanger them. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

$6 a gallon?! California reaches another gas price record. Is there any relief ahead? – California’s average gas price topped $6 a gallon for the first time ever Tuesday, just two months after drivers were stunned to see $5 prices at the pump for the first time. And there is no sign of a decline anytime soon.

In San Jose, prices on Tuesday averaged $6.12, Oakland hit $6.13, and San Francisco and Marin counties were tied for most expensive in the region at $6.27, according to AAA. The state average jumped 30 cents in the last month — and a staggering $1.36 since the start of the year

The progressively painful visits to the gas station come as 70% of Americans now say inflation is the top problem facing the United States, beating health care affordability, violent crime and COVID-19, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week. Nationwide, the annual inflation rate reached 8.3% in April, a pace nearing a 40-year high.

Drivers feeling the pinch may be wondering if Sacramento is still planning on sending gas tax financial relief after a flurry of proposals in March. The answer is yes, Californians can expect hundreds of dollars back this year, but it likely won’t come in time for your summer road trip as budget negotiations between the governor and Democratic leadership drag on.

California has long paid the highest fuel prices in the country, a sting that is particularly felt now that the average price per gallon is $1.50 higher than the national average.

Among the reasons for the state’s highest-in-nation status is a 51 cent gas tax — only Pennsylvania levies a higher gas tax — along with environmental fees to fight climate change and a more costly pollution-fighting fuel blend unique to the Golden State. Read More > in The Mercury News

Gas stations in Washington reprogram pumps to prepare for $10-a-gallon fuel – A national gas station chain is reprogramming its pumps in Washington state to accommodate $10-a-gallon fuel, it has been revealed.

The move by 76 comes as the nation’s average gasoline price soars to $4.57-a-gallon, almost twice the $2.41 average during Trump’s last month in office. 

A spokesperson for ’76’ gas stations confirmed that the national chain has begun reconfiguring its pumps to ‘make room’ for the possibility of double-digit prices, The Post Millennial reported. 

The spokesperson for ’76’ did not comment on whether the company is expecting prices to reach $10.00-a-gallon, The Post Millennial said. Read More > at the Daily Mail

Cats Actually Know Each Other’s Names, Study Suggests – Scientists at Kyoto University found that cats living with other feline friends can recognize their own and each others’ names, and possibly even familiar humans’ names.

Published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reportsthe study examined 48 cats who either lived in households with at least three other cats, or were from “cat cafes” where they cohabitated with lots of other felines. To test their name recognition, the researchers showed each cat a computer monitor displaying a familiar cat’s face, and an audio recording of their owner calling either the displayed cats’ real name, or a name that didn’t match the cat on the screen.

When they heard names that didn’t match the individual shown, cats from households with few feline roomies spent more time staring at the screen, supposedly puzzled. If the name matched the face, they stared less.   

“Only household cats anticipated a specific cat face upon hearing the cat’s name, suggesting that they matched the stimulus cat’s name and the specific individual,” the researchers wrote. They theorize in the paper that this might be food-motivated behavior; they learn that when one cat is called, that one gets food. Read More > at Motherboard

Analyst warns of impending ‘fiscal cliff’ – California could see a budget problem to the tune of $25 billion next year if state lawmakers approve Newsom’s blueprint as written, potentially forcing cuts to government programs, according to a no-nonsense Monday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises legislators on fiscal issues. The analysis offers the latest — and starkest — indication that California could soon be headed for a “fiscal cliff” despite the state’s staggering $97.5 billion surplus. The report “strongly” recommends that lawmakers “consider building more reserves than proposed by the governor,” noting the state is facing “heightened risk of a recession within two years” and Newsom’s plan “includes very few proposals to help the state prepare for the next downturn now.”

  • The report adds that a recession isn’t the only risk to California’s bottom line  so is an obscure voter-approved constitutional amendment, called the Gann Limit, that blocks the state from spending more tax dollars per person than it did in 1978, once adjusted for inflation. The Gann Limit requires any excess money to be divided between schools and taxpayers or spent on certain projects, such as infrastructure.
  • According to the report, California could face $25 billion in such requirements by next year. And that’s a problem, because “for each $1 in revenues the state collects above the limit, it must allocate about $1.60 in constitutional requirements” — in other words, spend more than it’s bringing in.
  • H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for Newsom’s Department of Finance, pointed out the governor’s budget blueprint acknowledges the possibility “the limit may be exceeded in future years.” But he said Newsom’s proposal “positions the state well for those future uncertainties,” including by allocating most of the surplus to one-time spending and ensuring $15 billion of that “can be adjusted or dialed back as needed to deal with any changes” in future years.
  • When asked why Newsom didn’t put more money into the state’s reserves, Palmer responded: “We think better positioning the state to deal with potential energy shortages, a drought that we know we’re in the middle of, a wildfire season that has every potential to be as bad as last year’s or recent years’, and the fact that we want to provide immediate relief to Californians who have been suffering sticker shock that’s been driven by inflation — we think that those are immediate needs that can and should be addressed and we are addressing appropriately through revenues that are one-time in nature.” Read More > at CalMatters

Newsom’s electric car nirvana collides with reality – This year’s increase in electric car sales was, no doubt, spurred in part by a steep hike in gasoline prices, as well as subsidies – which poses an interesting dichotomy. Newsom has decried those fuel price spikes and wants the state to offset them with payments to motorists, which would reduce some of their motivation to buy electric cars.

Moreover, were California to eventually ban sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles and go 100% ZEVs, as Newsom also advocates, charging their batteries would impose immense new burdens on an electric power grid that’s already strained to meet demand.

By happenstance, as Newsom and the air board were issuing their upbeat messages about the shift, a financial data website, Forbes Advisor, was revealing that California has one of the nation’s worst records on providing recharging sites for ZEV owners.

Its study, drawn from U.S. Department of Energy data and numbers from all 50 states, found that North Dakota is the nation’s most ZEV-friendly state with one charging station for every 3.18 electric vehicles.

…And California? It has the fourth highest ratio, just one station for every 31.2 ZEVs. New Jersey is the least accommodating to ZEV owners, with one station for every 46.16 electric vehicles.

Okay, so California is lacking when it comes to infrastructure needed to support the ZEV nirvana that Newsom and the ARB envision, both in terms of electrical power supply and sites to connect that power to electric cars.

However, the situation may actually be worse.

Again by happenstance, last week brought us evidence that not only is California failing to provide enough ZEV charging stations, but those it does have often don’t work. Read More > at CalMatters

California’s electrical grid has an EV problem – California energy officials issued a sobering warning this month, telling residents to brace for potential blackouts as the state’s energy grid faces capacity constraints heading into the summer months.

And since the state has committed to phase out all new gas-powered vehicles by 2035 — well ahead of federal targets — the additional load from electric vehicle (EV) charging could add more strain to the electric grid.

“Let’s say we were to have a substantial number of [electric] vehicles charging at home as everybody dreams,” Ram Rajagopal, an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, who authored a recent study looking at the strain electric vehicle adoption is expected to place on the power grid, told Yahoo Finance. “Today’s grid may not be able to support it. It all boils down to: Are you charging during the time solar power is on?”

In Sacramento, officials said California’s grid could face a potential shortfall of roughly 1,700 megawatts, which would affect the power supply of between 1 million and 4 million people this summer. That number would likely be exacerbated by an additional shortfall of 5,000 megawatts in the case of extreme heat and further fire damage to existing power lines.

Globally, the number of electric vehicles is expected to swell from 7 million to 400 million by 2040. The transition to zero-emission cars is estimated to add 2,000 TWh to annual energy demand by 2050 — a 40% increase — according to a study by global advisory group ICF.

Rajagopal’s team of researchers at Stanford developed a model framework to help utility companies around the world calculate charging patterns to better manage electricity demand. In California, it found that peak charging demand would more than double by 2030 if EV owners opted to charge in the evening at home.

“The use of an electric vehicle is like adding one or two air conditioners to your residence in terms of its energy increase,” Mike Jacobs, Senior Energy Analyst at Union of Concerned Scientists, told Yahoo Finance. “So when the local utility engineer looks at this, he thinks of that air conditioning in the afternoon and the electric vehicle coming home at the same time.” Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

Homelessness surged 35% in one Bay Area county. Here’s what new data for each region reveals – The Bay Area’s homeless population swelled significantly in several counties during the pandemic — with Contra Costa County up 35% and Alameda County reporting a 22% jump — while the tally dipped slightly in San Francisco and Sonoma since 2019, according to new data released Monday.

The numbers come from one-day “point-in-time” surveys conducted earlier this year, which had been delayed by the pandemic, and reflect uneven results in regional efforts to manage the homelessness crisis.

Six of nine Bay Area counties released estimates on Monday: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Sonoma. They posted a combined 8% increase in the regional homeless population, up to 34,636 people this year compared with 32,043 three years ago.

One unmistakable trend is the geographic sprawl of an issue once regarded as a byproduct of unaffordable big cities like San Francisco. Officials reported a 69% spike in local homelessness in Fremont, to 1,026 people, plus a 35% jump in Contra Costa County and an 8% increase in affluent Marin County. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Your Member of Congress Can Now Order ‘Drinks on Demand’ at the Capitol – Have you ever wished you had a liquor store inside your office building? I mean, a real live place where you can buy your favorite beer, wine, or liquor and pick it up or have someone deliver it to your office?

Now your representative in Congress has that privilege thanks to an agreement with the Capitol’s new catering partner, Sodexo.

With “Drinks on Demand,” your congressman or congresswoman can pay for booze with his or her own money or — get this — campaign funds.

Representatives and their staff can order bottles of liquor from brands like Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark, and Tito’s for anywhere between $16 and $35 for a fifth of their favorite spirit (but, criminally, no Woodford Reserve). Beer prices range from $25 for a 24-pack of Keystone Light to $60 for a case of Dog Fish 90 Minute IPA. Read More > at PJ Media

Conti ransomware group threatens to oust Costa Rica’s government as crisis deepens – Last week, Costa Rica declared a state of emergency following a massive Conti ransomware attack on its government. Now, Conti has boosted its threat, saying its aim is nothing less than to overthrow the government, The Associated Press has reported. “We have our insiders in your government,” the group said. “We are also working on gaining access to your other systems, you have no other options but to pay us.”

The group, which also doubled its ransom demand to $20 million, may be trying to take advantage of the fact that Costa Rica’s President Rodrigo Chaves has only been in office for a week. “We are at war and that’s not an exaggeration,” Chaves said, adding that officials were dealing with a national terrorist group with collaborators inside the nation. He says that the scale is broader than thought, with 27 government institutions, including municipalities and state utilities, affected. 

Conti was also in the news recently after attacking Parker Hannifin, a major component supplier for Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It reportedly infiltrated current and former employees, stealing information like their social security numbers, passport numbers, bank and routing numbers and more. 

However, the threat to overthrow Costa Rica’s government is likely just a ruse to extort more money, according to a ransomware analyst cited by the AP. “I believe this is simply a for-profit cyber attack,” said Emisoft’s Brett Callow. “Nothing more.” Read More > at Engadget

With Plunging Enrollment, a ‘Seismic Hit’ to Public Schools – In New York City, the nation’s largest school district has lost some 50,000 students over the past two years. In Michigan, enrollment remains more than 50,000 below prepandemic levels from big cities to the rural Upper Peninsula.

In the suburbs of Orange County, Calif., where families have moved for generations to be part of the public school system, enrollment slid for the second consecutive year; statewide, more than a quarter-million public school students have dropped from California’s rolls since 2019.

And since school funding is tied to enrollment, cities that have lost many students — including Denver, Albuquerque and Oakland — are now considering combining classrooms, laying off teachers or shutting down entire schools.

All together, America’s public schools have lost at least 1.2 million students since 2020, according to a recently published national survey. State enrollment figures show no sign of a rebound to the previous national levels any time soon.

A broad decline was already underway in the nation’s public school system as rates of birth and immigration have fallen, particularly in cities. But the coronavirus crisis supercharged that drop in ways that experts say will not easily be reversed.

Now educators and school officials are confronting a potentially harsh future of lasting setbacks in learning, hardened inequities in education and smaller budgets accompanying smaller student populations.

“This has been a seismic hit to public education,” said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. “Student outcomes are low. Habits have been broken. School finances are really shaken. We shouldn’t think that this is going to be like a rubber band that bounces back to where it was before.” Read More > in The New York Times

More people would rather sleep with their pet than their spouse – A new survey found that pet owners actually prefer sleeping with their pets over their partners.

Out of 2,000 American pet owners in the study, which was reported by OnePoll and commissioned by mattress company Sealy, 66% said they allow their precious pets to sleep in their bed, while 58% of respondents in relationships admitted to preferring to share a bed with their furry friends and not their significant others.

Slightly more than half (51%) said that doing so aided their stress and anxiety, while 42% said their cuddly company makes them feel secure in bed overall.

The survey even discovered owners consider their sleep improved when sleeping with a pet in bed. Read More > in the New York Post

First Patient Dosed With Experimental Cancer-Killing Virus in New Trial – Scientists dosed the first patient this week in a small clinical trial of an experimental cancer treatment—one that relies on a novel kind of ally. The treatment uses a virus engineered to selectively kill cancer cells, while also amplifying the body’s immune response to the cancer. The hope is that this therapy can help those with advanced solid tumor cancers, in combination with other existing drugs.

The CF33-hNIS virus, also called Vaxinia, was originally created by researchers at the City of Hope National Medical Center in California. It’s now being jointly developed with the company Imugene Limited.

Vaxinia is billed as an oncolytic virus, meaning it prefers to target and infect tumor cells. Scientists have been hopeful about using these kinds of viruses to directly kill off cancer cells for more than a century, but with limited success so far. In recent years, some teams have decided to explore a slightly different plan of attack. This genetically modified virus not only infects and harms cancer cells, but also forces these cells to become more recognizable to the immune system.

This strategy, the researchers hope, will then allow other treatments that also boost our immune response to cancer cells to be more effective, particularly against hard-to-target solid tumors. These treatments are collectively known as immunotherapy. In early animal and lab experiments, the virus has been shown to reduce the size of colon, lung, breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer tumors. Read More > at Gizmodo

Are Elephants People? New York’s Highest Court Hears Case for Animal Personhood – Forget fetal personhood or corporate personhood. The next big battle over extending individual rights under U.S. law may come from a case involving an Asian elephant named Happy. The matter is currently being considered by New York’s highest court.

Happy is around 50 years old and lives at the Bronx Zoo, where she has spent roughly 45 years of her life after being born in the wild. A group called the Nonhuman Rights Project is now suing to get her freed.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) says “Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for ‘a person,'” explains the Associated Press. A lawyer for the zoo, which is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), “argues Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant ‘respected as the magnificent creature she is.'”

On Wednesday, New York’s Court of Appeals heard arguments about Happy’s plight.

“She has an interest in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat,” the NRP’s attorney, Monica Miller, told the A.P. “And the zoo is prohibiting her from making any of those choices herself.”

The NRP wants to get Happy released through a habeas corpus proceeding, under which people can challenge illegal detention and imprisonment. Read More > at Reason

Pet praying mantis market thriving as fascinating insect surges in popularity – When most people think about getting a new pet, animals like dogs, cats, goldfish, and bunnies come to mind. According to a new research project, however, thousands of people all over the world have already decided to go with a more unusual companion: Praying mantises or stick insects.

According to researchers in Italy, the pet mantis market is thriving. Study authors explain these insects are being bought and sold at fairs and pet markets, and then “raised” by either professionals or amateur owners. The team adds that this largely unknown pet market appears to be growing in popularity.

These interesting insects come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are downright elegant and beautifully colorful, like the Orchid Mantis. Others look more like a Pokémon (the Jeweled Flower Mantis) than anything you may see on nature programs. Many, such as the Giant Shield Mantis, are totally safe to handle and pretty darn cute. We find the insect so stunning we’ve included a spectacular show of photographs at the end of the article. Read More > at the Study Finds

Vast swath of U.S. at risk of summer blackouts, regulator warns – A vast swath of North America from the Great Lakes to the West Coast is at risk of blackouts this summer as heat, drought, shuttered power plants and supply-chain woes strain the electric grid. 

Power supplies in much of the US and part of Canada will be stretched, with demand growing again after two years of pandemic disruptions, according to an annual report. It’s among the most dire assessments yet from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a regulatory body that oversees grid stability. 

“It’s a pretty sobering report, and it’s clear the risks are spreading,” John Moura, director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, said in a press briefing. “I certainly do think it’s our most cautionary tale here.”

Climate change is partly to blame. A historic drought is covering the western US, limiting supplies of hydroelectric power, and forecasts call for a hotter-than-average summer. But the fight against global warming poses its own risks as older coal-fired plants close faster than wind farms, solar facilities and batteries can replace them. 

“The pace of our grid transformation is out of sync” with the physical realities of the existing power network, Moura said. Read More > at BNN Bloomberg

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U.S. Armed Forces Day

Army Day, Navy Day and Air Force Day were combined in 1949 to be Armed Forces Day, celebrated the 3RD SATURDAY IN MAY.

Army Day formerly was the date the US entered World War I, April 6, 1917.

Navy Day formerly was President Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, October 27, as he was a driving force behind the U.S. becoming a major sea power.

Air Force Day formerly was August 1, the day the War Department established a division of aeronautics in 1947, marking the 40th anniversary the Army’s Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps.

On Armed Forces Day, May 15, 1995, Secretary of Defense William Perry said: “In World War II, the United States Armed Forces helped defeat the forces of aggression and oppression on two sides of the globe … In the Cold War, we faced down the global Soviet threat. Today, our forces stand guard, at home and abroad, against a range of potential threats …”

Secretary Perry continued: “On Armed Forces Day, the nation says thank you to our men and women in uniform, their families, and the communities that support them … Daniel Webster said, ‘God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it.’”

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NEW TOOL: Type in your address, see your risk of wildfire in California

First Street Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit research group, added huge amounts of new data to its Risk Factor tool, which allows users to type in their address and learn its fire risk, ranging from minor to extreme. The feature is available for properties across the country and is especially valuable for people living in wildfire-prone California. Risk Factor launched in 2020 with a tool for determining a home’s risk to flood. 

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The Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District’s 95th Anniversary

This year, the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District (District) is celebrating 95 years of protecting public health. Wow!

95 years is certainly an impressive accomplishment, but how did the District get here? Let’s take a look at the District’s history.

In the early 1900s, scientists discovered mosquitoes can transmit the causative agents of disease. At the same time, the problems with mosquitoes in Contra Costa County were so bad, particularly along the coastal areas of the county, that businesses and schools were closed, and Realtors could not sell homes. As Californians learned mosquitoes pose a risk of disease or harm, in 1915 state lawmakers approved legislation to create and finance mosquito abatement districts in the state.

In 1926, the people of Contra Costa County voted to create the Contra Costa Mosquito Abatement District (CCMAD), and in 1927, 95 years ago, we opened our doors and have been protecting public health in Contra Costa County ever since.

The District’s original jurisdiction only included the waterfront from Martinez to Antioch. CCMAD focused primarily on reducing the risk of mosquitoes by using engineering methods such as digging ditch networks, dredging, building, and repairing levees.

As different mosquito-borne diseases impacted more County residents throughout Contra Costa County, they petitioned CCMAD for mosquito control services. Additional CCMAD offices were established. Over time, CCMAD increased the number of services and control options.

  • In the 1950s, CCMAD began using mosquitofish as a biological method of controlling mosquitoes.
  • In 1970, CCMAD offered ground-nesting yellowjacket control.
  • In 1986, CCMAD became a county-wide agency.
  • In 1993, Contra Costa County transferred its rat and rabies risk reduction program to CCMAD, prompting the District to officially change its name to the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District.

Today, the District is a public health agency dedicated to protecting all Contra Costa County residents from mosquitoes and other vectors of disease. The last 95 years have been an incredible journey for the District. Here’s to 95 more years of protecting public health!

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The American West is primed for a summer of fire


More than 1.2 million acres of the US have burned from wildfires so far this year. That’s roughly 500,000 acres more than the 10-year average—and across much of the West, peak fire conditions haven’t even set in yet. Currently, 11 large fires are burning uncontained in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico. And with much of the country in a deep drought, the rest of the spring and early summer are likely to look just as fiery, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest.

This year reflects a broader transition in fire behavior across the US, as hotter days and more variable rainfall have let a relatively concentrated “fire season” in the West turn into year-round disasters and risk. But the months of June, July, and August are still particularly fire-prone. On May 1, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) released its predictions of fire weather through August.

It’s important to note that the center can only forecast fire potential. “Whether you actually realize that potential is dependent on actual weather events,” says Jim Wallmann, a meteorologist at the NIFC. Windy days, lightning, and rain will all shape the actual season. “The bad news,” he says, is that during peak season will be “busy” from Wyoming to California.

Late spring

Right now, the US is very, very dry. The Mountain West, from California to the Rockies, is more than two decades into its most serious drought of the last 1,200 years, which has killed trees and left vegetation exceptionally fire-prone. Meanwhile, patches of extreme and exceptional drought through Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern Great Plains have set the stage for 2022’s biggest fires so far. One, on the eastern slope of the Rockies, has burned more than 160,000 acres, and is threatening the prairie town of Las Vegas, NM.

The outlook for the rest of May doesn’t look much better. The NIFC expects a normal monsoon season in the Southwest late June or early July that will wet grasses and end the most volatile fires. But until then, windstorms will continue to roll through the region as they have all spring, which spread new fires in open grasslands from Colorado to Nebraska.

Read More > Popular Science

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First Dead Bird of 2022 Tests Positive for West Nile Virus in Contra Costa Co.

The Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District (District) reports the first dead bird of the year has tested positive for West Nile virus (WNV) in Contra Costa County. The dead bird, an American crow, was picked up in an area of Brentwood close to Discovery Bay.

Certain birds carry WNV. Once a mosquito bites an infected bird, the mosquito can become infected. Mosquitoes can spread the virus when they bite another bird or person. To reduce the risk of WNV, the District recommends Contra Costa County residents report dead birds because dead birds are often the first sign of WNV in a particular location.

WNV can grow more efficiently when temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees. With hot daytime and warm overnight temperatures in the forecast, the District advises County residents to take steps to reduce the risk of WNV by avoiding mosquito bites.

“Infected mosquitoes can spread West Nile virus to people through a single mosquito bite, but fortunately, the virus is easily preventable. With temperatures on the rise over the next several days, it’s important that Contra Costa County residents take precautions to avoid mosquito bites by using an effective insect repellent when outdoors, particularly around dawn and dusk. Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin that can be bitten. And avoid being outdoors where mosquitoes are present, if possible,” said Steve Schutz, Ph.D., Scientific Program Manager.

Other ways to reduce the risk of mosquitoes is to dump out any amount of standing water because mosquitoes can develop from egg to adult in something as small as a bottle cap full of water. And make sure window screens do not have rips or tears and fit properly in openings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when used as directed, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective. The District recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

Always follow the instructions on the label when using insect repellent.

Contra Costa County residents can report dead birds by phone at (877) WNV-BIRD (968-2473) or online. County residents can also request mosquito service for residential property by calling (925) 685-9301 or online.

Since 2005, 75 people in Contra Costa County have been diagnosed with West Nile virus. In 2006, two people died from the disease. For human case information, please visit the California Department of Public Health Vector-Borne Disease Section online.

Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District, an independent special district and public health agency, is located at 155 Mason Circle in Concord.

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Sunday Reading – 05/15/2022

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.

California to open first new state park in 13 years – At a scenic spot where two rivers meet amid sprawling almond orchards and ranchlands between San Jose and Modesto, California’s state park system is about to get bigger.

On Friday, as part of his revised May budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to announce that the state is acquiring 2,100 acres near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers to become a new state park — an area rich with wildlife and brimming with possibilities to reduce flood risk and restore some of California’s lost natural heritage.

The property in Stanislaus County, 40 miles east of San Jose and 10 miles west of Modesto, is known as Dos Rios Ranch. It will become the first new state park established since 2009, when the U.S. Army donated four miles of beaches in Monterey County to become Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

That 13-year gap in new parks is the longest since the state parks department was created in 1927.

…Located on the Pacific Flyway, the ranch, which now has 20-foot-high trees where flat hayfields grew 10 years ago, is a stopover for more than 250 species of migrating birds from Canada and Alaska, including the endangered Aleutian Canada Goose. It is also home to neo-tropical song birds and endangered species such as brush rabbits and Swainson’s Hawks.

…The state expects to take title to the land, which River Partners will donate, by the end of next year, and public access will begin in late 2023, Quintero said. Newsom’s budget will shift $5 million to draft a general plan, conduct title searches and research potential legal claims and easements, and to cover other costs.

Parking lots, restrooms, interpretive signs on trails and picnic areas should be built in less than five years, with plans after that for a campground, he added. Quintero noted that the San Joaquin Valley has the fewest state parks of any region in the state. Read More > in The Mercury News

Bill advances to let California teens get vaccinated without parental consent – California kids 12 and older are one step closer to being able to get vaccinated without parental consent after a key legislative committee on Thursday passed a controversial bill on a 7-0 vote despite hundreds of people expressing fierce opposition.

Just five of the eight bills introduced this year by a vaccine working group of Democratic lawmakers are still alive — and state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco’s proposal to allow kids ages 12 to 17 to receive FDA-approved vaccines without a parent’s permission is by far the most contentious.

The hearing illuminates the increasingly urgent challenges state lawmakers will face as California approaches the new start date of its postponed student COVID vaccine mandate, which is no earlier than July 2023: How can the state boost low youth vaccination rates while simultaneously building trust in the community — and supporting families whose kids may experience adverse reactions? Read More > at CalMatters

Shootings of Police Up 35% So Far This Year – Recent headlines give the impression that it’s dangerous to be a cop right now. In just the past six months, we’ve seen a Baltimore police officer ambushed and shot dead in her cruiser, a Houston cop shot by a serial felon during a routine traffic stop, an NYPD officer slashed with a machete, and dozens more attacks on law enforcement officials.

New data from the Fraternal Order of Police, a national law-enforcement union, suggest that these incidents are part of a larger trend. According to the FOP, 123 law-enforcement officers were shot in the line of duty this year through May 1, a 35 percent increase relative to the first five months of 2021. Nineteen of those officers died. The FOP believes that this year may turn out to be even worse than 2021, when 346 officers were shot and 63 killed by gunfire.

…Data published by LEOKA suggest that officer killings, at least, got worse in 2021, rising to 73 felonious killings versus 46 in 2020. The FOP and LEOKA data aren’t really comparable—they report different numbers for the overlapping years—but the trend in the former suggests that we should expect to see similar rises in shootings and ambushes once the full data for 2021 are available. Those ambushes, like the aforementioned murder of Baltimore officer Keona Holley, have attracted particular attention; the Department of Justice has raised concerns about such attacks as far back as 2015.

A simple way to understand these trends is that they mirror the increase in violent crime—principally homicides and shootings—that has gripped the country over the past two years. As violence on the streets increases, one would expect that cops would be more under threat.

But the surge in ambush-style attacks is reason to think that there may be a second effect, whereby offenders are not only more violent in general but also feel less inhibition in attacking cops directly. Increasing hostility toward the police, particularly from civilian leadership, may give offenders more of a sense that they can get away with assaulting officers while also suggesting to officers that they will face administrative and reputational consequences for defending themselves. Read More > at City Journal

Prepare for possible blackouts this summer – On the hottest days this summer, California could face an energy shortfall equivalent to what it takes to power about 1.3 million homes — a number that could soar to 3.75 million if extreme weather and wildfires harm the grid, state officials said Friday. The sobering outlook follows Newsom’s April 27 letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, in which he said the federal government’s inquiry into imported solar cells and modules is delaying California solar energy and storage projects representing at least 4,350 megawatts. (One megawatt powers about 750 to 1,000 California homes.)

  • Also hampering the state’s ability to execute on its clean energy projects, according to Newsom’s letter: supply chain constraints, increased shipping costs, the rising cost of lithium and pandemic lockdowns. And California’s severe drought has also reduced available hydropower.
  • To keep the lights on in a state that two years ago saw its first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades, the state is considering delaying — again — the planned 2023 closure of four gas-powered plants along the Southern California coast, Newsom’s cabinet secretary, Ana Matosantos, told the Sacramento Bee. Newsom himself recently expressed openness to delaying the planned 2025 closure of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Meanwhile, consumers can expect electricity prices to go up. Californians will likely see annual rate increases of between 4% and 9% between now and 2025, said officials from the state Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and California Independent System Operator. Read More > at CalMatters

A Summer of Blackouts? – Soaring gasoline and electricity prices may turn out to be only part of Americans’ energy woes this summer. In recent months, a host of power suppliers have issued warnings that millions of residents could endure rolling blackouts because of the growing inability of America’s evolving energy infrastructure to meet power needs. From western states like Utah, Colorado, and California to midwestern states like Illinois, energy providers have cautioned that rising prices, shortages due to the closure of some coal and nuclear plants, and the unreliability of renewables like wind and solar have reduced energy surpluses. That’s left some places with little margin for error during peak usage times in mid-summer—potentially prompting the kind of blackouts California saw last year. The warnings have spurred calls to slow down climate-change-driven efforts to retire nuclear and fossil-fuel generating plants. They have also emerged as an issue in local elections this November.

In December, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, responsible for overseeing the dependability of the continent’s electric grid, issued a study cautioning about insufficient capacity to meet the energy needs of various regions, beginning as early as this summer and extending for the next decade. The study pointed out, for instance, that the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which coordinates and oversees the power grid for 15 midwestern and southern states serving more than 40 million people, has noted that the closing of plants representing significant sources of energy had accelerated a shortfall in power reserves, potentially with dire consequences.

…Adding to the region’s woes is that California, which has increasingly come to rely on power generated elsewhere as it has shut down fossil-fuel and nuclear generating facilities, now must deal with a decline in one of its major energy sources, hydroelectric power. A West Coast drought has drained many rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, potentially limiting hydro power output this summer and possibly provoking a repeat of the blackouts that hit the state last year. The situation has sparked debates over whether California should be slowing down its conversion to renewable energy.

Earlier this month, California governor Gavin Newsom, who helped negotiate the shutdown of the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, reversed course and committed to keeping the plant, which generates about 10 percent of the state’s energy, open for several more years… Read More > at City Journal

California Targets Loud Exhaust with Sound-Activated Camera Enforcement – Well known for stringent emissions and modification regulations, the California State Legislature has approved a five-year automated enforcement pilot program targeting loud exhaust from cars. If signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom, the camera-enforcement program will begin January 1. The bill specifies six undisclosed cities throughout California to take part in this experimental program.

Before panic sets in among West Coast enthusiasts, it’s important to read the fine print of the nuanced Senate bill. California has long specified the decibel level at which stock or modified exhaust systems are deemed too loud—95 decibels for cars and 80 for motorcycles built after 1985—and this hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is the means of enforcement.

A “sound-activated enforcement system” means sensors are activated when noise levels exceed legal limits, and smart cameras are used “to obtain a clear photograph of a vehicle license plate,” the text of Senate Bill 1079 reads. Similar to speed-camera thresholds found around the world, these cameras are triggered by high decibel levels and can zero in on the offender’s plate. It is not immediately clear how these cameras will pinpoint vehicles in traffic, or how they will differentiate between cars and motorcycles.

Compared to Assembly Bill 1824, which repealed the fix-it ticket option in favor of a mandated fine, SB 1079 provides more progressive protections for road goers. Signage is required to notify motorists before they enter an enforcement zone. First time offenders will not be charged and only subsequent violations will incur fines. Additionally, participating city governments are required to create payment plans, deferment options, and fine waivers for low-income vehicle owners who demonstrate a temporary or indefinite inability to pay. Read More > at Autoweek

How high will California gas prices go next? Experts say cost will keep rising – Regular gasoline for $6 a gallon everywhere in California, all the time?

It’s getting close, experts say.

Sacramento’s average price for a gallon of regular hit an all-time high Wednesday of $5.80, up 16 cents from a week ago and about $1.73 from last May.

Statewide, the average was $5.85, up 9 cents from a week ago and inching toward the record of $5.92 hit in March.

That record is likely to be shattered.

“Unpredictable, but more likely higher two weeks from now,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

That’s because “the key drivers behind the higher gasoline prices in California have not changed much,” said Sanjay Varshney, professor of finance at California State University, Sacramento.

Supplies remain tight, as port backups continue and truckers still face shortages of drivers and equipment.

The federal Energy Information Administration predicted this week that crude oil prices would remain above $100 a barrel this year. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

California wants more electric cars. But many public chargers don’t work – If electric cars are to transform California, it needs to be easy to charge them.

There’s a hitch: More than a quarter of public charging stations in the Bay Area don’t work, according to a recent survey.

Concerned about reliability, a retired professor of bioengineering from UC Berkeley, David Rempel, decided to test charging stations around the Bay Area. Rempel got support from the San Rafael nonprofit Cool the Earth, which provided funding and volunteers.

They fanned out across the region’s nine counties over three weeks in February and March, visiting 181 public charging stations with a total of 657 plug-in kiosks. Testers tried to charge their electric cars for at least two minutes and noted any problems.

They found 73% of public kiosks in working order. But nearly 23% had inoperable screens, payment failures or broken connector cables. On another 5%, the cables were too short to reach the vehicles’ charging inlet. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Smarter cars won’t last you decades – You’ve heard the stories: Irv Gordon’s three-million-mile Volvo; Rachel Veitch had the oil in her Mercury Comet changed every 3,000 miles since 1964; a 102-year-old man drove the same car for 82 years. In the car world, we think of these rare owners as moral heroes. Whatever their reason—sentimentality? Yankee thrift? Obsessive compulsion?—they’ve sacrificed the novelty of the new for a durable relationship. They’ve won a marathon most of us don’t bother running.

I’ve been thinking a lot about long-haul car owners as we race toward a technology inflection that will upend the more than a century-old custom of car ownership. Rather than maintain their vehicles lovingly over decades, the Rachel Veitchs and Irv Gordons of the not-so-distant future—if any might still exist—will be compelled to trade them in for reasons that would have read like science fiction to car buyers of the past. 

In essence, it won’t make sense to form a bond with a vehicle that’s not really yours and runs on software someone else controls.

Today, there are two forks in the car-ownership longevity story. One is the Right to Repair movement, which casts resourceful owners of cars (and, more broadly, all sorts of consumer products) against companies that use software to wall off increasingly complex systems from independent mechanics and DIY tinkerers. This is a philosophical as well as legal debate, with physical property rights slamming up against the limited rights granted via intellectual property (i.e., software) license. Although the self-reliance team won this round, the industry is not finished with them yet. The pressure for automakers to control every aspect of a new, software-focused operating environment will be significant.

The other fork involves vehicles outlasting the technologies that enable their features. That includes digital obsolescence in general and, most recently, the sunsetting of the 3G cellular network. Hundreds of thousands of car owners are now learning a hard lesson about the limitations of end-user licenses, as some of the features for which they’d paid a premium disappear, literally into thin air, with automakers under no obligation to replace them in kind.

Unlike most goods, where signing on the dotted line “exhausts” a seller’s rights while conferring them to the purchaser, the right to use software is granted to customers by license. That long document in tiny print, which we scroll past and punch the “I agree” button, spells out precisely how, where, and when a customer can use a piece of software. With the 3G case as an example—highlighting the importance of reading terms of use documents carefully—cars are joining the ranks of devices for which ownership doesn’t guarantee the right to use all features in perpetuity. Read More > at Popular Science

Inflation barreled ahead at 8.3% in April from a year ago, remaining near 40-year highs – Inflation rose again in April, continuing a climb that has pushed consumers to the brink and is threatening the economic expansion, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.

The consumer price index, a broad-based measure of prices for goods and services, increased 8.3% from a year ago, higher than the Dow Jones estimate for an 8.1% gain. That represented a slight ease from March’s peak but was still close to the highest level since the summer of 1982.

Removing volatile food and energy prices, so-called core CPI still rose 6.2%, against expectations for a 6% gain, clouding hopes that inflation had peaked in March.

The month-over-month gains also were higher than expectations — 0.3% on headline CPI vs. the 0.2% estimate and a 0.6% increase for core, against the outlook for a 0.4% gain.

The price gains also meant that workers continued to lose ground. Real wages adjusted for inflation decreased 0.1% on the month despite a nominal increase of 0.3% in average hourly earnings. Over the past year, real earnings have dropped 2.6% even though average hourly earnings are up 5.5%. Read More > at CNBC

Gasoline prices set record Tuesday – According to AAA, the cost at the pump for both regular gasoline and diesel fuel reached their highest recorded average price Tuesday morning.

The national average of a regular gallon of gasoline was $4.374, up five cents from Monday, and $5.55 for diesel, up one cent from Monday.

The nation’s 10 largest weekly increases, AAA reports, were in Michigan (+26 cents), New Jersey (+25 cents), Connecticut (+19 cents), Kentucky (+19 cents), Indiana (+19 cents), Rhode Island (+19 cents), Illinois (+18 cents), Washington, D.C. (+18 cents), Alabama (+18 cents) and Tennessee (+18 cents).

The nation’s 10 most expensive markets continue to be in California ($5.82), Hawaii ($5.28), and Nevada ($5.11), followed by Washington ($4.83), Oregon ($4.81), Alaska ($4.73), Washington, D.C. ($4.69), Arizona ($4.66), Illinois ($4.59) and New York ($4.51).

For the week ending March 14, weekly retail average gasoline prices across all grades was $4.41 a gallon, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported, the highest on record. Read More > at The Center Square

Biden administration cancels oil and gas lease sales in Alaska, Gulf of Mexico – The Interior Department will not move forward with planned oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet, it announced Wednesday night.

A spokesperson for the department confirmed the Cook Inlet lease sale would not proceed due to insufficient industry interest. Meanwhile, the planned sale of two leases, lease 259 and lease 261, in the Gulf of Mexico will not proceed due to contradictory court rulings on the leases, the spokesperson confirmed.

Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order freezing all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Last summer, Judge James Cain, a Trump appointee, struck down the ruling, prompting the Biden administration to appeal. Read More > in The Hill

11 Insanely Corrupt Speed-Trap Towns – Caught stealing from motorists, these towns disbanded their police forces or even disbanded their governments altogether.


In the 2000s, the town of Maricopa gained a reputation for targeting drivers, especially farm workers, in the hopes that they’d be undocumented immigrants, thus allowing the small police department to impound their cars without much fuss.

Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times that Maricopa “has been a shining example of impoundments gone wrong. They’re essentially creating a racket to steal people’s cars.”

When drivers began avoiding the town, one gas station owner put up a large sign at his station: “Stop the Maricopa Police Dept. Out of Control Traffic Tactics. Your Voices Have the Real Power! Speak Up & Tell Them to Stop!”

A Kern County grand jury report accused Maricopa police of targeting Latino motorists and seizing vehicles from undocumented immigrants. The grand jury report urged the debt-ridden town to get rid of its police department and then get rid of itself through disincorporation.

Maricopa chose the former, disbanding its police force in 2012 and contracting with the county for law enforcement.

In a similar California case, the town of Maywood outsourced its law enforcement in 2010, a year after the state attorney general released a scathing report on its police force. The report found lax oversight, unchecked and excessive force, sexual assaults, illegal searches and arrests, and an abusive vehicle checkpoint and impound program that Maywood relied on for revenue. Read More > at Reason

A Little Truth About Microplastics – …A 2015 study in Science estimated the “flow of plastic waste from 20 populous coastal countries,” says Bailey. The U.S. is at the bottom of the list, “dumping less than 1% of the plastics that end up in the oceans annually.”

No surprise that China is the “leader” of ocean plastic polluters – it accounts for 28% of all “plastics thrown into the oceans each year.” About 60% is “discarded by the fast growing East Asian economies of China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.” The inescapable fact is much of the world outside the West doesn’t practice disciplined waste disposal hygiene.

Are they really a threat to animals?

The only honest answer is “who knows?” The puzzle is best summed up by an article in The Conversation, which says “while many studies find microplastics can affect the gene expression, growth, reproduction or survival of an animal, others conclude that microplastics have no negative effects.”

For instance: 

“More than 100 laboratory studies have exposed animals, mostly aquatic organisms, to microplastics,” says Nature magazine. The findings – “that exposure might lead some organisms to reproduce less effectively or suffer physical damage” – however, don’t easily lead to bright-line answers, as microplastics come in “many shapes, sizes and chemical compositions, and many of the studies used materials that were quite unlike those found in the environment.”

(Emphasis a wholly owned commentary of the author.)

Nature further notes that while it’s possible microplastics attract chemical pollutants and “then deliver them into animals that eat the contaminated specks … animals ingest pollutants from food and water anyway,” and it’s not implausible that the particles, “if largely uncontaminated when swallowed,” could help to remove pollutants from their systems. That’s good, right?

At the same time, it’s also possible that animals ingesting microplastics don’t get enough real food to survive. Not so good. Read More > at Issues & Insights

Port labor talks collide with supply chain crunch – Plan to buy something online in the next few months? Then you have a stake in high-intensity negotiations set to begin Tuesday between 22,000 dockworkers and the shipping companies that do business at 29 West Coast ports accounting for nearly 9% of the United States’ gross domestic product.

The talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association — slated to take place in San Francisco — come as U.S. ports are just beginning to recover from a pandemic-induced supply chain crunch that resulted in massive backlogs of ships and goods and skyrocketing inflation rates.

But progress hinges on contract negotiations going smoothly: “If anything further disrupts the supply chain it will be devastating,” said Jim McKenna, president and CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association.

  • The contract between the dockworkers’ union and shipping companies is set to expire July 1, and although talks are expected to extend past that date, lead negotiators on both sides said they’re heading into the conversation on good terms.
  • Nevertheless, signs of conflict cropped up last week, when the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping companies, released a self-commissioned study that found automated terminals at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports had higher efficiency, lower greenhouse-gas emissions and better work opportunities than non-automated terminals.
  • Frank Ponce De Leon, speaking for union workers at the ports: “It’s apparent that the report is a self-serving document by one party to a labor contract, and even worse is an insult to all workers who have seen their jobs outsourced to machines. … We haven’t seen an overall increase in productivity at the ports, just a shell game to mask the human cost of job destruction.” Read More > at CalMatters

Is watching pornography bad for men — but good for women? – Pornography is a male-dominated industry that targets a prominently male audience. Scenes frequently focus on men’s pleasure and narrowly depict women as willing objects of male lust and desire.

That makes a new finding somewhat ironic. Nicolas Sommet, a senior researcher at the LIVES Centre of the University of Lausanne, and Jacques Berent, a researcher and lecturer in social psychology at the University of Geneva, conducted a large, three-year study, the results of which were published in February in the journal Psychological Medicine. They found that watching pornography is associated with decreased sexual functioning in men and increased sexual functioning in women.

In June 2015, Somet and Berent anonymously surveyed just over 100,000 individuals predominantly from French-speaking countries with an average age of 21. Participants answered questions about their relationships, their sexual functioning and satisfaction, as well as how frequently they viewed pornography. Subjects were also asked to take the survey again in 2016 and in 2017. About a fifth of the original survey-takers completed these follow-ups.

Reviewing the data, the researchers found that the more men reported watching pornography (on a vague, eight-point scale from “never” to “very often”), the lower they rated their sexual competence and their sexual functioning, as determined by factors like desire, arousal, and ability to reach orgasm. Moreover, as men’s porn use increased, their female partners also reported decreased sexual satisfaction.

The situation was markedly reversed for women. Women who watched more pornography reported greater sexual competence and functioning compared to women who watched less. Read More > at Big Think

Collaborative Junk Science Is the Core of the Delta VA – After years of exclusionary backroom negotiations over Bay-Delta voluntary agreements (VA) , earlier this week the State made a ham-fisted attempt to greenwash these proposed voluntary agreements, sending this email inviting a handful of people who had participated in VA conversations years ago to participate in “two workshops to finalize the governance and decision-making process for the implementation of the VA program.”  (DWR subsequently sent a revised email to NRDC and several other organizations, while still excluding numerous Tribes, conservation groups, and other stakeholders.)

Inviting previously excluded groups to join a meeting to “finalize” the voluntary agreements is not a legitimate collaborative process.  Indeed, the conservation groups that participated in VA negotiations between 2012 and 2019 repeatedly raised major concerns – concerns that were repeatedly ignored and never addressed, because these conservation groups were never equal partners in this process.  NRDC will not be participating in this sham collaboration to “finalize” a plan that will likely wipe out salmon and other endangered species in the Bay-Delta.  Restore the Delta likewise declined this invitation, eloquently explaining here that this was not a real collaboration. 

But the problems run deeper, because the governance and decision-making scheme proposed in the voluntary agreement process is inherently biased.  It is designed to empower the participating water districts to have even more say over decision-making and what constitutes “science.” 

Giving the contractors more say over science is problematic because the participating water districts – and the California Department of Water Resources — have a vested interest in trying to show that fish don’t need water so that they can divert ever more water from this imperiled watershed.  DWR and these water districts have spent decades using junk science and “combat science” to try to manufacture scientific doubt about the importance of flow, using that “science” in order to fight environmental protections for salmon and other endangered species.  Read More > at NRDC

US casinos had best month ever in March, winning $5.3B – Inflation may be soaring, supply chains remain snarled and the coronavirus just won’t go away, but America’s casinos are humming right along, recording the best month in their history in March.

The American Gaming Association, the gambling industry’s national trade group, said Wednesday that U.S. commercial casinos won more than $5.3 billion from gamblers in March, the best single-month total ever. The previous record month was July 2021 at $4.92 billion.

The casinos collectively also had their best first quarter ever, falling just short of the $14.35 billion they won from gamblers in the fourth quarter of last year, which was the highest three-month period in history.

Three states set quarterly revenue records to start this year: Arkansas ($147.4 million); Florida ($182 million), and New York ($996.6 million).

The numbers do not include tribal casinos, which report their income separately and are expected to report similarly positive results. Read More > at ABC News

Signs of success in California campaign to keep monarch butterflies from disappearing – Monarchs leave the California coast in late winter, heading to inland areas to breed. When they get to the Central Valley this time of year, they need milkweed to lay their eggs; the plant’s pointy green leaves are also food for the caterpillars. The successive generations of butterflies also need other blooming plants like yarrow that provide nectar to refuel for the next stage of their journey, as they travel farther east in California and to other Western states.

The butterflies’ beautiful orange-and-black markings and epic migrations have endeared them to generations of Californians. They also play an important role as pollinators, and scientists say that protecting them helps other butterflies and bees too. Loss of habitat along with pesticide use have caused the monarch population to decline sharply: While 1.3 million were found in California in 1997, their numbers dropped to fewer than 2,000 in winter 2020-21.

But the latest California count, announced in January, shot up to 250,000, which gave conservationists hope for a rebound, though insect populations can swing wildly from year to year. Laws saw evidence of the larger population earlier this April, when she found 12 caterpillars at another restoration site in Bakersfield. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

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2022’s Best & Worst Cities for Basketball Fans – WalletHub Study

With the NBA playoffs kicking off on April 16 and the NBA projected to have $10 billion in revenue this season (which is higher than pre-pandemic revenue), the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2022’s Best & Worst Cities for Basketball Fans, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To find the best cities for professional- and college-basketball fans, WalletHub compared more than 290 of the largest cities across 21 key metrics, ranging from the performance level of each city’s NBA and NCAA Division 1 basketball teams to ticket prices to stadium accessibility.

Best Cities for Basketball FansWorst Cities for Basketball Fans
1. Los Angeles, CA284. Bethlehem, PA
2. Boston, MA285. Evansville, IN
3. Salt Lake City, UT286. Stephenville, TX
4. San Francisco, CA287. Jersey City, NJ
5. Philadelphia, PA288. St. George, UT
6. Miami, FL289. Pocatello, ID
7. San Antonio, TX290. Daytona Beach, FL
8. Washington, DC291. Montgomery, AL
9. Houston, TX292. St. Paul, MN
10. Oklahoma City, OK293. New Britain, CT

Best vs. Worst

  • Charlotte, North Carolina, has the lowest average ticket price for an NBA game, $63.11, which is 3.2 times less expensive than in San Francisco, the city with the highest at $203.30.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks have the highest performance level among NBA teams, 71.26 percent, which is 2.6 times better than that of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the lowest at 27.65 percent.
  • The Gonzaga Bulldogs have the highest performance level among college basketball teams, 93.33 percent, which is 12.1 times better than that of the Chicago State Cougars, the team with the lowest at 7.72 percent.
  • Miami has the highest fan engagement for NBA teams, 42.78, which is 28.9 times higher than in New York, the city with the lowest at 1.48.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit: 

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Why you should be taking security advice from your grandmother

from Malwarebytes

We tend to accept that younger folks are supposed to be more tech savvy, given they’ve grown up with computers and the Internet pretty much their whole lives. If you go back about 15 or so years, a lot of security advice focused on the “warning your grandmother away from scams” routine.

The default assumption was that people over a certain age simply did not know about computers and the threats that come with them. Grandparents were the short-hand, go-to frame of reference for examples in posts about scams or fraud: Watch out for grandfather this; your grandmother will fall for that.

Your grandfather knows what he’s doing

Crude, age-based categorisations were always dubious, and they are looking more and more baseless as the years tick by. Tech has now been around for a long time, whether it had some Internet bouncing around inside it or not. The oldest gamers playing on machines like Binatones in the 1970s might now be approaching 70 years of age themselves. Many studies have come and gone in the last couple of years declaring certain age groups to be at risk at one time or another. The interesting part is that more and more are declaring that younger age groups are at the greatest risk.

Older folks are dodging COVID-19 scams and all sorts of other shenanigans. Meanwhile, the news is definitely not as good the lower down the age slide we go.

Over here, Barclays twenty-somethings are most likely to be caught by scams. Over there, The Better Business Bureau finds that year after year it’s the younger folks getting stung by scams. In this direction, the UK’s Local Government Association has warned that it’s 16-34 year olds mostly feeling fakeout wrath. Some of the surveys listed claim that those in both the 31-40 or 71+ ranges are more susceptible to forms of advance fee fraud, but that seems to be about the only real negative mark against them.

Everything else is grim reading for the younger netizens out there.

Are digital natives in trouble?

new study has just landed and guess what? It’s more misery for the so-called “digital native” generation (and, perhaps, those just on the fringes).

The Financial Times reports that a joint study by Visa and Aston University’s Institute for Forensic Linguistics brings bad tidings for the young. One in four 18-34 year olds trust scam messages, which is “more than double” of those over 55.

Gen-X, forgotten again.

Crunching numbers

We cover the “urgent action” type scams a lot, because it’s a core component of so many fakeouts. Nothing has people clicking links they shouldn’t click faster than the threat of losing access to accounts or finances. According to the study, some 70% of messages analysed contained some kind of “Hurry up please” messaging.

Gift cards and Bitcoin—cybercriminals’ favourite currencies—feature heavily, as you’d expect. And it’s no surprise that aspects of younger culture are tied up in the most common scam messages.

More than 50% of 18-34 year olds had sent cash to fakers pretending to be friends or family. Again, this is likely another tick in the pandemic box. There’s a lot more stats in the report itself [PDF], but that’s not what I’m most interested in. Despite it being focused on the language of fraud, there’s one key aspect which isn’t really touched upon.

Reports state that a quarter of 18-34 year olds don’t check for spelling and grammar mistakes. As the PDF itself notes that poor spelling, typography, and grammar are often indicators of a scam message, we may wonder how this disconnect is happening—and how to address it.

Annoying your spell-check for fun and profit

Security advice nowadays tends to steer clear of the “Your grandfather doesn’t understand computers” routine for the previously mentioned reasons. It’s just a bit crass and not particularly accurate.

And there may be other age-related pieces of security advice to reassess too.

Misspelling and errors have been a feature of scams for years, and a useful red flag we could advise people to watch out for. But does that advice still work for a generation that’s grown up on social media and messaging apps, and loosened its adherence to language norms by communicating with emojis and paired-down, abbreatived, vowelless blasts of text?

Some People Write On Social Media Like This.

others write everything in lower case and don’t even bother to consider throwing in the occasional comma or even a full stop because their messages are still entirely understandable

The rules have mostly gone out the window, and the “watch out for typos” advice might have to go with it. After all, you can’t tell people to beware strange spelling when everyone is officially doing their own thing.

Some good news for Gen Z and Millennials

Thankfully, “watch out for typos” is far from the only piece of security advice we can give when warning people away from bogus SMS messages or suspicious emails. When we warn you away from a phish, we give you several things to look out for in combination. It’s the same for a malware scam, or a bogus phone download, or something targeting young gamers.

The survey recognises this, and stresses the importance of picking out combinations of factors to spot a scam. It’s not just typos: It’s combinations of certain words, pressures exerted on the recipient, mismatches between sender and links given, and a dash of ambiguity. One of these alone probably won’t help, but a few of them together most likely will.

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