That large numbers of scientists are necessarily right. I’ve studied enough of the history of science to know that the fact that large numbers of scientists share a particular perspective does not, at all, presume that they are correct. Science (especially now) is rife with politics and funding-flavored decisions and the notion that 15,000 individual scientists sign on to the prevailing theory only means that because almost none of them have taken the time to look at the original data and research (which until lately hasn’t even been made available to the larger community), the only basis that they have for supporting the party line is related to local, national, and international science politics: if they don’t agree, they will be ostracized and significant attempts will be made to get their government funding cut. That’s what a lot of peer review does – keeps new, threatening ideas out.
So, I very much think that the climate is changing . . . but there’s good reason to believe that this happens on a regular basis, driven by galactic dynamics and it is happening again and will turn rather cold rather fast. I’m very much for cleaning up our environment for lots of other reasons, but I don’t believe that humans are influencing this massive shift that is mirrored on all of the other planets in our solar system . . . where there are no humans to influence the climate.
All that said, I really don’t have the bandwidth to check all of the derivative sources that contribute to any particular piece – I include things that seem interesting and at face value appear credible. Sometimes something slips through – which may have happened this time. I don’t know. Just because the Met Office says it isn’t true (with all of the politics and funding associated with an organization like that) doesn’t mean that is isn’t.
Like everything else, this is one that you need to decide about on your own.
But, thinking about climate change . . . . this just in:
Europe Hammered by Winter, Is North America Next?
Feb 16, 2012: For the first half of this year’s winter, the big news was warm temperatures and lack of snow. Ski resorts were covered in bare dirt, while January temperatures in southern California topped July highs.
Then, out of the blue, Europe got clobbered: Over the past two weeks, temperatures in Eastern Europe have nose-dived to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). Blizzards and the bone-chilling cold have resulted in the deaths of over 550 people so far, with rooftop-high snow drifts trapping tens of thousands of villagers in their homes and cutting off access to entire towns. It has even snowed as far south as North Africa.
This map shows temperature anomalies for Europe and western Russia from January 25 to February 1, 2012, compared to temperatures for the same dates from 2001 to 2011. The anomalies are based on land surface temperatures observed by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. [more]
Why Is Global Shipping Slowing Down So Dramatically?
The weather isn’t the only thing in flux. If the global economy is not heading for a recession, then why is global shipping slowing down so dramatically? This article does a good job of reviewing some of the fundamental indicators of the economy, such as the Baltic Dry Index.
Many economists believe that measures of global shipping such as the Baltic Dry Index are leading economic indicators. In other words, they change before the overall economic picture changes. . . . on February 3rd the Baltic Dry Index reached a low that had not been seen since August 1986. Read the rest of the article.
2012: The Year of Great Transition
A collapsing economy, big-time climate change, a potential mid-east war, big energy breakthroughs – all of these subjects and many more are part of an analysis that I did that that suggests that this year is going to be a pivotal one for humanity. I gathered the information from eight or nine sources (that seem credible to me) and put it together in a synthetic picture. It was interesting because it became clear that there were multiple indicators that were very specifically forecasting the rapid collapse of significant pieces of the existing system in the coming 12 months-some of the big pieces start coming down in the next 90 days!
For example, one can make a pretty compelling case that there will be an extraordinary cosmic happening in the third quarter . . . to say nothing about two other major earth-shaking events that appear to be on the schedule for June and September.
2012 is gearing up to literally become one of the most important years in the history of humanity.
Very strange things seem programmed for the third quarter – events for which we don’t yet have descriptive language. It is interesting that the input from both conventional and unconventional reporters has pointed consistently toward the uniqueness of this period.
I talked about these things for about an hour on a DVD and then the producer, Brian Hardin, and I added a half-hour of interchange about preparing for what appears to be headed our way. If you’re interested in seeing this presentation, you can get the DVD of the interview – 2012: The Year of Great Transition – here for $15.
You’ll find it both interesting and provocative. I promise!
The Coming Tech-led Boom – (Wall St. Journal – January 30, 2012)
In hindsight it seems obvious that emerging technologies circa 1912-electrification, telephony, the dawn of the automobile age, the invention of stainless steel and the radio amplifier-would foster enormous economic growth. Yet even knowledgeable contemporary observers failed to grasp their transformational power. In January 2012, we sit again on the cusp of three grand technological transformations with the potential to rival that of the past century. All find their epicenters in America: big data, smart manufacturing and the wireless revolution.
Brazil Is Suing Twitter for Users Tweeting DUI Checkpoints – (Gizmodo – February 6, 2012)
Twitter has caught some flack in other countries for giving accounts free reign on what they can tweet. Twitter responded that it’ll adjust its policy to include the ability to censor tweets if a country demands it to. We just might see Twitter’s first high profile case sooner than later because Brazil just sued Twitter for allowing accounts to tweet where DUI checkpoints are. The ramifications, to us US citizens, are selfishly small but could mark as the tipping point when other countries start to take control of Twitter in their countries. The accounts in question used Twitter to publicly share the locations of radar and DUI checkpoints so people following the account (near 300,000 twitterers) can avoid such stops. Brazil is predictably unhappy with such accounts because of their use in avoiding the police (and possibly promoting driving while drinking) and has sued Twitter and the accounts for a $290,000/daily fine.
Lake Vostok Water Given to Vladimir Putin – (Associated Press – February 10, 2012)
Russian scientists have reached a gigantic freshwater lake in Antarctica hidden under more than two miles of ice, a pristine body of water that may hold life from the distant past. After more than two decades of drilling, the Russian researchers reached the lake at a depth of 12,366 feet in a location about 800 miles east of the South Pole. Reaching the surface of Lake Vostok, the largest of nearly 400 subglacial lakes in Antarctica, was a major discovery avidly anticipated by scientists around the world. The lake is expected to hold living organisms that have been locked in icy darkness for some 20 million years, as well as clues to the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. Scientists believe that microbial life may exist in the dark depths of the lake, despite its high pressure and constant cold – conditions similar to those believed to be found under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
Bill Doyle: Treating Cancer with Electric Fields – (TED Talks – January, 2012)
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the best-known methods for treating cancer. At TEDMED, Bill Doyle presents a new approach, called Tumor Treating Fields, which uses electric fields to interrupt cancer cell division. Still in its infancy-and approved for only certain types of cancer-the treatment comes with one big benefit: quality of life.
Zap Your Brain into the Zone: Fast Track to Pure Focus – (New Scientist – February 6, 2012)
The state of “Flow” has been maddeningly difficult to pin down, let alone harness, but a wealth of new technologies could soon allow us all to conjure up this state. The plan is to provide a short cut to virtuosity, slashing the amount of time it takes to master a new skill – be it tennis, playing the piano or marksmanship. Enter Michael Weisend, who is working on a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to accelerate learning, and has been using a form of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to cut the time it takes to train military snipers. The mild electrical shock is meant to depolarize the neuronal membranes in the region, making the cells more excitable and responsive to inputs. Like many other neuroscientists working with tDCS, Weisend thinks this accelerates the formation of new neural pathways during the time that someone practices a skill. Mysteriously, however, these long-term changes also seem to be preceded by a feeling that emerges as soon as the current is switched on and is markedly similar to the flow state. People’s movements also seem to become more automatic; they report calm, focused concentration – and their performance improves immediately. For do-it-yourselfers, here’s more information.
3-D Printed Jaw Lets 83-year-old Breathe, Chew and Talk – (MSNBC – February 6, 2012)
A customized artificial jawbone built with a 3-D printer has allowed an 83-year-old woman to continue breathing, chewing, and chatting away, a team of Belgian scientists announced. The first-of-a-kind jaw reconstruction was accomplished with a printing technique called laser melting where layers of a metallic powder are built up and fused together with a laser. In this case, the powder is titanium. Once built, the entire artificial jawbone was coated with a type of ceramic that made it compatible with body tissue. The rapid construction technique allowed the team to address a rapidly progressing infection in the woman’s lower jaw that required complete removal of the bone in order to retain an open airway. During surgery, the patient’s deteriorating jawbone was removed and replaced with the custom implant. One day after the operation, she had normal function and was able to talk and swallow.
Vitamin C Prevents Radiation Damage, Nutritional Medicine in Japan – (Orthomolecular Medicine – February 1, 2012)
Workers with severe radiation exposure at the Fukushima nuclear plant had major reduction in cancer risk when supplemented with vitamin C and other anti-oxidative nutrients. Sixteen men aged between 32 and 59 years worked 5 to 6 weeks in a radiation contaminated area, collecting contaminated water, measuring radiation levels, operating heavy machinery, and removing debris. Blood samples were obtained to measure whole blood counts and blood chemistry, plasma levels of free DNA, and 47 cancer related gene expressions. Four workers who took intravenous vitamin C (25,000 mg) therapy before they went in, and continuously took anti-oxidative supplements during the working period, had no significant change in both free DNA and overall cancer risk. Three workers that did not have preventive intravenous vitamin C had an increase in calculated cancer risk. After 2 months of intervention with intravenous vitamin C and oral anti-oxidative nutritional supplements, free DNA returned to normal level and cancer risk score was significantly decreased. (Editor’s Note: That accounts for 7 men out of 16. What happened to the others?)
Web-based Counseling-Telepsychiatry-Is Taking Off – (Computer World – February 9, 2012)
Dr. Avrim Fishkind, a psychiatrist in Houston, rarely sees any of his patients in person, and that’s the way they like it. Fishkind is part of a fast growing movement in the mental healthcare field where therapists counsel patients via inexpensive, Web-based video conferencing technology. “We’ve had just over 60,000 patient encounters. To my knowledge, only six have refused to be seen via teleconferencing,” he said. “When it comes to mental health issues and the difficult things you need to talk about in a crisis, a lot of patients feel it’s less threatening and easier to be open and communicate via telemedicine.” Fishkind said telepsychiatry is limited only by insurance reimbursements. As more insurance companies start to reimburse for telepsychiatry treatments at the same rate as they do for in-person visits, the emerging medical field will grow exponentially.
2011 – A Year of Weather Extremes, with More to Come – (Nation of Change – February 2, 2012)
The global average temperature in 2011 was 14.52 degrees Celsius (58.14 degrees Fahrenheit). According to NASA scientists, this was the ninth warmest year in 132 years of recordkeeping, despite the cooling influence of the La Ni�a atmospheric and oceanic circulation pattern and relatively low solar irradiance. Since the 1970s, each subsequent decade has gotten hotter – and nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century. The year was the wettest on the books for seven states in the country, while it was among the driest for several others. Although the extremes appear to balance out, making for a near-average year, in fact a record 58% of the contiguous United States was either extremely wet or extremely dry in 2011. (Editor’s Note: presuming that NASA’s figures are authoritative and are being accurately reported in both cases, we do not know how to reconcile this article with one from the most recent past edition of FE. Everyone seems to have an agenda in this matter and everyone seems to be using statistics that suit them. We leave it to you readers to come to your own conclusions. If any reader can dig more deeply into the NASA statistics and sort things out better, we’d like to hear from you.)
Peak Oil – No Longer the Right Question – (Bloomberg – February 7, 2012)
When is-or was-peak world oil production? It’s just not the right question anymore. Deepwater drilling, tar sands extraction, and the shale gas boom have extended the supply of hydrocarbon fuels. The new question: What’s the smartest way to use them? The iconic Peak Oil example has inspired questions about other resources. Some, like coal, are finite; others, like water, are renewable but have limits to how quickly reserves can be replenished. Can Earth keep up with our demand? Call it Peak Everything. This article examines the state of 14 important global resources.
Fungi Discovered in the Amazon Will Eat Your Plastic – (Fast Company – February 6, 2012)
The Amazon is home to more species than almost anywhere else on earth. One of them, carried home recently by a group from Yale University, appears to be quite happy eating plastic in airless landfills. The group of students, part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory, ventured to the jungles of Ecuador. The mission was to allow “students to experience the scientific inquiry process in a comprehensive and creative way.” The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. As it turns out, they brought back a fungus new to science with a voracious appetite for a global waste problem: polyurethane. The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is the first anyone has found to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and–even more surprising–do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that is close to the condition at the bottom of a landfill.
Have 1- 5 Million Android Users Fallen Victim to Malware Attack? – (Wall St. Journal – January 30, 2012)
For as long as there has been advertising on the Internet there has been a fuzzy line dividing subterfuge and acceptable tricks to attract clicks. The problem of distinguishing between the legitimate and illegitimate now appears to have extended to smartphone apps as well. Symantec, the world’s largest maker of computer security software, announced that it had discovered 13 apps containing a Trojan horse it called “Android.Counterclank” that could steal information from users. Symantec has published a list of those apps it says are infected by Android.Counterclank (link provided in the article).
Website Can Find Your Exact Location Using Your Cellphone Number – (Fox News – February 5, 2012)
Your smartphone always knows where you are and tracking apps are common. This article highlights a tracking service provided by Life360.com (with a link to a free demo, however the person’s whose location you want to track must agree via a text message). The company says it has several safeguards to make sure its tools are “tamper resistant”.
Hackers Wanted $50,000 to Keep Symantec Source Code Private – (Cnet – February 6, 2012)
Symantec told a hacker group that it would pay $50,000 to keep the source code for some of its flagship security products off the Internet, the company confirmed. An e-mail exchange revealing the extortion attempt posted to Pastebin shows a purported Symantec employee named Sam Thomas negotiating payment with an individual named “Yamatough” to prevent the release of PCAnywhere and Norton Antivirus code. Another e-mail, with the subject line “say hi to FBI,” accuses the company of being in contact with the federal law enforcement agency, a charge Thomas denied. “We are not in contact with the FBI,” he wrote, falsely. “We are using this email account to protect our network from you. Protecting our company and property are our top priorities.” However, after weeks of discussions regarding proof of code and how to transfer payment, talks broke down and the deal was never completed. Update: A 1.2GB file labeled “Symantec’s pcAnywhere Leaked Source Code” has been posted to The Pirate Bay. CNET has asked Symantec whether the code is authentic. Symantec has not replied.
Threshold Broken for Tiny Lasers – (BBC News – February 8, 2012)
Scientists have shown off the smallest-ever laser that works at the wavelengths of light used in telecommunications and at room temperature. The tiny light sources switch on with no “threshold”, meaning they operate much more efficiently than earlier, small laser attempts. They are just one-fifteenth the size of the light waves that they produce. While they are not the smallest lasers ever made, the ease of fabrication of the team’s tiny lights – and the fact that they work at room temperature – makes them attractive for future applications. The principal application for the tiny lights would be in computing and telecommunications. Laser beams can, in principle, carry vast amounts of information faster than traditional semiconductor electronics.
America’s Homeless Resort to Tent Cities – (BBC News – February 13, 2012)
Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis. According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century – fueled by several years of high unemployment. One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland. There are an estimated 5,000 people living in the dozens of camps that have sprung up across America. The largest camp, Pinellas Hope in central Florida – a region better known for the glamour of Disneyworld – is made up of neat rows of tents spread out across a 13-acre plot.
Clean Energy – (Technology Review – no date)
This Technology Review Special Report focuses on innovations in alternative energy sources and the technologies driving them. Among others, the topics and technology covered include: a collection of weird and wonderful devices designed to harvest energy from the ocean; an electrode that can be recharged 40,000 times without losing much capacity; and engineered E. coli convert sugar to butanol 10 times faster than other microbes.
Charge Your Phone (and Your Car) from Afar – (Technology Review – February 9, 2012)
Witricity is a startup that hopes to revolutionize electronics by replacing wireless charging systems with ones that send power safely through the air. The nearly five-year-old company uses technology developed at MIT that extends the range of inductive wireless charging. Witricity says its first products-for charging portable electronics-could be on the market later this year. Within a year or two, similar technology could allow electric-vehicle owners to charge their cars without plugging them in. This could be followed by wireless power for heart pumps and other medical implants. Witricity is one of a handful of companies working to extend the range of electric chargers. The company has developed a prototype table that charges devices placed anywhere on its surface-even if they remain inside a backpack or purse-and a wireless keyboard and mouse that can be powered from a computer monitor, eliminating the need for batteries. (Apple has patented a similar idea.) The company has also developed a charger for electric cars. It’s a half-meter-wide pad that sits on the floor of a garage-just drive over it, and the car starts to charge.
The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto – (Health Sleuth – January 28, 2012)
In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation’s 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America’s organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A group of high-profile companies all focused on organic foods, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it’s time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto’s controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for “coexistence” with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.
300,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto in Federal Court – (Nation of Change – February 12, 2012)
Hundreds of citizens, (including NYC chefs in their white chef hats), gathered outside the Federal Courts in Manhattan on January 31st, to support organic family farmers in their landmark lawsuit against Big Agribusiness giant Monsanto. (Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v. Monsanto). Oral arguments were heard that day concerning the lawsuit by 83 plaintiffs representing over 300,000 organic farmers, organic seed growers, and organic seed businesses. The lawsuit addresses the bizarre issue of Monsanto harassing and threatening organic farmers with lawsuits of “patent infringement” if any organic farmer ends up with any trace amount of GM seeds on their organic farmland.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Flying Robots Called ‘Nano Quadrotor’ Drones Swarm Lab – (Huffington Post – February 2, 2012)
This article includes a link to remarkable footage of a gang of tiny flying robots that look like they are straight out of a sci-fi flick. But they are 100% real. Robotics researchers at University of Pennsylvania have released a video of what they call “nano quadrotors” – tiny flying robots that engage in complex social movements like swarming and pattern formation. The video shows what look like mini helicopters flying with remarkable agility and precision. They can do flips, avoid obstacles, and shift direction effortlessly, all on command. Toss one up in the air, and it finds its balance and and flies back to the hand that launched it. Best of all, when in the company of other drones, they gather to fly in a figure-8 formation. The machines come from UPenn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) lab. Scientists there hope that swarms of tiny bots like these can replace human search and surveillance teams, like those used after a disaster.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
The Battle for Vermont’s Health – (Nation of Change – February 5, 2012)
Health insurers were not able to stop the state’s drive last year toward a single-payer health care system, which insurers have spent millions to scare Americans into believing would be the worst thing ever. Despite the ceaseless spin, Vermont lawmakers last May demonstrated they could not be bought nor intimidated when they became the first in the nation to pass a bill that will probably establish a single-payer beachhead in the U.S. The problem for Governor Shumlin is this: it will take five years before Vermont can fully implement its new system, partly because the federal health care reform law prohibits states from undertaking more far-reaching reforms until 2017 unless granted waivers from the feds to do so. And though Vermont’s Congressional delegation is on board to pursue a waiver that would let the state set up a single payer system two years from now, the insurance industry’s friends in Washington are not keen to let that happen. (Editor’s Note: This is another example-and they are becoming more numerous-of the federal government nullifying states’ efforts to serve the interests of the majority of their citizens.)
Truth, Lies and Afghanistan – (Armed Forces Journal – February, 2012)
In the highly respected Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis wrote that he “spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners.” He went on to note that, “What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.” Within the constraint of not disclosing any classified information, this article goes as far as possible to give examples of the realities of the military situation in Afghanistan and the discrepancy between official statements and the truth on the ground.
Terry Carrico, Ex-Guant�namo Prison Commander, Says Facility Should Close – (Daily Beast – January 06, 2012)
On Jan. 11, 2002, less than two weeks its first warden, Terry Carrico, arrived in Guant�namo, the first shipment of prisoners was delivered. This was before the Bush administration had announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to these detainees. It was a different time: The U.S. had not yet adopted controversial secret interrogation rules, or techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions to induce pain, forced nakedness, and other practices that created discomfort. Still, Guant�namo was a harsh place even in those early days. A decade after the prison camp opened, Col. Carrico (Ret.) speaks out against U.S. detention policies in the war on terror. Now a corporate executive in Georgia, he considers the debate that is still raging over U.S. detention policy from a unique perspective, and he has reached conclusions that run counter to the prevailing political trends in Washington. He says Guant�namo should be closed, though he believes it never will be. He says “very few” of the men held there had valuable intelligence, at least while he ran the camp.
Israeli Hackers Kill Saudi and UAE Stock Markets – (Gizmodo – January 12, 2012)
(Internet) war in the Middle East continues, with an Israeli strike against the stock exchanges of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both financial hubs were down for hours, and those responsible say they will “move to the next level.” A formal explanation of the attack-at least as formal as these things get-was posted on Pastebin, the internet’s premiere destination for anonymous hacker blurbs. See also: Hackers Attack Israeli Stock Exchange In Escalating Mideast Cyber-Throwdown and Israel Basically Threatens to Assassinate Saudi Teen Hacker Who Leaked Israelis’ Credit Cards.
Israel Teamed with Terror Group to Kill Iran’s Nuclear Scientists, U.S. Officials Say – (MSNBC – February 9, 2012)
Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, say U.S. officials, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders. The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980. The attacks, which have killed five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and may have destroyed a missile research and development site, have been carried out in dramatic fashion, with motorcycle-borne assailants often attaching small magnetic bombs to the exterior of the victims’ cars. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign but has no direct involvement.
Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon – (The Onion – February 9, 2012)
Amidst mounting geopolitical tensions, Iranian officials said they were increasingly concerned about the United States of America’s uranium-enrichment program, fearing the Western nation may soon be capable of producing its 8,500th nuclear weapon. “Our intelligence estimates indicate that, if it is allowed to progress with its aggressive nuclear program, the United States may soon possess its 8,500th atomic weapon capable of reaching Iran,” said Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, adding that Americans have the fuel, the facilities, and “everything they need” to manufacture even more weapons-grade fissile material. “Obviously, the prospect of this happening is very distressing to Iran and all countries like Iran. After all, the United States is a volatile nation that’s proven it needs little provocation to attack anyone anywhere in the world whom it perceives to be a threat.” Iranian intelligence experts also warned of the very real, and very frightening, possibility of the U.S. providing weapons and resources to a rogue third-party state such as Israel.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Is Anonymous Our Future? – (Nation of Change – February 1, 2012)
For a few years now, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman has been arduously participant-observing in IRC chat rooms, watching Anonymous turn from a prankster moniker to a herd of vigilantes for global justice. In an extraordinary new essay, “Our Weirdness Is Free,” she summarizes what Anonymous is all about this way: Beyond a foundational commitment to anonymity and the free flow of information, Anonymous has no consistent philosophy or political program. Though Anonymous has increasingly devoted its energies to (and become known for) digital dissent and direct action around various “ops,” it has no definite trajectory. Sometimes coy and playful, sometimes macabre and sinister, often all at once, Anonymous is still animated by a collective will toward mischief-toward “lulz,” a plural bastardization of the portmanteau LOL (laugh out loud). To those donning the Guy Fawkes mask associated with Anonymous, this-and not the commercialized, “transparent” social networking of Facebook-is the promise of the Internet.
Why Amazon Prime Is the Future – (Daily Finance – February 7, 2012)
In 1888, Richard Sears released the first Sears, Roebuck and Company mailer. By 1894, he was putting out a sizeable mail-order catalog and he had effectively change the shopping habits of the country. Starting in the1960s, Sam Walton changed America’s shopping habits again: this time with low priced goods that were immediately available at a box store near you. (Today 90% of Americans live within 15 miles of a Walmart store.) Amazon Prime may be about to change buyers’ habits again: shop at home for those “everyday low prices” have everything delivered to your door in two days, and pay only a fairly small once-a-year shipping charge. Amazon has a “catalog” far beyond anything Richard Sears could possibly have imagined, but things are coming full circle. (Editor’s Note: we’re waiting for this to go truly international with an instant translation function for every Amazon website in different countries, with the merchandise going from one Amazon fulfillment center to another, all over the world, and then to our doorstep. Ok, so maybe the delivery takes a week instead of two days.)
A Lightning Rod in the Storm Over America’s Class Divide – (New York Times – February 5, 2012)
Book review of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray. Looking at America, Murray sees a country increasingly polarized into two culturally and geographically isolated demographics. In Belmont, the fictional name Mr. Murray gives to the part of America where the top 20% live, divorce is low, the work ethic is strong, religious observance is high, and out-of-wedlock births are all but unheard of. Meanwhile in Fishtown, where the bottom 30% live, what Mr. Murray calls America’s four “founding virtues” – marriage, industriousness, community and faith – have all but collapsed. The most striking trends among less-educated white Americans are that marriage rates and male labor force participation are down, and out-of-wedlock births are up.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
NASA Welcomes Our Surgical Robot Overlords – (Discovery – January 27, 2012)
Near-Earth orbit is packed with satellites, essential to communication and navigation back on Earth. But many of those satellites are aging, so what happens when they break down, or need refueling? Simply ditching the satellites would be wasteful — it costs many millions of dollars to build and launch a satellite — and then there’s the fact that it’s getting pretty crowded up there. So NASA is funding research on developing remotely operated robotic systems that might be up to the challenge. Enter the engineers of Johns Hopkins University, who helped pioneer medical robotic surgeries with the invention of the Da Vinci console that enables surgeons to steer surgical robots through complicated surgical procedures. They think a good solution is to adapt that system to remotely manipulate space robots to perform “long distance surgery” on broken satellites.
NASA Satellite Detects Alien Atoms – (Daily Galaxy – February 1, 2012)
NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, the centerpiece of a $169 million mission mapping the frontier of the sun’s influence, has detected atoms from interstellar space streaming by Earth, that are different from the chemical make-up of the solar system. Eric Christian, IBEX mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center observed, “IBEX’s observations shed a whole new light on the mysterious zone where the solar system ends and interstellar space begins.” The data hints that the region of interstellar space just outside the solar system may be deficient in oxygen compared to its abundance inside the heliospheree-a teardrop-shaped bubble blown out by the force from the solar winds that blocks most dangerous cosmic radiation from reaching Earth.
A Telescope as Sharp as Hubble – on the Ground – (Time – February 2, 2012)
Most people think that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is the most powerful stargazing system in the world. It’s understandable, given the astounding images and spectacular science the instrument has been delivering since it went into full operation back in 1993. In fact, though, the mirror at its heart is relatively small: only 7′ 9″ across. Its big advantage is its super-sharp vision. Hubble orbits high above the Earth’s atmosphere, a turbulent sea of constantly roiling air that makes the stars twinkle and blurs the vision of ground-based telescopes. But there’s another way to achieve that clarity: a technology known as adaptive optics (AO) can de-blur the vision of a ground-based telescope – and astronomers at the 26-ish-foot Gemini South telescope in Chile have debuted the most powerful AO system to date. In a press release, Matt Mountain, director of the Hubble’s home base, the Space Telescope Science Institute, called the image quality “incredible.” How it manages that is barely short of smoke and mirrors.
Social Justice Quiz 2012: Thirteen Questions – (Nation of Change – January 31, 2012)
For example: The US Department of Housing and Urban Development issues a national survey every year listing fair market rents for every county in the US. HUD also suggests renters should pay no more than 30% of their income on housing costs. In how many of the USA’s 3068 counties can someone who works full-time and earns the federal minimum wage pay 30% of their income and find a one-bedroom apartment at the fair market rental amount? 19? 368? 1974? Test your knowledge of U.S. demographics.
‘Bristol Pound’ Currency to Boost Independent Traders – (BBC News – February 5, 2012)
A group of independent traders in Bristol are launching their own currency, with the backing of the council and a credit union. The “Bristol Pound” will be printed in notes, and also traded electronically. There are other local currencies in the UK, but this is the first which can be used to pay local business taxes. By definition, Bristol pounds must stay in the city. People will open an account with the Bristol Credit Union, which is administering the scheme, and for every pound sterling they deposit, they will be credited one Bristol pound. This money can then either be cashed, or used electronically to pay bills online or even with a mobile phone.
Swiss Banks at Center of Investigative Storm – (International Financing Review – February 8, 2012)
When Swiss private bankers steer clear of traveling to the US for fear of being arrested, you know things have reached that critical point. Taking its 2009 settlement with UBS as a blueprint (US$780m fine, deferred prosecution agreement, handover of over 4,500 client names), the US Justice Department is coming after Wegelin, Switzerland’s oldest private bank (which has been formally indicted), Credit Suisse (which has set aside SFr295m in its 2011 accounts to settle any fines), Julius Baer, Basler Kantonalbank and others. The full list hasn’t been released but rumours are rife. In particular, the involvement of at least one of Switzerland’s publicly-owned Cantonal banks ups the ante and puts the issue right at the heart of Swiss officialdom.
Bank Customer’s Debt Forgiven – (Ekthimerini – February 13, 2012)
In what could turn out to be a significant ruling for Greeks suffering from the economic crisis, a court in Crete has become the first in the country to order that the majority of the debt owed to banks by someone still in full employment be wiped out. Until now, the legislation has only been used to give debt relief to unemployed people or those with no substantial income. However, in this case, the court ruled in favor of a full-time civil servant. The divorced woman, who has three children, asked to be given protection after her banks refused to offer her new terms for combined loans of 112,000 euros. The unnamed woman explained that she did not have any assets she could sell to pay off her debt. In its ruling, the court deemed that the woman, who has moved in with her parents, needs 350 euros a month to cover her own costs but that the rest of her earnings could be distributed equally among the three banks she owes money to. The judge deemed that this process should last for four years, meaning the woman would pay back some 30,000 euros and the remaining 82,000 would be written off. (Editor’s Note: we don’t know how someone managed to get unsecured loans totaling 112,000 euros but, with increasing Greek austerity measures, one can only hope the woman is able to keep her job. Either way, this suggests that Greek banks will wind up having to write down a lot more of their loan portfolios than just their sovereign wealth debt.)
Plants Really Can Communicate with One Another – (Daily Mail – February 4, 2012)
Researchers have learned how plants talk by modifying a cabbage gene which triggers the production of a gas emitted when a plant’s surface is cut or pierced. By adding the protein luciferase – which makes fireflies glow in the dark – to the DNA the plants’ emissions could be monitored on camera. One cabbage plant had a leaf cut off with scissors and started emitting a gas – methyl jasmonate – thereby ‘telling’ its neighbors there may be trouble ahead. Two nearby cabbage plants, which had not been touched, received the message they should protect themselves. They did this by producing toxic chemicals on the leaves to fend off predators such as caterpillars. It is the first time such a process has been caught on camera. Scientists say it raises the possibility that plants are all communicating with each other in a complex ‘invisible language’ which we know nothing about.
Why Morning Routines are Creativity Killers – (Time – February 1, 2012)
The way most of us spend our mornings is exactly counter to the conditions that neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists tell us promote flexible, open-minded thinking. Take that hurried wake-up, for example. In a study published in the journal Thinking and Reasoning, researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks reported that imaginative insights are most likely to come to us when we’re groggy and unfocused. The mental processes that inhibit distracting or irrelevant thoughts are at their weakest in these moments, allowing unexpected and sometimes inspired connections to be made. By not giving yourself time to tune in to your meandering mind, you’re missing out on the surprising solutions it may offer. (If you happen to be one of those perky morning people, your most inventive time comes when you’re winding down in the early evening.) The only thing most of us do right in the morning, in fact, is drink coffee. Caffeine not only makes us more alert, it also increases the brain’s level of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that influences feelings of motivation and reward when we hit on a great idea.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
How to Spot Fake Online Product Reviews – (Consumerist – April 6, 2010)
Wow – so many 5-star customer ratings! Funny. As we read along, some reviews emerge as rather odd. Maybe it’s the way the reviewer slipped into “marketing speak” which we wouldn’t expect a real consumer to do. Maybe the praise was too effusive (the product is just sneakers, after all). Maybe because the review was overly about the brand and not about the shoe. Maybe a combination of these things. And there are a few negative reviews, too, but some come across as superfluous; way out of scale for what seems like a negligible fault. Something doesn’t seem right. What’s going on here? Many companies are using a strategy of manipulating online reviews to increase sales. How to spot the fakes and hone your BS-detector? Here are many suggestions (in the “comments” section). Best advice: carefully sift through the negative reviews and pay scant attention to the positive ones. See also: this article.
Scientists Excavate Underground Ant City That Rivals the Great Wall of China – (Daily Mail – February 2, 2012)
A sophisticated underground ant city once populated by millions of insects has been discovered. Ants are understood to form the second most complex societies on Earth after our own. The abandoned subterranean megalopolis, which features vast subterranean highways, paths and gardens, was found in Brazil. It is thought to have housed one of the biggest ant colonies in the world. But no one is sure when the leafcutter species left or what caused their demise. Article includes photos and 3 minute video clip.
JUST FOR FUN
David Gallo Shows Underwater Astonishments – (TED – January, 2008)
We keep discovering just how beautiful this planet is. Here, David Gallo shows jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures, including a color-shifting cuttlefish, a perfectly camouflaged octopus, and a Times Square’s worth of neon light displays from fish who live in the blackest depths of the ocean.
A FINAL QUOTE…
If we want everything to stay as it is, everything will have to change. – from The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lamedusa
A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Kurzweil AI, D.K. Matai, Diane Petersen, Petra Pierterse, 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