10 brightest ideas of the week: Dec. 13, 2009

Eco-friendly vehicles coming to the Bay Area, Facebook offers more control, the home run king calls it a career, troops overseas get some holiday cheer, and a flagpole is allowed to stand.

1. Plug it in!

Automaker will root electric car in Bay Area market

The details: Nissan, the first major automaker with an all-battery-powered electric car, will make the eco-friendly vehicle available to consumers in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area late next year. Nissan Senior Vice President Brian Carolin made the announcement about the Nissan LEAF, a midsized zero-emissions hatchback, on Monday. The company is also getting involved with a regional effort to create infrastructure for charging the electric vehicles in the Bay Area.

2. Mind your mother

Drunken driving deaths drop

The details: The rate of deaths related to drinking and driving declined nationwide about 7 percent from 2007 to 2008, part of a positive downward trend since 1982 — about the time Mothers Against Drunk Driving was formed. So listen to your mother, if not your common sense: While holiday festivities encourage indulgence, don't get behind the wheel if you've had too much seasonal cheer.

3. Unfriending easily

Facebook change gives users more privacy controls

The details: All 350 million Facebook users are being required to update their privacy settings. New controls are supposed to simplify the cumbersome privacy settings that have confounded many people — which is one reason why only 15 percent to 20 percent of Facebook users have specified any privacy settings. Facebook hopes people will get comfortable with sharing even more personal information. Users can now select a privacy setting for each piece of content, such as photos or updates.

4. Finally

Home run king Bonds’ career is over, his agent says

The details: From the Breaking News Department, Barry Bonds won’t be playing in the major leagues anymore. That is according to the agent for the career home run king, who last played in 2007 as he wrapped up the final year of his contract with the Giants. The 45-year-old, who has 762 career homers, did not receive any contract offers each of the last two years, prompting the agent to make the not-so-shocking declaration that a 22-year career filled with homers and steroid allegations has come to an end.

5. For the laughs

USO lifts spirits of U.S. troops

The details: Back in the day, it used to be that Bob Hope and starlets were sent overseas as the main attraction for providing a much-needed distraction for American troops in battle. Now that the PC police have taken part of that equation away, it is all about the laughs. The United Service Organizations, better known as the USO, has been sending entertainment to the troops since 1941 — and those doing battle appreciate it as much as they ever have. “What we hear is, ‘We don’t care who shows up, just as long as somebody comes,’” said John Pray, senior vice president of entertainment for the USO.

6. A helping hand

Governor and wife promote feeding the poor

The details: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited an Oakland food bank Thursday to thank volunteers for their service and encourage other Californians to do the same. The event was part of the “Million Meals Initiative” — to provide meals to needy families in California — supported by the governor and first lady Maria Shriver.

7. Thanks for the loan

Bank of America set to repay $45B in bailout bucks

The details: Bank of America is repaying $45 billion in government bailout funds in order shake off burdensome government restrictions and oversight. The bank has been looking for a new CEO since Ken Lewis announced in late September that he planned to retire Dec. 31, but has reportedly had trouble finding someone willing to sign on.

8. Paper power

Scientists say new battery could be in the works

The details: Stanford University researchers report that they have successfully made a “paper battery” out of paper coated with ink made of silver and carbon nanomaterials. The researchers argue that the invention could lead to new types of lightweight, inexpensive, high-performance battery systems.

9. No bonus cash

Goldman Sachs management getting company stock instead of cash bonuses

The details: Hoping to quell public outrage over its announced $21 billion executive bonus pool for 2009, Goldman Sachs instead will give its 30-member management committee a special type of company stock that cannot be sold for five years. Goldman Sachs had drawn fire due to speculation it would pay some of its biggest bonuses since the financial crisis — averaging $527,000 per executive. But this latest change affects only a tiny sliver of its 32,000-employee global work force.

10. Fly free

Medal of Honor vet allowed to fly flag 

The details: A 90-year-old Medal of Honor winner can now fly the U.S. flag with pride after his homeowners association previously demanded he remove the 21-foot flagpole from his front yard. Retired Army Col. Van T. Barfoot put up the flagpole in September, even though it violated the neighborhood’s aesthetic guidelines. This week the homeowners association dropped its request to remove the flagpole.


Bright light of the week

Who: Herta Mueller
What: She won the Nobel Prize for literature
Why: As a young girl in Romania, she was so scared that she stopped speaking. But that led to finding her voice as a writer. After no longer being able to verbally describe the events she witnessed under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Mueller turned to writing. “I wish I could utter a sentence for all those whom dictatorships deprive of dignity every day, up to and including the present,” she said upon receiving the award, which came on the 20th anniversary of the fall of ­communism.

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