| FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS|
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
- A newly discovered deep-reaching ocean circulation system off Iceland that could significantly influence the ocean’s response to climate change in previously unforeseen ways.
- Avian flu shows signs of a resurgence, while a mutant strain – able to sidestep vaccines – could be spreading in Asia, the United Nations has warned.
- Just 147 entities control nearly 40% of all the monetary value of transnational corporations.
- A diamond-crystal planet five times the size of Earth and with more mass than Jupiter has been discovered in our own Milky Way galaxy.
by John L. Petersen
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Big Change Everywhere
Often in talks that I give, I mention Ray Kurzweil’s notion that if present trends continue, this century will see 1000 times the technological change of the last one. In digestible terms, what that means is that the next decade will necessarily see 70 to 80 times the revolutionary change of the 1900s’.
Now, think about that for a minute. Last century we started with horses, the telegraph and steam engines and moved through the following 100 years into automobiles, airplanes, space travel, radio, television, radar, the Internet, and the Web. We farm differently, we learn differently, we transact commerce differently, we organize ourselves in businesses and otherwise differently, and our family’s certainly operate differently. We’re talking about all of that change . . . times 70!
If you think of this shift as a big wave, building up and crashing into the shore, you can begin to visualize the shape of the rate of change that has to be in place to support such extraordinary transformation. Things start as a small perturbations in the status quo and then build – exponentially – until they are very large, fast-moving forces. One thing is certain: for this wave to sustain itself there MUST be fundamental breakthroughs in almost every aspect of what we understand and how we think and act. Big breakthroughs — it’s something that you can bet on.
The great change will also likely cluster in two general categories: the failure or disruption of existing and legacy systems, and the emergence of extraordinary inventions and discoveries that fundamentally challenge our present paradigm. The old is threatened – the new rapidly emerges.
So, let’s look around at some of what has happened in the last couple of weeks and think about the events in these terms. We’ll start pretty conventionally . . . and then get a bit weirder.
The Great Contraction
A month ago I suggested that we were on the edge of a new slump in the world’s economy. I quoted Nouriel Roubini and John Mauldin then. Now, Martin Wolf, the economics writer for The Financial Times and one of the most influential analysts in the business, suggests that we have entered the “second great contraction”.
August 30, 2011
Struggling with a great contraction
What has the market turmoil of August been telling us? The answer, I suggest, is three big things: first, the debt-encumbered economies of the high-income countries remain extremely fragile; second, investors have next to no confidence in the ability of policymakers to resolve the difficulties; and, third, in a time of high anxiety, investors prefer what are seen as the least risky assets, namely, the bonds of the most highly rated governments, regardless of their defects, together with gold. Those who fear deflation buy bonds; those who fear inflation buy gold; those who cannot decide buy both. But few investors or corporate managers wish to take on any longer-term investment risks.
Welcome, then, to what Carmen Reinhart, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, and Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff call “the second great contraction” (the Great Depression of the 1930s being the first). Those less apocalyptic might call it the “Japanese disease”. (. . . Read more)
The financial markets, as Wolf suggests, are a bellwether for the relative level of confidence that people have in the future. Stable predictability produces strong markets – the risk of uncertainty drives things down. That uncertainty can (and does) come from anywhere. If there is uncertainty from a number of different fronts, then the dynamic is compounded. Take a look at the weather.
Earth and Climate Changes
The weather, of course, is the leading indicator of impending climate change. I’m sure these trends are showing up many different places in the world, but with apologies to our international readers, let me list the headlines from a number of things that have happened around this part of the world in the last three weeks.
In 2011, record-tying nine $1B weather disasters
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
“With hurricane season still ahead, a record-tying nine $1 billion weather disasters have already racked the nation this year, federal, state and private forecasters reported Wednesday.” (more . . . )
Record-Breaking Rain In New York City Causes Traffic Mess, Power Outages, Near Elevator Drowning
7.79 inches of rain fell at JFK International Airport Sunday, breaking the single day record for rainfall in New York City, The Staten Island Advance reports. The previous record, 6.27 inches, was set in June 1984.
By way of comparison, the average rainfall for the entire month of August is 4 inches. (more . . . )
Powerful storms damage planes, portion of concourse in Nebraska
(CNN) — Two violent storms forced the temporary closure of Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, after high winds and baseball-sized hail damaged planes and a portion of a concourse, the airport director said. (more . . . )
Drought Cripples the South: Why the ‘Creeping Disaster’ Could Get a Whole Lot Worse. Read more here.
Hurricane Irene Hammers the Northeast
Updated: August 28, 2011 5:50 am ET
As of Sunday morning, the western edge of Hurricane Irene officially made landfall near Little Egg Inlet, N.J., continued to march northward right along the Jersey shore. This was the first hurricane to have made landfall in New Jersey since 1903! (more . . . )
Out of Control Weather
(NaturalNews) Bizarre reports of weather extremes continue to come in from all over the world. As the northern hemisphere bakes in record breaking heat the southern half of our earth is suffering record breaking cold. In South Africa, for instance they have just experienced one of the worst storms and extreme weather conditions with snow and ice in areas never seen before. A week of the COLDEST freezing weather in 100 years has created a national emergency with roads closed everywhere with thousands of motorists stranded. (more . . . )
Expert: USA’s extreme weather should raise questions
A United Kingdom news organization is taking a look at what it terms “unprecedented weather extremes” in the United States over the last nine months and quotes one weather expert as saying that the intensity of temperatures over the last two summers should raise questions . . . . The Guardian also reports the USA is not the only place experiencing weather and related extremes. Among other phenomena:
- The Horn of Africa is experiencing its deepest drought in 60 years, and the situation is contributing to famine in Somalia.
- Earthquakes registering 6.2-magnitude and higher shook 14 countries in the first half of the year.
- The Arctic ice melt hit a record in July. (more . . .)
As mentioned above, the unusual events are not limited to just the weather. We had an earthquake here near Washington, DC. Never seen that before!
Virginia Earthquake 1897: Largest In Over 100 Years
An earthquake rattled Northern Virginia Tuesday, briefly causing a power shutdown at a nuclear plant and emptying the White House in nearby Washington.
The 5.8-magnitude quake was the strongest in Virginia in more than a century, and shook cities all along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. U.S. emergency officials said there were no reports of major damage, but cellphone usage was congested and the public was asked to use e-mail instead. (more . . . )
It’s not just natural disasters that are contributing to the growing uncertainty. The political issues and problems around the world are clearly raising the anxiety of large numbers of people. Here in the US, the fallout of the political fight over raising the country’s debt limit has convinced more people than ever before that that part of the system is not working.
Voter Confidence Historically Low, Anger Historically High
By James Joyner, Outside the Beltway
Bill McInturff, managing partner of Public Opinion Strategies* and half of the bipartisan polling team for CNBC, has a fascinating analysis on the “Consequences of the Debt Ceiling Negotiations.”
Dan Balz mentions the bottom line in this morning’s column: “The debt ceiling negotiation is an extremely significant event that is profoundly and sharply reshaping views of the economy and the federal government. It has led to a scary erosion in confidence in both, at a time when this steep drop in confidence can be least afforded.” (more . . . )
And, some natural systems are collapsing directly because of human behavior.
Human Excrement to Blame for Coral Decline
Coral reef ecologists have laid a persistent and troubling puzzle to rest. The elkhorn coral, named for its resemblance to elk antlers and known for providing valuable marine habitat, was once the Caribbean’s most abundant reef builder. But the “redwood of the coral forest” has declined 90% over the past decade, in part due to highly contagious white pox disease, which causes large lesions that bare the coral’s white skeleton and kill its tissue. Now, after nearly a decade of data collection and analysis, researchers have fingered the cause of the affliction: human excrement. The finding represents the first example of human-to-invertebrate disease transmission and suggests a practical approach for halting the disease’s spread. (more . . . )
As all of this disruption converges, the system starts to fail . . . or is it that the failure of the system engenders some of the other effects? I don’t know for sure – it’s probably some of both happening at the same time – but in any case, there are many indications that point to more big, structural cracks.
John Holum, a FUTUREdition reader, has written this provocative piece that addresses the dynamics of systemic failure.
A Warning From Science
While much that science has produced since the Industrial Revolution remains subject to challenge, [being either limiting, harmful or destructive] there is at least one important exception. It has been an inspiration to me since my days working as a training manager in a major corporation. The recent advance in the scientific study of systems, supported by such agencies as the Santa Fe Institute, has brought new understandings regarding the performance and life of complex living systems. The field of research is sometimes called “Chaos Theory” because it explores the basic patterns and processes in which living systems either thrive, grow and evolve or die. The systems humans create, should be an important, even critical, focus of this research. However this is only beginning to be the case and the results are yet to inform and guide our leaders. Topics for research in the field include: adaptation, self-generation, evolution, transformation, crises, structure, processes, chaos and death.
Nobel Prize winning chemist, Ilya Prigogine’s creative theory of dissipating structures brought an enlightened perspective to the subject of how complex systems self-destruct. Words such as bifurcations, discontinuities, tipping points, perturbations, autopoiesis and the “edge of chaos” are now used to discuss the problem of maintaining stable and evolving living systems versus their potential death and disappearance. His contribution encourages us to increase our understanding of the repetitive patterns in human behavior that have created, governed, and destroyed, cultures and civilizations for 6000 years of recorded history.
When discussing human institutions, and the experience of its members, the death of a system and resulting chaos means that order has succumbed to disorder and a new system must arise amidst the fear and confusion. Consequently, the means for survival may become an immediate and only imperative. Unfortunately, at present, most authors, pundits and social theorists are ignoring a most vital concept in systems theory, that of positive and negative feedback. A complex living system is in a constant process of working to stabilize and sustain itself while growing. Equilibrium is the state that it must continuously return to if it is to survive. These two interdependent variables [positive and negative feedback] are key to a system’s sustainability. Positive feedback is the activity that measures a system’s performance and results in the system increasing the variable measured. A room’s thermostat that causes the system to raise the heat with every measurement is an example. Corporate profits and GDPs are modern examples of system measurements producing unchecked positive feedback. A rebel economist called this phenomena of growth driven behavior “increasing returns”. Competitors become enemies in this context. Negative feedback involves a measurement that reverses and controls the results of positive feedback so that a system can maintain balance and live.
But, when one persistently predominates to the neglect of the other, balance is impossible and the death of the system is assured. When this happens in the case of human designed systems, the traditional means of support and survival disappear. Because of our present insistence, and dependence, on maintaining economic growth, continuous wars, unresolved political conflicts, globalization and environmental destruction various forms of positive feedback reign unchecked in our world. Other than the millions of NGOs optimistically seeking to reform, or salvage, our existing systems there is little to encourage us to believe that we can halt these trends. Reform is impossible because basic beliefs remain essentially unchanged and persist as the driving force in western civilization. The belief that economic growth must continue is only one example. As I have said many times before, the inevitable failure of our socioeconomic and political system means that chaos will arrive to be our teacher. It is then that a new system can arise out of the disarray that remains. And it is then that we can discover the difference between reform and transformation. The latter involves new beliefs, structures, behaviors and processes. The simple metaphor of a cocoon to butterfly only hints at the magnitude of change involved.
As the paradigm disintegrates, those with a vested interested in the consensus reality work very hard to sustain that which has benefited them. It works that way in politics, finance, and, of course, in science. A recent article now reports that the memorable image that we have of a polar bear on a small, melting iceberg was fraudulent.
Global warming fraud: Iconic polar bear on melting ice cap a hoax
According to a recent report by Human Events, special investigators from the US government’s Interior Department (ID) have found that a scientific paper published in a 2006 issue of the journal Polar Biology is filled with baseless assumptions about four specific polar bear deaths — and this eventually became the foundational argument for the fight against global warming. (more . . . )
Amazing New Ideas
At the same time as the old system crumbles, amazing new ideas and understandings emerge at a rapidly accelerating tempo. These concepts fly in the face of the familiar, but illuminate the cracks in the system from the outside – allowing glimpses of new possibilities that boggle the mind. These new discoveries show up in both in what we thought we knew (history) and what we hadn’t yet thought of. They lay the groundwork – provide the intellectual architecture – for the emergent new world.
Here are some from the last few weeks.
Astronomers discover planet made of diamond
LONDON (Reuters) – Astronomers have spotted an exotic planet that seems to be made of diamond racing around a tiny star in our galactic backyard.
The new planet is far denser than any other known so far and consists largely of carbon. Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond. (more . . . )
Wow! A diamond planet! Now that’s pretty cool! . . . but speaking of cool:
NASA Finds Body-Temperature Dwarf Stars
A new sub-class of brown dwarfs called “Y” dwarfs are the coldest known star-like objects in the universe. Confirmation of these suspected objects culminates a ten-year effort to find examples of them. Using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), six of the elusive objects have been discovered thus far. The Y dwarfs are distinctive for having surface temperatures roughly that of the human body, or cooler. (more . . . )
Now, how does that work? Stars are supposed to be hot – like, really hot!
Now it starts to get a little weird. There are things coming out all over the place, thanks to WikiLeaks and other sources, that are making it clear that many of the things that we thought we knew about what has happened in the past didn’t actually transpire as our governments have told us. Here’s one, that if true, certainly would give us all reason to pause . . . and reconsider both about who we all are in this galaxy and the trust we might have in what is being told to us.
This hour and fifteen minute film is a pretty interesting (if not compelling) argument that suggests that the moon is inhabited. Before you decide before that fact that that could not be true (because that’s what you have been told, of course), you should watch this rather comprehensive analysis that uses NASA’s own photography to make its case. This is the type of new idea that could rapidly shift the way we think of ourselves and open possibilities for a rather different set of assumptions going forward.
Remember: One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. ~ Andre Gide
The Next Three Years
So what does this all mean? Where are we going? What’s going to happen in the next three years? In light of all of this change, perhaps you would benefit from a (relatively) informed perspective of what this shift is all about and what might happen in the next three years. As it happens, I’ve produced a DVD of a presentation that I gave recently that addresses just those topics. Many FE readers have ordered these discs and have sent along very nice comments about how they’ve been helped by watching them.
This 2.5 hour, two-DVD presentation weaves the predictions and explanations about what is happening in the galaxy, solar system and planet from five different “unconventional” sources and then shows where NASA and other more conventional sources confirm that we have entered a period of change unlike anything previously seen before by our species. The talk addresses the following questions:
- What is happening on our planet now?
- Why is all of this change taking place?
- What kind of human and world could result from this shift?
- What are the implications for you?
- What can you do about preparing yourself for this change?
Since putting this together, I have had repeated indications from a number of new sources that suggest that the essential dynamics of what this presentation proposes is correct. I think that you’d find the integrated perspective to be provocative and useful.
We’ve had really great response to our making this presentation available and I’d be happy to send one to you. You can order the DVDs here or by clicking on the banner above.
There are a couple of new books out that are really great – especially if you are somewhat formally in the business of thinking about the future.
2011 State of the Future — Every year Jerry Glenn and Ted Gordon produce their State of the Future volume that synthesizes the input from futurist-oriented folks from all over the world. They bill their Millennium Project as the world’s first globalized think tank, which collects input from 40 international nodal groups which contribute to one of the most broadly-based assessments around. The book comes with a CD which has 8,000 pages of supporting documents. It deals with some-18 different topics (water, population, climate change, rich-poor gap, health, energy, science and technology, et. al.) and includes sections on global scenarios, collective intelligence systems, environmental security, etc. If you’re thinking about global futures, this needs to be part of your research. You can find 2011 State of the Future here.
Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision Support Modelling with Morphological Analysis — Although this little book has a mouthful of a title, it is very important. Tom Ritchey, working for decades with the Swedish Defense Ministry, pioneered using computers to analyze the large numbers of scenarios that are always associated with “wicked” (very complex and genuinely uncertain ) issues that have no probabilities. There are very few people in the futures business who understand the basics of what Tom has developed: a methodology of effectively dealing with complex issues using technology that not only generates extraordinarily insightful understanding of the alternative behavior states of complex social systems, but also (because of its computer-based operation) provides the analyst with an “audit trail” of the origins of a particular insight . . . and how, when the world changes, a scenario (for example) can be easily revisited and updated for the shifts that have been observed.
We used Tom’s wisdom and experience in developing a national surprise anticipation center for the government of Singapore, so I am quite familiar with the effectiveness of his concepts and methods.
This is a serious, academic book and therefore is a bit pricey – but the information is very much worth what it will cost you. Here’s a link.
Why Software is Eating the World – (Wall St. Journal – August 20, 2011)
Netscape co-founder, Marc Andreessen, writes, “Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale. With lower start-up costs and a vastly expanded market for online services, the result is a global economy that for the first time will be fully digitally wired-the dream of every cyber-visionary of the early 1990s, finally delivered, a full generation later. Perhaps the single most dramatic example of this phenomenon of software eating a traditional business is the suicide of Borders and corresponding rise of Amazon. In 2001, Borders agreed to hand over its online business to Amazon under the theory that online book sales were non-strategic and unimportant. Oops. Today, the world’s largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company-its core capability is its amazing software engine for selling virtually everything online, no retail stores necessary.
El Niño Seen as Trigger for Violence in the Tropics – (NPR – August 24, 2011)
A statistical analysis of civil conflicts between 1950 and 2004 found that in tropical countries, conflicts were twice as likely to occur in El Niño years. Solomon Hsiang, a researcher at Princeton University and his colleagues looked at 93 tropical countries and 82 other countries to see whether the El Niño-La Niña cycle affected civil conflict, which they defined as a new dispute between the government and an organized group that results in at least 25 battle-related deaths. In La Niña years, there was a 3% chance that a tropical country would have a civil conflict, Hsiang says. “When the global climate shifts into its relatively hotter and drier El Niño state,” he says, “the rate of conflict jumps – it doubles to 6%. The countries that are most sensitive to El Niño are the poorer countries,” he says. The reason for the correlation is not clear but it may be because hot, dry weather often leads to food shortages.
Newly Discovered Icelandic Current Could Change North Atlantic Climate Picture – (Science Daily – August 22, 2011)
An international team of researchers, including physical oceanographers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), has confirmed the presence of a deep-reaching ocean circulation system off the coast of Iceland that could significantly influence the ocean’s response to climate change in previously unforeseen ways. The discovery, according to Robert Pickart, one of the authors of the study, could have “important ramifications” for ocean circulation’s impact on climate. Climate specialists have been concerned that the oceanic conveyor belt is slowing down due to a rise in global temperatures. Eventually, this could lead to a colder climate in the northern hemisphere.
Our Universe May Be a ‘Multiverse,’ Scientists Say – (Live Science – August 12, 2011)
Is our universe just one of many? While the concept is bizarre, it’s a real possibility, according to scientists who have devised the first test to investigate the idea. The potential that we live in a multiverse arises from a theory called eternal inflation, which posits that shortly after the Big Bang that formed the universe, space-time expanded at different rates in different places, giving rise to bubble universes that may function with their own separate laws of physics.
Cornell Associate Confirms Moon Orbit is “Anomalous” – (Enviromonitor – February 28, 2011)
Cornell University associate Lorenzo Lorio, has researched and written a paper confirming observations made by many — that the moon’s orbit has become erratic. “On the anomalous secular increase of the eccentricity of the orbit of the Moon. The present-day models of the dissipative phenomena occurring in the interiors of both the Earth and the Moon are not able to explain it. A recent analysis ( Prior1st Feb 2011 (Netlethe) ) of a Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) data record spanning 38.7 yrs, revealed an anomalous increase of the eccentricity of the lunar orbit. A potentially viable Newtonian candidate would be a trans-Plutonian massive object (Planet X/Nemesis/Tyche) since it, actually, would affect e with a non-vanishing long-term variation. ” Article includes an abstract of the scientific paper.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
Coral Could Hold Key to Sunscreen Pill – (BBC News – August 31, 2011)
Scientists have known for some time that coral and some algae could protect themselves from the harsh UV rays in tropical climates by producing their own sunscreens but, until now, they didn’t know how. “What we have found is that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that we think is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae. “Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but we have seen that fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection, so it is clearly passed up the food chain.” A King’s College London team believe they can synthetically replicate in the lab the key compounds responsible.
Microchip Implant Monitors Tumor Growth – (BBC News – August 31, 2011)
Researchers in Germany have developed a microchip sensor that can be implanted close to a tumor to monitor its growth. The device tracks oxygen levels in nearby tissue to detect if a tumor is expanding. Results are then transmitted wirelessly to a patient’s doctor – reducing the need for frequent hospital scans. Future designs will include a medication pump that can deliver drugs directly to the affected area. Researchers hope this will lead to less aggressive and more targeted cancer treatments. Medical engineers at the Technical University in Munich developed the device as a way to track and treat tumors that are difficult to reach, or better left alone.
Bird Flu Fear as Mutant Strain Hits China and Vietnam – (BBC News – August 29, 2011)
Avian flu shows signs of a resurgence, while a mutant strain – able to sidestep vaccines – could be spreading in Asia, the United Nations has warned. The variant appeared in Vietnam and China and its risk to humans cannot be predicted, veterinary officials said. Virus circulation in Vietnam threatens Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, where eight people have died after becoming infected this year, they warned. The virus had been eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its 2006 peak, which saw 4,000 outbreaks across the globe, but remains endemic in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Nuke Leak Exceeds Hiroshima – (Philadelphia Enquirer – August 28, 2011)
The amount of radioactive cesium that has leaked from the tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is about equal to 168 of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II, according to Japan’s nuclear agency. The report provided estimates of each of the 16 isotopes released from the atomic bomb and 31 of those detected at the Fukushima plant but did not give a total. The agency said the radiation that has leaked from Fukushima was about one-sixth of what the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster released in 1986.
Mosquitoes Disappearing in Some Parts of Africa – (BBC News – August 26, 2011)
Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are disappearing in some parts of Africa, but scientists are unsure as to why. Figures indicate controls such as anti-mosquito bed nets are having a significant impact on the incidence of malaria in some sub-Saharan countries. But researchers say mosquitoes are also disappearing from areas with few controls. For more than 10 years, a team of Danish and Tanzanian scientists have been collecting and counting the number of mosquitoes caught in thousands of traps in Tanzania. In 2004 they caught more than 5,000 insects. In 2009 that had dropped to just 14. More importantly, these collections took place in villages that weren’t using bed nets.
Human Excrement to Blame for Coral Decline – (Science News – August 17, 2011)
Coral reef ecologists have laid a persistent and troubling puzzle to rest. The elkhorn coral, named for its resemblance to elk antlers and known for providing valuable marine habitat, was once the Caribbean’s most abundant reef builder. But the “redwood of the coral forest” has declined 90% over the past decade, in part due to highly contagious white pox disease, which causes large lesions that bare the coral’s white skeleton and kill its tissue. Now, after nearly a decade of data collection and analysis, researchers have fingered the cause of the affliction: a bacteria traced specifically to human excrement. The finding represents the first example of human-to-invertebrate disease transmission and suggests a practical approach for halting the disease’s spread.
Species Flee Warming Faster than Previously Thought – (BBC News – August 20, 2011)
Analyzing the range shifts of more than 2,000 species – including butterflies to birds, algae and mammals – across Europe, North and South America and Malaysia over the last four decades, scientists have found that animals and plants that experience the greatest change in temperatures move the fastest. The team found that on average organisms are shifting their home ranges at a rate of 17km per decade away from the equator; three times the speed previously thought.
Monsanto Corn Plant Losing Bug Resistance – (Wall St. Journal – August 29, 2011)
Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop. The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs. Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields. “These are isolated cases, and it isn’t clear how widespread the problem will become,” said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. “But it is an early warning that management practices need to change.”
Record Breaking Rain in New York City – (Huffington Post – August 15, 2011)
7.79 inches of rain fell at JFK International Airport on August 14 (two weeks before hurricane Irene), breaking the single day record for rainfall in New York City, The Staten Island Advance reports. The previous record, 6.27 inches, was set in June 1984. By way of comparison, the average rainfall for the entire month of August is 4 inches.
Sun Storms Could Become More Disruptive within Decades – (BBC News – August 18, 2011)
Within decades, solar storms are likely to become more disruptive to planes and spacecraft, say researchers at Reading University. The work predicts that once the Sun shifts towards an era of lower solar activity, more hazardous radiation will reach Earth. The team says the Sun is currently at a grand solar maximum. This phase began in the 1920s – and has lasted throughout the space age.
Sun Causes Climate Change Shock – (Telegraph – August 27, 2011)
Skip the hokey intro to this article and cut to the substance: the latest revelations from CERN over its landmark CLOUD experiment, the significance of which is that although the scientific community is now all-but-settled on global warming, new findings point to cosmic rays and the sun – not human activities – as the dominant controller of climate on Earth.
Global Warming Link to Drowned Polar Bears Melts under Searing Fed Probe – (Human Events – August 11, 2011)
Polar bears drowning in an Alaskan sea because the ice packs are melting-it’s the iconic image of global warming. But the validity of the science behind the image is now part of a federal investigation that has the environmental community on edge. Special agents from the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office are questioning the two government scientists about the paper they wrote on drowned polar bears. Biologist Charles Monnett, the lead scientist on the paper, was placed on administrative leave July 18. In particular, investigators are asking questions about the peer review work on Monnett’s drowned polar bear paper, which was done by his wife, Lisa Rotterman, as well as Andrew Derocher, the lead researcher on the Canadian study under review by the inspector general’s office. Until being suspended from his position, Monnett had managed $50 million in studies as part of his duties as a wildlife biologist with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
Quantum Optical Link Sets New Time Records – (Science Daily – August 19, 2011)
Quantum communication could be an option for the absolutely secure transfer of data. The key component in quantum communication over long distances is the special phenomenon called entanglement between two atomic systems. Entanglement between two atomic systems is very fragile and up until now researchers have only been able to maintain the entanglement for a fraction of a second. But in new experiments at the Niels Bohr Institute researchers have succeeded in setting new records and maintaining the entanglement for up to an hour.
IBM ‘Synapse’ Chips Mimic Human Brain – (Huffington Post – August 18, 2011)
The challenge in training a computer to behave like a human brain is technological and physiological, testing the limits of computer and brain science. IBM researchers say they’ve made a key step toward combining the two worlds. The company announced that it has built two prototype chips that it says process data more like how humans digest information than the chips that now power PCs and supercomputers. Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital “neurons” and “synapses” that make them different than other chips. Each “core,” or processing engine, has computing, communication and memory functions. “You have to throw out virtually everything we know about how these chips are designed,” he said. “The key, key, key difference really is the memory and the processor are very closely brought together. There’s a massive, massive amount of parallelism.”
Fixed and Floating Islands: 5 Futuristic Artificial Island Designs – (Dornob – no date)
From army forts turned into pirate radio stations and oil platforms converted into micro-nations, the notion of living full-time on the high seas is nothing new. However, these amazing award-winning designs from the recent Seasteading contest float in front of us five jaw-dropping possibilities for the future of urban life on the sea unlike any artificial islands you have ever seen (including this recycled floating paradise island). See also: PayPal Founder Funds Creation of Man-Made Island Nations.
Off-grid Power, Energy Breakthrough – (Off Grid – May 3, 2011)
Researchers at Purdue University have developed an aluminum alloy that could be used in a new type of mobile technology to convert polluted water into drinkable, while extracting hydrogen to generate electricity. The potable water could be produced for about $1 per gallon, and electricity could be generated for about 35 cents per kilowatt hour of energy, which is low compared to the cost of solar at 10 times that amount. The alloy contains aluminum, gallium, indium and tin. Immersing it in freshwater or saltwater causes a spontaneous reaction, splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The hydrogen could then be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity, producing steam as a byproduct. The steam would kill any bacteria, and then it would condense to purified water.
French Airport Tests ‘Virtual’ Hologram Boarding Agents – (Fox News – August 18, 2011)
The Paris Orly airport is experimenting with virtual boarding agents in a bid to jazz up its terminals with 21st century avatars who always smile, don’t need breaks and never go on strike. The project has so far been met with a mixture of amusement and surprise by travelers who frequently try to touch and speak with the strikingly life-like boarding agents that greet them and direct them to their boarding gate.
Insect Diet May Be the Solution for a Hungry World – (France 24 – August 17, 2011)
Mexicans eat deep-fried grasshoppers. Japanese love wasp cookies. Leafcutter ants are considered a delicacy in Colombia, as are some caterpillars in South Africa. And in Thailand people cook everything from water beetles to bamboo worms. Even though eating insects has often been dismissed as a cultural eccentricity, it might soon become one of the answers to pressing global problems like hunger and environmental destruction. With an estimated 1,462 species of edible insects, eating them, or entomophagy, is practiced in more than half the countries in the world. But more than tasty snacks, insects could become a protein-rich, green and global source of food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
From Chernobyl to Japan: Treating Radiation Sickness with Rock Dust – (A New Way of Living – April 6, 2011)
“Remineralization protects not only soil and plants from radioactivity, but humans, too. Supplying abundant minerals especially trace elements to the human body improves radiation tolerance, immune system integrity and radiation exposure recovery.” -David Yarrow, 2006. In the years leading up to Chernobyl, some dairy farmers in Austria were using remineralization as a part of their operations. They added rock dust to liquid manure as well as combining it with compost, thereby removing odors and greatly increasing soil biota. As a result, cows had twice the normal lifespan and produced much more milk. After Chernobyl, the cheeses that were remineralized (as well as biodynamic cheeses) measured no radioactivity whatsoever. It may seem improbable that rock dust can lower levels of radiation in the body, but in fact it is not so far fetched. Metal ions such as minerals and trace elements are used in biological systems for such important tasks as catalyzing biological reactions and stabilizing complex protein structures. This is why it is important for any biological system to have access to a broad spectrum of minerals and trace elements. It is also one of the root causes of radiation sickness, as the destructive atomic forces of radioactive particles alter natural metal ions, damaging the delicate biological structures in which they play an integral part.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Quelling Unrest is a Lucrative Trade – (Economist – August 13, 2011)
Even before the recent riots in Britain (see article on mob control by British police) governments were bracing themselves against protests stoked by the economic downturn. Firms such as Israel’s Hagor Industries are doing a roaring trade in anti-riot shields, batons and helmets. David Frenkel, the firm’s production manager, says demand is growing from police and military services in Europe, South America and Africa, bolstered by “war, unrest and natural disasters”. Ochlocracy-mob rule-was a term coined in ancient times, when grain prices or a celebrity murder could spark a riot. The Roman emperors’ Praetorian Guard used cavalry and swords against stone-throwers. Their latter-day counterparts are better protected and have more technologically advanced ways of disrupting rioters as enumerated in the article.
The Decade’s Biggest Scam – (Salon – August 29, 2011)
The Los Angeles Times examines the staggering sums of money (please leave in hyperlink) expended on patently absurd domestic “homeland security” projects: $75 billion per year for things such as a Zodiac boat with side-scan sonar to respond to a potential attack on a lake in tiny Keith County, Nebraska, and hundreds of “9-ton BearCat armored vehicles, complete with turret” to guard against things like an attack on DreamWorks in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, “The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It’s basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year,” said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Why Is That a Secret? – (New York Times – August 25, 2011)
A former top official in charge of ensuring that real secrets are kept secret, J. William Leonard, who directed the Information Security Oversight Office during the George W. Bush administration, has delivered a stunning repudiation of the Obama administration’s decision to use the Espionage Act against a whistle-blower attempting to expose government waste and abuse. The Obama administration has misguidedly used the Espionage Act in five cases of news media disclosures; previously there were no more than four in all of White House history. This comes as officials classified nearly 77 million documents last year – a one-year jump of 40%. Two years ago, President Obama ordered all agencies to review secret material by June 2012 with a goal of promoting more declassification. Unfortunately, the administration’s emphasis since then has all been in the opposite direction.
A Christian Plot for Domination? – (Daily Beast – August 14, 2011)
With Tim Pawlenty out of the presidential race, it is now fairly clear that the GOP candidate will either be Mitt Romney or someone who makes George W. Bush look like Tom Paine. Of the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination, two are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional. Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, including the author of this article, who explore it have been called paranoid.
Assassination as a Foreign Policy – (Truth Dig – August 16, 2011)
Currently the Army’s Special Forces are grouped with the Army’s Delta Force, Rangers (specialized light infantry), the Navy’s SEALs and the Marine Corps’ Special Operations units, plus some air units, in something called U.S. Special Operations Command, which, according to The Washington Post, was deployed in 75 countries last year, and expects to be operating in 120 countries by the end of this year. The mission of Special Operations Command includes counterterrorism raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations. It also includes assassinations. According to John Nagl, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, the Command includes a clandestine sub-unit operating under White House authority, which is “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.” This unit was responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. The global security domination program that the U.S. has followed since 2003 expresses a militarism, ruthlessness and disregard of international law that now characterizes the Pentagon. As many of us have argued, global domination is a political policy that cannot possibly succeed. The world is not open to domination by a single state.
Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy – (Geopolitial Weekly – August 9, 2011)
The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy. Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life. On a global scale, or at least for most of the world’s major economies, there is a crisis of political economy. From the standpoint of economics, both the subprime meltdown of 2008 and the current European crisis were/are essentially financial crises: who made or lost money and how much. But from the standpoint of political economy they have raised a different question: the legitimacy of the financial elite.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
How Google Dominates Us – (New York Review of Books – August 18, 2011)
James Gleick offers a review of several books on the search giant that serves as an exploration into how quickly and thoroughly Google transformed the Web and our world. Google is where we go for answers. People used to go elsewhere or, more likely, stagger along not knowing. Not anymore. The business of finding facts has been an important gear in the workings of human knowledge, and the technology has just been upgraded from rubber band to nuclear reactor. No wonder there’s some confusion about Google’s exact role in that-along with increasing fear about its power and its intentions.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Diamond Planet Discovered by Astronomers – (Washington Post – August 26, 2011)
A diamond-crystal planet five times the size of Earth and with more mass than Jupiter has been discovered in our own Milky Way galaxy. An international team of astronomers led by Swinburne University of Technology in Australia spotted the exotic planet racing around a tiny star 4,000 light years away. The “cosmic bling,” as Wired called it, is far denser than any other known planet, consisting mostly of carbon. It is because of this density that the carbon must be crystalline, making a large part of the planet diamond. The diamond planet orbits a fast-spinning pulsar that’s about 12 miles in diameter, around the same size as London. The glittery planet orbits its star at a distance of about 370,000 miles, making a year on planet diamond just two hours long.
Stars as Cool as the Human Body – (NASA – August 24, 2011)
Scientists using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have discovered six “Y dwarfs”– star-like bodies with temperatures as cool as the human body. The Y’s are the coldest members of the brown dwarf family. Brown dwarfs are sometimes referred to as “failed” stars. They are too low in mass to fuse atoms at their cores and thus don’t burn with the fires that keep stars like our sun shining steadily for billions of years. Instead, these objects cool and fade with time, until what little light they do emit is at infrared wavelengths. One of the Y dwarfs, called WISE 1828+2650, is the record holder for the coldest brown dwarf with an estimated atmospheric temperature cooler than room temperature, or less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
UFO Sited by Chinese Airline Pilots – (CNN – August 23, 2011)
An unidentified flying object was reported above Shanghai and Beijing at the same time on August 20 (editor’s note: due to the curvature of the earth, undoubtedly different objects). The “colossal unidentified glowing ball” was first sighted around 9 p.m. last Saturday above Shanghai by a Chinese civil aviation pilot flying China Southern Airlines flight CZ655 from Shanghai to Changchun. The pilot described it as a shocking experience. “[The object] expanded from small to large and was spherical in shape. It was hundreds of times larger than the moon and its diameter seemed to reach 50 sea miles (92.6 kilometers),” the pilot wrote on Weibo. The pilot added that the UFO faded gradually after hovering above Shanghai for about 20 minutes. According to the East China Air Traffic Control Bureau, its air control department received reports from several pilots on August 20 about the UFO.
As U.K. Releases UFO Files, Former UFO Project Chief Apologizes For ‘Spin And Dirty Tricks’ – (Huffington Post – August 18, 2011)
As the British National Archives continues to release UFO-related documents, the former Ministry of Defense UFO Project chief is openly admitting to being part of what he claims was a U.K. policy of ridiculing UFO reports and the people who reported them. The U.K. made public 34 previously-classified files, totaling about 9,000 pages of documents covering the years 1985 to 2007. For three of those years, 1991 to 1994, Nick Pope was in charge of the official MoD office. The real situation, Pope noted, was that “We couldn’t say ‘There’s something in our air space; pilots see them; they’re tracked on radar; sometimes we scramble jets to chase these things, but we can’t catch them.’ This would be an admission that we’d lost control of our own air space, and such a position would be untenable.”
Trouble in Paradise – (Wall St. Journal – August 20, 2011)
Municipal officials in the sunny Mediterranean resort of Saint-Tropez are in a cold sweat: The rush into the Swiss franc is creating a time bomb for city finances. The city on the French Riviera has a €6.7 million ($9.6 million) loan on its books that carries an annual interest rate tied to the Swiss franc. The rate currently is fixed at 3.94%. Starting in May 2012, however, the rate becomes variable and rises when the Swiss franc appreciates against the euro. Officials in Saint-Tropez have calculated that, unless the Swiss franc falls off significantly from the peaks reached in recent days, the interest rate on the 20-year loan signed in 2007 would soar to 30%. Many municipalities across Europe are in a similar position. In its July report, the Cour des Comptes, the audit office, said French municipalities had between €10 billion and €12 billion of high-risk structured loans on their books. “In some worst-case scenarios, the interest rates on these loans are double digit and can exceed 50%,” the audit office said.
Study Shows Powerful Corporations Really Do Control the World’s Finances – (Phys Org – August 19, 2011)
For many years conventional wisdom has held that the whole world is controlled by the monied elite, or more recently by huge multi-national corporations. New research by a team based in Zurich has shown that that is apparently accurate. Using data obtained (circa 2007) from the Orbis database (a global database containing financial information on public and private companies) the team, in what is being heralded as the first of its kind, analyzed data from over 43,000 corporations, looking at both upstream and downstream connections between them all and found that when graphed, the data represented a bowtie of sorts, with the knot, or core representing just 147 entities who control nearly 40% of all the monetary value of transnational corporations. Article includes a link to the original white paper.
The Truth about the Economy in 2 Minutes – (Move On – June 14, 2011)
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said he could explain the problems with the economy in less than 2 minutes, 15 seconds-and he did it (with illustrations to boot). The video clip does a good job of “connecting the dots”. The critical fact is that for a majority of people, relative to inflation, wages have been nearly flat for about thirty years. A conclusion, which it alludes to but does not put quite this bluntly, is that an economy based on growth, i.e. consumption, must have a viable middle class with enough funds to buy things. There simply aren’t enough super-rich to consume enough to sustain a growing economy.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Mayan Secrets to Be Revealed by Mexican Government – (Reuters – August 17, 2011)
The Mexican government is releasing state-held secrets about the end of the Mayan calendar to the makers of a documentary, “Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond”. The information, protected for 80 years, is expected to reveal Mayan beliefs in future catastrophes and wisdom characterized as “shocking,” according to producer Raul Julia-Levy, son of actor Raul Julia. Julia-Levy (above) said he’d been made aware of the secret Mayan information by former Mexican president Vicente Fox — a friend of his family — and that it took four years of phone calls to finally get the OK from current president Felipe Calderon. The filmmakers are now talking to investors and waiting for the government to give them their first look at the material and the site at Calakmul where workers for the National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered rooms inside the pyramid that have never been seen or explored before. (Editor’s note: It’s impossible to guess the ratio of Hollywood hype to substance here, but the documentary should be interesting.)
New Body Liquefaction Unit Unveiled in Florida Funeral Home (BBC News – August 30, 2011)
A Glasgow-based company has installed its first commercial “alkaline hydrolysis” unit at a Florida funeral home. The unit by Resomation Ltd is billed as a green alternative to cremation and works by dissolving the body in heated alkaline water. The facility has been installed at the Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St Petersburg, and will be used for the first time in the coming weeks. It is hoped other units will follow in the US, Canada and Europe. The makers claim the process produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, uses a seventh of the energy, and allows for the complete separation of dental amalgam for safe disposal. Mercury from amalgam vaporized in crematoria is blamed for up to 16% of UK airborne mercury emissions, and many UK crematoria are currently fitting mercury filtration systems to meet reduced emission targets.
JUST FOR FUN
10 Incredible Time-lapse Videos – (Mother Nature Network – January 24, 2011)
Watch the little moments in life sped up to reveal their beauty. For example, when a massive blizzard swept through Belmar, New Jersey, in December 2010, a local photographer captured the winter wonderland scene every 5 minutes for 20 hours. He then compressed the images so you can watch several feet of snow accumulate in 40 seconds. Our favorite: Le Tour du Monde, paying tribute to Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days, Romain Pergeaux and Alex Profit spent three weeks touring London, Cairo, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York and London, during which they snapped 640 images and condensed the pics into an 80-second video. From 80 days to 80 seconds: times have changed.
Insanely Complex Ceramics Made by Hand, Not by 3-D Printer – (Fast Co Design – August, 2011)
Irish artist Nuala O’Donovan draws on patterns found in nature to create impossibly complex (and extraordinarily beautiful) abstract sculptures. And she makes them using something else found in nature: her own two hands. “My work is about the inclusion and acceptance of the imperfections in the patterns and forms,” O’Donavan, who hails from County Cork, Ireland, says. “That is the reason that I don’t use extruders or mechanical rollers as I feel that the surface of the elements of the pattern would be too regular … [T]he possibility of change and unknown outcomes are the exciting part of life, as well as art.”
A FINAL QUOTE…
Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how absolutely I hate them! – Albert Einstein
A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, Petra Pieterse, Stu Rose, Cy Sampson, Corey Shreckengost 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.
Edited by John L. Petersen