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Volume 23, Number 13 – 7/1/20

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Volume 23, Number 13 – 7/1/20
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FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT–

  • Cases have been reported of human transmission of the coronavirus to minks, dogs, cats, tigers and lions.
  • More than 53 million Americans — 44% of all workers aged 18-64 — earn median hourly wages of $10.22 and median annual earnings of $17,950.
  • For the first time, the majority of people under 16 in America are nonwhite and Hispanic.
  • Watch a time-lapse video showing 10 years of the Sun’s history in 6 minutes.

Gregg Braden Coming with Whole New Presentation!

NYT best-selling author Gregg Braden will kick-off the new season of TransitionTalks on the 18th of July for a full day live-streamed presentation. He’ll premiere provocative new findings about the reality in which we all live that he has recently uncovered.

Gregg gives a taste of this new research in the short interview below.
Be sure to check it out.

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In addition to the live-stream event, ticket holders will have access to the replay for three weeks following the live-stream presentation. Rewatch critical concepts, or watch at your convencience if you can’t make the 18th.

Complete information on the Braden event and all of the others on our lineup can be found at TransitionTalks.org.

Hope to see you here!!

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THINK LINKS

 


CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)

The Abrupt, Radical Reversal in How Public Health Experts Now Speak about the Coronavirus and Mass Gatherings – (The Intercept – June 11, 2020)

The pandemic which we were told by public health experts since February was so grave — the worst public health threat since the 1918 Spanish Flu — that we could not go outside for any reason, even if it meant a collapse in the global economy, tens or hundreds of millions of people suffering from unemployment, the permanent shuttering of small businesses, sustained mental health damage, and the separation of people from their loved ones and communities, including barring them from visiting dying spouses and parents and children in the hospital or even attending an outdoor burial. And then roughly two weeks ago, everything changed. Well, not everything: there’s still no cure for COVID-19, nor any treatment, nor any vaccine. It is still just as lethal and just as contagious. But beginning roughly two weeks ago, mass stay-at-home orders and self-isolation gave way to massive street protests in the U.S. and around the world: exactly what we had spent four months hearing was what one must not do in the middle of this pandemic. And yet, in very stark contrast to the vehement denunciations from public health experts of prior protests or out-of-the-home activities of any kind, virtually no prominent experts have denounced any of this on the ground that it will spread the coronavirus and ultimately kill more people. For example, the former Director of the CDC and New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden pronounced that “the threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny” — tiny!! — “compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust.” Prior to the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police and the resulting outbreak of mass street protests, did you hear any respected, mainstream health expert minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission in that way? I most certainly did not. Two weeks ago we shamed people for being in the street; today we shame them for not being in the street. (Editor’s note: “The threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust” is now being played out in a number of states.)

The ‘Science’ Behind Social Distancing. Shutting Down National Economy Based on Flawed Computer Models – (Gobal Research – May 26, 2020)

The world has been turned upside down with draconian government orders to “flatten the curve” with what is called Social Distancing. Schools have been closed for months, businesses have been involuntarily shut down and travel restrictions have idled 90 percent of the airlines. The net result is over 36 million American’s are unemployed and the number is rising. Now we learn the whole social distancing lockdown that has paralyzed the nation comes from a very surprising source. A May 2nd article in the Albuquerque Journal reveals social distancing hysteria is NOT based on scientific evidence or clinical medical trials for that matter. How would you feel if you learned your normal way of life had been completely upended based on a computer model created by a 15 year old Albuquerque New Mexico High School student named Laura Glass? Glass, along with her Dad Robert (a government scientist then working at Sandia National Laboratories) cooked up a home brew computer model for a science and engineering fair in May, 2006. Robert Glass had been working on computer models for the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center at Sandia and often worked from home. Part of his work entailed computer models showing how people come into contact with each other during everyday life. Laura Glass used that data to project how high school students could possibly transmit infectious diseases. Her “model” suggested high school students could easily infect huge swaths of a population so putting a stop to those contacts would hypothetically “save lives.” Miss Glass appeared to have no understanding of the benefits of herd immunity. She didn’t seem to know that most healthy people with strong immune systems naturally fight off viruses and build up antibodies against future infections. According to a variety of medical experts herd immunity should be the primary tool to fight off viral infections and only the sick and elderly should be quarantined.

‘Decentralized ID at All Costs’: Adviser Quits ID2020 Over Blockchain Fixation – (CoinDesk – May 27, 2020)

In her resignation email Friday, Elizabeth Renieris cited ID2020’s opacity, “techno-solutionism” and corporate influence along with the risks of applying blockchain to immunity passes. “At this stage, I can no longer even describe what ID2020’s mission is with any confidence,” wrote Renieris, who was one of six members of ID2020’s technical advisory committee. “All I can perceive is a desire to promote decentralized identity solutions at all costs.” Renieris is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and an expert in cross-border data protection and privacy issues. She was previously in-house counsel at two digital identity startups. Her concerns about the technology, which highlight the trade-offs between health and privacy during the pandemic, are spelled out in a white paper published in mid-May. She says the introduction of immunity passes could interfere with people’s privacy, freedom of association, assembly, and movement. “Blockchain-enabled ‘immunity certificates’ or ‘immunity passports’ for COVID-19, if implemented by public authorities, would have serious consequences for our fundamental human rights and civil liberties,” she writes. Immunity passports or certificates are digital or physical documents that individuals would receive if they had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. The discord within ID2020 hints at larger debates around where to use distributed ledger technology (DLT), and where it may create more problems than it solves. Renieris worries about how the influence of corporations like Microsoft may influence the development of these systems. Kim Cameron, Architect of Identity at Microsoft, sits on ID2020’s board, and Kim Gagné, newly appointed as Board Chair, also worked at Microsoft. “Who is doing the building here is a critical vulnerability, as critical as any technical challenge,” said Renieris. “This is 100% a hammer looking for a nail.”

CDC Confirms Remarkably Low Death Rate – Media Chooses To Ignore COVID-19 Realities – (Zero Hedge – May 25, 2020)

The CDC just came out with a report that should be earth-shattering to the narrative of the political class, yet it will go into the thick pile of vital data and information about the virus that is not getting out to the public. For the first time, the CDC has attempted to offer a real estimate of the overall death rate for COVID-19, and under its most likely scenario, the number is 0.26%.
Officials estimate a 0.4% fatality rate among those who are symptomatic and project a 35% rate of asymptomatic cases among those infected, which drops the overall infection fatality rate (IFR) to just 0.26% – almost exactly where Stanford researchers pegged it in April.

Appeal – (Veritas Liberabit Vos – May 7, 2020)

Appeal for the Church and the World to Catholics and all people of good will. The facts have shown that, under the pretext of the Covid-19 epidemic, the inalienable rights of citizens have in many cases been violated and their fundamental freedoms, including the exercise of freedom of worship, expression and movement, have been disproportionately and unjustifiably restricted. Public health must not, and cannot, become an alibi for infringing on the rights of millions of people around the world, let alone for depriving the civil authority of its duty to act wisely for the common good. This is particularly true as growing doubts emerge from several quarters about the actual contagiousness, danger and resistance of the virus. Many authoritative voices in the world of science and medicine confirm that the media’s alarmism about Covid-19 appears to be absolutely unjustified. We have reason to believe, on the basis of official data on the incidence of the epidemic as related to the number of deaths, that there are powers interested in creating panic among the world’s population with the sole aim of permanently imposing unacceptable forms of restriction on freedoms, of controlling people and of tracking their movements. The imposition of these illiberal measures is a disturbing prelude to the realization of a world government beyond all control. (Editor’s note: The Appeal is an initiative of H.E.R. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio. According to the website, some cardinals, bishops and numerous priests have joined this appeal, as well as an increasing number of leading personalities of society. Article includes lists of signatories.)


 

NEW DISCOVERIES

An Experiment Suggested by a Ph.D. Student May Rewrite Chemistry Textbooks – (PhysOrg – June 23, 2020)

The project looked at a fundamental question: Which properties are inherent to a metal and which are incidental? Intuition suggests that metals are dense, and while that bears true for some (think gold or lead), it fails to hold up for others. For example, lithium—commonly used in batteries—floats on water. Some metals are hard, such as titanium, yet others yield easily to pressure, including indium and aluminum. How about melting temperature? Platinum melts at more than 1,700 degrees Celsius (3,200 F), but mercury is a liquid well below zero. Many other definitions of ‘metal-hood’ suffer similar contradictions, but only metals are able to conduct electricity. Conduction, unlike density or hardness, is an inherent property of all metals. Seeking to further understand the intrinsic properties of metals, USC Professor of Chemistry Stephen Bradforth, graduate student McMullen and their colleagues used a trick first noted by chemist Sir Humphry Davy in 1809. In essence, they made a metal from scratch.

Unexplained Phenomena Keep Suggesting the Universe Isn’t What We Thought – (Vice/Motherboard – May 26, 2020)

The physical laws of the universe do not tolerate localized deviations —or so our best theory goes. Scientists operate under the assumption that there are universal laws of physics that affect matter the same way everywhere, from our own solar neighborhood to galaxies billions of light years away. In other words, while there are obviously variations in the density and distributions of matter across space, scientists assume that the universe is statistically homogenous at large scales of hundreds of millions of light years, because the actual hard wiring of the universe is equally applied everywhere. However, two unrelated studies recently raised the same possibility: that the laws of physics might not apply everywhere. If true, they would upend an idea underpinning centuries of science.


 

GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY

Diluted Blood Plasma Found to Reverse Aging in Mice – (New Atlas – June 1, 2020)

A new study by bioengineers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley has revealed an interesting new pathway in efforts to fight off the effects of aging. The team’s research has shown how diluting the blood plasma of older mice can have a strong rejuvenation effect on tissues and organs, by reducing the concentration of inflammatory proteins that typically increase with age. The new research builds on a study published 15 years ago, where UC Berkeley scientists Irina and Michael Conboy found that when making conjoined twins of old and young mice so they shared blood and organs, they could reverse some of the effects of aging in the older animal. This prompted a lot of research into the proteins and molecules that could be contained in the younger mouse’s blood that might function as a “fountain of youth” and might possibly be harnessed to slow or reverse aging. Now the researchers, UC Berkeley scientists Irina and Michael Conboy, are investigating the idea that rather than using the proteins and molecules from young blood, perhaps the process of aging could be slowed by cleansing the old blood of its harmful proteins and molecules. “We thought, ‘What if we had some neutral age blood, some blood that was not young or not old?’” said Michael Conboy. “We’ll do the exchange with that, and see if it still improves the old animal. This neutral blood exchange, where half of the blood plasma in older mice was swapped out for the solution, was found to significantly improve their health. The rejuvenation effects on the brain, liver and muscles were the same or stronger than in the original experiments in 2005.

Cancer Drug: New Treatment Halts Tumor Growth – (BBC News – June 23, 2020)

A drug that could stop cancer cells repairing themselves has shown early signs of working. More than half of the 40 patients given berzosertib had the growth of their tumors halted. It was even more effective when given alongside chemotherapy, the trial run by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Trust suggested. The drug is the first to be trialed of a new family of treatments, which block a protein involved in DNA repair. Blocking this protein prevents cancers from mending damage to their cells. It’s part of a branch of treatment known as “precision medicine”, which targets specific genes or genetic changes. The study involved patients with very advanced tumors, for whom no other treatment had worked and was designed only to test the safety of the drug. Further trials will be needed to demonstrate the drug’s effectiveness, though. “This study involved only small numbers of patients…Therefore, it is too early to consider berzosertib a game changer in cancer treatment,” said Dr Darius Widera at the University of Reading. Chemotherapy works by damaging cancer cells’ DNA, so using it in conjunction with this new treatment, which stops the cells from repairing themselves, appears to give an even greater benefit. And berzosertib is able to target tumor cells without affecting other healthy cells, Prof Lord said. If used alone this could provide a less aggressive option than chemotherapy, which attacks cells indiscriminately. The next phase of trialing berzosertib is already under way.

The Y Chromosome Is Disappearing – So What Will Happen to Men? – (University of Kent, UK – January 23, 2018)

The Y chromosome may be a symbol of masculinity, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it is anything but strong and enduring. Although it carries the “master switch” gene, SRY, that determines whether an embryo will develop as male (XY) or female (XX), it contains very few other genes and is the only chromosome not necessary for life. Women, after all, manage just fine without one. What’s more, the Y chromosome has degenerated rapidly, leaving females with two perfectly normal X chromosomes, but males with an X and a shriveled Y. If the same rate of degeneration continues, the Y chromosome has just 4.6m years left before it disappears completely. (Or not. Read on.) Y chromosomes have a fundamental flaw. Unlike all other chromosomes, which we have two copies of in each of our cells, Y chromosomes are only ever present as a single copy, passed from fathers to their sons. This means that genes on the Y chromosome cannot undergo genetic recombination, the “shuffling” of genes that occurs in each generation which helps to eliminate damaging gene mutations. Deprived of the benefits of recombination, Y chromosomal genes degenerate over time and are eventually lost from the genome. Despite this, recent research has shown that the Y chromosome has developed some pretty convincing mechanisms to “put the brakes on”, slowing the rate of gene loss to a possible standstill. And even if the Y chromosome in humans does disappear, it does not necessarily mean that males themselves are on their way out. Even in the species that have actually lost their Y chromosomes completely, males and females are both still necessary for reproduction. In these cases, the SRY “master switch” gene that determines genetic maleness has moved to a different chromosome, meaning that these species produce males without needing a Y chromosome.

CRISPR Gene Editing in Human Embryos Wreaks Chromosome Mayhem – (Scientific American – June 25, 2020)

A suite of experiments that use the gene-editing tool CRISPR–Cas9 to modify human embryos have revealed how the process can make large, unwanted changes to the genome at or near the target site. The studies were published this month on the preprint server bioRxiv, and have not yet been peer-reviewed. But taken together, they give scientists a good look at what some say is an underappreciated risk of CRISPR–Cas9 editing. Previous experiments have revealed that the tool can make ‘off target’ gene mutations far from the target site, but the nearby changes identified in the latest studies can be missed by standard assessment methods. “The on-target effects are more important and would be much more difficult to eliminate,” says Gaétan Burgio, a geneticist at the Australian National University in Canberra. The first preprint was posted online on 5 June by developmental biologist Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute in London and her colleagues. In that study, the researchers used CRISPR–Cas9 to create mutations in the POU5F1 gene, which is important for embryonic development. Of 18 genome-edited embryos, about 22% contained unwanted changes affecting large swathes of the DNA surrounding POU5F1. They included DNA rearrangements and large deletions of several thousand DNA letters—much greater than typically intended by researchers using this approach. The latest research underscores how little is known about how human embryos repair DNA cut by the genome-editing tools—a key step in CRISPR–Cas9 editing, says reproductive biologist Mary Herbert at Newcastle University, UK. “We need a basic road map of what’s going on in there before we start hitting it with DNA-cutting enzymes,” she says.

Duke University Researchers Say Every Brain Activity Study You’ve Ever Read Is Wrong – (Fast Company – June 25, 2020)

Functional MRI machines (fMRIs) are excellent at determining the brain structures involved in a task. For example, a study asking 50 people to count or remember names while undergoing an fMRI scan would accurately identify which parts of the brain are active during the task. ]The trouble is that when the same person is asked to do the same tasks weeks or months apart, the results vary wildly. This is likely because fMRIs don’t actually measure brain activity directly: They measure blood flow to regions of the brain, which is used as a proxy for brain activity because neurons in those regions are presumably more active. Blood flow levels, apparently, change. “The correlation between one scan and a second is not even fair, it’s poor,” says lead author Ahmad Hariri, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Duke University. The researchers reexamined 56 peer-reviewed, published papers that conducted 90 fMRI experiments, some by leaders in the field, and also looked at the results of so-called “test/retest” fMRIs, where 65 subjects were asked to do the same tasks months apart. They found that of seven measures of brain function, none had consistent readings. This is a mouthful of dirt for hundreds of researchers—and Hariri is one of them. He has carried out fMRI research for 15 years, and is currently running a long-term fMRI study of 1,300 Duke students to discern why some come away from traumatic events with PTSD while others do not. “I’m going to throw myself under the bus,” he says. “This whole subbranch of fMRI could go extinct if we don’t address this critical limitation.”


 

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

International Team of Scientists Warns of Increasing Threats Posed by Invasive Species – (Science Daily – June 26, 2020)

Scientists from around the world — including a professor at the University of Rhode Island — warn that the threats posed by invasive alien species are increasing. They say that urgent action is required to prevent, detect and control invaders at both local and global levels. Alien species are plants, animals and microbes that are introduced by people, accidentally or intentionally, into areas where they do not naturally occur. The study was carried out by a team of researchers from 13 countries across Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North and South America. It states that the number of invasive alien species is increasing rapidly, with more than 18,000 currently listed around the world. The scale of the problem is enormous. A 2017 analysis of global extinctions revealed that alien species contributed to 25% of plant extinctions and 33% of terrestrial and freshwater animal extinctions. Meanwhile, annual environmental losses caused by introduced species in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India and Brazil have been calculated at more than $100 billion.


 

COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health – (Wired – June 25, 2020)

It’s 11:37 pm and the pattern shows no signs of shifting. At 1:12 am, it’s more of the same. Thumb down, thumb up. Twitter, Instagram, and—if you’re feeling particularly wrought/masochistic—Facebook. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic left a great many people locked down in their homes in early March, the evening ritual has been codifying: Each night ends the way the day began, with an endless scroll through social media in a desperate search for clarity. This habit has become known as doomsurfing, or “falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating myself to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep.” For those who prefer their despair be portable, the term is doomscrolling, and as protests over racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd have joined the Covid-19 crisis in the news cycle, it’s only gotten more intense. The constant stream of news and social media never ends. The promise of some answer, or perhaps even some good news, always feels one click away. But it’s not. Doomscrolling can lead to the same long-term effects on mental health unless we mount interventions that address users’ behaviors and guide the design of social media platforms in ways that improve mental health and well-being.” However, not everyone is looking for the latest bad news. Allissa Richardson, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, notes that when she was researching her new book, Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, and the New Protest #Journalism, she spoke to many activists who didn’t participate in doomscrolling simply because, as they said, “I can’t see myself being killed over and over again in this tiny square on my phone.” Richardson added, “Doomscrolling for Black people works in the inverse, we’re actually trying to look for something separate and apart from bad things.”


 

TRANSPORTATION

The Rocket Motor of the Future Breathes Air Like a Jet Engine – (Wired – June 26, 2020)

This theoretical engine could drastically reduce the cost of getting to space. While a conventional rocket engine must carry giant tanks of fuel and oxidizer on its journey to space, an air-breathing rocket motor pulls most of its oxidizer directly from the atmosphere. This means that an air-breathing rocket can lift more stuff with less propellant and drastically lower the cost of space access—at least in theory. Now two companies are trying to make it real. The idea to combine the efficiency of a jet engine with the power of a rocket motor isn’t new, but historically these systems have only been combined in stages. But if these staged systems could be rolled up into one engine, the huge efficiency gains would dramatically lower the cost of getting to space. “The holy grail is a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle where you just take off from a runway, fly into space, and come back and reuse the system,” says Christopher Goyne, director of the University of Virginia’s Aerospace Research Laboratory and an expert in hypersonic flight. The big challenge with a single-stage-to-orbit, or SSTO, rocket is that achieving the speeds necessary for orbit—around 17,000 mph—requires a lot of propellant. But adding more propellant makes a rocket heavier, which makes it harder to reach orbital velocity.


 

SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Spies Can Eavesdrop by Watching a Light Bulb’s Vibrations – (Wired – June 12, 2020)

The list of sophisticated eavesdropping techniques has grown steadily over years: wiretaps, hacked phones, bugs in the wall—even bouncing lasers off of a building’s glass to pick up conversations inside. Now add another tool for audio spies: Any light bulb in a room that might be visible from a window. Researchers from Israeli’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Weizmann Institute of Science today revealed a new technique for long-distance eavesdropping they call “lamphone.” They say it allows anyone with a laptop and less than a thousand dollars of equipment—just a telescope and a $400 electro-optical sensor—to listen in on any sounds in a room that’s hundreds of feet away in real-time, simply by observing the minuscule vibrations those sounds create on the glass surface of a light bulb inside. By measuring the tiny changes in light output from the bulb that those vibrations cause, the researchers show that a spy can pick up sound clearly enough to discern the contents of conversations or even recognize a piece of music. Researchers found that the tiny vibrations of the light bulb in response to sound—movements that they measured at as little as a few hundred microns—registered as a measurable changes in the light their sensor picked up through each telescope. After processing the signal through software to filter out noise, they were able to reconstruct recordings of the sounds inside the room with remarkable fidelity: They showed, for instance, that they could reproduce an audible snippet of a speech from President Donald Trump well enough for it to be transcribed by Google’s Cloud Speech API. They also generated a recording of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” clear enough that the name-that-tune app Shazam could instantly recognize it.

This California City Defunded Its Police Force. Killings by Officers Soared. – (Washington Post – June 23, 2020)

Twelve years ago, officials in Vallejo, Calif., reluctantly took a step that activists are now urging in cities across the country: They defunded their police department. Unable to pay its bills after the 2008 financial crisis, Vallejo filed for bankruptcy and cut its police force nearly in half — to fewer than 80 officers, from a pre-recession high of more than 150. At the time, the working-class city of 122,000 north of San Francisco struggled with high rates of violent crime and simmering mistrust of its police department. It didn’t seem like things could get much worse. And then they did. Far from ushering in a new era of harmony between police and the people they are sworn to protect, the budget cuts worsened tensions between the department and the community and were followed by a dramatic surge in officers’ use of deadly force. Since 2009 the police have killed 20 people, an extraordinarily high number for such a small city. In 2012 alone, officers fatally shot six suspects. Nearly a third of the city’s homicides that year were committed by law enforcement. Vallejo’s experience offers a glimpse of how a core element of the defunding agenda — fewer officers, assigned to limited duties — might play out, especially in a community with limited resources. Those who support such an approach say that the current model of policing is irrevocably broken and that millions or billions of dollars should be moved from police budgets to social services. As the city went broke, there was no effort to shift money from its diminished police department to other agencies and programs, which likewise faced cuts. Danté R. Quick, pastor at Vallejo’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and a lead organizer of the city’s protests after the death of Floyd, said, “Our police department is woefully ‘defunded’ — which has led to overworked, underpaid and therefore underqualified police officers. Do I really want a man or woman who’s worked 16 hours straight, with a gun in their hand, with state-sanctioned ability to take my life, who is tired — do I want that person authorized to police me? The answer to that is no.” (Editor’s note: As state and local budgets are increasingly strained by revenue shortfalls due to the coronavirus, this cautionary article deserves attention.)


 

INTERNATIONAL TRENDS

LongShots Film Festival – (BBC News – May, 20200)

LongShots is the first virtual film festival sponsored by the BBC and showcases emerging documentary filmmakers around the world. A prestigious jury, including Academy Award nominees and acclaimed curators, nominated over 70 films, from which a shortlist was selected for their power in storytelling. At the link, there are 6 free documentaries (from Uruguay, India, Mexico, Portugal, China, and Poland), about everything from a former world-champion bodybuilder living a far less exalted life in a rural Uruguayan town and plotting to recapture his glory, to a coming-of-age story in the National Conservatory Dance School in Lisbon. (Voting for a favorite has already closed; the bodybuilder film won.)


 

LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

What’s Really Going On at Seattle’s So-Called Autonomous Zone? – (Slate – June 16, 2020)

If you’re trying to figure out what CHAZ is or what’s happening there, what you read will likely reflect your network’s political beliefs. If you lean right, you might see CHAZ mocked as a failed experiment run by radical anarchists; if you lean left, you might see posts praising it as a new sort of utopia, comparable to Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark. As misinformation and cherry-picked videos and images spread across the internet, I noticed people outside of Seattle had two very different views of what was happening in CHAZ (“Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” is no longer the preferred nomenclature. Organizers are now asking that people call it the CHOP—the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.) So I (the author of this article) went to see for myself what it was all about and sort out whether claims I’d seen online were truths, half-truths, or flat-out lies. CHOP, like any cross-section of the U.S., is a mix of beliefs, politics, and ideologies, and to paint it as either a utopia or a hellscape is to erase its nuances. The one message activists and CHOP visitors I talked with seem to agree on is that Black lives matter, and that CHOP is a symbol of the powerful cultural shift currently happening in the U.S.; CHOP, as a place, is meaningful to many, but the movement is bigger. As community organizer Nikkita Oliver reminded a crowd, the movement is “not about this space—it’s about a system of dismantling white supremacy.” (Editor’s note: We recommend this piece for its evenhanded reporting in the midst of a highly charged situation.)

The Pandemic Is Transforming the Rental Economy – (Wired – June 8, 2020)

“I thought we were dead,” says Manny Bamfo, the CEO of room-rental startup Globe. During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Globe—a sharing economy platform for people to rent rooms from one another for a few hours at a time—faced a daunting existential crisis. Its original concept hinged on the idea that travelers or on-the-go professionals looking for a pit stop would find renting a room from a stranger appealing, and vice versa. It’s not just short-term room rentals. The pandemic is making the prospect of renting anything suddenly fraught. Many rental-based markets saw their customers recoil or disappear as Covid-19 swept through the US.. Prominent clothing service Rent the Runway laid off retail staff via Zoom, while short-term rental giant Airbnb cut nearly 25% of its workforce. The rental car industry was hit especially hard, with more than 2,000 employees losing their positions at Enterprise. Hertz filed for bankruptcy in May. But Bamfo claims Globe is thriving. “Business has been very, very, very good,” he adds. Instead of frequent fliers, Globe is now courting newly remote workers who want a respite from quarantined life, who are searching for a quiet place to make a phone call or take a break from homeschooling their children. “People have to find privacy,” Bamfo says.


 

CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Incredible Time-lapse Video Shows 10 Years of the Sun’s History in 6 Minutes – (Live Science – June 25, 2020)

What does 10 years mean to our 4.6 billion-year-old sun? Probably about as much as the last millionth of a second meant to you. Still, every decade that our old sun burns on is a decade of turbulent, sometimes violent change — a fact that becomes beautifully evident in a new time-lapse video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). In the stunning video, titled “A Decade of Sun,” astronomers compiled 425 million high-definition images of the sun, snapped once every 0.75 seconds between June 2, 2010 and June 1, 2020. Each second of the video represents one day in the sun’s life, and the entire decade blazes by in about 60 minutes (though you can see our 6-minute highlight reel embedded in the article). During that decade, the sun undergoes a sea change, slowly bubbling with enormous magnetic ripples known as sunspots, which peaked around 2014 before fading away again. The sun’s quiescence wasn’t a surprise; every 11 years or so, the sun’s magnetic poles suddenly switch places; North becomes South, solar magnetic activity begins to wane, and the sun’s surface starts to look like a tranquil sea of yellow fire. This period of relative calm is called a solar minimum (and we are currently in the midst of one). However, halfway between one decade’s flip-flop and the next, a violent shift occurs. Magnetic activity increases to a vibrant high, known as a solar maximum, and the star’s surface ripples with gigantic sunspots, bristles with lashing magnetic field lines and pops with plasma explosions known as solar flares. Each maximum peaks with another magnetic pole reversal, signaling the start of a new solar cycle.

There Could Be 36 Communicating Intelligent Civilizations in Our Galaxy, Study Says – (CNN – June 15, 2020)

Scientists have calculated that there could be a minimum of 36 active, communicating intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy, according to a new study. However, due to time and distance, we may never actually know if they exist or ever existed. The study published in The Astrophysical Journal. Previous calculations along these lines have been based on the Drake equation, which was written by astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake in 1961. “Drake developed an equation which in principle can be used to calculate how many Communicating Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent (CETI) civilizations there may be in the Galaxy,” the authors wrote in their study. “However, many of its terms are unknowable and other methods must be used to calculate the likely number of communicating civilizations.” So scientists at the University of Nottingham developed their own approach. “The key difference between our calculation and previous ones based on the Drake equation is that we make very simple assumptions about how life developed,” said study coauthor Christopher Conselice, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Nottingham. “One of them is that life forms in a scientific way — that is if the right conditions are met then life will form. This avoids impossible to answer questions such as ‘what fraction of planets in a habitable zone of a star will form life?’ and ‘what fraction of life will evolve into intelligent life?’ as these are not answerable until we actually detect life, which we have not yet done.” For an interesting challenge to this article, see this article from Forbes: 36 Alien Civilizations in The Milky Way? The Science Behind a Ridiculous Headline.

Astronomers See Mystery Object in Space That Could Solve Black Hole Puzzle – (Independent – June 23, 2020)

Scientists have seen a “mystery object” in space that could solve a puzzle about black holes. The object sits right in the “mass gap” – a class of object that researchers have found seems to be missing as they search through the universe. Researchers have been unable to know whether dying stars leave anything behind that lies in that mysterious gap, and why it has proven so difficult to find any object that sits in it. When the most massive stars die out, they collapse under their own gravity and turn into black holes. Less massive ones explode into supernovas and leave behind their remains in the form of neutron stars. The problem of the mass gap arose because the heaviest neutron star is 2.5 times the size of the Sun, and the lightest known black hole is about five times our Sun. Researchers were puzzled by the fact that there appeared to be nothing in that strange gap between. Now they have detected an object that appears to be either the heaviest neutron star ever found, or the lightest black hole. The object is 2.6 solar masses, putting it right in the middle of that gap, and was discovered in August last year when it merged with a black hole of 23 solar masses, an event that sent gravitational waves rippling through space so they could be picked up from observatories on Earth. “We’ve been waiting decades to solve this mystery,” said Vicky Kalogera, a professor at Northwestern University. “We don’t know if this object is the heaviest known neutron star, or the lightest known black hole, but either way it breaks a record.”

Pluto May Have Possessed a Subsurface Ocean at Birth – (Scientific American – June 23, 2020)

Though Pluto is now famously frigid, it may have started off as a hot world that formed rapidly and violently, a new study finds. This result suggests Pluto may have possessed an underground ocean since early on in its life, potentially improving its chances of hosting life, researchers said. Previous work assumed Pluto originated from cold and icy rock clumping together in the distant Kuiper Belt, the ring of objects beyond Neptune’s orbit. The researchers analyzed so-called “extensional features” on Pluto’s surface. Water expands as it freezes, so as Pluto’s interior cooled, Pluto’s surface stretched, generating recognizable structures. The scientists compared geological observations of Pluto captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by the dwarf planet in 2015, with various models of Pluto’s origin and evolution. Although there is evidence that Pluto currently possesses a liquid ocean beneath its thick frozen shell, researchers had suggested this subsurface ocean developed long after Pluto formed, after ice melted due to heat from radioactive elements in Pluto’s core. Now scientists argue that instead of a cold formation, Pluto had a hot start, one full of explosive force. If Pluto had a rapid, violent formation, the heat from the colliding rocks from which Pluto coalesced would have faded relatively quickly, leading the icy shell to grow rapidly, generating extensional features early in Pluto’s history. This freezing would pause as heat from radioactivity became a major factor, and resume as radioactive elements broke down, slowly creating extensional structures over time.


 

STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

These Numbers Show That Black and White People Live in Two Different Americas – (Washington Post – June 23, 2020)

Numbers can help put American racism in perspective. And here is what the numbers say: The United States is a vastly different country, depending on the color of your skin. For African Americans, hardship begins before birth. The infant mortality rate for Blacks, for example, is more than twice that of white Americans. Black women are more likely to receive late, or no, prenatal care, and they also face nearly three times the risk of pregnancy-related deaths. Black Americans also suffer from higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart disease than white Americans. Research suggests that social determinants — conditions in the places where we live, work, learn and play — are important drivers of health inequities, and that racism itself can harm health. In this parallel reality, family income is much lower. The percentage of black children living below the poverty line is three times that of whites. It’s not just income but employment itself. Even though white Americans haven’t seen an unemployment rate near 15 percent in decades, African Americans have seen it many times — about once a decade over the past 50 years. One form of discrimination believed to have cascading consequences is a practice known as “redlining.” From the 1930s to the late 1960s, areas with sizable black populations were marked with red ink on maps used by banks to determine who was eligible to get loans. It was often impossible for residents of those areas to secure home mortgages. If they could get loans, the interest rates could be prohibitive. The practice was banned more than 50 years ago, but a 2018 study found that 3 out of 4 neighborhoods redlined 80 years ago continue to struggle economically today. Home ownership is directly linked to wealth and, for centuries, blacks were essentially blocked from it. Underpaid or unable to buy a home, a large part of the black community remains unable to gain access to the main way that whites have achieved wealth and middle-class stability. As a result, the net worth of white households is now 10 times greater than black households. The article’s comparisons continue.

Almost One-third of Black Americans Know Someone Who Died of Covid-19 – (Washington Post – June 26)

A nationwide survey finds that 31% of Black adults say they know someone firsthand who has been killed by the virus, compared with 17% of adults who are Hispanic and 9% who are white. Adding in those who know someone with symptoms consistent with covid-19, slightly more than half of Black Americans say they know at least one person who has gotten sick or died of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Fewer than 4 in 10 white or Hispanic Americans say they do. Taken together, the poll’s findings attest to sharp racial differences in the sense that the virus is close at hand, after nearly a half-year in which it has sparked the nation’s worst public health calamity in more than a century. According to authorities on health disparities, those differences arise from the nation’s deep-seated socioeconomic inequality and help explain the recent spasm of unrest across much of the country in a drive for racial justice. The differing close-up exposure to the virus’s ravaging effects is accompanied by divergent attitudes about the best way for the country to recover. Asked whether it is more important to try to control the spread of the coronavirus or to try to restart the economy, even if one hurts the other, 83% of Black Americans say trying to control the virus is a higher priority. By contrast, when the same question was asked in a Washington Post-ABC News poll last month, just about half of white Americans said trying to control the virus is more important.

For the First Time, the Majority of People under 16 in America are Nonwhite and Hispanic – (Fast Company – June 25, 2020)

The Census Bureau has released its latest population estimates, which include data from 2019. And on the whole, it shows an aging white America and an increasingly diverse United States. Here are some general insights: The total population hovered around 329 million in 2019, up from around 308 million in 2010. The 65-and-older population swelled by nearly 35% between 2010 and 2019, driven by the aging of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. In part due to this, the median age of Americans rose from 37.2 years to 38.4 years. The U.S. population was about 60% non-Hispanic white in 2019, a record low for the country, and experts predict non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in 25 years. Meanwhile, Hispanic and Asian populations grew by 20% and 30%, respectively, from 2010 to 2019, and the Black population grew by 12%. While the white population grew by 4.3% compared to 2010, the number of non-Hispanic whites fell by more than half a million people from 2016 to 2019. In 2019, for the first time ever, nonwhites and Hispanics were the majority for people under the age of 16, signaling a demographic shift that experts expect will continue over the coming decades.


 

NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Electrified Fabric Could Zap the Coronavirus on Masks and Clothing – (Scientific American – June 24, 2020)

All personal protective gear (PPE) shares one significant problem: people still risk becoming infected with the novel coronavirus if they accidentally touch areas of the fabric that are contaminated with viral particles. So researchers are working to develop cloth that could inactivate or repel coronaviruses—ideally including the one that causes COVID-19—and other pathogens. Chandan Sen, director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering at Indiana University, and his colleagues have been developing a way to render those particles and other infectious agents harmless. The team researches “electroceutical” materials that wirelessly “generate electric fields across the surface of the fabric,” Sen says. The polyester material is printed with alternating spots of silver and zinc resembling polka dots. They are one to two millimeters wide and spaced one millimeter apart. When the electroceutical material is dry, it functions as an ordinary fabric. But if it gets dampened—say, with saliva, vapor from a coughed up droplet or other bodily fluids—ions in the liquid trigger an electrochemical reaction. The silver and zinc then generate a weak electric field that zaps pathogens on the surface. The researchers co-developed the material with the biotechnology company Vomaris Innovations in 2012. Last year they showed that the technology could be used to treat bacterial biofilms in wounds. A clinical trial is underway to further evaluate the fabric’s effectiveness as a Food and Drug Administration–cleared dressing for wound care, Sen says. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen’s team tested its existing material on a different coronavirus strain that causes a respiratory illness in pigs and on an unrelated type of pathogen called a lentivirus. “We wanted to know how broadly this principle could be applicable,” he says. In a study posted on the preprint server ChemRxiv in May, Sen’s team reported that its electroceutical fabric destabilized both viruses, leaving them unable to infect cells.


 

ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

Meet BlackRock, the New Great Vampire Squid – (Unz Review – June 21, 2020)

BlackRock is an asset manager that helps pension funds and retirees manage their savings through “passive” investments that track the stock market. But working behind the scenes, it is much more than that. BlackRock has been called “the most powerful institution in the financial system,” “the most powerful company in the world” and the “secret power.” It is the world’s largest asset manager and “shadow bank,” larger than the world’s largest bank (which is in China), with over $7 trillion in assets under direct management and another $20 trillion managed through its Aladdin risk-monitoring software. BlackRock has also been called “the fourth branch of government” and “almost a shadow government”, but no part of it actually belongs to the government. Despite its size and global power, BlackRock is not even regulated as a “Systemically Important Financial Institution” under the Dodd-Frank Act, thanks to pressure from its CEO Larry Fink, who has long had “cozy” relationships with government officials. In August 2019the BlackRock group argued that it was time for the central bank to abandon its long-vaunted independence and join monetary policy (the usual province of the central bank) with fiscal policy (the usual province of the legislature). They proposed that the central bank maintain a “Standing Emergency Fiscal Facility” that would be activated when interest rate manipulation was no longer working to avoid deflation. The Facility would be deployed by an “independent expert” appointed by the central bank. The COVID-19 crisis presented the perfect opportunity to execute this proposal in the US, with BlackRock itself appointed to administer it. In March 2020, it was awarded a no-bid contract under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to deploy a $454 billion slush fund established by the Treasury in partnership with the Federal Reserve. This fund in turn could be leveraged to provide over $4 trillion in Federal Reserve credit. While the public was distracted with protests, riots and lockdowns, BlackRock suddenly emerged from the shadows to become the “fourth branch of government,” managing the controls to the central bank’s print-on-demand fiat money. How did that happen and what are the implications?

Why Do We Pay So Many People So Little Money? – (New York Times – June 24, 2020)

With notable abruptness, thanks to the advent of the coronavirus, much of the public has become aware its dependence on hospital orderlies, cleaners, trash collectors, grocery workers, food delivery drivers, paramedics, mortuary technicians, and postal, shipping, maintenance, wastewater treatment, truck stop and mass transit employees — people that, to many, had been a largely invisible work force. A paper published in May, “The Declining Worker Power Hypothesis,” by Anna Stansbury and Lawrence H. Summers, economists at Harvard, describes conditions on the bottom rungs of the job market: “The American economy has become more ruthless, as declining unionization, increasingly demanding and empowered shareholders, decreasing real minimum wages, reduced worker protections, and the increases in outsourcing domestically and abroad have disempowered workers — with profound consequences for the labor market and the broader economy.” Recognition of the disadvantages faced by essential workers has, in turn, shed light on the broader challenges of the entire low-wage job market. A 2019 Brookings report, “Meet the low-wage work force,” warns that “low-wage workers risk becoming collateral damage.” The authors of the report, Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman, both of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, calculated that “more than 53 million people — 44% of all workers aged 18-64 — are low-wage workers by our criteria. They earn median hourly wages of $10.22 and median annual earnings of $17,950.” Ross and Bateman determined that, nationally, low wage workers are 52.4% white, 14.8% black and 24.9% Hispanic, compared with a middle and high wage work force that is 70.6% white, 9.9% black and 11.4% Hispanic. And there are substantial roadblocks to proposals to improve their standing: decades of declining worker bargaining power, including the near elimination of private sector unions; the automation and offshoring of manufacturing; as well as tax policies favoring corporations and the rich and policies described as “biased against labor and in favor of capital.” Walter Scheidel, a Stanford professor of classics and history, argues that the likely outcome of the current crises will be the “preservation of the status quo,” adding “the forces that seek to maintain plutocratic and corporate dominance are very powerful and influential.” The article explores various reasons why this opinion is likely to be accurate (for example, robots). (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for its exploration of the some of the dynamics involved in this issue.) See also: The Future of Work Isn’t What People Think It Is.


 

PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

What Technology Has Accidentally Killed the Most People? – (Gizmodo – June 15, 2020)

Show me a museum of important historical inventors and I will show you a gallery of deluded mass murderers. I’m not talking about machine gun manufacturers or nuclear scientists—those people, at least, have some sense of what they’re up to. If we measure lethality by the fraction of the world’s population killed, the deadliest technology was the ocean-going vessel, made possible by innovations in ship design and by navigational instruments such as the compass and the cross staff. Like guns, ships didn’t kill by themselves; it took irrational ambitions, such as extravagant wealth accumulation, to give them deadly effect. In the century after 1492, the indigenous population of America declined by about 50 million as Europeans brought diseases such as smallpox and measles to the Americas. But for total numbers killed, the combustion engine—any technology that turns fire into work—surpasses even this the ocean-going vessel’s horrific record. Toys that turned heat into action date to ancient times, but the transformative moment came in 1712, when England’s Thomas Newcomen designed an engine that used fire to create a vacuum, which in turn moved a piston in a cylinder big enough for a grown person to climb into. The whole machine occupied a freestanding building. It burned tremendous quantities of coal in return for a little work. But at the pithead of a coal mine, fuel was cheap, and by draining the mine of floodwater, it earned its keep. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, Newcomen released powers greater than he could imagine. Applied to English textile mills, it enabled insatiable demands for fiber, for colonies to supply the fiber in the form of cotton, and for slave labor to produce the cotton. The Atlantic slave trade preceded the combustion engine, but the engine made slavery far more lucrative. The engine also enriched a new industrial aristocracy. Lacking hereditary titles, they proved their status through displays of wealth. One way was to serve tea sweetened with sugar—from slave labor. The slave trade killed many millions, and slave labor killed many millions more. Sugar plantations were the deadliest forced labor camps of the Americas. In combination with greed, racism, and indifference, a machine devised as a labor saver worked millions of people to death. The hardly recognizable descendent of Newcomen’s invention is the gasoline engine. Essentially it uses the same technology: apply combustion to drive a piston and thereby convert the stored chemical energy in a fossil fuel into useful work. Motor vehicle crashes alone have killed about 70 to 90 million people over the last century; each year another 1.3 million die this way.

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice – (Medium – August 13, 2017, updated)

Achieving racial justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Here is a wide ranging list of 75 actions that individuals can take to support racial justice and change society. Quite tellingly, the article opens with the image of an artwork, a public installation called
A Small Matter of Engineering, Part II
by Kara Springer, a black artist. If you wonder if there is anything you can do that would honestly be effective, read this list and count the ways. If you wonder what to do to help effect social change, read this list, find some actions that fit your situation, and go from there. This article is continually updated to ensure each item is accurate and needed today. (Editor’s note: We didn’t find this list to be 100% “clean” in its wording, but there is a lot of value here.)


FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.

How a Writer with a Ph.D. in Psychology Became a Poker Champ – (New York Times – June 23, 2020)

If we live in a universe predicated on randomness and luck, Maria Konnikova writes in her fascinating new book, The Biggest Bluff, then on a planet of 7.5 billion people, the idea of “one chance in a million” isn’t so unusual. Even rarity can verge on the quotidian. “It is pure statistics, and it is part of life, neither good nor bad,” she says. The deeper challenge for us humans on Earth — Earth being only one of 40-some billion other Earthlike planets in our galaxy — is that our brains can’t figure out what to do with numbers. “The equation of luck and skill is, at its heart, probabilistic,” Konnikova writes. But our primal selves are hard-wired by experience and hot emotion, which distorts and limits our view of things, sometimes magnifying threats and opportunities. But what if we could be more dispassionate in regarding our own destiny? What if we could see through the ups and downs, the glories and tragedies — our own winning and losing streaks, really — to the underlying grid of chance and self-determination that guides all of life, including issues of love, health and money? On its face, “The Biggest Bluff” is a book that seeks to answer this question by focusing on the author’s own unusual quest to succeed in the world of high-stakes poker — specifically, No Limit Texas Hold‘em — a game Konnikova argues is the perfect distillation of our probabilistic universe, with all its combination of knowns and unknowns.


 

JUST FOR FUN

World’s Greatest Skateboarding Quarantine – (YouTube – May 2, 2020)

Dalton and Kanaan Dern, are skateboarding brothers who live in Florida. They responded to a contest by beverage company, Liquid Death, and the award winning LA skateboarding park, The Berrics, for the best in/on/through/around the house skateboarding frenzy. These are the guys who won. Even if you never aspired to be a total skateboard pro, this is wild. (Editor’s note: The video clip does show them wiping out occasionally; we wondered how many broken limbs were required to achieve this level of skateboard mastery.)


 

A FINAL QUOTE

If you are not working on something that takes longer than your lifetime, you are not working on something big enough. – Anonymous

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A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.

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Volume 23, Number 12 – 6/15/20

Volume 23, Number 14 – 7/15/20