Sunday Reading – 01/29/17


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.

Study Finds This Music Makes Dogs Happiest – If a chewing treat or rubber toy isn’t getting the job done when it comes to exciting your pooch, turning on the radio just might do the trick. Just be careful as to which station you put on, as a new study finds dogs can be particular when it comes to the type of music they prefer.

Researchers out of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, along with folks at the Scottish SPCA, found that reggae and soft rock topped the canine charts, though certain dogs do seem to have various tastes.

“Overall, the response to different genres was mixed highlighting the possibility that like humans, our canine friends have their own individual music preferences,” said Professor Neil Evans. “That being said, reggae music and soft rock showed the highest positive changes in behaviour.” Read More > at Study Finds

Scientific Explanations to Debunk Alien Abductions – Accounts of mysterious flashing lights in the sky, spacecrafts and encounters with “real” aliens reflect high levels of public interest in UFOs and the belief that there is “something out there”. However, many psychologists are less convinced, and think they can provide more down-to-earth, scientific explanations.

Belief in aliens has increased steadily since the birth of modern alien research in the 1940s and 1950s, following the news surrounding a classified US military project at Roswell Air Force Base, New Mexico. Surveys in Western cultures estimated belief in aliens to be as high as 50% in 2015. And despite the fact that it is considered rare, a significant number of people also believe they have experienced alien abduction.

…Sceptics argue that alien-related encounters are merely hoaxes created for financial gain or social advantage. Perhaps Roswell is the most famous example. Initial reports from the 1940s left sufficient gaps of explanation for Ray Santilli to release in 1995 what he claimed was film footage showing an alien autopsy from the time, further confusing the issue. He later admitted it was a hoax. The incident sparked controversy and prompted claims that an alien craft had crash-landed in the New Mexico desert and that US authorities were involved in a cover-up. Read More > at Real Clear Science

The theory that alien abductions are hoaxes may be true in a few cases, but there is no reason to assume that the majority of “experiencers” are frauds. In fact, psychologists have come up with a number of plausible, scientific explanations for people’s supposed alien encounters.

Scientists reverse Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in mice – Scientists have discovered a way of counteracting the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms including memory loss. In mice, at least. Whereas other treatments have focused on beta-amyloid clumps (which the University of Michigan recently discovered how to “fingerprint”), researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri focus on tau protein tangles. Specifically, the genes that produce them.

By injecting mice with bits of antisense oligonucleotides — RNA — four times a month, tau levels dropped, existing tangles were seemingly obliterated and the protein stopped spreading through the brains of older mice. That’s according to New Scientist. It’s worth noting that the rodents had been genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms at the experiment’s outset.

As a result, the scientists say that the treated mice lived some 50 days longer than those that weren’t injected with the antisense. More than that, compared to the control group, they were able to recall nest-making traits previously lost. Read More > at Engadet

First human-pig chimeras created, sparking hopes for transplantable organs — and debate – Pig embryos that had been injected with human stem cells when they were only a few days old began to grow organs containing human cells, scientists reported on Thursday, an advance that promises — or threatens — to bring closer the routine production of creatures that are part human and part something else.

These human-pig “chimeras” were not allowed to develop past the fetal stage, but the experiment suggests such creations could eventually be used to grow fully human organs for transplant, easing the fatal shortage of organs: 120,000 people in the United States are waiting for lifesaving transplants, but every day two dozen die before they get them.

Human-pig chimeras could also be used for research into prenatal development and to test experimental drugs. A human lung in a pig might show more accurately the effect of a compound intended to treat, say, cystic fibrosis than today’s lab animals. Read More > at Stat

What Good Is Whole Foods If Its Food Is Poisoned? – Whole Foods lies to you. The company’s entire business model — which is predicated upon the idea that organic, non-GMO food is somehow healthier and tastier than regular food — is a gigantic “alternative fact.” And it’s a profitable one at that, since organic food commands a high premium over conventional food.

That’s what makes the latest news about Whole Foods so infuriating. Food Safety News reports that the company has shut down all three of its regional kitchens because the FDA “discovered a long list of ‘serious violations,'” some of which resulted in surfaces being contaminated with Listeria.

But food safety mistakes happen, even to the best of companies. So Whole Foods’ transgression would be forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that their “holier-than-thou” attitude toward healthy eating is built upon a foundation of deceit. In a 2014 article for RealClearScience, I detailed how Whole Foods exploits the general public’s ignorance of science and food production by promoting misleading information on pesticides, “chemicals,” and the nature of organic agriculture.

Thus, when it comes to food safety, the company focuses on things that don’t matter while apparently ignoring the things that do.

This story is reminiscent of the food poisoning scandal at Chipotle. A couple years ago, Chipotle made a big marketing push over its decision to go GMO-free. Shortly thereafter, it began poisoning its customers with E. coli, Salmonella, and Norovirus, forgetting that real food safety is about rejecting microorganisms, not biotechnology. Read More > at the American Council on Science and Health

California Democrats propose adding third, nonbinary gender option for driver’s licenses and other official documents – California driver’s licenses and birth certificates could have a third option for gender in addition to male or female under legislation unveiled Thursday by Democratic lawmakers.

The bill by state Sens. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would establish a new nonbinary gender marker for official state documents.

Lawmakers framed the measure as an expansion of rights for transgender, intersex and other people who do not identify as male or female.

“It will keep California at the forefront of LGBTQ civil rights,” Atkins said at a Capitol news conference. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Calexit backers can begin collecting signatures to qualify for 2018 ballot – Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment seeking California’s secession from the U.S. can begin collecting voter signatures to qualify for the 2018 ballot, the secretary of state’s office said Thursday.

The so-called Calexit movement emerged within days of the upset presidential victory of Republican Donald Trump, who lost California by nearly 4.3 million votes. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that nearly one in three Californians support the state leaving the U.S.

Proponents have until July 25 to collect 585,407 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

The proposed measure would strike language from the California Constitution defining the state as “an inseparable part of the United States of America, and the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land.” If it passed, there would be a statewide special election in March 2019 to ask voters if they want California to become an independent country. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

The Tiny Robots Revolutionizing Eye Surgery – Machines that are capable of making precise operations inside the human eye will make it possible to perform entirely new procedures.

Last September, Robert MacLaren, an ophthalmologist and professor at Oxford University, plunged a tiny robotic arm into William Beaver’s eye. A membrane had recently contracted on the 70-year-old priest’s retina, pinching it into an uneven shape and causing him to see the world as if reflected in a hall of mirrors.

Using a joystick and a camera feed, MacLaren guided the arm of the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device, or R2D2 for short, through a tiny incision in the eye, before lifting the wrinkled membrane, no more than a hundredth of a millimeter thick, from the retina, and reversing Beaver’s vision problems.

It was the first operation performed inside the human eye using a robot. Since September, five more patients have undergone robot-assisted operations at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital in England, including one in which a virus, used in gene therapy to halt the effects of retinal degeneration, was planted on the retina itself, a procedure only made possible by R2D2’s unprecedented precision. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

California’s High-Speed Rail: Slow, Expensive, and Bound for Cancellation – In a thousand years, archaeologists will marvel at the engineering and effort that went into a 118-mile stretch of gravel, concrete, and steel in Central California, which had no discernible purpose, no evident reason for its beginning and end — a mystery as inscrutable as Peru’s Nazca Lines. If these future archaeologists surmise that the disused bones of California’s bullet train had some religious significance, they would not be far off.

California’s government-run train project is clinically dead. It presents the simulacrum of a viable public-works project only through Governor Jerry Brown’s heroic intervention. However, in less than two years, Governor Brown will be termed out and the California High-Speed Rail project will be officially dead, killed by a new governor moored more securely to cold fiscal reality than is Brown.

The latest evidence that the rail link from the San Francisco Bay region to Los Angeles is on life support comes from the Los Angeles Times. On January 13 the Times’ Ralph Vartabedian published a story detailing a confidential Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) report that warned that the train project was running 50 percent over budget. The excess expenditures came to $3.6 billion — and that was for a little more than a quarter of the 520-mile Phase I route, in the relatively flat and unchallenging Central Valley.

Likely budget overruns projected out over the remainder of the route, from dense urban areas at the north and south termini to the soggy soils of the San Joaquin River region to the rugged mountains of Southern California, will likely be in the range of another $30 billion, pushing the project’s total cost past $100 billion.

If money were the sole object, the project might be salvaged through political will power alone. But time is another factor: The California High-Speed Rail Authority is seven years behind schedule on the easiest-to-build Central Valley segment. Delay is deadly to an expensive and over-budget effort, as it prevents a large public constituency from coalescing to support it, while scaring off elected officials. Federal authorities blame the delays on sluggish environmental approvals (Come on, this is California! They should have seen that one coming . . . ), not acquiring the needed rights-of-way in the richest farmland in America, and not quickly processing the paperwork to unlock federal money. Read More > at National Review

Address Unique Economic Challenges that Face California – The jobs we gained back after the recession are not the same as we had before. Job growth has been almost exclusively in the very high and very low wage jobs, with very little growth in critical middle-class jobs.

Forty-five percent of the net employment growth since the recession has been in the Bay Area, while interior regions retain the worst unemployment rates in the nation. As the governor acknowledged in his budget proposal, this two-tiered economy is dangerous to the future economic solvency of our state and cannot be ignored by the state policymakers.

Far too few Californians can afford to buy a house, and as this crisis gets worse, even renting has become out of reach for many. Regulatory barriers have stalled housing projects throughout the state and regulatory requirements continue to add to the finished price, driving up housing costs especially for the middle-class.

California has some of the most progressive and multi-layered environmental policies, but as a result, California residents and businesses also pay some of the highest fuel prices and electricity costs in the nation. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Microsoft Prevails in Case Involving Stored Emails – Microsoft has prevailed after a U.S. appeals court reaffirmed the company does not have to turn over emails that are stored overseas to federal authorities investigating a crime. The closely watched case explored the territorial boundaries of U.S. law in the cloud computing age.

In a 4-4 decision on Jan. 24, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the federal government cannot request through a warrant any emails maintained outside the U.S. The court denied rehearing the case, which the government sought, although federal officials could now petition the Supreme Court.

The case tested the limits of the Stored Communications Act, passed by Congress in 1986, which outlines how the government can obtain electronic communications. The law does not address communications stored in another country.

In denying the rehearing, Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney wrote that the SCA is long overdue for a revision given today’s data storage landscape and the needs of law enforcement. But the act as written – and in line with Supreme Court precedent – would not apply to data stored outside the U.S.

…The case kicked off after a federal court magistrate in the Southern District of New York issued a warrant to Microsoft in December 2013 that required the company to turn over email and metadata concerning a suspect in a criminal investigation. The content was stored in Ireland, where Microsoft has run a data center since 2010, according to the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Microsoft could have easily accessed the suspect’s emails from the U.S., just as anyone can access web-based mail from anywhere in the world. But Microsoft resisted the warrant, arguing that the government did not have the authority to seize data held outside the U.S. Read More > at Data Breach Today

Life Continues Within the Body After Death, Evidence Shows – Even after someone is declared dead, life continues in the body, suggests a surprising new study with important implications.

Gene expression — when information stored in DNA is converted into instructions for making proteins or other molecules — actually increases in some cases after death, according to the new paper, which tracked postmortem activity and is published in the journal Open Biology.

“Not all cells are ‘dead’ when an organism dies,” senior author Peter Noble of the University of Washington and Alabama State University told Seeker. “Different cell types have different life spans, generation times and resilience to extreme stress.”

In fact, some cells seem to fight to live after the organism has died.

“It is likely that some cells remain alive and are attempting to repair themselves, specifically stem cells,” Noble said.

Gene transcription — the first step of gene expression, where a segment of DNA is copied into RNA — associated with stress, immunity, inflammation, cancer and other factors increased after death. And this could happen within hours or even days after the individual as a whole was declared dead.

Interestingly, gene transcription linked to embryonic development also increased. It’s as though parts of the body essentially go back in time, exhibiting cellular characteristics of very early human development. Read More > at Seeker

Tribe, agencies team up for condor release in Redwood parks – The once fantastical dream of reintroducing California condors to the state’s forested north may soon come true for American Indian tribal leaders who still revere the giant birds more than a century after they disappeared from the region.

The Yurok tribe has been leading an effort to bring back the endangered vultures, which lived for centuries along the Klamath River, but the Indian reintroduction plan first proposed in 2003 was stalled until the past couple of years.

Now, 15 organizations have signed a deal to cooperate on a reintroduction project, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Yuroks and the agencies are planning to release captive-bred condors into Redwood National and State Parks in Humboldt and Del Norte counties in two years. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

BART’s customer satisfaction at all-time low, surprising no one – To the surprise of few, including commuters who faced another major delay Wednesday morning, BART’s customer satisfaction ratings have dropped to the lowest level in the 20 years riders have been asked to rate the transit system.

A biennial survey of BART riders released Wednesday shows that 31 percent of those polled said they were not completely satisfied with the transit system’s service or declined to give it satisfactory marks. Although 69 percent of riders said they were satisfied with the service, it represents a dip of five percentage points since the last survey in 2014.

Dissatisfied riders said they were most upset with the breakdowns and delays that have beset the aging system as well as the surge in ridership that has left more passengers standing, packed onto crowded trains and stations and lining up at times to exit stations.

…As BART’s new trains start hitting the rails in the coming years and the system begins spending the $3.5 billion in improvements funded by November’s bond measure, customer satisfaction should begin to climb, she said.

“By doing this in a systematic way,” Crunican said, “we will get our customer ratings up. But it will take a couple of years.”

For now, though, BART’s popularity is heading down. Most of the decline in overall popularity came from riders who said they were “very satisfied” — down four points compared with 2014. The survey also asked riders if they would recommend BART to a friend or out-of-town visitor. While 85 percent said they would, that was a four-point drop compared with 2014. Asked whether BART is a good value for the money, 59 percent agreed — two points less than 2014. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Singapore hosts first full-scale autonomous truck platoon trial – A fleet of autonomous trucks is joining all the self-driving taxis and buses Singapore is testing on its streets. Toyota and Volkswagen subsidiary Scania will begin the first full-scale autonomous truck platooning trial in the country this month. For the next three years, the two companies will operate a fleet of trucks composed of three autonomous vehicles following a manned one to transport cargo between ports. Singapore’s authorities organized the project, because aside from its desire to become the world’s first smart city, it’s also seeking to optimize road capacity. It’s a relatively tiny city-state, after all, and the number of vehicles on its roads keep on growing along with its population.

Scania’s and Toyota’s trial is composed of two phases. For the first one, both companies will focus on designing and refining their truck platooning technology in Sweden and Japan. Scania has even teamed up with Ericsson to improve its wireless communication between trucks. Local trials and further development of the technology in Singapore make up the second and final phase. You can get a glimpse of the partners’ platooning tech in the video below if you want to see how the trucks will traverse Singapore’s roads. Read More > at Engadget

San Francisco was just named the state’s most dangerous city for drivers – San Francisco’s is the state’s most dangerous city for drivers, a new study from the Liljegren Law Group and 1Point21 Interactive, one of only two NorCal cities to appear in the top five.

The study looked at factors including injury rates, alcohol-related wrecks, average rainfall, daily vehicle miles driven, number of young drivers, collision rates and speed-related crashes to figure out which cities were the most dangerous for California drivers. It looked at cities with populations over 100,000 — and found that collectively, San Francisco poses the most risk to drivers.

San Francisco has roughly 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles, with the second-highest rate of pedestrian injury and death of any city in the nation. Only one other Northern California city made the top five overall: Berkeley, which came in fourth for its total metrics on the scale. Berkeley also has the state’s second-highest rate of hit-and-runs. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Society set for head-on collision with driverless cars – Evangelists for driverless cars see a bright future coming down the road: thousands of lives saved, countless driving hours freed up, cityscapes transformed with traffic jams vanquished.

But the new technology also threatens millions of jobs and raises a slew of ethical dilemmas—prospects that were on the minds of business chiefs and politicians meeting at the World Economic Forum this week.

In the United States alone, an estimated four million people work as truckers, taxi drivers and in other jobs that are under threat when the driverless vehicles come into widespread use—a matter of years, experts predict.

In October, delivery drivers got an uncomfortable glimpse of the future when a self-driving truck built by Uber’s Otto unit successfully delivered a beer shipment.

Cars with some autonomous functions—such as the ability to adjust the speed—are already on our roads, and more than a dozen automakers including BMW, Kia, Volkswagen and General Motors are racing to get fully self-driving cars to market by 2020.

Champions of the technology point to its potential to reduce the 1.3 million road deaths worldwide each year—too many of them at the hands of a tired or distracted driver, or one who simply did not react fast enough.

The auto industry is already changing fast thanks to the advent of services like Uber and electric vehicles, and carmakers are eyeing both the threats and opportunities. Read More > at Phys

State writing new pot regulations – California authorities are crafting new rules governing both medical and recreational marijuana, and they hope to present them to the public in March.

The dollar value of the market for both marijuana sectors in California is estimated at about $6.6 billion, according to state Treasurer John Chiang. With the state facing a $6 billion budget shortage, the incentives to closely regulate and tax marijuana are high.

Statewide, taxable sales of medical marijuana in California were about $575 million during the first six months of 2016, according to the Board of Equalization. The board, which noted that the figure likely was a partial one, said some 1,023 accounts across the state paid $50.5 million in taxes during the period. However, more than two-thirds of marijuana-related businesses do not have bank accounts, according to Chiang, so tracking the money with precision is difficult. Click here for a detailed story about legalized marijuana in California.

Regulations will deal with cultivation, public health, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, testing, and the like. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

What’s behind the spate of recent Bay Area restaurant closures? – While new restaurants have further solidified the Bay Area as a foodie destination in recent years, many others have succumbed to a perfect storm of economic challenges that shows no sign of abating.

Upward of 60 restaurants around the Bay Area have closed since the start of September alone, with many citing difficulties like the cost of finding and keeping good employees, rising rents, new requirements for providing health care and sick leave, and doing it all while competing with the slew of new dining options.

The restaurant industry has always been among the most competitive and challenging to navigate, and failures are nothing new, but the current struggles have left some wondering if the traditional dining model might be headed for an overhaul.

…In an industry where profit margins are slim, making it hard to raise wages or invest in recruitment tools, Bednarz explained, “we have little leverage” when it comes to hiring.

Decades-low unemployment across the Bay Area — 4 percent in the East Bay and 3.5 percent in the South Bay — means that restaurant workers can enter other industries or move to other restaurants. Bednarz said candidates often have not showed up for job interviews. Read More > in the East Bay Times

California’s stormy winter sets snowfall record for Mammoth resorts — over 20 feet in one month – A set of atmospheric rivers that brought heavy rains and floods to California also dumped a record amount of snow on Mammoth Mountain in January — 20½ feet, the most in the resort town’s history, local tourist officials announced.

“What a time it is to be at Mammoth,” the announcement said on MammothMountain.com, which represents area resorts. “Conditions are all-time, get out there and have the ‘best pow day of your life.’ ”

The mountain has received 246 inches of snow since Jan. 1, blasting through the old monthly record of 209 inches. The resort town has received more than 29 feet of snow since the ski season began last year. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

The $7 billion school improvement grant program: Greatest failure in the history of the US Department of Education? – The final IES report on the School Improvement Grant program is devastating to Arne Duncan’s and the Obama administration’s education legacy. A major evaluation commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by two highly respected research institutions delivered a crushing verdict: The program failed and failed badly. (The Washington Post’s article by Emma Brown does an exceptional job recounting the administration’s $7 billion folly.)

Despite its gargantuan price tag, SIG generated no academic gains for the students it was meant to help. Failing schools that received multi-year grants from the program to “turn around” ended up with results no better than similar schools that received zero dollars from the program. To be clear: Billions spent had no effect.

When Washington spends billions of dollars on something, it’s reasonable to assume it will do some good, especially when the Secretary of Education promises “transformation not tinkering.” But not with SIG.

No matter how the researchers crunched the numbers, the abysmal results were the same. SIG didn’t improve math scores. Or reading scores. Or high school graduation rates. Or college enrollment. SIG didn’t improve elementary or secondary schools. It didn’t help schools in Race-to-the-Top states or non-Race-to-the-Top states. Read More > at AEI

The Future of Air Travel Is Bliss — Really – When the taxi drops you off at the airport, you notice your flight doesn’t begin boarding for another 20 minutes — plenty of time. Entering the terminal, you flash a big smile at the discreetly placed infrared cameras that are sending a scan of your gorgeous mug to security central, where facial recognition software matches your likeness to the one on file. You attach the routing tags you printed at home to your Tumi and dump the bag onto the luggage belt, confident you’ll see your rollie again in this lifetime, thanks to the tracking app on your smartphone. You zip through a series of checkpoints: Some read the personal profile on your phone like it’s an airport E-ZPass; at others you stare into an iris-scanning camera or touch a fingerprint-reading pad. A few leisurely minutes later, you step on the plane and greet the flight attendant.

It’s then that you realize you’ve just had your first human interaction since you tipped the cabbie.

Talk about air-travel envy. No arriving two hours prior to your flight. No lines, no IDs (unless you’re flying internationally), no boarding passes, no belt and shoe shedding. This scenario may sound far-fetched, but according to the International Air Transport Association, the goal is for airports to provide a completely self-service experience to 80 percent of travelers within the next five years. With air-travel volume expected to double to 7.2 billion passengers in less than 20 years, and with building or expanding airports a nonstarter in many cities, the aviation industry is turning to tech to address its capacity and security issues. The key to it all is the “biometric token”: scans of the face, iris or fingertips, the three most common markers used to confirm someone’s unique identity. Its success, of course, depends on travelers’ willingness to surrender ever more of their personal information. Read More > at Ozy

California schools may face cuts amid skyrocketing pension costs – Public schools around California are bracing for a crisis driven by skyrocketing worker pension costs that are expected to force districts to divert billions of dollars from classrooms into retirement accounts, education officials said.

The depth of the funding gap became clear to district leaders when they returned from the holiday break: What they contribute to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, will likely double within six years, according to state estimates.

CalPERS, a public pension fund with $300 billion in assets that is the country’s largest, manages retirement benefits for 1.8 million current and former city, state and school district employees, though it does not cover teachers, who fall under a different pension system.

California’s pension problem isn’t new. For years, economists and policymakers have warned that the state’s pension systems won’t have enough money to fulfill promises to millions of current and retired workers. But next year, officials said, rising pension costs will eat up more than a third of proposed increases to the state education budget.

There is a predicted shortfall among all state retirement accounts of at least $230 billion based on what’s owed to current and future retirees. The pension funds, including CalPERS, haven’t made as much money from the stock market and other investments as they had hoped. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. families locked out of real estate market where most big houses occupied by roommates – A new report from the San Francisco Planning Department this week found that only 30 percent of three-bedroom homes in the city are occupied by families, adding another hurdle for families that want to stay in the city after they have children.

The report also found that only 18 percent of San Francisco households have children, a steep 18.9 percent drop from the number of family households present in the city in the 1980’s. The report, called the “Family Friendly Briefing,” also found that “middle-income families are decreasing while low-income and high-income populations increase,” and took aim at new development in the city.

“Since 2010, 61 percent of new market rate development has been studios and one-bedroom units, predominantly in larger buildings,” it reads. “Where we fall short in producing new housing for families, more families are living in overcrowded conditions and an increasing number of families are in SROs.” Read in the San Francisco Business Times

Alameda County Dem chair wants every East Bay city to pass minimum wage, rent control, sanctuary city legislation – Earlier this month, Alameda County Democrats reappointed long-time party chair Robin Torello. Although, her name may not be readily known outside county politics, her influence is unquestioned among local Democrats. Not to mention her leadership in making the county likely the most progressive area in the entire nation.

But there appears to be more work to be done in Alameda County, according to Torello, who told the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee that she wants every city in the county to embrace hot-button progressive principles, such as becoming sanctuary cities, raising citywide minimum wages and enacting rent control regulations.

Yet despite Alameda County’s reputation as a deep blue region, its demographics are much more complicated. A number of Tri Valley cities in the eastern portion of the county are far less progressive than the inner East Bay cities. For instance, city councils in Pleasanton and Dublin are represented by Republican majorities.

Passing progressive legislation all over Alameda County’s map undoubtedly would be a tall order. However, one inner East Bay city that may receive the lion’s share of Alameda County Democrat’s attention this year is Hayward.

The self-proclaimed “Heart of the Bay,” despite a diverse, working class population heavily represented by Latinos and union members, has made no moves by its city council to discuss sanctuary city status, a bump in the minimum wage or rent control. Read More > at East Bay Citizen

Democrats vie for chance to take on Trump as California governor – For a generation of ambitious Democrats, it’s an almost intoxicating prize: the opportunity to serve as governor of the largest state in the nation — and, along with it, become President Donald Trump’s No. 1 foil.

But even as some of the state’s best-known politicians begin campaigning for the right to replace term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D), they are coming to grips with a new California primary system where the top two vote getters will advance to the general election, regardless of party.

In a state where the moribund Republican Party failed to advance a candidate in last year’s contest for an open U.S. Senate seat, that has Democratic candidates rethinking their initial appeals to voters — and wondering just how many votes they’ll need to make it to a runoff.  “This is uncharted territory in the governor’s race,” said Garry South, a longtime Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist. “With the top two, you don’t have to finish first. You can finish second, and you’re still off to the races.”

Already, three prominent Democrats — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — are vying for those top two slots. The field is likely to grow: Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and state Senate President Kevin de León are considering bids, and current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is running for reelection in March, has not ruled out a run. Read More > in The Hill

Sorry Elon, driverless passenger drones will be the vehicular disruption of the future – Henry Ford famously said that if you asked people what they wanted, they wouldn’t have said “ a car.” They would have said – “a faster horse.”

I believe driverless cars are today’s equivalent of faster horses. A continuation of what exists – not a true category break. Predictable but not revolutionary enough.

So I hate to diverge from his vision of driverless cars. Yes, in the future we will not drive ourselves. Machines will do it for us – but let me tell you — those machines will be looking down, from above, on the Interstate Highway System.

I believe we will skip driverless cars and go straight into driverless drones.

What if – instead of driverless cars – we extended ourselves vertically up to 500M, with driverless passenger drones, parking overhead and always ready to pick us up, taking us to our desired destination.

Let me stop you right now and admit my deep bias.

As much as I love cars, I am also a big drone fanatic. I love extending myself into the sky, and discovering landscapes I could never see, at 4k resolution. I used to operate a DJI Phantom 3 drone, then the 4, and now I’m waiting for my Mavic drone to be delivered (which like any other good thing, is delayed, of course). Read More > at Tech Crunch

How Much Viking Lore Is True? – In TV series from Vikings to Game of Thrones, the icy wastes of the north provide the backdrop to dramatic, often violent, stories of kings and warriors, dragons and trolls. The source for many of these dramas is the Icelandic sagas. In her new book, Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas, historian Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough explores the world of the sagas, teasing fact from fiction to show that there was much more to the Norse peoples than rape and pillage. (Find out whether the Vikings deserved their terrible reputation.)

Speaking from her home in Durham, England, she explains how the United States should really celebrate Leif the Lucky, not Columbus, why the Soviets hated the idea that Russia had been founded by the Vikings, and how the gruesome Viking torture known as the Blood Eagle may have been more poetic conceit than historical practice. (Did Vikings make the modern world possible?)

…When we say “Vikings,” we think of any inhabitant of the medieval Nordic world. But Viking literally means raider; it’s a job title. The people living in the Nordic world during the Viking age did raid and pillage. But there was much more to them than that. They were far travelers. They colonized the North Atlantic, parts of the Scottish Isles, Iceland. They’re in Arctic Scandinavia and on the Russian waterways. They founded a colony in Greenland that lasted 500 years and got all the way to the edge of North America. Read More > in National Geographic

These are the 3 diseases scientists say we really need to worry about becoming epidemics – Charities, governments, and scientists from across the world gathered in Switzerland on Thursday to hammer out a plan of action to stop three of the world’s most potentially devastating diseases from turning into full-blown, global epidemics.

And the diseases they’re focussing on aren’t the headline-makers you might expect. The three disease targets are: Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Lassa fever, and the Nipah virus (NiV) – all of which are highly contagious, and currently have no vaccines or treatments in the pipelines.

The plan of attack, according to the announcement made by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is to fund vaccination research into these three diseases now, before they get out of hand.

So far, various charities and governments around the world have created a US$460 million initiative to get the ball rolling. Read More > at Science Alert

Eating fatty foods such as steak, cheese and butter can make you healthier and slimmer, study reveals – Eating fatty foods such as red meat, cheese and butter could actually be good for your health, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Ireland found that overweight middle-aged men who switched to a diet high in natural saturated fats and low in carbohydrates grew slimmer and healthier.

The diet also led to a reduction in blood pressure and glucose levels, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Professor Sherif Sultan, a heart specialist, said: “We urgently need to overturn current dietary guidelines.

“People should not be eating high carbohydrate diets as they have been told over the past decade.

“Instead our diets should be largely based on good quality high-fat foods. This will prevent the rising epidemic of Type 2 diabetes and reverse the growing numbers of people suffering weight-related heart problems. Read More > at MSN

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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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