Sunday Reading – 05/08/16


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.

Self-Driving Vehicles May Be Closer Than You Think – … And no single innovation captures this hope for the future better than the self-driving vehicle. Self-driving vehicles hold the promise of revolutionizing transportation (and with it, oil markets) in a way that no innovation has done in decades. And here is good news for optimists on both oil prices and technology’s impact on future economic growth – self driving vehicles may be closer than most people realize.

Even as Tesla and other car makers race to incorporate progressively more advanced forms of software that automate parts of the driving process into cars, the real benefits of autonomous vehicles are larger – tractor trailer sized to be precise. Truck drivers move vast amounts of cargo across the U.S. and Europe and are critical to modern manufacturing. Yet that method of transport is costly and requires a fleet of trucks and drivers to be successful. Self-driving vehicles can change that.

What makes autonomous tech more useful for tractor trailers is a concept called platooning. Convoying involves having lines of tractor trailers driving directly behind one another. Driving this way helps cut fuel costs and emissions, and just as importantly makes it easier for each truck to operate autonomously since other than the lead vehicle, they are simply following one another. Platooning results in less passing, quicker breaking, and fuel savings of roughly 10 percent, making it an attractive proposition with shippers and trucking companies.

Platooning also enables truck drivers to sit back and let software do the hard work. Most trucks made in the last decade already have sensors that alert drivers when they wander out of their lane or get too close to another vehicle. Those sensor costs are more than offset by hefty savings on expensive commercial trucking insurance premiums. Thus it is only a short leap to truly autonomous driving. Read More > at Oil Price

So, something interesting happens to weed after it’s legal – Two years ago, the Washington state began an unprecedented policy experiment by allowing large-scale production and sale of recreational marijuana to the public. The effects on public health and safety and on the relationship of law enforcement to minority communities will take years to manifest fully, but one impact has become abundantly clear: Legalized marijuana is getting very cheap very quickly.

Marijuana price data from Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board was aggregated by Steve Davenport of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. After a transitory rise in the first few months, which Davenport attributes to supply shortages as the system came on line, both retail prices and wholesale prices have plummeted. Davenport said that prices “are now steadily falling at about 2 percent per month. If that trend holds, prices may fall 25 percent each year going forward.”

Although some observers will be surprised by these sharp price declines – perhaps particularly some investors in the emerging legal marijuana industry – seasoned drug policy analysts have long predicted this effect. As noted by Caulkins and his colleagues in the book “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,” prohibition imposes many costs on drug producers. They must operate covertly, forgo advertising, pay higher wages to compensate for the risk of arrest, and lack recourse to civil courts for resolving contract disputes. Legal companies in contrast endure none of these costs and also can benefit from economies of scale that push production costs down.

Falling pot prices create winners and losers. Because state taxes are based on a percentage of the sales price, declining prices mean each sale puts less money in the public purse. On the other hand, bargain-basement prices undercut the black market, bringing the public reduced law enforcement costs, both in terms of tax dollars spent on jail and the damage done to individuals who are arrested. Read More > in The Washington Post

Widespread Mental Illness Taking Over America, One Bathroom at a Time – I feel as if the world around me is suffering from some undiagnosed, contagious mental illness, and the few of us trying not to contract it are being screamed at for not wanting to suffer, too. Yes, I’m talking about the transgender bathroom hysteria. Let’s get this out of the way right now: This is NOT about transgendered people using the restroom of their choice. To my knowledge, they’ve been doing just that for years and years with no problems. The number of transgendered people is so low that the chances that I’ve actually been in the bathroom at the same time as one of them are astronomically low. But if I was, I had no idea and it doesn’t bother me to think that I may have, at some point, shared a bathroom with a transgendered person. That’s not why America’s mothers and fathers are up in arms. I think most of us feel compassion for people who have issues and who just want to use a bathroom that seems most comfortable to them. I don’t hear anyone arguing that a man who lives as a woman should never be able to use a ladies’ room, or should be expected to march into the men’s room in full makeup.

How difficult would it have been to just continue not asking and not telling? The push to now say that all men, regardless of their lifestyle, can just use the ladies’ room if they feel like it, and any woman or man who objects is a hate-filled bigot, is a DAMNED MENTAL ILLNESS. It is an illness I will not be subscribing to. Department stores declaring that men can go into any dressing room or bathroom they want to is a damned disaster of Titanic proportions and when the raping, robbing, and murdering commence, the illness will be miraculously cured. Americans will revolt and start taking matters into their own hands (the inevitable end to this madness). And read this properly, idiots: no one said “transgendered people will start raping and robbing and murdering women.” What will happen is rapists, robbers, and murderers will now use these stupid social justice rules as a means to do their favorite activity: preying on women and children. NO ONE is scared of transgendered people. Read More > at PJ Media

GM, Lyft will bring self-driving taxi service to public roads within a year, says report – Lyft and General Motors are moving quickly on a plan to bring self-driving taxi service to public roadways “within a year,” according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

A Lyft executive told the Journal that autonomous vehicle testing, which lets app users choose an autonomous ride when hailing a car, would roll out in a yet-unnamed city.

The report indicated that details of the program are still in development, but Lyft’s product director Taggart Matthiesen told the paper that the tests are intended to “ensure that cities would have full understanding of what we are trying to do here.”

The plan comes after GM invested $500 million in the ride-hailing company in January. That investment was described as a “long-term strategic alliance” with the goal of developing a fleet of self-driving vehicles. Read More > in The San Francisco Business Times

49ers trading Colin Kaepernick appears unlikely after draft moves – The Denver Broncos drafted a quarterback in the first round. The New York Jets took one in the second. The 49ers? They waited until the end of the sixth round to select Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel.

Those moves strongly suggest the 49ers’ liveliest offseason story – when will they trade Colin Kaepernick? – is all but over.

For the last two months, the Broncos were the likeliest trade partner. But they not only selected Memphis’ Paxton Lynch in the first round Thursday, they traded ahead five slots to get him. Denver general manager John Elway told reporters the move eliminated the possibility of acquiring Kaepernick, a move Elway later acknowledged nearly happened.

The 49ers now have five quarterbacks: Driskel, Kaepernick, Gabbert, Thad Lewis and Dylan Thompson.

Since talks broke down with the Broncos, who wanted Kaepernick to take significant pay cuts in 2016 and 2017, Kaepernick has seemed resigned he will play for the 49ers this year. He arrived for the start of the offseason program April 4 and has attended every session while recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Only San Jose Can Stop the City by The Bay from Gaining Too Much Power and Money – Poor San Jose—so far from God, so close to San Francisco.

San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States, the third most populous in the state of California—and No. 1 in disrespect. With more than 1 million people, it’s Northern California’s biggest municipality—but it’s constantly outshined by those 860,000 San Franciscans to its north.

The famous City by the Bay is our state’s spoiled little brother. Not only does San Francisco attract most of the cool kids and the international publicity, but it also throws punches at its big brother city, 50 miles south, whenever it can.

…San Francisco can’t even let San Jose victories go. Last month, when the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced a new plan to start construction of its bullet train with a Central-Valley-to-San Jose leg, San Francisco immediately objected. San Francisco transportation officials, in comments on the plan, said that the first phase should come all the way north to San Francisco’s new Transbay Transit Center instead of stopping at Diridon. For now, the plan remains at San Jose, but it’s possible that the first phase could go to San Francisco—along with $2 billion in additional money.

But the most grievous injury is how San Francisco has stolen the technological zeitgeist from its southern neighbor. San Jose might call itself the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” but San Francisco is now home to hotter tech properties—Uber, Airbnb, Twitter. And many firms still headquartered in San Jose and other peninsula cities like Palo Alto are opening up San Francisco offices. The venture capital picture is even more skewed in favor of San Francisco. In 2014, $11 billion in venture investments went to San Francisco firms, while just $1.1 billion went to San Jose companies. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Federal Regulations Now Cost Almost $1.9 Trillion, Study Finds – Do we live in a democracy, or a regulatory dictatorship? It’s hard to tell sometimes, especially after reading the latest annual report on the regulatory state issued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

CEI’s latest “10,000 Commandments” adds up the total cost of federal rules and regulations, and should be required reading for anyone espousing still more government control over the economy. What it shows is that the country is increasingly being ruled not by elected representatives, but by unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington.

Just look at the balance between regulations and laws. For every bill passed through Congress and signed by the president last year, regulators imposed 30 new regulations.

And at $1.885 trillion, the cost of regulations now exceeds the cost of federal individual and corporate income taxes, which raised about $1.82 trillion last year.

The CEI report shows that economic regulations (such as market entry restrictions, price supports and the like) impose the biggest costs at $399 billion. That’s followed by environmental regulations at $386 billion, and — incredibly — the cost of complying with the tax code, which is expected to be $316 billion this year. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

Aéropostale Files for Chapter 11; 154 Stores to be Shuttered – Teen apparel retailer Aéropostale Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to stem years of losses. The retailer said it would close 154 stores throughout the United States and Canada which either lost money last year, or generated little profit.

The retailer’s strategy is to focus reorganization efforts around “a smaller footprint of more profitable stores,” according to the bankruptcy filing. Store closings are scheduled to begin in the U.S. this weekend, and in Canada during the week of May 9.

Aéropostale will finance operations with a $160 million loan from Crystal Financial LLC, along with operating cash flow. The company has filed motions to pay wages and benefits without interruption, honor gift cards in full, uphold international licensing agreements and pay suppliers. Read More > at Connect

Renters’ secondhand pot smoke targeted in new California bill – …But a bill proposed by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, would make it clear that California landlords who prohibit smoking tobacco in rental properties may also ban medical pot smoking. The reason, Wood said, is the same: secondhand smoke of either type is unhealthy.

The legislation would parallel local laws in Sonoma County that ban tobacco smoking in attached housing, including Santa Rosa’s prohibition enacted last year, along with limits on smoking in parks and other outdoor areas. Regulating medical marijuana has proved problematic due to concerns over patients’ rights and the various means of consuming cannabis as medicine.

Wood’s bill is supported by several real estate and housing organizations, and by two groups representing health care districts and health executives.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws California chapter is neutral on the bill. Read More > in The Press Democrat

Brown signs bill to raise legal smoking age in California to 21 – California will raise the smoking age to 21 and regulate popular vaping products the same as cigarettes under sweeping antitobacco legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday.

Under the bills, the state will become the second in the nation to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. The five bills signed by the governor Wednesday will go into effect June 9.

“This is a huge victory for public health in California and a big hit to Big Tobacco’s ongoing efforts to addict a new generation to the neurotoxins of nicotine,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill signed by Brown that regulates e-cigarettes the same as tobacco products.

Facing a midnight deadline to act on six antitobacco bills, Brown signed all but one. He did not offer comments on the bills he signed, which include legislation to increase the licensing fee on tobacco products and expand smoke-free laws to workplaces and charter schools previously exempt.

The lone veto was for a bill that would have allowed counties and cities to ask voters to approve local tobacco taxes. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Democracies end when they are too democratic. And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny. – As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen. Read More > in New York Magazine

Sports Authority pushes back on liquidation talk; gets bankruptcy financing OK – Beleaguered Englewood-based sporting-goods retailer Sports Authority insisted in court Tuesday that it is still proceeding with an auction that will sell off its assets later this month, but is not liquidating, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Following its March 2 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, Sports Authority last week abandoned its bid for reorganization, saying instead that it would auction off its assets.

Company attorney Robert Klyman is quoted by the Journal as saying during a hearing Tuesday at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, that “contrary to rumors and certain press reports, the debtors are not liquidating today.”

Klyman told Judge Mary Walrath Tuesday that the company expects “substantial parties” to make offers for “at least major portions” of its operations.

A bankruptcy auction is planned for May 16, but no bidder has stepped forward yet with a committed offer. Read More > in the Denver Business Journal

Should Courts Get to Define Religion? – Property-tax battles are rarely sexy. But a case now in front of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, about whether the 21 religious brothers and sisters who run the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette in Attleboro should have to pay taxes, could have huge repercussions. The Court’s decision will be an important part of the ongoing debate in America about who defines religious practice—believers or bureaucrats—and whether religion itself should be afforded a special place under the law.

The case centers on a colonial-era law in Massachusetts that exempts religious houses of worship and parsonages from property taxes if they are used for religious worship or instruction. The shrine has enjoyed this perk since its founding in 1953. But in recent years, the City of Attleboro, nestled between Providence and Boston, has faced a tightening budget. It began looking to see where it could collect more revenue. The shrine, the only major tourist attraction in town, was an obvious target for tax collectors.

The city valued the property at $12.8 million, all of which had previously been exempt. But in 2013, officials decided that $4.9 million of that value represented property not used for religious worship or instruction. They declared that a maintenance shed, coffee shop, conference rooms, and a religious bookstore—along with the forest preserve that covers more than half the campus—are used for secular purposes. The shrine, the city decided, had to pay up, and received a $92,000 tax bill.

Under pressure, the shrine paid, but then sought a tax abatement through the courts, arguing that all 199 acres were used for religious purposes. Faith leaders from across Massachusetts agreed and filed a brief in support of the shrine. “The notion that local assessors or any government actor is equipped or would presume to deem whether one use of a religious organization’s property or another falls within the definition of ‘religious worship’ is antithetical to religious freedom,” said the brief, signed by leaders representing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim organizations. Catholic bishops in Massachusetts, including Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, also weighed in, arguing in a brief that the shrine’s grounds offer “communion with nature,” which “is a core religious activity with ancient roots in Christianity’s past.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Opinion: Apple should buy Tesla — and make Elon Musk CEO – Apple Inc.’s dismal earnings announcement shows why it badly needs to rethink its innovation model and leadership.

Its last breakthrough innovation was the iPhone — which was released in 2007. Since then, Apple has simply been tweaking its componentry, adding faster processors and more advanced sensors, and playing with its size — making it bigger in the iPad and smaller in the Apple Watch.

Chief Executive Tim Cook is probably one of the most competent operations executives in the industry but is clearly not a technology visionary. Apple needs another Steve Jobs to reinvent itself; otherwise it will join the ranks of HP and Compaq.

That Steve Jobs may be Elon Musk — who has proven to be the greatest visionary of our times.

In the same period that Apple released the iPhone and successors, Musk developed two generations of world-changing electric vehicles, perfected a new generation of battery technologies and released first-generation autonomous driving capabilities. And that was in Tesla Motors Inc.

In his other company, SpaceX, Musk developed a spacecraft, docked it with the International Space Station and returned with cargo. He’s launched two rockets to space that have made vertical landings back on Earth — one on a helicopter-like pad and another on a ship in the ocean. Read More > at Market Watch

California marijuana legalization initiative has the signatures – The California campaign to legalize recreational marijuana will announce at a formal kickoff Wednesday that proponents have collected enough signatures to place the initiative on the fall ballot.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the highest-ranking official backing the measure, will be joined at the downtown San Francisco event by supporters from the medical community, law enforcement and environmental and drug policy reform groups to celebrate the campaign launch.

The as-yet unnumbered initiative aiming for November has generated more than 600,000 signatures, far more than the 365,000 needed. With funding from billionaire entrepreneur Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, the campaign has largely coalesced many of the disparate marijuana groups around the effort.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act would legitimize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six marijuana plants for adults 21 and over. It would impose a 15 percent excise tax on all retail sales, though localities could still ban marijuana sales in their jurisdictions. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

German army forced to lay down weapons due to ‘overtime limits’ – The German military, once the most feared fighting force in Europe, is being forced to lay down its weapons by restrictive new overtime limits.

German soldiers taking part in a four-week Nato exercise in Norway earlier this year had to leave after just 12 days because they had gone over their overtime limits, it has emerged.

Troops have complained to a parliamentary watchdog that they are being forced to spend entire days doing nothing under the new rules.

Under the latest reforms, in force since January, the military working week has been reduced to 41 hours and troops can no longer be paid for working overtime.

Instead they must be compensated with alternate time off. Read More > in The Telegraph

How its possible for an ordinary person to lift a car – It’s a common urban legend: a mother lifts up a car to save her screaming child pinned underneath. And every now and then, this incredible feat of “hysterical strength” seems to really happen.

In 2012, Lauren Kornacki, a 22-year-old woman in Glen Allen, Virginia, raised a BMW 525i off her father when the car toppled from a jack. Seven years earlier, a man named Tom Boyle hoisted a Chevy Camaro, freeing a trapped cyclist in Tucson, Arizona. The events don’t always involve vehicles, like when Lydia Angyiou went toe-to-toe with a polar bear in northern Quebec to protect her son and his friends while they played hockey.

Riveting as these accounts are, scientists have only a tentative understanding of what exactly might be behind hysterical strength. After all, the spontaneous, life-and-death situations that apparently unleash it do not lend themselves to rigorous study.

Nevertheless, numerous lines of research, particularly on athletes, have given us compelling insights into the physiological and psychological elements of hysterical strength. “Clearly, we have it in us,” says Robert Girandola, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Southern California. “It’s not some supernatural force that’s causing that strength.”

…Probably not. Most reported hysterical strength examples describe a person lifting a portion of a vehicle several inches off the ground, and not an entire automobile. There’s the catch: three of the vehicle’s wheels – or maybe even all four, depending on the suspension – remain on the ground, distributing the total weight of the vehicle. Furthermore, a vehicle’s mass is not apportioned evenly; the heaviest part is the engine block, at the front-centre, not at the periphery where the lifting is taking place.

Put that all together – and not to take away from the courage of those who have put themselves at risk to save others – but someone in the standard hysterical strength scenario is probably lifting more on the order of several hundred pounds, not an Incredible Hulk-esque few thousand. Read More > at BBC

Even the Best Minds in Finance Have No Clue Where the Global Economy Is Going – The Milken Institute Global Conference attracts some of the biggest names in the financial world, the same wealthy wheelers and dealers we have long been told have been doing quite well in the new, global winner-take-all economy.

But even these folks are growing increasingly concerned about the state of global growth, as evidenced by a panel Monday morning that kicked off the annual confab. The panel featured some of the biggest names in banking and finance tackling the state of the global economy and the pressure points, from negative rates in the wealthy world, to whipsawing volatility in places that were once the engine of the post-crisis world like China.

Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Economic Advisor for Allianz, argued that the future of the world economy is more uncertain now than ever, as developed world central banks run out of ammunition to goose the economy. On top of that, the emerging world’s model of exporting commodities and manufactured goods to the rich world is looking increasingly unviable, with demand in rich markets like Europe and Japan flatlining. “The growth model of the advanced world is getting exhausted, and the emerging world’s is getting contaminated,” El-Erian quipped.

Jay Hooley, Chairman and CEO of State Street Corporation concurred, arguing that “we are almost at the end of the road in terms of tools that central banks have.” With rates in the United States hovering just above zero, and those in many other advanced economies in negative territory, Hooley expressed little confidence that Fed officials here in the U.S. and their counterparts abroad would have the wherewithal to drag the wealthy world quickly out of the next recession. Read More > in Fortune

I’m calling it: Social networking is over – And just like that, social networking is no more. The sites formerly known as social networks are pivoting to something else.

What’s happening is that social networking is being replaced or supplanted by three things.

The first is messaging. Those darn millennials we’re always hearing about increasingly reject social networking on sites like Facebook in favor of messaging via apps like Snapchat.

Unlike social networking, messaging is private, temporary and immediate. More to the point, messaging normally doesn’t go out to one’s broader “social network.” Messaging content tends to be targeted to one or a few individuals, with the majority of one’s “social network” left out on purpose. Using a messaging app feels like “sending” something, not “posting” something.

The second is the general world of online distractions, including YouTube videos, games, articles, podcasts and more.

And the third is social media.

Confusion about the difference between social networking and social media is why most people haven’t noticed the decline of social networking. People don’t stop to think about the difference.

Social networking is personal content. Social media is professional content.

The sharing of social media — professionally produced videos, articles, podcasts and photos — is gradually replacing the sharing of personal content about one’s life. Read More > at ComputerWorld

10 Degrees: Is a juiced ball causing MLB’s large home run spike? – At the risk of sounding like someone who believes in chemtrails and listens to Infowars religiously, I have a confession to make: More and more I’m convinced that juiced balls are causing a home run spike throughout baseball.

I am far from the only one. It’s hitters and pitchers and coaches and executives and even rational, cogent analysts who cannot find a reasonable explanation for the spike in home runs dating back to last August. The HR/FB rate – the percentage of fly balls that end up over the fence – spiked over the season’s final two months, and it has continued this April.

With 11.8 percent of fly balls leaving the yard in the season’s first month, it marked the highest April rate since the league started tracking the data in 2002. The number mirrored those of August (12.2 percent) and September (12.3 percent), which Hardball Times analyst Jon Roegele noticed after not even a month. Roegele studied it and came to an impasse.

“I couldn’t find anything to describe that amount of HR/offensive change, as far as weather, strike zone, where pitchers were pitching, etc.,” he wrote in an email this week. “I suspected that they changed something with the balls after the All-Star break last year as nothing else in the data could explain it.” Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

Your Brain Limits You to Just Five BFFs – Back in the 1990s, the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar noticed a remarkable correlation between primate brain size and the social groups they formed. This correlation was simple: the bigger their brains, the larger their social groups. And the explanation seemed reasonable: animals with bigger brains can remember, and therefore interact meaningfully with, more of their peers.

That led Dunbar to a famous prediction. By plotting the correlation and extrapolating the curve to the size of the human brain, he predicted that humans could have no more than about 150 people in their social sphere.

He and many others have gone on to find much evidence for Dunbar’s number in the sizes of hunter-gatherer societies, Roman legions, and effective businesses. Dunbar’s number has even been shown to hold on modern social networks. Humans really do seem to have a natural limit to the number of meaningful relationships they can have. And this number is about 150.

In recent years, Dunbar has taken his idea further by taking into account the emotional closeness between individuals. This has led him to the idea of Dunbar layers: that an individual’s group of 150 contacts is layered according to the strength of emotional ties.

Individuals, he says, generally have up to five people in the closest layer. The next closest layer contains an additional 10, the one beyond that an extra 35, and the final group another 100. So cumulatively, the layers contain five, 15, 50, and 150 people. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

California suburbs growing fast as many are priced out of cities, data show – Suburban areas on the outskirts of the red-hot Los Angeles and San Francisco areas grew especially fast last year, state officials reported Monday.

San Joaquin County, home to Stockton, grew faster than any other, up 1.3% to 733,000 people. The area has become increasingly popular for people fleeing astronomical San Francisco Bay Area housing prices while remaining within commuting distance.

San Joaquin was followed by Yolo, Riverside and Santa Clara counties.

The number of new housing units in California declined last year for the first time since the start of the economic recovery, due mostly to wildfires that scorched more than 2,000 homes.

California’s housing supply rose by 67,110 units last year, compared with an increase of 69,435 units in 2014. Demographers at the California Department of Finance say the number of new units would have been about equal to the year before if the destructive wildfires in Lake and Calaveras counties had not hit.

The housing hit came as California’s population grew to 39.1 million last year, an increase of 348,000 people, just under 1%. Read More > from the Associated Press

Renters group sues to force suburbs to add housing amid shortage – An army of build-it city dwellers, funded by the CEO of Yelp, is heading to court to force a sleepy East Bay suburb to go dense.

The San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation — which goes by the name SFBarf — is suing the city of Lafayette, demanding that it resurrect a scrapped plan to build high-density housing on a 22-acre knoll of Deer Hill Road, just north of Highway 24. It’s the first legal challenge in what SFBarf has promised will be a “Sue the Suburbs” campaign to push places like Lafayette to help the Bay Area build its way out of the shortage of housing.

The suit seeks to invalidate the 44-home plan and force the city to issue permits for the original 315-apartment development, regardless of whether O’Brien Homes still wants to build it, Patterson said. A spokesman for the company declined to comment until the SFBarf lawsuit and a competing one are resolved. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Bigger than the baby boomers: Are millennials the new force in politics? – Millennials, the 18-to-34 generation identified last week by Pew Research as America’s biggest cohort (bigger even than the baby boomers), could have an outsized impact on the upcoming election. Not only are millennials a growing demographic group, but they also are registering to vote at a rapid rate.

Their impact could be felt as soon as the June 7 California primary. A win for Trump could put him over the top as the GOP nominee. A win for Sanders could help him shape the party platform at the Democratic National Convention.

Both are political outsiders; both have disrupted their respective parties.

And, as potential agents of change, both are drawing strong opinions from millennials.

…No-party preference has been California’s fastest-growing registration group during the Obama era. Since 2008, the category has jumped from 19.4 percent to 24 percent of California’s registered voters. During that same period, Democratic registration has grown less than 1 percent and Republican registration has dropped 5.9 percent.

Millennials tend to register online, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. In 2014, just 425,220 California voters in that age group registered online. So far this year, the number is more than 890,000.

Between 2008 and the beginning of the year, the percentage of registered voters overall has jumped from 67.7 percent to 70.2 percent. Read More > at The Orange County Register

Stalking Cave Bacteria to Make Secret Weapons Against Superbugs – When you think of explorers scuttling through caves in hot pursuit of ancient treasure, it’s probably Indiana Jones or Lara Croft dodging blow darts and leaping over booby traps. It’s probably not Dr. Naowarat Cheeptham. But the ancient treasures she’s after are even more valuable: bacteria that could save your life.

One of the great moments in medical history was the discovery of penicillin nearly 90 years ago. Alexander Fleming’s famous serendipity opened the era of antibiotics, preventing millions of deaths. Unfortunately, our use of antibiotics has contributed to the rise of fearsome new strains—“superbugs”—that are resistant to many treatments.

Descending into the depths, Cheeptham explores networks of caves to find strains of benign bacteria that can be used to grow new antibiotics. With their almost entirely isolated ecosystems, caves are one of the last places on the planet in which microorganisms are still waiting to be discovered. There, in the dark, she is helping fight one of the gravest and fastest-growing threats to the complex creatures who dwell up above. Read More > at Bloomberg

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight – Danny Cahill stood, slightly dazed, in a blizzard of confetti as the audience screamed and his family ran on stage. He had won Season 8 of NBC’s reality television show “The Biggest Loser,” shedding more weight than anyone ever had on the program — an astonishing 239 pounds in seven months.

When he got on the scale for all to see that evening, Dec. 8, 2009, he weighed just 191 pounds, down from 430. Dressed in a T-shirt and knee-length shorts, he was lean, athletic and as handsome as a model.

…But in the years since, more than 100 pounds have crept back onto his 5-foot-11 frame despite his best efforts. In fact, most of that season’s 16 contestants have regained much if not all the weight they lost so arduously. Some are even heavier now.

Yet their experiences, while a bitter personal disappointment, have been a gift to science. A study of Season 8’s contestants has yielded surprising new discoveries about the physiology of obesity that help explain why so many people struggle unsuccessfully to keep off the weight they lose.

Kevin Hall, a scientist at a federal research center who admits to a weakness for reality TV, had the idea to follow the “Biggest Loser” contestants for six years after that victorious night. The project was the first to measure what happened to people over as long as six years after they had lost large amounts of weight with intensive dieting and exercise.

…“The key point is that you can be on TV, you can lose enormous amounts of weight, you can go on for six years, but you can’t get away from a basic biological reality,” said Dr. Schwartz, who was not involved in the study. “As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try to get you back.” Read More > in The New York Times

One-third of Bay Area residents hope to leave soon, poll finds – More than one-third of Bay Area residents say they are ready to leave in the next few years, citing high housing costs and traffic as the region’s biggest problems, according to a poll released Monday.

Of the 1,000 people polled by the Bay Area Council, 34 percent said they are considering leaving. Those who have lived here five years or less are the most likely to want to leave.

…This year’s poll found that 40 percent of respondents felt the Bay Area was on the wrong track, while 40 percent felt it was headed in the right direction. Just one year ago, only 28 percent felt the Bay Area was on the wrong track, and 55 percent thought it was headed in the right direction. Read More > in The Mercury News

Yet Another Study Confirms The Vaccine/Autism Connection Is — Wait For It — Nonexistent – A study published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found no link between the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

The study looked at insurance claims for 96,000 children born between 2001 and 2007 and found no higher rate of the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in those who had received the MMR vaccine. From the study’s conclusions:

In this large sample of privately insured children with older siblings, receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD, regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD.

This is big news, as the fear of vaccines was partially responsible for last year’s measles outbreak in California — where there is a disproportionate number of unvaccinated children. California has a “Personal Belief Exemption” which allows parents to opt out of vaccines easily. Some legislators are thankfully trying to change that. Read More > at Scary Mommy

Ask Well: Which Adults Need the Measles Vaccine? – Adults born in the United States through the end of 1956 are generally considered protected from measles because they lived through several years of epidemics of measles before the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, so they are very likely to have had measles, survived it and developed immunity.

The highly contagious disease used to occur in epidemic cycles every two to three years, with 500 deaths and half a million cases reported each year in the United States before 1963. (The actual number of cases may have been three million to four million annually because of under-reporting, according to the C.D.C.) Before the vaccine was developed, over half of all children in the United States contracted measles by the age of 6, and more than 90 percent had survived it by age 15.

For those born after 1956, Dr. Glatt said, “there’s no guarantee they were exposed naturally.” The C.D.C. recommends vaccination for adults born after 1956 who weren’t vaccinated in childhood. If you’ve received two doses of vaccine, you are considered to have lifelong immunity.

If you are unsure whether you had measles, you have several choices. You can try to locate your vaccination records or other childhood medical records documenting your illnesses, or you can have a blood test to determine whether you’re immune. Another option is to get a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella, or M.M.R., vaccine. Officials say there is no harm in getting the vaccine even if you may already be immune. Read More > in The New York Times

Here’s How Gov’t Housing Vouchers End Up Causing More Poverty – Federal officials spend more tax dollars on Section 8 housing vouchers than they do on cash welfare, and the program often perpetuates poverty rather than alleviating it, according to an urban housing expert.

“Its incentives are completely skewed,” Howard Husock, vice president for policy research and director of the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative at the Manhattan Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Voucher recipients pay 30 percent of their income in rent no matter how much they earn, which stifles motivation to earn more, Husock said. Federal housing assistance, unlike the five-year cap imposed on welfare benefits in 1995, has no time limit. Husock, author of, “America’s Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of America’s Housing Policy,” calls it “welfare unreformed.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development paid $18 billion in vouchers, not including associated costs, in fiscal year 2014, versus the $16.5 billion the Department of Health and Human Services spent on cash welfare the same year. Read More > at The Daily Caller

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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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