The effects of larger solar eruptions hitting the earth through a tear in the magnetosphere will disrupt global communications, weather, perhaps satellites, and even organic life over the next 3‐4 years. (N.B. there certainly were an increase in solar storms that followed.)
Problems are much larger than government – These kinds of problems are much greater than anything that contemporary governments have ever had to deal with before. Peak oil, climate change, and the financial meltdown by themselves have the potential to significantly overwhelm the capabilities of government. If bureaucracies can’t deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster like Katrina, something ten or more times that damaging would leave most people fending for themselves. If these extraordinary, disruptive events end up being concurrent, then the whole system is at risk.
The problems are structural – They’re systemic. Some of these issues, especially the financial, oil, and food problems are also a product of how we live, our priorities, and our paradigms. We are creating the problems because of our values and principles. Without extraordinary, fundamental changes in the way we see ourselves and the world, we will keep getting what we are getting.
Leaders think the old system can be “rebooted” — Almost everyone in leadership positions in the Obama administration and in other countries, wants to make the old system well again. Jim Kunstler has said it well: “Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn’t get that the conventional process of economic growth — based, as it was, on industrial expansion via revolving credit in a cheap-energy-resource era — is over, and why does he keep invoking it at the podium?
Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. “Consumerism” is dead. Revolving credit is dead — at least at the scale that became normal the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left there to re‐finance.”
That is why:
We’re not dealing with the structural issues – All of the biggest efforts are attempts to reinflate the financial bubble, and keep the mortally wounded institutions alive. The knee-jerk reactions come from the same people who helped to design and feed the present system. These people are also deluded – they think (or act like) they know what they are doing.
They don’t realize that:
The situation is so complex that no one really understands it — The Global Business Network’s Peter Schwartz, reporting on a conversation with the Financial Time’s Martin Wolf said that Wolf’s key point was that the nature and scale of the credit crisis is so novel that it’s not clear we know what we’re doing when we try to stop it. He was deeply worried.
Steve Roach of Morgan Stanley said at the World Economic Forum annual meeting at Davos in 2009 that he agreed with Wolf: we are in uncharted waters. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: Impact of the Highly Improbable, says the financial system is so complex that it is impossible for anyone to understand it . . . and because of that complexity it is inevitable that it will exhibit significant, unanticipated behaviors (his Black Swans) that careen across the planet.
(N.B. Quantitative easing and the other attempts to tamp down the problems in Greece and now Cyprus suggest that these efforts will not solve the problem but only push the inevitable increase in systemic dysfunction out a matter of months or years.)
The issues are global — Japan’s exports fell by 46 percent in January (2009), and Hong Kong’s economy contracted 2.5 percent in the last three months of 2008. Foreign investors closed 45,000 factories in China in the last 8 months and China closed 20,000 itself. Those closed factories mean products aren’t being shipped.
The system is fundamentally out of balance – In the U.S., the rich are getting richer (at unconscionable rates). National media has reported that the government is monitoring all internal communications of its citizens – the government lies and says it is not.
Common sense is not included in big, sweeping federal edicts. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, wants to make pilots produce background checks on members of their family (and their business associates) in order to legally give them rides in a noncommercial, private airplanes. The Agriculture Department in its (now defunct) NAIS program wants all small farmers (big feedlots are exempt, of course) to put GPS/RFID tags on all of their animals: chickens, cows, horses, goats – even fish were initially included – so that the beasts can be tracked, on a day to day basis by the government, It’s also now against the law in some states, like Illinois, for farmers to save the seeds that they’ve grown – they must buy new ones each year from large seed companies. (N.B. and now a recently enacted law provides complete immunity from prosecution and disallows the courts from pursuing Monsanto for anything related to their seeds, even if it is proved that they are toxic to humans.)
Most of the U.S. federal budget goes to the military — More than half of the U.S. federal budget goes to military and military-related agencies. This kind of growth, of course, is what brought down the Soviet Union. In sharp contrast to the political apparatchiks that protest that more money is needed to reverse the shrinking, aging, and decline in readiness in the Army, Navy and Air Force, few seem to understand that budget increases are a primary cause of the problems, a symptom clearly described in the book, America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress. (by Winslow Wheeler, et al.)
No new ideas, government can’t be responsive – If the natural solutions to these massive issues include innovation, foresight, adaptability, sustainability, and resilience, it is unlikely that a thinking American could be found who would suggest that the source for these capabilities would be our government. They’re in charge, but they have no new ideas about how this all should work. They’re also slow – and this situation needs fast, agile responses.
There is an additional problem: even if they did have good ideas the government wouldn’t be able to effectively implement them because –
Too much inertia, too many lawyers and lobbyists — There is a huge, well-funded effort in place to maintain the status quo or to shift the future to benefit one group at the expense of others. It would be impossible within the present system to initiate dramatic change when the threat was still on the horizon. Every group or organization that might be negatively affected would fight in Congress and the courts to keep themselves alive regardless of what was at stake for the larger community. Only when the crisis was about to crash down on everyone – when adequate time and resources for effective response were nonexistent – might everyone pull together for the common good.
Potential solutions take too long to implement – These issues are so gigantic that confronting and redirecting them takes a long time. One study, for example, suggested that a national crash program to find alternatives for oil would need to have been started 20 years before the peak in order for there not to be significant disruption of the underlying systems. We do not operate with either that foresight or resolve.
Supply chains are long and thin – Globalism and just-in-time production has produced supply chains in most areas of commerce that are very long – often to the other side of the earth – and very fragile. There are many places between there and here where something can go wrong. If and when that happens, necessities will not be available and in those situations, people resort to unconventional and/or anti-social behavior.
$600 trillion in derivatives are a house of cards — Looming over the whole financial situation is an almost unfathomable quantity of financial instruments – derivatives – which are essentially casino bets with no underlying value supporting the transaction. Warren Buffett calls them financial weapons of mass destruction that could bring the whole system down. Derivatives only work if there is confidence in the system – you believe the casino will really pay your winnings. If other things in the environment erode that confidence there is the real possibility that things rapidly reconfigure themselves.
Cooperation is unlikely, protectionism will prevail – Instead of countries cooperating with each other to deal with these big transnational problems, we’re seeing a pulling back to protect each country’s perceived short-term interests, regardless of what the implications might be in the longer term. At the same time we’re all connected to each other in very complicated ways, so if any substantial pieces of the system don’t work it will affect all of the other ones.
History says it’s time – Perhaps what is most compelling to me is that history strongly suggests that the time is right for a major shift – they always happen about now in the historical cycles. I talk about this in my book a bit, but the short version is that big punctuations in the equilibrium of evolution have produced extraordinary, fundamental reorganizations to life on this planet on a regular, accelerating basis from the beginning of time as we know it. We make progress as a species when we are forced in one way or another to evolve to seeing ourselves and the world in new ways. Necessity is the mother of invention, etc.
In this case, it is beginning to appear that rather than a single, catastrophic failure, we’re likely to see an accelerating disintegration of many of our supporting systems, aggravated perhaps by external forces like climate change and solar and cosmic energy shifts.
So, it doesn’t look to me like we’re going to be able to do what might be needed to maintain the present system . . . and it is likely that we’re at one of those extraordinary moments in history when each of us gets the opportunity to play an important role in not only transitioning to a new world, but also designing it.
So, what to do in the face of unprecedented change? Two specific things come to mind:
1. Plan for the transition – Start to think now about how you’re going to provide for yourself and those who are important to you in a time when many things don’t work the way that always have in the past.
Key Concept: Cooperation – You can’t do this alone. Start to work together with likeminded individuals to sustain yourself – regardless of whether your concerns are food, water, shelter, transportation or finances.
2. Start thinking about the new world – Now is the time to begin contemplating the design of the new world. Governments should be doing this. Companies should start skunk works. Big international organizations should put it on their agendas.
Facebook Reveals Secrets You Haven’t Shared – (CNBC – March 13, 2013)
The increasing amount of personal information that can been gleaned by computer programs that track how people use Facebook has been revealed by an extensive academic study. Such programs can discern undisclosed private information such as Facebook users’ sexuality, drug-use habits and even whether their parents separated when they were young, according to the study by Cambridge University academics. In one of the biggest studies of its kind, scientists from the university’s psychometrics team and a Microsoft-funded research center analyzed data from 58,000 Facebook users to predict traits and other information that were not provided in their profiles. The algorithms were 88% accurate in predicting male sexual orientation, 95% for race and 80% for religion and political leanings. Personality types and emotional stability were also predicted with accuracy ranging from 62-75%. The study highlights growing concerns about social networks and how data trails can be mined for sensitive information, even when people attempt to keep information about themselves private. Fewer than 5% of users predicted to be gay, for example, were connected with explicitly gay groups. Michal Kosinksi, one of the report’s authors, said, “We used very simple and generic methods. Marketing companies and internet companies could spend much more time and resources, and hence get much higher accuracy than we did.” See also: These Data Brokers Know You Live in an Apartment, Play Yahtzee, and Voted Democrat.
Back from the Dead – (NY Post – March 10, 2013)
New York researchers are bringing people back to life hours after they pass. And it could change our definition of what ‘dying’ really is. This article features the story of Joe Tiralosi, just one of thousands who, in recent years, have been dead for unprecedented lengths of time — two, three, five hours — and brought back to life, healthy and whole. “Death itself we can reverse,” says Dr. Sam Parnia, director of resuscitation research at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “We have the scientific means.” The implications are as revolutionary as the discovery of fire and electricity, the invention of aviation and manned space flight, the A-bomb and the Internet. The science is still in its infancy, and successful resuscitation requires two non-negotiables: a treatable underlying cause of death, such as a clogged artery or fluid in the lungs, and a body that has been cooled, either naturally or artificially. It’s the cooling that retards cell death in the body and the brain, protecting against cognitive impairment.
There Might Be a Neanderthal in Your DNA – (Daily Galaxy – March 28, 2013)
Researchers believe they have pinpointed the skeletal remains of the first known human-Neanderthal hybrid. The finding comes from northern Italy, where some 40,000 years ago scientists believe Neanderthals and humans lived near each other, but developed separate and distinctly different cultures. A segment of a jawbone found during an archaeological dig in the area reveals that the bone’s owner had facial features attributable to both modern humans and Neanderthals. The project’s scientists used tiny specks of powdered bone retrieved from three Neanderthal females who died in a Croatian cave more than 40,000 years ago to complete the draft of the Neanderthal genome. They then compared the genes to those of modern humans living today in five different regions of the world: France, Papua New Guinea, China, and southern and northern Africa. The research concluded that humans living today have between 1 and 4 percent of Neanderthal genes that carry the code for proteins in our bodies. Those genes must have entered our lineage sometime during a 50,000-year period when the Neanderthals and humans left Africa through the Middle East and spread throughout Europe and Asia.
Soil-Based Bug Could Boost Mental Health – (University of Arizona – February 5, 2013)
Gardens are good for your brain—and bacteria may be the reason why, according to a University of Arizona researcher. “Dirt has a lot of microbes in it that we know impact the immune system in ways that actually enhance emotional resilience,” says Dr. Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry in the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Raison is one of few researchers in the U.S. and internationally who are studying the mental health benefits of natural landscapes. Their physical benefits have been known for decades. But more recent studies indicate that nature can heal the mind too. Scientists have found that contact with a bacterium that lives in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, can improve cognitive function and mood. What’s remarkable is that this microorganism seems to know how exactly to signal the brain areas we believe are most important for reducing depressive symptoms,” says Raison. “It’s like it immediately goes on a mainline right up to this one particular area of the brain.” So far, most studies of M. vaccae have been done in animals, but Raison is hopeful that future studies in humans could yield a new tool for fighting depression and other mood disorders.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
Flip of a Single Molecular Switch Makes an Old Brain Young – (Yale University – March 6, 2013)
The flip of a single molecular switch helps create the mature neuronal connections that allow the brain to bridge the gap between adolescent impressionability and adult stability. Now Yale School of Medicine researchers have reversed the process, recreating a youthful brain that facilitated both learning and healing in the adult mouse. Yale researchers have identified the key genetic switch for brain maturation. The Nogo Receptor 1 gene is required to suppress high levels of plasticity in the adolescent brain and create the relatively quiescent levels of plasticity in adulthood. In mice without this gene, juvenile levels of brain plasticity persist throughout adulthood. When researchers blocked the function of this gene in old mice, they reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity. Rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes requires that patients re-learn tasks such as moving a hand. Researchers found that adult mice lacking Nogo Receptor recovered from injury as quickly as adolescent mice and mastered new, complex motor tasks more quickly than adults with the receptor. “This raises the potential that manipulating Nogo Receptor in humans might accelerate and magnify rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes,” said Feras Akbik, first author of the study. Researchers also showed that Nogo Receptor slows loss of memories.
Scientists Identify Gene That Causes Obesity in Mice – (Sci News – March 6, 2013)
Genetic researchers led by Prof James McManaman from the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine have found that deleting a gene called Perilipin 2 (Plin2) in mice prevents them from becoming obese even on a high fat diet. The team created a strain of mice without the Plin2 gene which produces a protein that regulates fat storage and metabolism. They immediately found that the mice were resistant to obesity. Usually, mice fed a high fat diet will eat voraciously, yet these showed an unusual restraint. Not only did they eat less, they were more active. Their fat cells were also 20% smaller than typical mice and did not show the kind of inflammation usually associated with obesity, the study said. Obesity-associated fatty liver disease, common in obese humans and rodents, was absent in the mice without the Plin2 gene.“Now we want to know why this works physiologically,” the scientist said. “We want to better understand how this affects food consumption.” According to the study, understanding how Plin2 is involved in the control of energy balance will provide new insights into the mechanisms by which nutrition overload is detected, and how individuals adapt to, or fail to adapt to, dietary challenges. People also possess the Plin2 gene. “It could mean that we have finally discovered a way to disrupt obesity in humans,” Prof McManaman said. “That would be a major breakthrough.” (Editor’s note: If or when geneticists learn how to suppress this gene, it would not mean that you could overeat and not become obese—it would simply make you far more easily able to temptation.)
Scientist Produce Cloned Embryos of Extinct Frog – (Newsroom – March 15, 2013)
The genome of an extinct Australian frog has been revived and reactivated by a team of scientists using sophisticated cloning technology to implant a “dead” cell nucleus into a fresh egg from another frog species. The bizarre gastric-brooding frog, Rheobatrachus silus – which uniquely swallowed its eggs, brooded its young in its stomach and gave birth through its mouth – became extinct in 1983. But the Lazarus Project team has been able to recover cell nuclei from tissues collected in the 1970s and kept for 40 years in a conventional deep freezer. The “de-extinction” project aims to bring the frog back to life. Although none of the embryos survived beyond a few days, genetic tests confirmed that the dividing cells contain the genetic material from the extinct frog. See also: Cloning record broken – next up clones from feces.
Replacement of Teeth a Step Closer – (King’s College London – March 3, 2013)
New research published in the Journal of Dental Research describes an advance in efforts to develop a method to replace missing teeth with new bioengineered teeth generated from a person’s own gum cells. The research is led by Professor Paul Sharpe, an expert in craniofacial development and stem cell biology at King’s College London’s Dental Institute. Research towards achieving the aim of producing bioengineered teeth (bioteeth) has largely focused on the generation of immature teeth (teeth primordia) that mimic those in the embryo that can be transplanted as small cell ‘pellets’ into the adult jaw to develop into functional teeth. Remarkably, despite the very different environments, embryonic teeth primordia can develop normally in the adult mouth and thus if suitable cells can be identified that can be combined in such a way to produce an immature tooth, there is a realistic prospect bioteeth can become a clinical reality. In this new work, the researchers isolated adult human gum (gingival) tissue from patients, grew more of it in the lab, and then combined it with the cells of mice that form teeth. By transplanting this combination of cells into mice the researchers were able to grow hybrid human/mouse teeth containing dentine and enamel, as well as viable roots.
Cell Therapy Shows Promise for Acute Type of Leukemia – (New York Times – March 20, 2013)
A treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer has, for the first time, produced remissions in adults with an acute leukemia that is usually lethal, researchers are reporting. In one patient who was severely ill, all traces of leukemia vanished in eight days. The treatment is experimental, has been used in only a small number of patients and did not work in all of them. But experts consider it a highly promising approach for a variety of malignancies, including other blood cancers and tumors in organs like the prostate gland. The treatment uses patients’ own T-cells, a type of white blood cell that normally fights viruses and cancer. The patient’s blood is run through a machine that extracts T-cells and returns the rest of the blood to the body. Researchers then do some genetic engineering: they use a disabled virus as a “vector” to carry new genetic material into the T cells, which reprograms them to recognize and kill any cell that carries a particular protein on its surface. Patients like the ones in the study, who relapse after chemotherapy, usually have only a few months left. But now, three of the five have been in remission for 5 to 24 months. Two others died: one was in remission but died from a blood clot, and the other relapsed.
2011 Oklahoma Temblor: Wastewater Injection Spurred Biggest Earthquake Yet, Study Says – (Science Daily – March 26, 2013)
A new study in the journal Geology is the latest to tie a string of unusual earthquakes, in this case, in central Oklahoma, to the injection of wastewater deep underground. Researchers now say that the magnitude 5.7 earthquake near Prague, Okla., on Nov. 6, 2011, may also be the largest ever linked to wastewater injection. Felt as far away as Milwaukee, more than 800 miles away, the quake — the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma–destroyed 14 homes, buckled a federal highway and left two people injured. Small earthquakes continue to be recorded in the area. The recent boom in U.S. energy production has produced massive amounts of wastewater. The water is used both in hydrofracking, which cracks open rocks to release natural gas, and in coaxing petroleum out of conventional oil wells. In both cases, the brine and chemical-laced water has to be disposed of, often by injecting it back underground elsewhere, where it has the potential to trigger earthquakes. The water linked to the Prague quakes was a byproduct of oil extraction at one set of oil wells, and was pumped into another set of depleted oil wells targeted for waste storage. Scientists have linked a rising number of quakes in normally calm parts of Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Colorado to below-ground injection. In the last four years, the number of quakes in the middle of the United States jumped 11-fold from the three decades prior, the authors of the Geology study estimate.
Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Deaths Sound Alarm – (New York Times – March 28, 2013)
A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40% or even 50% of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor. The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening. In the San Joaquin Valley of California, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses. Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses, “We lost 42% over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55% loss.” Annual bee losses of 5% to 10% once were the norm for beekeepers.
The Internet Is a Surveillance State – (CNN.com – March 16, 2013)
The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we’re being tracked all the time. Google tracks us, both on its pages and on other pages it has access to. Facebook does the same; it even tracks non-Facebook users. Apple tracks us on our iPhones and iPads. One reporter used a tool called Collusion to track who was tracking him; 105 companies tracked his Internet use during one 36-hour period. Facebook, for example, correlates your online behavior with your purchasing habits offline. And there’s more. There’s location data from your cell phone, there’s a record of your movements from closed-circuit TVs. This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it’s efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell. In today’s world, governments and corporations are working together to keep things that way. Governments are happy to use the data corporations collect— occasionally demanding that they collect more and save it longer—to spy on us. And corporations are happy to buy data from governments. Together the powerful spy on the powerless, and they’re not going to give up their positions of power, despite what the people want.
Celeb Data Breach Traced to Credit Reporting Site – (Information Week – March 14, 2013)
Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the country’s three biggest credit-reporting agencies, have confirmed that hackers fraudulently obtained copies of credit reports for celebrities and government officials. the list of people who’d been “doxed” by having their personal financial details published to a website called Exposed.su included professional golfer Tiger Woods, U.S. Marshals Service director Stacia Hylton, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This is in addition to the information published recently pertaining to first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, FBI director Robert Mueller, Attorney General Eric Holder and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) chief Charlie Beck, as well as numerous celebrities. According to statements released by Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, at least some of the information on the site — which includes phone numbers, addresses and credit history — is accurate. Who’s responsible for creating the Exposed.su website? So far, that’s not clear, though what’s interesting is the choice of top-level domain name — .su — which refers to the Soviet Union, and which can still be used to register sites. “Using a .su domain to host tells me these guys probably weren’t that stupid — this is a statement not a prank I think,” said the threat intelligence manager for Trustwave SpiderLabs. See also: 10 Things Anonymous Has Learned in 2012
A Strange Computer Promises Great Speed -(New York Times – March 22, 2013)
A powerful new type of computer that is about to be commercially deployed by a major American military contractor is taking computing into the strange, subatomic realm of quantum mechanics. In that infinitesimal neighborhood, common sense logic no longer seems to apply. A one can be a one, or it can be a one and a zero and everything in between — all at the same time. Lockheed Martin — which bought an early version of such a computer from the Canadian company D-Wave Systems two years ago — is confident enough in the technology to upgrade it to commercial scale, becoming the first company to use quantum computing as part of its business. If it performs as Lockheed and D-Wave expect, the design could be used to supercharge even the most powerful systems, solving some science and business problems millions of times faster than can be done today. Ray Johnson, Lockheed’s chief technical officer, said his company would use the quantum computer to create and test complex radar, space and aircraft systems. Many others could find applications for D-Wave’s computers. Cancer researchers see a potential to move rapidly through vast amounts of genetic data. The technology could also be used to determine the behavior of proteins encoded by the human genome, a bigger and tougher problem than sequencing the genome. Researchers at Google have worked with D-Wave on using quantum computers to recognize cars and landmarks, a critical step in managing self-driving vehicles. D-Wave, a 12-year-old company based in Vancouver, has received investments from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, which operates one of the world’s largest computer systems, as well as from the investment bank Goldman Sachs and from In-Q-Tel, an investment firm with close ties to the Central Intelligence Agency and other government agencies.
Houston’s Plan to Make Landfills Extinct – (Fast Company – February 28, 2013)
Houston, Texas, has a recycling problem. The city has a fairly dismal recycling rate of 14%, caused in part by the fact that the city doesn’t charge residents for trash and recycling services, so recycling bins aren’t available to all residents. Add that to a lack of education and no mandatory recycling laws, and the future of waste diversion in the city looks grim. Instead of trying to overhaul local culture and regulation, the city is working on an ambitious plan to build the first total material resource recovery facility in the U.S.–an innovation that would allow residents to toss all their trash into a single bin, let technology do all the sorting, and emerge in the end with usable products. Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director, researched with her team to learn what other urban metropolises were doing and found different parts of their solution all over the place. Spanjian’s dream system combines many technologies to take everyone’s trash in one bin and send it to a facility that pulls out every piece of recyclable material and separates out food waste. Recyclable commodities would be sold, and food waste would be turned into compost or put in an anaerobic digester to power facilities or trucks. Another portion of the waste would be turned into gasoline. “Not all of this is new technology…but it hasn’t been used in the waste industry, it hasn’t been put together in the way we’re talking about,” says Spanjian.
Promise of New Sustainable Power Source – (Natural Awakenings – February 2, 2013)
British engineers at Air Fuel Synthesis have succeeded in using an innovative new “air capture” technology to remove carbon dioxide greenhouse emissions from the air and transform them into synthetic gasoline. The two-year experimental project mixes sodium hydroxide with carbon dioxide before electrolyzing the sodium carbonate that it produces to form pure carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is then produced by also electrolyzing water vapor captured with a dehumidifier. The carbon dioxide and hydrogen then produce methanol, which is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor to create the fuel. The prototype minirefinery, in Stockton-on-Tees, in Teesside, produced five liters of gas in less than three months. A larger plant might produce more than a ton of gasoline every day, and a refinery-sized operation is envisioned within 15 years. The fuel can be used in any regular application and if renewable energy were used to provide the electricity, the system would be completely carbon neutral.
New Ultra-cheap LED Light Looks and Acts Incandescent – (Fast Company – March 5, 2013)
Cree, a company that has been in the LED lighting business for 25 years, has announced the release of a series of LED bulbs that look like incandescents and light up rooms like incandescents. Cree is offering three bulbs: a warm white 40-watt replacement for $10, a warm white 60-watt replacements for $13, and a day light 60-watt replacement for $14. According to the company, the bulbs have a 25,000-hour lifetime (25 times longer than most incandescents) and energy savings of 84% compared to traditional bulbs. The bulbs use the newest generation of high-power LEDs combined with traditional light bulb parts. The glass dome over the top, for example, is something you would see in an incandescent bulb. It even comes from the same supply chain—something that helps lower costs.
Energy Coup for Japan – Flammable Ice – (New York Times – March 13, 2013)
Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp., a state-run company leading the exploration, has extracted gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate — sometimes called “flammable ice” — a breakthrough that officials and experts said could be a step toward tapping a promising but still little-understood energy source. The gas, whose extraction from the undersea hydrate was thought to be a world first, could provide an alternative source of energy to known oil and gas reserves. That could be crucial especially for Japan, which is the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas and is engaged in a public debate about whether to resume the country’s heavy reliance on nuclear power. Experts estimate that the carbon found in gas hydrates worldwide totals at least twice the amount of carbon in all of the earth’s other fossil fuels, making it a potential game-changer for energy-poor countries like Japan. The exact properties of undersea hydrates and how they might affect the environment are still poorly understood, however, as is the potential for making extraction commercially viable.
Wright Brothers Not First to Fly – (Flying – March 8, 2013)
In a startling announcement a few days ago, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft has named an August 1901 flight by Connecticut aviation pioneer Gustave Whitehead as the first successful powered flight in history, beating the Wright Brothers by more than two years. Jane’s, which calls itself the world’s foremost authority on aviation history, with great authority, has traditionally backed the Wrights as first in flight. Now they say the evidence for Whitehead’s flight is strong enough for the publication to reverse course and recognize it as the first successful powered flight.
The Race for the First Driverless Car – (Business 2 Community – March 18, 2013)
The driverless car is swiftly becoming a reality. Google has long dominated the headlines, but some big auto manufacturers are catching up. Here’s the latest on who’s who and what’s what in this race. Interestingly, the idea of motor vehicle capable of automated driving and navigating entirely without direct human input has been around for quite some time. In 1939 General Motors sponsored an exhibit at the World Fair which suggested electric cars could be powered by circuits embedded in roads and controlled by radio. (Editor’s note: This technology could eventually help free up “soccer moms” and permit non-driving seniors to manage their own transportation needs in rural areas where there is no public transportation.)
New, Cheap Egg Substitute Is Made From Plants – (Fast Company – March 1, 2013)
“Our food system is abysmally broken,” says Josh Tetrick, CEO of San Francisco-based Hampton Creek Foods, maker of the Beyond Eggs egg-substitute. “It’s not about the morality of eating animals or not. It’s about the conditions that a lot of these animals are raised in.” Tetrick’s team has deconstructed the egg, analyzed its 22 special functions, and replicated it with plant-stuffs like sunflower lecithin, canola, peas, and natural gums from tree sap. By all accounts, the substitute tastes just like the real thing—even if it doesn’t look like it. It’s sold as a gray-green powder that you need to hydrate before use. At the moment, Hampton has two major Fortune 500 customers—one of which plans to market that its products are egg-free, and another that wants to keep the fact quiet for now. “We don’t care if they want to just save money. That’s fine,” he says. Beyond Eggs is 18% cheaper than battery-produced eggs.
Growing in the Dark – A New Type of Farming – (Tech Wench – October 12, 2011)
Plants are mostly green because they reflect this wavelength of light; if you tried to grow them under green lighting they would die. However, the reflection of this light takes work by the plant, and they begin to heat up. Just like us they need to use energy to cool down and they do this by evaporating water, and this stunts the growth in a small way. By growing plants under red and blue light only, a Dutch company has found a way to avoid this unnecessary cooling of the plants and feed them the prime light they need to grow. This results in a much more efficient way of growing plants. It could well be the beginning of produce growing on mass scales, and will be suitable for many different parts of the world including places that otherwise would have little chance of growing food. It is estimated that the plants can be given up to 7300 growing hours under these artificial conditions, as opposed to around 1500 in the sunniest parts above ground, and this represents a significant improvement in yield. It does, however, produce some strange side effects. As the plant is not having to expend energy reflecting useless light wavelengths, they appear black. This may be slightly off-putting (only slightly?) to some but, apart from the color, they are the same in every way. It also creates a rather futuristic looking farm, full of black plants, robotic arms and purple lighting.
Beef Good, Bacon Not So Bad – (Mother Jones – March 18, 2013)
Researchers have announced the results of a big new nutritional study in Europe that seemed to yield more evidence that processed meats like bacon and sausage can lead to an early grave. The media responded with the usual “Death by Salami” headlines. What news outlets downplayed about the study, though, is that despite their best efforts, the EU researchers couldn’t find any evidence that red meat will kill you. In fact, the study shows that not eating red meat is a risk factor for an early demise. After correcting some measurement errors, the researchers in Europe had to conclude that not only was red meat intake “no longer associated with mortality” but “all-cause mortality was higher among participants with very low or no red meat consumption.”
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Hide Your House from Drones with This Tech That Makes You Impossible to Record – (Fast Company – March 21, 2013)
Tim Faucett is no stranger to unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV, drone) technology: his company APlus Mobile makes mobile computer units that manage robots and UAVs for clients like the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin. But when he looks to the future, he sees a world where it’s not just the military and government piloting UAVS, but you and me. Indeed, the FAA estimates that there could be tens of thousands of unmanned aircrafts circling overhead by the end of this decade. “Everybody’s going to have access to a drone. And people are going to have good intentions with them, and people are going to have bad intentions with them.” His startup, Domestic Drone Countermeasures, has filed for its first of what he said would be nine patents for a system that will detect and disable drones before they have the chance to film their targets. According to Faucett, “We don’t interfere with the drones navigation in any way. We don’t jam anything. We don’t intercept anything … This is non-combative. That’s really important. We’ve taken great pains to design systems that aren’t going to get shut down or be outlawed or become illegal. We’ve taken the combat elements out so [the former military technology] can’t be viewed as unlawful.”
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Even Democratic Party Loyalists Starting to Wake Up to the Fact that Obama Is As Bad As Bush … Or Worse – (Washington’s Blog – March 17, 2013)
A majority of voters believe President Obama has been no better than his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, when it comes to balancing national security with the protection of civil liberties, according to a new poll for The Hill. Thirty-seven percent of voters argue that Obama has been worse than Bush while 15 percent say he has been “about the same.” In other words, a total of 52% think Obama is just as bad as Bush. That was before the drone controversy (discussed in the article) went viral. Bush’s warmongering, disrespect for civil liberties, redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the super-elite, and obsession for secrecy were all abysmal. How does Obama stack up by objective measurements? This article compares statistics.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
The Most Radioactive Man on Earth Has the Kindest Heart – (Mother Jones – March 12, 2013)
This 18-minute video profiles Naoto Matsumura, a 53-year-old fifth-generation rice farmer who went back into the dead zone around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant to take care of his animals. Two years later, he’s still there. Explaining his rationale, (translated from Japanese) he said, “Our dogs didn’t get fed for the first few days. When I did eventually feed them, the neighbors’ dogs started going crazy. I went over to check on them and found that they were all still tied up. Everyone in town left thinking they would be back home in a week or so, I guess. From then on, I fed all the cats and dogs every day. They couldn’t stand the wait, so they’d all gather around barking up a storm as soon as they heard my truck. Everywhere I went there was always barking. Like, ‘we’re thirsty’ or, ‘we don’t have any food.’ So I just kept making the rounds.” The radiation dosage per hour inside Naoto’s house is two microsieverts per hour; outside it is seven microsieverts. Doctor Hiroyuki Koide at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute said, “Japanese law states that any location with an hourly dosage exceeding 0.6 microsieverts [per hour] should be designated as a radiation-controlled area and closed off to the general populace. Once inside a radiation-controlled area you can’t drink the water, and you really shouldn’t eat anything. It’s inconceivable to me that a normal person could live there.”
People Who Taste Too Much – (Wall St. Journal – March 19, 2013)
There is a good reason why kale evokes such strong feelings in different people. What is harshly bitter to some 25% of the world—often classified as “supertasters”—is barely bitter to about another third. The rest of us fall somewhere in between. Such stark differences in how we perceive taste are programmed into our DNA. “Supertasters in general get everything more intense,” says Linda Bartoshuk, a professor with the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste and a pioneer in the study of supertasting. “When you put it all together we say that supertasters live in a neon food world compared to the pastel food world” everyone else lives in, she says. A relatively high proportion of professional chefs are supertasters, Dr. Bartoshuk says. Also, supertasting abilities are more common in women than men, and in Asians and African-Americans than Caucasians. In the U.S., roughly 15% of people are supertasters, she estimates. And recent research has uncovered some surprising health consequences of being a supertaster.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Solar Cycle Update: Twin Peaks? – (NASA – March 1, 2013)
Something unexpected is happening on the sun. 2013 is supposed to be the year of Solar Max, the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Yet 2013 has arrived and solar activity is relatively low. Sunspot numbers are well below their values in 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent for many months. The quiet has led some observers to wonder if forecasters missed the mark. Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center has a different explanation: “This is solar maximum,” he suggests. “But it looks different from what we expected because it is double peaked.”
ET Contact Tool for iPad and iPhone – (Sirius – March 5, 2013)
There’s an app for that. The ET Contact Tool HD for iPad is a high-res version of the ET Contact Tool, redesigned to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen. Also works great on the iPad Mini. Features include training materials authored by Steven M. Greer, working scientific instruments including a magnetometer and compass for detecting anomalous activity (magnetometer and Compass require iPhone 3gs or higher, or iPad). All materials are self-contained within the app- no web connection is required.
100-Year Starship Project Forges Ahead with First Round of Funding – (Pop Sci – May 21, 2012)
An ambitious effort for an interstellar travel planning organization is underway, after DARPA awarded $500,000 to form the 100-year Starship initiative. Former astronaut Mae Jemison, whose proposal has been selected, will lead the new independent organization. The goal is to ensure that the capability for human interstellar travel exists within the next 100 years. A real interstellar vessel is possible within that timeframe, Jemison said. “Yes, it can be done. Our current technology arc is sufficient.” In its first year, the organization will seek new investors and develop new ideas for interstellar exploration, the new 100YSS website says.
Why Twenty-Somethings Aren’t Doomed to Be Poor (but Thirty-Somethings Might Be) – (The Atlantic – March 15, 2013)
Today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings may never end up as rich and financially secure as their parents. A recent study by the Urban Institute suggests that Americans under forty, financially wracked by student debt and the housing bust, have saved up much less wealth than the generations before them. Because wealth compounds over time, there’s a strong chance they won’t ever catch up. But not everybody under 40 is in the same boat. As a graph in the article shows, it’s mostly Americans in their thirties who have seen their net worth collapse compared to 30 years ago. The quarter-life set are actually doing a bit better. There’s a simple reason for that: the housing market crashed just as today’s thirty-somethings were getting into it. As a result, they found themselves in lots of debt and with very little to show for it. Homeowners in their thirties are still the most likely to be underwater on their mortgages.
U.S. Auto Insurance Rates – (L.A. Times – March 18, 2013)
It costs more to insure most cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles in Louisiana than in any other state. On average, the cost of an auto insurance premium in Louisiana was $2,699. That’s more than Michigan ($2,520), Georgia ($2,155), Oklahoma ($2,074), Washington, D.C. ($2,006), Montana ($1,914), and California ($1,819). Why is Louisiana so high? Blame the judges there and a population of residents who seem very inclined to sue. The seven states with the lowest average premiums were Maine ($934), Iowa ($1,028), North Carolina ($1,085), Ohio ($1,106), New Hampshire ($1,112), Idaho ($1,133), and Vermont ($1,176). But averages don’t tell you everything. Some states seem particularly averse to certain very expensive cars, kicking premiums up near $5,900 even for drivers with clean records.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Multi-Purpose Wonder Can Generate Hydrogen, Produce Clean Water and Even Provide Energy – (Space Daily – March 23, 2013)
Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, led by Associate Professor Darren Sun have succeeded in developing a single, revolutionary nanomaterial that can generate hydrogen, produce clean water, create energy, desalinate water, be used as flexible water filtration membranes, help recover energy from desalination waste brine, be made into flexible solar cells and can also double the lifespan of lithium ion batteries. With its superior bacteria-killing capabilities, it can also be used to develop a new type of antibacterial bandage. And it can do all this at very low cost compared to existing technology. This material is dubbed the Multi-use Titanium Dioxide (TiO2). It is formed by turning titanium dioxide crystals into patented nanofibres, which can then be easily fabricated into patented flexible filter membranes which include a combination of carbon, copper, zinc or tin, depending on the specific end product needed. Titanium dioxide is a cheap and abundant material, which has been scientifically proven to have the ability to accelerate a chemical reaction (photocatalytic) and is also able to bond easily with water (hydrophilic).
World Poverty is Shrinking Rapidly, New Index Reveals – (Guardian – March 16, 2013)
Some of the poorest people in the world are becoming significantly less poor, according to a groundbreaking academic study which has taken a new approach to measuring deprivation. The report, by Oxford University’s poverty and human development initiative, predicts that countries among the most impoverished in the world could see acute poverty eradicated within 20 years if they continue at present rates. The study of the world’s poorest one billion people uses a new measure, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which was just updated in the 2013 UN report. It includes ten indicators to calculate poverty – nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling and attendance, cooking fuel, water, sanitation, electricity assets and a covered floor. The study identifies “star performer” nations such as Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh as places where deprivation could disappear within the lifetime of present generations. Close on their heels with reductions in poverty levels were Ghana, Tanzania, Cambodia and Bolivia. The brighter global picture is the result of international and national aid and development projects investing in schools, health clinics, housing, infrastructure and improved access to water. The UN also pointed to trade as being a key factor which was improving conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. These improvements have not been picked up in the past when poverty has been measured strictly in income terms without taking into account other factors – health, education and living standards.
Unequal Pay for Equal Work – (You Tube – December 18, 2012)
Two monkeys were paid unequally for equal work. See what happened next.
Wal-Mart May Get Customers to Deliver Packages to Online Buyers – (Reuters – March 28, 2013)
Wal-Mart is considering a radical plan in which store customers would deliver packages to online buyers. The move – essentially renting out space in customers’ cars as delivery vehicles – would put the retailing behemoth squarely in the middle of the “crowd-sourcing” phenomenon in which people casually rent out a spare room, a car, or even an article of clothing. The initiative is currently only in the “brain-storming stage” with a variety of legal and regulatory hurdles needing to be cleared before the retailer could proceed.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
New Evidence Reveals Depths of ‘Treason’ and ‘Treachery’ of Watergate and Iran-Contra – (Alternet – March 10, 2013)
A favorite saying of Official Washington is that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” But that presupposes you accurately understand what the crime was. And, in the case of the two major U.S. government scandals of the last third of the Twentieth Century – Watergate and Iran-Contra – that doesn’t seem to be the case. Indeed, newly disclosed documents have put old evidence into a sharply different light and suggest that history has substantially miswritten the two scandals by failing to understand that they actually were sequels to earlier scandals that were far worse. Watergate and Iran-Contra were, in part at least, extensions of the original crimes, which involved dirty dealings to secure the immense power of the presidency. Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed him of the existence of the file containing national security wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam War in fall 1968. In the case of Watergate – the foiled Republican break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 – the evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968.
JUST FOR FUN
Norwegian and Finnish Photographs – (Sad and Useless – March, 2013)
Here’s the background on a collection of fabulous photographs: Inspired by the romantics’ belief that folklore is the clearest reflection of the soul of a people, “Eyes as Big as Plates” started out as a play on characters and protagonists from Norwegian folklore. During a one month residency at the KINOKINO Centre for Art and Film in the south west of Norway, photographers Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen collaborated with sailors, farmers, professors, artisans, psychologists, teachers, parachuters and senior citizens. The series has since moved on to exploring the mental landscape of the neighborly and pragmatic Finns. (Editor’s note: We have given the link to the website above because the photographs are bigger and can be viewed more easily than on the artist’s personal website. However, if you are further interested in the project, please explore Ikonen’s website.)
A FINAL QUOTE–
The future starts today, not tomorrow. – Pope John Paul II
A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Vladimir Gagachev, Peter Merry, Diane Petersen, Abby Porter, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, Ed Weklar 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