FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Computer models have suggested that matter in the universe is arranged into a gigantic web-like structure; now, for the first time, astronomers have been able to detect the cosmic web.
- According to new research, winter road salt in rivers remains toxic not just in winter, but throughout two-thirds of the year.
- 44% of Americans are living with less than $5,887 in savings for a family of four and 56% have subprime credit.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, which took three years to research, is 6,300 pages long, and is based on review of more than 6 million government documents was endorsed by the Intelligence Committee over a year ago. It has not yet been released to the public due to stalling by CIA, but its conclusions have been leaked.
by John L. Petersen
New Edward Snowden Interview
Whistleblower Edward Snowden recently did an interview for German television that was largely ignored by the US mainstream media. It is a very illuminating interview and I urge you to watch it. You can find it here. Even though it was big news in Europe and in most other parts of the world, our government is afraid of this interview – every time someone puts it up on YouTube it is taken down.
This is a very bright and thoughtful man of courage and integrity who has done us all a great service. Share this link widely if you like it.
New Transition Talks Website
The interest in our Berkeley Springs Transition Talks series that we host here about every month has generated enough interest that we have put up a new website for those in the area who can make it to these presentations. Check it out. www.transitiontalks.org
The front page lists the present lineup of future speakers. I’m happy to announce that Gregg Braden will be with us in May, Penny Kelly is coming again in April, Lee Carroll and KRYON come back for their semiannual visit in June, and Bethi Black will be here in September. We’re adding more speakers, so the schedule will fill up soon.
Headless Chicken Brigade?
As I mentioned here in the last issue, I put my Transition Talk on climate change up here, where you can stream it. If you like it, share it with your friends.
I got it up just in time for Prince Charles to label people like me “a headless chicken brigade” because we have a contrary opinion from the generally promoted notion of global warming that has been advanced by the UN’s IPCC.
I thought it was kind of him, though, to watch my video first before he came to his chicken opinion.
The good prince is not the only one who has taken issue with those of us who have done our own homework and decided that the conventional wisdom is lacking. A number of friends have contacted me, kindly questioning my good judgement, which led me to generate this response:
On the subject of climate change I’m with a different prince, one Prince Siddharta:
So let me ask you some questions:
- How much time have you personally spent systematically and objectively researching all sides of the climate change debate so that you can make an intelligent decision about what you believe? 20 hours? 40 hours? 80 hours? In my case it is at least 120 or more hours. I’ve looked at this from a lot of different perspectives for a considerable period of time.
- Fact: Over the past 410,000 years the temperature on this planet has increased and decreased on a very predictable, cyclical basis and the current average temperature of this interglacial period is cooler than those in the past. If the present temperature is cooler than the other similar periods in history, why do you think that the present temperature and trends are unusual?
- Fact: During this interglacial period in which we are currently living, the present planetary temperature is cooler than any previous time in this period and 8,000 years ago it was MUCH warmer than it is now. Why would you therefore think that the earth’s present temperature was some kind of an anomaly caused by humans?
- Fact: Over the past 410,000 years the earth’s temperature change has always LED the terrestrial increase (or decrease) in CO2 by 300 to 800 years. If that is so, it is impossible that CO2 has historically driven temperature change. Why do you think that, just because humans for the first time are putting significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, CO2 is now driving temperature – for the first time in all of known history?
- Fact: All of the models upon which the IPCC predictions are based have been dramatically wrong in terms of the actual, observed temperature for the last 17 years. Why would you therefore not question the validity of those models?
- Fact: The earth’s temperature has not increased AT ALL in the last 17 years (when the models said that it would). Why do you think that global warming is real?
- Fact: There are about as many cold temperatures records being set around the world as warm temperature records. Why would you characterize that as global warming rather than an erratic global climate that is certainly changing?
- Fact: The Terms of Reference that established the IPCC expressly EXCLUDED them from considering anything but anthropogenic sources affecting global warming. If there is a clear history of regular, naturally induced cycles in our climate, why would you think that a study that was prohibited from considering those natural inputs would be either objective or accurate?
- Fact: U.S. government agencies like NOAA have ordered their scientists not to consider any potential natural influences on climate change, only human. Why do you think that their analysis complete, objective and accurate?
- Fact: There is a direct historical correlation to energy changes on the sun and symmetrical changes of our climate going back over 100,000 years. Why wouldn’t you think that that relationship might be continuing now?
- Why do you think that the efforts of humans have more impact on this planet’s climate than the sun? What is your sense of the relative differences in size and energy expended between human activities and those of the sun? Are you aware of the billions and billions of times difference between us and the sun?
- Fact: If history is an accurate indicator, we are at the end of this period of interglacial warming; new science coming out of Russia and other places strongly suggests that it could well turn quite cold rather rapidly. If the historical pattern suggests that we are likely near a mini-ice age, why shouldn’t we be thinking about how we, as a species, will adapt to this kind of potential climate change?
- Fact: Every significant sector of human activity (education, politics, healthcare, energy, agriculture, geopolitics, religion, finance, military, you name it) is laced with serious ethical, moral, credibility and leadership problems these days. Why do you think that science is different from every other activity? What is it, do you think, that makes any particular part of science (like the IPCC) immune from the general characteristics across all of the rest of the species? Why would one not, from the beginning, question the motives of anyone, on any side of this debate, knowing what we know about the nature of humans in leadership positions these days?
- Are you able to consider the underlying arguments here without your perspective being influenced by the fact that the Koch brothers and big industries are questioning the credibility of the IPCC as well . . . or do you presume that because they are on the “wrong” side of so many other things, they must necessarily be on the wrong side of this as well?
- Do you think that what you hear on the news (regardless of the source) is always accurate? Isn’t everything we know except what is going on in our immediate vicinity, mediated through these “news” sources? Is there anything you know for sure – particularly in regard to climate change? Do you think that very large amounts of money are not spent – in every area of life – to influence your opinion?
- Are there any other good reasons – apart from climate change – why we should be cleaning up where we live? If so, why shouldn’t we embrace something that is obvious, at face value, (like the fact that you can make and save a lot of money doing it and dramatically increase the quality of life), as the reason why we should clean up the planet?
- Why do we need to introduce more fear and anger within humanity in order to get behavior change? Might there be a better way?
I’ve asked all of these questions (and many, many more), and come to the conclusion that I’ve articulated in the video. The climate is changing for sure, but it is likely that it will get cold and it’s being driven by extraordinary solar behavior that hasn’t been seen for almost 200 years. We should be getting ready for that potentiality.
Amazon Wants to Ship Your Package Before You Buy It – (Wall St. Journal – January 17, 2014)
Amazon knows you so well it wants to ship your next package before you order it. The Seattle retailer in December gained a patent for what it calls “anticipatory shipping,” a method to start delivering packages even before customers click “buy.” The technique could cut delivery time and discourage consumers from visiting physical stores. In the patent document, Amazon says delays between ordering and receiving purchases “may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants.” So Amazon says it may box and ship products it expects customers in a specific area will want – based on previous orders and other factors — but haven’t yet ordered. According to the patent, the packages could wait at the shippers’ hubs or on trucks until an order arrives. The patent exemplifies a growing trend among technology and consumer firms to anticipate consumers’ needs, even before consumers do. Today, there are refrigerators that can tell when it’s time to buy more milk, smart televisions that predict which shows to record and Google’s Now software, which aims to predict users’ daily scheduling needs. Amazon said the predictive shipping method might work particularly well for a popular book or other items that customers want on the day they are released. As well, Amazon might suggest items already in transit to customers using its website, according to the patent. See also this article about Deliv, the “tiny company keeping Amazon up at night”.
Astronomers Capture the First Image of the Mysterious Web That Connects All Galaxies in the Universe – (Business Insider – January 19, 2014)
For the first time, astronomers have been able to see a string of hot gas known as a filament that is thought to be part of the mysterious underlying structure that dictates the layout of all the stars and galaxies in our universe. Scientists believe that matter in the universe is arranged into a gigantic web-like structure, called the cosmic web. There are signatures of this structure in the remaining radiation from the Big Bang and in the layout of the universe itself. Without some mysterious force pulling visible matter into this web, galaxies would be randomly scattered across the universe. But they aren’t. It’s believed that gas and dark matter flow along the filaments to form clumps of galaxies where the strands intersect. The problem is that, even though we should technically be able to see hot gas filaments, they are really hard to detect. However, the light from a quasar located 10 billion light-years-away acted like a “flashlight” to make the surrounding gas glow, researchers. This boosted the Lyman alpha radiation that hydrogen gas emits to detectable levels over a huge swath of the region. What the astronomers were able to see is a cloud of gas extending two million light years across intergalactic space — the largest ever found. The gas-filled areas are filament, while the emptier areas are the gaps between filaments and galaxy clusters.
GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY
DNA Clamps Could Stop Cancer in its Tracks – (GizMag – January 17, 2014)
Scientists have developed a special DNA clamp to act as a diagnostic nano machine. It’s capable of detecting genetic mutations responsible for causing cancers, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia and other diseases, more efficiently than existing techniques. Not only can the clamp be used to develop more advanced screening tests, but it could also help create more efficient DNA-based nano machines for targeted drug delivery. To detect mutations, researchers typically use molecular beacons or probes, which are DNA sequences that become fluorescent on detecting mutations in DNA strands. The team of international researchers that developed the DNA clamp state that their diagnostic nano machine allows them to more accurately differentiate between mutant and non-mutant DNA. Being able to identify single point mutations more easily this way is expected to help doctors identify different types of cancer risks, with greater sensitivity, accuracy and precision, and to inform patients about the specific cancers they are likely to develop. Diagnosing cancer at a genetic level could potentially help arrest the disease, before it even develops properly.
Pesticide Exposure Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease – (Rutgers University – January 27, 2014)
Researchers at Rutgers University say exposure to DDT – banned in the United States since 1972 but still used as a pesticide in other countries – may also increase the risk and severity of Alzheimer’s disease in some people, particularly those over the age of 60. Levels of DDE, the chemical compound left when DDT breaks down, were higher in the blood of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients compared to those without the disease. “I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility,” says Jason R. Richardson, Rutgers associate professor. Although the levels of DDT and DDE have decreased significantly in the United States over the last three decades, the toxic pesticide is still found in 75 to 80% of the blood samples collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a national health and nutrition survey. This occurs, scientists say, because the chemical can take decades to breakdown in the environment. In addition, people may be exposed to the pesticide by consuming imported fruits, vegetables and grains where DDT is still being used and eating fish from contaminated waterways. In the Rutgers study, 74 out of the 86 Alzheimer’s patients involved – whose average age was 74 – had DDE blood levels almost four times higher than the 79 people in the control group who did not have Alzheimer’s disease. See also this report from scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies: Natural Plant Compound Prevents Alzheimer’s Disease in Mice.
Ultrathin ‘Diagnostic Skin’ Allows Continuous Patient Monitoring – (Kurzweil AI – January 2, 2014)
An entirely new approach to measuring body temperature — an ”electronic skin” that adheres non-invasively to human skin, conforms well to contours, and provides a detailed temperature map of any surface of the body — has been developed by an international multidisciplinary team including researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Detecting skin temperature changes can serve as early indicators of disease development and progression. The ”electronic skin” resembles a tattoo of a micro-circuit board. The technology offers the potential for a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities with little patient discomfort. For example, sensors can be incorporated that detect different metabolites of interest. Similarly, the heaters can be used to deliver heat therapy to specific body regions; actuators can be added that deliver an electrical stimulus or even a specific drug. Future versions will have a wireless power coil and an antenna for remote data transfer.
‘Sticky Balls’ May Stop Cancer Spreading – (BBC News – January 6, 2014)
The most dangerous and deadly stage of a tumor is when it spreads around the body. Scientists at Cornell University, in the US, have designed nanoparticles that stay in the bloodstream and kill migrating cancer cells on contact. They said the impact was “dramatic” but there was “a lot more work to be done”. One of the biggest factors in life expectancy after being diagnosed with cancer is whether the tumor has spread to become a metastatic cancer. “About 90% of cancer deaths are related to metastases,” said lead researcher Prof Michael King. The team at Cornell devised a new way of tackling the problem. They attached a cancer-killing protein called Trail, which has already been used in cancer trials, and other sticky proteins to tiny spheres or nanoparticles. When these sticky spheres were injected into the blood, they latched on to white blood cells. Tests showed that in the rough and tumble of the bloodstream, the white blood cells would bump into any tumor cells which had broken off the main tumor and were trying to spread. “The results are quite remarkable actually, in human blood and in mice. After two hours of blood flow, they [the tumor cells] have literally disintegrated,” King said.
Microbeads a Major Problem in L.A. River – (LA Times – January 24, 2014)
“Microbeads” are bits of plastic no bigger than salt grains that absorb toxins such as motor oil and insecticides as they tumble downstream and into the ocean. The tiny polyethylene and polypropylene beads are an emerging concern among scientists and environmentalists. The beads come mostly from personal care products such as facial exfoliants and body washes. They are not biodegradable, however, and because they are not removed easily by wastewater treatment plants, they flow out to sea and enter the food chain. “Microplastic is now a ubiquitous contaminant in the Pacific Ocean — and seas around the world,” said Marcus Eriksen, a scientist with the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to researching plastics in the world’s waterways. “We believe that 80% of it comes from coastal watersheds like Los Angeles. The scary thing is that the beads sponge up toxins, then get consumed by organisms from shellfish to crabs to fish” later eaten by humans, he said. Scientists are only beginning to understand the hazards posed by microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans and inland waterways. In 2013, 5 Gyres launched a campaign asking the manufacturers of personal care products to remove plastic microbeads and replace them with nonplastic alternatives such as crushed walnut husks and apricot kernels that will degrade naturally. In a statement, Johnson & Johnson, for example, said it expects by 2015 to have replaced microbeads with alternatives in half the products that currently use them. That’s not soon enough for 5 Gyres, which is circulating a petition titled, “Get plastic off my face and out of my water now!”
New Virus Linked to Bee Colony Collapse – (LA Times – January 21, 2014)
A rapidly mutating virus has leaped from plants to honeybees, where it is reproducing and contributing to the collapse of colonies vital to the multibillion-dollar agricultural industry. Tobacco ringspot virus, a pollen-borne pathogen that causes blight in soy crops, was found during routine screening of commercial honeybees at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory, where further study revealed the RNA virus was replicating inside its Apis mellifera hosts and spreading to mites that travel from bee to bee, according to a new study. The discovery is the first report of honeybees becoming infected by a pollen-born RNA virus that spread systematically through the bees and hives. Traces of the virus were detected in every part of the bee examined, except its eyes, according to the study. Only about 5% of plant viruses are known to be transmitted by pollen, and fewer still have been known to jump from the plant kingdom to insects. That adds a complex layer to the forces driving colony collapse disorder, scientists warned. The tobacco ringspot virus acts as a “quasi-species,” replicating in a way that creates ample mutations that subvert the host’s immune response. That phenomenon is believed to be the driving factor of recurring viral infections of avian and swine influenza and of the persistence of HIV, the study noted.
Road Salt Contaminates U.S. Waterways in Northern States Year Round – (EcoWatch – December 23, 2013)
With billions of pounds of salt spread on U.S. roads every year, waterways in the nation’s wintry cities are getting saltier. And, according to new research, the salt—or sodium chloride—in rivers remains toxic not just in winter, but throughout two-thirds of the year. Seven of 20 U.S. rivers—four in Wisconsin, one in Ohio and two in Illinois—have average chloride levels that approach or exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline for protecting aquatic life. All seven rivers exceeded it on more days in 2006 than in 1991.The salt stays in rivers and groundwater for years after it’s tossed on roads, said Sujay Kaushal, an associate professor at the University of Maryland who studies road salt in Northeast U.S. streams. In addition to posing a threat to wildlife, the salt can leach into groundwater, contaminating drinking water supplies. The volumes used on U.S. roads have increased each decade since the 1940s. About 617 million pounds were sold per year in the 1940s, and now roughly 35 billion pounds per year. Some cities, including Madison and Milwaukee, have experimented with beet juice, sand and other “greener” ways to keep ice off roads. But most deicers still contain some chloride and they’re way more expensive. In Minnesota, the salinity of 39 lakes has mirrored the upward trend of the state’s purchase of road salt. If this trend continues, salinity will double in these lakes in about 50 years, according to University of Minnesota scientists.
‘Duct Tape, Wire Nets’ Were Used to Mend Fukushima Water Tanks – (RT News – January 04, 2014)
As TEPCO began preparations for the cleaning of the drainage system with tons of leaked radioactive water at the Fukushima power plant, a former employee reveals the reason for so many leaks was cost cutting measures such as using duct tape, Asahi Shimbun (a major Japanese newspaper) reported. Yoshitatsu Uechi, auto mechanic and tour-bus driver, worked at the devastated nuclear power plant between July 2 and Dec. 6, 2012. The 48 year old Japanese man said that workers were sent to various places in Fukushima, including an area called H3 with high radiation levels. In one of those cases in October 2012, Uechi was given a task to cover five or six storage tanks without lids in the “E” area close to H3 as it was raining, the Japanese paper reported. When he climbed to the top of the 10-meter-high tank Uechi found white adhesive tape covering an opening of about 30 centimeters. After using a blade to remove the tape he applied a sealing agent on the opening and fit a steel lid fastening it with bolts. According to instructions he was to use four bolts, though the lid had eight bolt holes. According to the employee, his colleagues later told him that the use of adhesive tape was a usual practice to deal with the problem of sealing in radioactive water.
Spy Agencies Tap Data Streaming from Phone Apps – (New York Times – January 27, 2014)
When a smartphone user opens Angry Birds, the popular game application, and starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spies could be lurking in the background to snatch data revealing the player’s location, age, sex and other personal information, according to secret British intelligence documents. In their globe-spanning surveillance for terrorism suspects and other targets, the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have been trying to exploit a basic byproduct of modern telecommunications: With each new generation of mobile phone technology, ever greater amounts of personal data pour onto networks where spies can pick it up. According to dozens of previously undisclosed classified documents, among the most valuable of those unintended intelligence tools are so-called leaky apps that spew everything from the smartphone identification codes of users to where they have been that day. The scale and the specifics of the data haul are not clear. The documents show that the N.S.A. and the British agency routinely obtain information from certain apps, particularly those introduced earliest to cellphones. With some newer apps, including Angry Birds, the agencies have a similar ability, the documents show, but they do not make explicit whether the spies have put that into practice. Some personal data, developed in profiles by advertising companies, could be particularly sensitive: A secret British intelligence document from 2012 said that spies can scrub smartphone apps to collect details like a user’s “political alignment” and sexual orientation. For more technical details on the NSA methodology, see the co-published article in The Guardian.
NSA Seeks to Build Quantum Computer That Could Crack Most Types of Encryption – (Washington Post – January 2, 2014)
In room-size metal boxes secure against electromagnetic leaks, the National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world. According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” — a machine exponentially faster than classical computers — is part of a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets.” Much of the work is hosted under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park, Md. The development of a quantum computer has long been a goal of many in the scientific community, with revolutionary implications for fields such as medicine as well as for the NSA’s code-breaking mission. With such technology, all current forms of public key encryption would be broken, including those used on many secure Web sites as well as the type used to protect state secrets. The NSA appears to regard itself as running neck and neck with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government, with steady progress but little prospect of an immediate breakthrough. See also: an annotated description of the “Penetrating Hard Targets” project.
David Pogue: 10 Top Time-saving Tech Tips – (You Tube – April 26, 2013)
Tech columnist David Pogue shares 10 simple, clever tips for computer, web, smartphone, and camera users. And, yes, you may know a few of these already, but there’s probably at least one that you don’t.
The 3D Printer That Can Build a House in 24 Hours – (Innovation – November 20, 2013)
The University of Southern California is testing a giant 3D printer that could be used to build a whole house in under 24 hours. Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis has designed the giant robot that replaces construction workers with a nozzle on a gantry, this squirts out concrete and can quickly build a home according to a computer pattern. It is “basically scaling up 3D printing to the scale of building,” says Khoshnevis. The technology, known as Contour Crafting, could revolutionize the construction industry. Contour Crafting could slash the cost of home-owning, making it possible for millions of displaced people to get on the property ladder. It could even be used in disaster relief areas to build emergency and replacement housing. For example, after an event such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which has displaced almost 600,000 people, Contour Crafting could be used to build replacement homes quickly. The Contour Crafting system is a robot that by automates age-old tools normally used by hand. These are wielded by a robotic gantry that builds a three-dimensional object. On a cleared and leveled site, workers would lay down two rails a few feet further apart than the eventual building’s width and a computer-controlled contour crafter would take over from there. A gantry-type crane with a hanging nozzle and a components-placing arm would travel along the rails. The nozzle would spit out concrete in layers to create hollow walls, and then fill in the walls with additional concrete… humans would hang doors and insert windows. Because the buildings are printed with a nozzle, they can also be far more creative than current constructions. “The walls can be curved” says Khoshnevis and “you can have very exotic architectural features without incurring additional costs.”
Satellites Help Power Grid Keep Its Balance – (NASA – January 27, 2014)
The amount of electricity fed into an electrical grid at any given moment must equal the amount that is being used at that moment. Too much or too little could damage the millions of electrical devices connected to the grid or even trigger a power outage. Nine of North America’s largest grids have special independent organizations charged with maintaining that balance. California Independent Service Operator (ISO) manages the grid that serves most of California and a chunk of Nevada. They rebalance the grid’s intake and output every four seconds, using sophisticated algorithms to forecast demand and a variety of ways to adjust the wattage they introduce into the system throughout the day. But they can only manage what they can see: the big power plants that produce the bulk of the system’s electricity. “We can’t see the solar panels on the rooftop of your house,” said Jim Blatchford, the ISO’s short-term forecasting manager. “We don’t know how much they are reducing your demand or feeding back into the grid.” And that’s a significant challenge. The nearly 200,000 solar installations on private homes and businesses in California, taken together, generate more electricity than any power plant in the state. Clearly, grid managers need to take them into account to calculate accurately how much electricity the grid should carry. Tracking all those solar panels and their ever-changing environments may seem like herding cats, but a company called Clean Power Research (CPR) has developed a solution that the California ISO is currently testing.
Underground Bicycle Parking in Japan – (You Tube – April 30, 2012)
A two-minute clip on an ingenious parking system for bicycles to keep them protected from weather and theft.
Tesla Drivers Can Now Drive from LA to New York for Free – (SmartPlanet – January 27, 2014)
Tesla Motor’s network of fast-charging stations for its luxury all-electric sedans now covers a route from Los Angeles to New York (see map in article). Tesla’s 120 kilowatt superchargers, which only work with the Tesla Model S, provide half a charge in as little as 20 minutes. The chargers work by delivering direct current power to the battery using special cables that bypass onboard charging equipment. And using them is free for all Tesla Model S owners. There are now 73 stations in North America, according to the company’s website. (Editor’s note: It’s only free after you buy the car.)
Genetic Weapon Against Insects Raises Hope and Fear in Farming – (New York Times – January 27, 2014)
Scientists and biotechnology companies are developing what could become the next powerful weapon in the war on pests — one that harnesses a Nobel Prize-winning discovery to kill insects and pathogens by disabling their genes. By zeroing in on a genetic sequence unique to one species, the technique has the potential to kill a pest without harming beneficial insects. That would be a big advance over chemical pesticides. The technology is called RNA interference. RNA interference is a natural phenomenon that is set off by double-stranded RNA. DNA, which is what genes are made of, is usually double stranded, the famous double helix. But RNA, which is a messenger in cells, usually consists of a single strand of chemical units representing the letters of the genetic code. So when a cell senses a double-stranded RNA, it acts as if it has encountered a virus. It activates a mechanism that silences any gene with a sequence corresponding to that in the double-stranded RNA. Scientists quickly learned that they could deactivate virtually any gene by synthesizing a snippet of double-stranded RNA with a matching sequence. But some specialists fear that releasing gene-silencing agents into fields could harm beneficial insects, especially among organisms that have a common genetic makeup, and possibly even human health. The controversy echoes the larger debate over genetic modification of crops that has been raging for years. The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides, will hold shortly begin discussion of the potential risks of RNA interference. “To attempt to use this technology at this current stage of understanding would be more naïve than our use of DDT in the 1950s,” the National Honey Bee Advisory Board said in comments submitted to the E.P.A.
How a Fruit and Vegetable Auction in Rural Ohio Helps Appalachian Farmers Thrive – (Yes – January 13, 2014)
One in six Ohio residents works in the agriculture industry, and the food and ag industries contribute an estimated $79 billion to the state’s economy each year. Yet nearly 90 percent of the food Ohioans buy comes from outside the state, according to a 2011 report from food systems analyst Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center. The result, Meter estimates, is that Ohio’s economy loses $30 billion a year. It’s a loss that weighs heavily on an already struggling state. Much of Ohio’s poverty is concentrated in the Appalachian region, where 16.7 percent of the population is poor. Farmers markets are often clustered around bigger towns, like nearby Athens, Ohio. But for several reasons, those markets are not ideal for a large proportion of farmers. They’re too far to reach by horse and buggy, they often require a farmer to spend all day preparing and tending to the booth, and there’s no guarantee that all the produce will sell. Produce auctions help to solve these problems. Auctions typically take a ten to fifteen percent commission on sales to cover the costs of marketing, the auctioneer, and the facilities. Produce auctions are getting fresh vegetables into food “deserts”, building community, and helping rural farmers earn a living.
Laser Scanner That Tells You What’s In Your Food – (Fast Company – January 16, 2014)
The Indiegogo hit Tellspec scanner shoots a laser at your food and counts the calories and nutritional data. But is it just vaporware? We tried one out. The TellSpec laser scanner appears, at least in its demo form, to have potential. The device is a raman spectrometer that uses an algorithm to calculate what’s in your food. You point the laser at a potato chip for instance, and the accompanying app on your smartphone gives you a read-out of the ingredients. the In a test, the device could easily point out the man-made goo that some companies put in their products. It did this in less than 30 seconds with one chip-like snack food. After pointing the TellSpec laser, a list of ingredients popped up on the TellSpec app. Seeing that something called “tartarzine” was listed, the author of this article was able to click through to a detailed wiki-like page explaining that this is in fact Yellow No. 5.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
U.S. Super-snipers: ‘Smart’ Rifles Tested by Military Could Be Game-changer – (Washington Times – January 17, 2014)
The U.S. Army is said to have purchased six “smart” rifles for testing after witnessing the product’s performance in the hands of novice shooters. Each rifle can cost up to $27,000 — but the rifle’s performance won them over. A correspondent working for Military.com hit a target from roughly 1,000 yards away on his first shot. He reported that of 70 or so reporters and novice shooters who tried the rifle, only “one or two” missed from the extended range. For comparison, TrackingPoint Inc. director of marketing, Oren Schauble, told the defense website that military snipers have a fire-shot success rate from that range of between 20 percent to 30 percent (which jumps to 70 percent on their second attempt). According to Military.com, the weapon collects “imagery and ballistic data such as atmospheric conditions, cant, inclination, even the slight shift of the Earth’s rotation known as the Coriolis effect,” for soldiers. In short, the rifle gives troops data on the most important data except wind speed; the soldier must calculate that manually. When Military.com asked Mr. Schauble what the sniper community thinks of the smart rifle, he replied: “This is not necessarily for them. This is for guys who don’t have that training who need to perform in greater capabilities. This is more for your average soldier.” See demo on the TrackingPoint website.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
All Lawyered Up in Washington – (Unz Review – January 3, 2014)
How many terrorists were caught because terrorist suspects were being waterboarded and otherwise abused in Agency secret prisons? None. The exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, which took three years to research, is 6,300 pages long, and is based on review of more than 6 million government documents. Although it was endorsed by the Intelligence Committee over a year ago, it has not yet been released to the public due to stalling by CIA, but its conclusions have been leaked. Torture did not produce any information that could not have been obtained by other means and did not result in information that led to discovery of Osama bin Laden. Lying under torture was also prevalent, meaning that it produced a great deal of false information that had to be checked and rechecked. So it was not only a waste of time, but it was actually counterproductive in terms of getting at the truth. And then there are the drones and the extrajudicial killing of both American citizens and foreigners. Have they made Americans any safer? Probably not. It is hard to anticipate what a dead Pakistani or Yemeni man might have been planning to do, but evidence suggests that drones produce new terrorists every time they succeed in killing someone. If anything, drones have increased the resistance to American policies in the Middle East and South Asia. So let us consider the opinions of lawyers for what they are – for example, several notorious Justice Department memos stated that torture by the CIA was legal because the government said that it was. In government, a lawyer exists to enable a bureaucrat to do what he wants while being protected by a legal fig leaf. (Editor’s note: This is a closely reasoned article that deserves reading for more than the few excerpts above.)
China Relations Top 2014 US Concerns – (News Max – January 1, 2014)
The brightest star in the U.S. military for the past quarter of a century was Greek-born retired U.S. Navy Adm. Dean James Stavridis, a former NATO and Eucom commander who speaks six languages and is now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Asked what are the major challenges and opportunities for U.S. national security over the next 10 years, Stavridis didn’t hesitate; it is China. “But we cannot afford to drift into some kind of a Cold War model, where we’re simply going to build walls between ourselves and the Chinese, which we did, unsuccessfully during the Cold War, with huge parts of the world,” he said. “I think the relationship with China is mature enough to ask, where the potential zones of cooperation are. With China in the international sphere, I think they range from humanitarian operations, partnering with the Chinese to do hospital ship work, to do response to epidemics.” He continues, “Traditional exchanges in the security dimension,” said the polyglot admiral, “would be useful with China. For example war college to war college; language training back and forth; creating a committee to participate in each other’s exercises.” (Editor’s note: The opening section of this article has some excellent general/tech predictions for 2014, however, we find Adm. Stavridis’ opinions of particular note.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Utah Is Ending Homelessness by Giving People Homes – (Nation of Change – January 18, 2014)
In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78%, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015. How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s. It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.
Inequality ‘Will Fuel Upheavals,’ says World Economic Forum – (Business Day – January 19, 2014)
A chronic gap between rich and poor was yawning wider, posing the biggest single risk to the world this year even as economies in many countries began to recover, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Its annual assessment of global dangers, which sets the scene for its annual meeting in Davos, concludes that income disparity and attendant social unrest constitute the issue most likely to have a big impact on the world economy in the next decade. The forum warned of a “lost” generation of young people coming of age in the 2010s who lacked jobs and in some cases adequate skills for work, fuelling frustration. This could easily boil over into social upheaval, as seen already in a wave of protests over inequality and corruption from Thailand to Brazil. “Disgruntlement can lead to the dissolution of the fabric of society, especially if young people feel they don’t have a future,” said Jennifer Blanke, WEF’s chief economist. The survey of more than 700 global experts identified extreme weather as the second-most likely factor to cause systemic shocks, reflecting a perceived increase in severe conditions such as the big US freeze recently.
China’s “Twitter”, Called Weibo, Helps Generate Momentum for Animal Welfare – (Nation of Change – January 15, 2014)
Word spread like wildfire when a group of police officers from a coastal city in southern China posted an appeal on their official Weibo account “@ Xiamen Siming Police Station” (Weibo is China’s equivalent of Twitter). The message—calling for laws to combat animal cruelty—was retweeted 34,000 times and more than 2,600 netizens enthusiastically commented in support of the appeal. In recent years, Chinese citizens are increasingly getting their voices heard, bypassing the state-controlled media online, through social media. Online exposés of abusive conducts to animals have created wave after wave of public condemnation, with many achieving substantive and sometimes immediate results, such as stopping planned mass-killing of dogs and blocking a business farming bears for their bile from being allowed to make an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the stock exchange. But what is particularly of note about this posting is that the originators of this appeal are police officers. Many of them across the country are increasingly frustrated by laws that are antiquated, contradictory, or full of loopholes.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
If We Down One UFO We’ll Be Facing an Interstellar War – Former Defense Minister of Canada – (RT – December 30, 2013)
The Honorable Paul Hellyer was Canadian minister of Defense in 1960s, ruling over the country’s armed forces during the time of the Cold War – and when he retired, he publicly stated that we are not alone in the universe and that some guests from outer space actually live here on planet Earth. “They’ve been visiting our planet for thousands of years and one of the cases that would interest you most if you give me two or three minutes to answer is that during the Cold War, 1961, there were about 50 UFOs in formation flying south from Russia across Europe, and Supreme Allied Command was very concerned and about ready to press the “Panic” button when they turned around and went back over the North Pole. They decided to do an investigation and they investigated for 3 years and they decided that, with absolute certainty, four species – at least – had been visiting this planet for thousands of years. When I was minister I got sighting reports and when we checked them out, about 80%, 8 out of 10, were not real, they were sights of Venus or of plasma or a dozen other things, but there were 15% or 20% for which there was no explanation and they were the genuine unidentified flying objects.”
Global Unemployment Jumped to Nearly 202 Million Last Year – (LA Times – January 20, 2014)
Global unemployment jumped to nearly 202 million in 2013 as jobs failed to keep up with the world’s growing labor force, according to one report. That represents an almost 5 million increase from 2012, with almost half of the new jobless coming from East Asia and South Asia. A big chunk of the freshly unemployed are also located in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. The huge pool of workers who lost their jobs since the 2008 financial crisis has only widened in recent years. “If current trends continue, global unemployment is set to worsen further,” the report said, estimating that global unemployment will climb to more than 215 million job seekers by 2018. (For comparison, the total U.S. population is around 317.5 million and the total number of (non-farm) people employed in the U.S. is around 137.5 million. In other words, the world has close to half again more people who wish they had jobs than the entire number of people in the U.S. who do have jobs.)
World’s 85 Richest People Own Nearly Half of Global Wealth: Oxfam Report – (Economic Times – January 17, 2014)
An Oxfam report titled ‘Working For the Few’, details the impact that widening inequality is having in both developed and developing nations. A tiny elite comprising the richest 85 individuals hold wealth equivalent to that owned by the bottom half of the world’s population, Oxfam claimed. It further added that since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 of the 30 countries for which data are available, meaning that in many places the rich not only get more money but also pay less tax on it than previously.
Nearly Half of America Lives Paycheck-to-Paycheck – (Time – January 30, 2014)
As evidenced by a report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, nearly half of Americans are living in a state of “persistent economic insecurity,” that makes it “difficult to look beyond immediate needs and plan for a more secure future.” In other words, too many of us are living paycheck to paycheck. The CFED calls these folks “liquid asset poor,” and its report finds that 44% of Americans are living with less than $5,887 in savings for a family of four. The plight of these folks is compounded by the fact that the recession ravaged many Americans’ credit scores to the point that now 56% percent of us have subprime credit. That means that if emergencies arise, many Americans are forced to resort to high-interest debt from credit cards or payday loans.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Spike Puts Laser Measurement Hardware on the Back of a Smartphone – (GizMag – December 23, 2013)
Traditionally, the technology that goes into laser hardware for surveying and 3D modeling has been available primarily to architects, surveyors and engineers. But now, with a view to expanding into the consumer market, Virginia-based IkeGPS wants to bring this functionality to the mainstream. Through the Spike smartphone app, users are able to capture, measure, 3D model and share any object up to 200 yards away with what the company says is laser accuracy.
Acoustic Levitation: How Sound Can Get Physical – (Telegraph – January 2, 2014)
Maglev trains, for example, use powerful magnets to repel the carriages and remove the friction of the train on the tracks. But magnets are just one way of achieving this – and they require the object to have a repelling magnetic force. Now scientists in Japan have shown that a similar effect can be achieved with sound. In this video they show that it is not only possible to levitate objects in mid-air using sound waves, but also to move them around. The results can be quite artistic – look about 1 minute in to see just what is possible. They then levitate match heads, drops of water, screws and nuts. The researchers at the University of Tokyo say they hope to refine the technique so it can be used to manipulate delicate electronic components when assembling hardware. (Editor’s note: The lovely Strauss waltz accompanying the video is not the “sound” used to levitate the objects.)
Capitalism vs. Democracy – (New York Times – January 28, 2014)
Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, described by one French newspaper as a “a political and theoretical bulldozer,” defies left and right orthodoxy by arguing that worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of free market capitalism. Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, does not stop there. He contends that capitalism’s inherent dynamic propels powerful forces that threaten democratic societies. Piketty proposes that the rise in inequality reflects markets working precisely as they should: “This has nothing to do with a market imperfection: the more perfect the capital market, the higher” the rate of return on capital is in comparison to the rate of growth of the economy. The higher this ratio is, the greater inequality is. “If the rate of return on capital remains permanently above the rate of growth of the economy – this is Piketty’s key inequality relationship,” writes one reviewer, it “generates a changing functional distribution of income in favor of capital and, if capital incomes are more concentrated than incomes from labor (a rather uncontroversial fact), personal income distribution will also get more unequal — which indeed is what we have witnessed in the past 30 years.” Piketty’s book — published four months ago in France and due out in English this March — suggests that traditional liberal government policies on spending, taxation and regulation will fail to diminish inequality. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article, not only for the quality of the book review, but for the extensive conservative- and liberal-leaning comments on Piketty’s ideas offered by various economists.)
Leaked Files Reveal Offshore Holdings of Rich, Politically Connected – (LA Times – January 22, 2014)
From the brother-in-law of Chinese President Xi Jinping to a daughter of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, thousands of the rich and politically connected have been outed as having secret offshore holdings. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Wednesday said it had obtained a cache of about 2.5 million files with information from two financial firms, Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and Commonwealth Trust Ltd. of the British Virgin Islands, that helped wealthy customers set up offshore accounts. When measured in gigabytes, the data is more than 160 times larger than the State Department documents released in 2010 by Wikileaks, the Washington-based nonprofit wrote. It did not disclose who leaked the data or the motives behind the disclosure. The names published are a veritable who’s who of political elites from all corners of the globe: the wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, and top executives of Russian energy giant Gazprom. From Mongolia, the deputy speaker of parliament; from Azerbaijan, the daughters of President Ilham Aliyev; and from the Philippines, Imee Marcos, a provincial governor and the late leader’s eldest daughter.
British Ex-Spy Launches Fund to Support Whistleblowers Like Snowden – (Wired – December 29, 2013)
A new foundation to support whistleblowers is being launched by former British intelligence agent Annie Machon, whose resignation and revelations about U.K. spying activities in the 1990s sparked controversy echoing this year’s NSA news. Machon said the foundation would be called the Courage Fund to Protect Journalistic Sources. “Crucially, we want to encourage other whistleblowers to come forward,” she said. “It is a very frightening and lonely process to go through. We need to show that they can not only survive the process, but even flourish.” Machon’s experience in the 1990s in some senses prefigured what sources such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are going through today. An intelligence officer with the British MI5 service for six years, she and her partner resigned in 1997 and made public a number of allegations about secret and potentially criminal activities. Among these, they alleged that intelligence services had been keeping secret files on government ministers, had illegally tapped phones, had failed to stop Irish Republican Army bombs and subsequently lied about their actions, that people known to be innocent had been convicted of bombing crimes, and – most explosively – that MI6 had sought to have Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi assassinated.
Scientists Claim That Quantum Theory Proves Consciousness Moves to Another Universe at Death – (Spirit Science & Metaphysics – January 9, 2014)
A book titled Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe is based on a hypothesis that life does not end when the body dies, and it can last forever. The author of this publication, scientist Dr. Robert Lanza, who was voted the 3rd most important scientist alive by the New York Times, has no doubts that this is possible. Lanza is an expert in regenerative medicine and scientific director of Advanced Cell Technology Company. Not long ago, the scientist became involved with physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. Based on this interest, Lanza has proposed a theory of biocentrism, which states that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. It is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the other way around. He also claims that space and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding. Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.” meaning that when the shell comes off (space and time), we still exist. The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist. (Editor’s note: If you are still feeling a little hazy about quantum theory itself, you are in good company – that of the greatest physicists in the world, who have come up with no less than eight different interpretations of quantum physics. These include the Copenhagen interpretation, Feynman’s interpretation, the ‘multiple worlds’ interpretation, etc. For an introduction to quantum physics and an accessible excursion into metaphysics and the meaning of reality, we recommend Nick Herbert’s Quantum Reality.)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Whales Give Dolphins a Lift – (American Museum of Natural History/You Tube – January 10, 2012)
Encounters between humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins reveal a playful side to interspecies interaction. In two different locations in Hawaii, scientists watched as dolphins “rode” the heads of whales: the whales lifted the dolphins up and out of the water, and then the dolphins slid back down. Whales and dolphins in Hawaiian waters often interact, but playful social activity such as this is extremely rare between species. (Editor’s note: Or perhaps interspecies play is not so rare. As more video clips are uploaded onto You Tube, there are more and more examples of it. See a recent article on a friendship between a fox and a dog in Norway, and this clip of Tarra, an elephant, and Bella, a dog, as best friends.)
JUST FOR FUN
Enra “Pleiades ” – (You Tube – December 27, 2013)
This performance is an exquisite melding of contemporary dance and projected light. As with many other indigenous cultures spanning the globe, the Pleiades constellation is considered to be the ancestral home of the Ainu, the indigenous inhabitants of Japan. The constellation in Japanese is called “Subaru”. Next time you see one of the cars on the road, look closely at the company’s logo on the grill and the trunk.
A FINAL QUOTE–
Learn the past, watch the present, and create the future. – Jesse Conrad, author
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Cory Shreckengost, 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