Sunday Reading – 05/28/17


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.

Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia – In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.2 In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case ruled that marriage across racial lines was legal throughout the country. Until this ruling, interracial marriages were forbidden in many states.

More broadly, one-in-ten married people in 2015 – not just those who recently married – had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. This translates into 11 million people who were intermarried. The growth in intermarriage has coincided with shifting societal norms as Americans have become more accepting of marriages involving spouses of different races and ethnicities, even within their own families.

The most dramatic increases in intermarriage have occurred among black newlyweds. Since 1980, the share who married someone of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled from 5% to 18%. White newlyweds, too, have experienced a rapid increase in intermarriage, with rates rising from 4% to 11%. However, despite this increase, they remain the least likely of all major racial or ethnic groups to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity. Read More > from the Pew Research Center

Forget flying cars and get ready for air taxis – Flying cars are dumb.

Yes, the cars in Blade Runner, The 5th Element and Back to the Future are cool, and who wouldn’t want to push a button and take to the sky in their Honda Civic? But it’s not going to happen any time in the next few decades, if ever. Frankly, the average driver can’t be trusted with anything that breaks free of the earth. Plus, adding potentially millions of vehicles to the sky is a logistical nightmare that’s sure to end in more than a few collisions that, unlike earth-based vehicles, would end with potentially hundreds of injured or killed bystanders. But that doesn’t mean the only time we’ll take to the skies for transit will be via international airports.

Instead of flying cars, get ready for fleets of small “air taxis” zipping from hub to hub within a region, delivering passengers to their destinations. There’s a reason Uber is so bullish on this idea — it’s an outstanding complement to its current business model. The company wants a world where you take an Uber to one of its flight hubs, hop into a eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) craft and be whisked to another hub on the other side of town. You’d then finish the trip in, you guessed it, an Uber.

It’s also not too hard to imagine current airlines wanting in on the action too; most already offer commuter flights. Plus, of course, there’s going to be an onslaught of random startups hoping to be the “Uber of the sky.”

But Uber’s dream requires partners, new regulations, a change to air traffic control and an infrastructure that doesn’t exist today. Plus, you need actual flying vehicles, whatever they might look like. Read More > at Engadget

California’s uphill climb in filling skilled-worker jobs – California faces a dramatic shortage of skilled workers who bring job-specific training, expertise or abilities to their work.

By 2030, our state is expected to have 1.1 million fewer skilled workers with four-year degrees than the economy requires, according to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California. Other research indicates that 92 percent of business executives believe there is a serious gap in workforce skills.

In technical sectors such as engineering, the number of advertised jobs is a fast-increasing percentage of the available industry positions. Known as the vacancy rate, the higher it is, the more competitive the job market is in that sector.

In the engineering sector alone, there is a serious shortage of qualified workers to fill the available, advertised positions.

Several factors have been attributed as causes for this shortage of skilled workers, including the increasing costs of a four-year university and growing unwillingness by students to sink into debt, and a decline in the number of college students who pursue a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related degree. Read More > in The Orange County Register

College Freshmen Are Less Religious Than Ever – The number of college students with no religious affiliation has tripled in the last 30 years, from 10 percent in 1986 to 31 percent in 2016, according to data from the CIRP Freshman Survey. Over the same period, the number who attended religious services dropped from 85 percent to 69 percent. These trends provide a shapshot of the current generation of young adults; they also provide a preview of rapid secularization in the U.S. over the next 30 years.

Men are more likely than women to identify as Agnostic (10 percent versus 8 percent) or Atheist (8 percent versus 5 percent). But it is not clear whether these differences are based on divergent belief or willingness to identify with stigmatized labels like “Atheist.”

Overall, more men than women report no religious affiliation, by about 4 percentage points.

Students whose sexual orientation is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, or Other were more than twice as likely to be Atheist, Agnostic, or None, compared to heterosexual students (57 percent versus 27 percent). Many religions have negative attitudes toward homosexuality; apparently the feeling is mutual. Read More > at Scientific America

Botulism outbreak seems limited to 1 nacho-cheese sauce bag – A deadly botulism outbreak linked to nacho-cheese sauce confiscated from a California gas station appears to be limited to an opened bag of the sauce, state health officials said Thursday.

The state Department of Public Health said tests on the opened bag sold last month in Walnut Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, have already confirmed the presence of the botulism toxin. In addition, investigators found no traces of the toxin when they tested another unopened bag seized from Valley Oak Food and Fuel station, the department said Thursday.

The outbreak left one man dead and sent nine people the hospital.

A 33-year-old woman has sued the gas station and the maker of the sauce, alleging negligence in the manufacturing, distribution and sale of the product.

According to the suit filed Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court, Lavinia Kelly ate tortilla chips with nacho-cheese sauce bought from the station on April 21 and began to feel ill the next day. She was later admitted to a Sacramento hospital where she remains in intensive care. Her sister said she hasn’t been able to move much, speak or breathe on her own and is facing a long recovery. Read More > from the Associated Press

Survey finds surge in homelessness in Oakland, Alameda County – A census of people living on the street confirms what people in Oakland see every day: The homeless crisis there has gotten worse.

The biennial count of homelessness, released Thursday, turned up 25 percent more people without long-term shelter in Oakland than there were two years ago.

Many of the 2,761 homeless people live in the encampments that have sprung up over the past year, sprawling beneath Interstate 880 overpasses and along desolate stretches in West Oakland. Others are largely unseen, staying in transitional housing or shelters.

The survey was part of a county-wide effort in which 345 volunteers counted 5,629 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in all of Alameda County on the morning of Jan. 30. The number reflected a 39 percent increase from 2015, when 4,040 homeless people were counted in Alameda County. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area college professor used U-shaped bike lock in beating, police say – A former Diablo Valley College professor was arrested Wednesday in connection with the use of a bike lock in the beating of three people during a rally for President Donald Trump last month, police said Thursday.

In a statement Thursday, police acknowledged that video of the incident, captured by onlookers and posted on social media, helped them identify Clanton as the suspect behind “several violent assaults” that happened April 15 during the demonstration at Civic Center Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Police confirmed Clanton can be seen in videos hitting people in the head with a U-shaped bicycle lock. Three people received “significant injuries” because of the beatings, police said.

…A former DVC staff directory on its web page said Clanton has worked at the school since 2015, teaching an “introduction to philosophy with a background in teaching ethics, critical thinking, and comparative philosophy East/West” with “primary research interests” of ethics and politics. Although he taught part time at DVC in the past, he was not employed there this semester, DVC officials said. Read More > in the East Bay Times

FADING PROMISE: Millennial Prospects in the Golden State – Throughout much of American history there was a common assumption that each generation would do better than the previous one. That assumption is now being undermined. The emerging millennial generation faces unprecedented economic challenges and, according to many predictions, diminished prospects.

These problems are magnified for California’s millennials. Their incomes are not higher than those in key competitive states, but the costs they must absorb, particularly for housing, are the highest in the country.1 Their prospects for homeownership are increasingly remote, given that the state’s housing prices have risen to 230 percent of the national average.

The long-term implications for California are profound. The lack of housing that can be afforded by middle-income households—particularly to buy—has driven substantial out-migration from the state. California has experienced a net loss in migrants for at least the last 15 years. This includes younger families— those in their late 30s and early 40s— which is the group most likely to leave the state. For every two home buyers who came to the state, five homeowners left, notes the research firm Core Logic.

Many of California’s problems are self-inflicted, the result of misguided policies that have tended to inflate land prices and drive up the cost of all kinds
of housing. Since housing is the largest household expenditure, this pushes up the cost of living. Read More > from Chapman University

6 Under-The-Radar Grocery Delivery Services That’ll Actually Save You Money – Having groceries delivered to your door seems like a luxury—the kind that causes your family to incessantly mock you for how “extra” and “LA” you’re being (spoken from experience). Well, joke’s on them, because it can actually save you money in the long run. First off, buying online helps you avoid the siren call of ice cream/cheese/cookies/whatever junk food you’re tempted to pluck off the shelf when you shop hungry. (Side note: Is there a person alive who has actually gone to the grocery store while not hungry, or is that an urban legend?) Essentially, this method cuts down on impulse buys and food waste. Plus, many of the services we’re about to list sell items at a discount—that’s what we call a win-win. Here, the under-the-radar, budget-friendly grocery delivery services to try now.

Imperfect Produce

If you live in California and you aren’t on the Imperfect Produce bandwagon, you’re seriously missing out. This feel-good delivery service sources “ugly” produce that grocery stores won’t buy—but is totally fine to eat—and sells it in bundles at a discount.

That means you get high-quality fruits and veggies at a fraction of what you’d pay at the grocery store, and you’re helping cut back on food waste.

Boxed

If you hate going to Costco but love the discounts and in-store samples, Boxed is for you. It brings the whole bulk shopping process online—free stuff included—so you don’t have to battle the crowds and flash a membership card just to get a deal.

An array of lifestyle, beauty, cleaning and groceries (including La Croix, holla) are delivered right to your door.

ButcherBox

High-quality meat and poultry tends to come at a high cost. ButcherBox aims to make grass-fed beef and organic, free-range chicken more accessible across the country.

All its meat is sourced from a collection of producers who emphasize quality and animal welfare. Choose from boxes of beef, chicken and pork that contain between 7 and 11 pounds for $129, so each serving averages about $6. Read More > at The Zoe Report

Your mall will basically have to be psychic to survive – Repeat after me: Shopping is therapy. Whether you believe it or not, the rush some of us get from buying a new dress or gadget can be cathartic. And in the not-too-distant future, real-world shopping will get so seamless that it could feel like the store is actually psychic. But it’s not just about flashy displays of bleeding-edge tech. Instead, expect a subtler approach that focuses on understanding your tastes to find you your next outfit while you’re in the fitting room, all in the right size. Stores will learn to recognize you as you browse and change dynamically to show things that matter more to you so you won’t have to be disappointed by missing sizes or sift through stuff you wouldn’t have bought anyway.

For instance, shelves of shoes will also show if each design is available in your size or if you have to go online to find it. In future fitting rooms, the mirror might welcome you back when you walk in, and it’ll already know your preferred fit, cuts, brands and sizes so it can predict what you might like to try on. If you’ve bought a particular shade of foundation, a screen on the shelf can show you looks that are mapped to that hue. When you drive up to a gas pump, it will already know which credit card you’ll be using because it detected and authenticated your license plate and identity.

These scenarios are just examples that form part of Healey Cypher’s vision of the retail store of the future. He’s the CEO of San Francisco-based startup Oak Labs, which calls itself a “retail innovation company” and has been working with brands like Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff to embed tech in their stores for unique shopping experiences. Read More > at Engadget

Here’s why your BART commute is now longer and more crowded than ever – Bay Area commuters are experiencing longer wait times and more crowded cars this week because the system has sidelined 43 cars with maintenance or repair issues, with some shortage continuing for at least a few months.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that BART has a bottleneck of repairing railcars at the Concord maintenance yard. Concord only has 201 cars working, when 241 cars are needed to run full service during commute times from Pittsburg to San Francisco International Airport.

The system is scrambling to get the 43 out-of-service cars back up and running after last winter’s historic wet weather, which damaged many railcar wheels. A series of random high voltage shocks jolted many trains out of commission. Some shortages could continue until a new maintenance center in Hayward is ready in the fall, BART spokesman Jim Allison said. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Pitchers Are Slowing Down To Speed Up – Despite consternation from the commissioner and rule changes to speed up the game, baseball has never been slower than it is right now.1 Even in the short time since last season, the average delay between pitches has jumped a full second. It’s all part of a decadelong trend toward more sluggish play, and there’s an alarming reason baseball’s pace problem is likely to get even worse going forward: Slowing down helps pitchers throw faster.

…And indeed, in terms of baseball’s most valuable currency — fastball velocity — pitchers do benefit from a slower pace of delivery. I found this using a model that compared every pitch to the pitcher’s own average velocity, while normalizing for the count and number of pitches he had thrown in the game. Read More > at FiveThirtyEight

Obama intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on Americans for years – The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community.

More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa.

The Obama administration self-disclosed the problems at a closed-door hearing Oct. 26 before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that set off alarm. Trump was elected less than two weeks later.

The normally supportive court censured administration officials, saying the failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” according to a recently unsealed court document dated April 26, 2017. Read More > at Circa

California’s next election will be a tug-of-war on education – The future of public education in California has become a tug-of-war between different camps within the Democratic Party. Democrats aligned with organized labor – who dominated local and legislative races for many years – are now facing formidable challenges from Democrats who see overhauling some union rules as a key to improving education.

The Democrat vs. Democrat split that played out in the Los Angeles school board election also emerged in several legislative races last year. Now, as California looks toward the election of a new governor and a new school superintendent next year, the fight over public education is bound to get hotter.

California made major changes in the schools during Jerry Brown’s last two terms as governor – putting a new Common Core curriculum in place and revamping the funding formula to send more money to schools serving needy children. Yet academic achievement remains dismal. Slightly more than half the state’s students cannot read and write at their grade level, results from last year’s testing shows, and 63 percent aren’t meeting standards in math.

Each camp has its own view of the solution. Teachers unions generally argue that society should address socioeconomic problems that can make learning difficult. Groups that want to change the system say families should have more choice about which schools their kids attend. How schools hire and fire teachers is another flashpoint, with unions favoring rules that benefit senior teachers and their adversaries saying teacher assignments should be based on students’ needs. Read More > at CALmatters

Why are Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Aldi succeeding in SoCal where others failed? – …But Grocery Outlet Bargain Market has defied those odds. The Emeryville-based supermarket chain opened its first area stores in late 2015. The company now has 20 locations scattered throughout Southern California, and more are in the pipeline.

…Grocery Outlet’s mantra is simple but it has resonated with customers. “At Grocery Outlet, you’ll find brand-name groceries and farm fresh produce at up to 40 to 70 percent off conventional retail prices,” the company’s website says. “Our customers love to save money on high-quality, wholesome food. Saving our customers money is what we do best.”

…Grocery Outlet currently operates more than 270 stores in California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania. The company’s California markets can be found in such communities as Burbank, Azusa, Lancaster, Long Beach, Paramount, Upland, Whittier, Hemet and Orange.

…Phil Lempert, a Santa Monica-based expert on retail trends and consumer behavior, said Grocery Outlet is succeeding for a variety of reasons.

“They have a great value and they’ve also taken time to make sure their stores look good,” he said. “But their secret weapon is that they get individual owners — people from the community who have friends and family — to run the stores. Every Grocery Market I’ve been to has a different feel.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Poll: Majority says mainstream media publishes fake news – Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the mainstream press is full of fake news, a sentiment that is held by a majority of voters across the ideological spectrum.

According to data from the latest Harvard-Harris poll, which was provided exclusively to The Hill, 65 percent of voters believe there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media.

That number includes 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats. Eighty-four percent of voters said it is hard to know what news to believe online.

“Much of the media is now just another part of the partisan divide in the country with Republicans not trusting the ‘mainstream’ media and Democrats seeing them as reflecting their beliefs,” said Harvard-Harris co-director Mark Penn. “Every major institution from the presidency to the courts is now seen as operating in a partisan fashion in one direction or the other.” Read More > in The Hill

Bookstores Suffer Unintended Consequences From Mark Hamill’s Campaign Against Fake Autographs – California is learning that the hard way, as a new law championed by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill has landed the state in court. In that lawsuit, the owners of a California-based book store argue that new rules governing the sale of autographed memorabilia—like books signed by authors at events hosted by their store and scores of others around the state—are overly burdensome, threaten harsh punishments for minor infractions, and above all else are poorly written.

Under the terms of the law, which passed last year and took effect in January, retailers have to provide certificates of authenticity for all autographed merchandise worth more than $5. That doesn’t sound like a difficult burden for retailers, but look at what has to be included on that certificate.

The law specifies that those certificates must contain a description of the collectible and the name of the person who signed it, the purchase price and date, and an “explicit statement” of authenticity. It must also indicate how many items were signed, whether they are numbered as part of a series, and whether any more might be sold in the future. Oh, and there has to be proof that the seller is insured. And, of course, there has to be a certificate number provided by the bureaucrats at the State Board of Equalization (a real thing, believe it or not, tasked with collecting various taxes and fees for everything from gasoline to recycled computers). There’s a separate requirement for an “identifying serial number,” which, naturally, has to match the serial number of the receipt—a receipt that must be kept by the seller for no less than seven years after the transaction. Finally, the certificate of authenticity has to say whether the author provided his John Hancock in the presence of the dealer, or another witness, and include the name of the witness. (There is no word on whether the witness’ first born must also sign the form.)

Make a mistake on any of those requirements, and dealers could be liable for penalties equal to 10 times the purchase price of the autographed item—plus court costs and attorneys’ fees. Read More > at Reason

California’s Broken Rehab System is Devastating Communities – Lax regulations, a crippling opioid epidemic, and the Affordable Care Act are contributing to the growth of a corrupt drug rehabilitation industry that exploits our most vulnerable and exacerbates the drug and homelessness crises on California’s streets.

That’s the finding of a blunt exposé published in the Orange County Register Sunday.


Though many legitimate [rehab] centers remain, critics and long-time insiders say a darker version of the industry is emerging, built around an illicit world of patient recruiters, fraud-driven clinics and drug-testing mills.

Southern California, where the implementation of Obamacare makes it easy for recent arrivals to sign on for insurance is on the front line of the conflict.”


Addicts from all over the country are courted by rehabs in California with the promise of a new, drug-free life. What too often awaits them are insurance schemes and farcical treatment programs led by ill equipped personnel — some of them ex-cons. Often, these transplant addicts end up on California’s streets indefinitely or in the state’s ERs.

“They’re coming here to be treated, and for whatever reason it’s not working out, and they’re kicked to the curb,” said Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley. “You see them at Starbucks with their suitcases. They have no place to go and they end up on the streets, in a worse situation than they began in.”

To compound matters, information about rehab centers is unavailable online. To obtain records or complaints, one must go to Sacramento and obtain paper documents. Even then, information is often lacking due to privacy laws. The lack of transparency fuels fraud and corruption. Read More > at California County News

The law isn’t ready for the internet of sexual assault – …We are slowly approaching a world in which people can be intimate without being physically close to one another. The internet allows us to have sex with people situated on the opposite side of the world. To bridge that distance, we use web-connected devices like masturbation sleeves and vibrators.

What would the legal implications be if, say, skilled and malicious hackers were able to hijack one of these devices? On one hand, they will have gained control of an object that is used to penetrate, and therefore are potentially responsible for it. On the other, the device’s owner is likely to have overall control of the hardware and, we assume, consents to its use.

“That would, I suppose, be sexual assault,” says robot ethicist Dr. Kate Devlin, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. Writer and broadcaster Girl on the Net agrees, saying that “controlling someone’s sex toy without their consent is sexual assault.” She adds that “you’re doing something that someone has not fully consented to, at least by not knowing who you are.”

But it may be the case that US law, as of right now, doesn’t support these assertions about what constitutes online sexual assault. Much like the definition of rape, the country has a patchwork of laws that cover the crime, many of which require unwanted sexual touching. For instance, Title 18 of the US Code states that “sexual contact” must be made — but where is it in our example?Read More > at Engadget

Google, Uber, Ford, and Others Form Self-Driving Coalition to Fight Regulations – A new coalition to promote autonomous vehicles called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets was announced today, and the members list reads like a who’s-who of both the digital and traditional car industry. What the coalition lacks in a catchy acronym potential, it makes up for in potential power to shape the future of American roads.

Google, Ford, Volvo, Uber, and Lyft are part of the coalition. The band of power players said in a statement that it will “work with lawmakers, regulators and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of self-driving vehicles,” according to Reuters.

Each of the companies (in Lyft’s case through a GM partnership) have been working on autonomous technology independently. Their work has been successful on the development side — Ford predicts it will have driverless technology by 2020 and Google logs in 3 million autonomous virtual miles a day — but on the regulatory side, the states are a patchwork quilt of conflicting regulations.

With the way things are moving, it looks it’ll be regulations that slow down the roll out of autonomous vehicles, not lack of technology. Read More > at Inverse

Manchester: This Time They Came for Our Children – But this time it was teenage girls — our children — in that Manchester audience, murdered by a suicide bomber. If he had been more successful gaining entry, he might have killed several hundreds of them instead of, at this writing, only 19.

Have we learned anything? Is this finally going to be enough? Will we at last wake up? You tell me that the next time you drop your young daughter off at a rock concert you’re going to feel comfortable. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, libertarian, or ladeedah, you’re going to have heart palpitations, I promise you.

Politicians blather on about how these terrorists are “cowards.” No, they’re not. Nothing cowardly about killing yourself for your vision of god, insane as it might be. What they are is maniacally evil, the same kind of evil that marched innocents into gas chambers in the 1940s. If you don’t confront it, it goes on and on, just as happened then. Read More > at PJ Media

Caltrain will finally go electric thanks to FTA funding – The future of California’s high-speed rail project relies in part on an initiative to migrate Silicon Valley’s Caltrain corridor from a fleet of outdated diesel engines to a more modern electric system. That electrification project was put in jeopardy earlier this year when state Republicans asked Trump’s Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to block a $650 million federal grant, claiming it should be shut down due to cost overruns. Now, in response to Caltrain’s petition, the Federal Transit Administration has announced it will approve the funds and the upgrade can finally move forward after decades of delays.

The project is not only expected to bring faster, cleaner and more reliable train service to the 51-mile Caltrain system that connects San Francisco to Silicon Valley and San Jose, but according to the San Jose Mercury News, the project is expected to create 10,000 jobs in California and around the country. Beyond Silicon Valley, the electrification project is intertwined with the plan to build a bullet train between the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

The commitment from the FTA comes at the last possible moment. As recently as last week, Secretary Chao had said that she couldn’t approve the grant because her department didn’t have the funds to spare and if the funds hadn’t been approved by June 2nd, Caltrain would have lost key contracts for the work. The announcement means the project will get $100 million to start, but the remaining $550 million in federal funding is still subject to future approval by Congress. The rest of the project’s $2 billion budget will come from state and local sources. Read More > at Engadget

Hottest chilli pepper in the world accidentally created by Welsh farmer – A Welsh fruit grower trying to come up with a novel entry for next week’s Chelsea Flower Show has accidentally created the hottest chilli ever recorded.

Mike Smith, from Denbighshire, declared himself “chuffed” if a little “surprised” after scientists indicated that his Dragon’s Breath chilli had eclipsed the existing American record holder by a clear margin.

Originally intended to be a thing of beauty rather than a sensory beast, the peppers measure a formidable 2.48 million on the Scoville heat scale, ahead of the 2.2 million achieved by the Carolina Reaper.

Experts believe that anyone who attempted to swallow one of the chilli peppers would be at risk of death from anaphylactic shock. Read More > in The Telegraph

Sears is closing 30 more stores — is yours on the list? (Antioch is saved for another day) – Sears Holdings, which wasn’t shy when it announced at the start of the year that it is closing 150 underperforming stores, has quietly added at least 30 more to the list.

Another 12 Sears stores and 18 Kmarts are among the locations that are closing, from Carson, Calif., to Hialeah, Fla., with most scheduled to shut their doors in July, based on calls to the stores, malls and confirmation in local media.

At the start of the year, the retailer pinpointed the 150 stores it said it would close. But it declined this week to provide a list of additional locations that are slated to shut since then, saying that it update store counts each quarter. Read More > at USA Today

IBM Just Committed Cultural and Creative Suicide – For years, IBM has touted its “work from home” policy as a reason for its continued success.

And rightly so. IBM’s financial performance has shown steady improvement ever since the mid-’90s, when the internet made “work from home” practical, using tools that IBM pioneered, like email, groupware, and Web conferencing.

IBM hasn’t had an unprofitable year since 1994, and its revenue per share has more tripled since then. During that period, IBM has created more innovation than any other company. In 2016 alone, IBM filed more patents than Google, Apple, and Microsoft combined.

You’d think that IBM’s executives would realize that the company’s unparalleled record of financial growth and innovation might somehow be connected with the fact that, at last count, about 40 percent of its employees work from home.

But you’d think wrong.

IBM management has decided to kill the goose that’s laid decades-worth of golden eggs by forcing its workers to report to regional facilities. Employees who don’t comply will be fired.

Why the change? Here’s the corporate explanation:

“In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working. We are bringing small, self-directed, agile teams in these fields together.”

There is so much that’s stupid about that statement that I hardly know where to start. Read More > at Inc.

Baking soda shortage has hospitals frantic, delaying treatments and surgeries – Amid a national shortage of a critical medicine, US hospitals are hoarding vials, delaying surgeries, and turning away patients, The New York Times reports. The medicine in short supply: solutions of sodium bicarbonate—aka, baking soda.

The simple drug is used in all sorts of treatments, from chemotherapies to those for organ failure. It can help correct the pH of blood and ease the pain of stitches. It is used in open-heart surgery, can help reverse poisonings, and is kept on emergency crash carts. But, however basic and life-saving, the drug has been in short supply since around February.

The country’s two suppliers, Pfizer and Amphastar, ran low following an issue with one of Pfizer’s suppliers—the issue was undisclosed due to confidentiality agreements. Amphastar’s supplies took a hit with a spike in demand from desperate Pfizer customers. Both companies told the NYT that they don’t know when exactly supplies will be restored. They speculate that it will be no earlier than June or August. Read More > at Ars technica

Scientists find 7.2-million-year-old pre-human remains in the Balkans – The common lineage of great apes and humans split several hundred thousand years earlier than hitherto assumed, according to an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The researchers investigated two fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi with state-of-the-art methods and came to the conclusion that they belong to pre-humans. Their findings, published today in two papers in the journal PLOS ONE, further indicate that the split of the human lineage occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and not – as customarily assumed – in Africa.

Present-day chimpanzees are humans’ nearest living relatives. Where the last chimp-human common ancestor lived is a central and highly debated issue in palaeoanthropology. Researchers have assumed up to now that the lineages diverged five to seven million years ago and that the first pre-humans developed in Africa. According to the 1994 theory of French palaeoanthropologist Yves Coppens, climate change in Eastern Africa could have played a crucial role. The two studies of the research team from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia now outline a new scenario for the beginning of human history. Read More > at Phys.org

Facebook flooded with ‘sextortion’ and revenge porn, files reveal – Facebook had to assess nearly 54,000 potential cases of revenge pornography and “sextortion” on the site in a single month, according to a leaked document.

Figures shared with staff reveal that in January Facebook had to disable more than 14,000 accounts related to these types of sexual abuse – and 33 of the cases reviewed involved children.

The company relies on users to report most abusive content, meaning the real scale of the problem could be much greater.

But the Guardian has been told that moderators find Facebook’s policies on sexual content the hardest to follow. “Sexual policy is the one where moderators make most mistakes,” said a source. “It is very complex.” Read More > in The Guardian

Whole Foods Would Look a Lot Different If It Were Science-Based – …I’m not the only one. Whole Foods may have once revolutionized the organic-food industry, but it’s no longer the only game in town. These days, many consumers are now buying their organic groceries at less expensive stores, including Costco and Walmart. Whole Foods’ sales are on the decline, driving many observers and even their own investors to suggest that in order to survive, the chain has to make a drastic change.

Well. I have a suggestion as to what that change might be. It’s pretty drastic, but, hear me out, Whole Foods. This could be good for both of us. Here it is: Why not revolutionize grocery shopping all over again? Only this time, the revolution should be powered by science and agronomy, and not misleading marketing.

Here’s my first problem. Labels like “organic” and “conventional” are too broad, and too black and white, to really be all that helpful. A more specific, more informative approach could fix this: If Whole Foods listed all of the pesticides used on every fruit and vegetable, whether natural or synthetic, consumers might begin to understand that both conventional and organic produce are grown with pesticides, and what matters more is the toxicity of the pesticide used. Copper sulfate, for example, a pesticide allowed in organic produce in the U.S., is more toxic than some conventional pesticides. Chlorpyrifos, an insecticide used in conventional agriculture, is more toxic than glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. It’s worth noting that Whole Foods took a step in this direction once before with its Responsibly Grown program, which recognized that conventional produce can be more sustainable than organic, but organic farmers loudly objected and the company eventually undercut those standards. It’s time to bring them back.

This new science-based labeling system should also make it crystal clear that trace pesticide residues aren’t dangerous for consumers — as long as the residues measure below the tolerance levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (and they do, year after year), then they aren’t a cause for concern. If there is a concern about a pesticide’s toxicity, it’s the health risk to farm workers and their families, and that’s something to consider before buying those perfect-looking strawberries. Read More > at Science of Us

A Look at the Gas Stations of Tomorrow – The world’s big oil companies have all sorts of potential changes on the drawing board, including new fuel options, restaurants and shops, and package-delivery services.

Some are experimenting with mobile apps to speed the refueling process, or testing services that bypass the gas station altogether and deliver fuel directly to consumers, or looking at ways that a shift by consumers to car sharing or autonomous vehicles could create opportunities for oil companies to operate car fleets.

It’s all part of oil companies’ efforts to adapt to changing consumer habits and new technologies that threaten to upend the business of selling gas. According to a report published last year by the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, electric cars are likely to reduce gasoline demand in the U.S. by 5%—and possibly by as much as 20%—by 2035. Improved fuel efficiency is expected to have an even greater impact. Automated vehicles and the spread of car sharing could also fundamentally change the market in the long term.

Most large oil companies have been skeptical of the impact electric cars will have on fuel consumption. But some are already experimenting with catering to both electric and gas-fueled vehicles in certain markets, as well as providing other fuels. They’re also seeing an opportunity to differentiate themselves by offering services beyond refueling or recharging. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Democratic divisions on display as Bauman wins California party chairmanship – A caustic contest between the party establishment and “Berniecrat” activists gripped the nation’s largest Democratic party in Sacramento this weekend, underscoring fierce Democratic divisions at the state level that continue to simmer five months into Donald Trump’s presidency. Even as longtime party operative Eric Bauman eked out a razor thin victory over progressive newcomer Kimberly Ellis to win the chairmanship of the California Democratic Party, party leaders warned of turbulence ahead.

After a raucous day of protests, Bauman was declared the victor Saturday night by a razor-thin 62 vote margin out of nearly 3,000 votes cast. His acceptance speech was marred by boos and protests from backers of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign who complained of a rigged election and unsuccessfully demanded a recount in the closing hours of the convention.

The tumult showed that in the country’s largest state — which is controlled entirely by Democrats — the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders divide of 2016 and the intra-party sparring that followed Clinton’s November loss remain very much at the forefront. Read More > at Politico

Voter Suppression in Deep-Blue New York – Democrats are celebrating the Supreme Court’s refusal to review an appeals court decision striking down a North Carolina law for violating the Voting Rights Act. Some liberal media outlets called it America’s “worst voter suppression law.” I was happy to see it go, too. But “worst” in the nation? As a New Yorker, I take exception.

A fair examination of the record shows that no state does a better job discouraging voters from going to the polls than New York.

For starters, New York is the worst state for independents, bar none. Most states, including North Carolina, hold some form of open primary or caucus that allows independents to participate. Not New York, where independents outnumber Republicans. Voter suppression begins with eligibility, and New York’s parties have long history of trying to minimize participation in primaries.

Some states with open primaries require independents to join a party when they arrive at the polls. In New York, independents must join a party 11 months in advance of state primaries. No other state sets such a distant deadline. Many of Senator Bernie Sanders’s supporters found that out the hard way last year. Read More > at Bloomberg

Nearly 40 Years After Mount St. Helens’ Deadly Eruption, It’s ‘Recharging’ – It’s been 37 years as of last Thursday since the Mount St. Helens volcano in the US state of Washington exploded, taking 57 lives and destroying hundreds of square kilometres of forest, bridges, and homes.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has been keeping an eye on the volcano’s activity ever since, and says while it’s unlikely we have much to fear at the moment, recent quakes are a reminder that the bomb under the mountain is slowly recharging.

…Yet nearly four decades after the devastating 1980 eruption, the odd rumblings should serve as a warning on how much we rely on scientists like those at the USGS to keep us vigilant.

The swarms of quakes are signs of the magma chamber beneath the mountain refilling, something that has been happening since it finished its last eruption in 2008. Read More > at Science Alert

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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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