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Favorite News Round-Up Week of March 3, 2017

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Morning Headlamp – Alaska Lawmakers Expenses Under Scrutiny

AK HEADLAMP by Client Services

Per diem & Legislature spending. Alaska lawmakers of both parties are using leftover campaign cash to pay for lunches, cellphones and airport lounge memberships pushing the boundaries of what is legal. Campaign finance reforms enacted in 1996 allow public officials to use those “POET” accounts — short for “public office expense term” — only for expenses “associated with the candidate’s serving as a member of the Legislature,” and not for personal or political purposes, according to state law. Reports of hundreds of dollars spent on airport lounge access for the Alaska Lounge, hundreds of dollars spent on top of per-diems at the cafeteria in Juneau, and personal cellphone bills have drawn additional scrutiny to legislative spending practices.

This follows proposals from a panel of Alaska House members to slash by three-fourths their $213 daily payments for in-session expenses and to completely eliminate the special $160 per diem for Juneau’s three legislators. The unanimous, bipartisan vote last Thursday evening would cut each non-Juneau lawmaker’s payment to $4,800 for the standard 90-day session, down from the $19,170 they get at the current rate.

Trump & Cook Inlet. The Trump administration announced Friday that it’s moving ahead with plans to offer 1.1 million acres for lease in Alaska’s Cook Inlet on June 21. The proposed sale has been in the works for years. A decision by the Obama administration in November canceling lease sales in the Arctic Ocean through 2022 generated uncertainty whether the Cook Inlet lease sale in Southcentral Alaska would continue. [Source]

Google and IBM: We Want Artificial Intelligence to Help You, Not Replace You

Michelle Toh

In an era of maturing artificial intelligence technology, what does the future of the corporation look like? Will the rise of robots help us do our jobs better, or harm them? This dynamic has become a mainstay of the dialogue around AI, with voices from technology visionaries such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking weighing in.
But at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit in Hong Kong on Tuesday, leaders at two of the world’s most powerful tech giants pushed back on those concerns. AI is intended to help—not hinder—the human workforce, they said.

The Google executive also defended artificial intelligence as a means of supplementing human workers.
Take the example of call center operators, “When you go and survey your customers about where they would like your staff to spend your time," she said, "it’s not on problem-solving, troubleshooting, credit issues, or billing, right? It’s ‘Help me, advise me, send me on the trip that I wanted to go to.’” [Full Story]

[Ed: This is exactly what a corporation would say before they replace your job with a cheaper alternative. In related news, Wendy's is placing self-ordering kiosks in 1,000 restaurants. ]

Elton John Slams ‘Ageist’ American Radio That Won’t Play his Music


By Heat Street Staff | 10:25 am, March 2, 2017

Sir Elton John turns 70 later this month. While he’s very much still standing—touring extensively and releasing records—evidently he’s increasingly upset about his new music not getting played on the radio anymore.

“There comes a point where you have to admit that you’re not gonna get played on the radio in America because it’s ageist,” John claims in the new book Captain Fantastic by Tom Doyle, a biography of the singer, which is due out later this month. “There’s a whole stream of different music come along now. And you have to face up to it.”

Sir Elton is not the first pop icon to hit out at radio for being ageist. In 2015 there was an outcry in the UK when BBC Radio 1, Britain’s premier pop music station, wouldn’t play Madonna’s new music. [Story]

[Ed: You be the judge here is his new single:]



Alcohol and Caffeine, Two Drugs that Have Shaped Human Civilization


Alcohol consumption could have given early homo sapiens a survival edge. Before we could properly purify water or prepare food, the risk of ingesting hazardous microbes was so great that the antiseptic qualities of alcohol made it safer to consume than non-alcoholic alternatives — despite alcohol’s own risks.

Even our primate ancestors may have consumed ethanol in decomposing fruit. Robert Dudley, who created the “drunken monkey” hypothesis, believes that modern alcohol abuse “arises from a mismatch between prehistoric and contemporary environments.”

At first, humans obtained alcohol from wild plants. Palm wine, still popular in parts of Africa and Asia today, may have originated in 16,000 BC. A Chilean alcoholic drink made from wild potatoes may date to 13,000 BC. Researchers now believe the desire for a stable supply of alcohol could have motivated the beginnings of agriculture and non-nomadic civilization.

Alcohol has been with us since the beginning, but caffeine use is more recent. Chinese consumption of caffeinated tea dates back to at least 3,000 BC. But the discovery of coffee, with its generally far stronger caffeine content, seems to have occurred in 15th century Yemen.

Before the Enlightenment, Europeans drank alcohol throughout the day. Then, through trade with the Arab world, a transformation occurred: coffee, rich with caffeine, a stimulant, swept across the continent and replaced alcohol, a depressant.

As writer Tom Standage put it,

The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak ‘small beer’ and wine. Both were far safer than water, which was liable to be contaminated… Coffee… provided a new and safe alternative to alcoholic drinks. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved… Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.” [Read the Rest here]

Movie Trailer of the Week:




Historical Anecdote: Account of the first Japanese visit to the Western world


Katsu Kaishu was commander of the Tokugawa military in Japan. In 1860, he captained the first Japanese ship to reach America (San Francisco, to be precise). Japan had been extremely closed to the outside world prior to 1853.

By all accounts, the samurai entourage savored their sojourn of nearly two months in the burgeoning silver metropolis by the bay. Certain scenes come to mind. Katsu Kaishu posing for a tintype portrait at William Shew’s photographic studio on Montgomery Street - the two swords and family crest prominently displayed on his person, the hair tied back, the noble expression complemented by dark, determined eyes…The samurai entourage visiting the San Francisco Baths on Washington Street, because, as the Daily Alta California reported on March 21 [1860], they are “desirous of trying the American style” of bathing.
And Kaishu marveled at the industrialization of the town - the clamor of steam-powered windmills from factories; the mechanical saws; the newspaper printing presses; the San Francisco branch of the United States Mint, comprising a three-story red brick building on Commercial Street…and if Kaishu was enthralled by modern technology, imagine his astonishment at the sight of a factory worker openly engaged with a prostitute during break time, and his perplexity at being offered “the wife of a Mr. So-and-So for a certain amount per hour.”
Walking through town in San Francisco, Kaishu was surrounded by hundreds of curious onlookers - so many that “I had a hard time walking.” But he never encountered any trouble. In contrast, “when people of the vulgar mob in Edo see a foreigner, they hoot and holler out loud. But the lower classes in San Francisco only smiled at me-and nobody cause me any harm.” For all the cultural differences, Kaishu returned to Japan with a genuine liking for Americans.

Is Your Sleep Tracking App Keeping You Up All Night?

by JOAN RAYMOND

It's bad enough that our fitness devices and apps act as biological overlords, making us feel inadequate during the day. But it seems that some of us can't even catch a break at night.

Apparently some of us get so worked up about our sleep apps and devices telling us we're sleep failures that we wind up anxious and stressed, potentially causing even lousier sleep, according to a new case series published in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

They cite the case of a 39-year-old man who discovered he had fewer fights with his girlfriend after getting a full 8 hours of sleep, as measured by the sleep-tracking device she gave him. He became so fixated on getting a good night's sleep that he would lie awake worried about it.

Although most sleep experts find the trends in consumer sleep tracking devices to be somewhat helpful for people interested in learning more about their sleep patterns and finding ways to improve their sleep, "too many people become fixated on the hours of good sleep they get according to the tracker, which causes a lot of stress and, in some cases, leads to insomnia," says lead author Dr. Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

One thing is clear: We are a sleepy bunch of people. In fact, more than a third of American adults aren't getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And this lack of sleep can affect a laundry-list of biological functions like emotion and mood regulation as well as appetite. Poor sleep has also been linked to heart and immune system problems. Plus, you even look lousy with too little sleep. [Rest of the story]

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