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Hometown: America's Finest City
Current location: District 50
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 9,822

Journal Archives

Damage to Oroville's main spillway 'was an accident waiting to happen'

The badly damaged main concrete spillway at Oroville Dam was pounded by massive volumes of stormwater this month, but its failures occurred well short of the maximum flow that engineers designed the system to handle.

The spillway began breaking apart when its gates were opened Feb. 7, allowing 55,000 cubic feet of water per second to roar down the slope. That was only 18% of the 300,000 cubic feet of water the channel was designed to carry per second, one of the factors that raise significant questions about its design integrity, engineering experts said. Eventually, the gash that opened up had grown to 500 feet in length and dug a hole 45 feet deep in the earth.

Weakness in the aged concrete, inadequate repairs of cracks and instability in the ground under the spillway caused large pieces of concrete to break apart and tumble downhill, said Robert Bea, a retired civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley who led one of the investigations into the failures of the New Orleans levee system in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.

The failures in the concrete spillway will be investigated for a long time. But some of the nation’s top civil engineers are already pointing to some likely suspects: design flaws, misunderstood geology and poor maintenance over the years.


'One of the fathers of American film criticism': Time critic Richard Schickel dies at 84

Source: LA Times

Richard Schickel, whose erudite prose and piercing critiques made him one of America’s most important film critics in an era when cinema became increasingly ingrained in the cultural consciousness, died Saturday in Los Angeles from complications after a series of strokes, his family said. He was 84.

In a career spanning five decades, thousands of reviews and dozens of books, Schickel chronicled Hollywood’s changing landscape, from the days when studios reigned with stars such as Katharine Hepburn to the rise of independent directors who summoned a new wave of realism that distilled the yearnings of a turbulent nation. A reviewer for Time magazine, Schickel had a legion of followers; he could be incisive and at times bruising in praising or panning a film.

“He was one of the fathers of American film criticism,” said his daughter Erika Schickel, a writer. “He had a singular voice. When he wrote or spoke, he had an old-fashioned way of turning a phrase. He was blunt and succinct both on the page and in life.”

In his 2015 memoir “Keepers: The Greatest Films — and Personal Favorites — of a Moviegoing Lifetime,” Richard Schickel wrote: “I just like to be there in the dark watching something — almost anything, if truth be known. In this habit — I don’t know if it is amiable or a mild, chronic illness — I have been indulged by wives, girlfriends, just plain friends and children. Of course, a lot of the time I’m alone, unashamedly killing an evening, no questions asked.”

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-richard-schickel-dies-20170219-story.html

With Coverage in Peril and Obama Gone, Health Laws Critics Go Quiet

For seven years, few issues have animated conservative voters as much as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But with President Barack Obama out of office, the debate over “Obamacare” is becoming less about “Obama” and more about “care” — greatly complicating the issue for Republican lawmakers.

Polling indicates that more Republicans want to make fixes to the law rather than do away with it. President Trump, who remains popular on the right, has mused about a replacement plan that is even more expansive than the original. The conservative news media are focused more on Mr. Trump’s near-daily skirmishes with Democrats and reporters, among others, than on policy issues like health care. And the congressional debate, as well as the paid advertisements on both sides, is centered on the substance of the law rather than its namesake, draining some of its toxicity on the right.

As liberals overwhelm congressional town hall-style meetings and deluge the Capitol phone system with pleas to protect the health law, there is no similar clamor for dismantling it, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. From deeply conservative districts in the South and the West to the more moderate parts of the Northeast, Republicans in Congress say there is significantly less intensity among opponents of the law than when Mr. Obama was in office.

“I hear more concerns than before about ‘You’re going to repeal it, and we’re all going to lose insurance’ because they don’t think we’re going to replace it,” said Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican who represents a conservative district in Idaho.


Venezuela opposition parties fear election ban as Socialists dig in

Venezuela's government is pushing forward with measures that could exclude some opposition political parties from future elections, potentially paving the way for the ruling Socialists to remain in power despite widespread anger over the country's collapsing economy.

The Supreme Court, loyal to socialist president Nicolas Maduro, has ordered the main opposition parties to "renew" themselves through petition drives whose conditions are so strict that party leaders and even an election official described them as impossible to meet.

Socialist Party officials scoff at the complaints. They say anti-Maduro candidates would be able to run under the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition, which has been exempted from the signature drives, even if the main opposition parties are ultimately barred.

But key socialist officials are also trying to have the coalition banned, accusing it of electoral fraud. Government critics point to this and the "renewal" order as signs the socialists are seeking to effectively run uncontested in gubernatorial elections and the 2018 presidential vote.


Will our resident LatAm scholar tell us why this is a good thing?

Donald Trump is showing why hes no CEO

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made much of his business experience, claiming he’s been “creating jobs and rebuilding neighborhoods my entire adult life.”

The fact that he was from the business world rather than a career politician was something that appealed to many of his supporters.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of a president as CEO. The U.S. president is indisputably the chief executive of a massive, complex, global structure known as the federal government. And if the performance of our national economy is vital to the well-being of us all, why not believe that Trump’s experience running a large company equips him to effectively manage a nation?

Instead of a “fine-tuned machine,” however, the opening weeks of the Trump administration have revealed a White House that’s chaotic, disorganized and anything but efficient. Examples include rushed and poorly constructed executive orders, a dysfunctional national security team and unclear and even contradictory messages emanating from multiple administrative spokespeople, which frequently clash with the tweets of the president himself.


Yahoo warns users of potential malicious activity on their accounts

Yahoo Inc. is warning users of potentially malicious activity on their accounts between 2015 and 2016. It's the latest development in the Internet company's investigation of a mega-breach that exposed more than 1 billion users' data a few years ago.

Yahoo confirmed Wednesday that it was notifying users that their accounts had potentially been compromised, but it declined to say how many people were affected.

In a statement, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company tied some of the potential compromises to what it has described as the “state-sponsored actor” responsible for the theft of private data from more than 1 billion user accounts in 2013 and 2014. The stolen data included email addresses, birth dates and answers to security questions.

The catastrophic breach raised questions about Yahoo's security and destabilized the company's deal to sell its email service, websites and mobile applications to Verizon Communications Inc.


In the Central Valley, drought fears ease, but farmers contend with a new threat: Trump

It’s almost impossible to get a rise from my favorite farmer, Joe Del Bosque, who grows almonds, melons and asparagus here on the perpetually water-challenged west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

After years of drought, suddenly everything is green. It’s raining like crazy, the infamous pumps of the Sacramento Delta are working overtime to fill reservoirs to the south and all over the state, dry fields have become muddy lakes.

“So what are you Westside farmers whining about now?” I asked Del Bosque when I visited him Monday in his office, a modest double-wide trailer on the edge of an almond orchard off Interstate 5.

He chuckled. Farmers are always complaining about something. If they aren’t complaining, it’s because they’re too busy worrying.


Biblical artifacts provide reassurance about Earth's magnetic field

More than 2,700 years ago, the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded the biblical kingdom of Judah, spreading destruction nearly to Jerusalem before withdrawing. The Assyrians boasted they had shut in Judah’s King Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage”. The Bible says an angel slew Sennacherib’s troops. Modern historians say Hezekiah’s crafty diversion of Jerusalem’s water supply also played a role.

Neither king — nor anyone else alive then — could have known the Earth’s protective magnetic field was rapidly weakening. The field diminished by 27 percent in three decades.

The event, unprecedented in 100,000 years, may shed light on the current state of the Earth’s diminishing field, which protects us (and satellites) from dangerous cosmic radiation. It may even provide clues to geophysicists about how the magnetic field is generated in the first place.

This marriage of Biblical history and the field known as paleomagnetism forms the core of a study published Monday by a team of San Diego and Israeli researchers, spanning six centuries of records. And Sennacherib’s ravages helped make it possible. Destruction layers and contemporary accounts provided an unusually tight temporal window to date pottery artifacts found at the site.


Opinion: Only in the Twilight Zone is Trump off to a fast start

The “Twilight Zone,” the classic TV show that ran between 1959-64, is enjoying a renaissance, and not just on cable. Here in Washington, the show’s bizarre themes—psychological horror, fantasy and science fiction—are back with a vengeance. The nation’s capital is one giant bizarro land, where stuff happens that defies the imagination.

Submitted for your approval (the catch phrase of the show’s host, Rod Serling): Republicans, who spent eight years deliberately blocking President Obama at every turn, now complain that it’s unfair that Democrats are now doing the same to President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the key obstructionist then, says it’s time for civility and cooperation.

Talk about fantasy!

Here’s another one: on a Michigan radio show the other day, the host asked me “Have you ever seen a president get off to a faster start than Donald Trump?” I quickly earned his scorn by saying you can’t confuse activity with actual achievement.


Atop Mt. Wilson, retired engineers keep alive astronomy's 'Sistine Chapel'

Dressed in parkas and knit caps, the three volunteers lug crates of power tools and spooled wire into the gleaming mountaintop edifice that some have called astronomy’s “Sistine Chapel” and immediately start tinkering.

In 1904, workers installed the first telescope at the still uncompleted Mt. Wilson Observatory. For much of the 20th century, astronomers with names like Hale and Hubble used it and the new telescopes it sprouted — the 100-inch reflector and three solar telescopes followed the initial 60-incher — as a figurative launch pad for exploration that changed our understanding of the cosmos.

Gradually, though, financial support waned along with the observatory’s cutting-edge status, and for the last 20 years its telescopes, still impressive by any standard, rely on the kind attention of a small volunteer team of retired space industry electrical engineers, most now in their 70s and 80s.

So it is that on a morning when parts of the San Gabriels are topped with snow, Kenneth Evans is on a ladder, his head lamp fixed on a new sensor switch for a 100-inch reflecting telescope that dominated the world of astronomy for more than three decades.

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