Mark Morford: Amazon hits Peak Sloth, reveals Dash buttons for Doritos, Red Bull, Slim Jims (SF Gate)
Now, with Amazon Dash, you never have to run out of life's essentials - assuming, of course, your life is one of general abject misery, clinical depression and lots of highly processed, cancerous junk food, insofar as, no matter how much Red Bull you buy or how many bags of Doritos you inhale in a sad, drunken stupor, you only seem to feel more angry, less social, more apt to punch a wall and way too likely to suddenly vote for Trump. (Note: It is somewhat possible I made up that last paragraph).
Mark Morford: The NRA's top 11 reimagined classic children's stories (SF Gate)
1. Where the Wild Things Are and You Can Shoot Them Dead on a Private Texas Game Reserve for $10,000.
Andrew Tobias: Bid High, Please
Long-time readers will know that I collect "historic documents." E.g., this column three years ago about a Steinbeck letter along with letters by the inventor of television and another by the inventor of the telegraph. Back off! They are not for sale. But with this site's subscription fees down and ad sales as low as they've ever been - and an avocado-a-day habit to support - I do, in fact, offer an item or two in this upcoming auction.
Michele Hanson: My auntie Milly didn't have dementia - she was simply dehydrated (The Guardian)
Many people in care homes and hospitals are not getting enough to drink. With the signs of dehydration similar to those of dementia, many families and chums may be needlessly terrified.
Michele Hanson: Want to know how to improve schools? Ask a teacher - not an app (The Guardian)
It's not enough that teachers are hit, bullied and sued. Now they have to keep parents informed using smartphones.
Michele Hanson: I can't afford to retire, but will companies keep employing me? (The Guardian)
Older people bring a wealth of experience to the workplace, but getting and keeping work is a battle despite a former Tory minister's offer of fruit picking jobs.
Marion Nestle: "No amount of 'free from' labelling will make processed food good for you" (The Guardian)
Campbell's is phasing BPA out of its cans. That, and GMO-labelling initiatives, are all great, but canned foods still aren't fresh, local or sustainable.
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Picks Gay Diplomat
France on Wednesday abandoned its attempts to name a gay man as ambassador to the Holy See in the face of opposition from the Vatican, making him its representative to UNESCO instead.
The nomination of Laurent Stefanini, President Francois Hollande's head of protocol, to the job at the UN's Paris-based educational, cultural and scientific body ends a year of diplomatic wrangling.
Hollande proposed Stefanini for the Vatican job in January 2015 but when no confirmation from the Holy See was forthcoming, French and Italian media reported he had been snubbed due to his homosexuality.
French Catholic paper La Croix said last year the Vatican considered it a "provocation" that Stefanini had been put forward and some reports said it was the Vatican's revenge for Hollande's Socialist government legalising same-sex marriage in 2013.
Stefanini, 56, worked on Vatican affairs while working in a lower-ranking diplomatic role between 2001 and 2005. He became head of presidential protocol in 2010 under then president Nicolas Sarkozy and retained the role when Hollande came to power two years later.
Stolen Lithograph Recovere
Norwegian police on Wednesday announced the recovery of a valuable lithograph by Edvard Munch which was stolen in 2009, with two men arrested.
The artwork, named 'Historien' or 'History' in Norwegian, was retrieved undamaged, a statement said.
It shows an elderly bearded man speaking to a young boy and was valued at the time of its theft at 240,000 euros ($244,000), but art experts said it was too well-known to be put on the market.
Police said two men had been arrested at the start of the week on suspicion of handling stolen goods but not for the theft itself.
The lithograph was stolen after one of the windows of Nyborg Kunst, a leading Oslo gallery, was smashed with a rock.
Light Shed On March
The route taken by Hannibal over the Alps to invade Italy has been a matter of debate for 2,000 years, but scientists may now have the answer -- thanks to some ancient horse poo.
More than 15,000 horses and 37 elephants accompanied the 30,000-strong Carthaginian army in a march on the Roman Republic in 218 BC, which sparked years of bloody conflict.
Dragging so many men and animals across the Alps was no easy task and historians and classicists have long argued over the exact route Hannibal took.
"Now it looks like we may just have cracked it -- all thanks to modern science and a bit of ancient horse poo," said Chris Allen, a microbiologist at Queen's University Belfast.
Allen was part of an international team led by Bill Mahaney of York University in Toronto, which uncovered evidence of a mass deposit of animal dung at a narrow mountain pass near the France-Italy border.
Cases Quadrupled Since 1980
The number of adults estimated to be living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled over 35 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday, urging huge efforts to change eating habits and exercise more.
The UN's health agency said the number of adults with the disease had surged to 422 million by 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980.
An estimated 8.5 percent of the world's adults now have diabetes, compared to 4.7 percent in 1980.
The region worst affected, with 131 million estimated cases in 2014, was the WHO's Western Pacific region, which includes China and Japan.
Europe and the Americas were third and fourth on the list, with 64 million and 62 million cases respectively.
Officials Seize Computers
California Department of Justice agents have raided the home of David Daleiden (R-Fabulist), the anti-abortion activist who targeted women's healthcare group Planned Parenthood with a series of undercover videos, his attorney said on Wednesday.
Eleven agents seized four computers and hundreds of hours of video footage from Daleiden's apartment in Huntington Beach on Tuesday, said Charles LiMandri, a civil attorney for Daleiden in three cases in California.
Daleiden and his group, the Center for Medical Progress, began releasing videos in mid-2015 purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to negotiate prices for aborted fetal tissue. Under federal law, donated human fetal tissue may be used for research, but profiting from its sale is prohibited.
The videos caused a political uproar, leading several Republican-controlled states as well as Republicans in the U.S. Congress to try to halt funding for the women's health organization. They also renewed the debate over abortion rights, which has since become one of the central issues of the presidential campaign.
Daleiden is under criminal investigation in Texas, where he was indicted in February for tampering with a government record and violating a prohibition on the purchase and sale of human body parts.
Sweaty Wrestler™ Wants Special Treatment
Dennis Hastert's lawyers asked a federal judge Wednesday to spare the former U.S. House Speaker time behind bars in his hush-money case and sentence him to probation, saying the 74-year-old has already paid a steep price in shame and disgrace.
A filing in federal court in Chicago - where the Illinois Republican is scheduled to appear for sentencing on April 27 - says Hastert "apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others." Notably, it contains no detail about that misconduct. Attorneys and the judge spoke recently about someone possibly testifying at sentencing who says Hastert sexually abused him years ago.
It highlights the removal of his portrait from the U.S. Capitol and the elimination of his name from public landmarks, saying: "Mr. Hastert has been stung by the public repudiations of him that followed his indictment."
The document also cites a list of ailments, some of which stem from his hospitalization just days after he pleaded guilty on Oct. 28 to violating bank structuring laws as he sought to pay $3.5 million to ensure someone referred to by authorities only as "Individual A" stayed quiet about past misconduct by Hastert against Individual A. The misconduct dated back decades to around the time Hastert was a high school wrestling coach.
The latest Hastert filing steps around the issue of what underlying acts the money was designed to cover up.
Los Angeles police said Wednesday that actor Charlie Sheen is the subject of a criminal investigation headed by detectives from an elite stalking unit.
Officer Matthew Ludwig said Sheen was listed as a suspect in a criminal investigation report received on March 31. He declined to detail the allegations or identify the alleged victim, but he said detectives from the department's Threat Management Unit have obtained a search warrant in the case.
The celebrity news site RadarOnline reported Wednesday that it had been served a subpoena from Los Angeles police for a 35-minute audio recording purportedly of Sheen that includes Sheen threatening his ex-fiancee, Scottine Ross. She performed in porn films under the name Brett Rossi and is suing Sheen for having sex with her without disclosing he is HIV positive.
"We believe the search warrant is illegal and violates federal and state law prohibiting the use of search warrants against media companies who are reporting news and information," Dylan Howard, editor in chief of The National Enquirer and editorial director of RadarOnline.com, wrote in a statement.
RadarOnline has not posted the audio, but has described it as being recorded by one of Sheen's former lovers. The website states the LAPD warrant wants the audio not only for evidence against Sheen, but because it might also yield information that would exonerate him.
A bill that would allow mental health counselors to turn patients away based on the counselors' religious beliefs and personal principles has passed in the House in Tennessee, the latest state to introduce measures that opponents say legalize discrimination against gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
The Senate, which already passed the measure, still would have to approve an amendment adopted by the House.
The bill passed 68-22 Wednesday following a rancorous debate on the House floor. If it is signed into law, Tennessee would be the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients based on their own belief system, said Art Terrazas, Director of Government Affairs for the American Counseling Association. The organization has called the bill an "unprecedented attack" on the counseling profession and government overreach.
Those in the counseling community say the law as it is written now is so broad that it would allow counselors to turn away patients for virtually any reason. As an example, Terrazas said, a therapist opposed to war or U.S. military policy could refuse to treat a veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome under the bill.
Discovered in 2,400-Year-Old Grave
Five lead tablets that cursed tavern keepers some 2,400 years ago have been discovered in a young woman's grave in Athens, Greece.
Four of the tablets were engraved with curses that invoked the names of "chthonic" (underworld) gods, asking them to target four different husband-and-wife tavern keepers in Athens. The fifth tablet was blank and likely had a spell or incantation recited orally, the words spoken over it.
All five tablets were pierced with an iron nail, folded and deposited in the grave. The grave would have provided the tablets a path to such gods, who would then do the curses' biddings, according to ancient beliefs.
The writing on the curse tablets is neat and its prose eloquent, suggesting that a professional curse writer created the tablets. "It's very rare that you get something so explicit and lengthy and beautifully written, of course in a very terrible way," Lamont said.
Barbara Turner, the Emmy-nominated screenwriter who worked on such films as Georgia - starring her daughter, Jennifer Jason Leigh - and Hemingway & Gellhorn, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 79.
Turner, who was married from 1957-64 to the late actor Vic Morrow, also wrote Richard Lester's Petulia (1968) starring Julie Christie and George C. Scott; Pollock (2000), directed by and starring Ed Harris; and The Company (2003), helmed by Robert Altman.
Turner received Emmy noms for her work on the 1977 NBC telefilm The War Between the Tates, starring Elizabeth Ashley and Richard Crenna, and the 2012 HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn, featuring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman.
Georgia (1995), directed by Ulu Grosbard, starred Leigh as a singer who looks up to her older sister, a more famous entertainer played by Mare Winningham. Turner also served as a producer on the film (as she did on Hemingway & Gellhorn).
Turner also wrote for the Winningham-starring TV movies Freedom and Eye on the Sparrow. Her first screenplay was for Deathwatch (1966), which was directed by Morrow (Leigh's father).
A native of New York who attended the University of Texas, Turner started out as an actress and appeared on such TV series as Suspicion, Ben Casey and The Virginian. She moved to California when Morrow got a part in Blackboard Jungle (1955).
Turner also was married to director Reza Badiyi (Hawaii Five-O, Get Smart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) from 1968-85.
Merle Haggard, who overcame a youth of deprivation and imprisonment to become one of the enduring figures in hardcore country music, died Wednesday on his 79th birthday.
The singer underwent surgery for lung cancer in 2008 and had been hospitalized for various ailments over the past few years - most notably for pneumonia, which forced several concert postponements and cancellations in 2015 and this year. He died at his home in Northern California, his agent said.
Haggard was born April 6, 1937, in Oildale, Calif., outside Bakersfield; his family had emigrated three years earlier from the Oklahoma dust bowl. The Haggards lived in a converted boxcar, and Merle's father died when he was 9.
As a teen, Haggard became a delinquent and petty criminal. He hadn't turned 20 when he was sentenced to a three-year stretch in San Quentin on a burglary conviction. While in prison, he witnessed a performance by Johnny Cash, an event he later characterized as life-changing.
Released in 1960, Haggard, who had fallen under the spell of the hard-hitting 1950s honky-tonk country star Lefty Frizzell, began playing clubs in the Bakersfield area, also an incubator for nascent country star Buck Owens. He joined singer Wynn Stewart's band, and, with his own group The Strangers, began recording for Tally Records, an independent label run by his manager, Fuzzy Owen.
Haggard's first hit single, a cover of Stewart's "Sing a Sad Song" (1964) became a top 20 country hit in 1963; a top 10 smash, "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," followed in 1965. At that point, Capitol Records - then one of the biggest country hit machines - acquired Haggard's Tally contract.
The singer-songwriter's tenure at Capitol produced a string of classic recordings featuring his mellifluous baritone and keenly observed songs. Some, like the barroom odes "Swinging Doors" and "The Bottle Let Me Down," were in the classic honky-tonk mold; others, such as "Branded Man," "Sing Me Back Home," and "Mama Tried," were inspired by his days in the pen.
Haggard logged eight No. 1 singles in 1966-69 alone. One of these, "Okie From Muskogee," became a touchstone for debate at the height of the Vietnam War era.
Haggard's run of No. 1 country hits, which included such indelible numbers as the tender "If We Make It Through December" and the reflective "The Roots of My Raising," continued through the late 1970s, when he moved from Capitol to MCA. Though the stream of hits slowed, he gained his stride again at the turn of the decade. He released the powerful and introspective album Serving 180 Proof in 1979, and Clint Eastwood cast him and featured his memorable "Misery and Gin" in his 1980 feature Bronco Billy.
In 1981, Haggard shifted labels again to Epic Records. He enjoyed several No. 1 hits in his own right there, including "Going Where the Lonely Go," "You Take Me for Granted," "That's the Way Love Goes," "Someday When Things Are Good" and "Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room." He also cut chart-topping duets with peers and labelmates George Jones ("Yesterday's Wine," 1982) and Willie Nelson ("Pancho and Lefty," 1983).
The 1990s proved to be largely fallow for Haggard, who had a frustrating stint at Curb Records. In 1994, he was feted by performers of the burgeoning alt-country movement on the tribute album Tulare Dust as well as on the Arista disc Mama's Hungry Eyes, which contained Haggard classics performed by artists such as Alan Jackson, Vince Gill and Pam Tillis. The year culminated with his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. As the decade progressed, growing interest in country elders like Cash set the stage for another revival of his career.
In 2000, Haggard signed a deal with Anti Records, a new imprint aimed at older listeners launched by Los Angeles punk label Epitaph Records. His Anti bow If I Could Only Fly - cut, like his other latter-day projects, at the studio at his California ranch near Lake Shasta - renewed his reputation and brought his music to a previously untapped audience. He followed with Roots Volume 1, a tribute to such country precursors as Frizzell, Hank Williams and Hank Thompson.
After garnering considerable coverage in 2003 with "That's the News," his sharply critical song about media coverage of the Iraq war, Haggard founded his own independent label Hag Records, distributed by Nashville-based Compendia Music. An album, Haggard Like Never Before, followed. He would then return to Capitol in 2004-05 for a pair of standards albums, Unforgettable and Chicago Wind.
Celebrated as a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in December 2010, his most recent solo studio album was 2011's Working In Tennessee, released on Vanguard. Haggard reteamed with Nelson in 2015 for the Sony Legacy release Django & Jimmie, which topped the Country Albums chart, also peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 - his highest ranking ever on the overall listing. His 38 chart-toppers on the Country Singles chart are third only to George Strait (44) and Conway Twitty (40).
Haggard was the recipient of two Grammys and was the only California-born inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The singer is survived by fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane, and his six children.