Sunday Reading – 04/29/18

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.

They’re now making vodka from San Francisco fog – How do you bottle the essence of the San Francisco Bay Area in all its fog-swept charm? Well, if you’re the distillers at Hangar 1, a California-produced artisanal vodka, you make a vodka from that very fog. The brand employs a “fog-catching netting technology,” explains head distiller Caley Shoemaker. The mist is converted into fresh water, which is then combined with Napa Valley-sourced wine. Finally, the liquid is distilled and turned into this limited-edition spirit (just 5,000 bottles), which sells for about three to four times the price of regular Hangar 1 expressions.

As gimmicky as it may sound, fog-catching is an idea whose time may have come. It’s considered a possible way to combat drought and it’s been tested across the world. In any case, the Hangar 1 team hopes its latest release will raise awareness about water-conservation efforts. A 2016 edition of the Fog Point Vodka sold out in one week.

What we think about it: The vodka-made-from-fog thing is all well and good, but there’s a point when you have to wonder about taste. Fortunately, the Fog Point Vodka is not an empty suit of a spirit. There’s a beguiling sweetness to this vodka — we suspect that has something to do with the wine more than the fog — that gives it a very sippable quality. Hangar 1’s Shoemaker says you should pick up notes of vanilla and honeysuckle, but she does say the fog lends elements of salinity and minerality to the mix. Read More > at Market Watch

Tetra Tech Scandal: Was Radioactive Material Shipped to Pittsburg Landfill? – A Contra Costa County Supervisor is asking for an investigation into allegations that radioactive material was possibly sent to the Keller Canyon Landfill in Pittsburg, California.

“We need to understand what is in the landfill as well as what the risks are. It’s important that we find out for the safety of our communities,” Supervisor Federal Glover told KQED. He has requested Contra Costa County staff prepare a report in time for the next Board of Supervisors meeting on May 1.

This is the latest development in a months-long scandal that began with reports that Tetra Tech, a contractor hired by the U.S. Navy to clean up the San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point, may have botched the job so that the area may still be polluted. The shipyard was formerly home to a Cold War-era nuclear warfare testing laboratory. Read More > at KQED

Study: Describing Breastfeeding as ‘Natural’ Is Unethical Because It Reinforces Gender Roles – It’s “ethically inappropriate” for government and medical organizations to describe breastfeeding as “natural” because the term enforces rigid notions about gender roles, claims a new study in Pediatrics.

“Coupling nature with motherhood… can inadvertently support biologically deterministic arguments about the roles of men and women in the family (for example, that women should be the primary caretaker,” the study says.

The study notes that in recent years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and several state departments of health have all promoted breastfeeding over bottle-feeding, using the term “natural.”

“Referencing the ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion… may inadvertently endorse a set of values about family life and gender roles, which would be ethically inappropriate,” the study says. Read More > at Independent Women’s Forum’s

What Are The Odds Of Getting Bit By Both A Bear And A Shark? – There’s an old saying out there that “lightning doesn’t strike twice,” meaning that if an exceedingly unlucky (or lucky) thing happens to you once, don’t worry about it happening again because it probably won’t. But that metaphorical lightning did strike twice for 20-year-old Dylan McWilliams, who was bitten by a shark while surfing in the waters off of Kauai, Hawaii, just a few days ago. That’s bad enough on its own, but last year he was the victim of a bear attack while working at a summer camp in Colorado. Each of these events happens extremely rarely, and so it seems like both of these things happening to Dylan in the span of less than 12 months is astronomically unlikely. But is that true? Let’s take a look into the science and math of probability to find out.

It’s true that last summer, Dylan was attacked by a black bear in the Colorado backcountry. While sleeping outside, the bear put Dylan’s head in his jaws, and dragged him about 12 feet before Dylan got free. As humans continue to encroach on what has traditionally been bear territory, food becomes scarcer and bears may be forced to hunt whatever they encounter, including humans. While grizzly bears remain the most dangerous to humans in terms of fatalities, black bear encounters are more common. The best stats on bear attacks come from Yellowstone National Park, which focuses on grizzlies. Overall, only 1 in 2.7 million park visitors are likely to be injured by a bear, but those odds go way up if you’re in the backcountry: to 1-in-232,000 per day. For someone who spends a 90 day summer in the backcountry, that gives them about a 1-in-2600 chance (0.04%) of getting injured by a bear.

Then, you ask, what about the odds of a shark attack? Only 80 shark attacks worldwide are reported a year, but this varies hugely from region-to-region. In the United States overall, your risk is just 1-in-11.5 million if you go to the beach, but those odds are overall. The odds are highest in (surprise) Hawaii, and are many times higher for surfers and divers than regular beachgoers. Over the past decade, Hawaii averages 7 shark attacks per year, with about half the victims being surfers. Given that there are approximately 700,000 surfers in Hawaii in any given year, that means the odds of a surfer in Hawaii getting bitten by a shark in any year is 1-in-200,000 (0.0005%), which is a long shot, but not as uncomfortably long as you’d like. Read More > at Forbes

Los Medanos Community Healthcare District – The Los Medanos Community Healthcare District (LMCHD) is a community-based healthcare district that serves Pittsburg, Bay Point, and portions of Clayton, Clyde, and Antioch. The combined population served is approximately 96,760.

The Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury (Grand Jury) conducted an investigation of LMCHD’s efficiencies providing healthcare services, and evaluated how the special healthcare needs of its population are being met, especially in terms of preventative healthcare.

The Grand Jury found that LMCHD does not provide any hospital, physician, or emergency medical services. Instead, LMCHD funds grants to third-party agencies that provide healthcare programs and activities related to health, wellness, and disease prevention. The Grand Jury also found LMCHD grant program administrative expenses are high compared to the amount spent on grants. For example, in FY2016-2017, LMCHD spent 40% of its revenue on grants and 36% administering those grants, with the remaining 24% going to reserves. LMCHD’s FY2017-2018 budget allocates 42% for
grant programs, and 51% for grant program administration. Earlier years’ administrative expenditures were similarly distributed. Typically, comparable local governmental administrative entities devote 10-20% to administrative expenses. Previous Grand Jury reports reached similar conclusions.

Based on these findings, the Grand Jury recommends that the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) consider dissolving LMCHD. The Grand Jury also recommends that the grants for healthcare programs currently funded by LMCHD be maintained by a successor. These healthcare programs are important to the community. Any savings from the dissolution could be applied to improvement and expansion of healthcare programs. Read More > at Read More > at CC Courts

Major Bay Area transportation projects to receive state funding – Some of the Bay Area’s biggest transportation projects — BART to downtown San Jose, express lanes on the Peninsula and the widening of the Novato Narrows on Highway 101, and a new train-control system for BART — scored big in competition for state funding Wednesday and Thursday.

These projects, and more than a dozen others, won funding, or were recommended for funding, for much-needed improvements in the region. Among them were SMART rail extensions to Larkspur and Windsor; new buses and rail cars for Muni, Caltrain, AC Transit and SamTrans; and a plan to speed up Capitol Corridor trains to Sacramento.

The state’s Transportation Agency announced the grants Thursday for the transit projects. The state Transportation Commission made recommendations Wednesday for the highway projects. Final approval is expected in May. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Beware Mischief in Governor’s Race – The newest poll results in the governor’s race sets up a possibility of campaign shenanigans ripped from the pages of California political history.

The poll from the UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies gives Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom a healthy lead at 30% over two Republicans almost dead even. Businessman John Cox recorded 18% in the poll and Assemblyman Travis Allen was at 16%. Much attention to the poll results will fall on the standing of former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who dropped down to 9%.

…Because the two leading Republican candidates are neck and neck as of now they could undercut each other and another Democrat could make the run-off along with Newsom.

Friends of Newsom might see an advantage in helping a Republican capture the second spot.

Dirty politics you say? But not unknown in California.

…Keep your eyes open for any Independent Expenditure with questionable motives that suddenly finds one of the Republican gubernatorial contenders an appealing candidate. Beware of mischief. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Drug Users Take Over Corridors Of San Francisco Civic Center BART Station – Shocking video, , is calling attention to what’s going on in one of the busiest BART stations in the Bay Area: junkies blatantly shooting up out in the open as commuters walk by, others slumped along filthy corridors.

It’s a gauntlet commuters walk through every morning at the Civic Center BART and Muni station.

Regular commuter Shannon Gafford knows people have to see it to believe it. “One morning I said, ‘I got to pull out the camera and show my friends this. They’re not going to believe it,’” he said.

And over the course of a week, Gafford documented his trip to work. His videos show dozens of people slumped along a hallway, open IV drug use, unconscious men and women, and piles of vomit on either side of the hallways.

Some may find the video shocking. Others may find it routine. Read More > at KPIX

Number of pre-teen moms in the US at a record low, CDC says – Teen birth rates in the U.S. are at an all-time low and continue to decline — with a significant drop of about two-thirds over eight years — but the comparatively large number of teens having babies remains a concern.

The number of new mothers aged 10 to 14 years in the U.S. hit a low, according to new statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2016, there were more than 2,200 infants born to mothers aged 10-14, compared to more than 8,500 in 2000.

This drop is “pretty remarkable,” according to the T.J. Mathews, the demographer at the National Center for Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who compiled the data. by reviewing “all the birth certificates for the entire United States.” Read More > from ABC News

Old Navy Adding 60 New Stores, Remodeling 150 More This Year – Old Navy has emerged as one of the stronger brands in what is turning into a bloody 2018 for retail. Gap CEO Art Peck announced plans to open 60 more Old Navy stores this year, CNBC reports. The move is part of a revamped growth strategy announced late last year calling for Gap to close 200 Gap and Banana Republic stores by 2020 and focus more on Old Navy and the company’s athleisure brand, Athleta.

Old Navy is Gap’s strongest-performing brand. Same-store sales increased 9% in Q4. Old Navy has remodeled several of its stores and embraced omnichannel marketing, allowing the retailer to keep track of loyalty points and customer reviews while customers are taking advantage of “buy online, pick up in store” in several locations.

Old Navy real estate is another contributing factor. Peck said stores tend to be in open-air shopping centers and high-density, street-level retail, compared to the outdated malls that house many Gap and Banana Republic stores.

Gap expects to open a total of 270 new Old Navy and Athleta locations by 2020. Peck said the company will remodel another 150 Old Navy locations this year. Read More > at Bisnow

Ford to stop selling every car in North America but the Mustang and Focus Active – Ford today announced it will phase out most cars it sells in North America. According to its latest financial release, the auto giant “will transition to two vehicles” — the Mustang and an unannounced vehicle, the Focus Active, being the only traditional cars it sells in the region. Ford sees 90 percent of its North America portfolio in trucks, utilities and commercial vehicles. Citing a reduction in consumer demand and product profitability, Ford is in turn not investing in the next generation of sedans. The Taurus is no more.

The press release also talks about a new type of vehicle, though it sounds like a crossover. This so-called white space vehicle will “combine the best attributes of cars and utilities, such as higher ride height, space and versatility.”

…This reduction in traditional cars was a long time coming. North America consumers have increasingly turned to crossovers, trucks and SUVs over sedans and small cars. A trip to any parking lot will likely produce more evidence to this movement. There are several factors involved, from more fuel-efficient and better-equipped trucks and SUVs to improved safety ratings and ride qualities of these vehicles.

Ford also today reaffirmed its commitment to bringing hybrid-electric powertrains to the F-150, Mustang, Explorer, Escape and upcoming Bronco. Read More > at Tech Crunch

Republicans surge past Villaraigosa in California governor’s race, poll says – The two major Republican candidates in the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown are battling for second place to make the November runoff, while Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has strengthened his lead, according to a new poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

The poll shows businessman John Cox preferred by 18 percent of likely voters in the June 5 primary, while Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, won support from 16 percent. Both are well ahead of Democrat and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who dropped to 9 percent, down from 17 percent in December, and well behind Newsom, preferred by 30 percent.

Support for both Cox and Allen essentially doubled since December.

“Both major Republican candidates are now holding an advantage over Villaraigosa for finishing second in the top-two primary,” said poll director Mark DiCamillo. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Subway to close about 500 U.S. restaurants, while opening 1,000-plus overseas – Subway Restaurants is planning to shutter an estimated 500 locations in the U.S.

The Milford, Conn.-based chain wants to focus on better restaurant locations and boosting sales, according to Bloomberg. High on its priorities list is overseas expansion.

The news comes a year after Subway shut down 800-plus locations. 2016 also saw store closings, Bloomberg reported. The chain currently has close to 26,000 locations in the U.S.

Subway also expects to open 1,000-plus restaurants around the globe, including in Mexico, the U.K., Germany, South Korea, India and China, CEO Suzanne Greco told Bloomberg.

With an estimated 44,000 locations in 112 countries, Subway is the largest restaurant chain in the world, according to the company website.

Subway is known for its sandwiches, but is facing increasing competition. In addition to convenience stores and drug stores starting to stock sandwiches, numerous other chain restaurants serve similar fare — from Panera to McDonald’s Signature Crafted Sandwiches to Starbucks, which is making a big play for lunchtime business. Read More > at USA Today

‘Breathtaking homicidal violence’: Latin America in grip of murder crisis – Latin America has suffered more than 2.5m murders since the start of this century and is facing an acute public security crisis that demands urgent and innovative solutions, a new report warns.

“The sheer dimensions of homicidal violence are breathtaking,” says the report by the Igarapé Institute, a Brazil-based thinktank focused on security and development issues.

The publication, released on Thursday, paints a bleak portrait of what it calls the world’s most homicidal continent.

Latin America suffers 33% of the world’s homicides despite having only 8% of its population. One-quarter of all global homicides are concentrated in four countries – Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela – all of which are gearing up for presidential elections in which security is a dominant theme. Read More > in The Guardian

U.S. trade deficit in goods drops in March for first time in seven months – The numbers: The trade deficit in goods narrowed 10.3% to $68 billion, according to the government’s advanced report released Thursday. This was the first narrowing of the deficit in seven months and came in well below the $73.4 billion estimate of economists polled by MarketWatch.

The government’s advanced report on wholesale inventories showed a 0.5% gain in March. And advanced retail inventories fell 0.4%

What happened: Imports fell 2.1% in March and the declines were widespread. Of the major categories, only auto imports rose in the month. Exports rose 2.4% during the month. The narrowing of the deficit in goods points to a smaller overall trade deficit in March.

Big picture: Trade had been expected to be a drag on first-quarter growth because of the jump in imports in January and February, but the sharp narrowing of the deficit in March means that it will at least be much less of a negative. First-quarter GDP data is due on Friday.

What are they saying: Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, forecast a goods deficit of $69 billion. “If we’re right, GDP forecasts for the first quarter will be revised up by about half a percentage point.” Read More > at Market Watch

‘One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong’ – A conversation with VR pioneer Jaron Lanier on Silicon Valley’s politics, being quoted by Mark Zuckerberg, and what went wrong with the internet.

…We used to be kind of rebels, like, if you go back to the origins of Silicon Valley culture, there were these big traditional companies like IBM that seemed to be impenetrable fortresses. And we had to create our own world. To us, we were the underdogs and we had to struggle. And we’ve won. I mean, we have just totally won. We run everything. We are the conduit of everything else happening in the world. We’ve disrupted absolutely everything. Politics, finance, education, media, relationships — family relationships, romantic relationships — we’ve put ourselves in the middle of everything, we’ve absolutely won. But we don’t act like it.

We have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness having won. We’re still acting as if we’re in trouble and we have to defend ourselves, which is preposterous. And so in doing that we really kind of turn into assholes, you know?

…One of the problems is that we’ve isolated ourselves through extreme wealth and success. Before, we might’ve been isolated because we were nerdy insurgents. But now we’ve found a new method to isolate ourselves, where we’re just so successful and so different from so many other people that our circumstances are different. And we have less in common with all the people whose lives we’ve disrupted. I’m just really struck by that. I’m struck with just how much better off we are financially, and I don’t like the feeling of it.

Personally, I would give up a lot of the wealth and elite status that we have in order to just live in a friendly, more connected world where it would be easier to move about and not feel like everything else is insecure and falling apart. People in the tech world, they’re all doing great, they all feel secure. I mean they might worry about a nuclear attack or something, but their personal lives are really secure. Read More > at New York Magazine

College basketball panels: Ban cheats, let players go pro – The Commission on College Basketball sharply directed the NCAA to take control of the sport, calling for sweeping reforms to separate pro and college tracks, permit players to return to school after going undrafted by the NBA and ban cheating coaches for life.

The independent commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, released a detailed 60-page report Wednesday, seven months after the group was formed by the NCAA in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

…The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that includes AAU leagues and brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding college basketball “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

The group recommended the NCAA have more involvement with players before they get to college and less involvement with enforcement. It also acknowledged the NCAA will need help to make some changes and defended its amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

…The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. Read More > in the Associated Press

Why High-Flying U.S. Home Prices Are About to Get Another Jolt – The U.S. housing market’s storyline for the last several years has been one of steady demand and limited supply, pushing prices ever higher. Now, a new chapter has opened up for the industry and its customers: soaring costs for building materials.

Reports on Tuesday underscored both resilient purchase activity and accelerating home prices. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index showed property values in 20 major U.S. cities climbed 6.8 percent in February, the biggest year-over-year gain since June 2014. Government data revealed a faster-than-projected rate of new-home sales in March and huge upward revisions to the prior two months.

…The cost of materials is important because everything from the laying the foundation to framing to painting represents the largest share of a typical single-family home purchase, according to an annual survey by the National Association of Home Builders.

The framing of homes, or putting up roofs and walls, accounts for 15 percent of the cost of construction. A composite measure of the cost of lumber for framing rose 16 percent from December to March, according to data from Random Lengths, a publisher of information on wood products.

And it’s not just lumber. A Labor Department gauge of prices paid at the producer level for construction inputs — everything from particleboard and plumbing to concrete and insulation — was up 5.1 percent in March from a year earlier, the biggest annual advance in nearly eight years. Read More > at Bloomberg

U.S. New Home Sales Rise 4% in March – The Commerce Department reported new home sales shot up 4% last month, in part driven by a substantial surge of West Coast home buyers. The seasonally-adjusted annual rate hit 694,000 in March.

Sales were also adjusted to higher figures for both January (644,000) and February (667,000). Those revised numbers translate into Q1 2018 sales that are 10.3% higher than a year ago.

The improved economic outlook was credited for driving the sales of new homes, and those gains have not been slowed by rising 30-year mortgage rates, which have reached the highest point they’ve been since early 2014.

Sales jumped 28.3% in the West for March, and were slightly up in the South. New home sales fell in the Midwest and plunged in the Northeast.

The National Association of Realtors also reported listings for existing homes dropped to the lowest levels on record for March. Read More > at Connect

If Solar And Wind Are So Cheap, Why Are They Making Electricity So Expensive? – Over the last year, the media have published story after story after story about the declining price of solar panels and wind turbines.

People who read these stories are understandably left with the impression that the more solar and wind energy we produce, the lower electricity prices will become.
And yet that’s not what’s happening. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Between 2009 and 2017, the price of solar panels per watt declined by 75 percent while the price of wind turbines per watt declined by 50 percent.

And yet — during the same period — the price of electricity in places that deployed significant quantities of renewables increased dramatically.

Electricity prices increased by:

  • 51 percent in Germany during its expansion of solar and wind energy from 2006 to 2016;
  • 24 percent in California during its solar energy build-out from 2011 to 2017;
  • over 100 percent in Denmark since 1995 when it began deploying renewables (mostly wind) in earnest.

What gives? If solar panels and wind turbines became so much cheaper, why did the price of electricity rise instead of decline?

…The reason? Their fundamentally unreliable nature. Both solar and wind produce too much energy when societies don’t need it, and not enough when they do.

Solar and wind thus require that natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries or some other form of reliable power be ready at a moment’s notice to start churning out electricity when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining.

And unreliability requires solar- and/or wind-heavy places like Germany, California and Denmark to pay neighboring nations or states to take their solar and wind energy when they are producing too much of it. Read More > at Forbes

Legislature’s hypocrisy prevails as bill dies – The California Legislature, as noted in this space previously, has a shameful history of exempting itself from the countless laws it imposes on everyone else.

Last week, the Assembly’s Public Employment, Retirement and Social Security Committee had a golden opportunity to close one of the Capitol’s many hypocritical loopholes.

But, true to historic form, its members muffed it.

The Legislature’s dominant Democrats have bent over backwards to help unions organize workers in private and public employment, from those who work in the state’s agricultural fields to those who build electric cars for Tesla. And a substantial number of those legislators are former union members and organizers themselves.

However, the Legislature’s own employees are forbidden to join unions. They are “at will” workers who can be fired by their bosses at a moment’s notice and for any reason with no recourse.

…So why wouldn’t a Legislature otherwise closely allied with the state’s unions agree to have its own employees be unionized?

Privately, Gonzalez Fletcher says, she runs into assertions that the Legislature is unique and that having unions would inhibit its functions.

In effect, therefore, legislators have the same objections to unionization that other employers often express when the Legislature passes laws to facilitate organizing their workers. Read More > at CALmatters

Should We Really Need a License to Work in California? – Taking a job as a manicurist in California requires more than filling out an application and receiving an offer from an employer. Manicurists have to have at least 400 hours of training, which can cost thousands of dollars. They must also take a written and practical exam.

The government-created barrier to a career in hair care and makeup application is even higher. A cosmetologist needs 1,600 hours of state-approved training. A barber has to have 1,500 hours, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Meanwhile, a mortgage originator, who must already be a licensed broker, or salesperson, needs only 20 hours of pre-licensing education, an emergency medical technician requires 160 hours, and a crane operator doesn’t have to have any at all, according to the Hoover Institution’s David Crane. Even tree trimmers are compelled to put in more training hours than EMTs, says Dick Carpenter from the Institute of Justice.

Though occupational licenses are purported to be protections for consumers, Crane points out that “studies have consistently found that licensing laws produce no better or safer services for consumers than do less protectionist and less costly alternatives.” Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Amazon can deliver packages to the inside of your car – Amazon Key’s in-home delivery is all well and good (assuming you trust it in the first place), but there’s an obvious caveat: you have to go home to get your package. Now, you might not even have to go to that trouble. Amazon has launched a Key In-Car service that, as you can guess, lets couriers deliver packages to the trunk of your vehicle as long as it’s in a publicly accessible parking space. You’ll need a 2015 or newer GM-made or Volvo car with an internet-savvy account (OnStar or Volvo On Call), but after that it’s relatively seamless: the delivery driver requests access to your car, and you’ll get a notification when the package has been dropped off and your car is relocked.

Crucially, the driver never gets a special code or key, so they won’t have access to your vehicle beyond a given delivery. Amazon also checks that the driver is in the right location and carrying the right package. You shouldn’t have to worry about a malicious driver using this as an excuse to swipe your ride.

The service is live for Prime subscribers in 37 cities around the US, and doesn’t carry an extra charge. As with existing options like Key and Prime Now, Amazon isn’t shy about its strategy here: it wants to be the fastest and most convenient option for your orders, particularly when you can’t be home. And there’s plenty of competitive pressure to do this — Walmart has been speeding up its own delivery process, and it won’t be surprising if in-car deliveries quickly become more than a novelty. Read More > at Engadget

Massive fire does $55 million in damage to Concord apartment construction site – A 180-unit apartment complex in Concord that had been under construction for close to two years burned Tuesday morning.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is another example of flames devouring a partially complete apartment building in the East Bay. Between mid-2016 and mid-2017, four fires consumed major under-construction housing projects in the East Bay. It’s not clear that the Concord fire is related to any of those fires, three of which were arson, investigators said.

The damage on the structure, known as the second phase of the Renaissance Square apartments, is estimated at $55 million, said Steve Aubert, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa Fire Department.

Renaissance Square was the only major apartment complex under construction downtown. The building was 60 to 70 percent complete with resident move-ins planned for September. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Olney: Giants should consider a Bumgarner blockbuster – The San Francisco Giants played according to the script of their front office on Monday night. Chris Stratton, who is quickly establishing himself as a reliable force in the rotation, threw well against the Nationals, and there was some power, this time from Mac Williamson, who clubbed a baseball to a spot right-handed hitters almost never reach in AT&T Park.

But if there are not a lot more good days for the Giants before the July 31 trade deadline — if they drift out of contention in the National League West — then the team should do everything it can to steer around the abyss that swallowed the Phillies in recent seasons. If the Giants struggle over the next couple of months, they should take October legend Madison Bumgarner into the trade market.

A rival evaluator chatted about the Giants earlier this month, about the accumulation of players who could be on the downslope of their respective careers. “They have to get restarted, and start turning the page, and they don’t have a lot of ways to do that,” he said. Read More > at ESPN

Rent control measure on its way to California ballot – California voters this year will likely decide whether cities across the state should have more power to enact stronger rent control.
Rent control proponents behind a proposed November ballot initiative that would allow cities and counties to pass strong rent control laws say they now have enough signatures to qualify the measure.

“People understand that rents are out of control, that’s why I think you’re seeing this initiative move forward,” said Damien Goodmon, director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s “Housing is a Human Right” campaign.

Funded primarily by the foundation and backed by labor and tenants’ rights groups across California, the initiative seeks to repeal a 1995 state law called the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. If repealed, cities and counties would be able to strengthen existing rent control policies, or pass new laws that go further than what’s currently allowed. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

What Does $70 Barrel Oil Mean for U.S. Economy? – The U.S. economic recovery is on solid footing, supported by historically low unemployment, job growth and consumer spending. But one component that has not experienced similar growth of late is the oil sector. The price per barrel of oil dropped from $70 in 2014 to $26 in 2016, causing a ‘ripple effect’ from the oil producers to stocks, bonds and the overall economy.

Since that nadir, oil prices have steadily risen back into the $70 range, climbing 60% since last summer. That rally has been buttressed by production cuts by the world’s largest oil producers, which eliminated a massive glut, amid soaring demand.

U.S. producers are exporting more crude oil than ever, which could benefit the U.S. economy.

Still, there is a concern that rising crude prices may hinder economic growth. Higher gas and other energy products act as a tax of sorts that consumers must pay. Rising oil prices could push inflation higher, causing the Fed to bump interest rates more aggressive, too. The net result is that could slow growth and drag the stock market down. Read More > at Connect

KGO-TV Reporter Accused Of Taking Warriors Official’s Jacket – A Bay Area sports anchor is in hot water after he allegedly took a jacket belonging to a Golden State Warriors security official.

In a surveillance video from AT&T Center in San Antonio, a man in red is seen taking a jacket from a chair following a Warriors floor practice session last Thursday.

The man then walks out from the arena floor.

Warriors had a playoff game that night against the Spurs.

The man in the video is reportedly Mike Shumann, a former player for the San Francisco 49ers and a longtime anchor and reporter for KGO-TV in San Francisco. Read More > at KPIX

More Stores Likely To Close In 2018 Than In 2017 – Last year saw a slew of U.S. retail store closings, but 2018 will probably be even more dramatic. About 8,500 stores went dark in 2017, compared with 4,000 in 2016. This year, as many as 9,000 very likely will, Cushman & Wakefield predicts in its latest Shopping Center MarketBeat.

Retail closures have already gotten off to a robust start this year. In the first quarter, which is traditionally a time when retailers shutter weak or unprofitable locations, some 4,500 stores closed.

The recent closures came despite 2017 being retailers’ strongest holiday sales season since the recession, and the U.S. economy was still strong in the first quarter.

According to the report, retail sectors in contraction mode include consumer electronics, apparel, department stores, media (books/music/video) and sporting goods, most of which are typically tied to mall or power center locations. They also tend to face stiff competition from online retail. Read More > at Bisnow

How Tesla and Waymo are tackling a major problem for self-driving cars: data – There’s a race happening right now that stretches from Silicon Valley to Detroit and back: who can make a self-driving car that behaves better than a human driver? It’s a far harder task than it sounded even a few years ago because human drivers know a lot — not just about their cars but about how people behave on the road when they’re behind the wheel. To reach that same kind of understanding, computerized cars need lots of data. And the two companies with the most data right now are Tesla and Waymo.

Both Tesla and Waymo are attempting to collect and process enough data to create a car that can drive itself. And they’re approaching those problems in very different ways. Tesla is taking advantage of the hundreds of thousands of cars it has on the road by collecting real-world data about how those vehicles perform (and how they might perform) with Autopilot, its current semi-autonomous system. Waymo, which started as Google’s self-driving car project, uses powerful computer simulations and feeds what it learns from those into a smaller real-world fleet.

It’s possible — and proponents certainly claim — that self-driving technology would lower the number of yearly deaths in the US that result from car crashes, a staggering 40,000 people. But there’s also a huge financial incentive to apply all this data-driven tech to the road as quickly as possible. Intel believes autonomous vehicles could generate $800 billion per year in revenue in 2030 and $7 trillion per year by 2050…

Not only are these two companies collecting data at different scales, they’re also collecting different data. Waymo’s self-driving minivans use three different types of LIDAR sensors, five radar sensors, and eight cameras. Tesla’s cars are also heavily kitted out: eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and one forward-facing radar.

But Tesla doesn’t use LIDAR. LIDAR is a lot like radar, but instead of radio waves, it sends out millions of laser light signals per second and measures how long it takes for them to bounce back. This makes it possible to create a very high-resolution picture of a car’s surroundings, and in all directions, if it’s placed in the right spot (like the top of a car). It maintains this precision even in the dark since the sensors are their own light source. That’s important because cameras are worse in the dark, and radar and ultrasound aren’t as precise. Read More > in The Verge

Framed for Murder By His Own DNA – When the DNA results came back, even Lukis Anderson thought he might have committed the murder.

“I drink a lot,” he remembers telling public defender Kelley Kulick as they sat in a plain interview room at the Santa Clara County, California, jail. Sometimes he blacked out, so it was possible he did something he didn’t remember. “Maybe I did do it.”

Before he was charged with murder, Anderson was a 26-year-old homeless alcoholic with a long rap sheet who spent his days hustling for change in downtown San Jose. The murder victim, Raveesh Kumra, was a 66-year-old investor who lived in Monte Sereno, a Silicon Valley enclave 10 miles and many socioeconomic rungs away.

…What happened, although months would pass before anyone figured it out, was that Lukis Anderson’s DNA had found its way onto the fingernails of a dead man he had never even met.

…We leave a trail of ourselves everywhere we go. An average person may shed upward of 50 million skin cells a day. Attorney Erin Murphy, author of “Inside the Cell,” a book about forensic DNA, has calculated that in two minutes the average person sheds enough skin cells to cover a football field. We also spew saliva, which is packed with DNA. If we stand still and talk for 30 seconds, our DNA may be found more than a yard away. With a forceful sneeze, it might land on a nearby wall.

The itinerant nature of DNA has serious implications for forensic investigations. After all, if traces of our DNA can make their way to a crime scene we never visited, aren’t we all possible suspects?

…There now exists a small pile of studies exploring how DNA moves: If a man shakes someone’s hand and then uses the restroom, could their DNA wind up on his penis? (Yes.) If someone drags another person by the ankles, how often does their profile clearly show up? (40 percent of the time.) And, of utmost relevance to Lukis Anderson, how many of us walk around with traces of other people’s DNA on our fingernails? (1 in 5.) Read More > at The Marshall Project

Forget the iPhone X — Apple could launch a new iPhone with a bigger screen this year for as little as $550 – Last year, Apple launched its first $1,000 phone.

The iPhone X is not only Apple’s most expensive phone, but also its most advanced model. It featured a screen that stretched across the entire device, and advanced front-sensors that lets the phone scan your face to keep it secure.

But as soon as September, you might not need to pay $999 to get these features. Several reliable sources — including Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Morgan Stanley, and KGI Securities — have said they expect Apple to release a lower-cost iPhone this year.

KGI Securities said in a note seen by Business Insider on Wednesday that it could be priced between $550 and $650. Apple launches new iPhones in September, so that’s when it could come out. Read More > at Business Insider

America is plagued by experts without expertise – The strong ratings of the first episode of the revived Roseanne set off an avalanche of commentary. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, for instance, John Podhoretz, a columnist for the New York Post, called the show’s success a “wakeup call for Hollywood.” Given how well it had done in Middle America, he said, the lesson was clear: for those who serve underserved Donald Trump voters, there are “riches to be reaped.”

Anand Giridharadas, a Brooklyn-based writer and MSNBC analyst, saw a broader truth: “Working-class white people may claim to be against identity politics, but they actually crave identity politics.” They want to be “seen and witnessed” in the same way that women and people of color do. With its glimpses of Maxwell House coffee and kitchen towels stitched with football logos, the show made an effort to pay respect to the details “of a certain demographic’s life.”

…Overall, the conversation, with its references to “a certain demographic” and “these people,” had a strangely disembodied and abstract air, as if describing the exotic inhabitants of a remote land. And in a way that was the case. Most of the discussants live and work in the Acela corridor, removed both geographically and materially from the lives of those on whom they were so confidently pronouncing. Tellingly, no one from the demographic in question was present to comment.

The Morning Joe crew, in turn, is part of another demographic that has become prominent in the world of the media, the academy, think tanks, and consultants: experts without expertise. Its members expound on gun culture without knowing anyone who actually owns one; opine on evangelical America without knowing any evangelicals; assess the impact of free trade without having met anyone whose job has moved to Mexico. And their lack of expertise has become all the more glaring in the age of Trump. Read More > in The Guardian

The House IT Scandal – Here are the basic facts. On February 2, 2017, Chiefs of Staff in several House offices were notified of a criminal probe into several House information technology (IT) staffers, for theft of computer equipment, overbilling, and, most disturbingly, the presence of an external email server to which House data was being funneled.

The probe, first raised by investigators in the House Inspector General’s (IG) office, centered around five House IT staffers, all immediate family members—brothers Abid, Imran and Jamal Awan, as well as Imran’s wife, Hina Alvvi, and Abid’s wife, Natalia Sova. All were shared employees of over forty House offices, meaning they were hired by multiple House offices, which split their salaries.

As IT staffers, the group had significant access to the correspondence, emails and confidential files of Members of Congress, with almost no one tracking them. Bizarrely, these IT staff were not subject to background checks— which, given what these staffers are alleged to have engaged in, seems to be a massive oversight.

In addition to working as House IT staff for over forty members of Congress, several on key intelligence and foreign relations committees, Imran Awan and his brothers (two of which had criminal records) ran a car dealership in Virginia. The dealership was reportedly plagued with financial mismanagement, leading to angry investors and unpaid debts.

…In the meantime, we do know that the group made unauthorized access to House servers, logging in with the usernames and passwords of Members of Congress, including the servers of members for whom they did not work. Moreover, according to the IG, the access continued after they were banned from the network and, in some cases, fired by the Member offices.

The unauthorized access peaked just months before the 2016 elections, when the server of the House Democratic Caucus was accessed by the Awans 5,700 times over a seven-month period. Authorities believe Awan routed data from over a dozen House offices to the server, where he may have then read or removed information. Awan’s purpose for doing so has not been made clear, though the Daily Caller recently reported claims by Awan’s father that his son transferred the data to a USB drive, which was then given to a Pakistani senator and former head of a Pakistani intelligence agency. Read More > at American Greatness

Soda, oil companies back initiative to limit taxes in California – Business groups are prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars this year on a California initiative that would make it more difficult to raise state and local taxes.

The proposal, which is currently gathering signatures for the November ballot, would increase the threshold for passing any new tax or tax hike to two-thirds of voters or an elected body — a change that supporters say is necessary after several recent court decisions weakened previous voter-approved initiatives to protect taxpayers. It would also require the money from those taxes to be spent on specific purposes.

…Under California law, local tax increases that contribute to general funding can win with a simple majority vote, while special taxes earmarked for a specific purpose, such as fixing roads, and parcel taxes already require two-thirds. New state taxes passed by the Legislature also need a two-thirds vote.

Lapsley said businesses are concerned that those standards are rapidly eroding.

A California Supreme Court decision last year raised the possibility that special taxes could pass with a simple majority if they qualify through the local initiative process rather than being placed on the ballot by elected officials, though that has yet to be tested legally. It would significantly undercut Proposition 218, sponsored by the business community in 1996, to set the two-thirds bar for local special taxes.

Business groups lost another lawsuit last year over California’s cap-and-trade system, where heavy industrial polluters buy credits to offset their carbon emissions. They unsuccessfully argued that program, created by the Air Resources Board, was an illegal tax under Proposition 26, an initiative they pushed in 2010 to narrow the types of regulatory fees that the state can impose.

And future threats loom. An effort already underway for the 2020 election aims to scale back the part of Proposition 13 that reduces commercial property taxes. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Think it’s harmless? Now nine in ten teens at drug clinics are being treated for marijuana use – Cannabis is responsible for 91 per cent of cases where teenagers end up being treated for drug addiction, shocking new figures reveal.

Supporters of the drug claim it is harmless, but an official report now warns the ‘increased dominance of high-potency herbal cannabis’ – known as skunk – is causing more young people to seek treatment.

The revelation comes amid growing concerns that universities – and even some public schools – are awash with high-strength cannabis and other drugs.

The findings also back up academic research, revealed in The Mail on Sunday over the past three years, that skunk is having a serious detrimental impact on the mental health of the young. At least two studies have shown repeated use triples the risk of psychosis, with sufferers repeatedly experiencing delusional thoughts. Some victims end up taking their own lives. Read More > in the Daily Mail

The Yellowstone Supervolcano Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen – Yellowstone National Park sits squarely over a giant, active volcano. This requires attention.

Yellowstone has been a national park since 1872, but it was only in the 1960s that scientists realized the scale of the volcano — it’s 44 miles across — and not until the 1980s did they grasp that this thing is fully alive and still threatens to erupt catastrophically.

Yellowstone is capable of eruptions thousands of times more violent than the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The northern Rockies would be buried in multiple feet of ash. Ash would rain on almost everyone in the United States. It’d be a bad day. Thus geologists are eager to understand what, exactly, is happening below all those volcano-fueled hot springs and geysers.

…Yellowstone, it should be noted, isn’t the only caldera in the United States. One of the others that’s worth keeping an eye on — and the U.S. Geological Survey does just that — is the Long Valley caldera in California, near the popular ski resort of Mammoth Mountain, just east of Yosemite National Park. It erupted 700,000 years ago. A major eruption is extremely unlikely, but it could produce smaller eruptions that would be highly disruptive and dangerous, said Margaret Mangan, scientist-in-charge at the USGS California Volcano Observatory.

Mangan said there are seven volcanic regions in California with zones of molten rock beneath the surface. A volcanic eruption in California is roughly as likely as a magnitude 6 or greater earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, she said.

But Californians don’t worry about volcanoes. They worry about earthquakes, tsunamis and wildfires, she said. She has tried to raise public awareness of volcano hazards but says that it is hard to get much attention. Read More > at Science Alert

Who Will the Evergreen Mob Target Next? – It’s been almost a year since violent student protests erupted at Evergreen State College—enough time for the “non-traditional” Olympia, WA university to draw useful lessons from a fracas that made it a byword for campus identity politics run amok. Unfortunately, a report from an Independent External Review Panel, tasked by college President George Bridges with finding ways to attain closure on the events of last Spring, provides scant hope this will happen.

On April 12, 2017, Evergreen observed a “Day of Absence,” during which white members of the school community were “invited” to leave the campus as part of an exercise designed to “explore issues of race, equality, allyship, inclusion, and privilege.” In the run-up to the event, an Evergreen professor of biology, Bret Weinstein, wrote an email in which he expressed opposition to the idea that self-segregation was a useful exercise. Weinstein became a target of student protestors, and at one point was forced to avoid campus while they searched for him in parked cars. He and his wife, Heather Heying, also a professor of biology at Evergreen at the time, sued the college for failing to protect them. As part of the half-million-dollar settlement, both resigned from their teaching positions.

This month’s report summarizes the unraveling of campus life in the aftermath of Weinstein’s email. But in regard to analyzing why all of these events transpired, the report’s authors double-downed on the same narrative originally peddled by the university. Overarching blame is placed on nebulous factors such as “racial tensions,” “social inequities,” and “the speed and potency of social media.” The authors also victim blame, complaining that Weinstein “took advantage of this situation to make a national news story out of it through high-profile interviews with national media, including the FOX News Network.”

…Also missing from the report is any expressed concern that Evergreen had lost two of its top professors. And while there is much fretting in the report about the emotional “environment” on campus, the authors seem unconcerned about the actual quality of students’ education—including, specifically, whether students learn critical thinking or other useful skills that might be applied toward productive employment.

Perhaps the most appalling part of the report is the claim that students and educators had collectively experienced a “trauma”—a term more typically reserved for survivors of wars and natural disasters. Indeed, at some points, the campus is depicted in maudlin terms, as if it were a fire-charred city targeted for carpet-bombing: “While time has healed some wounds, the scars remain and the underlying issues are perceived by many as largely unaddressed. As a result, the campus has [endured] a legacy of uncertainty and vulnerability.” Read More > at Quillette 

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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