Thursday, October 1, 2015

NYT: "Carly Fiorina Really Was That Bad"

Anyone remotely interested in the campaign of Carly Fiorina for president ought to first read this biting, yet entirely reasonable column about her by Steven Rattner in the New York Times, where he explains that Mrs. Fiorina was a failure in business:

"Americans should pause on her biggest professional credential for our highest office: a short, disastrous stint atop one of America’s iconic technology companies, Hewlett-Packard. The clearest measure of her performance — and the report card preferred by Wall Street — is H.P.’s stock price, which dropped by 52 percent during her tenure of almost six years."

Fiorina did one big thing at H.P. and it was a huge disaster:

"The most ruinous aspect of Mrs. Fiorina’s tenure was her decision to acquire another “old tech” hardware company, Compaq Computer Corporation, instead of moving more heavily into services and software, as IBM did."

Virtually everyone who has examined her years as the C.E.O. of H.P. agrees she was terrible:

"Investors were so down on her that H.P.’s shares jumped by almost 7 percent on the day of her firing. And in ensuing years, she appeared on several “worst C.E.O.” lists, including those of CBS News and USA Today. In 2009, Portfolio magazine ranked her the 19th worst C.E.O. of all time and described her as a “consummate self-promoter” who was “busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered.” 

Despite being an utter failure, the idiots on the H.P. Board of Directors who hired her and later fired her paid her millions of dollars to leave that company after she ruined it:

"She banked $21 million in severance payments as part of the more than $100 million in compensation she received during what one critic called her “destructive reign of terror” (which included pushing for H.P. to acquire five corporate jets.)"

Mr. Rattner exposes the fact that Mrs. Fiorina was not just a failure as the C.E.O. at H.P. She also played an important role in destroying Lucent Technologies, a spin-off company of A.T.&T., previously known as Bell Labs:

"Less attention has been paid to her time at Lucent Technologies, where she rose through the marketing ranks, learning the sales techniques that she is now putting to good use on the stump. Soon after she left, Lucent veered off a cliff, and while she was never the chief executive, part of the company’s collapse stemmed from overly aggressive sales and loans to financially shaky customers made under her supervision."

It is especially odd that anyone thinks Fiorina is qualified to be president, given that she failed in business and has no experience in elective office:

"The lack of public service or sustained business success makes Mrs. Fiorina unqualified for the nation’s highest office. By comparison, Mitt Romney had built an extraordinarily successful investment firm and served for four years as governor of Massachusetts."

Monday, September 28, 2015

NYT: "Shell Exits Arctic as Oil Slump Forces Industry to Retrench"

Royal Dutch Shell ended its expensive and fruitless nine-year effort to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic on Monday in another sign that the entire industry is trimming its ambitions in the wake of collapsing oil prices. ... At a time when global markets are glutted with oil, it also confirmed major oil companies’ increasing willingness to turn their backs on the most expensive new drilling prospects in the Gulf of Mexico and suspended plans for new projects in Canada’s oil sands. Shell spent more than $7 billion on its Alaska venture.

When oil was selling for $100 per barrel, drilling in the Arctic likely made sense. Since oil has hovered around $45 per barrel -- West Texas Intermediate crude closed today at $44.47 on the NYMEX -- it is not viable.

What this decision by Shell tells me is that economists inside Shell -- and likely inside other oil majors -- now believe that crude oil is likely to stay under $50/bbl for a long time, perhaps several years. If they believed that in 2016 WTI crude would be $90 or $100/bbl or more, they would be willing to drill for oil in remote places today, even with the price much lower. It is the fact that they don't believe oil is going up in price in the next year or two that is causing them to stop drilling in marginal locations.

The industry has cut its investments by 20 percent this year and laid off at least 200,000 workers worldwide, roughly 5 percent of the total work force. At the same time, companies have retreated from less profitable fields in places like the North Sea, West Africa, and some shale prospects in Louisiana and North Dakota.

What's interesting about the oil bust is how it negatively effects certain oil-reliant economies and that in turn depresses demand for other market goods and thus harms global growth. I had never contemplated that until this bust. What I was well aware of is that, when the global economy is going strong and demand for oil outpaces supply and oil prices rise dramatically, the result is harm to ongoing growth, even enough to cause a recession. The money that would otherwise be going into more consumption, housing, savings and investment ends up going to pay for higher priced oil, gasoline, airplane fuel, diesel, etc.

In between -- I am not sure the exact number -- there must be a healthy price of oil, where it is high enough for the producing regions to profit and spend, yet low enough that it is not draining the income of the consumption regions of the world. At $45/bbl, the price is too low and the effect is harmful to demand. 

And a low oil price is likewise a sign that demand is generally weak for all products. At established levels of production, consumers just cannot buy up as much oil as is being produced. So the price will fall until producers stop drawing so much crude from the ground.

United States oil companies have decommissioned more than half of their drilling rigs over the last year, and production is beginning to drop in the United States. Even exports from Saudi Arabia are beginning to ebb because of a glut in its Asian markets. “The decision by Shell to abandon its Arctic drilling program for now primarily reflects the realities of lower global oil prices,” said Michael C. Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, who advises oil companies and investment banks.  “When prices go down the oil industry shortens their list of projects in development by removing the most expensive ones.” This year, industry executives expressed hopes that the oil price, which has fallen more than 50 percent to below $50 a barrel since last summer, would recover before too long. But in recent weeks, a growing number of executives have warned that the downturn could last well into 2016 and perhaps beyond, especially if the Iran nuclear deal leads to a flood of new oil on world markets. With demand dwindling, the current 94 million barrel a day oil market has roughly 2 million barrels in surplus supply.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Year of SDPD body cameras yields surprises"

After having police officer body cameras in place for one full year, the San Diego Police Department has issued a report regarding how the technology affected police behavior and activities. This comes from a story in the San Diego Union Tribune:
San Diego police officers outfitted with body cameras have received fewer complaints from the public but have also used more force — a finding that surprised department leaders. ... Complaints against officers fell 23 percent between July 2014 and June 2015 and instances of force increased 10 percent in the same time period, the report said. ... A 2012 study of the Rialto Police Department, which was at the forefront of the body camera trend, found there was a 60 percent decrease in use-of-force incidents after cameras were deployed. ... That was not the case in the San Diego study where use-of-force instances increased 10 percent between July 2014 and June 2015, compared to the year before. ... Although use of force climbed, the report found that both complaints against officers and allegations made against officers fell after body cameras were put into use. A complaint can include more one allegation. Complaints fell 23 percent, while allegations fell 44 percent. ... The report revealed a sizable drop in the number of allegations that weren’t sustained, from 19 to 3. With the help of body cameras, investigators can more easily determine what happened during an officer’s interaction with a citizen, which is good news for everyone, Zimmerman said. 

My suspicion is that having body cameras will result in fewer bogus complaints by citizens against the police and fewer bogus reports by cops. Perhaps the reason that use-of-force incidents increased in San Diego is that, prior to having body cameras, some cops were using force but not reporting it, because they were unsure if it was justified.
It seems to me no bad (other than the expense) can come from having cameras in place. The questions seem to revolve around what to do with the videos after the incident. Should the general public or the media be able to see these videos in every case? Should the cops see the videos before they write up their reports?
My view is that the police officer involved and his superiors and the civilian interacting with the police officer should always have the right to see the video. And if the civilian involved does not object, the public should have the right to petition to see the video, just like in a public records request.
A side issue--which is discussed in the U-T article--is how officers can better deal with civilians suffering from psychiatric issues. I would think those are among the hardest for any cop to resolve; and often, because crazy people can become violent, the most likely to result in deadly force if things escalate. I don't know the answer to this issue. The use of body cameras won't solve the psychiatric interactions for cops. However, employing mental health professionals to work with the police on these cases--as most agencies in Yolo County are now doing--seems like the best approach to me.
Along those lines, Chief Zimmerman is quoted in the U-T article saying, “This first year of data all seems to suggest that (body cameras) aren’t the end-all solution to all social issues. We are going to need to enhance other current strategies that are effective, such as our psychiatric emergency response teams … our homeless outreach team … and our crisis-response team officers.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

"The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues"

This blog post in the Washington Post well describes a phenomenon of parents, hoping to give their kids the best chance in life, controlling their kids so much that the children fail to learn the social skills and leadership which comes from free time, where children play with each other, make up their own games and parents are out of the picture.
What Angela Hansom describes about her relationship with her daughter, where she was overbearing and pushy with regard to academics--after all, what parent does not want his kid to be best in his classroom--is equally played out with parents who are obsessed with making their kids into sports stars or musical geniuses or beauty pageant queens:
Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself! Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations. “Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

As far as I know, this sort of thing did not exist when I was a kid. But once it gets going, it creates a momentum of its own for all parents (save perhaps poor parents who are often far less driven in this manner). If the neighbor kid is getting special coaching in baseball, and your kid wants to play baseball, your kid will be disadvantaged if he also does not get special coaching. Likewise, if dozens of children at your child's school are taking extra classes and getting help from tutors and so on, how will your kid be able to keep up with the others if he too does not get that extracurricular help? Because so many kids are now pushed in one respect or another to excel in a specialized area, it seems very tough to remove this parental behavior from our culture.

Friday, September 4, 2015

"The Arab world’s wealthiest nations are doing next to nothing for Syria’s refugees"

The Washington Post has an excellent story regarding the poor performance of the wealthiest Arab countries when it comes to the plight of Syrian refugees:

The world has been transfixed in recent weeks by the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe, an influx of migrants unprecedented since World War II. … A fair amount of attention has fallen on the failure of many Western governments to adequately address the burden on Syria's neighboring countries, which are struggling to host the brunt of the roughly 4 million Syrians forced out of the country by its civil war. … Less ire, though, has been directed at another set of stakeholders who almost certainly should be doing more: Saudi Arabia and the wealthy Arab states along the Persian Gulf. As Amnesty International recently pointed out, the "six Gulf countries -- Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain -- have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees." 

The nearest neighbors--Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon--have in fact accepted many thousands, though far short of what Turkey has done. However, it's not clear those countries were being humane or generous. It's more the case that they could not control their borders and had no choice as thousands of people flooded out of Syria.

With regard to the oil-rich Gulf states, it does not surprise me that these emirates would not help their fellow Arabs. Kindness and accommodation do not seem to be a part of that culture. Even if they consider a foreign Arab a brother or a cousin, their willingness to really help him seems to be very limited.

The story of the Palestinians would seem to contradict that conclusion. In the late-1940s, tens of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in the wake of the pan-Arab war against Israel. The Palestinians ran to other Arab countries and were taken in as refugees. By having very large families, those tens of thousands are now several million people, third, fourth and fifth generation refugees.

It's been nearly 70 years since Israel became an independent Jewish state, and yet those Palestinians who fled to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and other Arab countries are almost all still living as refugees. They have rarely been integrated into the host Arab land and made normal citizens. Despite the fact that they speak the same language, are mostly of the same Muslim faith and have similar traditions in terms of family structure, food and other cultural values, they have been left to rot in ghettoes called refugee camps. 

While the rich Arabs could have given them a leg up and funded a program to integrate the refugees, so they would not be dependent on U.N. handouts, as most still are to this day, the Arabs have largely exploited the refugees as a symbol in their ongoing war with Israel, rather than treating them humanely. The idea is to maintain the fiction that thousands of Palestinian refugees, living in camps in Kuwait, for example, will some day return to Palestine, once the Arab nations collectively destroy Israel. But that fiction cannot be upheld, if the Palestinians, nearly 100% of whom were born in other Arab lands, like Kuwait, were allowed to become, say, Kuwaitis.

And a consequence of that discrimination has been a profound hatred of the host countries by the Palestinians who have not been allowed to integrate. This was seen in the coup attempt against the King of Jordan by Yassir Arafat in 1970, when Palestinians and Jordanians were attacking one another savagely. It was seen again during the Lebanon civil war in the 1970s, culminating in the mass murder of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians, who viewed the "refugees" as disloyal. And it was seen again when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the Palestinian "refugees" sided with the Iraqis. Once the U.S. drove Saddam back to Baghdad, the Kuwaiti response was to kill hundreds of "disloyal" Palestinians and expatriate most of the rest.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A close encounter of the worst kind

On Monday, August 31, I was riding my bicycle southbound on Old Davis Road when a speeding car came at me in a very unsafe manner.

What I gather was taking place was a stunt for a photograph. A young man, maybe 20 years old, was squatted on the road's center line, aiming his camera south. Two brand new muscle cars of some sort were racing at him. One of the northbound cars was in the northbound lane. The other was (illegally) driving north in the southbound lane.

They were skilled enough to not hit the photographer, as they raced by him at high speed--maybe 90 miles per hour. However, just as this stunt was taking place, I was riding my bicycle southbound in the southbound bike lane. That meant the fast-moving muscle car illegally driving north in the southbound car lane was headed almost directly at me. Had he hit me, I would be dead or in the hospital and would not be posting this blog entry. I would guess he missed me by 3 to 3.5 feet.

So it was not an extremely close call. However, it was close enough to scare the crap out of me. And it made me mad. I explained to the photographer, as I came up to and passed him, "you guys are fucking assholes!"

It is always risky for a driver to leave his lane in order to pass a slower vehicle going in his direction. It is downright stupid and highly dangerous to pull that maneuver when a bicycle or a car is approaching in the other direction.

A sensible driver who crosses into the oncoming lane in order to pass, and then sees a bike or a car coming the other way, will slow down and get back into his lane until it is safe to pass. Unfortunately, a lot of drivers are not sensible, particularly when a bicycle is riding in the oncoming lane. (Part of the problem may be that some cyclists are hard to see at a distance. That is part of the reason cyclists, for their own good, should wear visible clothing and use white-front and red-tail lights when the ambient light is not bright.)

Sadly, there was an incident yesterday north of Winters on Road 89, where a driver died making an unsafe pass. This is from The Davis Enterprise:

An unsafe passing maneuver left one man dead and another with major injuries Wednesday night in rural Yolo County, according to the California Highway Patrol. CHP reports say the as-yet-unidentified driver who died was passing another vehicle on southbound County Road 89 near County Road 31 north of Winters and struck a third car head-on at about 10:30 p.m. The passing vehicle, a Ford, then left the roadway and caught fire.

Many times on my bike I have ridden into Winters from the north on Road 89. It becomes Railroad Ave. in town. I know that intersection with Road 31 very well. There is almost no shoulder along that southbound stretch. So if a bicycle is ever there when a stupid driver tries to make an unsafe pass like this now-dead fellow did, the cyclist will be riding in the car lane and he will almost certainly be killed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Soaking up carbon dioxide and turning it into valuable products"

There is a seemingly exciting story up on Science Daily, reporting a breakthrough which suggests we may be able to capture carbon and convert it into usable products:

A molecular system that holds great promise for the capture and storage of carbon dioxide has been modified so that it now also holds great promise as a catalyst for converting captured carbon dioxide into valuable chemical products. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have incorporated molecules of carbon dioxide reduction catalysts into the sponge-like crystals of covalent organic frameworks (COFs). This creates a molecular system that not only absorbs carbon dioxide, but also selectively reduces it to carbon monoxide, which serves as a primary building block for a wide range of chemical products including fuels, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

What is unclear to me is just how much carbon can be captured with this method and whether doing so makes any economic sense. If it is the case that this would capture a tiny fraction of atmospheric carbon—or even CO2 which is now escaping power plants—it probably does not mean much. Likewise, if it is extremely expensive compared with say, producing power by clean methods, there would be no reason for anyone to want to do it.

The story, unfortunately, does not address these questions.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"A fully automated restaurant, opens today"

What happens when the minimum wage is raised by the state, but workers' skills are insufficient for that rate of pay? Unquestionably, jobs will be lost. 

Some who are young and have little or no experience will never be able to be employed, because the minimum wage is too high for them. Others, who are older but are not highly productive, will either lose their current jobs or remain unemployed.

Despite all that, it is possible that most low-paid workers will keep their jobs and will thus be better off making more money. Some marginal workers may have to upgrade their skills to meet the higher wage. And insofar as poorly paid employees get a raise, the higher minimum wage could improve the lot of the bottom 20 percent on the whole, even if it impoverishes many in that group by disemploying them.

What remains more of a question is how employers will respond to the higher minimum wage, other than simply firing their least capable people. If all or most of an outfit's workforce is too unproductive to be paid $15 per hour (plus add-ons like health insurance, Social Security, worker's comp and so on), that type of business will close its doors. 

Another option for some companies will be to replace workers with robots or other technology. SFGate has a story up today regarding a brand new fast food restaurant which is fully automated, at least in terms of its front of the house operation. 

The future is now. Well, it certainly feels that way when you walk through the doors at the flagship location of Eatsa, a new high-tech fast food restaurant that opens today … In terms of the front of house experience, it’s fully automated, with all meal ordering done via in-store iPads. Not a human in sight, though there is a team of about five or six back-of-house kitchen staff (or as I like to imagine, magical elves) who are hidden from view and prepare the food. … When your meal is ready — in just a few short minutes — it appears in small glass compartments, in a manner that’s reminiscent of the classic mid-20th century automats.

Automation in the restaurant industry is new. And I suspect it will grow quickly as technology permits and worker costs go up. It seems to me that it won't be long before most people who now take counter orders and work the cash register will be disemployed. It's just not that tough to replace them with an I-Pad and Apple Pay.

It used to be the case that every gas station in the United States employed several people to fill the tanks of customers. But that is long gone. Almost all gas stations are now self-serve, and more and more need no one to process a payment. Most of the employees at these businesses are simply there to work the cash register and stock shelves in the station's convenience store. But if wages are pushed up too much, those jobs will be removed, too, as technology permits.

Plenty of thoughtful people are now worried about what kind of future we will have when self-driving cars replace everyone who makes a living driving trucks, taxis, buses and so on. The fear is real that robots will be able before long to do every job in a factory faster, better and cheaper than a human being.

Given those threats, it makes little sense to speed up the process of disemployment by making humans too expensive to employ.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Black Lives Matter is not doing anyone any good

When a gunman assassinates a police officer for no gainful reason--not even to get away--there is likely some sort of psychiatric issue at play. Nonetheless, the murder of a white cop in Texas, Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, allegedly by a black man, Shannon Miles, suggests to me that the current atmosphere of race-based hatred being inflamed by the so-called Black Lives Matter movement is pushing psychotics to act. 

I got the exact same feeling a couple of days ago when a crazy, paranoid reporter, who had been fired from several TV stations for incompetence, decided that it was white racism which was causing his life to spin out of control, and that led him to murder, on-air, two of his former colleagues at a TV station in Virginia. The killer was already insane. But the Black Lives Matter movement--which preaches that blacks are being targeted by racist whites, especially racist white cops, and that blacks need to fight back against this supposed assault on innocent blacks--is pushing some crazy people over the edge, leading them to do truly horrific things.

Here is what The Washington Post reported about the murder of Deputy Goforth: 

A man arrested Saturday in the shooting death of a sheriff’s deputy at a Houston gas station Friday has been charged with capital murder, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman told reporters at a news conference Saturday evening. Shannon J. Miles, 30, was picked up for questioning early Saturday, Hickman said, according to a Reuters report. The sheriff said the suspect apparently targeted sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth only because of his uniform. Goforth had stopped to fill up his patrol car at a suburban Houston gas station Friday night when a man approached from behind and “literally shot him to death,” Hickman said. Goforth, 47, died after being shot several times in what Hickman described as “an unprovoked, execution-style killing of a police officer.”  ... Investigators said they believed Goforth was targeted for his uniform and described the working motive as “absolute madness.” ... “At any point where the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, cold-blooded assassination of police officers happen — this rhetoric has gotten out of control,” Hickman said. “We’ve heard ‘black lives matter,’ ‘all lives matter.’ Well, cops’ lives matter too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier, and just say ‘lives matter,’ and take that to the bank.” ... Goforth is the 23rd officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit group that tracks line-of-duty fatalities. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The tides are coming in ... dangerously so

Due to global warming, the oceans are rising and the pace of that increase seems to be accelerating. This comes from a report by Quartz:
New satellite research from NASA shows that not only are global sea levels rising quickly, but they could rise even more drastically than previous reports estimated. ... “It’s pretty certain we are locked into at least 3 feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Steve Nerem, head of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. “But we don’t know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.” Sea levels are rising for three main reasons: The melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the melting of mountain glaciers, and the expansion of oceans as they absorb heat and become warmer. All three causes can be directly attributed to global warming.

Although I am convinced that the NASA scientists have this right, there is a problem with the caveat built into their conclusion. Just when will this sea level rise take place? As Mr. Nerem notes, it could be a century or it could be longer. That is a pretty large fudge factor, and it makes it harder to motivate action--or even push people living in low-lying areas from building upward--until it is likely too late.

What I expect will happen in 75 or 100 or 150 years is that there will be several catastrophic events--massive coastal floods that destroy thousands of low-lying structures and ruin all of the roads, bridges and other coastal infrastructure. After the catastrophes, many property owners in those places will rebuild on stilts, maybe 10, 15 or 20 feet off the ground, and they will get around on sea craft. At the same time, millions or maybe even billions of others will relocate back several miles to the new, hopefully safe coastline.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Israel should be annihilated, Iranian official says"

In case you were under the delusion that Iran has become a normal, peaceful country--in the wake of its signing a nuclear accord with Obama and other world leaders in order to get the sanctions against Iran removed and to regain access to $150 billion of its frozen assets--Hossein Sheikholeslam hopes to disabuse you of that notion:

"Our positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan," the Iranian Parliament Speaker's Adviser for International Affairs Hossein Sheikholeslam was quoted as saying by Iran's Fars news agency.

To be clear, normal, peaceful countries don't talk about annihilating other countries, especially ones like Israel which have done nothing whatsoever to Iran. Despite that, every college campus across the United States has a hardcore group of secular leftists and anti-Semitic Muslim fundamentalists, including faculty and students, who are dedicated to the notion that Israel is the worst country on Earth; and not one college or university in the U.S. has even the smallest movement which has ever called out the Iranian government for what it is--a brutal, fascist, inhumane, power-hungry theocracy which has denied all human rights to its citizens and exported its horrible views and policies with men, guns and training to terrorists around the Middle East.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"NOAA: July hottest month on record, and 2015 could be hottest year"

Like it or not, global warming keeps punching us in the face. Here is more data regarding how hot it has been this year worldwide by way of a CNN report:

If you felt the heat this past July, you are hardly alone. July saw the highest average temperatures since record-keeping began -- globally, not just in the United States -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday. Globally, the first seven months of the year also had all-time highs. The latest global temperature data make it likely that 2015 will be the hottest year on record, the agency said. NOAA's findings follow reports by NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency, which reached the same conclusion using their own data.

I realize that there are still a lot of skeptics and deniers. Many of them are just ignoramuses who don't understand science or record keeping. Others are convinced that this is a scam of the environmentalist activists and is not really science. The skeptics and deniers are important because they are electing people who are stopping us from doing anything meaningful about all the carbon we are pouring into the atmosphere. 

What I wonder is this: What would it take to convince a global warming skeptic that he is wrong? What has to happen to change someone's mind, to make a person who thinks global warming is a crock to realize it is real? And not only to understand that it is real, but to accept that mankind by way of burning fossil fuels is causing the problem? 

I don't know if the skeptics and deniers are capable of being convinced. Nearly 100 percent of climate scientists accept the theory -- that human activities are causing the Earth to warm up as a result of emitting greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide as a consequence of burning gas, oil and coal. The hurdle may be like one of religion. Where someone who believes in a divine being cannot be unconvinced of that no matter the rational argument or the data or anything logical. Believers have their minds made up. And in the case of global warming deniers, their position is one of religion.

Of course, they might just say the opposite: that believers in global warming are the people whose belief is based more on religion than facts. But if they say that, then it seems more likely they might be open to an argument based on reason. That leads me back to asking the deniers and skeptics this question: What has to happen, in terms of temperature records or levels of atmospheric carbon, to convince you that global warming is real, that mankind caused it, and that we should do all we can to minimize its negative consequences?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Protein-packed breakfast prevents body fat gain in overweight teens"

This Science Daily story about the benefit of eating a lot of protein for breakfast caught my attention:

University of Missouri researchers compared the benefits of consuming a normal-protein breakfast to a high-protein breakfast and found the high-protein breakfast -- which contained 35 grams of protein -- prevented gains of body fat, reduced daily food intake and feelings of hunger, and stabilized glucose levels among overweight teens who would normally skip breakfast.

I usually eat either 2 eggs plus a dark green vegetable (cooked in a fry pan with a healthy oil, salt and spices) or I replace the eggs with a fillet of fish. What I was unaware of was how many grams of protein there are in my eggs or that fillet of fish.

The answer is there are 6 grams of proteins in an egg, 12g in two; and there are 15 grams of protein in a 4 oz. fillet of swai, which is the fish I normally eat every other day. I'm likely getting another 8 grams of protein from my double portion of green veggies (usually broccoli or zucchini).

Thus, if 35 grams of protein is ideal, I am getting far too little of it at breakfast. Makes me think I might benefit from adding in a protein shake.

It's also worth wondering if this study of fat teens applies to a fit, very active 51 year old. Perhaps the numbers are a bit different, but I suspect the idea is the same: that a lot of protein for breakfast will reduce hunger later in the day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Murder rate on the rise?

This story from USA Today is more than a month old, but it caught my attention because it is counter to the trend of lower violent crime rates which has been going on for more than two decades: 

"Several big U.S. Cities see homicide rates surge," said the newspaper's headline. Milwaukee, St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Dallas are reported to have jumps in their homicide counts. 

The homicide toll across the country — which reached a grim nadir in 1993 when more than 2,200 murders were counted in New York City — has declined in ebbs and flows for much of the last 20 years, noted Alfred Blumstein, a professor of urban systems and operations research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Several U.S. cities – including Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and Indianapolis – have experienced a decrease in the number of murders so far this year. Blumstein said the current surge in murders in some big cities could amount to no more than a blip. "It could be 2015 represents us hitting a plateau, and by the end of the year, nationally, we'll see that murder rates are flat or there is a slight bump up," Blumstein said.

No place seems to have it worse than Baltimore. The ABC TV station there last week reported that Charm City's murder rate is up 53 percent over 2014

Seventy more people have been killed in Baltimore this year compared to the same time last year.  Two more murders Monday pushed the city’s homicide rate to 201 deaths so far in 2015. It took until December to reach the same benchmark in 2014. At this time last year, 131 people were killed in the city.

I am not sure why this is happening, now. It's likely that part of the reason in some cities is a resurgent drug war, where gangs that had controlled some neighborhoods are being challenged by other gangs intruding on their turf. But if it proves to be a national trend over several years, gang turf instability won't explain much. 


Just noticed this story in today's LA Times: "L.A. homicides, after big jump in August, are up 7% for 2015." They seem to think much of the bump is due to gang violence:

Across the city, 185 people had been killed through Saturday. … Thirty-nine people were killed in L.A. last month, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said, making it the deadliest August the city has seen since 2007, when 41 people were killed. … Nearly half of the 39 killings occurred in South L.A., Beck said. The chief attributed the majority of the violence to gang crime, which he said had also increased this year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"With road repairs on California's to do list, local officials push for new funds"

It took Gov. Brown a year and a half to finally take my advice to him seriously. But despite the delay, this week Jerry called a special session of the California legislature to address the crisis of road maintenance in our state and at the local level. Here is the LA Times story:

In preparation for a special legislative session on transportation, state lawmakers have proposed various tax and fee hikes to help produce $6 billion a year to pay for highway and bridge maintenance. On Monday, local government officials, along with allies in labor and business, outlined a plan by which the state, cities and counties could share that revenue. “I don’t think the people of California would be satisfied with a gleaming, beautiful state highway system, with broken [local] streets and roads that they can’t live with,” said Matt Cate, executive director of the California State Assn. of Counties.  
Gov. Jerry Brown called the special session to focus attention on problems with California roads, and lawmakers are expected to continue working on the issue when they return from their summer recess next week. Administration officials estimate that $59 billion is needed for state roads. An additional $78 billion is required for cities and counties, according to local officials. 

What is shocking is just how far behind the city of Davis and the county of Yolo are with their road maintenance. Davis needs about $120 million over 20 years, not to have good roads, but to remain barely adequate. Yolo County says it is $305 million short of its needs.