|Volume 14, Number 9 – 5/15/11FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS|
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
Scientists have discovered the first example of truly anaerobic animal life in the sea floor of the Mediterranean Sea.Devices made by TomTom, the leading manufacturer of GPS navigation systems, had effectively been spying on Dutch users and that the aggregated data had been sold to the police in order to guide the location of speed traps.While great reliance is placed on government economic numbers, in-depth discussions of how the numbers are created and where the weaknesses may lie is relatively rare – and well worth considering.Everybody from fund managers to jet-setting diplomats is talking about the world’s center of gravity shifting to Asia. Now, extraterrestrials appear to be taking notice, too.
by John L. Petersen
Thanks to those of you who mentioned FUTUREdition to your friends a couple of weeks ago. By far the best way for us to find new subscribers to this free newsletter is for you to recommend it. Just send this link — www.futuredition.org — to those who you think would enjoy having their horizons expanded . . . or just sign them up yourself. It’s painless.
Evolver Intensive Video Course
Our friend Daniel Pinchbeck alerted me to a new project that his Evolver organization is sponsoring that you may find of interest. Daniel, as you may know, has made a name for himself by exploring the edges of consciousness by traveling around the world sampling the hallucinogenic drugs that indigenous tribes use in their spiritual practices. His exploits make for very interesting and provocative reading.
Although I know many people who have successfully used these kinds of chemicals to augment and inform their understanding of themselves and their reality, it is obvious that drug tripping is not necessarily prescribed for everyone. Quite reasonably, most of us would like to do our exploration while in full control of our faculties. In this case, voyeurism may be an effective alternative. It’s a bit safer to look in on someone else’s trippy experiences from the security of a book . . . or in this case a computer.
If you think that what you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears fully reflects the entire spectrum of the reality in which we all are embedded, then this Evolver program is not for you. You can skip this part. But if you believe that our physical senses provide only a partial picture of all that there is (and you don’t want to turn your brain over to some chemicals for a while), then you may find this intensive video course an appropriate way to experience the benefits of this kind of exploration – at arm’s length.
Terence McKenna was a brilliant psychedelic philosopher who foresaw the potential for a transformative future, pegged to the end of 2012. Hosted by his brother, Dennis McKenna, the next Evolver Intensive live, online video course, “The Psychedelic Adventures at the Edge of the Abyss: The Ideas of Terence and Dennis McKenna”, features a special line up of close friends of Dennis and Terence who can speak with rare insight about the brothers legacy and their relevance for today: Daniel Pinchbeck, Dr. Luis Eduardo Luna, Ralph Abraham, Marc Pesce, Ralph Metzner, and Erik Davis. The series has four sessions that will be recorded and archived for all participants.
The Intensives offer participants a rare chance to interact with these inspirational thinkers, asking them questions, and challenging their assumptions. All this takes place using a real-time, interactive video technology easily accessible to anyone with a laptop and a broadband connection. If this sounds interesting you can get more information here or by clicking on the banner at the right.
The Evolution of Our Government
I continue to be impressed by the general movement of the U.S. government toward more authoritarian measures and am particularly taken aback by the Obama administration’s full-spectrum embrace of the Bush post-9/11 initiatives that have empowered the government at the expense of the people. It is kind of breathtaking to observe Obama’s 180 degree orientation away from the principles and policies that he described in his books and advocated during the presidential campaign. This administration keeps surprising me in its ability to effectively erode the rights and quality of life of its citizens.
It’s hard to understand how this government can advocate policies that are so antithetical to the traditional values that have always been associated with the Democratic party. Here are some current examples.
“As evidenced by recent events in Washington, we now live in an age where the federal government simply fakes whatever documents, news or evidence it wants people to believe, then releases that information as if it were fact,” writes Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com. “This is the modus operandi of the Department of Homeland Security, which must fabricate false terror alerts to keep itself in business — and now the TSA division has taken the fabrication of false evidence to a whole new level with its naked body scanners ” The TSA faked its safety data on its X-ray airport scanners in order to deceive the public about the safety of such devices.
What role does truth play in our government anymore? Well, for one thing, it can quickly cause you to lose your job if you’re not careful. The story of P.J. Crowley is illustrative.
Truth to Tell
What would the Greek philosophers make of P.J. Crowley?
May 5, 2011 | 12:00 am
On March 10, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley committed the sin of speaking frankly. During a talk at MIT, he was asked by a researcher to explain the treatment of Bradley Manning. Though he did not think Manning’s treatment amounted to torture, as the questioner had alleged, and though he thought the commander at Quantico was acting within his legal authority, Crowley nevertheless said that the conditions of Manning’s detention were “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid.” Three days later, Crowley was out of a job.
As a philosopher, I found his remarks fascinating. The ancient Greeks had a term for Crowley’s actions. They called it parrhesia, the ability to speak one’s mind even when doing so involves social risk. Crowley’s remarks were striking because parrhesia is rarely practiced in American politics, and almost never practiced, at least on the record, by government spokesmen. I wanted to know more about what Crowley had done, so I arranged to meet him for lunch in Washington.
Going into our conversation, I realized there was a possibility that Crowley had simply spoken impulsively. But as our lunch progressed, it became clear to me that Crowley understood what he was doing. When I am interviewing someone, I do not just listen to what they say (and, in any case, I did not expect to extract a backstory from a seasoned spokesman). Instead, I listen for the moment when I can hear their life’s energy enter their words. One of the words that I heard Crowley say with this kind of energy was “credibility.” The Vietnam war was a formative experience for Crowley, as it was for so many other members of his generation. At Holy Cross, he was ROTC corps commander, and he entered the Air Force at a time, as he put it, “of great tumult.” “Our country was being torn apart, but that was rooted in a loss of credibility and, in the case of Watergate, a loss of nobility.” Of Vietnam he said, “The media didn’t lose Vietnam. What lost Vietnam was the loss of credibility because of a gap between what we were saying and what we were doing, and what people saw. … Having come into the government at the tail end of the Vietnam war, I thought if ever I was in the position I was in, I would try to keep the gap as narrow as possible between what we would say and what we were doing.”
Crowley did not talk about parrhesia, and I did not want to play the role of philosophy professor and raise it with him. But he was clearly saying that he had spoken frankly on purpose. He emphasized that if the MIT researcher’s question had been different-something more anodyne, like, “What about Bradley Manning?”-he would have given a different answer. “But,” he explained, “the question posed by an American citizen was, ‘Why are we torturing Bradley Manning?’ It was a question that, in my judgment, I needed to answer. If I ducked the question, I would have left at least him-if not a larger group-disillusioned. Going back to this relationship between the American people and its government: I thought it merited an honest answer.”
With his talk of credibility and the relationship between people and government, Crowley was not just saying that he had meant to speak frankly. He was making a point about the relationship of parrhesia to government-about the importance of frank speech in politics. One of the clichés we have inherited from the Vietnam era is the concept of speaking truth to power. The paradigm is protest. But Crowley, as I understand him, was working from a different paradigm: speaking truth as power. For diplomatic speech to be successful, he was saying, it must be persuasive; and it cannot be persuasive if it isn’t frank. Frankness requires a willingness to answer difficult questions on the spot, sometimes manifesting the obvious truth that bureaucracies do not really speak with a monolithic voice. Sometimes, as in the case of Crowley’s comments, it is simply a matter of saying what everyone already knows.
We have entered an era in which persuasive political speech is going to have to be frank speech. In the age of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and 24-hour news coverage, we all know too much for things to be otherwise. My point is not that new media technologies are inevitably taking us in the direction of truth. At the moment, 25 percent of the American people think Barack Obama was not born in the United States, while another 18 percent say they don’t know, and the Internet has played a crucial role in sustaining this nonsense. Because of its openness and pervasiveness, the Web will continue to be a source of gossip, misinformation, and prejudice. But it is also true that, for all their drawbacks, these technologies have the capacity to cast a glaring light on discrepancies between what our diplomats say and what our country is seen to be doing. And when the discrepancies grow too large, diplomats’ words are emptied of meaning. Parrhesia in this new century is going to be a diplomatic requirement.
This is the context in which to understand Crowley’s remark. It is not simply that he was speaking frankly. It is that he was heard as speaking frankly; and that at least opened up the possibility for him to speak persuasively on other subjects. Parrhesia created a space of trust.
President Obama does not seem to realize this; he seems to be sticking to a worn-out paradigm about the nature of political speech. Asked about Manning’s treatment, he said this: “With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.” This is an attempt at judicious speech that fails because the evasion is simply too obvious. Obama does not say that he has looked into the charges and found them baseless-only that he asked the Pentagon and they gave him assurances. In the moment, Obama’s sights seem to be set on maintaining protocol, protecting the Pentagon from embarrassment, and projecting the image of a president who stands with the military. This is not the remark of someone whose sights are set on our core value of presumed innocence; it is not the remark of someone concerned that an individual is being mistreated on his watch-and it is obvious that this is so. In this era of instant scrutiny from all angles, the avoidance of parrhesia comes across not as judicious, but as evasive and untrusting.
Imagine what a remarkable moment it would have been if Obama had asked Crowley to stay in his job. Suppose, in response to a question about why he was not fired, Obama had said, “We are a country of competing views, with honest and honorable disagreements. Our government has room to express those differences openly. Mr. Crowley may have spoken more bluntly than is to my taste, but it is certainly true that in pre-trial confinement a person charged with a crime must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.” Here, Obama would have been invoking our highest ideals while also acknowledging that parrhesia is tolerated, even encouraged, in the United States government. It is that kind of moment that would make us the envy of the world.
Jonathan Lear is a professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. This article originally ran in the May 26, 2011, issue of the magazine.
And then there is the sad story of Thomas Drake, who apparently tried to blow the whistle on fraud and abuse inside of the National Security Agency. For threatening the system Drake has been criminally charged by the government, but more than that, the White House does not want to provide his defense attorney with unclassified materials germane to the case. They’re essentially saying, “We can withhold anything we want.” This is starting to sound like the government of China or some African country.
Unprecedented: Obama Admin. Claims Right to Censor ‘unclassified’ Materials
STEPHEN C. WEBSTER – The Raw Story
This is the shadow side of the Obama Administration, and it arises from the fear engendered by the Bush Administration to achieve its policies. A bureaucracy created and set in motion for one purpose develops a momentum and self-justification that makes it very difficult to kill. Its entire being is focused on striving for something, even it that something is bad. This is an example.
In the case of former National Security Agency (NSA) executive Thomas A. Drake — indicted last April and accused of funneling documents to an unnamed reporter at an unnamed newspaper, for stories that have not been identified — the president’s lawyers have made a unique and potentially unprecedented claim.
With less than a month before Drake’s trial begins, the Obama administration has filed a memo with the court claim the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) gives courts the right to censor and withhold material that is “unclassified.”
“It is simply incorrect to argue that CIPA is a rigid set of procedures that precludes this Court from simultaneously considering the admissibility of classified information as well as other information, whether protected or unclassified,” they wrote (PDF).
The argument effectively hinges on earlier court cases which interpreted CIPA as less of a rulebook for judges and more of an advisory. The president’s lawyers took that a bit further, suggesting it actually just “provides the tools” needed for the judiciary to decide what information should be protected from the prying eyes of defense attorneys. They also claim the National Security Agency Act of 1959 (NSAA) allows courts to redact any and all information pertaining to the NSA’s activities.
In a document filed the following day (PDF), Drake’s representation reacted with horror.
“There is no authority for this unprecedented assertion in the context of a criminal case,” they wrote.
“The National Security Agency Act of 1959 is a civil statute that does not address criminal prosecutions or the rights of a criminal defendant. The applicable statute is the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA). CIPA is the only statute that confers upon courts the authority to admit substitutions for relevant evidence in criminal cases. CIPA authorizes substitutions only for ‘classified information,’ not unclassified information.”
Indeed, the CIPA makes no mention of “unclassified” materials being protected, nor does the word “unclassified” even appear in its text. Similarly, the NSAA exemption cited by prosecutors is typically used to shut down requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act seeking access to secret information — not to permit a court to withhold unclassified materials.
“Even if it were permitted to be invoked in this case, it requires a detailed affidavit to support its use in each instance and no such affidavits have been produced,” Steven Aftergood, of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, wrote on Thursday afternoon.
Drake’s trial is expected to begin next month. It remains unclear where the court will land on the Obama administration’s latest claims.
The only encouragement in all of this is that the system – sometime – will react against this trend of dishonesty and lack of fairness and rapidly move back toward some sense of justice and integrity. If it doesn’t, it means that some other extraordinary thing has happened to this country that has fundamentally changed the nature of who we are.
Anaerobic Animals Discovered on the Sea Floor – (Scientific Activist – April 4, 2010)
Scientists have discovered the first example of truly anaerobic animal life (i.e. an animal that can survive in the absence of oxygen). These are tiny (less than 1 mm in length) animals found on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. The animals belong to the phylum Loricifera. Significantly, these animals lack mitochondria, the sub-cellular organelles where oxygen is employed to produce ATP in aerobic (oxygen-dependent) life.
Super Flare from Crab Nebula Has Astronomers Mystified – (Space.com – May 11, 2011)
The Crab Nebula, the dusty remains of an exploded star, has unleashed a surprisingly massive flare that is five times more powerful than any eruption previously seen from the celestial object, leaving scientists struggling to explain the event, NASA says. The outburst observed by Fermi was likely triggered by electrons with energies 100 times greater than can be achieved in any particle accelerator on Earth, scientists said. This makes them the highest-energy electrons known to be associated with any galactic source. Based on the rise and fall of gamma rays during the April outbursts, scientists estimate that the size of the emitting region must be comparable to our entire solar system.
Talk with a Dolphin via Underwater Translation Machine – (New Scientist – May 9, 2011)
A diver carrying a computer that tries to recognize dolphin sounds and generate responses in real time will soon attempt to communicate with wild dolphins off the coast of Florida. If the bid is successful, it will be a big step towards two-way communication between humans and dolphins. Since the 1960s, captive dolphins have been communicating via pictures and sounds. But communication in most of these early experiments was one-way, says Denise Herzing, founder of the Wild Dolphin Project in Jupiter, Florida. Herzing is now collaborating with Thad Starner, an artificial intelligence researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, on a project named Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT). They want to work with dolphins to “co-create” a language that uses features of sounds that wild dolphins communicate with naturally.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
Unsafe at Any Dose – (New York Times – April 30, 2011)
Helen Caldicott, co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, notes that when she “first heard about the reactor damage at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, I knew the prognosis: If any of the containment vessels or fuel pools exploded, it would mean millions of new cases of cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.” There’s great debate about the number of fatalities following Chernobyl; the International Atomic Energy Agency has predicted that there will be only about 4,000 deaths from cancer, but a 2009 report published by the New York Academy of Sciences says that almost one million people have already perished from cancer and other diseases. The high doses of radiation caused so many miscarriages that we will never know the number of genetically damaged fetuses that did not come to term. (And both Belarus and Ukraine have group homes full of deformed children.) Nuclear accidents never cease. We’re decades if not generations away from seeing the full effects of the radioactive emissions from Chernobyl.
Simpler Genome Sequencing – (Technology Review – May 13, 2011)
Today, it takes about a month and $10,000 to $40,000 to sequence a human genome. A Massachusetts startup called Noblegen is developing a simplified version of nanopore genome-sequencing technology-a technique that promises high speed and low costs but that usually requires complex instruments to carry out. Noblegen says its technology’s ability to directly and rapidly read DNA sequences could make it economically feasible to bring sequencing technology into clinical labs to diagnose cancer and other diseases. Noblegen researchers convert genomic DNA into a synthetic version that’s labeled with four different fluorescent dyes, one for each type of base. Each base in the original sequence is represented by one fluorescently labeled segment in the synthetic one. The synthetic sequences are then directly read out by Noblegen’s relatively simple instrument based on a silicon chip drilled to create pores just a few nanometers in diameter; the chip is illuminated by an inexpensive laser.
Researchers Identify DNA Region Linked to Depression – (Medical Xpress – May 16, 2011)
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and King’s College London have independently identified DNA on chromosome 3 that appears to be related to depression. “What’s remarkable is that both groups found exactly the same region in two separate studies,” says senior investigator Pamela A. F. Madden, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Washington University. “We were working independently and not collaborating on any level, but as we looked for ways to replicate our findings, the group in London contacted us to say, ‘We have the same linkage peak, and it’s significant.'” Madden and the other researchers believe it is likely that many genes are involved in depression. While the new findings won’t benefit patients immediately, the discovery is an important step toward understanding what may be happening at the genetic and molecular levels, she says.
Two Devices that Treat Alzheimer’s – (Technology Review – May 12, 2011)
Pharmaceutical companies developing Alzheimer’s drugs have faced one hurdle after another. The most effective treatments are difficult to get into the brain, while those that show success in animals have yet to benefit humans. Two startup companies aim to solve these problems by targeting the brain electrically rather than chemically. They’re both using technologies that have proven successful for other brain disorders. One company plans to use deep brain stimulation, which has been used to treat tens of thousands of Parkinson’s patients. The other hopes to find success with transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive approach used to treat depression and as a research tool to stimulate or inhibit specific parts of the brain.
Next Generation Gamers: Computer Games Aid Recovery from Stroke – (Medical Xpress – May 16, 2011)
Computer games are not just for kids. New research shows that computer games can speed up and improve a patient’s recovery from paralysis after a stroke. It is often difficult for stroke victims to recover hand and arm movement, and 80-90% of sufferers still have problems six months later. Scientists looked at a group of people who had impaired use of one arm after a stroke and found that computer simulations and cutting edge techniques used by the film industry to produce computer generated action could restore lost function. While many current training regimes concentrate on regaining hand and arm movement separately, the computer games and robotic training aids used in this trial attempted to simultaneously improve function of both together. The games Plasma Pong and Hammer Task were used to improve hand/arm coordination, accuracy and speed, while the Virtual Piano and Hummingbird Hunt simulations helped to restore precision of grip and individual finger motion.
The Clean Oceans Project – (Clean Oceans website – no date)
The mission of this nonprofit organization is “is to locate, remove, and recycle plastic debris from the world’s oceans.” They have created a targeted, multi-phased approach to achieve our goal of removing plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. We are collaborating with leading research scientists at Stanford University, the Naval Postgraduate School of Monterey, UC Santa Cruz and the High Seas Ghost Net Project to develop testing protocols and to conduct ground-proofing operations in both near-shore and off-shore environments. The specifics of their approach can be found here.
2011 Tornadoes: Is Climate Change to Blame for the Devastating Weather? – (Huffington Post – April 29, 2011)
This April’s historic devastation has many wondering: What’s with all the tornadoes? Data shows a steady, overall increase in tornadoes over the last 50 years. But as for this April, the jury’s still out on whether climate change or regular old bad weather is to blame. Howard Bluestein, professor of meteorology at University of Oklahoma said, “This is something that happens every 10 or 20 years when everything comes together like this. This is just natural variability.” Most meteorologists agree. However, a 2008 report from the U.S. Global Change and Research Program, a federal interagency research program, found that more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could lead to an increase in severe storm conditions that make tornadoes possible.
Map of the Tornadoes Across the South – (New York Times – April 28, 2011)
This interactive map shows the locations of reported tornadoes hour by hour (Central time) across the eastern United States from April 21 through April 28. More than a million people in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were left without power, with much of the loss caused by severe damage to transmitters at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant west of Huntsville, Ala. The plant itself was not damaged, but the dozens of poles that carry electricity to local power companies were down. “We have no place to send the power at this point,” said Scott Brooks, a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which sells electricity to companies in seven states. See related article.
King Crabs Invade Antarctica – (Science Daily – April 26, 2011)
It’s like a scene out of a sci-fi movie – thousands, possibly millions, of king crabs are marching through icy, deep-sea waters and up the Antarctic slope. “They are coming from the deep, somewhere between 6,000 to 9,000 feet down,” said James McClintock, Ph.D., University of Alabama Endowed Professor of Polar and Marine Biology. Shell-crushing crabs haven’t been in Antarctica for hundreds or thousands, if not millions, of years, McClintock said. But something has changed, and these crustaceans are poised to move by the droves up the slope and onto the shelf that surrounds Antarctica. McClintock and other marine researchers are sounding alarms because the vulnerable ecosystem could be wiped out. Antarctic clams, snails and brittle stars, because of adaptation to their environment, have soft shells and have never had to fight shell-crushing predators. “You can take an Antarctic clam and crush it with your hands,” McClintock said. They could be the main prey for these crabs, he said.
Early Warning Signal for Ecosystem Collapse Revealed – (Independent – April 27, 2011)
A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has provided the first experimental evidence that radical change in an ecosystem can be detected in advance, possibly in time to prevent ecological catastrophe. They suggest that, with the right kind of monitoring, it may be possible to track the vital signs of any ecosystem and intervene in time to prevent what is often irreversible damage to the environment. The research design focused on Peter and Paul lakes, two isolated and undeveloped lakes in northern Wisconsin. Peter is a six-acre lake whose biota were manipulated for the study and nearby Paul served as a control.
Why Gadget Makers Wield a “Kill Switch” – (CNN – March 12, 2011)
Most smartphone operating systems and other electronic gadgets include a “kill switch” enabling the company that makes the operating software to send a command over the Web or wireless networks that alters or removes certain applications from devices. Apple, Google and Microsoft include this function in their platforms, along with a few lines in their usage agreements describing the policy. Virtually every smartphone system, including RIM’s and Nokia’s, allows corporations to remotely alter or disable their employees’ phones and data. According to the iTunes legal agreement, customers don’t even own certain music and videos that they buy, but instead acquire a license to use them on certain devices. Mark Frauenfelder, a Boing Boing blogger believes the situation “points to a dangerous future, where you see some of the downsides of cloud storage, digital technology and closed systems — where you have less control over the things that you paid for.”
Turn Your Cellphone Into a High-Powered Scientific Microscope – (Wired – March 11, 2011)
Using tape, rubber and a tiny glass ball, researchers transformed an iPhone into a cheap, yet powerful microscope able to image tiny blood cells. They’ve also added a clinical-grade cellphone spectroscope that might be able to measure some vital signs. And with a few dollars and some patience, you can do the same to your own phone. (See instructions in the link.) “…you can build near-research-grade instruments with cheap consumer electronics,” said physicist Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu of the UC Davis, leader of a study in PLoS ONE. “And with cellphones, you can record and transmit data anywhere. In rural or remote areas, you could get a diagnosis from a professional pathologist halfway around the world.”
Emergency Alert System Expected for Cellphones – (New York Times – May 9, 2011)
The emergency broadcast system is coming to cellphones. Updating the national emergency alert system, federal officials planned to announce on Tuesday in Manhattan that some cellphone users in New York and Washington will soon be able to receive alerts by text message in the event of a national or regional emergency. The service in those cities is scheduled to start late this year as a prelude to nationwide service next year, perhaps as early as April. To receive the alerts, users must have mobile phones with a special chip, which is currently included in some higher-end smartphones like the latest iPhones. The service will also require a software upgrade.
Problems Cited with Nuclear Backup Power – (Boston Globe – May 13, 2011)
Nuclear plant emergency generators like those that failed in Japan following the March earthquake and tsunami also failed during tests at the Seabrook Station in New Hampshire and 32 other US plants in the past eight years, according to a report by US Representative Edward J. Markey’s office. The report also noted that NRC regulations do not require emergency diesel generators to be operational when there is no fuel in a nuclear reactor core – creating the possibility that in a power failure, spent fuel rods stored on site could be left without a functioning cooling system as happened at Fukushima.
Stan Ovshinsky’s Solar Revolution – (Strategy and Business – February 22, 2011)
Stanford R. Ovshinsky’s discoveries (and patents) half a century ago of amorphous materials (the science at the core of such diverse products as nonvolatile memory chips, flat-panel displays, and rewriteable optical discs) have changed our lives. “I picked energy and information as the twin pillars of our economy very early on, when I was quite young,” Ovshinsky says. “If you change the energy equation to no use of coal and no climate change, you’re ending one era and opening an entirely different one. I’m an activist, but what I do is go out and do it, if I know how.” Now, at age 88, he has formed Ovshinsky Solar, a company with an audacious goal: to drive the unsubsidized cost of solar power below that of coal – to create, in effect, a Moore’s Law for energy.
Researchers Develop Golden Window Electrodes for Organic Solar Cells – (EurekAlert – April 6, 2011)
Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a gold plated window as the transparent electrode for organic solar cells. Contrary to what one might expect, these electrodes have the potential to be relatively cheap since the thickness of gold used is only 8 billionths of a meter. This means that even at the current high gold price, the cost of the gold needed to fabricate one square meter of this electrode is only around £4.5. It can also be readily recouped from the organic solar cell at the end of its life and since gold is already widely used to form reliable interconnects it is no stranger to the electronics industry.
High-performance Solar-thermoelectric Generating Device – (Kurzweil AI – May 4, 2011)
Researchers at MIT and collaborators have developed a high-performance and possibly less expensive way to convert solar heat into electricity, using flat-panel solar power combined with hot water systems. Their system produces power with an efficiency roughly eight times higher than ever previously reported for a solar thermoelectric device that produces electricity from solar heat. It does so by generating and harnessing a temperature difference of about 200 degrees Celsius between the interior of the device and the ambient air. The system is a solid-state device with no moving parts. A thermoelectric generator, placed inside a vacuum chamber made of glass, is covered with a black plate of copper that absorbs sunlight but does not re-radiate it as heat. The other side of the generator is in contact with ambient temperatures. Placed in the sun, the entire unit heats up quickly, even without facing the sun directly.
The New Geopolitics of Food – (Foreign Policy – April 25, 2011)
In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75%, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, a doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. For the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70% of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.
Lima to Declare Itself a GMO-free Zone – (Yahoo News – April 27, 2011)
The city of Lima plans to declare the Peruvian capital a “GMO-free zone” after a controversial government decree that critics fear will see the country flooded with genetically modified organisms. Several municipalities in addition to Lima – a city of more than eight million inhabitants – as well as agricultural groups, agronomists and doctors have denounced the decree, which was published earlier this month. Experimental corn crops for humans using genetically modified seed are expected at some point in Peru, but genetically modified plants, especially soya and corn, are already imported for livestock use. By law, foods containing GMO’s must be labelled as such. Peru is one of the world’s largest exporters of organic food, including coffee and cocoa, with $3 billion a year in revenues and 40,000 certified producers.
Great Seed Robbery – (Deccan Chronicle – April 27, 2011)
This editorial from an Indian news source does a very creditable job of laying out the landscape from the perspective of small farmers in India. Under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, various state governments are signing MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seed corporations to privatize our rich and diverse genetic heritage. For example, the Rajasthan government’s MoU with Monsanto focuses on maize, cotton, and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower and water melon). Monsanto controls the cottonseed market in India and globally. Monsanto also controls 97% of the worldwide maize market and 63.5% of the genetically-modified cotton market. Monsanto has cross-licensing arrangements with BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Sygenta and Dow to share patented, genetically-engineered seed traits with each other. The giant seed corporations are not competing with each other. In effect, monopolies over seed are being established through mergers and cross-licensing arrangements.
Avoid GMO Foods – Doctors and Animals Tell US – (Wellness Uncovered – September 16, 2010)
No one knows why the animals refuse GMOs, but according to a 2009 statement by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), when lab animals do eat GM feed, it’s not pretty. “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” says the AAEM policy paper, which specifically cited infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system, among the impacts of eating GMOs. “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects,” they wrote. “There is causation…” (Editor’s Note: Although past FE issues have included a number of “thumbs down on GMO” articles, we recommend this one for its extensive and solid list of references at the bottom of the article.)
Bee Colony Collapse Reaches New Zealand – (Extinction Protocol – May 06, 2011)
New Zealand National Beekeepers Association joint chief executive Daniel Paul said reports coming in to the group were causing concern. In the past six months, it had received reports of significant bee losses – up to 30% in some places. The reports had come from both islands, with big losses in Canterbury and Poverty Bay. The value of bees to the economy is estimated at about $4 billion a year because of New Zealand’s reliance on fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat, and fiber exports, all of which rely to some extent on pollination by bees. Although the varroa bee mite has been blamed for losses in the past 11 years, the use of chemical treatments has been helping bee numbers recover. Now, concern has arisen about a new family of insecticides, neonicotinoids, which are used to coat seeds and control pests. They are neurotoxins and are believed to interfere with a bee’s nervous system.
Internet Privacy: At Every Turn, Our Privacy Is Compromised by Technology – (Guardian – May 1, 2011)
A pattern is emerging. A researcher discovers that a product or service offered by a large (generally US-based) company contains a security flaw or feature that compromises the privacy of internet users. The revelations are confirmed by other experts. The company responsible then goes through a predictable series of steps: first, “no comment”, followed by indignant denial, then a PR-spun “explanation” and, eventually, an apology of sorts plus a declaration that the bug will be fixed or the intrusive practice terminated. A recent example was Apple’s extraordinary contortions over the discovery that its iPhone was covertly collecting location data and storing it in unencrypted form. But last week also saw the revelation that devices made by TomTom, the leading manufacturer of GPS navigation systems, had effectively been spying on Dutch users and that the aggregated data had been sold to the police in order to guide the location of speed traps.
Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder – (New York Times – May 15, 2011)
The United Arab Emirates has contracted for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom. The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year. The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Orwell’s Vision Becomes Reality – (Tribune – April 26, 2011)
The purpose of Newspeak, according to George Orwell, author of 1984, was to replace what we now call Standard English so that language no longer possessed the vocabulary in which to express forbidden thoughts. In what amounts to the development of an American version of Newspeak, the Supreme Court ruled last year in the Citizens United case, reaffirming that money spent on political campaigns is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and therefore no limit exists on corporate or special-interest spending. It is extremely difficult to see how such a barrier to an equitable exercise of free speech in American elections can be removed. The present system is in practice irreversible. The American public might therefore be described as now politically “locked in,” with no apparent recourse.
5 Government Statistics You Can’t Trust – (MSNBC – April 28, 2011)
While great reliance is placed on government economic numbers and the financial media report on them at length, in-depth discussions of how the numbers are created – and where the weaknesses may lie – is relatively rare. For example, Two surveys examine employment – the household survey and the payroll survey. While many seem to think that the larger sample size of the payroll survey makes it more accurate and reliable, from a statistical standpoint the household survey’s design is more sound, and the margin of error is usually better. Or take the GDP. In some respects GDP depends upon economic theories about how things should work as opposed to surveys indicating how they do work. This article explains some of the most glaring problems with GDP and four other statistics that significantly drive US economic policy.
Worried on China, US Seeks Rules in Space – (Phys Org – May 11, 2011)
China stunned the United States in 2007 by becoming the third country to shoot down one of its own satellites in space, the first such test in the more than two decades since Washington and Moscow halted their “Star Wars” programs. The United States has said it wanted to set guidelines with China on the use of space, voicing worries that the Asian power is increasingly able to destroy or jam satellites. China said it plans to hike its defense budget 12.7% in 2011 to $91.7 billion in 2011. While experts believe the actual figure is higher, it is far less than the $700 billion US defense budget this year.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
The Online World of Female Desire – (Wall St. Journal – May 1, 2011)
It’s no secret that hundreds of millions of people around the world now routinely use the Internet to indulge their sexual curiosity. Today you can ogle more naked bodies in a single minute online than the most promiscuous Victorian could have seen in a lifetime. Because this online activity leaves behind a trail of digital crumbs, for the first time we can gather reliable data on the erotic interests of a broad swath of humanity. The authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire analyzed a billion of these web searches, using data sets that firms like AOL and Excite make publicly available, obtaining other data from adult web sites, and using web-analysis techniques to gather additional data. One of their most interesting findings was that women are very different from men in how they use these online services.
Jeremy Rifkin on the Empathic Civilization – (You Tube – May 6, 2010)
Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. TED.com found this talk of such value that it added this “Best of the Web” feature to highlight inspired talks on sites other than TED.com Click here. You can watch it on either site.
90: The New 40? – (BBC News – March 29, 2011)
Olga Kotelko is a 91-year-old track star with enough winner’s medals to decorate an entire regiment. And they’re not just medals from her distant past; she’s broken more than 10 world records in the past year. You go, girl!
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
NSA Practices Deciphering ET Signals – (Open Minds – April 27, 2011)
On April 21, 2011 the National Security Agency posted documents from their Technical Journal which had some interesting articles about extraterrestrials. Some have assumed that these documents were pertaining to messages received from extraterrestrials, an easy mistake to make with article titles such as “Key to the Extraterrestrial Messages.” These documents are actually related to exercises for practicing deciphering coded messages that extraterrestrials may send us in the future. However, there is still a story here, because these exercises were started by a prominent NSA cryptologist who believed more attention needed to be given to the investigation of UFOs and the possibility that we may be contacted soon.
E.T. Phones Thailand – and Picks up the Tab for the Call – (Wall St. Journal – May 6, 2011)
Everybody from fund managers to jet-setting diplomats is talking about the world’s center of gravity shifting to Asia. Now, extraterrestrials appear to be taking notice, too. Trackers in Colorado at the Mutual UFO Network, one of the oldest unidentified-flying-object research organizations in this world, say that since the slump of the Western banking system in 2008, UFO sightings among Asia’s fast-growing economies have accelerated. Suspicious UFOs have shut down airports in China, buzzed resorts in Borneo and lit up the night sky in Myanmar. These aren’t American-style alien encounters. The aliens that Thai researchers say they have encountered bear little resemblance to the typical creatures depicted in Hollywood films, which have included resource-grabbing monsters or eerily calm, environmentally friendly creatures. The aliens that allegedly visit Southeast Asia tend to have a rather different view of the universe, following Buddhist precepts such as reincarnation and greeting one another by cupping their hands together in the shape of a lotus flower.
We’re #1, We’re #1 – (Business Insider – May 3, 2011)
It turns out, the US is #1 in all sorts of ways. Some of them are not favorable. Sometimes being #1 means you’re the worst. Here are 10 ways in which being #1 leaves considerable room for improvement.
China’s Growing Problem of Too Many Single Men – (Forbes – May 13, 2011)
China’s demographic trends show a doubling of the number of senior citizens, a shrinking of the younger working class, and rudimentary social welfare and pension systems incapable of coping with the massive imbalance. This coming reality is shared by all developed nations, except China’s is pushed to the extremes because of its much larger population, much poorer per capita income, much lower education levels and a more ill-equipped pension system. Yet, for all these colossal national challenges, there is one more demographic trend unique to China that will have significant social and cultural implications: a reported birth ratio of almost 120 boys for every 100 girls. By 2030, projections suggest that more than 25% of Chinese men in their late 30s will never have married. The coming marriage squeeze will likely be even most acute in the Chinese countryside, since the poor, uneducated and rural population will be more likely to lose out in the competition for brides. As the author of this article phrased it: Can you even begin to comprehend living in a society where 1 in every 4 adult men you meet will have never married, and not by choice?
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
DaVinci’s Dream Comes True – (NPR – April 11, 2011)
For years, a team of engineers at a company called Festo in Germany, which specializes in factory automation has been doing what Leonardo dreamed of when he sat on those hills near Florence sketching birds: copying from nature’s designs, they have built a mechanical bird that flaps its wings and flies. Their newest wonder is made of carbon fiber and plastic foam. It weighs a little over 17 ounces, with a wingspan more than 6 feet across. The engineers who built it can now put it on the ground and it will start flapping and take off on its own. Guided by remote control, it was designed to look like a herring gull. The breakthrough here was to design wings that torque and twist differently in many different places giving this machine more of the lift, propulsion and flight options a real bird would have. It’s also astonishingly beautiful. See video clip in article.
How Close to a Railroad Tracks Can You Establish a Business? – (Wimp.com – May 11, 2011)
How close? Very close.
18 Amazing Pop-Up Stores that Stopped Shoppers in Their Tracks – (Business Insider – May 3, 2011)
Pop-up stores started getting very popular a few years ago. They’re cheaper solutions than year-round rentals, and they can generate a lot of buzz for companies during essential months. They’re often strategically placed during the holiday season for shoppers, or put up just in time for the launch of a major motion picture. Here are some of the coolest examples of pop-up stores.
The 2011 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Semi-Finalists – (Buckmister Fuller Challenge – no date)
Here is a collection of some of the world’s most innovative, grass-roots ideas – all looking for funding. A pool of 162 entries submitted that were then narrowed down to 21 semi-finalists and will soon be submitted to an 11 panel jury for selection of the winning solution. The titles, entrants’ names and a 50 word summary of their project is listed on the website. You can click on the title to go to a feature page about the entry where you will find a more in-depth description of the project, including video and images.
JUST FOR FUN
Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung – (Arthur Miller website – no date)
Book review: Deciphering the Cosmic Number is the story of two mavericks – Pauli, a scientist who – unlike his peers – was fascinated by the inner reaches of his own psyche and not afraid to dabble in the occult; and Jung, the famous psychologist who nevertheless was sure that science held answers to some of the questions that tormented him. They deliberated at great length over whether there was a number that everything in the universe hinged on, that explained everything – a primal number that provided insight into the equations of the soul. Might it be three as in the Trinity? Or four as argued in alchemical texts? Could it be the weird number 137, which on the one hand described the DNA of light and on the other is the sum of the Hebrew letters of the word “Kabbalah”? (Editor’s note: The DNA of light??)
A FINAL QUOTE…
It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations. – Walter Bagehot (1826 – 1877)
A special thanks to: : Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Ray Goodman, Frank Kling, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, Petra Pieterse, Hal Puthoff, Bobbie Rohn, Stu Rose, 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
A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change
by John L. Petersen
Former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart has said “It should be required reading for the next President.”
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