Volume 12, Number 1 – 08/15/09

Volume 12, Number 1 – 08/15/09• PUBLICATION ANNOUNCEMENTA Vision for 2012 Planning for Extraordinary Change by John Petersen

Former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart has said “Even for those of us who have known John Petersen over the years, his insights into our revolutionary age still are enlightening, and often astonishing. As the Paul Revere of the early 21st century, his message is: The Future is Here!  He is a visionary with an ethical dimension and a too little known national asset. This deceptively short essay is a primer for an explosive future that is already upon us.  It should be required reading for the next President.”

• PUNCTUATIONSBy John L. Petersen, editor

Welcome back! It’s nice to be back publishing FUTUREdition. Thanks to friends Kevin Clark, Bob Lomas, and Robert Dorion, we’re in business again. If the comments that I received during the last few months are any indication, many FE subscribers will be quite happy to see the newsletter back in their mailbox every couple of weeks.

The timing of our return is particularly propitious, as knowing what is emerging on the horizon is going to be particularly valuable during the next eighteen months. The indications from here suggest that we are very close to another big discontinuity in the global financial system that will likely be significantly worse than what we have already seen. That, coupled with increases in the price of oil and growing climate issues have the distinct potential of rather seriously reorganizing the way we all live.

My assessment is that this shift is, in a sense, predictable. Major punctuations in the planetary evolution process have happened on a regular, cyclical basis throughout history as we understand it. There is a pattern that researchers like Ray Kurzweil , Peter Russell and others have identified quite some time ago that suggest that we are “due” for a evolutionary jump. As in the past, this time it will give us as individuals an opportunity to rise to a new level of personal existence (a new human, if you will), and necessarily produce new institutions and ways of living (a new world).

FUTUREdition is going to actively engage in this transition process. I can assure you we’ll certainly continue to highlight the same kind of articles and ideas that we have in the past to give you a sense of what is out ahead. As an added value we’ll focus on helping you deal with the change that appears to be on the near horizon, and surface suggestions about how we all might build a new world together.

Stay tuned. There’s much more to come. Encourage your friends to sign-up. FUTUREdition is still free.

Forget messy eyedrops: scientists report that they’ve created a contact lens that can deliver a high concentration of antibiotic at a constant rate for more than 30 days.Hummingbirds have less DNA in their cells than any other previously studied birds, reptiles or mammals.Geoduck clams with a lifespan of up to 150 years could help us deduce what climate conditions were like hundreds of years ago and more accurately predict future patterns.Who needs the GDP? Try the Hot Waitress Index as an economic indicator.• INSTITUTIONAL CHANGEIdeas Sought for Open Government – (BBCNews – August 11, 2009)
Located in the UK, MySociety is a charitable group that helps construct civic tools using information technology. It is holding a competition for new ideas to enhance its existing sites, entirely new projects or ways to spread the word about the digital democracy group. A previous competition produced a website that automated and logged Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice suggest that the website, WhatDoTheyKnow, is behind 8.5% of the requests received by central government departments. MySociety founder Tom Steinberg said, “We’re also in a post MPs’ expenses era when transparency has gone, temporarily, from being only of theoretical interest to literally the most contentious issue of the moment.”

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• NEW REALITIES• Mystery of Missing Carbon Cracked
• Humanity’s Upright Gait May Have Roots in Trees
• Neighborhood Watch on Planet Earth
• First Black Holes Born Starving

Mystery of Missing Carbon Cracked – (Nature – August 11, 2009)
Mysteriously, Earth has much less carbon in its rocks than would be expected from the amounts of carbon available in the planet-forming regions of our Galaxy. But a new model suggests that chemical reactions between carbon grains and oxygen could be the explanation. Previous theories to explain why all the interstellar-medium carbon didn’t make it into the material that formed Earth include the evaporation of primordial carbon-rich grains from the disk. But for this model to work, temperatures would have to have been at least 1,000 kelvin, and at Earth’s distance from the Sun, those temperatures are not reached.

Humanity’s Upright Gait May Have Roots in Trees – (Science News – August 10, 2009)
Chimpanzees don’t knuckle under like gorillas, and that may explain how people ended up walking on two legs, a new study suggests. Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthopology in Leipzig, Germany, and Daniel Schmitt of Duke University in Durham, N.C., find a new explanation for a set of wrist-bone traits traditionally thought to signal knuckle-walking on flat surfaces by modern apes and ancient hominids — members of the human evolutionary family. These wrist traits actually reflect two types of knuckle-walking that evolved independently in gorillas and chimps, the researchers say. Wrist bones of hominids, including human ancestors, that lived more than 3 million years ago resemble those of chimps, according to Kivell and Schmitt.

Neighborhood Watch on Planet Earth – (TruthOut – August 5, 2009)
A king-sized comet slammed into Jupiter a few weeks ago. The comet’s impact – it punched a hole the size of the Pacific Ocean, and would have annihilated a lesser planet, like Earth – was discovered by an amateur astronomer in Australia. That raises the notion of a “Neighborhood Watch” for the entire planet. One of the most valuable contributions of our exploration of the skies has been the knowledge gained from being able to examine our own earthly neighborhood from the distance of space. Invaluable information is obtained from satellites monitoring weather and the damage created by drought, floods, fire, earthquakes and climate change. But that fleet is aging and few new satellites are being launched to replace them. Amateur astronomers: your time has come.

First Black Holes Born Starving – (Science Daily – August 11, 2009)
The first black holes in the universe had dramatic effects on their surroundings despite the fact that they were small and grew very slowly, according to recent supercomputer simulations carried out by astrophysicists of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, jointly located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. Several popular theories posit that the first black holes gorged themselves on gas clouds and dust in the early universe, growing into the supersized black holes that lurk in the centers of galaxies today. However, the new results point to a much more complex role for the first black holes.

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• DISCOVERIES ENABLED BY NEW TECHNOLOGYTiny Bird, Tiny Genome – (Science News – August 4, 2009)
Flying with excess baggage is a drag, but hummingbirds have mastered efficient packing. The tiny hoverers have less DNA in their cells than any other previously studied birds, reptiles or mammals, researchers report. Among hummingbird species, however, genome size doesn’t vary along with body size, suggesting that birds’ DNA was pared down before the diversification of today’s hummers. Scientists have long noted the link between small genome size and high metabolic rates — a notion first put forth in 1970 by Polish scientist Henryk Szarski. Bats and birds have the smallest genomes of backboned creatures, and flightless birds tend to have bigger genomes than fliers.

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• GENETICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY• Scientists Find an Itchiness Cell
• Multiple Sclerosis Successfully Reversed In Mice
• Contact High: Lenses that Deliver Drugs
• Immortality Improves Cell Reprogramming
• Face Shape Clue to Mental Decline
• Virtual Reality Could Keep You from Being a Surgical Guinea Pig

Scientists Find an Itchiness Cell – (BBC News – August 6, 2009)
A team of scientists from Washington University has pinpointed a type of nerve cell in mice which appears to generate the itch sensation. Itch and pain signals seem to be transmitted along different pathways in the spinal cord. The finding suggests itching is not simply a low-level variation of pain – but a distinct sensation. The research could pinpoint targets for future treatments for itch, a common and sometimes debilitating condition produced by more than 50 diseases.

Multiple Sclerosis Successfully Reversed In Mice – (Science Daily – August 12, 2009)
An experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) completely reverses the devastating autoimmune disorder in mice, and might work exactly the same way in humans, say researchers. The new treatment, appropriately named GIFT15, puts MS into remission by suppressing the immune response. This means it might also be effective against other autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease, lupus and arthritis, the researchers said, and could theoretically also control immune responses in organ transplant patients. Moreover, unlike earlier immune-suppressing therapies which rely on pharamaceuticals, this approach is a personalized form of cellular therapy which utilizes the body’s own cells to suppress immunity in a much more targeted way.

Contact High: Lenses that Deliver Drugs – (Wired – July 21, 2009)
Although eye drops account for 90% of all eye medication, drops are irritating and inefficient. Doctors estimate that only 1% to 7% of the medication actually gets absorbed into the eye, while the rest drips down the cheeks or into the back of the throat. Researchers have been working for nearly a decade on drug-dispensing contact lenses that could deliver eye medication more effectively, but they’ve struggled to design a lens that releases a continuous supply of the meds. Now, scientists report that they’ve created a contact lens that can deliver a high concentration of antibiotic at a constant rate for more than 30 days.

Immortality Improves Cell Reprogramming – (Nature – August 7, 2009)
Knocking out genes with a role in cancer prevention helps produce stem cells. Specialized adult cells made ‘immortal’ through the blockade of an antitumour pathway can be turned into stem-like cells quickly and efficiently. The findings — which should make it easier to generate patient-specific cells from any tissue type, including certain diseased cells that have proved difficult to transform — suggest that cellular reprogramming and cancer formation are inextricably linked.

Face Shape Clue to Mental Decline – (BBC News – August 9, 2009)
Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh found a link between facial symmetry and mental performance between the ages of 79 and 83. The researchers analyzed results of the 1932 Scottish Mental Survey and mapped the faces of subjects from photographs. Facial symmetry, the researchers argued, may indicate a man has experienced fewer genetic and environmental disturbances such as diseases, toxins, malnutrition or genetic mutations during his development. The team was unable to find comparable results in women.

Virtual Reality Could Keep You from Being a Surgical Guinea Pig – (Wired – August 10, 2009)
New pilots train on flight simulators before flying their first 757. Scientists experiment on animals before giving their new drug to patients. And fledgling surgeons perform their first few operations on… real people. But until recently, there was no good alternative to the “see one, do one, teach one” system of medical training. The idea of learning to operate on a virtual patient — the surgical equivalent of the flight simulator — has been around for decades, but only recently has virtual technology become powerful enough, and cheap enough, for surgical simulators to become a practical option. The latest devices have touch-feedback systems that let practicing surgeons not just see and hear their virtual patients, but also feel the sensation of pressing a scalpel against muscle or drilling into bone.

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• ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES• Are Germ-Killing Soaps Affecting Dolphin Development?
• Role of Solar Radiation in Climate Change
• Prying Climate Change Records from Giant Clams
• Spotting Danger from On High

Are Germ-Killing Soaps Affecting Dolphin Development? – (Scientific American – August 11, 2009)
Dolphins are swimming in waters tainted with germ-killing soaps, but they aren’t winding up squeaky clean. Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in everyday bathroom and kitchen products, is accumulating in dolphins at concentrations known to disrupt the growth and development of other animals. Scientists have found that one-third of the bottlenose dolphins tested off South Carolina and almost one-quarter of those tested off Florida carried traces of triclosan in their blood. It is the first time the chemical has been reported in a wild marine mammal – a worrisome finding, researchers say, because it shows it is building up in the ocean’s food web.

Role of Solar Radiation in Climate Change – (Science Daily – August 11, 2009)
A special volume of the Journal of Geophysical Research reviews the growing research field of “global dimming” and “global brightening” in over 20 articles. These phenomena, supposedly human-induced, control solar radiation incident at the Earth’s surface and thus influence climate. Investigating which factors reduce or intensify solar radiation and thus cause “global dimming” or “global brightening” is still very much a nascent field of research. The articles provide the first indication of the magnitude of these effects, how they vary in terms of time and space and what the possible consequences might be for climate change. They also discuss in detail the underlying causes and mechanisms, all of which are still under debate..

Prying Climate Change Records from Giant Clams – (Scientific American – August 11, 2009)
The long-lived geoduck clam (lifespan up to 150 years) could help us deduce what climate conditions were like hundreds of years ago and more accurately predict future patterns. Gaps in climate records continue to force substantial variability into climate projections, including those found in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. These limitations are mostly due to the length and global distribution of instrumental climate records. But scientists are now discovering that data from a suite of animal proxies has the potential to fill in some of these holes. Parallel arcs on the hinge of the Pacific Northwest clam’s shell record growth increments, much like tree rings. Sea surface temperatures—which strongly influence regional climate—are one of the key variables that can be inferred from these records.

Spotting Danger from On High – (Science News – August 7, 2009)
Airborne instruments can scan the ground to quickly and efficiently detect rocks and soil that may contain naturally occurring asbestos, researchers report. Field geologists in California have been mapping outcrops that could potentially contain asbestos for more than a century, says Gregg Swayze, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. Now, a technique developed by Swayze and his colleagues may make mapping remote areas quicker and easier. Minerals have distinct chemical compositions and crystalline structures. The amount of each wavelength of light that is absorbed or reflected from a mineral’s surface often has a distinct fingerprint as well, Swayze says. Viewed in near-infrared light, such minerals appear darker than those around them.

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• ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS• Lithium Battery Recycling Gets a Boost
• Giant Clip Folding Bike

Lithium Battery Recycling Gets a Boost – (Technology Review – August 12, 2009)
The US Department of Energy has granted $9.5 million to a company in California that plans to build America’s first recycling facility for lithium-ion vehicle batteries. There is currently little economic need to recycle lithium-ion batteries. Most batteries contain only small amounts of lithium carbonate as a percentage of weight and the material is relatively inexpensive compared to most other metals. Demonstrating the capacity to recycle, however, will be key to showing that electric vehicles are truly “green” – both emission-free in operation and sustainable in design. Experts also say that having a recycling infrastructure in place will ease concerns that the adoption of vehicles that use lithium-ion batteries could lead to a shortage of lithium carbonate and a dependence on countries such as China, Russia, and Bolivia, which control the bulk of global lithium reserves.

Giant Clip Folding Bike – (Wired – August 10, 2009)
Folding bikes get a bad rap, but rightly so: few deconstruct smoothly and even fewer look cool. However, the Clip flaunts features that leave its competitors looking flatter than a punctured tire. The 8-speed Clip is the most visually striking mini-ride Wired has tested. It not only has a smart Euroesque appearance, but the folding mechanism works well. This ingenious bike nails form and function.

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• INFORMATION TECHNOLOGYMobile Phones Get Cyborg Vision – (BBC News – August 11, 2009)
It’s a gift that was once the preserve of fictional cyborgs. Call it Terminator Vision – a view of the world tagged with rich, location-relevant information whilst your gaze flickers here and there. But now Augmented Reality (AR) is materializing in the real world. Via the video function of a mobile phone’s camera it is now possible to combine a regular pictorial view with added data from the internet just as the fictional Terminator was able to overlay its view of the world with vital information about its surroundings.

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• New Use for Your iPhone: Controlling Drones
• Cheetah Disguises Radar Sniffer as Rearview Mirror

US Battling CIA Rendition Case in Three Courts – (San Francisco Chronicle – August 10, 2009)
The Obama administration is fighting in courts in San Francisco, Washington and London to keep an official veil of secrecy over the treatment of a former prisoner who says he was tortured at Guantanamo Bay. The administration has asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco to reconsider its ruling allowing Binyam Mohamed and four other former or current prisoners to sue a Bay Area company for allegedly flying them to overseas torture chambers for the CIA. Most recently, a British government lawyer told her nation’s High Court last month that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had threatened to limit U.S. intelligence-sharing with Great Britain if the court disclosed details of Mohamed’s treatment in Guantanamo.

New Use for Your iPhone: Controlling Drones – (Wired – August 7, 2009)
MIT professor Missy Cummings used to fly F/A-18 Hornet fighters for the Navy. Her crew of 30 grad students and undergrads is chasing a number of new ideas and technologies, all aimed at easing the sometimes unwieldy interactions between machines and their human masters. As an example, she refers to the complex, suitcase-sized controller that soldiers must haul around to control hand-thrown Raven unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Cummings wants something simpler. And what could be simpler than an iPhone? “In six weeks, we went from the idea to a real flight test,” using MIT’s indoor robot range Cummings said. The total cost? $5,000 for a new, commercially available, quad-rotor robot — plus the cost of iPhones for her crew.

Cheetah Disguises Radar Sniffer as Rearview Mirror – (Wired – August 10, 2009)
If you live or drive in one of the states where radar detectors are illegal, this product is illegal – but it’s very clever. The Cheetah GPSmirror is not your average vehicle bling: the Cheetah’s sniffer is concealed in a wide-angle mirror that snaps over your original rearview. The bottom portion of the reflective screen digitally displays your speed, the time of day, or the closing distance to an enforcement camera. The unit is so well disguised, though, it’s difficult to operate while driving: The numbered buttons are tucked away on the bottom edge of the mirror.

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• AUGMENTED/ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCEUK Scientists Developing Intelligent Harvesting Robot – (EurekAlert – August 11, 2009)
Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK have developed imaging technology to be used in an intelligent harvesting machine that could minimize wastage and solve an impending labor shortage for UK farmers. Annual waste for certain crops can be up to 60% because the falling number of migrant laborers means that crops often cannot be gathered at the optimal time. NPL ‘s scientists are working to turn the technology into an intelligent harvesting machine, which can look beneath the leafy layers of a crop, identify the differing materials, and enable precise size identification.

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• GLOBAL EPIDEMIC• India Swine Flu Toll Rises to 10
• Molecular Condom Blocks HIV
• Scientists Find New Strain of HIV

India Swine Flu Toll Rises to 10 – (BBC News – August 10, 2009)
Officials say there are more than 800 cases of the H1N1 flu strain in India. The virus is thought to have killed almost 800 people around the world. The H1N1 virus first emerged in Mexico in April, 2009 and has since spread to 74 countries.

Molecular Condom Blocks HIV – (Technology Review – August 12, 2009)
A polymer gel that blocks viral particles could one day provide a way for women to protect themselves against HIV infection. The gel reacts with semen to form a tight mesh that blocks the movement of virus particles. The material, which is still in early development, could eventually be combined with antiviral gels currently in clinical trials to provide a dual defense against HIV.

Scientists Find New Strain of HIV – (BBC News – August 3, 2009)
Gorillas have been found, for the first time, to be a source of HIV. Previous research had shown the HIV-1 strain, the main source of human infections, with 33 million cases worldwide, originated from a virus in chimpanzees. But researchers have now discovered an HIV infection in a Cameroonian woman which is clearly linked to a gorilla strain. Analysis of the virus in the laboratory has confirmed that it can replicate in human cells.

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• NANOTECHNOLOGY• Nanoconstruction with Curved DNA
• Nanowires that Behave Like Cells
• A Metal Coating that Repairs Itself

Nanoconstruction with Curved DNA – (Technology Review – August 11, 2009)
DNA nanotechnology uses the unique physical properties of DNA molecules to design and create nanoscale structures, with the hope of one day creating tiny machines that work together just like the parts of a cell. But one of the challenges of the field is to find ways to design and engineer DNA structures with high precision. A recent study marks a breakthrough in researchers’ ability to shape DNA; it describes a way to build three-dimensional DNA shapes with elaborate twists and curves with unprecedented precision, developed by scientists at Harvard and the Technical University of Munich in Germany.

Nanowires that Behave Like Cells – (Technology Review – August 11, 2009)
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have sealed silicon-nanowire transistors in a membrane similar to those that surround biological cells. These hybrid devices, which operate similarly to nerve cells, might be used to make better interfaces for prosthetic limbs and cochlear implants. They might also work well as biosensors for medical diagnostics.

A Metal Coating that Repairs Itself – (Technology Review – August 10, 2009)
Airplanes, cars, and ships that don’t corrode are the promise of self-healing paint coatings and polymer materials. Now researchers in Stuttgart, Germany have come up with a metal coating that may be able to repair itself after sustaining damage. The new coating is around 15 micrometers thick and contains polymer capsules a few hundred nanometers in diameter. When the plating is scratched, the capsules should burst and release their contents – which could be a polymer capable of sealing the crack, or corrosion-inhibiting liquids.

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• CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE• Traces of Planet Collision Found
• A More Efficient Spacecraft Engine

Traces of Planet Collision Found – (BBC News – August 11, 2009)
A Nasa space telescope has found evidence of a high-speed collision between two burgeoning planets orbiting a young star. Astronomers say the cosmic smash-up is similar to the one that formed our Moon some four billion years ago, when a Mars-sized object crashed into Earth. In this case, two rocky bodies are thought to have slammed into one another in the last few thousand years.

A More Efficient Spacecraft Engine – (Technology Review – August 5, 2009)
NASA engineers have finished testing a new ion-propulsion system for earth-orbiting and interplanetary spacecraft. The system is more powerful and fuel-efficient than its predecessors, enabling it to travel farther than ever before. Ion propulsion works by electrically charging, or ionizing, a gas using power from solar panels and emitting the ionized gas to propel the spacecraft in the opposite direction. The concept was first developed over 50 years ago. Since then, one other spacecraft launched in 2007 has used ion propulsion. The design of the engines was made physically bigger, but lighter. It also reduced the system’s complexity in order to extend its lifetime and improved efficiency.

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• ECONOMIC INDICATORS• Stocks: The Latest Fed Bubble
• Hot Waitress Index

Stocks: The Latest Fed Bubble – (CNN Money – August 12, 2009)
The Federal Reserve has spent the past year cleaning up after a housing bubble it helped create. But along the way it may have pumped up another bubble, this time in stocks. Since global markets hit their bottom in March, the S&P 500 has jumped 51% — even as the outlook for economic recovery remains dim. “This is the most speculative momentum-driven equity market since the early 1930s,” according to Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg.

Hot Waitress Index – (New York Magazine – August 2, 2009)
Who needs the GDP? Try the Hot Waitress Index: the hotter the waitresses, the weaker the economy. In flush times, there is a robust market for hotness. Selling everything from condos to premium vodka is enhanced by proximity to pretty young people (of both sexes) who get paid for providing this service. That leaves more-punishing work, like waiting tables, to those with less striking genetic gifts. But not anymore.

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• DEMOGRAPHICSWho Uses Social Networks? – (eMarketer – August 5, 2009)
More than 70% of Internet users under age 30 browse social networks. That percentage decreases as users get older, with only 43.1% of those aged 35 – 54 and 18.9% of users aged 55 and older visiting social networks. Still, those represent huge increases from a year ago.

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

Jobless Woman Sues Her College Because She Can’t Find Job – (Business Insider – August 3, 2009)
A New York City woman who says she can’t find a job is suing the college where she earned a bachelor’s degree. Trina Thompson filed a lawsuit against Monroe College in Bronx Supreme Court. The 27-year-old is seeking the $70,000 she spent on tuition. Thompson says she’s been unable to find gainful employment since she received her information technology degree in April. Monroe College spokesman Gary Axelbank says Thompson’s lawsuit is completely without merit. (The article’s text is fairly balanced; the choice of photograph conveys the magazine’s opinion.)

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• A FINAL QUOTE…The future has a way of arriving unannounced. – George Will, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

A special thanks to 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.

• CONTACT USEdited by John L. Petersen

What do you think?

Volume 11, Number 18 – 11/03/08

Volume 12, Number 2 – 8/30/09