| Volume 15, Number 19 – 10/15/12 |
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
Antarctic sea ice hit a record 7.51 million square miles in September and may be a cockeyed signal of man-made climate change, scientists say.
A genetically modified cow now exists which can produce milk that lacks an allergy-causing protein.
Astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting a star which is twice the size of Earth and made largely out of diamond.
Few researchers have given credence to claims that samples of dinosaur DNA have survived to the present day, but no one knew just how long it would take for genetic material to fall apart�until now.
by John L. Petersen
Craig Siska Coming to Berkeley Springs
Landscape architect and earth energy expert Craig Siska is coming to Berkeley Springs on Friday the 26th of October to give a presentation as part of the Transition Talks series. The presentation will be held at the Ice House (Mercer and Independence Streets) at 7PM.
Siska, with over 30 years� experience in site and landscape design also has studied a variety of esoteric disciplines that give him a unique perspective on how to look at, experience and work with land.
For the last 15 years, Craig has been deeply involved with: Native American approaches to working with landscapes, Biodynamic Agriculture (the BD Preparations), and new modalities of energetic land clearing, based upon French practices of Vibratory Frequency Radiesthesia/Micro-Physics (resonance and the electromagnetic spectrum), Egyptian BioGeometry and Sacred Geometry.
His talk will be very practical, addressing how to use this broad-spectrum approach to explore:new ways to approach landscape & site design
living forces at work in Nature/ correcting geo-pathic stress and EMFs.
energetic land clearing and rebalancing
classic horticulture/ local food / intensive growingIf you garden or farm or are at all interested in living in more harmony with the land, you should make your way up for our Friday night presentation on the 26th of October. It will be a very interesting event.
Get more information here.
Almost everyone who knows me understands that as American politics go I am a Democrat. I�ve been a delegate to the Democratic Convention and in the 80s was quite active in presidential politics. So, I�ll probably end up voting for Barack Obama . . . and there is that issue of the other candidate wearing magic underwear (and here, especially), which seems more than a little weird to me. But all that said, in many ways it is hard to vote for anyone in this election.
A very interesting interchange between two very thoughtful writers in The Atlantic highlights this dilemma. It started with staff writer Conor Friedersdorf�s rather compelling piece Why I Refuse To Vote For Barack Obama. He begins by saying:
Tell certain liberals and progressives that you can’t bring yourself to vote for a candidate who opposes gay rights, or who doesn’t believe in Darwinian evolution, and they’ll nod along. Say that you’d never vote for a politician caught using the ‘n’-word, even if you agreed with him on more policy issues than his opponent, and the vast majority of left-leaning Americans would understand. But these same people cannot conceive of how anyone can discern Mitt Romney’s flaws, which I’ve chronicled in the course of the campaign, and still not vote for Obama. Read more.
Then Robert Wright who writes with deep perception about humanity and spirituality wrote his response with (almost) the same title. Bob teases out the underlying logical options for decisions like these by proposing a series of thought experiments. He enters the argument thusly:
I can see the appeal of Friedersdorf’s argument. The Obama policies he finds unacceptable — such as drone strikes that kill innocents, the assassination of American citizens abroad without due process of law, and other assaults on civil liberties — are policies I’ve been criticizing for a long time. And Friedersdorf’s principled stand on these “dealbreakers,” as he calls them, is inspiring. To say that you’d rather vote for someone who can’t win than for a candidate with odious values is one of those stirring, consequences-be-damned pronouncements that usually win me over when I hear them in movies. But this isn’t a movie, so I have a hard time ignoring the consequences of (implicitly) encouraging would-be Obama supporters to nullify their votes and thereby increase the chances that Mitt Romney will be our next president. Read more.
At this point, I�m more interested the underlying alternatives in logic that are presented � the structure of thinking about issues like this � than the subject (and subjects) of the pieces. This interchange provided very useful clarity about how one can consider thinking about rather gray, conflicting issues. I�d suggest that we all will be presented with increasing numbers of these situations in the coming months and years as alternatives related to maintaining (some elements of) the status quo are juxtaposed with opportunities to chuck the past and embrace unknown futures.
Here Come the Women!
The current issue of FORTUNE arrived the other day featuring a cover story on the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and an inside piece on Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM. It was interesting and significant to me that IBM, which, for most of my life has had the reputation of buttoned-down, white-shirted, dark suited men, was now headed by a woman. It was almost as though one of the icons of global business had just turned a significant corner in some important way. There�s a good interview with her, Ginni Rometty: Forget strategy, ask me what I believe, from FORTUNE here.
Probably the only thing more surprising in this regard would be if Ross Perot�s EDS � which used to primarily hire former military officers and force them to dress as though they worked at IBM � was headed by a woman. But wait! It is! EDS was sold to HP which is led by Meg Whitman, a powerhouse in her own right. Then there was this story about Brazil electing a record number of women in last week�s election. There 621 women were elected mayor outright. That’s up from 504 in the last municipal elections four years ago and from 187 in 1996.
What�s going on here? Hanna Rosin thinks she knows. In her new book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Rosin argues that the U.S. (at least) has entered an era of female dominance. Women have fought tirelessly to establish equal footing for themselves in relationships, politics and the workplace, and according to writer Hanna Rosin, they’ve finally arrived. Here�s a nice NPR story on Rosin�s book. An excerpt:
“Women make up about half the workforce and the majority of college degrees � which these days is the prerequisite to success in this world. But … I discovered that this had seeped into the fabric of our lives � our intimate relationships, our marriages, all the decisions we make in life � and that was the big surprise in reporting the book.”
There are other sources � esoteric to be sure � that suggest that this shift toward the feminine will end a 13,000 year period that has been dominated by masculine influences, with all of its emphasis on conflict and competition. They explain that we are passing from below through the middle of the flat beam of enabling and organizing energy that emanates from the center of the galaxy (which is why all of the stars are located in the Milky Way located in a platter-like configuration). They say that the character of that energy changes from being predominately masculine to predominately feminine and that the middle point is around December of this year. Their prediction is (and was) that we�d see an increasing number of women in places of authority in the coming years and more balanced males.
Could be happening!
Social Media Among Threats to Greeting Card Makers � (Wall St. Journal � October 7, 2012)
Once a staple of birthdays and holidays, paper greeting cards are fewer and farther between � now seen as something special, instead of something that’s required. The cultural shift is a worrisome challenge for the nation’s top card maker, Hallmark Cards Inc. By Hallmark�s estimate, over the past decade, the number of greeting cards sold in the U.S. has dropped from 6 billion to 5 billion annually. The Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group, puts the overall-sold figure at 7 billion. Even the paper cards people buy have changed. Many people now use online photo sites to upload images and write their own greetings. High-end paper stores are attracting customers who design their own cards, sometimes using graphics software once available only to professionals. While Hallmark says it’s committed to the paper greeting card, it has made changes over the years. It has an iPhone app, for example, that lets people buy and mail cards from their phones. It also partnered with online card service Shutterfly to share designs that consumers can use to build specialized cards online. Its chief rival, American Greetings, actually went from trimming costs and jobs amid the recession to announcing in August that it’s adding 125 workers. It’s part of an expansion that will allow customers to design their own cards � online, of course.
New Math Triggers a Call to Iron Out Quantum World � (New Scientist � September 20, 2012)
What if you constantly change the ingredients in your raw batter, but the baked cake is always lemon? It sounds like something from a surrealist film, but equivalent scenarios seem to play out all the time in the mathematics of the quantum world. Nobel prizewinner Frank Wilczek and colleague Alfred Shapere say we can’t ignore the absurdity of the situation any longer. It’s time to get to the bottom of what is really going on, and in the process cement our understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe. They are part of a broader call to arms against those who are content to use the math behind quantum mechanics without having physical explanations for their more baffling results, a school of thought often dubbed “shut up and calculate”. According to the math, measuring photon A can influence events that happened in the past, creating a mathematical paradox. What is more, Wilczek thinks quantum experiments that show physical paradoxes might not be far off. “This is my secret agenda: I’m not sure that there aren’t real paradoxes that arise in more exotic situations than people have considered to date.”
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
The Benefits of Middle-Age Fitness – (New York Times – September 5, 2012)
Americans are living longer, with our average life expectancy now surpassing 78 years, up from less than 74 years in 1980. But we are not necessarily living better. The incidence of a variety of chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, has also been growing dramatically, particularly among people who are not yet elderly. The convergence of those two developments has led to what some researchers have identified as a �lengthening of morbidity.� That means we are spending more years living with chronic disease and ill health � not the outcome that most of us would hope for from a prolonged life span. But a new study (interesting research design) suggests that becoming fit in middle age, even if you haven�t previously bothered with exercise, appears to reshape the landscape of aging. The effects of fitness in this study statistically were greater in terms of delaying illness than in prolonging life. In other words, fitness didn’t give the study participants that much more time, but it gave them a significantly better time.
Strokes in Young People Rising � (BBC News � October 10, 2012)
Strokes are becoming more common at a younger age, with about one in five victims now below the age of 55, research in the American Academy of Neurology Journal suggests. The study followed 1.3 million people in a US region and found 19% of those experiencing a stroke in 2005 were in this age group, up from 13% in 1993. This is despite a trend of overall falling rates of the condition. Report author Dr. Brett Kissela said: “The reasons for this trend could be a rise in risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.” The study looked at all people over the age of 20 in greater Cincinnati and North Kentucky over three periods in 1993, 1999 and 2005.
The Dementia Plague � (Technology Review � October 5, 2012)
Dr. Evelyn Granieri, chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Aging at Columbia University Medical Center, served on a high-level panel of experts that assessed every possible dementia intervention, from expensive cholinesterase–inhibiting drugs to cognitive exercises like crossword puzzles, for the National Institutes of Health; it found no evidence that any of the interventions could prevent the onslaught of Alzheimer’s. She can�with immense compassion, but equally immense conviction�explain the reality for now and the immediate future: “There really is nothing.” Dementia is a chronic, progressive, terminal disease, she says. “You don’t get better, ever.” Academic and pharmaceutical researchers, meanwhile, continue to throw money at the dementia problem�but finally, they insist, with better aim and much shrewder treatment strategies. They have begun to assemble a list of diagnostic markers that they believe may reliably indicate the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease 10 or 15 years before symptoms appear, and they are gearing up to test new drugs that can be given to healthy patients, in an attempt to block the buildup of amyloid long before dementia’s onset. Indeed, to hear researchers tell it, this summer’s highly publicized clinical-trial failures are already ancient history. They are finally doing the right kind of science and hope to get the right kinds of answers, the first glimpses of which may appear in the next several years. If not, the demographics on dementia (included in the article) could easily overwhelm the medical-care system within 30 years.
Ocean Acidification Leaves Mollusks Naked and Confused � (Inter Press Service � October 3, 2012)
Researchers discovered only 10 years ago that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. One third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from using fossil fuels has been absorbed by the oceans. When CO2 dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed. This phenomenon, known as ocean acidification, reduces the availability of calcium carbonate, which interferes with the formation of the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms. The combination of greater acidity and a lower concentration of calcium carbonate in the water also has consequences for the physiological functions of numerous living beings. As the oceans become more and more acidic, some fish become hyperactive and confused, and move towards their predators instead of trying to escape.
Global Warming Means More Antarctic Ice � (Associated Press � October 9, 2012)
The ice goes on seemingly forever in a white pancake-flat landscape, stretching farther than ever before. And yet in this confounding region of the world, that spreading Antarctic ice may be a cockeyed signal of man-made climate change, scientists say. While the North Pole has been losing sea ice over the years, the water nearest the South Pole has been gaining it. Antarctic sea ice hit a record 7.51 million square miles in September. That happened just days after reports of the biggest loss of Arctic sea ice on record. Climate change skeptics have seized on the Antarctic ice to argue that the globe isn’t warming and that scientists are ignoring the southern continent because it’s not convenient. But scientists say the skeptics are misinterpreting what’s happening and why. Shifts in wind patterns and the giant ozone hole over the Antarctic this time of year – both related to human activity – are probably behind the increase in ice, experts say. This subtle growth in winter sea ice since scientists began measuring it in 1979 was initially surprising, they say, but makes sense the more it is studied. The wind works in combination with the ozone hole, the huge gap in Earth’s protective ozone layer that usually appears over the South Pole. It’s bigger than North America. It’s caused by man-made pollutants chlorine and bromine, which are different from the fossil fuel emissions that cause global warming. The hole makes Antarctica even cooler this time of year because the ozone layer usually absorbs solar radiation, working like a blanket to keep the Earth warm. And that cooling effect makes the winds near the ground stronger and steadier, pushing the ice outward.
Global Warming Stopped 16 Years Ago � (Daily Mail � October 13, 2012)
And here is an article on the other side of the global warming issue: Figures reveal that from the beginning of 1997 until August 2012 there was no discernible rise in aggregate global temperatures. This means that the �pause� in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. �The new data confirms the existence of a pause in global warming,� Professor Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science at America�s Georgia Tech university, said, �Climate models are very complex, but they are imperfect and incomplete. Natural variability [the impact of factors such as long-term temperature cycles in the oceans and the output of the sun] has been shown over the past two decades to have a magnitude that dominates the greenhouse warming effect.� Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, who found himself at the centre of the �Climategate� scandal over leaked emails three years ago, would not normally be expected to agree with her. Yet on two important points, he did. The data does suggest a plateau, he admitted, and without a major El Nino event � the sudden, dramatic warming of the southern Pacific which takes place unpredictably and always has a huge effect on global weather � �it could go on for a while�. Like Prof Curry, Prof Jones also admitted that the climate models were imperfect: �We don�t fully understand how to input things like changes in the oceans, and because we don�t fully understand it you could say that natural variability is now working to suppress the warming. We don�t know what natural variability is doing.�
Gravity Probe Shows Groundwater Resources Slipping Away � (GizMag � September 25, 2012)
As the lead photograph poignantly illustrates, most of the U.S. has been struggling with serious levels of drought for the past several years. Worldwide, drought affected areas include Europe, India and Pakistan, Russia, much of Africa, South America � the list goes on. But when the rains start again, everyone expresses great relief, not realizing that long-term depletion of groundwater reserves is part of the price for surviving drought. It was with this in mind that GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), a joint U.S. and German space project, was designed a decade ago. Accurate measurements of Earth’s gravity, recorded to within 10 microns (0.0004 inches) can indicate the thickness of ice sheets and glaciers, the temperature of large-scale ocean currents, motions of magma, better profiles of the atmosphere, and also the amount of water stored in the ground. Embedded video presents a time-lapse view of the groundwater situation for the U.S. over the past ten years. Fresh water is clearly another nonrenewable resource on a timescale of centuries.
Shoal � (Shoal website � no date)
Shoal is a European research project working to develop robotic fish that will work together in order to monitor and search for pollution in ports and other aquatic areas. Traditional methods of monitoring pollution involve getting samples in some way (divers) and then sending the samples back to the lab to be tested. The whole process takes time and makes real-time pollution information far from a reality. Shoal aims to make this process real-time. By having autonomously controlled fish with chemical sensors attached we aim to do these tests in-situ. Further to this the fish will also be given an intelligence so that if they do find significant amounts of pollution and they deduce it’s coming from a source they will all work together to find the source of the pollution so that the port can stop the problem early before more pollution occurs. The Shoal development process focuses on: artificial and swarm intelligence; robotic design; chemical analysis; underwater communications; and hydrodynamics.
Technology Doesn�t Yet Exist to Clean Up Fukushima � (Zero Hedge � October 4, 2012)
World-renowned physicist Michio Kaku said recently: It will take years to invent a new generation of robots able to withstand the radiation. (The radiation inside the reactors is too hot even for robots.) Hiroshi Tasaka, a nuclear engineer and professor at Tama University who advised the prime minister after the disaster said the government target of removing all the rods by the end of next year may prove too optimistic because of many unknowns, the need to develop new technology and the risk of aftershocks. The world leader in decommissioning nuclear reactors, and one of the main contractors hired to clean up Fukushima – EnergySolutions – made a similar point in May: Concerning the extraction of fuel debris [at Fukushima], which is considered the most challenging process, �There is no technology which may be directly applied,� said [top EnergySolutions executive] Morant.
High Tech CCTV Can Recognize Faces from Half a Mile � (Telegraph � October 3, 2012)
High definition CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras that can identify and track faces from a distance of a half mile could turn Britain into a Big Brother society if left unregulated, the first surveillance commissioner, Andrew Rennison, has warned. It is so intrusive that Britain may be in breach of human rights laws, he warned, and most people are ignorant of how sophisticated technology has become. “The technology has overtaken our ability to regulate it,” Mr Rennison said. “”I’m convinced that if we don’t regulate it properly – ie the technological ability to use millions of images we capture – there will be a huge public backlash. It is the Big Brother scenario playing out large. It’s the ability to pick out your face in a crowd from a camera which is probably half a mile away.” The former police officer said he was concerned about high-definition cameras “popping up all over the place”. He said the Home Office research into facial recognition had reached a 90% success rate and it is improving by the day. He added cameras were now “storing all the images they record … and the capability is there to run your image against a database of wanted people.”
Data That Lives Forever Is Possible � (Phys Org � September 24, 2012)
Hitachi’s new quartz glass plate technology can be used to store data indefinitely. The company has developed a method of storing digital information on slivers of quartz glass that can endure extreme temperatures and hostile conditions without degrading, almost forever, a few hundred millions years at least. “The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven’t necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones,” Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said. “The possibility of losing information may actually have increased,” he said, noting the life of digital media currently available�CDs and hard drives�is limited to a few decades or a century at most. (Editor�s note: This article seems not to consider the possibility of storing digital data in the �cloud�, but only on physical media.)
The iPad’s Secret Abilities – (Business Week – October 3, 2012)
Apple has added features that make the iPhone and iPad easily accessible, not only to visually impaired people but also to those with hearing loss and other challenges. The iPhone 4 and the iPad 2, for example, come with VoiceOver, a screen reader for those who can�t read print, as well as FaceTime, video-calling software for people who communicate using sign language. Apple has said that iOS 5 will contain improvements to VoiceOver and LED flash and custom vibration settings to let users see and feel when someone is calling. More such devices as the iPad and iPhone will make their way into the workplace to assist people with physical challenges in the next five years. Disability and aging go hand-in-hand: As baby boomers work past age 65, companies will increasingly face this issue. The incidence of disability in the workplace is 19.4% at age 45 and rises to about 50% by age 70, according to Jennifer Woodside, chief executive officer of the Disability Training Alliance.
V3Solar Puts a New Spin on PV Efficiency � (Giz Mag � September 30, 2012)
V3Solar has developed a cone-shaped solar energy harvester that is claimed to generate over 20 times more electricity than a flat panel thanks to a combination of concentrating lenses, dynamic spin, conical shape, and advanced electronics. The V3 Spin Cell actually features two cones, one made up of hundreds of triangular PV cells and a static hermetically-sealed outer lens concentrator comprising a series of interlocking rings and a number of tubular lenses spaced equally around the outside surface. According to V3Solar, the Spin Cell’s cone has been set at an angle to enable capture of the sun’s light at more angles than flat PV panels which negates the need for separate tracking systems and also accommodates the different angles of the sun throughout the year.
Thousands of Bombs Dumped in the Gulf of Mexico Pose Huge Threat to Oil Rigs – (Oil Price – October 1, 2012)
After World War II the US government dumped millions of kilograms of unexploded bombs into the Gulf of Mexico. This is no secret; many governments dumped their unexploded ordnance into oceans and lakes from 1946 up until the 1970s when it was made illegal under international treaty. Now that technology has advanced enough for oil companies to drill deep sea wells in the Gulf of Mexico, those forgotten payloads have become a real hazard. The US designated certain areas around its coast for the safe dumping of explosives, nerve gas, and mustard gas. The problem is that the records of where these munitions were dumped are incomplete and many experts believe that a lot of cargo was dumped outside of the designated areas. Now, decades later, no one has any idea of where the bombs are, exactly how many were dumped, or if they still pose a threat to humans or marine life.
Green Light May Be Ahead on Insurance for Shared Vehicles � (Nation of Change � October 9, 2012)
Liz Fong-Jones joined car sharing program Relay Rides because her car was sitting parked most of the time. An environmentally-minded M.I.T student and one-time Google employee, she saw that by renting it out, she could maximize the car�s use and potentially lessen the number of cars on the road. What she didn�t see was that she was about to become the subject of a debate about insurance and liability in the sharing economy. The man who rented Fong-Jones�s car was found at fault in an accident in which he was killed and four people in the other car were seriously injured. Insurance claims may exceed Relay Rides� million-dollar policy. Commercial use of a personal vehicle is generally not covered by basic auto insurance, and in most places companies reserve the right to cancel or non-renew customers who rent their vehicles out. California, Washington and Oregon have all passed legislation that specifically prohibits insurance companies from canceling insurance policies and takes liability off of car owners who share their vehicles. In states where no legislation has been passed, liability enters a grey area if insurance doesn�t cover car sharing and a claim exceeds the car-sharing company�s insurance.
Students Design an Omnidirectional Sphere-wheeled Electric Motorcycle � (Giz Mag � September 14, 2012)
A group of students at San Jose State University are designing a Spherical Drive System (SDS) electric motorcycle. The SDS concept vehicle is described as a self-balancing electric motorcycle that rides on spheres. The SDS creation uses data from gyroscopic sensor technology and an onboard accelerometer to electronically control balance. “The motorcycle operates on a friction based drive system that directly drives the surface of the sphere with custom manufactured omniwheels, attached to Animatics motors,” explained team leader Max Ratner. “The method for balancing the motorcycle is similar to a Segway in that it uses accelerometers and gyros for detecting the pitch angle and correcting for any displacement from vertical. The user will control the motorcycle just like any modern motorcycle with a throttle, leaning, and handlebars. Additionally, there will be a set of joysticks that will allow for additional maneuvers such as forward/reverse/side-to-side motions/spinning the vehicle.” Article includes 30 photos of a machine that would definitely turn heads.
Blue and Green Honey Makes French Beekeepers See Red � (Reuters � October 5, 2012)
Since August, beekeepers around the town of Ribeauville in the region of Alsace, France have seen bees returning to their hives carrying unidentified colorful substances that have turned their honey unnatural shades. Mystified, the beekeepers embarked on an investigation and discovered that a biogas plant 2.5 miles away has been processing waste from a Mars plant producing M&M’s. The unsellable honey is a new headache for around a dozen affected beekeepers already dealing with high bee mortality rates and dwindling honey supplies following a harsh winter, said Alain Frieh, president of the apiculturists’ union. Philippe Meinrad, co-manager of Agrivalor , the company operating the biogas plant, said, “We discovered the problem at the same time they did. We quickly put in place a procedure to stop it.” He said the company had cleaned its containers and incoming waste would now be stored in a covered hall.
GM Cow Designed to Produce Milk Without an Allergy-causing Protein � (Guardian � October 1, 2012)
A genetically modified cow whose milk lacks a substance that causes allergic reactions in people has been created by scientists in New Zealand. In their first year of life, two or three in every hundred infants are allergic to a whey protein in milk called BLG. The researchers engineered the cow, called Daisy, to produce milk that doesn’t contain the protein. While the genetic alteration slashed levels of BLG protein in the cow’s milk to undetectable levels, it more than doubled the concentrations of other milk proteins called caseins.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Senate Report Says National Intelligence Fusion Centers Have Been Useless � (Nation of Change � October 4, 2012)
An alarming report published by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2010 called attention to the theft of dozens of pounds of dangerous explosives from an airport storage bunker in Washington state. Like many such warnings, it drew on information gathered by one of the department�s �fusion centers� created to exchange data among state, local and federal officials, all at a cost to the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars. About 70 of the centers now exist, located in major cities and nearly all states. There was just one problem with that report, and many others like it: the theft had occurred seven months earlier, and it had been highlighted within five days in a press release by the Justice Department�s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was seeking citizen assistance in tracking down the culprits. In its blistering, bipartisan staff report, the Senate panel asserts that the centers � which were financed by federal taxpayers with the express aim of helping the counter-terror effort � frequently produced �shoddy, rarely timely� reports that in some cases violated civil liberties or privacy and often had little to do with terrorism.
Obama, OIRA, & Our Dysfunctional Demockery: A Tale of Two Faces � (Nation of Change � October 3, 2012)
Although ALEC represents a frightening degree of collusion between industry and government, there is a more insidious entity that erodes the system from within, gutting regulations and leaving no trace. It’s called OIRA (pronounced �O-EYE-ra�). Though many well-informed people have never even heard of the agency, the familiar EPA, FDA, and OSHA are all beholden to its decisions, which are secret and thus unaccountable. Last November, when the Center for Progressive Reform issued a devastating report on OIRA’s mission to ensure that �the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.� The 90-page study is thorough, candid, and devastating. At the heart of the CPR investigation is OIRA’s routine evasion of Executive Order 12,866 (signed by President Clinton in 1993), which was designed to increase transparency in the oversight of laws intended to protect and promote public health, worker safety, and the environment. Two highlights from the report: 1) In the 18 years since the Executive Order, OIRA has consistently eviscerated regulations carefully crafted after years of research, and proposed by �experts in law, science, engineering, economics, and other disciplines�, and 2) A full 84% of EPA regulations have been eroded, as well as 65% of regulatory proposals from the FDA and OSHA. Article bullets other highlights from the report. Please note however, there is a formatting error in the online article: most of the later �bullet points� should be read as straight text.
Warrantless Electronic Surveillance Surges Under Obama Justice Department � (Huffington Post � September 28, 2012)
The Obama administration has overseen a sharp increase in the number of people subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance of their telephone, email and Facebook accounts by federal law enforcement agencies. documents, released by the ACLU after a months-long legal battle with the Department of Justice, show that in the last two years, more people were spied on by the government than in the preceding decade. The documents do not include information on most terrorism investigations and requests from state and local law enforcers. Nor do they include surveillance by federal agencies outside Justice Department purview, like the Secret Service. Department of Justice agencies obtained 37,616 court orders for information about phone calls in 2011, according to the documents. That’s an increase of 47% from the 25,535 orders obtained by the government in 2009. Including Internet and email information requests, more than 40,000 people were targeted in 2011.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
11 Sites That Want to Rule the Share Economy � (CNN � October 3, 2012)
These start-ups are at the forefront of the so-called collaborative consumption trend. They let people network with others to share or rent what they own. For example, Yerdle.com. This mobile app will be launched in November in San Francisco. It will let neighbors and locals find and borrow what they need, whether it’s soccer equipment for your kids or that seldom-used pasta maker. If you can’t find what you’re seeking, the mobile app will also tell you what stores have it. Another example: Parkatmyhouse.com. Daily parking rentals, $5 to $10. Listing a parking space is free, but ParkAtMyHouse takes a 15% booking fee. This UK startup lets people lease out their driveway, garage or parking spot to whoever needs it. BMW invested in the company last year with plans to expand the service globally. “We have one London church that has earned $200,000 renting out eight unused spots using ParkAtMyHouse,” says Anthony Eskinazi, cofounder and CEO of the company.
Opting Out of the ‘Rug Rat Race’ � (Wall St. Journal � September 7, 2012)
In the nation’s big cities these days, the competition among affluent parents over slots in favored preschools verges on the gladiatorial. A pair of economists from the University of California recently dubbed this contest for early academic achievement the “Rug Rat Race,” and each year, the race seems to be starting earlier and growing more intense. At the root of this parental anxiety is an idea you might call the cognitive hypothesis. It is the belief, rarely spoken aloud but commonly held nonetheless, that success in the U.S. today depends more than anything else on cognitive skill and that the best way to develop those skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible. But especially in the past few years, a disparate group of economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists has begun to produce evidence that calls into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis. What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into a child�s brain in the first few years of life but whether we are able to help that child develop a set of qualities that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character. The reality is that when it comes to noncognitive skills, the traditional calculus of the cognitive hypothesis�start earlier and work harder�falls apart. Children can’t get better at overcoming disappointment just by working at it for more hours. And they don’t lag behind in curiosity simply because they didn’t start doing curiosity work sheets at an early enough age.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Milky Way Is Surrounded by Halo of Hot Gas � (Harvard University � September 24, 2012)
Astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to find evidence that the Milky Way Galaxy is embedded in an enormous halo of hot gas that extends for hundreds of thousands of light years. The estimated mass of the halo is comparable to the mass of all the stars in the galaxy. If the size and mass of this gas halo is confirmed, it also could be an explanation for what is known as the “missing baryon” problem for the galaxy. Baryons are particles, such as protons and neutrons, that make up more than 99.9% of the mass of atoms found in the cosmos. Measurements of extremely distant gas halos and galaxies indicate the baryonic matter present when the universe was only a few billion years old represented about one-sixth the mass and density of the existing unobservable, or dark, matter. In the current epoch, about 10 billion years later, a census of the baryons present in stars and gas in our galaxy and nearby galaxies shows at least half the baryons are unaccounted for.
A Diamond Bigger Than Earth � (News Daily � October 11, 2012)
Orbiting a star that is visible to the naked eye, astronomers have discovered a planet twice the size of our own made largely out of diamond. The rocky planet, called ’55 Cancri e’, orbits a sun-like star in the constellation of Cancer and is moving so fast that a year there lasts a mere 18 hours. Discovered by a U.S.-Franco research team, its radius is twice that of Earth’s with a mass eight times greater. That would give it the same density as Earth, although previously observed diamond planets are reckoned to be a lot more dense. It is also incredibly hot, with temperatures on its surface reaching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit. Diamond planets have been spotted before but this is the first time one has been seen orbiting a sun-like star and studied in such detail. “This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” Madhusudhan said, adding that the discovery of the carbon-rich planet meant distant rocky planets could no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents, interiors, atmospheres, or biologies similar to Earth.
Births � Preliminary Data for 2011 � (CDC, National Center for Health Statistics � October 3, 2012)
The U.S. fertility rate has dropped to its lowest level since the government began keeping track of the data � 63.2 births per 1000 women aged 15-44 years. The overall birthrate was 1% less than in 2010. The CDC report offers extensive further breakdown of birth figures.
One in Eight of World Population Going Hungry – (Reuters – October 9, 2012)
In a report on food insecurity, the UN agencies said 868 million people were hungry in 2010-2012, or about 12.5 percent of the world’s population, down more sharply than previously estimated from about 1 billion, or 18.6 percent in 1990-92. The new figures, based on a revised calculation method and more up-to-date data, are lower than the last estimates for recent years that pegged the number of hungry people at 925 million in 2010 and 1.02 billion in 2009. “That is better news than we have had in the past, but it still means that one person in every eight goes hungry. That is unacceptable, especially when we live in a world of plenty,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Suicides Outpace Car Crashes as Leading Cause of Deaths from Injuries � (CNN � September 27, 2012)
Research in the American Journal of Public Health reports suicides have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S. The suicide rate increased 15% from 2000 to 2009, according to the report. In that same period the rate of deadly car crashes dropped by 25%, as a wide array of traffic safety interventions were implemented. The down economy may also have kept more people off the road and out of harm�s way. Poisonings, the third leading cause of injury-related deaths, increased by 128% over the 10 year period, largely because of prescription drug overdoses.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Artificially Intelligent Game Bots Pass the Turing Test � (University of Texas � September 26, 2012)
An artificially intelligent virtual gamer created by computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has won the Bot Prize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half the humans it competed against. The competition was sponsored by 2K Games and was set inside the virtual world of �Unreal Tournament 2004,� a first-person shooter video game. The winning bots both achieved a humanness rating of 52%. Human players received an average humanness rating of only 40%. �In the case of the BotPrize,� said Jacob Schrum, one of the bot creators, �a great deal of the challenge is in defining what ‘human-like’ is, and then setting constraints upon the neural networks so that they evolve toward that behavior. (Editor�s note: This is �human-like� in the context of battle/competition only.)
World�s First 3D-Printed Acoustic Guitar � (Business Week � October 12, 2012)
Scott Summit just spent a week up sitting at his laptop creating a 3D model of his ideal guitar. Then he sent the computer design to 3D Systems, which used its massive 3D printers to transform the graphic model into an actual acoustic instrument. As far as anyone seems to know, this is the first 3D-printed acoustic guitar on the planet, and it raises all kinds musical possibilities. (As several readers noted, people have already made 3D printed electric guitars.) As a kid, Summit pined after fancy guitars. �I wanted a $3,000 one like Jerry Garcia would play,� he says. At the time, Summit didn�t have the money, so he spent around $100 on wood and other parts and fashioned his own guitar. �It sounded like crap,� he says. These days, Summit spends most of his time designing custom body parts and stylish prosthetics that get built from 3D printers. He is, in fact, one of the world�s leading 3D printing and design experts. Somewhere down the road he figures people will be able to use software to pick out what sort of treble, bass, or sustain they desire and then print a guitar to match those qualities. �It will arrive in the mail and sound just the way you wanted,� he says. The guitar is surprisingly beautiful but just the plastic for it cost around $3,000.
Bye Bye Laundry Uses Activated Charcoal to Deodorize Half Dirty Clothes � (EcoChunk � October 6, 2012)
Most people throw half-dirty clothes in the laundry basket as there is no other place to put them. This not only means that clothes are washed too often, but also increases water consumption. To help save water and also the clothes, designer Lisa Marie Bengtsson has come up with unique deodorizing clothes hangers dubbed Bye Bye Laundry that are equipped with a chamber containing activated charcoal. The activated carbon absorbs odors making the clothes feel and smell just as fresh as newly washed. For a different eco-approach to laundry, see Pioneers of Eco-Friendly Laundry
The 1 Buzzword That Will Rule 2013 � (Daily Finance � October 9, 2012)
The word is �omni-channel�. A hundred years ago, you could buy things in one of two ways: in a store or through the mail�and there was little overlap. By the beginning of the new century, consumers were getting used to a new multi-channel buying experience. Items could be found online, in catalogs and in-store, and some stores would accept online orders to be sent to a local store. But those simple times are about to be behind us. The new retail order revolves around an omni-channel experience, where there is no clear line drawn between traditional channels. Over the next year, consumers are going to become very familiar with omni-channel sales. To get a better understanding of what omni-channel means, and how it’s going to change things, the article offers examples. Right now, Apple is the omni-channel leader, but Amazon might be about to join its ranks with brick-and-mortar stores.
The Homeless Billionaire � (Business Week � September 27, 2012)
This is an extended profile of Nicholas Berggruen, who is literally a homeless billionaire (but only in the sense that having, say, a dozen hotels around the world where he likes to stay is different than having a dozen homes). He is also a rather interesting character who, until now, has maintained a fairly low global profile. But that is changing. He�s decided that he wants to address the ills of some of the West�s more dysfunctional political systems. Berggruen believes at least part of the solution to Western political paralysis is the Asian equivalent of the smoke-filled room. �If you can do this behind closed doors, you can force or push decisions, which happens in autocracies like Singapore and China,� he says. �The disadvantage is that it�s not very transparent. The advantage is that the people in the room, even if they have ideological views that are not along the same lines, can come up with compromises and solutions.� With Nathan Gardels, one of the institute�s senior advisers, he�s co-written a book in which he explains this unorthodox notion: Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way Between West and East. It will be interesting to see what he will manage to achieve (or not); this is someone to keep an eye on.
The Army’s Secret Cold War Experiments on St. Louisans � (KSDK News, Channel 5 � September 25, 2012)
Lisa Martino-Taylor is a sociologist whose life’s work has been to uncover details of the Army’s ultra-secret military experiments carried out in St. Louis and other cities (e.g. Corpus Christi, TX) during the 1950s and 60s. The television news team which carried this article independently verified that the spraying of zinc cadmium sulfide did take place in St. Louis. What is unclear is whether the Army added a radioactive material to the compound as Martino-Taylor’s research implies. “The study was secretive for reason. They didn’t have volunteers stepping up and saying yeah, I’ll breathe zinc cadmium sulfide with radioactive particles,” said Martino-Taylor. Documents confirmed that city officials were kept in the dark about the tests. The Cold War cover story was that the Army was testing smoke screens to protect cities from a Russian attack. The greatest concentration was centered on the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, home to 10,000 low income people. An estimated 70% she says were children under the age of 12. “This was a violation of all medical ethics, all international codes, and the military’s own policy at that time,” said Martino-Taylor. “There is a lot of evidence that shows people in St. Louis, in particular minority communities, were subjected to military testing that was connected to a larger radiological weapons testing project,” she added. See also follow up news caster video clip.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
40 Things to Have Said Before You Die � (Forbes � October 4, 2012)
Before you�re sprawled on your deathbed, there are some things you really have to say. They�re not complicated. They�re not poetry. They�re just short sentences with big meaning. #40: I wonder. #39: Today was good. #37: I�m not finished. #35 That�s enough. Check out the rest of list; it�s worth it.
Dinos’ DNA Demise: Genetic Material Has a 521-Year Half-Life � (Scientific American � October 10, 2012)
Few researchers have given credence to claims that samples of dinosaur DNA have survived to the present day, but no one knew just how long it would take for genetic material to fall apart. Now, a study of fossils found in New Zealand is laying the matter to rest � and laying to rest all hopes of cloning a Tyrannosaurus rex. After cell death, enzymes start to break down the bonds between the nucleotides that form the backbone of DNA, and micro-organisms speed the decay. In the long run, however, reactions with water are thought to be responsible for most bond degradation. Groundwater is almost ubiquitous, so DNA in buried bone samples should, in theory, degrade at a set rate. The research team predicts that even in a bone at an ideal preservation temperature of −5 �C, effectively every bond would be destroyed after a maximum of 6.8 million years. The DNA would cease to be readable much earlier � perhaps after roughly 1.5 million years, when the remaining strands would be too short to give meaningful information. �This confirms the widely held suspicion that claims of DNA from dinosaurs and ancient insects trapped in amber are incorrect,� says Simon Ho, a computational evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. However, although 6.8 million years is nowhere near the age of a dinosaur bone � which would be at least 65 million years old � �We might be able to break the record for the oldest authentic DNA sequence, which currently stands at about half a million years,� says Ho.
JUST FOR FUN
Ennio Marchetto � (You Tube � September 10, 2007)
Meet the Cardboard Guy. Italian performer, Ennio Marchetto, has created a theatrical language mixing mime, dance, music and quick change with costumes made primarily out of cardboard.
A FINAL QUOTE–
The future is like heaven. Everyone exalts it, but no one wants to go there now. � James Baldwin
A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, James DeMeo, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Bobbie Rohn, 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
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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