US government wants to mandate motor vehicle connectivity

connectivity

The federal government is inching closer to mandating cars have the ability to communicate with each other, in a move regulators say could reduce crashes while still protecting motorists’ personal information..

Called vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), the technology would use radio frequencies to communicate potential dangers to drivers, and the Transportation Department has begun the rule-making process of possibly making it required equipment in cars, though it could take years for a new law to take effect…

“By warning drivers of imminent danger, V2V technology has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said in a statement.

NHTSA also said vehicle communication could be used to assist in blind-spot detection, forward-collision alarms and warnings not to pass, though many of these technologies are available in today’s cars using other technologies, like radar.

Mindful of recent “hacking” incidents involving major retailers, websites and identity theft, NHTSA said the data transmitted would only be used for safety purposes, and notes the systems being considered would contain “several layers” of security and privacy protection.

On one hand, I’ve been following this development from car manufacturers who wish to use tech like this for accident prevention. Mercedes is a leader on this side of the research.

On the other, is there anyone left in America who trusts the government enough to buy into this technology. Even if security from hackers might be guaranteed, does anyone think the Feds would pass up backdoor access to keep an eye on us?

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Inequality and trending Web searches

credit luke shuman

In the hardest places to live in the United States, people spend a lot of time thinking about diets and religion. In the easiest places to live, people spend a lot of time thinking about cameras.

This summer, The Upshot conducted an analysis of every county in the country to determine which were the toughest places to live, based on an index of six factors including income, education and life expectancy. Afterward, we heard from Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, who suggested looking at how web searches differ on either end of our index.

The results, based on a decade of search data, offer a portrait of the very different subjects that occupy the thoughts of richer America and poorer America. They’re a glimpse into the id of our national inequality.

In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10…

In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images…

Beyond cameras, subjects popular in the easiest places include Baby Joggers, Baby Bjorns and baby massage; Skype and Apple devices like the iPod Nano; a piece of workout equipment known as a foam roller; and various foreign destinations (Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pyeongchang, the South Korean host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics). The phrase “pull-out” is also relatively popular in the easiest places. It presumably refers to either a kind of sofa or a kind of birth control.

…You can understand why religious web searches that are relatively more popular in places where life is harder have such a dark cast. “They are not just about religion but about apocalyptic religion,” notes Dan Silver, a cultural sociologist at the University of Toronto.

In the places on the other end of the spectrum, the picture is much brighter. People have disposable income to buy new technology and take faraway vacations. Their time spent prostrate on a foam roller or out running with the baby in a jogging stroller is more than enough to make up the occasional cupcake. And of course they are intent on passing down their way of life to the next generation, via Baby Bjorns and early access to technology.

RTFA for details and some analysis – including structure of the studies.

Most of all – I didn’t find anything surprising. Another one of those occasions when I wish my cynicism turned out to be wrong.

Thanks, Helen

Giant crack in the Earth in Mexico

A giant crack has appeared in the ground in a rural part of Mexico, sparking concerns of seismic activity in the area.

Footage of the mile-long crack was captured by drones from the Hermosillo Sonora Mexico Emergency Management…It is over a mile long, three metres deep and five metres wide in some places. Locals from a rural area of Sonora, northern Mexico, discovered the crack running through a rural road connecting the area to a highway.

Rafael Pacheco Rodríguez, from the University of Sonora, said the crack could be the result of seismic activity or underground streams, but added geologists will have to investigate to determine the cause.

Martin Moreno Valencia, from the Institute of Geology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Mexican news website Excelsior that there is no cause for alarm.

Uh-huh.

He said initial indications suggest the trench was caused by ditch flows from rainwater that had infiltrated the ground.

What if Ferguson was in a province named Missouri in a foreign country?

Chinese and Russian officials are warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in the restive American province of Missouri, where ancient communal tensions have boiled over into full-blown violence.

“We must use all means at our disposal to end the violence and restore calm to the region,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments to an emergency United Nations Security Council session on the America crisis.

The crisis began a week ago in Ferguson, a remote Missouri village that has been a hotbed of sectarian tension. State security forces shot and killed an unarmed man, which regional analysts say has angered the local population by surfacing deep-seated sectarian grievances. Regime security forces cracked down brutally on largely peaceful protests, worsening the crisis…

America has been roiled by political instability and protests in recent years, which analysts warn can create fertile ground for extremists.

Missouri, far-removed from the glistening capital city of Washington, is ostensibly ruled by a charismatic but troubled official named Jay Nixon, who has appeared unable to successfully intervene and has resisted efforts at mediation from central government officials. Complicating matters, President Obama is himself a member of the minority sect protesting in Ferguson, which is ruled overwhelmingly by members of America’s majority “white people” sect.

Analysts who study the opaque American political system, in which all provinces are granted semi-autonomous self-rule, warned that Nixon may seize the opportunity to move against weakened municipal rulers in Ferguson. Missouri’s provincial legislature, a traditional “shura council,” is dominated by the opposition faction. Though fears of a military coup remain low, it is still unknown how Nixon’s allies within the capital will respond should the crisis continue.

“The only lasting solution is reconciliation among American communities and stronger Missouri security forces,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech from his vacation home in Hainan. “However, we can and should support moderate forces who can bring stability to America. So we will continue to pursue a broader strategy that empowers Americans to confront this crisis.”

That’s the first half of Max Fisher’s satirical posting at VOX, this morning. Click the link to read the rest and enjoy the chuckle.

Reflect upon the mediocrity our tame Fourth Estate has become.

Mirroring press releases from the White House or the Koch Brothers phony public interest groups is not how you revive the independence of the American press.

Paul Krugman lectures the hawks who persist in crying wolf

According to a recent report in The Times, there is dissent at the Fed: “An increasingly vocal minority of Federal Reserve officials want the central bank to retreat more quickly” from its easy-money policies, which they warn run the risk of causing inflation. And this debate, we are told, is likely to dominate the big economic symposium currently underway in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

That may well be the case. But there’s something you should know: That “vocal minority” has been warning about soaring inflation more or less nonstop for six years. And the persistence of that obsession seems, to me, to be a more interesting and important story than the fact that the usual suspects are saying the usual things…

The Times article singles out for special mention Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, who is, indeed, warning about inflation risks. But you should know that he warned about the danger of rising inflation in 2008. He warned about it in 2009. He did the same in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He was wrong each time, but, undaunted, he’s now doing it again…

The point is that when you see people clinging to a view of the world in the teeth of the evidence, failing to reconsider their beliefs despite repeated prediction failures, you have to suspect that there are ulterior motives involved. So the interesting question is: What is it about crying “Inflation!” that makes it so appealing that people keep doing it despite having been wrong again and again?

Well, when economic myths persist, the explanation usually lies in politics — and, in particular, in class interests. There is not a shred of evidence that cutting tax rates on the wealthy boosts the economy, but there’s no mystery about why leading Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan keep claiming that lower taxes on the rich are the secret to growth. Claims that we face an imminent fiscal crisis, that America will turn into Greece any day now, similarly serve a useful purpose for those seeking to dismantle social programs…

But while easy money may in principle have mixed effects on the fortunes (literally) of the wealthy, in practice demands for tighter money despite high unemployment always come from the right. Eight decades ago, Friedrich Hayek warned against any attempt to mitigate the Great Depression via “the creation of artificial demand”; three years ago, Mr. Ryan all but accused Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman at the time, of seeking to “debase” the dollar. Inflation obsession is as closely associated with conservative politics as demands for lower taxes on capital gains.

It’s less clear why. But faith in the inability of government to do anything positive is a central tenet of the conservative creed. Carving out an exception for monetary policy — “Government is always the problem, not the solution, unless we’re talking about the Fed cutting interest rates to fight unemployment” — may just be too subtle a distinction to draw in an era when Republican politicians draw their economic ideas from Ayn Rand novels.

Which brings me back to the Fed, and the question of when to end easy-money policies…

But the last people you want to ask about appropriate policy are people who have been warning about inflation year after year. Not only have they been consistently wrong, they’ve staked out a position that, whether they know it or not, is essentially political rather than based on analysis. They should be listened to politely — good manners are always a virtue — then ignored.

Freshly-educated, modern economists completely ignore, wholly reject the crap that is economic dogma for Republicans. Whether they are social moderates or the more fascist-minded.

Another organic tie between modernists like Krugman and political progressives is dedication to the needs of the mass of American workers and their families. We are the real source of value created to make a cushy life for the one-percenters. We deserve more than a minimal safety net or education barely-sufficient to moderate an obedient class of producers.

Our cities are starting to spawn gigantic spiders


They’re not as big, yet, as this spider pictured in Liverpool

File this one under: Oh HELL no. While we know that our ever-industrializing lifestyles make survival tough for animals like birds and mountain lions, in at least one case urbanization is helping a species to thrive. Thanks to the artificial conditions we create, our cities are growing ultrafertile megaspiders.

A study by University of Sydney that’s featured on CityLab today tracks a particular arachnid named Nephila plumipes, which is famous for spinning giant webs, hence its common name, the golden orb-weaver. The team measured both city and country spiders for a variety of biometric indicators including tibia length and ovary weight, and found that the urban spiders were larger in size, had more fat reserves, and indeed had heavier ovaries. Heavier ovaries = lots and lots of eggs…

Nephila plumipes is just one (terrifying-looking) type of orb-weaving spider, but Lowe thinks you’d see the same pattern in most cities. Now remember, spiders are good — we like them because they eat insects we consider to be pests. But too many extra-large spiders lounging around in their warm urban webs, chowing down on flies, and birthing thousands of giant spider babies is probably not healthy for the natural balance of our cities. And it’s also not something I want to start confronting on the sidewalk on a daily basis.

I’m more OK with big spiders – than some of the other critters liable to drop on your shoulder when you’re sitting in a darkened living room watching a sci-fi movie with headphones on so you don’t wake your wife. Either way I might scream loud enough to wake up her and the dog.

Thanks, Mike

Dumb crook of the day


Stylin’ ride for young crooks

An Albuquerque, New Mexico, man is facing charges after police say he drove a stolen electric shopping cart to meet with his probation officer.

KOAT-TV reports that court papers say 18-year-old Michael Johnson rode the electric shopping cart this week to make his scheduled visit. When the probation officer asked Johnson where he got the cart, court documents say Johnson admitted taking it from an Albuquerque Wal-Mart.

Johnson was arrested and charged with larceny and receiving stolen property. He also violated his probation when he was arrested and was ordered held on a $500 bond.

Albuquerque police spokesman Tanner Tixier says the cart is worth more than $1,800.

It was not known if Johnson had an attorney…

…or a brain!

Thanks, Mike

378 in a row – Starbucks drive-through customers pay for next person’s drink

A random act of kindness at a Tampa-area Starbucks set into motion a chain of giving that lasted for nearly 400 customers…Around 7 a.m. a woman ordering from the coffee house’s drive-through paid for her own drink and said she’d like to pay for the customer behind her. Moved by the stranger’s generosity, that customer returned the favor for the next, who did the same.

The chain grew so big that employees began keeping a tally of consecutive customers who chose to “pay it forward.” The tally was over 250 by 1:30…

As the afternoon rush hour came and more and more customers kept the streak going, the baristas entertained hopes of it continuing until closing and perhaps using a gift card to extend it to the following day.

But around 6:00 p.m., customer number 379 crushed their hopes of a fairy-tale ending. An unknown woman driving a white Jeep Commander refused to pay for anything but her own drink — even though it had already been paid for. Starbucks employee Vu Nguyen explained the special circumstances but the woman was unmoved and, in Nguyen’s opinion, visibly unable to understand the concept of paying it forward.

Oh, it would be so easy to identify the politics, personal philosophy of someone who doesn’t comprehend good works. Tempting. But, not enough data.

Now, imagine trying to get the same thing started at a corner liquor store or cigarette shop! Phew.

Not-so-incidentally, this really is a Starbucks tradition. The record was set last December’s holiday season with 1468 customers in Newington, Connecticut…and ran from Tuesday morning the 24th through Saturday evening the 28th.

What a free trade zone is all about – Amazon ready to expand in China!

amazonchina

Amazon.com will set up shop in China’s Shanghai free trade zone, the company said on Wednesday, aiming to take advantage of less stringent trade regulations to sell a wider range of products in the country.

The U.S. online retailer’s move shows an intent not only to remain in China but to beef up its presence in an e-commerce market dominated by Alibaba Group Holding and Beijing-based JD.com, the second-biggest player.

Amazon did not say when the company is likely to begin operations in the free trade zone, which enjoys more relaxed import and export regulations than the rest of China.

The company is also pushing its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing business in China and said in December that the country will have its own AWS region to improve speeds for its mainly corporate customers…

Amazon’s move to the free trade zone comes nearly a year after the zone was launched, attracting attention from overseas businesses and hailed as one of China’s boldest reforms in decades. However, there has been a lack of specific policy details since the initial fanfare.

Foreign banks, such as Citigroup and HSBC Holdings have set up branches in the zone, but many foreign companies have been reluctant to follow suit, citing a lack of clarity on what will and will not be allowed in the zone.

The 2nd half of that last sentence is representative of what investors call the chickenshit index. Since Reuters was purchased by Thomson you’re bound to find some editorializing by omission. It’s the imperial disease.

In truth, this first free trade zone has been so successful that another dozen or more cities around China are lobbying to follow Shanghai’s model.