Sunday Reading – 06/15/14


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

Rieder: O.J. Simpson’s huge impact on the news media - Twenty years ago Tuesday, America was transfixed by an astonishing, slow-motion car chase: O.J. Simpson in the white Bronco, pal Al Cowlings at the wheel, more than a dozen police cars in pursuit, TV helicopters looming overhead.

Simpson’s former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, had been murdered, and the former football star had been named a suspect. Simpson had a gun in the iconic Bronco, and authorities feared he might commit suicide. After 90 minutes, the phantasmagorical sojourn along the freeways of L.A. ended uneventfully in Simpson’s Brentwood driveway — with a staggering 95 million Americans watching on television.

…CNN took a lot of heat earlier this year for its single-minded focus on the saga of the missing plane. That phenomenon started with O.J., when the cable news pioneer devoted 900 hours of airtime to the subject. During one week, the networks turned over a total of 84 minutes of their nightly newscasts to the Simpson saga.

…The way Simpson dominated the news media, particularly television, was amazing. This was 1994, a harsh, primitive time with just one cable news network, no Internet, no social media(!), no TMZ. If it happened today, just imagine the 24/7 furor that would ensue. But it’s a testimonial to the power of the O.J. story that it could dominate the nation in an era when the media were much less pervasive.

We’ve had many tabloid circuses come and go. JonBenet Ramsey. Laci Peterson. Casey Anthony. And on and on. But none could duplicate the hold of O.J. It would take all of the investigative reporters at ProPublica to find someone who wasn’t paying attention or didn’t have an opinion. When that “not guilty” verdict was announced on Oct. 3, 1995, there were spontaneous paroxysms of joy and outrage across the nation. Read More > at USA Today

Washington’s Looming Pot Shortage - State-licensed pot stores are expected to start opening in Washington next month, but they won’t have much pot to sell. As of Tuesday, the Washington State Liquor Control Board had issued 58 cultivation licenses; 2,585 applications from would-be growers were still pending. “There will be high demand and only a handful of people growing,” says Scott O’Neil, whose store in Spokane is likely to be one of the first open for business in the state. “It’s going to take at least a year to sort it out, get everybody up and running.”

In addition to shortages, pot store customers will face taxes that are projected to make retail prices about 60 percent higher than they would otherwise be. Add to those factors the costs of establishing businesses that comply with state and local regulations, and the upshot, as I explain in my new Reason feature story about legalization in Washington, is that prices for legal pot will be substantially higher than current black-market prices.

How much higher? Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Jake Ellison, based on interviews with growers and retailers, estimates that “prices per gram will range from $15 to $25 (with some higher spikes and brief lows, possibly at $12 a gram).” Assuming a 30 percent discount for buying an entire ounce (which seems reasonable, based on prices charged by stores in Colorado), that range amounts to something like $300 to $500 per ounce. By comparison, the Price of Weed website, which collects data from cannabis buyers around the country, is currently reporting an average price of about $232 per ounce for high-quality marijuana in Washington. Looking at neighboring states, prices are a bit lower in Oregon ($209) and a bit higher in Montana and Idaho ($268 and $276, respectively). Another point of comparison: Denver dispensaries currently are charging medical customers around $10 per gram, 50 percent less than the low end of Ellison’s range. Recreational customers pay more than that, but typically less than $15. Seattle dispensaries catering to patients charge $8 to $15 per gram. Read More > at Reason

The eunuch’s children - Gutenberg we know. But what of the eunuch Cai Lun?

A well-educated, studious young man, a close aide to the Emperor Hedi in the Chinese imperial court of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Cai invented paper one fateful day in the year 105. At the time, writing and drawing were done primarily on silk, which was elegant but expensive, or on bamboo, which was sturdy but cumbersome. Seeking a more practical alternative, Cai came up with the idea of mashing bits of tree bark and hemp fiber together in a little water, pounding the resulting paste flat with a stone mortar, and then letting it dry into sheets in the sun. The experiment was a success. Allowing for a few industrial tweaks, Cai’s method is still pretty much the way paper gets made today.

Paper may be the single most versatile invention in history, its uses extending from the artistic to the bureaucratic to the hygienic. Rarely, though, do we give it its due. The ubiquity and disposability of the stuff — the average American goes through a quarter ton of it every year — lead us to take it for granted, or even to resent it. It’s hard to respect something that you’re forever throwing in the trash or flushing down the john or blowing your nose into. But modern life is inconceivable without paper. If paper were to disappear, writes Ian Sansom in his recent book Paper: An Elegy, “Everything would be lost.”

…There are new facts, equally hard, which suggest that words will continue to appear on sheets of paper for a good long while. Ebook sales, which skyrocketed after the launch of Amazon’s Kindle in late 2007, have fallen back to earth in recent months, and sales of physical books have remained surprisingly resilient. Printed books still account for about three-quarters of overall book sales in the United States, and if sales of used books, which have been booming, are taken into account, that percentage probably rises even higher. A recent survey revealed that even the biggest fans of e-books continue to purchase a lot of printed volumes.

…A recent experiment conducted with young readers in Norway found that, with both expository and narrative works, people who read from pages understood the text better than those who read the same material on a screen. The findings are consistent with a series of other recent reading studies. “We know from empirical and theoretical research that having a good spatial mental representation of the physical layout of the text supports reading comprehension,” wrote the Norwegian researchers. They suggested that the ability of print readers to “see as well as tactilely feel the spatial extension and physical dimensions” of an entire text likely played a role in their superior comprehension. Read More > at Rough Type

Is Google Replacing God? – Digital technology might have been slower to arrive in churches, temples, synagogues and mosques than in other areas of life, but many religious institutions are now embracing the opportunities it offers. Carmelite nuns, for instance, take prayer requests via Facebook and some pastors encourage their congregations to live-tweet sermons. In many faith communities, evangelization and outreach are as likely to occur online as off.

But the Internet’s impact on religion might not be entirely positive. A recent report in MIT Technology Review suggests a correlation between increased Internet use and the decline of religious affiliation. After analyzing data from the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, Olin College of Engineering professor Allen Downey found that the percentage of people in the U.S. population who claimed no religious affiliation increased to 18% in 2010 from 8% in 1990. That’s a jump of 25 million people.

After examining education, socioeconomic status and religious upbringing, each of which contributed to the decline of affiliation, Mr. Downey was left with a great deal of the change unexplained. His hypothesis? The dramatic rise in Internet use. In the 1980s, almost no one used the Internet, but by 2010, according to the Social Survey, more than half of the population spent at least two hours online a week, and one quarter spent more than seven hours a week. Mr. Downey believes that as much as 25% of the decline in affiliation can be explained by this new habit. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

My Life, Logged - If a device could capture every moment in life for your easy recall later, would you want it to? There are plenty of things I’d rather forget.

I always knew I was short, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized exactly how short.

That’s because I’ve been trying a couple of life-logging devices—gadgets that clip to my shirt or hang around my neck, automatically taking photos of the world around me. The results? Some neat shots of family, friends, and Silicon Valley life tucked in amongst countless photos of torsos, legs, sidewalks, and bicycle handlebars.

Life logging has long been an activity for a few diehard data fanatics and academics. Early adherents included University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, who as a graduate student at MIT in 1994 began wearing a wireless camera that could record images from his point of view and display them online (see “Wearable Technology as a Human Right”). In 1998, Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell started collecting as much digital information about his life as he could in an effort to create a searchable archive of his memories. He even wrote a book, Total Recall, arguing that cataloguing everything was a better way to live and would eventually become pervasive.

We’re not yet there, but we’ve been moving in that direction. Smartphones are widespread, with cameras and apps affording plenty of opportunities to log and share the minutiae of life, and the costs of bandwidth and storage have dropped precipitously. And now we have access to life-logging gadgets like the Autographer and the Narrative Clip: small, clip-on cameras that continually take pictures on their own. Their makers believe you want to wear a gadget that will document life for you, no effort required. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Clean Vehicles Should Lead the Way on Transportation Finance Overhaul - Last week I wrote of the release of a study discussing how a mileage fee could in theory replace the gasoline tax, to finance the maintenance and improvement of the state’s transportation system.

This notion is embryonic in the realm of public policy. Oregon and Washington are toying with replacing their fuel taxes with mileage fees. In California, legislation sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee would order up a study of the feasibility of this approach in California. The bill is awaiting action in the Assembly.

These developments are promising, given the stakes. California continues to fall behind in investing in its roads and highways. Our financing sources are exhausted or lose value, while the infrastructure wears and tears, and users increase their demand, year after year.

State and federal policies require more efficient consumption of fuel, which further erodes the value of the fuel tax. A much-celebrated aspect of improved efficiency is the proliferation of vehicles that consume no or almost no gasoline at all, but nonetheless use the transportation system. This must be what they mean by “free rider.” Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Quiz: Are you a spornosexual? – The metrosexual is dead, long live the spornosexual. Take our quiz to find out which category of modern masculinity you fit into.

Yesterday, the writer who first coined the term ‘metrosexual’, Mark Simpson, explained the rise of the ‘spornosexual’ – a social media- and selfie-obsessed male who takes cues on his appearance from sport and porn.

While metrosexuals fretted over their wardrobes and their complexions, the spornosexual’s primary concern is his body. Still not sure where you fit in all this? Take Telegraph Men’s spornosexual quiz to find out… Read More > in The Telegraph

California teachers unions lose big in court - A court ruling on Tuesday striking down job protections for teachers in California deals a sharp blow to unions — and will likely fuel political movements across the nation to eliminate teacher tenure.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found five California laws governing the hiring and firing of teachers unconstitutional. But it was his language, more than the ruling itself, that will shake the political debate.

Treu found that the statutes permit too many grossly incompetent teachers to remain in classrooms across the state — and found that those teachers shortchange their students by putting them months or years behind their peers in math and reading.

He ruled that such a system violates the state constitution’s guarantee that all children receive “basic equality of educational opportunity.” In a blunt, unsparing 16-page opinion, Treu compared his ruling to the seminal federal desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, decided 60 years ago last month. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” Treu wrote. Read More > in Politico

Will California’s Ruling Against Teacher Tenure Change Schools? – …Here’s where the judge is right: It is difficult—actually, close to impossible—to argue that California’s teacher-tenure system makes sense. Research shows that most first-year teachers are mediocre at best. But good teachers tend to make huge jumps in effectiveness by the end of their second year on the job, and those improvements are often visible through classroom observation and students’ rising test scores. Yet California evaluates teachers for tenure in March of their second year of work, before two full years of student-teacher data are available.

This means that under current California law, principals are forced to make high-stakes decisions about teachers without enough evidence. This disadvantages students, who might get stuck with sub-par instructors, but it also hurts teachers, who aren’t given enough time to prove their skill. Once a teacher earns tenure, it can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars—and countless administrative and legal man-hours—for a district to permanently remove him from his job. And in the event of budget cuts or school closings, California law mandates that the least experienced teachers be laid off first, even if they are more effective than their older colleagues, a policy known as “LIFO,” or “Last In, First Out.”

California is an outlier. Only 12 states have formal laws on the books mandating LIFO. Nationally, teachers work an average of 3.1 years before they become eligible for tenure. Not even teachers support the idea of tenure after less than two years on the job. A 2012 survey of 10,000 teachers found that, on average, they believed it was reasonable to work 5.4 years before being evaluated for tenure. As Treu noted in his ruling, the arguments in Vergara revealed remarkable consensus between the prosecution and defense on the fact that California’s tenure policies are far from best practices. Read More > in The Atlantic

Inland California Needs to Get In the Zone - As the economy has strengthened, what is called a “boom” in the mainstream media is really a story of one region. Some 300,000 jobs have been created as the recovery has strengthened over the past 15 months,but three-quarters of them have been concentrated along the coast, mostly in the San Francisco-San Jose corridor.

In contrast, much of the interior of the state, from the Inland Empire, where the poverty rate has doubled since 1990, to the Central Valley, is doing far less well. Unemployment has dropped to near 5 percent in the Bay Area, but remains above 8 percent in the Inland Empire, and above 10 percent in many interior communities, from Fresno and Modesto to Bakersfield. Viewed in the national media as some sort of permanent basket case, the inland region, booming a decade ago, was recently compared by a UCLA economist to Appalachia.

California’s interior clearly needs a form of new deal that will allow it to participate in the state’s recovery. This plan starts with declaring the entire area an “enterprise zone” that allows communities to opt out from some of the harshest, coastally driven regulations.

Enterprise zones typically refer to economically ailing portions of cities where policies to encourage economic growth and development are implemented for businesses in the designated area. Such policies, on a regional scale, are needed in inland California. Read More > at Public CEO

After 29 years, Stockton Asparagus Festival calls it quits - Rising costs from the city and back-to-back years of falling attendance have conspired to kill the 29-year-old Stockton Asparagus Festival.

The 10-member board voted unanimously Tuesday to dissolve operations. There will be no 30th anniversary of the city’s signature event.

The festival has experienced a sharp dropoff in attendance the ​p​ast two years. After attracting 104,000 visitors in 2012, the turnout declined to 75,000 last year and 55,000 this year — a ​nearly ​50 percent drop.

But festival organizers might have ​been able to absorb even that if not for bankruptcy at Stockton City Hall and a renegotiated contract that calls for an increasing reimbursement for city services. Read More > at Recordnet

House votes to cut off money for high-speed rail - Rep. Jeff Denham’s amendment to would cut off federal funding for California’s high-speed rail project was approved by the House on Tuesday.

Denham introduced H.R. 3893, the Responsible Rail and Deterring Deficiency Act, in January with support from all California House Republicans. The House passed it Tuesday as an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, H.R. 4745.

“Without a viable funding plan like the one voters supported, California’s high speed rail project is going nowhere fast,” Denham, R-Modesto, said in a news release. “I’m pleased to have the support of so many of my House colleagues who recognize that we shouldn’t be spending any more taxpayer money on a project without a future.” Read More > at Political Blotter

Combat By Trial - After five years of legal wrangling, a bench trial of the landmark antitrust lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon against the National Collegiate Athletic Association begins on Monday in Oakland, Calif. under U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken. How will the courtroom battle be fought, and what could the outcome mean for the future of college sports? Glad you asked:

So what is this trial all about?

At its core, the O’Bannon case is about economic power and control — specifically, how much of both the NCAA and its member schools should be allowed to have over men’s college basketball and football players.

Currently, college sports follow the golden rule — those who have the gold, make the rules. NCAA members all agree to not compensate college athletes for playing sports beyond the value of a scholarship (tuition, room, books and board) and/or anything else the union of schools deems acceptable (like bowl game swag bags), a restraint known as amateurism. At the same time, those schools take in billions of dollars from television networks selling games featuring the names, images and likenesses (NILs) of the restrained athletes.

The O’Bannon plaintiffs — which include former college football players and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell — and their lawyers argue that NCAA amateurism is a price-fix that violates antitrust law because it: (a) eliminates economic competition among schools for talented recruits in the college education market, thereby harming athletes by reducing the amount of compensation they would otherwise be receiving; and (b) prevents athletes from earning money from schools, networks, video game makers and other sources by shutting them out of the group licensing market for their NILs.

In other words: the system is unfair. NCAA schools have rigged the rules of the game to illegally and unduly profit at the expense of college athletes. If not for amateurism, O’Bannon could have gotten a cut of the revenues for an EA Sports college basketball video game that included a classic UCLA team featuring his digital likeness. If not for amateurism, current men’s basketball and football players would be able to pocket some of the broadcast money flowing into their schools and athletic departments, as well as license their NILs to video game makers and others. Read More > at Sports on Earth

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades - Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how. Read More > in The New York Times

How Environmentalists and Skeptics Misrepresent the Science on Polar Bears - Last month, the leading scientific working group on polar bear populations (quietly) suggested that it is unknown just how many polar bears currently exist on Earth. As the iconic symbol of global warming, the polar bear has become a prop for both environmentalists and skeptics – with each side seizing on isolated data points to make large, sometimes unsubstantiated claims. The truth is: counting polar bears is hard work. To study them scientists have to journey to places that are punishingly remote and hideously expensive to access. Polar bears may face tough times ahead, but we don’t know if their numbers are increasing or decreasing, and we won’t know for a long time.

Last month an alphabet soup scientific working group you’ve never heard of — the IUCN/SSC PBSG — added a brief footnote to a forthcoming report you didn’t know they were preparing. Just another day in the annals of the worldwide research community. Except, of course, when that body is the Polar Bear Specialist Group, and the item in question involves just how many polar bears currently exist on Earth.

The PBSG is made up of scientists and wildlife managers from the five nations where polar bears are found: Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway, and Greenland/Denmark. The group meets every three to five years and in recent decades their publications have taken on an increasingly dire tone. Polar bears need sea ice in order to hunt for the seals they subsist on, and as climate change has transformed the Northern latitudes, the bears’ future prospects have dimmed.

As a practical matter, the PBSG maintains a data table on their website, letting the public know the population status for each of the 19 polar bear subpopulations. The current table pegs the Baffin Bay bears at 1,546, for example, and shows that the Northern Beaufort Sea has 980. Taken together, these tallies form the basis of an oft-repeated fact: the total worldwide population of polar bears is somewhere between 20- and 25,000 animals. For better or worse, both scientists and the popular press have often treated this ballpoint figure as a scientific estimate, and it has become the baseline against which potential population declines are measured. Read More > at The Breakthrough

Is California one of the most stressed states? – California’s got ideal weather, soothing beaches and even the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

But it’s also ranked the 9th worst in terms of percentage of people with long commutes, the 5th worst when it comes to high unemployment and the 2nd worst for paying a higher share of income for housing. In fact, a new survey has branded the Golden State as the 4th most “stressed state” out of the 48 lower states based on six financial and quality of life indicators.

Florida, Georgia and New Jersey were listed as the top three most stressed states, according to the Movoto.com, a blog by the San Mateo-based online real estate brokerage that did the study.

“California is kind of like the Apple MacBook of the states. It’s branded as an awesome, surfer heaven where you can strike it big,” the blog stated. “In actuality, you can’t afford to live by yourself in a nice part of town unless you’ve been working for eight years or you’re a superstar computer programmer. The proof is in the source code: Californians spend more of their income on housing (26 percent) than any other state besides (New Jersey.)” Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Bump at pump in January to help speed bullet train project - California drivers are going to see a bump at the pump starting Jan. 1 – with a good chunk of the money going to kick-start Gov. Jerry Brown’s struggling high-speed rail project.

Reason: Starting next year, tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks will come under California’s cap-and-trade program, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gases.

The result will probably be increased costs to gas wholesalers, who in turn will pass them along to drivers.

Estimates on the price vary. Industry insiders are predicting a jump of 15 to 20 cents a gallon, while clean-air advocates say it may be less. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Cell phones and driving: What’s legal, what’s not - You might need an attorney to interpret California’s law on mobile phone use and driving.

Talking on a non-hands-free phone while driving – something Oakland Mayor Jean Quan denies having done before she was in a minor accident Sunday – is plainly illegal. But what about checking your smartphone’s road map? Texting by the side of the road with the engine running? Using a phone while driving in a parking lot?

The answer: It depends.

“My rule is that if you can let a patrol car get up next to you and you are so distracted that you didn’t see a cop car coming,” that’s enough to earn a ticket, said Officer Mike Harris, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.

The key word is “distracted.” State law says drivers can’t hold the phone to talk, even while stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic, or idling by the side of the road. There are loopholes – a Fresno court recently concluded it was legal to consult a smartphone map while driving – but if an officer spots you swerving while you do it, he can cite you for unsafe driving. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

The Biggest Non-Story in Tuesday’s Elections? Mississippi Voter ID Implemented With No Problems – It wasn’t the biggest story following Tuesday’s elections in various states, but it was the biggest and most-ignored non-story.

Mississippi’s new voter ID law got its first run in the June 3 primary, and the sky did not fall. Despite the tiresome and disproven claims by opponents that such laws cause wholesale voter disenfranchisement and are intended to suppress votes, Mississippi “sailed through” its first test of the new ID requirements, according to The Clarion Ledger, the newspaper of Jackson, Miss.

Aside from being able to use any form of government-issued photo ID, like every other state with ID requirements, Mississippi provides a free ID for anyone who does not already have a government-issued photo ID. Contrary to the claims of those who say large numbers of Americans don’t have an ID, Mississippi estimated that only 0.8 percent of Mississippians lacked an ID. In fact, even that may have been an overestimate since the state had to issue only about 1,000 voter ID cards. All those who forgot their ID on Tuesday also could vote by an affidavit as long as they returned and showed an ID within five days. Read More > at The Daily Signal

Construction Begins on $50M State Route 160/Highway 4 Direct Connector Ramps Project

Why You Should Delete Yourself From Facebook

Pelini’s Signing Day plan so outrageous it makes sense – Bo Pelini already faced down his boss once. Not only did he survive, but he got stronger. For his next I-don’t-care moment, Nebraska’s fiery coach decided to take on the behemoth that is recruiting. The NCAA can’t get its arms around it, so why not let Pelini — who last November dared his boss to fire him and lived to coach another day — take a swing at it?

Yet here’s the catch: Pelini says the ills of the seedy and greedy process can be eliminated by — get this — eliminating National Signing Day. He told ESPN Big Ten reporter Adam Rittenberg there’s no need for signing day — so why have it?

And son of a gun, he might just be on to something.

Think about a world with no National Signing Day. Think about players getting an offer from a school, and if they want to sign, they sign then and there and it’s over.

No soft verbals or quiet verbals. No decommitments or recommitments. No wasted millions in recruiting budgets trying to change the opinion of a 17- or 18-year-old who already has made up his mind but can’t sign until some randomly chosen day by a governing body overwhelmed by everything recruiting.

The NCAA knows there are street agents out there now, shopping young men to the highest bidder. Most of the time, they turn away and ignore it; other times they investigate it and, you guessed it, ignore it (hello, Willie Lyles).

…And while you’re at it, Pelini says, throw in a rule that states if a coach leaves a university after a player has signed, the player can leave, too — with no penalty. Look at that, someone actually making sense. Read More > in the Sporting News

Starting Out Behind - Today’s young people, ages 18 to 24, should have been the lucky ones. They were preteens or teenagers when the recession hit in late 2007, with high school and college still ahead. Unlike those who had to enter the work force in the depths of the downturn, they had time, or so it seemed, to wait out the weak economy.

But that’s not how things have worked out. While the worst is over, economic conditions are still subpar, damaging the immediate job prospects and long-term living standards of young adults starting out now.

In recent years, the economy has grown annually at 2 percent or so. That’s too slow to make up the current shortfall of nearly seven million jobs, let alone to absorb new graduates or push up wages in jobs that do exist.

To make matters worse, the economy contracted at an annual rate of 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014. A rebound is expected, but there is little in the economic data or current policy to suggest that an upsurge will be sustained; over all, economic growth is likely to settle at 2 percent to 2.5 percent.

For young people, these conditions will only deepen a long trend of increasing economic hardship. Census data that compares today’s 18-to-24-year-olds with the same age group in 1970 and in 1990 show more poverty among young adults over time, as well as lower income and less independence. But young people today are appreciably worse off than those in previous generations. Read More > in The New York Times

What would it take for Gov. Jerry Brown to lose? - Gov. Jerry Brown in a steamy political scandal? Unlikely.

Another national economic collapse? Also a long shot.

After last week’s primary election, the real question is: Does a rookie Republican like Neel Kashkari have any chance of toppling a popular governor in an ultrablue state?

California political experts say only Brown’s, ahem, death could keep him from winning an unprecedented fourth term in November. But even the Grim Reaper himself wouldn’t necessarily lift Kashkari to victory: California election laws give even candidates in coffins the right to stay alive on the ballot.

Brown got 54 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, even though he didn’t campaign at all — no mailers, no TV or radio ads, no political events. He held onto all but a smidgen of his $20.7 million campaign war chest. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Bay Bridge flaws: bad welds, delays cost many millions extra – Caltrans paid hundreds of millions of dollars over the original bid price for work on the Bay Bridge eastern span that was plagued by shoddy welding and completed more than a year late, state documents reviewed by The Chronicle show.

In agreeing to pay the extra money, Caltrans accepted responsibility for much of the delay, the documents show – even though bridge officials have publicly blamed bad welding done at the Shanghai factory of China’s largest maker of heavy machinery.

Officials told state legislative investigators that weld-related delays added $100 million to the cost of the bridge’s tower and steel modules that form the road deck. However, contract documents show that Caltrans took blame for more than a year and a half of problems in China and paid out more than $275 million for those delays and to get the bridge done on time. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Google Invests Billions on Satellites to Expand Internet Access - Google plans to invest more than $1 billion in a new fleet of satellites that will expand Internet access to unconnected regions of the world.

The company’s decision to purchase 180 small, high-capacity satellites is just the first step in a project that could cost the search giant over $3 billion, reported The Wall Street Journal. The project’s price tag will depend on whether the company decides to embark on a second phase of the project, which would double the number of satellites needed, Google insiders told the WSJ.

Google’s satellite project is one of several new ventures designed to expand Internet access to remote areas of the world. Last year, the company announced Project Loon, an aerial wireless network that uses high-altitude balloons to provide Internet service to users in underserved and rural areas.

Google also recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a company that develops ultra-lightweight, solar-powered drones that could replace the balloons from Project Loon altogether. Read More > at Scientific American

California’s Parent Trigger Law Is (Finally) Helping Improve Public Schools - Lawmakers in California passed the Parent Trigger law back in 2010. The law allows parents of children attending failing public schools to force major changes if half of the parents sign a petition. Last year, parents of children attending Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., pulled the parent trigger and transformed the school to a public charter school called Desert Trails Preparatory Academy. “We’ve seen major, major progress…since the beginning of the year,” says Debra Tarver, executive director of Desert Trails Preparatory Academy.

In other California school districts, just the threat of Parent Trigger is helping parents get what they want.

Back in 2011, Reason TV covered the first ever attempt by parents, with the help of the non-profit organization Parent Revolution, to use the Parent Trigger. While the effort by parents at McKinley Elementary to use the Parent Trigger ultimately failed, parents at other California schools are figuring out how use the law to their advantage, and at least seven other states have adopted some form of the Parent Trigger. Read More > at Reason

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