Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Never Did Solve A Rubik's Cube

I wonder if magic ponies do Sudoku?

Nice Work, If You Can Get It

These people are nuts:
One hundred million dollars for failure. That may be the total payout to Henrique de Castro, the number two executive at Yahoo, who was brought in just 14 months ago to boost growth and digital advertising revenue. De Castro, the chief operating officer who was lured away from Google with a $62 million deal, has been fired by CEO Marissa Mayer. According to The Wall Street Journal, De Castro will depart Yahoo with “a severance package that could be worth more than an estimated $42 million.”

The turnaround effort at Yahoo has been disappointing since Mayer took over in the summer of 2012. Some Wall Street analysts turned negative on the Internet firm, as sales dropped slightly last year. Mayer, who took the helm in July 2012, has attempted to revamp Yahoo with new exclusive content on its websites, redesigned email and other innovations. De Castro was criticized for failing to convince advertisers to spend more money with Yahoo.

Single-Payer Might Not Work In This Country, Because The United States Is Too Corrupt

So, we will be stuck with Obamacare:
"I have not advocated the single payer model here," he said, "because our government is too corrupt. Medicare is a large insurance company whose board of directors (Ways and Means and Senate Finance) accept payments from vendors to the company. In the private market, that would get you into trouble."

The key to a single-payer system is that the government sets prices. Usually, it empowers boards of independent experts who set those prices low. Reinhardt's argument is that in the United States, health industry interests have so much sway over Congress that the prices would end up being set by health-care interests.

"When you go to Taiwan or Canada," Reinhardt said, "the kind of lobbying we have here is illegal there. You can’t pay money to influence the party the same way. Therefore the bureaucrats who run these systems are pretty much insulated from these pressures. Here you have basically a board of directors in the House Ways and Means Committee that gets money from lobbyists both at the regulatory writing stage and during normal operations. And they can call an administrator and demand they stop something from happening."

...Still, Reinhardt's argument is a reminder that the simple fact that a policy worked in another country does not mean it will work in this country. His point about the importance of independence is particularly crucial.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Stand Your Ground", In Practice

The Tampa Bay Times is keeping a database of all Stand Your Ground cases in Florida, fatal and non-fatal alike. Here are the fatal ones. Looks like a lot of gang bangers are using SYG to stay out of prison. The case of Muñoz seems the most poignant.

The U.S. And Iran Have Common Interests

Time to lose the hatchet:
While the two governments quietly continue to pursue their often conflicting interests, they are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The United States, reluctant to intervene in bloody, inconclusive conflicts, is seeing its regional influence decline, while Iraq, which cost the Americans $1 trillion and more than 4,000 lives, is growing increasingly unstable.

At the same time, Shiite-dominated Iran, the magnetic pole for the Shiite minority in the region, has its own reasons to be nervous, with the ragtag army of Sunni militants threatening Syria and Iraq, both important allies, and the United States drawing down its troops in Afghanistan.

On Monday, Iran offered to join the United States in sending military aid to the Shiite government in Baghdad, which is embroiled in street-to-street fighting with radical Sunni militants in Anbar Province, a Sunni stronghold. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he could envision an Iranian role in the coming peace conference on Syria, even though the meeting is supposed to plan for a Syria after the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally.

...Yet even Iranians outside the reformist camp see the shared interests as undeniable. “It is clear we are increasingly reaching common ground with the Americans,” said one of them, Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “No country should have an eternal enemy, neither we nor the United States.”

With Iran as an island of stability in a region plagued by violent protests, sectarian clashes and suicide bombers, there are not that many options left for Washington, experts here say.

“We face the same enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent Iranian reformist journalist who closely follows the Arab world. He recalled how Iranian intelligence operatives gave reliable information to American Special Forces troops battling Iran’s enemy, the Afghan Taliban, in 2001.

I Didn't Realize San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor Was Laid Low By Gambling

I saw it in the AARP newsletter, but this article gives more information. One billion dollars in losses? The mind boggles:
She won about $1 billion from 2000 to 2009, according to winnings that casinos reported to the Internal Revenue Service, but lost even more. Iredale said her net gambling losses topped $13 million.

Extreme Drought Awareness Is Beginning To Settle In

2014 is going to be agonizing:
Similar high-pressure zones pop up all the time during most winters, but they usually break down, allowing rain to get through to California. This one, ominously, has anchored itself for 13 months, since December 2012, making it unprecedented in modern weather records and leaving researchers scratching their heads.

...The current high-pressure ridge is even stronger and more persistent than a similar ridge that parked over the Pacific Ocean during the 1976-77 drought, one of the driest in the 20th century.

..."I wish I had a really good answer for this," said Daniel Cayan, an oceanographer and atmospheric scientist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. "It's unusual for the pattern to have not broken down to allow some relatively active, vigorous winter storm systems to track across California."

...Last year was the driest calendar year in recorded history in California in most cities, with records going back 160 years. The first snowpack reading in the Sierra Nevada earlier this month found a snowpack of just 20 percent of normal.

Meanwhile, major reservoirs in Shasta and Oroville are each 36 percent full, about half of normal for this time of year. San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos is 30 percent full, 42 percent of normal. Major Bay Area water agencies haven't yet called for mandatory summer water restrictions but are expected to make the decision in the next month or two, depending largely on whether the high-pressure ridge breaks down and rain falls.

State Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin told members of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento a week ago that his agency is likely to recommend that Gov. Jerry Brown declare a drought by Feb. 1, which would make it easier for water transfers between agencies and for emergency loans and other assistance.

...Since July 1, San Francisco has received 2.1 inches of rain -- just 20 percent of normal; San Jose has received 1.57 inches, or 26 percent of normal; and Oakland has received 2.08 inches, or 22 percent of normal.
Meanwhile, the Sacramento area is beginning to respond:
Faced with historically low water levels on the American River and a long-range forecast providing little relief, the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to enact severe water rationing on residents and businesses, while also boosting enforcement efforts against water scofflaws.

The council approved what city officials described as a “stage 2 water shortage plan,” requiring those who live and work in Sacramento to reduce their water use by between 20 percent and 30 percent.

...“We’re the river city and yet here we are having to make very difficult decisions,” said Councilman Allen Warren.

...The American River’s flow out of Folsom Dam is at its lowest point since 1993, putting it in “crisis mode,” Brent said. Folsom Lake is so depleted, remnants of a Gold Rush-era mining town buried by water for years have emerged in the barren lakebed.

Air Pollution Impacts From Wildfire Impacts

What is curious here is not how high the pollution levels were - pollution levels can be much, much higher in places like Fairbanks - or how long a period - they can last much, much longer in places like Fairbanks - but how they seem to detect an effect with such a small sample size. Disturbing, if the study can be taken at face value:
The research, conducted by UC Davis and the California Air Resources Board, found that rhesus macaque monkeys born at the university’s Primate Research Center in the summer of 2008 – an unusually intense fire season – had depressed immune systems compared with those born a year later.

...During late June 2008, PM 2.5 levels spiked at ARB measuring stations in Davis and Woodland, not far from the primate research center, said Lisa Miller, professor of veterinary medicine at UC Davis and a researcher at the primate center. Smoke had drifted into the Central Valley from more than 2,000 fires ignited by lightning strikes. More than 1.2 million acres burned.

“In 2008, monitoring locations had readings of 75 micrograms per cubic meter for a 24-hour period,” said Miller. “That is extremely high.”

The current national standard for safety is less than half that amount. Additionally, wildfire smoke also causes higher ozone levels, which are linked to asthma, lower birth weights and heart problems.

The effect of that particulate matter was measured on 50 monkeys – 25 that were born in 2008 and 25 in the mostly quiet fire season of 2009. Use of the primates is seen as a crucial model for establishing the effects of toxins and environmental effects on humans.

The young monkeys, which live outdoors at the primate center, were between 1 and 3 months old when they were examined. Researchers took blood samples and did lung function studies. “The idea behind this is that if we detected any changes in the animals this information might translate as a biomarker that can be used for kids,” said Miller, whose specialty is childhood respiratory diseases.

The outcome proved surprising, Miller said. Conventional medical wisdom says that smoke and other irritants cause immune systems to kick into high gear. This study, however, found the opposite.

“When we took blood samples and put them in a tissue culture dish and treated that culture with a mimic of an infectious organism, we found that the blood from animals exposed to wildfire smoke responded in a reduced manner when compared to the control group from 2009,” said Miller. “That means the ability of the animals to respond to a real pathogen was reduced.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Relentless Rise Of Lake Enriquillo

Calamity in the Dominican Republic:
Theories abound, but a conclusive answer remains elusive as to why the lake — as well as its nearby sibling in Haiti, Lac Azuei, which now spills over the border between the two on the island of Hispaniola — has risen so much. Researchers say the surge may have few if any precedents worldwide.

The Future Is Jellyfish

Jellyfish everywhere!:
How could jellyfish take over the ocean? “One bite at a time” Gershwin says. And there may be no way back. A new balance may be struck, one in which jellyfish rule:
We are creating a world more like the late Precambrian than the late 1800s—a world where jellyfish ruled the seas and organisms with shells didn’t exist. We are creating a world where we humans may soon be unable to survive, or want to.

So Now It's New Mexico's Turn

Irresponsible gun owners everywhere. So many that we'll never be safe with guns around:
Just before 8 a.m., authorities say, a boy some described as an outcast opened fire in the crowded gym. Seconds later, a teacher coaxed him to lay down the weapon and he was taken into custody. But two students lay gravely wounded.

A 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl were flown to a hospital in Lubbock, Texas. The boy was in critical condition and the girl was in serious condition, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said at an afternoon news conference at the isolated middle school, which sits atop a bluff at the northern edge of this town of 50,000 people.

By nightfall, officials had released their names: Nathaniel Tavarez, who remained in critical condition after two surgeries, and Kendal Sanders, whose condition had been upgraded from serious to satisfactory after surgery.

Here Comes The Cocci!

Valley Fever is a big deal in Arizona, but it's also a big deal in California:
In 1977, the San Joaquin Valley—the swath of agricultural land that runs through central California—was designated a disaster area. Record-low runoff and scant rainfall had created drought conditions. At the beginning of Christmas week, the weather was normal in Bakersfield, the city at the Valley’s southern end, but in the early hours of December 20th a strong wind began to blow from the Great Basin through the Tehachapi Mountains. Hitting the ground on the downslope, it lofted a cloud of loose topsoil and mustard-colored dust into the sky.

...The Tempest from Tehachapi, as one researcher called it, spread dirt over an area the size of Maine. Twenty hours afterward, the dust reached Sacramento, four hundred miles north of Bakersfield, in the form of a murky haze that hung in the air for another day, stinging the eyes and noses of the residents. On the twenty-first, it started raining in Sacramento, which turned the dust to mud, coating the cars and sidewalks, and marked the end of the drought.

Over the next several weeks, Sacramento County recorded more than a hundred cases of coccidioidomycosis, otherwise known as valley fever, or cocci, a disease caused by inhaling the microscopic spores of Coccidioides immitis, a soil-dwelling fungus found in Bakersfield. (In the previous twenty years, there had never been more than half a dozen cases a year.) Six of the victims died.

'Stand Your Ground' Defense In The Theater Texting Shooting

Charming! An ever-elastic, get-out-jail card that can used for any conceivable purpose.

"Nebraska" Serendipity

The trailer is more interesting with German subtitles.

Monday evening, I picked Joe the Plumber up (on obscure Del Paso Heights street corner) and he bought me dinner at the Mongolian Barbeque place off Truxel. Then, it was off to watch 30 minutes of previews before "Nebraska" (starring Bruce Dern, and featuring Bob Odenkirk of "Breaking Bad" fame) at Arden & Ethan.

Just before showtime, guess who showed up? Jetta and Lela! Apparently we independently settled on exactly the same plan. This is the first time that Jetta has met Joe the Plumber (she had refused meetings before this, because my stories painted Joe as dodgier than she would tolerate).

"Nebraska" is a fine film. "Extremely mellow," according to Jetta. I liked the cinematography of this black-and-white film. Reminiscent of "Breaking Bad", but with a different look, just because the northern plains of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska are different than New Mexico.

Bruce Dern is a marvel!

Sympathy For Kim And Kanye

Troubles never end:
Kim was at a Beverly Hills medical building when she was swarmed by photogs. We're told the guy allegedly tried to help Kim get in the building, as he started screaming, "F**k these fa**ot-ass n****rs"" -- referring to the paparazzi. Kim then told him it was not appropriate to use the N-word. We're told he then screamed at her, "F**k you bitch. Just trying to help you. Shut up n****r lover, stupid slut."

Apparently that got Kim hot as fish grease ... she watched the guy walk into an office. As they were walking we're told the guy continued berating Kim. She dialed Kanye on his cell, and when the guy realized Kanye was on the phone he allegedly said, "F**k you N****r." Kanye -- who had just arrived at the building -- then met up with Kim.

Sources say Kanye and Kim rushed into the waiting room of chiropractor Richard Hill and found the 18-year-old sitting there. Witnesses say Kanye punched the guy and Kim screamed, "We have it all on tape."
If I was Kanye West, I'd have done the same thing.

It's all very calculated and cynical too. (Verse 2 of Britney Spears' "Piece of Me"):
I'm Mrs. 'You want a piece of me?'
Tryin' and pissin' me off
Well get in line with the paparazzi
Who's flippin' me off
Hopin' I'll resort to startin' havoc
And end up settlin' in court
Now are you sure you want a piece of me?
The Bimbo Jones Remix showcases Britney at her brilliant, humorous best!

Erik Flags "Terrible PR Pictures from the Theater of the United States"

This almost looks local.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Water Meter Going In, And An Era In Sacramento Ends

When my house guest left the house this morning for the airport, I could hear jackhammering down the alley.

In a few minutes, the jackhammering was right behind my house. I went out in my pajamas to challenge the workers.

Turns out, it's a new water meter. They've been installing these things all over Sacramento for years now. I had thought they had forgotten about me.

Sacramento is located at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers. There was a time in Sacramento where we could defy the rest of the state and waste water with abandon, even in the toughest of droughts. No more.  And era has ended.

Concrete box and metal plate, cleverly hidden behind a plywood board so no Homeless Recycler will ever discover them.

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend

Let's be realistic here. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. If the choice is between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel (including psychotic Los Zetas), as it seems to be, then it's better that the U.S. work with the Sinaloa Cartel. We don't have to like the Sinaloa folks to do business with them:
An investigation by El Universal has found that between the years 2000 and 2012, the U.S. government had an arrangement with Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel that allowed the organization to smuggle billions of dollars of drugs in exchange for information on rival cartels.

...There have long been allegations that Guzman, considered to be "the world’s most powerful drug trafficker," coordinates with American authorities.

..."The DEA agents met with members of the cartel in Mexico to obtain information about their rivals and simultaneously built a network of informants who sign drug cooperation agreements, subject to results, to enable them to obtain future benefits, including cancellation of charges in the U.S.," reports El Universal, which also interviewed more than one hundred active and retired police officers as well as prisoners and experts.

...El Universal said that the coordination between the U.S. and Sinaloa peaked between 2006 and 2012, which is when drug cartels consolidated their grip on Mexico. The report ends by saying that it is unclear whether the arrangements continue.
I make the point in Comments here, but I'm not sure people understand.

More Questions Than Answers

Who are these Chosen People? What is this Promised Land? And why do we have to switch the Golden Calf for Blue Crystals?

This Bridge Scandal Is Just Starting!

Apparently it's about money - Big Money - but the exact connections are still murky. For reasons that are still unclear, Christie was trying to - and is still trying very hard to! - hold hostage the billion-dollar Hudson Lights project:
The Hudson Lights project is a billion dollar project because it offers unparalleled access to the George Washington Bridge. But take away that access and it’s no longer a billion dollar project.

...We know that because of its location, the long-term viability of this project could be threatened by any permanent changes to the GWB toll lanes that negatively impacted the on-ramp adjacent to the site.

...In other words, even though the permits were in place, the zoning approvals were done, the designs were finished, there was one last thing to lock down: the money.

...Moreover, the most crucial weeks that would decide whether this project would be capitalized are coincident with the weeks between when the traffic shut-down was ordered and when the traffic shut-down was lifted. It was only after Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye learned of Baroni and Wildstein’s shenanigans that the financing was finally sewn up. In fact, it was the very first business day after the lanes were re-opened that the developers announced they’d raised $218 million.

...I find it hard to believe that would-be investors in this project weren’t alarmed by the prospect that Port Authority officials had decided, without warning, to begin running experiments to see what would happen if local access to the GWB was temporarily, and then permanently, restricted. And in light of Mayor Sokolich’s first question to Chris Christie during their face-to-face meeting in Fort Lee this past week, asking the governor to promise not to exact revenge on Fort Lee for the trouble this scandal is causing, it seems even more significant that the governor was musing about making permanent changes in public during his December 2 press conference in Trenton. The cat was completely out of the bag on whether there had been a legitimate “traffic study,” and yet the governor persisted in characterizing the allocation of toll lanes as something that gave an unfair benefit to Fort Lee at the expense of the rest of the human race. Even in December, it seemed, Fort Lee and this project still faced a threat.

...I think that begins to get at what was going on here. We now know that a major redevelopment project, one that depends on Port Authority assets and relationships, was put in jeopardy at a vulnerable financial moment, and in a way that put the viability of the entire project at risk.

But we still don’t know why.

"Breaking Bad" Wins Big At The Golden Globes

That was to be expected, since "Breaking Bad" is the Best TV Series Ever.

This was unexpected, though: Jennifer Lawrence apparently not wanting to intrude into Taylor Swift's interview, yet capturing the attention anyway.

Similar to many people, I like Taylor Swift, but love Jennifer Lawrence.

Dinner With the Ettensohns

A good time catching up with the fambly.

Time To Repair Relations With Iran

Bad relations with Iran never made much geopolitical sense. We have too many interests in common. It's time to reboot.

Amber - If You Could Read My Mind

I like Amber's cover of Gordon Lightfoot's song. She had been part of the Starz 54 trio. Here, she is at a fashion show.

These guys lip sync over her solo studio recording (from 2000, or so). Disconcerting, but one can always choose not to look, and listen instead.