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.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Hiroshima marks 70 years since atomic bombing with calls to end 'absolute evil' of nuclear weapons"

Although it was an unthinkable and undeserved outcome to the thousands of individuals who were killed by the atomic bomb -- in that sense not all that different than the deaths of millions of other civilians during the Second World War -- August 6 had a beneficial outcome for humanity. The bombing of Hiroshima directly led to the surrender of Imperial Japan on August 15, 1945.
This is from USA Today's account of the anniversary:
HIROSHIMA, Japan — Japan marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Thursday, as its mayor renewed calls for global leaders to rid the world of nuclear weapons, calling them "the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity."  ...  An estimated 140,000 people died from the Hiroshima bombing, and even more were killed three days later in the attack on Nagasaki, on Aug. 9.

It is certainly appropriate the include the best estimate we have of the people killed in the Hiroshima bombing. However, what also needs to be included -- but never is -- is the best estimate we have of the number of people who would have died had WW2 continued on its course.
Those "saved" by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings were not just the tens of thousands of American and Allied military who would have died in an invasion. The U.S. estimated at the time we would have suffered 1 million casualties, though certainly not all of those would have been killed. The "saved" also include millions of Japanese civilians and soldiers we would have killed during an invasion and more who likely would have died from starvation and disease. 
But only considering the American and Japanese lives that were saved by the A-bombs woefully underestimates the total. Japan was still viciously in charge of Korea, large parts of China, Vietnam and Indochina and other territories in the Pacific in August, 1945. Had the War continued, it seems reasonable to presume that millions of civilians who survived following the War in those places would have died had the Japanese not surrendered due to the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands in those places every day were dying of disease and malnutrition due to the savage occupation by the Japanese. Virtually every country near Japan to this day hates Japan because of how horribly the Japanese occupiers treated their countries during the War.

Another important consideration of the benefit of ending the War as quickly as we did with the atomic bombings is the role of Soviet Russia in Japan. Other than the capture of a few islands in northern Japan, the Russians were left out of the occupation and reintegration of post-War Japan. But if they had played a role in the invasion, then it is likely (as happened in East Germany and North Korea) that the Russians would have imposed a Communist regime on the part of Japan it controlled. Because that never happened, Asia has been much more stable and prosperous ever since. And there are literally tens of millions of Japanese who have enjoyed good lives ever since who, under Communism, would have suffered the terrible fate of the North Koreans.
Certainly, the bombings were an injustice for the innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who suffered terrible deaths -- some taking years of agony. But given the choice of a few hundred thousand versus many millions, it is clear to me that President Truman's decision to drop the bomb was the most humane one he could have made.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Police: Tenn. theater attack suspect had been committed 4 times"

There was yet another violent incident today at a movie theater. Not surprisingly, the offender, who was shot and killed, was mentally ill:

(CNN) -- The man who was killed Wednesday by Nashville police after he allegedly went after moviegoers with a hatchet and pepper spray had been committed to a mental institution four times, police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters.
Vincente David Montano was committed twice in 2004 and twice in 2007, said Aaron, citing officials in Rutherford County. Montano had been arrested Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 2004 in a case of assault and resisting arrest, police said.

The great wonder is why we don't go back to the time when the violently mentally ill are locked up in psychiatric hospitals where they can get treatment and they pose no threat to society or themselves. They should not be let out unless they recover their sanity or are clearly well enough to manage their own affairs and take their anti-psychotic meds. 

Bowing down to the civil libertarian extremists is not serving the best interests of these patients or society.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Video: Kentucky officer handcuffs disabled boy"

A widely covered story in the news today is a video of an 8-year-old Kentucky boy with ADHD who was handcuffed by a sheriff's deputy after misbehaving in school. Here are the details as reported by a website called PressTV:
A crying third-grader boy with disabilities was handcuffed by a school resource officer in the US state of Kentucky in the fall of 2014, shows a video released by the American Civil Liberties Union. The video accompanies a federal lawsuit, which was filed on Monday by the ACLU, the Children's Law Center, and Dinsmore & Shohl on behalf of two children against the Kenton County Sheriff's Office in Covington, Kentucky.
The video shows that the officer handcuffs the crying boy’s biceps behind his back leaving him in pain for 15 minutes because of behavior related to his disabilities, the ACLU said.

I am not sure handcuffing the child in this video was the right thing to do. But I am not sure the deputy did the wrong thing, either.
Keep in mind that this boy's behavior was bad enough for the school to call in law enforcement. It's not as if he had a small temper tantrum in class and had to take a time out. His teacher and the school staff made it clear that they could not handle him. And when you see the video it is clear that this kid is seriously enraged and not ready or able to calm down. 
So the officer, it seems to me, had a few choices--none of which was all that good. 
One would have been to simply do nothing--let the kid go on swinging his fists and likely hurting other people or himself and whatever property was near. It is hard to see how this option is better than restraining the child with handcuffs.
A second option would be restrain him manually, firmly holding his arms using the officer's superior strength. But again, that does not seem like such a good idea. At best, it is equal to using handcuffs. At worst, the officer might accidentally break the child's arm or leave a bad bruise. The ACLU or other anti-police groups would then file suit against the officer for use of excessive force.
An option the officer certainly did not have was to tranquilize the child with a sedative. That might have been the best route. However, the deputy is not a medical professional. His charge was to make sure the child did not hurt himself or others, and that is what he accomplished with the handcuffs. If the school officials thought tranquilizing the boy with a drug was the way to go, they would have called for an ambulance, not law enforcement. 
So given the choices open to the officer, it seems to me he did the best he could by handcuffing the boy.
The bigger picture question is why this mentally ill kid has such severe ADHD and why, if the disease is not being controlled, he is in school with other children. A disruptive, violent student can definitively destroy the learning environment for every other student in his classroom. The sick boy's rights do not trump those of the other 29 kids who are there to learn.
A secondary, but related question is how this child's illness is being treated. I don't think you have to be a devotee to "alternative medicine" to think that a proper diet and extra exercise should be prescribed to a child with ADHD. That does not say that medication is not also part of the equation. It may be. But I am certain that a kid with, say, too much sugar in his diet and probably some weird chemicals added to processed foods will be harder to deal with than one who eats a more natural diet filled mostly with proteins and greens. Additionally, I would not be surprised to find that a child who cannot control himself in a classroom setting like this boy would be calmer and more rational if he were forced to burn off his extra energy through vigorous exercise before school every day. 


Edit: August 6, 2015

CNN ran a story today titled, "The handcuffed boy video: How to discipline children with ADHD." Here is a link:

I figured real experts would weigh in and make it clear what the officer did wrong and what he should have done instead. However, if you read the article, you will see the "advice" they give is a worthless load of shit. A pediatrician is quoted saying, "absolutely never, under no circumstances" would you use handcuffs for a child who has ADHD and is out of control." But then exactly what should have been done once the kid was violent and was out of control is not answered. That doctor says the most important "solution" is to have the right body language. Another expert says the "answer" is to "catch them when they are being good." WTF? How the hell does that help this policeman in this troubling circumstance when the boy is clearly not "being good."

If it is true that the school resource officer -- that is, the deputy -- did not do the right thing, the blame really should be placed on the school administrators who asked him to help. Those folks should have, apparently, called in someone who has the proper body language and could use that to "catch him when he is doing good."