Sunday Reading – 03/20/16


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.

Domino’s has built an autonomous pizza delivery robot – For a pizza chain, Domino’s actually has a pretty rich history of innovation. It’s embraced social media, created a one-click Easy Order button and even built a delivery car that has its own pizza oven. Now it’s looking at robots. More specifically: delivery robots. What you see here is DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit), an autonomous delivery vehicle built in collaboration with Australian technology startup Marathon Targets that Domino’s says is the first of its kind. It’s filled with thousands of dollars worth of military robotics tech, but its covert mission has been to deliver fresh pizza to the residents of Queensland.

DRU is still in the prototype stage, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been busy. Domino’s worked with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads to ensure it met all the requirements to be set loose on the streets. It uses LIDAR, the same technology utilized by self-driving cars, to identify the surrounding environment and has built-in GPS tracking technology that syncs with Google Maps. It’s actually very similar to Starship Technologies’ eponymous delivery robots, which will soon hit the streets of London.

Lifehacker Australia reports that the robot’s first deliveres were made in a number of restricted streets permitted by the local transport authorities. It’s locked to prevent people from snagging some fresh pizza, so when it arrives at its destination, customers need to enter a mobile code that opens DRU’s insulated storage (which has both hot and cool compartments). Read More > at Engadget

Trading Places: The Browns and the 49ers are the NFL’s New Ghost Teams – As I wrote early last week, the Jaguars and the Raiders are both clearly on the rise. For a long time, nobody wanted to be a part of either organization; thanks to improved quarterback play, however, both teams started to show signs of life; this offseason each has been busy signing talented free agents by the bushel. Since that article, the Raiders have managed to bring back tackle Donald Penn, the best player on their line last year, and the Jaguars signed left tackle Kelvin Beachum, which is great insurance to take out on Luke Joeckel’s fading hopes of competence. They also brought in corner Prince Amukamara on a one-year prove-it deal.

This is great for the long-forsaken fans of those two teams, but in the circular Game of Thrones world of the NFL, someone has to lose whenever the fortunes of another faction rise. Right now, those losers are the Browns and the 49ers—and no one in the league wants to be dragged down with them. As of Thursday morning, San Francisco and Cleveland had the first- and third-highest amounts of cap space left in the league, respectively. They are so bad, and so steeped in bad vibes, that they cannot persuade NFL players to take their money.

…Like the Browns, San Francisco is trying to outsmart the league and only outsmarting themselves. The 49ers front office won their power struggle with Jim Harbaugh last offseason, but in doing so managed to lose just about everything else. San Francisco didn’t lose as many quality players as Cleveland did this offseason, but they didn’t have as many to lose in the first place—most of them had already retired or walked after Harbaugh was let go. They were able to salvage a few decent free agents in 2014, but all they’ve done this offseason is re-sign nose tackle Ian Williams, tight end Garrett Celek, and running back Shaun Draughn. No major free agents have signaled any desire to come to San Francisco—not shocking, considering that the team signed a new head coach who was crucified at his old job for his lack of communication with his players.

Aside from linebacker Navorro Bowman and tackle Joe Staley, San Francisco can’t claim that any of their starters are better than average at this point. All the 49ers have going for them at the moment is their unfulfilled quant belief in Chip Kelly, but neither Kaepernick (if he stays) nor Blaine Gabbert have the ability to competently execute the passing parts of his system. Read More > at Vice Sports

Missing memories have been restored in mice with Alzheimer’s disease – SOME mice can easily remember where they hide food, but not those genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Like humans they become forgetful. By the time these mice are seven months old they are unable to remember, for example, which arm of a maze they have explored before. Two months later, their brains are riddled with amyloid beta, the protein “plaques” that also characterise the latter stage of the disease in humans.

Now researchers have managed to restore memories to mice with Alzheimer’s. This helps provide more evidence about how memories are lost during the early stages of the disease and may point to how, some time in the future, those memories might be brought back. Read More > in The Economist

Could California’s massive Ivanpah solar power plant be forced to go dark? – A federally backed, $2.2 billion solar project in the California desert isn’t producing the electricity it is contractually required to deliver to PG&E Corp., which says the solar plant may be forced to shut down if it doesn’t receive a break Thursday from state regulators.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, owned by BrightSource Energy Inc., NRG Energy Inc. NRG, -1.11% and Alphabet Inc.’s GOOG, -0.07% GOOGL, -0.13% Google, uses more than 170,000 mirrors mounted to the ground to reflect sunlight to 450-foot-high towers topped by boilers that heat up to create steam, which in turn is used to generate electricity.

But the unconventional solar-thermal project, financed with $1.5 billion in federal loans, has riled environmentalists by killing thousands of birds, many of which are burned to death — and has so far failed to produce the expected power. Read More > at Market Watch

California analyst: High-speed rail lacks spending details – California’s independent legislative analyst says a new $64 billion high-speed rail business plan lacks important details.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office on Thursday said lawmakers should require more detailed planning on the cost, scope and schedule of each high-speed rail segment. It says the project’s business plans are hard to compare.

It questions the proposed rural end-point for the first segment north of Bakersfield.

Analysts say the rail authority’s new plan to first build north to the San Francisco Bay Area instead of to Southern California makes some sense.

With future funding uncertain, officials last month called for building the first 250-mile segment from north of Bakersfield to San Jose. It would begin operating in 2025 – three years later and 50 miles shorter than going to the San Fernando Valley. Read More > from the Associated Press

Decision time for California governor’s big water project – Promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown, the $15.7 billion project would run giant twin pipes, each four stories high, underground for 35 miles and eventually pull thousands of gallons of water a second from the stretch along the Sacramento River where van Loben Sels farms to cities and farms to the south.

In what all agree will be the decisive year for the project, Brown’s plan — which is facing obstacles to environmental approval in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and mounting uncertainty over the financing — is splitting farmers and political leaders.

Questions over the environmental impact and financing are driving the debate on the tunnels — a construction feat that would rival or dwarf most tunnel projects of recent decades, including the tunnel beneath the English Channel and Boston’s Big Dig.

A labyrinth of waterways, fields and islands, the delta stretches inland 75 miles from San Francisco Bay at the confluence of big rivers that start high in Northern California mountains. It is the heart of the state’s water system, feeding two-thirds of the state’s residents, 3 million acres of farmland, and wildlife.

In the 1960s, under then-Gov. Pat Brown — the current governor’s father — California and the federal government re-engineered the delta to pump water from the southern end to farms and communities as distant as San Diego.

But the pumps altered the delta’s flow, pulling migrating fish off course. Once-bountiful stocks of Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and other native species have plummeted. At least 35 native fish, plants and animal species there are now listed under federal and state endangered-species acts.

This year and last, authorities cut water deliveries from the delta to save enough for endangered fish. The cuts angered farmers and others, yet still failed to keep water plentiful and cool enough for the fish, causing record declines. Read More > from the Associated Press

BART chaos expected to go on indefinitely – BART service between the Pittsburg-Bay Point and North Concord stations will be shut down indefinitely — and overall service will suffer for months — as the transit agency tries to get to the bottom of a baffling track problem crippling trains by the dozens, officials said Thursday.

Transit officials warned passengers Thursday afternoon that for the foreseeable future, riders who want to travel between the Contra Costa County stations will have to use a bus bridge arranged by the transit agency through four bus agencies. Those buses will travel on freeways that are sure to be more packed as they deliver riders to train cars that are sure to be more crowded.

BART mechanics said Thursday that they were closer to pinning down the problem. They said 50 train cars that failed Wednesday were hit with a power spike as they moved through a track crossover north of the North Concord station. On that stretch of track the power is reaching up to 2,000 volts — twice what BART expects for normal operations. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Carl’s Jr. CEO wants to try automated restaurant where customers ‘never see a person’ – A CEO of a fast-food company is causing a stir on social media after claiming that he wants to create a fully automated restaurant.

“We could have a restaurant that’s focused on all-natural products and is much like an Eatsa, where you order on a kiosk, you pay with a credit or debit card, your order pops up, and you never see a person,” Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder told Business Insider.

Puzder says the automated restaurant would be cheaper since he wouldn’t have to worry about rising minimum wage.

“If you’re making labor more expensive, and automation less expensive- this is not rocket science,” Puzder said.

“They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” says Puzder of swapping employees for machines. “Millennials like not seeing people. I’ve been inside restaurants where we’ve installed ordering kiosks… and I’ve actually seen young people waiting in line to use the kiosk where there’s a person standing behind the counter, waiting on nobody.” Read More > at KFOR

Flying Drone Billboards Are the Future We Deserve – When listing all the ways humanity is going to ruin the future, one that doesn’t often come up is the sun being blocked out by a horde of drone advertising blimps. But that hasn’t stopped one Swiss firm from working hard to make it a reality.

Skye Aero is a project to build 10-foot helium-filled balloons, with small propellers attached to give better control than your average blimp. The benefits are a much bigger aircraft—useful when you want to advertise to people—and one that won’t crash the second it loses power, or bumps into anyone.

Moving away from its role as a replacement for the Goodyear Blimp, lighter-than-air drones are an interesting and underutilized concept. Provided they’re not filled with hydrogen, they offer increased safety for flying over crowds, and a much greater payload than traditional quadcopters. Hopefully, someone will find a better application for them than giant floating billboards. Read More > at Gizmodo

Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Have Now Been Flat for Two Years Running – New data published by the International Energy Agency extends the surprising finding, discovered last year, that global carbon dioxide emissions have stopped growing despite continued economic growth. The latest data show the trend has continued for a second consecutive year, which the IEA says is a result of renewable energy accounting for 90 percent of new electricity generation in 2015. China’s slowing economic growth has played a key role in these figures as well, though, and with India and several other developing economies set to grow substantially over the next several years, it’s not clear how long we can expect this “decoupling” trend to continue.

The IEA and the Global Carbon Project, an international group of climate researchers, have now independently concluded that China’s emissions appear to have declined in 2015. This reflects a substantial drop in coal use that corresponds with a slowdown in construction, but also with actions taken by the Chinese government to curb coal consumption for the sake of reducing air pollution. China has pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030, but it could be that we have already seen the peak more than a decade early. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Natural gas expected to surpass coal in mix of fuel used for U.S. power generation in 2016 – For decades, coal has been the dominant energy source for generating electricity in the United States. EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) is now forecasting that 2016 will be the first year that natural gas-fired generation exceeds coal generation in the United States on an annual basis. Natural gas generation first surpassed coal generation on a monthly basis in April 2015, and the generation shares for coal and natural gas were nearly identical in 2015, each providing about one-third of all electricity generation.

The mix of fuels used for electricity generation has evolved over time. The recent decline in the generation share of coal, and the concurrent rise in the share of natural gas, was mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices that have made natural gas generation more economically attractive. Between 2000 and 2008, coal was significantly less expensive than natural gas, and coal supplied about 50% of total U.S. generation. However, beginning in 2009, the gap between coal and natural gas prices narrowed, as large amounts of natural gas produced from shale formations changed the balance between supply and demand in U.S. natural gas markets.

…Environmental regulations affecting power plants have played a secondary role in driving coal’s declining generation share over the past decade, although plant owners in some states have made investments to shift generation toward natural gas at least partly for environmental reasons. Looking forward, environmental regulations may play a larger role in conjunction with market forces. Owners of some coal plants will face decisions to either retire units or reduce their utilization rate to comply with requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan, which is scheduled to take effect in 2022 but has recently been stayed by the Supreme Court pending the outcome of ongoing litigation. Read More > at Today in Energy

The joy of March Madness bracketology – …For all the legendary moments produced in The Final Four and Championship games, the real excitement happens in the first two rounds. Games are played wall-to-wall, sometimes several at a time, all around the country from morning until late night. And unlike during those days of my Paleolithic early ’90s youth, when I was at the mercy of the CBS programmers who decided which game I was allowed to watch, every contest can now be watched in its entirety on both broadcast TV and basic cable. Which is great, because while the network honchos in New York might want to go with the easy revenue of airing a top-tier school on the big channel, my eyeballs will be drawn to something like 14th-seeded Northern Iowa up by three with 22 seconds to go in an opening round game. That’s where the madness lies.

Opening weekend runs from Thursday morning until Sunday night. That’s 48 games played in four days, which is simply a dizzying amount of drama, to say nothing of the consequences each game has on the longevity of your bracket. Though it’s standard bracketology procedure for wins in later rounds to be weighted more heavily than the early rounds, your bracket basically survives the weekend or it doesn’t.

Single-elimination is the component that makes March Madness mad. NBA teams can lose as many as 12 playoff games and still win the title. In the NCAA tourney, any team can be Cinderella, and in the process completely bust your bracket. If you picked Villanova to go to the Final Four as a two seed and they lose in the second round (as they often do), the next three rounds are kaput. But even if you couldn’t pick the most winners out of the first round, if your potential regional winners make it out of the first weekend, there’s still hope.

…The NCAA tournament serves as a reminder that there is only this moment, like in 2006 when 11th-seeded George Mason, a mid-major commuter school that punched its ticket to the tournament by winning its unsung conference and thus earning an automatic bid, did the seemingly impossible by repeatedly beating teams from college basketball powerhouse schools, all the way to the Final Four.

George Mason’s run is the stuff of legend. But equally as legendary is the person whose bracket included George Mason in the Final Four. That person deserves to be remembered in the bracketology bragging rights hall of fame. Read More > at The Week

Don’t Call It St. Patty’s Day – One glaring problem with the age of Facebook and Twitter is that anyone can publish anything off the top of his head, without putting any thought into it whatsoever. A related concern is that we’re learning that our country’s confusion over the difference between “its” and “it’s” runs deeper than we really could have imagined.

Each year, the days leading up to March 17th remind us of another alarming reality that wasn’t obvious before social media: apparently at least half of Americans think that the holiday is called “St. Patty’s Day.”

Now, imagine that you were were kidnapped as a teenage boy and sold into slavery in a foreign, wild land. Then imagine that you escaped back to your homeland, and daringly returned to your captors to convert them — all of them — to your faith, driving out a country-wide infestation of snakes along the way, establishing yourself as the patron of that nation forever. And imagine you did all this only to be called a girl’s name by millions of assholes on the internet centuries later.

That is the situation that St. Patrick, rolling in his grave, faces today.

The distinction between “Paddy” and “Patty” shouldn’t be tough. Think “paddywagon” — which refers to a police van used to round up Irishmen, in the days before Irish immigrants grafted their way into respectability — and you’ll get it. Alternatively, think “Peppermint Patty,” a cartoon character we all know and love and who, crucially, is not a dude. That should be a hint.

…So let’s clear this up once and for all: St. Patrick’s Day, St. Paddy’s, St. Pat’s: all correct. St. Patty’s: gravely wrong. Disqualifying. Read More > at Real Clear Religion

Why your signature is worth more than ever – Democracy has a price. And at the moment, it’s higher than ever in California.

With a presidential election coming up this fall, dozens of groups are trying to get measures on the ballot — asking voters to sanction recreational marijuana, stiffen gun controls, increase cigarette taxes and pass numerous other laws.

The competition among them has created an unprecedented situation in California that’s driving up the cost of gathering the signatures necessary to get on the ballot. Some campaigns are paying double the rate of a typical year. It means that more than ever, access to the ballot is reserved for those with the most money.

…It’s another sign that California’s system of direct democracy has evolved far from its populist roots. When the state adopted the system more than 100 years ago, the goal was to empower citizens to make laws themselves and circumvent the powerful interests that held sway over the Legislature. Instead, ballot initiatives today are so expensive they are now primarily used by the same interests they were meant to avoid.

…Seven measures already have enough signatures to get on the November ballot. Another 79 petitions have been approved to collect signatures. Campaign officials predict that voters will weigh in on about 20 measures this fall — more than double the number in most recent elections.

Only four companies in the state do the bulk of the work to manage petitions and hire crews to get signatures. And as the clock ticks closer to spring deadlines for getting on the ballot, competition for signatures is intensifying. Read More > at CALmatters

The Professional Panhandling Plague – …She’s not alone. Cities have overcome myriad obstacles in revitalizing their downtowns, from lousy transportation systems to tough competition from suburban shopping malls. But nearly 15 years after New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, vanquished Gotham’s notorious squeegee men and brought aggressive panhandling under control, other cities are facing a new wave of “spangers” (that is, spare-change artists) who threaten their newfound prosperity by harassing residents, tourists, and businesses. Unlike their predecessors in the seventies and eighties, many of these new beggars aren’t helpless victims or even homeless. Rather, they belong to a diverse and swelling community of street people who have made panhandling their calling.

Like most countries, America has always had its share of itinerant travelers, vagabonds, and hoboes. But panhandling became a more pervasive and disturbing fact of urban life in the 1970s—a by-product of the explosion in homelessness that resulted from rising drug use and the closing of state-run mental institutions, which released scores of helpless psychiatric patients back into society. Though studies showed that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandled—mostly alcoholics and drug addicts seeking their next fix—the sheer numbers of street people still meant lots of beggars. By the crack epidemic’s late-eighties peak, New York City in particular was home to a massive panhandling presence. A 1988 survey by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority found that 80 percent of subway riders disliked the constant harassment. “I was raised never to pass a beggar by, but there are too many of them and I’m sick of it,” one Manhattanite told the New York Times. “I feel like this is becoming beggar city.”

…But over the last several years, the urban resurgence has proved an irresistible draw to a new generation of spangers. And while New York City’s aggressive emphasis on quality-of-life policing under two successive mayors has kept them at bay, less vigilant cities have been overwhelmed. Indeed, panhandling is epidemic in many places—from cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Memphis, Orlando, and Albuquerque to smaller college towns like Berkeley. “People in New York would be shocked at what one encounters in other cities these days, where the panhandling can be very intimidating,” says Daniel Biederman, a cofounder of three business improvement districts in Manhattan, including the Grand Central Partnership, which grappled effectively with homelessness in the city’s historic train station in the early 1990s. “Panhandling has gotten especially bad in cities that have a reputation for being liberal and tolerant. They have tried to be open-minded, but now many of them see the problem as out of control.”

…People’s generosity encourages the begging. About four out of ten Denver residents gave to panhandlers, city officials determined several years ago, anteing up an estimated $4.6 million a year. Anecdotal surveys by journalists and police, and even testimony by panhandlers themselves, suggest that begging can yield anywhere from $20 to $100 a day—though police in Coos Bay, Oregon, found that local panhandlers were taking in as much as $300 a day in a Wal-Mart parking lot. “A panhandler could make thirty to forty thousand dollars a year, tax-free money,” Baker says. In Memphis, a local FOX News reporter, Jason Carter, donned old clothes and hit the streets earlier this year, earning about $10 an hour. “Just the quasi-appearance of being homeless filled my cup,” Carter observed. That all the money is beyond the tax man’s clutches adds to the allure of professional panhandling. Read More > at City Journal

Glenn Reynolds: Supreme Court picks need diversity, compromise – With a Supreme Court confirmation fight looming, I have a couple of proposals for reform.

The first is that we take the “advice” part of “advice and consent” seriously. On Supreme Court appointments, the Constitution provides that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States.”

So I have a proposal: I propose that the Senate put together its own list of candidates for each future Supreme Court vacancy and forward that list to the president. This list would constitute the “advice” portion of the Senate’s constitutional role. The president could then do one of two things — he could select a nominee from the list, who would be presumed competent based on the Senate’s earlier screening and would be given approval according to some sort of accelerated procedure (much as in “fast track” trade legislation), or he could select someone not on the list, in which case the confirmation process would take place as usual.

…My other proposal is less process-oriented: Maybe it’s time to name a non-lawyer to the Supreme Court. There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires Supreme Court justices to be lawyers, and there are some pretty decent arguments as to why non-lawyers should be represented. Read More > in USA Today

Football will always be a violent sport — but who will be left playing it? – Even if the NFL was slow coming around to acknowledgethe connection between concussions and a deadly brain disease known as CTE, it’s no secret football is a brutally violent sport.

In 15 years, will there be anybody left who wants to play it? The issue is whether the danger will lead to kids and their parents staying clear of football.

The NFL has become a game in which keeping score is not only about the points, but also the concussions. Unless this becomes a game of two-hand touch, the head injuries are unavoidable.

“Of course, it’s going to happen, so you either eliminate the sport or everyone goes in knowing the risk,” former Giants linebacker Carl Banks said Tuesday.

“It is going to be played with contact,” Banks said. “If it’s not played with contact, the future of the sport is dead. You might as well play lacrosse or soccer.” Read More > in The New York Daily News

How Retailers Will Survive In The Amazon Era – There’s no way around it—the past year has been rough for retail. Even the stalwarts have taken a hit: Nordstrom had a terrible run on NASDAQ; Macy’s cratered, with its stock ending 2015 40% down for the year; and Walmart is shutting down over 250 stores nationwide. Why so much bad news, so fast?

Well, there are a few incidental reasons, such as an economy that has people saving instead of spending, and an unseasonably warm Q4 that kept families away from seasonal purchases, like a new space heater or down jacket. But, it’s also about a little company in Seattle called Amazon, which is steadily eating the world of retail. And when we say eating, we mean in one bite; according to The Motley Fool, about one of every three product searches begins at Amazon.

Just think about what this means for other retailers. A third of their potential customers are starting at their competitors’ front door, leaving them clamoring for scraps and losing costly acquisition dollars (and margin) to the likes of Google and, increasingly, Facebook. And as Amazon enhances Prime, their base of customers grows and becomes increasingly loyal. Read More > at Fast Company Design

The Future Will Be Quiet – U.S. cities can be very loud places. Between the sounds of car horns, sirens, truck traffic, and people yelling, background-noise levels can regularly reach 70 decibels—about as loud as the drone of a vacuum cleaner at close range. That much noise pollution isn’t just annoying; it can heighten stress, disrupt your sleep, and even lead to heart disease. Researchers at the University of Michigan estimate that about one-third of Americans are exposed to harmful noise, and might be at risk of noise-related health problems.

While countries in Europe have enforced stringent national noise standards, Americans have for the most part just made more noise; last year, more than 340,000 noise complaints were filed in New York City alone. But there are signs that people in the U.S. are getting serious about the problem, and new technologies can help. Here’s how the cities and suburbs of the future could become quieter, more peaceful places.

Because electric engines are all but silent, the push for greater fuel efficiency could mean not just cleaner air but quieter streets. If electric cars become more popular (or are mandated by the government), “the whole soundscape of our cities would change rapidly,” …

The demand for long-lasting laptops and mobile phones has spurred innovations in batteries, which can now power some of the noisiest devices, including leaf blowers and lawn mowers—making them far cleaner and quieter. Even jackhammers can be made quieter:…

When a fire truck screams down a city street, thousands of people might hear it, even if only a couple dozen need to get out of the way. In a few decades, though, emergency vehicles might send sirens directly to cars’ Internet-connected audio systems and to the phones and smartwatches of pedestrians nearby, Schulze, of the Sound Studies Lab, told me. Emergency signals could be marked high priority, so as to interrupt music or phone calls, he said. Read More > in The Atlantic

The Religious Right: Still Not Dead – Super Tuesday and the success of Donald Trump among evangelicals have caused otherwise sensible observers to once again declare the religious right to be dead. As in the past, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Religion scholar Mark Silk claims that the plurality of support from evangelical Christians for the thrice married, twice divorced, Donald Trump on Super Tuesday was just a mercy killing because the Religious Right “was moribund,” and had been “an invalid for a decade.”

Among the reasons for this, according to Silk, are that the Christian Coalition in its heyday in the 90s famously distributed millions of paper voter guides in church parking lots, but that “this kind of thing” is now only happening in Iowa. The fact is, lots of Christian Right organizations have developed considerable electoral capacity nationally and in all parts of the country, and issue voter guides, both paper and electronic, or promote those of others, including AFA Action, FRC Action, American Renewal Project, and many more.

It has created a vast array of institutions, including colleges, universities and law schools, media outlets and new political organizations which have developed sophisticated web based tools for both targeted electoral outreach as well as casting a wide net. They’ve been used by many conservative and Christian Right organizations in recent election cycles, including the American Family Association, Family Research Council, Citizen Link (the national political arm of Focus on the Family), Vision America, and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Indeed, the Christian Right didn’t die in 2007 with Jerry Falwell, whose Moral Majority actually went moribund in the 1980s, or with the Christian Coalition which lost its steam and leaders in the late 90s. The Christian Right was never limited to these important figures and organizations. What’s more, the structure, organizations, leaders and tactics of the Christian Right have evolved, and a variety of new organizations have risen to take their place. Read More > at Religion Dispatches

BART extension through South Bay takes step forward – The South Bay BART extension, now on its way to eastern San Jose, moved a step closer to tunneling beneath downtown toward Santa Clara, though funding remains uncertain.

The Federal Transit Administration has approved the second leg of what is known as BART Silicon Valley, allowing it to enter the project development phase of the federal funding program known as New Starts.

That means BART is nearer to competing for federal money needed for the 6-mile extension to Santa Clara.

BART trains now stop in central Fremont, but a 5.4-mile extension to Warm Springs, near the Santa Clara County line, is expected to open this summer. It was originally scheduled to open in December but ran into delays. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Industry calls for fast lane for self-driving cars – Google, Lyft and auto industry executives urged lawmakers Tuesday to help create a regulatory fast lane to help the deployment of self-driving cars.

In testimony at a Senate hearing, representatives of General Motors and auto-equipment maker Delphi touted numerous safety and environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles.

…”If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder safety, innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles,” Urmson said in his prepared testimony.

…”We are on the doorstep of another evolutionary leap in transportation and technology, where concepts that once could only be imagined in science fiction are on the verge of becoming a reality,” he said.

“The worst possible scenario for the growth of autonomous vehicles is an inconsistent and conflicting patchwork of local, municipal and county laws that will hamper efforts to bring AV (autonomous vehicle) technology to market,” Okpaku added.

“Regulations are necessary, but regulatory restraint and consistency is equally as important if we are going to allow this industry to reach its full potential.” Read More > at Yahoo! News

Another Defector Dead in Washington – The story has all the makings of a sleek Hollywood spy thriller. A defector from the Kremlin, a man close to the top echelons of power in Russia. A man who knew too much. And who lived the global jet-set lifestyle. Fear, international intrigue and rumors of stolen fortunes end in a fashionable hotel—with a brutal death.

For years, Mikhail Lesin had it all. He went into the mass entertainment business as the Soviet Union went into terminal decline and, unlike most Russians, he profited from the Communist collapse. In the years after the fall of the USSR in 1991, Mr. Lesin built a media and advertising empire that made him a wealthy and powerful man. By the end of that decade he entered politics, as the wealthy often do, not just in Russia.

Mr. Lesin’s star took off with the arrival of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in 1999. He entered the halls of power alongside the former KGB man, serving as his media minister from 1999 until 2004. Mr. Lesin oversaw the consolidation of most of Russia’s media under Kremlin control. To his detractors, this amounted to the slow strangulation of the independent media that appeared in the Soviet wake.

…Then he turned up dead. His lifeless body was found in his room at the Dupont Circle Hotel on the morning of November 5, 2015. The cause of Mr. Lesin’s death at age 58 was not announced by any American officials, though Russian state media said he died of a heart attack, citing unnamed family members. Mr. Putin made an official statement thanking the deceased for his media work, and Mr. Lesin was buried in Los Angeles.

…Then the case was blown wide open last week by the official coroner’s report, four months in the making, which concluded that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to Mr. Lesin’s head, neck, torso and extremities. In other words, he had been brutally beaten to death. Although the medical examiner demurred from concluding whether the fatal injuries were caused by accident or with intent, it’s difficult to imagine how so many wounds could be inflicted by any sort of routine fall.

…We know Vladimir Putin has defectors killed. As I explained recently in this column, in Stalin’s time such “wetwork,” to use the Kremlin term, against defectors and enemies abroad was considered routine, and Mr. Putin has resurrected this odious practice after a half-century of dormancy. Read More > at Observer

Staples and More Shutter Stores – Staples has joined a growing list of retailers that will be closing stores this spring. The company will shutter 50 locations as it tries to stem losses and chart a path back to profitability.

It’s hardly alone.

Sports Authority filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 2 and will close 140 locations as it attempts to restructure.

Kohl’s is closing 18 locations as it tries to balance brick and mortar with digital investment.

Sears Holdings is stepping up its store closing schedule as Chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert continues to squeeze what profit is left from its real estate holdings as store sales keep sliding.

Macy’s is closing 40 stores and cutting staff at headquarters as it looks to reach shoppers with smaller formats and digital properties.

And of course Walmart, the largest of them all, is closing 154 stores in the U.S. and shutting down its Walmart Express small format and 16 additional supercenters.

Even retailers on the positive side of sales are closing units. Target is having something of a banner year yet said it will close close to a dozen stores as it rationalizes its store base. Starbucks decided to shutter its Teavana locations and focus on what its does best, coffee. And Best Buy pulled the plug on its online marketplace, an attempt to compete with Amazon and Jet.com that never paid off.

When I first began covering retail in the mid 1990′s, the phrase “America is over stored” was used with great frequency. Flash forward 20 years and thousands of additional stores and America is way beyond being over stored.

…It’s notable that no major grocery retailers have announced store closures. Quite the opposite—everyone from Whole Foods to Kroger and regional favorite Publix are expanding and developing fresh new concepts. In fact, some of the most exciting retail environments today are in the grocery sector as it seems the foodie nation has pushed supermarkets past technology and apparel into most favored status with shoppers. But that’s another article. Read More > in Forbes

East Contra Costa transportation projects looking for some love – Contra Costa transportation officials are working to craft a sales tax measure that would bring the most bang for the buck, and East County leaders hope some long-awaited projects there get a good ride.

One of those projects, a long-envisioned State Route 239 that would connect East County with the Tracy area, would have benefits for all of Contra Costa, they say — especially in creating much-needed jobs in East County and elsewhere.

“There’s really nothing else we could do that would have as much positive effect on Contra Costa as that connection to the Central Valley, especially concerning jobs,” said Sean Wright of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority is crafting a half-cent tax measure plan for funding projects, which would be on the November ballot. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Amazon may soon let you pay using a selfie – Amazon wants you to be able to authorize a transaction with a selfie, so now you’ll have to make sure you’re looking halfway decent when you’re doing some late-night, online shopping.

Amazon’s patent application for this technology, first seen by Re/Code, was filed Thursday. The patent describes using a camera to identify a user using facial recognition and then verifying that they are real by asking them to perform an action, like blinking.

The patent talks about the need for improved security around these electronic systems that allow you to purchase items with one click. It is possible to get someone’s password to his or her Amazon account, where you can go on a buying spree, but using facial recognition could make it a lot harder for hackers and thieves to use your accounts.

Amazon also describes the annoyance of typing in passwords on mobile devices that have small touch keyboards (AutoCorrect is a feature on your smartphone for a reason). Being able to take a picture and tilt your head to one side to verify that you are you and you are real could be a lot easier than typing in a super-secure password rife with capital letters, numbers and symbols. Read More > at Mashable

Is It Really A.D.H.D. or Just Immaturity? – New research shows that the youngest students in a classroom are more likely to be given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than the oldest. The findings raise questions about how we regard those wiggly children who just can’t seem to sit still – and who also happen to be the youngest in their class.

Researchers in Taiwan looked at data from 378,881 children ages 4 to 17 and found that students born in August, the cut-off month for school entry in that country, were more likely to be given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. than students born in September. The children born in September would have missed the previous year’s cut-off date for school entry, and thus had nearly a full extra year to mature before entering school. The findings were published Thursday in The Journal of Pediatrics.

While few dispute that A.D.H.D. is a legitimate disability that can impede a child’s personal and school success and that treatment can be effective, “our findings emphasize the importance of considering the age of a child within a grade when diagnosing A.D.H.D. and prescribing medication for treating A.D.H.D.,” the authors concluded. Dr. Mu-Hong Chen, a member of the department of psychiatry at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan and the lead author of the study, hopes that a better understanding of the data linking relative age at school entry to an A.D.H.D. diagnosis will encourage parents, teachers and clinicians to give the youngest children in a grade enough time and help to allow them to prove their ability. Read More > in The New York Times

Windows 7 users complain of unprovoked Windows 10 auto-upgrades – As Microsoft auto-upgrades more PCs to Windows 10, some users are complaining that they weren’t adequately notified.

Reports of unwanted Windows 10 upgrades have been circulating for the past few days on Reddit and Twitter, after the last Patch Tuesday. These users say they never approved or initiated the upgrade, and were dragged away from their Windows 7 (or perhaps Windows 8) installs anyway.

This is all part of Microsoft’s plan, of course. Last October, the company announced that it would reclassify Windows 10 as a “Recommended” update from older versions starting in early 2016, at which point many more users would get the upgrade without explicit permission. That reclassification began on February 1, and auto-upgrades have been rolling out ever since. If complaints are reaching a higher volume now, perhaps it’s because the rollout is getting more aggressive.

For users who haven’t upgraded yet, it’s possible to avoid installing Windows 10 by heading to Windows Update in the Control Panel, and unchecking the box under Recommended updates, which reads “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates.” A registry tweak can help prevent Microsoft from sending upgrade reminders in the future. Read More > at PCWorld

Supreme Court Could End Trial Lawyer Paydays – Class-action trial lawyers who pose as selfless crusaders while suing greedy Fortune 500 defendants for harming defenseless people are often the only ones who get paid — but the U.S. Supreme Court could soon put an end to such injustices.

The high court will decide March 18 whether to hear a challenge to the settlement in Joshua D. Poertner v The Gillette Co., et. al. in which the trial lawyers got $5.7 million, while 99 percent of the 7.26 million alleged victims they represented got nothing. The challenge was filed by Ted Frank, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Class-Action Fairness.

Only four of the eight sitting justices are required to accept the case in order for it to be heard by the full court. The decision will be announced March 21.

The Poernter settlement came about after questionable advertising claims were made on behalf of battery company Duracell Inc. The one percent of alleged victims who received payment got between $3 and $6 each. The settlement also included a provision requiring a $6 million charitable contribution be made by Duracell. The batteries at issue were discontinued before the settlement was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Florida.

The case likely would have turned out differently had it been heard in a different federal court. Federal Court Rule 23(e) requires that class-action settlements be reasonable, but how the rule is applied varies widely among the jurisdictions. Read More > at the Daily Caller

Volunteers wanted: California will study pay-by-mile road fee – The state of California is looking for 5,000 volunteers this summer for an experiment with potentially major pocketbook ramifications.

It’s called the “California Road Charge pilot program,” a concept that will scare some people, and likely cause others to say it’s about time.

The Legislature has instructed Caltrans and other transportation officials to set up a nine-month test to see what it would be like if drivers paid for state road repairs based on how many miles they drive in their cars or trucks rather than how many gallons they buy at the pump.

For nearly a century, the state of California has financed most of its road repairs through a tax that drivers pay at the gas pump. The “excise tax,” 18 cents per gallon, no longer works well. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

California’s biggest reservoir, Shasta, rises to key milestone – Sunday’s storms brought more rain to Northern California, but they also helped the state hit a key milestone in its efforts to recover from the historic four-year drought.

Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California and a critical source of water for Central Valley farms and cities from the Bay Area to Bakersfield, reached 100 percent of its historic average Sunday as billions of gallons continued to pour in from drenching downpours.

The 21-mile-long reservoir, north of Redding, holds enough water when full for the needs of 23 million people for a year. Three months ago, on Dec. 8, it was just 29 percent full. On Sunday, it hit 77 percent full — and 101 percent of the historic average for mid-March — the first time it has reached that “normal” milestone in three years. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

The Main Casualty of Canceled Trump Rally Is The *Idea* of Free Speech – At the same time that at least some of Trump’s followers are cretinous goons, there’s an equally problematic counter-dynamic at work as well: The anti-free-speech mentality that’s extremely pervasive throughout the American left that is summed by the slogan of a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter who helped organize the anti-Trump show in Chicago: “Everyone, get your tickets to this. We’re all going in!!!! ‪#‎SHUTITDOWN‬.”

Shut it down! How cool is that? It’s just like a college campus, where speakers aren’t challenged on unpopular viewpoints but simply disinvited or shouted down to a degree that a thug’s veto prevails.

Greg Lukianoff, head honcho at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has articulated that, for some years now, we haven’t been debating about the conditions under which free speech might be allowed. Far more troubling, we are instead debating whether the idea of free speech can even be justified anymore. On both the left and the right (which has its own version of political correctness and has rarely been slow to try and stifle voices with which it disagrees), most people are pushing for what Lukianoff says is “freedom from speech.”

Public debate, it seems, is no longer a means by which to search for truth, knowledge, and common ground, but only a venue for speech that expresses unthinking solidarity with whatever you already believe.

Trump and his campaign should categorically disown violence among the candidate’s followers. And anti-Trumpers need to learn the difference between protesting and eradicating speech in the public square. Read More > at Reason

Ask Well: Does Skipping Breakfast Cause Weight Gain? – The idea that a hearty breakfast is good for your health dates back to the 1920s, when Edward Bernays, a public relations guru, led a nationwide media campaign encouraging people to start their mornings with bacon and eggs. One of Mr. Bernays’s clients at the time was Beech-Nut Packing Company, which sold bacon and other pork products.

In the decades that followed, dozens of observational studies reported that breakfast eaters tended to be leaner. Though these studies could not show cause and effect, many health authorities and food companies asserted that they proved that eating breakfast protects against weight gain.

But experimental studies that randomly assigned people to eat or skip breakfast have found no such thing. One of the most recent, published in February, found no difference “in weight change and most health outcomes” between people assigned to eat breakfast for six weeks and those assigned to skip it. Read More > in The New York Times

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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