| FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS|
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
- New research from the Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart supports the theory that water has a memory–a claim that could change our whole way of looking at the world.
- The type of instant download-type learning seen in The Matrix may soon be possible. Using decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging to tweak a subject’s brain waves.
- A rural town in Germany now produces 321% more energy than it needs and is generating $5.7 million in annual revenue.
- The net worth of the average member of Congress has gone up two and a half times over the last 25 years, whereas the average American net worth has remained stagnant.
by John L. Petersen
Why We Do What We Do
If you’ve been a reader of FUTUREdition for awhile, then you’ve noticed a change in focus of this newsletter – particularly in these Punctuation articles that I write. Some 15 years ago, when we started this newsletter, we highlighted “conventional” things – energy, technology, security, etc. — almost exclusively. Sure, we’ve always had our Contact category, where we mentioned interesting and unusual things happening in space, but our orientation was decidedly conventional and generally uncontroversial.
As the shape of the upcoming global change became more apparent, it became obvious to me that conventional perspectives and experts had no reasonable ideas of how to effectively respond to the extraordinary and fundamental shift that was underway. They saw things in terms of the past and necessarily fixated on rather myopic, narrowly focused proposals that drew from what had presumably worked in previous situations. What was happening here was unprecedented – both in terms of the rate of change and the substance of the change – and required a perspective lens that was not chained to something someone had been taught in a university graduate program or learned in a stint of government service.
The convergence and coincidence of driving forces suggested rather forcibly to me that in some important ways the conventional change that was growing all around us was in part derivative of other dynamics that were certainly unconventional. The history of evolutionary change on the planet coupled with the unusual things that were being reported pointed directly to this planet entering a period of absolutely unprecedented change that was driven by never before seen (by anyone alive, at least) cosmic activity coming out of the center of our galaxy and our sun.
The more I learned of the potential implications of these increases in cosmic rays and how they likely would affect the physical operation of the planet, all biology here and even our sociology, the more it became obvious that most of conventional science and analysis was so fixated on an increasingly obsolete consensus models of reality that that sector would never would be able to change their minds fast enough to effectively anticipate and surface reasonable suggestions of how to deal with nothing less than a rapid evolutionary jump in our species.
That forced me really outside of the box to look for other sources – historical, esoteric, metaphysical – that, from a clearly larger perspective derived from a vantage that most modern humans don’t have, seemed to explain what was happening to us. It turned out that there is a great deal of information in that “unconventional” space – a good deal of which made pretty good, even if unconventional, sense.
Albert Einstein alluded to the importance of operating in this broadened perspective of awareness:
Sensation of the Mystical
The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience
is the sensation of the mystical.
It is the sower of all true science.
He to whom this emotion is a stranger,
who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead.
To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists,
manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty,
which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms –
this knowledge, this feeling,
is at the center of true religion.
~ Albert Einstein ~
That is why, in the interest of understanding what is fast approaching on our horizon and suggesting how we all might effectively navigate this very unusual transition, I’ve moved the focus of FE more and more toward a perspective that embraces both the physical and the metaphysical, if you will. It is this broadened analytical and descriptive space that provides for me far more hope than either one alone.
That said, I nevertheless think that those gentle readers who have stayed with us over the years probably divide themselves into two camps: those who skip or put up with my off-the-map wanderings (and probably have gotten to the place where at best they scan this space to see how weird it is and whether it is “reasonable” enough to read), and those who want to know more than just the “news” and are sincerely looking for insights of how they might change themselves to be able to effectively embrace and transcend the chaos.
I have no specific way of knowing if that assessment is true, but it seems to make sense to me. To that end, I have tried to straddle both worlds – the conventional and unconventional – in our articles and have been attempting to logically describe the bridge between those two worlds that appears to offer humanity the opportunity to effectively transition to the new world that is certainly emerging.
That results in an interestingly schizophrenic form to my missives here: first really bad news about how the present system is rapidly coming apart and then rather unconventional proposals for dealing with the situation that in no way directly addresses all of the bad stuff that is happening. In a sense, it’s the Einsteinian notion that you can’t solve a problem from the same perspective that produced it.
If this really is a punctuation in the evolutionary process, then, by definition, the new territory that we’re entering is not described by the current maps and operates in quite different ways. In this case the proposals for dealing with all of these hard problems are intrinsically soft – all about stuff like love and gratitude – which requires embracing a radically different concept of reality. It says that there is another way to operate in this human space that accesses physics and forces that are not yet described by the conventional, authoritative sources – but nevertheless work. It also means that if you don’t embrace these new concepts, the world that you experience will become increasingly dysfunctional and fearful.
The new game is not being played on the old field.
So, with that bit of illumination about what we’re trying to do here, let’s jump into the present degenerating situation.
The indications of implosion are rapidly accumulating. In economic terms, Obama Has Now Increased Debt More than All Presidents from George Washington Through George H.W. Bush Combined. That kind of situation is certain to collapse.
Then there’s this piece from the Economic Collapse Blog listing 50 Economic Numbers From 2011 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe. Sorry, but this one is all about the U.S.
#1 A staggering 48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be “low income” or are living in poverty.
#2 Approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be “low income” or impoverished.
#3 If the number of Americans that “wanted jobs” was the same today as it was back in 2007, the “official” unemployment rate put out by the U.S. government would be up to 11 percent.
#4 The average amount of time that a worker stays unemployed in the United States is now over 40 weeks.
#5 One recent survey found that 77 percent of all U.S. small businesses do not plan to hire any more workers.
#6 There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 even though we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.
#7 Since December 2007, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8% once you account for inflation.
#8 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.6 million Americans were self-employed back in December 2006. Today, that number has shrunk to 14.5 million.
#9 A Gallup poll from earlier this year found that approximately one out of every five Americans that do have a job consider themselves to be underemployed.
See #10 – #50 here.
All of this is not lost on the American people, at least. This recent report, The Number One Catastrophic Event That Americans Worry About: Economic Collapse, provides a very good, overarching summary of a lot of the many forces that are all conspiring to restructure how finance and economics are practiced in the world.
Can you guess what the number one catastrophic event that Americans worry about is? There are certainly many to choose from. Many Americans are deathly afraid of a major terrorist attack. Others live in constant fear of natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes. Still others are incredibly concerned that a massive pandemic will break out at any time or that World War III will erupt in the Middle East. Yes, there are certainly a lot of potential catastrophic events that one can worry about in the times in which we live, but the number one catastrophic event that Americans worry about is actually “economic collapse”. At least that is what a recent survey conducted by Leiflin Inc. for the EcoHealth Alliance found. But this goes along with what so many other polls have found over the past few years. Over and over again, opinion polls have found that the number one issue that American voters are concerned about is the economy. The truth is that average Americans are deeply, deeply concerned about unemployment, debt, the housing crash and the steady decline in the standard of living. It has been years since the U.S. economy has operated at a “normal” level, and many Americans are afraid that things could soon get a whole lot worse.
In the new survey mentioned above, those contacted were asked to select the top three potential catastrophes that worry them the most.
The following results come directly from the survey….
Economic Collapse: 63%
Natural Disaster: 46%
Terrorist Attack: 44%
Global Disease Outbreak: 33%
Global War: 27%
Nuclear Accident: 25%
Global Warming: 22%
Fuel Shortage: 15%
Cyber War: 8%
Oil Spill: 6%
Industrial Accident: 5%
As you can see, “economic collapse” was the winner by a wide margin.
So are there good reasons for the American people to be concerned about an economic collapse?
Of course there are.
Back in 2008, a financial crisis that began on Wall Street was felt in the farthest corners of the globe.
This time, ground zero for the financial crisis is going to be in Europe. As I have written about previously, the European financial system is rapidly coming apart at the seams. The euro continues to drop like a rock, and banking stocks continue their long-term decline.
Many people expect a “financial collapse” to happen on a particular day. But that is not how it happens usually. Instead, it is often like a snowball that starts rolling downhill very slowly at first but that eventually become a huge avalanche.
Right now, we are seeing the financial world come apart in slow motion. A recent article posted on Automatic Earth included a list of the year-to-date performance of some of the most prominent global banking stocks. (read more . . . )
Government Against The People
It’s easy enough to understand what’s happening in the areas of finance and economy, but it’s almost surreal what is going on in the U.S. in other areas. I’ve mentioned before the extraordinary provision that was inserted in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which gave the president the power to have the military imprison indefinitely, without charge, anyone they want. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy.” called the NDAA An Unprecedented Intrusion…being used to destroy what we are as a republic and as a nation.: You can click on the link and listen to the whole interview where he said, “The NDAA proves that a people of sheep invites a government of wolves.”
Very ROUGH notes from the interview. Please listen to the interview. This is just an incomplete tease.
Bill was not subject to any hearings.
Entirely the child of the senate and house armed services committees.
An unprecedented intrusion.
Rob: Doesn’t that play into posse comitatus?
Bruce– not quite because it says that unless congress provides otherwise, the military has no business doing anything in civilian law enforcement.
It is being used to destroy what we are as a republic and as a nation.
The reason why the US exists at all is to procure the inalienable rights to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The government must prove that there is really strong evidence that we should encroach on our liberties.
Post 911 the vast majority of our terrorism cases are conspiracy cases.
This NDAA is simply another symptom of presenting a danger that
It enables the military to detain you or me without being charged with any crime. You can’t defend against the charge because you’re not being charged with anything. That was the definition of tyranny 800 years ago– going back to the Magna Carta.
This is bi-partisan 93-7 in the senate, equally lopsided in the house.
This is not the United states that I grew up with.
The individual is the center of our constitutional solar system.
We cannot reduce the risk of another 911 to zero.
No one can get so low.
Turning us into the kind of nation we rebelled against
Do you really think it’s to make us safer?
The great irony of the empire builders is it makes you less safe.
The government looks as everyone as a potential traitor.
“A people of sheeple get a government of wolves.”
Edward R. Murrow.
The Psychology of Empire refers to a cluster of principles or starting points in thinking about your country.
The quest for a risk-free existence is the over-riding idea, anything that makes safety, no matter how much it destroys separations of power, liberties.
When you are trying to be risk free you have to have secrecy. So secrecy is one of the earmarks of empire.
The greatest earmark is the denigration of due process– don’t rely upon anonymous witnesses. Due process has been totally destroyed– this act is one example of that — you get detained for LIFE? Without even a trial? Due process is mankind’s response to the recognition that you can get it wrong…
Permanent state of war– live under an architecture of war and post 9/11 that’s where we are. ” it becomes planet-wide– the battle is everywhere– permanent, perpetual, planetary war.
All the concentration of power is accumulated in the executive branch.
In my book, American Empire before the fall–
Obama is driven more by the political culture than by…
Ron Paul is the only candidate who has any idea of…
He is one person I would trust in the presidency.
Congress wants to give away its power.
Congress just delegated it’s decision to the president.
The invertebrate branch is what I call it.
It’s the congress that wants to run and escape from responsibility.
They don’t even exercise their treaty prerogatives. That’s how we got into the world trade organization.
The occupy movement is commendable, like the tea party in recognizing that there’s something rotten…
Erik Holder? I would give him a grade of an F. He has not fought to protect the rule of law. If I was Attorney General I would have resigned long ago.
Holder has totally defaulted in defending the constitution. In terms of liberty Holder is the worst.
Going to war against Libya was a total violation of the constitution.
What do we do? There’s no magic formula. We’re talking about the symptoms of a compromised, debased political culture.
We have reduced ourselves to an adolescent or infantile society driven by sex, money, power and domination vs. an adult society motivated by virtue wisdom and magnanimity.
We need to start with education.
People care more about who wins the Superbowl or American idol and things that are of concern to children.
I have an optimistic view. History does record that a small group of people, like our founding fathers… where empires did succumb to a relatively small group of people, who won the future from the precipice of tyranny.
We don’t want to paint due process, individual rights, celebration of liberty . . . individual as the center of the universe.
The goal that government has is not to grow bigger. Our constant concern in assessing government is “Is it promoting individual liberty?”
Rob: What do you think of an amendment to end corporate personhood? I have no objection to getting rid of corporations in toto. Corporations encourage excessive risk taking. Corporations exist to reduce personal risk. So I would be happy to see corporations eliminated entirely.
Click for the whole, 40 minute interview.
To look at the same dynamic from a different angle, here’s a couple of excerpts from Jim Garrison writing in the Huffington Post, which highlights the irrationality of the present situation. He also references the NBAA.
Surrendering 2011: Rendition and Methane
In the fine print of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, passed just before the holidays, it turns out that in addition to being now legally able to seize without charge and hold indefinitely without trial any U.S. citizen, the government and the military also have the authority to use rendition on U.S. citizens. This was a policy originally enunciated by the Bush Administration to enable the CIA and the military to take suspects from one country to another for interrogation and torture, thus enabling U.S. officials to sidestep any human rights restrictions. Rendition was initially conceived as an extra-legal instrument in the war on terror. Now it is the law of the land and potentially applies to any and all U.S. citizens deemed “suspects.”
. . . Synchronistically, during the very week the 2012 NDAA was passed, the Russian scientist Dr. Igor Semiletov reported that methane plumes over 1000 meters across were erupting in the Arctic Ocean and that he had mapped over 100 eruptions of lesser size in a 10,000 square mile area. He speculated that there were perhaps thousands more methane eruptions over a much larger expanse. The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is a methane rich area comprised of over 2 million square miles of seafloor under the Arctic Ocean. Most of the seafloor is quite shallow and flat, about 50 meters in depth, which means that the methane shoots right up directly into the atmosphere before it can be absorbed by the ocean. Methane is one of the green houses gases and is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. Read the complete piece here.
These ideas are particularly on my mind these days because a week ago, my friend Whitley Strieber asked if I would do a segment on my thoughts about 2012 for his Dreamland web subscribers. Agreeing to that forced me to collect up all of the sources that I was following that were talking specifically about the coming year and integrate them into a single picture of what might be coming this way.
As I put the information from eight or nine sources together, it became clear that the above mentioned indicators were consistent with these other much more specific sources that pointedly forecast the rapid collapse of significant pieces of the existing system in the coming 12 months. For example, one can make a pretty compelling case that the global financial system could well come down by March or April and that there will be an extraordinary cosmic happening in the third quarter . . . to say nothing about two other major earth-shaking events that appear to be programmed for June and September. Very strange things seem programmed for the third quarter – events for which we don’t yet have descriptive language. It was interesting how the input from both conventional and unconventional reporters pointed toward a year unlike any other.
I talked about these things for about a half hour on Whitley’s program and he was quite excited – called it “stunning” (I don’t know about that, particularly — I guess you could decide.) . . . and then something else rather interesting happened. I got a call from Brian Hardin, a Los Angeles television producer who was in the area for the holidays who suggested that we shoot the piece on video. So that ended up being an hour-long summary to which we added a half-hour of Brian and me discussing ways to prepare for what appears to be headed our way.
If you’re interested in listening to or watching these presentations, you have two choices: you can listen to the Dreamland segment by purchasing a one month membership ($4.00) here, and you can get the DVD of the longer interview – 2012: The Year of Great Transition – here for $15. You can order the DVD now, but it will be about a week before we have the completed discs ready to ship.
Engaging In a Different Way
Some of what we talk about on the DVD is the need to find that alternative space from which to operate (that is largely defined by gratitude), which allows one to be “in the world but not part of it”. The experience is one of a kind of arms-length distancing oneself from all of the negative stuff that is going on and having an inner calm and quiet – and excitement – about the new world that will evolve, phoenix-like, out of the rubble of the present structure. Then, just on time, this Pico Iyer article arrived extolling the centrality of quiet and contemplation.
December 29, 2011
The Joy of Quiet
By PICO IYER
About a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began – I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign – was stillness.
A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”
Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.
Has it really come to this?
In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them – often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much about everything – overnight.
Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China try to save kids addicted to the screen.
Writer friends of mine pay good money to get the Freedom software that enables them to disable (for up to eight hours) the very Internet connections that seemed so emancipating not long ago. Even Intel (of all companies) experimented in 2007 with conferring four uninterrupted hours of quiet time every Tuesday morning on 300 engineers and managers. (The average office worker today, researchers have found, enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.) During this period the workers were not allowed to use the phone or send e-mail, but simply had the chance to clear their heads and to hear themselves think. A majority of Intel’s trial group recommended that the policy be extended to others.
The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).
The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow, I heard myself tell the marketers in Singapore, will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.
The urgency of slowing down – to find the time and space to think – is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
When telegraphs and trains brought in the idea that convenience was more important than content – and speedier means could make up for unimproved ends – Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but by also acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister.
Yet few of those voices can be heard these days, precisely because “breaking news” is coming through (perpetually) on CNN and Debbie is just posting images of her summer vacation and the phone is ringing. We barely have enough time to see how little time we have (most Web pages, researchers find, are visited for 10 seconds or less). And the more that floods in on us (the Kardashians, Obamacare, “Dancing with the Stars”), the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet. All we notice is that the distinctions that used to guide and steady us – between Sunday and Monday, public and private, here and there – are gone.
We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And – as he might also have said – we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.
So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.
Maybe that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation. Finding myself at breakfast with a group of lawyers in Oxford four months ago, I noticed that all their talk was of sailing – or riding or bridge: anything that would allow them to get out of radio contact for a few hours.
Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.
In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures to try to keep my sanity and ensure that I have time to do nothing at all (which is the only time when I can see what I should be doing the rest of the time). I’ve yet to use a cellphone and I’ve never Tweeted or entered Facebook. I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.
None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it’s just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better – calmer, clearer and happier – than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”
It’s vital, of course, to stay in touch with the world, and to know what’s going on; I took pains this past year to make separate trips to Jerusalem and Hyderabad and Oman and St. Petersburg, to rural Arkansas and Thailand and the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima and Dubai. But it’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it.
For more than 20 years, therefore, I’ve been going several times a year – often for no longer than three days – to a Benedictine hermitage, 40 minutes down the road, as it happens, from the Post Ranch Inn. I don’t attend services when I’m there, and I’ve never meditated, there or anywhere; I just take walks and read and lose myself in the stillness, recalling that it’s only by stepping briefly away from my wife and bosses and friends that I’ll have anything useful to bring to them. The last time I was in the hermitage, three months ago, I happened to pass, on the monastery road, a youngish-looking man with a 3-year-old around his shoulders.
“You’re Pico, aren’t you?” the man said, and introduced himself as Larry; we’d met, I gathered, 19 years before, when he’d been living in the cloister as an assistant to one of the monks. “What are you doing now?” I asked.
“I work for MTV. Down in L.A.”
We smiled. No words were necessary.
“I try to bring my kids here as often as I can,” he went on, as he looked out at the great blue expanse of the Pacific on one side of us, the high, brown hills of the Central Coast on the other. “My oldest son” – he pointed at a 7-year-old running along the deserted, radiant mountain road in front of his mother – “this is his third time.”
The child of tomorrow, I realized, may actually be ahead of us, in terms of sensing not what’s new, but what’s essential.
Pico Iyer is the author, most recently of “The Man Within My Head.”
Thank You For Your Support
We’re approaching the end of our 14th year of publishing this free newsletter. During that time we’ve tried to provide you with information and a perspective that you can’t find anywhere else. The many, kind responses that I receive from FE readers suggest that they have been regularly moved, provoked and informed by this little bi-monthly, horizon-scanning endeavor that we started so many years ago.
Even though it costs us about $20,000 per year to publish FE (not counting my time!), we’ve been able to provide FUTUREdition to you at no cost because a number of generous friends and readers have contributed to covering some of those expenses. We’ve had sponsors, philanthropic folks, and just plain readers who have valued what we are doing and pitched in to keep things going. I can assure you that we’ve never made any profit on FE and frankly, have always operated at a loss.
Perhaps this holiday season you’d like to help keep FE coming throughout 2012. I’m told that over 25,000 people read FE each issue. If just one thousand folks like you who benefit from our efforts decided that it was worth $15 to keep FE showing up in your inbox 23 times a year, we’d be a good way toward covering our costs. If you wanted to give more than that, it would help even more.
So, if you’d like to chip during this time of gift-giving, I can certainly assure you that we need and will efficiently use any contributions that you might send our way. Here’s a link to an easy place to make a contribution.
Thanks so very much for considering becoming a part of our effort in this way.
Warmest wishes for this extraordinary new year.
Scientists Investigate Water Memory – (Ode Wire – December 8, 2011)
Does water have memory? Can it retain an “imprint” of energies to which it has been exposed? This theory was first proposed by the late French immunologist Dr. Jacques Benveniste, in a controversial article published in 1988 in Nature, as a way of explaining how homeopathy works. Benveniste’s theory has continued to be championed by some and disputed by others. A linked video clip shows some fascinating recent experiments with water “memory” from the Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart in Germany. The results with the different types of flowers immersed in water are particularly evocative.
Metal Undergoes Novel Transition Under Extreme Pressure – (BBC News – December 20, 2011)
Iron oxide was subjected to conditions similar to those at the depth where the Earth’s innermost two layers meet. At 1,650C and 690,000 times sea-level pressure, the metal changed the degree to which it conducted electricity. But, as the team at the Carnegie Institution for Science found, the metal’s structure was surprisingly unchanged. The finding could have implications for our as-yet incomplete understanding of how the Earth’s interior gives rise to the planet’s magnetic field.
Mysterious “White Web” Found Growing on Nuclear Waste – (io9 – December 16, 2011)
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site – a nuclear reservation in South Carolina – have identified a strange, cob-web like “growth” (their word) on the racks of the facility’s spent nuclear fuel assemblies. According to a report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, “the growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterized, but may be biological in nature.”
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
New Discovery May Lead to Safer Treatments for Asthma, Allergies and Arthritis – (Medical Xpress – December 19, 2011)
Scientists have discovered a missing link between the body’s biological clock and sugar metabolism system, a finding that may help avoid the serious side effects of drugs used for treating asthma, allergies and arthritis. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report finding that proteins that control the body’s biological rhythms, known as cryptochromes, also interact with metabolic switches that are targeted by certain anti-inflammatory drugs. The finding suggests that side effects of current drugs might be avoided by considering patients’ biological rhythms when administering drugs, or by developing new drugs that target the cryptochromes.
Vision Scientists Demonstrate Innovative Learning Method – (National Science Foundation – December 8, 2011)
The type of instant download-type learning seen in The Matrix may soon be possible. Using decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to tweak a subject’s brain waves, scientists can match brain waves to a previously-determined target state. The method could be used to more or less insert knowledge directly into a subject’s brain through the visual cortex, bypassing all of the months of practice and learning curves. The method only works on skills that involve a large degree of visual performance. The visual learning areas of our brains are responsible for keeping track of information learned over time through practice and forming it into performance-based skill. So artificially inducing a certain activation pattern in the brain that matches the pattern of someone who already has that skill can actually make us better at something almost instantly. Oddly enough, the method works even when the subject isn’t aware of what they are being “taught.”
Research on Bird Flu May Be Censored on Security Concern – (Business Week – December 21, 2011)
Scientists agreed not to publish certain details of research showing how lethal bird flu can be made contagious after a U.S. biosecurity panel asked that it be kept secret for security reasons. The study at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam described the genetic changes needed to make the H5N1 avian influenza strain spread easily among ferrets and potentially people. The research is under review for publication in the journal Science. It was commissioned by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The Dutch scientists, led by Ron Fouchier, passed the H5N1 strain between ferrets in a chain of transmission that enabled the virus to evolve and become better adapted to its mammalian hosts. Fouchier said, “In the laboratory, it was possible to change H5N1 into an aerosol transmissible virus that can easily be rapidly spread through the air. This process could also take place in a natural setting.” A similar study led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, from the University of Wisconsin, is under review for publication in Nature.
Over 65 Million Years, North American Mammal Evolution Has Tracked With Climate Change – (Science Daily – December 27, 2011)
Climate changes profoundly influenced the rise and fall of six distinct, successive waves of mammal species diversity in North America over the last 65 million years, shows a novel statistical analysis led by Brown University evolutionary biologists. Warming and cooling periods, in two cases confounded by species migrations, marked the transition from one dominant grouping to the next. To the extent that the study helps clarify scientists’ understanding of evolution amid climate changes, it does not do so to the extent that they can make specific predictions about the future, Janis said. But it seems all the clearer that climate change has repeatedly had meaningful effect over millions of years.
Tracking Marine Debris from the Japanese Tsunami – (NOAA – December 16, 2011)
Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March could reach the United States as early as this winter, according to predictions by NOAA scientists. However, they warn there is still a large amount of uncertainty over exactly what is still floating, where it’s located, where it will go, and when it will arrive. Responders now have a challenging, if not impossible, situation on their hands: How do you deal with debris that could now impact U.S. shores, but is difficult to find?
Go to Work on a Christmas Card – (EurekAlert – December 27, 2011)
If all the UK’s discarded wrapping paper and Christmas cards were collected and fermented, they could make enough biofuel to run a double-decker bus to the moon and back more than 20 times, according to the researchers behind a new scientific study. The study, by scientists at Imperial College London, demonstrates that industrial quantities of waste paper could be turned into high grade biofuel, to power motor vehicles, by fermenting the paper using microorganisms. The researchers hope that biofuels made from waste paper could ultimately provide one alternative to fossil fuels like diesel and petrol, in turn reducing the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.
U.S.-Funded Internet Liberation Project Finds Perfect Test Site: Occupy D.C. – (Wired – December 15, 2011)
When Sascha Meinrath saw the Occupy encampment in D.C., he saw a testbed for technology. Meinrath has been chasing a dream for more than a decade, ever since he was a liberal arts grad student in Urbana, Illinois: community wireless networks. From that small beginning, Meinrath now runs a State Department-funded initiative to create an Internet in a Suitcase – the Voice of America of the digital age. If he has his way, Meinrath’s project will lead to low-cost, easy-to-use wireless connections around the globe, all lashed together in mesh that can withstand the whims of dictators willing to pull the plug on the internet to quash dissent. He and a team of software engineers are developing open-source software to turn cheap wireless access points and Android smartphones into nodes on the network, which could then be used by dissidents to evade censorship and to spread low-cost connections everywhere around the world. Proponents of the plan include the U.S. State Department, which has given Meinrath a $2 million grant to develop the code.
Kenya Has Mobile Health App Fever – (Technology Review – December 16, 2011)
Many Kenyans have serious health problems and at present only 7,000 doctors serve a nation of 40 million people. But Kenya is rich in mobile phones, with 25 million subscribers (Africa has more than 600 million of them). A new app, called MedAfrica, is available for smart phones and less powerful feature phones. It offers free content supported by advertising, with future plans to offer premium content for a subscription and to charge doctors about $10 a month for access to its user base. MedAfrica is, however, still a small effort, and it faces competition from the country’s dominant telecom-Safaricom. At nearly the same time that MedAfrica launched, Safaricom forged a partnership with another startup, Call-a-Doc, to allow Safaricom’s 18 million subscribers to call doctors for expert advice for about two cents a minute. A smaller SMS-based mobile-health effort, called Mpedigree, is rolling out at health-care centers to provide a way to check serial numbers on drugs to make sure counterfeits are not being administered in Kenya.
Inductive Charging for Electric Vehicles to Be Put to the Test in Real-world Trial in Berlin (Gizmag – December 20, 2011)
Inductive charging devices are already making their way into the home as a cable-free option to keep the batteries of everything from mice and keyboards to mobile phones and toothbrushes juiced up. The increasing availability of practical electric vehicles has also seen the technology attract the attention of those looking for a cable-free way to charge electric vehicle (EV) batteries. A German government-backed initiative to build an energy-efficient house that generates more electricity than it consumes will see a family of four living in the house located in Berlin for fifteen months, starting in March 2012. The house has been specifically designed along energy-efficient lines and is intended to demonstrate how energy-efficient building and electric mobility can be combined in real-life conditions. Equipped with photovoltaics and energy management technology, surplus electricity generated will either be fed back into the grid or stored in batteries ready to recharge the batteries of the occupants’ electric vehicles. For more information on cordless inductive charging, see this. For photographs of the house, see this page. (Scroll down almost to the bottom of the webpage to “Impressionen des Effizienzhaus-Plus”.)
Electrofuels Bump Up Solar Efficiency – (Electrical and Chemical Engineering News – November 28, 2011)
Photosynthesis is not efficient at converting sunlight into usable energy, and future global energy demand is expected to outstrip nature’s ability to provide the fuels we have grown to depend on. So researchers are seeking ways to improve on it. One promising method is through the use of electrofuels, which are made with energy from the sun and renewable inorganic feedstocks such as carbon dioxide and water in processes facilitated by nonphotosynthetic microorganisms or Earth-abundant metal catalysts. The technology for making an “artificial leaf” holds the potential for opening an era of “fast-food energy,” in which people generate their own electricity at home with low-cost equipment perfect for the 3 billion people living in developing countries and even home-owners in the United States. That’s among the prospects emerging from research on a new genre of “electrofuels”.
German Village Achieves Energy Independence … And Then Some – (BioCycle – August, 2011)
In 1997, when the newly elected Mayor and Village Council of Wildpoldsried, Germany took their posts, everyone agreed that its goals should be to build new industry, keep initiatives local, bring in new revenues and create no debt. In May 2011, 14 years later, Mayor Arno Zengerle announced at a town hall meeting that it’s “half time” of his third term. He walked the community through a massive list of accomplishments that include nine new community buildings (including the school, gym and community hall) complete with solar panels, four biogas digesters with a fifth in construction, seven windmills with two more on the way, 190 private households equipped with solar, a district heating network with 42 connections, three small hydro power plants, ecological flood control and a natural wastewater system. Wildpoldsried (pop. <2,600) now produces 321% more energy than it needs and is generating $5.7 million in annual revenue. This is a remarkable accomplishment for a modest farming community that turned a village with no industry into an industry of renewable energy with the help of local entrepreneurs and pioneers.
New Material Claimed to Store More Energy and Cost Less Than Batteries – (Giz Mag – September 29, 2011)
Researchers from the National University of Singapore’s Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Initiative (NUSNNI) have created what they claim is the world’s first energy-storage membrane. Not only is the material soft and foldable, but it doesn’t incorporate liquid electrolytes that can spill out if it’s damaged, it’s more cost-effective than capacitors or traditional batteries, and it’s reportedly capable of storing more energy. The membrane is made from a polystyrene-based polymer, which is sandwiched between two metal plates. When charged by those plates, it can store the energy at a rate of 0.2 farads per square centimeter – standard capacitors, by contrast, can typically only manage an upper limit of 1 microfarad per square centimeter. Due in part to the membrane’s low fabrication costs, the cost of storing energy in it reportedly works out to 72 cents US per farad. According to the researchers, the cost for standard liquid electrolyte-based batteries is more like US$7 per farad. See also: Paper-thin Batteries
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor – (You Tube – October 11, 2011)
A liquid-fluoride nuclear reactor is different than conventional nuclear reactors that use solid fuel elements. A liquid-fluoride reactor uses a solution of several fluoride salts, typically lithium fluoride, beryllium fluoride, and uranium tetrafluoride, as its basic nuclear fuel. The fluoride salts have a number of advantages over solid fuels: they are impervious to radiation damage; they can be chemically processed in the form that they are in; and they have a high capacity to hold thermal energy (heat). Additional nuclear fuel can be added or withdrawn from the salt solution during normal operation.Thorium’s capacity as nuclear fuel was discovered during WW II, but ignored because it was unsuitable for making bombs. Thorium is readily available & can be turned into energy without generating transuranic wastes. A liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is the optimal approach for harvesting energy from Thorium, and has the potential to solve today’s energy/climate crisis. This (2 hour) video opens with a five minute summary of its overall content. In fact it is a condensation of 6 hours of talks given by Kirk Sorensen and other thorium technologists.
Autonomous Transportation for the Year 2030 – (World Future Society – November 28, 2011)
Sometimes an idea comes along that is so startling, well executed, complex and yet intuitive that it serves as both a perfect reflection of-and fitting compliment to-nature. The concept is Autonomo: a fully autonomous vehicle designed for the year 2030 to overcome many of the major problems facing many of the world’s major cities like Los Angeles face today. Its main sources of inspiration are drawn from biomimicry, sustainability, artificial intelligence and information technology. Its objectives are to alleviate congestion, maximize access through the already existing road network, improve energy efficiency and create a completely carbon neutral transportation option. And all this can be achieved with minimal restructuring of the existing road infrastructure through the use of advanced smart technologies.
Luxury-Sea Boat Generates Electricity from Ocean Water – (Pure Energy Systems – December 17, 2011)
A boat that requires no fossil fuel and that has an infinite range would be a true breakthrough. The French company Luxury-Sea claims to be building such a boat, named the MIG 675. Allegedly, it utilizes a patent pending technology that generates up to 50,000 volts of electricity from ocean water. The electricity generated is used both to power on board electronics, and to generate hydrogen to fuel a powerful 500 horse power engine.
TSA Hits American Trains and Buses – (Aviation Justice Express – December 5, 2011)
Attacks on passengers’ civil rights is one of the most unpleasant parts of flying. But the cancer is spreading to buses and trains. The TSA’s Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR) teams “detain and search citizens at railroad stations, bus stations, ferries, car tunnels, ports, subways, truck weigh stations, rest areas, and special events.” According to the TSA News Blog: “VIPR teams periodically descend on transportation hubs to conduct “random” searches, as they did in [various major cities]; and perhaps most notoriously, in Savannah, Georgia, where train passengers were separated from their luggage and body-searched after they got off the train. Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor hit the roof when he found out and forbade the agency from ever setting foot in an Amtrak station without permission again. See also: Congress to Fund Massive Expansion of TSA Checkpoints.
Roger Doiron: My Subversive (Garden) Plot – (You Tube – December, 2011)
With a dash of humor, this independently sponsored TED talk looks at home gardening as one means not only of contributing to the global need for food production but of doing so in a way that restores a measure of power (and food quality) to individuals and away from global agribusiness. The speaker, Roger Doiron, is the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit community of 20,000 kitchen gardeners from over 100 countries.
The Deliciously Eccentric Story of the Town Growing ALL Its Own Veggies – (Daily Mail – December 10, 2011)
Following up on the previous story, here’s one about the small mill town of Todmorden, West Yorkshire (UK). The townspeople have planted thousands of vegetables and fruits in 70 large beds around the town. Folks are encouraged to help themselves. A few tomatoes here, a handful of broccoli there. If they’re in season, they’re yours. Free. So there are (or were) raspberries, apricots and apples on the canal towpath; blackcurrants, redcurrants and strawberries beside the doctor’s surgery; beans and peas outside the college; cherries in the supermarket car park; and mint, rosemary, thyme and fennel by the health centre. By 2018, Todmorden hopes to be the first town in the UK that is self-sufficient in food.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Congress Authorizes Pentagon to Wage Internet War – (Wired – December 13, 2011)
The House and Senate agreed to give the U.S. military the power to conduct “offensive” strikes online – including clandestine attacks, via a little-noticed provision in the military’s 2012 funding bill, a bill that is all but guaranteed to pass into law. While “offensive” action isn’t defined, that’s likely to include things like unleashing a worm like the Stuxnet worm that damaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, hacking into another country’s power grid to bring it down, disabling websites via denial-of-service attacks, or as the CIA has already done with some collateral damage, hacking into a forum where would-be terrorists meet in order to permanently disable it.
Inside the Pentagon’s Alt-Medicine Mecca, Where the Generals Meditate – (Wired – December 23, 2011)
Ironically, soldiers are suffering new ailments because more of them are making it home. The survival rate of soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan is greater than 93%. Compare that to a 76% rate in Vietnam, or 69% rate in World War II, and it’s clear that military medicine has made impressive strides in keeping wounded soldiers alive. But with an unprecedented number of survivors, military docs are seeing epidemic rates of three health problems. Post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition characterized by depression, insomnia and rage, afflicts more than 250,000 of today’s soldiers. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which lead to memory lapses, moodiness and learning problems, affect thousands more. And chronic pain, caused by everything from herniated spinal discs to nerve irritation following amputations, is a mainstay among soldiers and veterans. So, learning that traditional pharmaceutical interventions often don’t work, the Pentagon is turning to alternative medicine to try to help alleviate these conditions.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
FEMA Seeking Subcontractors to Provide “Temporary Camp Services” in All 50 States – (Information Clearing House – December 13, 2011)
For the better part of two decades FEMA detention camps were believed to be a figment of tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists. As more information over the years has been made available through alternative news researchers like Alex Jones in his full length documentary Police State 4 and former governor Jesse Venutra’s FEMA camp exposé, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government has been taking steps for quite some time to ensure a rapid and effective response in the event of a national disaster or U.S. military deployment on American soil. The U.S. Senate recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which, it has been argued, authorizes the establishment of domestic war zones and the subsequent detention of those who are suspected of engaging in terrorist-related activity – including, arguably, U.S. citizens. Just days after the passage of the act reports are surfacing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, is requisitioning private contractors to provide services for government, defense & infrastructure pertaining specifically to FEMA activities with respect to emergency services.
Obama Gives Military Extreme Powers – (Nation of Change – December 23, 2011)
Obama will soon sign into law a monstrosity called the Levin/McCain detention bill, named for its two senatorial sponsors, Carl Levin and John McCain. It’s snuggled into the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. The detention bill mandates-don’t glide too easily past that word-that all accused terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; this includes U.S. citizens within the borders of the United States. The detention act authorizes use of military force against anyone who “substantially supports” al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces.” The bill’s language mentions, “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” That’s language that can be bent, at will, by any prosecutor. (Editor’s Note: This article builds further on these points and related issues too lengthy to be summarized here. The entire article deserves reading.)
The Defining Issue: Not Government’s Size, But Who It’s For – (Huffington Post – December 19, 2011)
The defining political issue of 2012 won’t be the government’s size. It will be who government is for. Americans have never much liked government. After all, the nation was conceived in a revolution against government. But the surge of cynicism now engulfing America isn’t about government’s size. It’s the growing perception that government isn’t working for average people. It’s for big business, Wall Street, and the very rich instead. In a recent Pew Foundation poll, 77% of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations. Republicans decrying the budget deficit. But one of the deficit’s biggest drivers-Medicare-would be lower if Medicare could use its bargaining leverage to get drug companies to reduce their prices. Why hasn’t it happened? Big Pharma won’t allow it. Medicare’s administrative costs are only 3%, far below the 10% average administrative costs of private insurers. So why not tame rising healthcare costs for all Americans by allowing any family to opt in? That was the idea behind the “public option.” Health insurers stopped it in its tracks.
An Execrable Ancestor – (Daily Caller – December 28, 2011)
The execrable ancestor of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) is the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Frederick Douglass protested, “Under this [Fugitive Slave] law the oaths of any two villains (the capturer and the claimant) are sufficient to confine a free man to slavery for life.” Under the NDAA, the suspicion of the president is sufficient to confine an American citizen to military detention for life without accusation or trial. The twin laws make for an alarming tale. The NDAA emerged from the Senate and House Armed Services Committees without a single hearing. The Judiciary Committees waived jurisdiction. Only 13 senators voted against the sacrilege to due process. The statute is naked of findings that the awesome power lodged in the president was necessary to cure a deficiency in existing laws. It was enacted more than a decade after the 9/11 abominations, when it was known that no American citizen on American soil who substantially supported al Qaeda had ever eluded prosecution and punishment in the criminal justice system before any American in America had been harmed.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
The Better Angels of Our Nature – (New York Times – October 6, 2011)
It is unusual for the subtitle of a book to undersell it, but Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature” tells us much more than why violence has declined. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, addresses some of the biggest questions we can ask: Are human beings essentially good or bad? Has the past century witnessed moral progress or a moral collapse? Do we have grounds for being optimistic about the future? The central thesis of “Better Angels” is that our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence. The decline in violence holds for violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes and between states. People living now are less likely to meet a violent death, or to suffer from violence or cruelty at the hands of others, than people living in any previous century. Pinker assumes that many of his readers will be skeptical of this claim, so he spends six substantial chapters documenting it. That may sound like a hard slog, but for anyone interested in understanding human nature, the material is engrossing, and when the going gets heavy, Pinker knows how to lighten it with ironic comments and a touch of humor.
Online Merchants Home in on Imbibing Consumers – (New York Times – December 27, 2011)
Shopping under the influence has long benefited high-end specialty retailers – witness the wine-and-cheese parties that are a staple of galleries and boutiques. Now the popularity of Internet sales has opened alcohol-induced purchases to the masses. Online retailers, of course, can never be sure whether customers are inebriated when they tap the “checkout” icon. One comparison-shopping site, Kelkoo, said almost half the people it surveyed in Britain, where it is based, had shopped online after drinking. But while reliable data is hard to come by, retailers say they have their suspicions based on anecdotal evidence and traffic patterns on their Web sites – and some are adjusting their promotions accordingly.
To Build Community, an Economy of Gifts – (Yes – December 20, 2011)
Community is woven from gifts. Unlike today’s market system, whose built-in scarcity compels competition in which more for me is less for you, in a gift economy the opposite holds. Because people in gift culture pass on their surplus rather than accumulating it, your good fortune is my good fortune: more for you is more for me. Wealth circulates, gravitating toward the greatest need. In a gift community, people know that their gifts will eventually come back to them, albeit often in a new form. Such a community might be called a “circle of the gift.” Given the circular nature of gift flow, the author was excited to learn that one of the most promising social inventions that he’s come across for building community is called the Gift Circle. Developed by Alpha Lo, co-author of The Open Collaboration Encyclopedia, and his friends in Marin County, California, it exemplifies the dynamics of gift systems and illuminates the broad ramifications that gift economies portend for our economy, psychology, and civilization.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Kepler Discovers Earth-size Exoplanets – (NASA – December 20, 2011)
NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun. The discovery marks the next important milestone in the ultimate search for planets like Earth. Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, lead author of a new study said, “This discovery demonstrates for the first time that Earth-size planets exist around other stars, and that we are able to detect them.”
Wealth Gap Between Congress, Citizens Widens – (Marketplace – December 27, 2011)
The net worth of the average member of Congress has gone up two and a half times over the last 25 years, whereas the average American net worth has remained stagnant. These are figures that don’t include home equity, but the average American’s net worth is about $20,000 — whereas the average member of Congress’ net worth was about $280,000 back in 1984, and is about $725,000 today — those are in 2009 dollars. Why has it happened? The income inequality and wealth inequality in the United States in general probably has something to do with it. The second reason is specific to Congress and the amount of money that it now takes to run a winning campaign-that’s gone up several times. So candidates with more money are more likely to win.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Next 5 in 5: IBM Predicts Mind-Reading Computers – (Huffington Post – December 20, 2011)
Forget Siri. According to IBM, in five years computers will be able to do a lot more than listen to your voice: They’ll be able to read your mind. IBM has announced its “Next 5 In 5 Forecast,” an annual list of five predictions about the technologies the company’s innovators think we’ll see in the next five years. The Forecast, which has been around since 2006, has had some misses in the past, but on the whole, the lists have been fairly prescient. A 2007 prediction was that cellphones would soon take the place of wallets, banks and concierges. Considering the ubiquity of phone payment services, online banking and review apps, IBM was right on. When they predicted that “You will talk to the Web and the Web will talk back” in 2008, they probably didn’t know it would only be three years until that became a mainstream reality with the introduction of Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant Siri. One of this year’s coolest forecasts-that computers will soon be able to read your mind-is already sort of a reality. See the whole list.
Scenarios of Euro Collapse Appear – (Time – December 13, 2011)
At this point, it would be unwise to ignore hypotheses now arising about what might happen if certain countries dropped out of the euro zone-or if the entire currency imploded. While that is still very much “what if” theorizing at this point, such a potential crisis is worth examining, if only to identify signs of what may await if things continue to deteriorate. The picture isn’t pretty-involving bank runs, freezes on moving capital abroad, surging unemployment, rising prices and falling currency values, government default, isolation from international creditors and markets, and the sort of social and economic trauma and ruin associated with the Great Depression-or worse. On the other hand, although French researcher Emmanuel Todd notes that though the implosion of the euro would produce a period of economic pain, panic, and instability, he says that shock wouldn’t last as long as some predict (18, maybe 24 months), before companies and governments picked up and moved on. And because many euro countries would be starting anew after having brushed off huge amounts of debt through various degrees of default, Todd argues the post-euro economies could be re-constructed on more solid fiscal foundations.
Rats Show Empathy, Too – (NIH – December 19, 2011)
Empathy motivates us to take action. Other primates like apes are also known to help each other when they perceive distress. Rats share the distress of other rats as well, but whether they would take the next step to assist a fellow rat in distress was unknown. Researchers at the University of Chicago developed a model to test whether rats would be driven by empathy to help each other. After an average of 7 daily sessions, most rats had learned how to quickly release the door of a restraining tube to set their captive companion free. When the rat was first released, the scientists observed, the pairs raced around and explored the cage together. In contrast, free rats paid little attention to the restraint tubes that were empty or contained only a toy rat. Even when the free rats were denied access to the liberated rat, the rats still opened the restrainer. This showed that the free rats weren’t opening the doors to have a playmate. Rather, they were opening the door specifically to release the trapped rat.
Time for a Change? Scholars Say Calendar Needs Serious Overhaul – (Phys Org – December 27, 2011)
Using computer programs and mathematical formulas, Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Steve H. Hanke, an applied economist in the Whiting School of Engineering, have created a new calendar in which each new 12-month period is identical to the one which came before, and remains that way from one year to the next in perpetuity. Under the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, for instance, if Christmas fell on a Sunday in 2012 (and it would), it would also fall on a Sunday in 2013, 2014 and beyond. September would have 31 days, as would March, June and December. All the rest would have 30. “Our plan offers a stable calendar that is absolutely identical from year to year and which allows the permanent, rational planning of annual activities, from school to work holidays,” says Henry, who is also director of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. Among the practical advantages would be the convenience afforded by birthdays and holidays (as well as work holidays) falling on the same day of the week every year. But the economic benefits are even more profound, according to Hanke, an expert in international economics, including monetary policy.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Scientists say Turin Shroud is Supernatural – (Independent – December 20, 2011)
After years of work trying to replicate the coloring on the shroud, a similar image has been created by Italian government scientists. However, they only managed the effect by scorching equivalent linen material with high-intensity ultra violet lasers, undermining the arguments of other research, they say, which claims the Turin Shroud is a medieval hoax. Such technology, say researchers from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (Enea), was far beyond the capability of medieval forgers, whom most experts have credited with making the famous relic. (However, at least one Italian scientist is unconvinced.)
JUST FOR FUN
Let Calcutta Surprise You – (You Tube – November 29, 2011)
This clip, sponsored by the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) – Calcutta Branch, is the work of many hands – and the work of many creative minds. Granted: its intended purpose is to promote tourism to Calcutta, but its method is exceptional. Enjoy.
A FINAL QUOTE…
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. – Albert Einstein
A special thanks to: Tom Burgin, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Kevin Foley, Ursula Freer, Rhonda Hodges, Kurzweil AI, James Lee, Sandra Martin, Diane Petersen, Paul Petersen, Laura Pieratt, Petra Pieterse, Stu Rose, 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.
Edited by John L. Petersen