FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Researchers in China have found E. coli bacteria, resistant to all known antibiotics, that have developed a mechanism to transfer their resistance to neighboring bacteria of different strains.
- After the overhyped false dawn fifteen years ago, gene-editing is now, it seems, about to arrive.
- Scientists Invent Revolutionary Material to Clean Up Oil Spills
- Spain has issued an arrest warrant for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
by John L. Petersen
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I was recently in Las Vegas giving a talk and Jeff Mishlove kindly asked me to come by and be interviewed for his New Thinking Allowed video series. You may find this conversation of interest.
The first segment is mostly about the process of thinking about the future and the second section roams further afield, exploring the larger reality and how one might try to get out of the box to view a larger perspective. Click on the pictures to get to the site.
Will Big Data lead to Big Brother? – (BBC News – November 17, 2015)
(Skip over at least the first half of this article to get to new material.) The Hacking Team might sound like a group of rogue teenagers but in fact it is a company based in Italy that sells its services to law enforcement and governments around the world. Eric Rabe, its chief marketing officer says the company supplies its products to about 50 countries. He says that because there was no international regulation, the company has had to make its own decisions about who to sell to, and add clauses restricting certain uses. Moves are now afoot to place the trade in surveillance technology on a similar footing to the trade in weapons. But on the assumption that export controls will never entirely stop it, some people are focusing on ways of training people to protect themselves. “We see people making simple mistakes,” explains Stephanie Hankey, co-founder of a Berlin-based group called Tactical Tech, which trains activists, journalists and civil society campaigners to become more security aware. “In Syria in the early days of the conflict, people would be pulled in, open their Facebook account and expose everyone they were talking to.” She also advises people to be aware that even if the content of their conversations may be encrypted, the metadata about the conversation can reveal much about connections and patterns of activity, especially when different elements of the digital trail are cross-referenced and cross-mapped. For related reporting on the increasing electronic sophistication of both activists and the government-sponsored hackers of activists, see: On China’s Fringes, Cyber Spies Raise Their Game. The trend in computing is to use this data to find patterns which are in turn predictive. At London’s IP Expo 2015, where all the talk is about the huge and mostly beneficial power of Big Data, veteran cyber security expert Mikko Hypponen, believes we are at the beginning of an enormous social change that carries with it real danger. “We are the first generation that can be tracked from birth to our deathbeds, where we are, what we do, who we communicate with, what are our interests. It’s easily trackable and saveable for decades. It feels like we’re in a massive experiment done on mankind. Only much later will we realize what it means when all of our thoughts and movements not only can be tracked but are being tracked.” (Editor’s note: Essentially the BBC’s answer to the opening question is ‘yes – but we really have no idea how it will change society’.)
How Humans Ended Up with Freakishly Huge Brains – (Wired – November 28, 2015)
By the 1950s, anthropologists had accepted that an exceptionally large brain had not always been a distinguishing characteristic of humans. In subsequent decades, by uncovering and comparing other fossil skulls and endocasts, paleontologists documented one of the most dramatic transitions in human evolution. We might call it the Brain Boom. Starting around 3 million years ago, the hominin brain began a massive expansion. By the time our species, Homo sapiens, emerged about 200,000 years ago, the human brain had swelled from about 350 grams to more than 1,300 grams. In that 3-million-year sprint, the human brain almost quadrupled the size its predecessors had attained over the previous 60 million years of primate evolution. Fossils established the Brain Boom as fact. But they tell us next to nothing about how and why the human brain grew so large so quickly. There are plenty of theories, of course, especially regarding why. And, although these possibilities are fascinating, they are extremely difficult to test. In the last eight years, however, scientists have started to answer the “how” of human brain expansion—that is, the question of how the supersizing happened on a cellular level and how human physiology reconfigured itself to accommodate a dramatically enlarged and energy-guzzling brain. (Editor’s note: The rest of this article traces the evolution in research capabilities and data analysis that takes the reader from theories originating in 1995 to recent confirmation of some of the genetic mutations involved. If this is a topic of interest to you, the article is fascinating.)
E. Coli Bacteria Can Transfer Antibiotic Resistance to Other Bacteria – (NPR – November 20, 2015)
Colistin is the antibiotic that doctors use as a last resort to wipe out dangerous bacteria. “It’s really been kept as the last drug in the locker when all else has failed,” says Dr. Jim Spencer, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. But E. coli bacteria, which can cause kidney failure as well as urinary tract and other infections, have changed. In an article published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, Spencer and his co-authors tell how researchers in China have found that the bacteria not only are increasingly resistant to colistin, but have developed a mechanism to transfer resistance to neighboring bacteria. And those bacteria don’t even have to be the same strain as those that originally developed the resistance. So bacteria that cause other health problems could be affected. Spencer and his colleagues found the resistant E. coli bacteria in pork, pigs and people in China. “We found colistin resistance over a relatively large part of the south of the country,” Spencer says. “The ease with which we’ve been able to see this resistance move between bacteria and the high incidence [of resistance] that we saw in this study would suggest to me that it’s very likely that once people start looking for this outside of China, they’ll find it very quickly. I don’t think this is a problem that’s local to China at all.” While this transfer of drug resistance has been seen before, Spencer says this is the first time it’s been seen for colistin. Public health officials have been warning about the impending “post-antibiotic era” for years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that annually 2 million Americans are infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and more than 20,000 die from those infections. “You’re looking at the last line of defense against antibiotic resistance falling,” Spenser said. “And the potential for it now to spread not only in China but around the world — you’re looking at the potential for untreatable epidemics.”
Scottish Researchers Are 3D Printing Extremely Delicate Stem Cells – (3DPrint – October 20, 2015)
The team at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland is led by Dr. Will Shu, at the University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS). It has the distinction of being the first group to 3D print with stem cells, using a valve-based technique. Quite the delicate endeavor, the challenge is to 3D print the sensitive live cultures without damaging or killing them altogether. The mission is to use this research to begin making patient specific drug treatments which should offer greater efficiency and effectiveness, with the byproduct–a highly beneficial one also–being that animal testing is greatly reduced or possibly eventually eliminated. The team has advanced their process, as well as the related hardware, so that it can handle the fragile nature of 3D printing induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These structures are taken from the donor’s adult cells and require even more special handling than those of the embryonic stem cells the team was 3D printing with in previous projects. The hope is that with even more advanced 3D printing technology they can produce liver, heart, and even brain cells. “This study is the first to demonstrate that human induced pluripotent stem cells, that is stem cells derived from the adult patient’s own cells, can be bioprinted without adversely affecting their biological functions; that our 3D printing process is gentle enough to do this,” said Dr. Shu. “In this instance we showed that after printing we could turn the stem cells into liver cells.” The team’s goal is to be able to use the bioprinted material for testing drugs and allowing doctors to figure out courses that will offer less side effects and greater benefits to their patients.
Dawn of Gene-editing Medicine? – (BBC News – November 6, 2015)
On the day before her first birthday, Layla’s parents were told that all treatments for her leukemia had failed and she was going to die. The determination of her family, doctors and a biotechnology company led to her being given an experimental therapy that had previously been tried only in mice. Now, just months after her family was told her cancer was incurable, Layla is not only alive, but a happy, giggling child with no trace of leukemia in her body. The “miracle” treatment was a tiny vial filled with genetically engineered immune cells that were designed to kill her cancer. Around the turn of the millennium, over-excited scientists and journalists were proclaiming that gene therapy was going to transform the world. Prof. Adrian Thrasher, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “There was a lot of hype that was unrealistic at the time, the technologies were very new and it’s taken 15-20 years for those technologies to mature. I think we’re seeing the fruits of those early studies right now, so I think this is real.” Zinc fingers, Talens and Crispr all share the same general concept – they act as a type of satnav that finds its way to specific sites in our DNA and a pair of molecular scissors that can edit the DNA. They have opened up a whole new field – genetic engineering – in which not only can new information be inserted, the code of life that is already there can be rewritten. This is exactly what happened in Layla’s case. White blood cells were taken from a donor. Talens were used to engineer protection against anti-cancer drugs being given to the patient and to stop them attacking healthy tissue. And a virus was used to insert a new gene that would make it attack leukemia cells. Zinc fingers are already being tested in HIV-positive patients. The aim is to take the patient’s cells out of the body, give them HIV protection, and then put them back in. Prof Thrasher is predicting an “explosion” in the use of such genetic engineering in the next 10 years. After the overhyped false dawn fifteen years ago, gene-editing is now, it seems, about to arrive.
Your Doctor Doesn’t Want to Hear About Your Fitness-Tracker Data – (Technology Review – November 24, 2015)
Wearable producers such as Apple, Fitbit, and Pebble are expected to ship more than 76 million of the devices by the end of the year. Some doctors and researchers, however, question the value of the particular metrics tracked, as well as the validity of the deluge of data these gadgets produce. “I’m an oncologist, and I have these patients who are proto ‘quantified self’ kinds of people,” says Andrew Trister, an oncologist at the nonprofit medical research organization Sage Bionetworks. “They come in with these very large Excel spreadsheets, with all this information—I have no idea what to do with that.” Neil Sehgal, a senior research scientist at the UCSF Center for Digital Health Innovation who has a doctorate in public health, agrees. “Clinicians can’t do a lot with the number of steps you’ve taken in a day,” he says. Sehgal should know: he and his colleagues at the Center for Digital Health Innovation have compared the data reported by consumer wearable devices to relevant clinical gold standards in multiple studies over the past two years. They’ve found that very few devices currently on the market perform with the reliability one would expect from a medical-grade device. And in fact wearable devices such as the Fitbit haven’t been clinically validated to perform at the same standards for reliability that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration uses for medical devices, such as the traditional blood-pressure cuff in a doctor’s office. Consumer wearables are marketed under the FDA’s less rigorous “wellness-focused” rubric.
Underground Fire Outside St. Louis Has Burned Since 2010, Nears Nuclear Waste Dump – (Chicago Tribune – October 10, 2015)
Beneath the surface of a St. Louis-area landfill lurk two things that should never meet: a slow-burning fire and a cache of Cold War-era nuclear waste, separated by no more than 1,200 feet. The cause of the fire is unknown. Government officials have quietly adopted an emergency plan in case the smoldering embers ever reach the waste, a potentially “catastrophic event” that could send up a plume of radioactive smoke over a densely populated area near the city’s main airport. Although the fire at Bridgeton Landfill has been burning since at least 2010, the plan for a worst-case scenario was developed only a year ago and never publicized until this now, when a St. Louis radio station obtained a copy. “County officials and emergency managers have an obligation to plan for various scenarios, even very remote ones,” landfill spokesman Russ Knocke said in a statement. The landfill “is safe and intensively monitored.” Directly next to Bridgeton Landfill is West Lake Landfill, also owned by Republic Services. The West Lake facility was contaminated with radioactive waste from uranium processing by a St. Louis company known as Mallinckrodt Chemical. The waste was illegally dumped in 1973 and includes material that dates back to the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb in the 1940s. Last month, Attorney General Chris Koster said he was troubled by new reports about the site. One found radiological contamination in trees outside the landfill’s perimeter. Another showed evidence that the fire has moved past two rows of interceptor wells and closer to the nuclear waste. Koster said the reports were evidence that Republic Services “does not have this site under control.” Republic Services responded by accusing the state of intentionally exacerbating “public angst and confusion.”
Taking an Inventory of All the Water Stored Under Ground – (Ars Technica- November 20, 2015)
Some groundwater was rainwater that seeped through the ground just last year, and some groundwater has been underground for over a million years. Local groundwater studies may look into age, but until recently, no one had ever tried to put together a global picture. However, a new study led by the University of Victoria’s Tom Gleeson takes a whack at it, though, and shows us just how little of our groundwater is less than 100 years old. Age distinctions are more than trivia here. “Young” groundwater gets you closer to the source—rainwater—but it is also more likely to have picked up contaminants from human pollution on its way into the aquifer. The quality of the water can worsen over time, as it picks up dissolved minerals and salts. The use of very old water can also be akin to the mining of coal, in a way—it may have been put in place slowly, but it’s being used quickly—even a renewable resource like this water can be used unsustainably. The researchers built a database of around 3,700 measurements from 55 countries, covering the first 2 kilometers below the surface of the Earth, where younger water can be found. They categorized those groundwater samples as either “modern”—having fallen as rain in the last 50 years and containing tritium (a residue from nuclear testing)—or older. Then, they set about calculating their best estimate of the volume of water represented by those modern samples. The best estimates of the amount of groundwater that is less than 50 years old fell between 1.5% and 5.6% of total groundwater. That small percentage is a larger volume of freshwater than exists in all the world’s surface water.
Deakin Scientists Create Revolutionary Material to Clean Oil Spills – (Deakin University – November 30, 2015)
Deakin University (Australia) scientists have manufactured a material that can clean up oil spills, which could save the earth from potential future disasters such as any repeat of the 2010 Gulf Coast BP disaster that wreaked environmental havoc and cost a reported $40 billion. The major breakthrough material, which literally absorbs the oil like a sponge is now ready to be trialed by industry after two years of refinement in the laboratory at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM). Professor Chen said, “In 2013 we developed the first stage of the material, but it was simply a powder. This powder had absorption capabilities, but you cannot simply throw powder onto oil – you need to be able to bind that powder into a sponge so that we can soak the oil up, and also separate it from water. Turning the powder into a sponge was a big challenge. The ground-breaking material is called a boron nitride nanosheet, which is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts. The research team which included scientists from Drexel University, Philadelphia, and Missouri University of Science and Technology, started with boron nitride powder known as “white graphite” and broke it into atomically thin sheets that were used to make a sponge.
Climate Change, Geoengineering and Environmental Modification Techniques – (Global Research – November 30, 2015)
In the course of the 1990s, the HAARP program was developed. The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) based in Gokona, Alaska, has been in existence since 1992. While it was officially closed down in 2013, the technology is nonetheless fully operational. HAARP is part of a new generation of sophisticated weaponry under the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Operated by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, HAARP constitutes a system of powerful antennas capable of creating “controlled local modifications of the ionosphere” [upper layer of the atmosphere] The impacts of ENMOD techniques for military use were documented by CBC TV (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) in the early 1990s. The CBC TV report acknowledged that the HAARP facility in Alaska under the auspices of the US Air Force had the ability of triggering typhoons, earthquakes, floods and droughts. Imagine using a flood to destroy a city or tornadoes to decimate an approaching army in the desert. Although the military has spent a huge amount of time on weather modification as a concept for battle environments, discussion of geo-engineering and environmental modification techniques for military use remains taboo at international talks on climate change.
5 Billion Connected ‘Things’ Still Lack Meaningful Connections – (The Verge – November 24, 2015)
By this time next year, Gartner expects there to be 6.4 billion connected things in use, or almost one device for every human being living, through the Internet of Things (IoT). That number represents 30% growth from 2015, and a doubling of so-called “smart” things in use since 2013. Great, right? Not really. The promise of IoT isn’t a bunch of discrete devices connected to the internet. That’s only the first step. The real benefit of IoT comes from billions of connected smart devices and sensors working together in a system of systems to make our lives better. When our smartphones and wearables can finally talk to our homes which in turn communicate with the energy grid, weather stations, roads, traffic signals, and cars, buses, bikes, and taxis. Then we’ll be living in the smart cities of the future. Then we’ll know that the promise of IoT has arrived. And perhaps that promise is not so far off. See: Smart Sprinkler Checks the Weather to Avoid Wasting Water. See also: This Glowing Rock Wants to Monitor Your Internet of Things about a special security system designed to keep hackers from messing with your connected baby monitor and door lock. (Editor’s note: Questions the article does not raise are: Do we really want total connectivity, particularly since no system is apparently 100% secure? What is the downside here? Is the upside worth the tradeoffs?)
Browser Plug-in Punches an Unfixable Hole in China’s Great Firewall – (Technology Review – November 20, 2015)
The Chinese government’s “Great Firewall” blocks many foreign websites, such as news sources and social networks. The best-established tools to evade that kind of censorship, such as the anonymity network Tor or encrypted VPN connections, can make browsing slow and are actively targeted by the government. Tests of the new browser plug-in, called CacheBrowser, from inside China show that it provides an effective solution that doesn’t slow browsing so much. Amir Houmansadr, an assistant professor at UMass Amherst, built CacheBrowser with John Holowczak, until recently an undergraduate at Umass Amherst. Available data suggests that CacheBrowser should work for over 80% of the sites that China blocks among the world’s 1,000 most popular, including Facebook and Bloomberg. CacheBrowser exploits a mechanism used by companies to make their pages load faster which allows a computer to sidestep the censors and access the pages it wants directly. Censorship systems like China’s mostly rely on blocking computers from accessing the Web addresses and IP addresses, which identify specific servers, of blacklisted sites. But when you visit a popular website, your computer is usually directed to download it from the servers of a content delivery network, a company such as Akamai that website operators pay to store copies of their data on many servers around the world so people can access it faster. Use of content delivery networks is common among major sites and growing; Cisco expects a majority of all Internet traffic to pass through them within a few years. Censors tend to leave content delivery networks alone because their servers host many different sites, most of which they don’t want to block, says Houmansadr. CacheBrowser works by going directly to content delivery network servers to download pages when you type in a Web address, using a lookup table of websites and their content delivery networks. If authorities in China start blocking content delivery networks, China could be cut off from much of the Web. When the country’s censors temporarily blocked a content delivery network owned by Verizon in 2014, it became impossible to access thousands of websites, including that of Hong Kong-based bank HSBC.
Robots Will Transform the Building Industry in 50 Years – (Dezeen – November 10, 2015)
the architecture industry is at the start of a “maker revolution” that could see robots transform construction, according to BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann. “In Switzerland they’re looking at how, instead of masons, you would have robots that would place the mortar and the stone in the right places and you would take a little bit of the danger element out of doing some of this work,” he said. BIG is working with robotics for the first time as part of its collaboration with Thomas Heatherwick on Google’s new campus in Mountain View, California. At the Google Campus, BIG is experimenting with not only using robots for construction, but to adapt the spaces after they’ve been built. “Crabots are a hybrid of cranes and robots that would be able to move pre-fabricated spaces around,” explained the New York-based architect. “For Google, it means we can create a flexible office with workspaces for 20 people, four people or for individuals. We can actually create quiet spaces, as well as loud spaces, because Google staff and engineers work in such different ways.” Bergmann compared the project with another innovation – prototypes for 3D-printed steel construction joints that could create more efficient architecture. “Consider the cost savings and space savings of individualizing those attachments, whereas before you would over engineer it for the worst case scenario,” he said. “Now you’re literally designing for every case individually. I think construction is just becoming more intelligent.”
“Plant Lamps” Turn Dirt and Vegetation into a Power Source – (Technology Review – November 23, 2015)
Researchers at the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) have developed a technique for capturing the electricity emitted from plants. Actually, to be fair, it’s Geobacter— a genus of bacteria that live in the soil — that do the grunt work. Nutrients in plants encounter microorganisms called ‘geobacters’ in the dirt, and that process releases electrons that electrodes in the dirt can capture. A grid of these electrodes can transfer the electrons into a standard battery.” UTEC has partnered with global ad agency FCB to produce 10 prototypes and distribute them to houses in the rainforest village of Nuevo Saposoa. Each contains an electrode grid buried in dirt, in which a single plant grows. The grid connects to a battery, which powers a large LED lamp attached to an adjustable arm on the outside of the box. A video clip in the article shows the boxes in action. For Nuevo Saposoa and other underserved communities, this is more than just a crackerjack bit of biological engineering. Electricity, and lighting in particular, are a very real need. In the rainforest villages of Nuevo Saposoa and Pucallpa in Perù, there’s an existing electrical grid, but since a flood last March damaged its cables, it hasn’t been working. Forty-two percent of the communities in the rainforest don’t have even that much. Sundown means lights out, a real problem for families with small children—and for students who need to study—unless they resort to unhealthy and dangerous kerosene lamps.”
Say Hello to the First Highway-Ready 3D-Printed Car – (Slate – November 19, 2015)
Earlier this year, Local Motors hosted a challenge to create the first 3D-printed car that can drive on the highway. For the competition, contestants were asked to “create the first highway-ready vehicle using large-scale 3D printing and the full extent of Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM),” according to competition rules. They not only had to 3D print the majority of the car, but also reduce part count and prove that using DDM is more economical than conventional manufacturing methods. Kevin Lo, an auto manufacturer, 3D printed the LM3D—the winning car that won over 60 other submitted designs. The car was chosen based on a mix of community votes and a judging panel that included former Tonight Show host Jay Leno. This will be the first road-ready 3D-printed vehicle. Local Motors is planning to sell several models of the LM3D while conducting federal test crashing and getting highway certifications. Presales of the car are slated to begin Spring 2016 with a $53,000 cost, but vehicles won’t be delivered until 2017. The car is being built in a Local Motors microfactory in Knoxville, Tennessee. Earlier this year, Local Motors 3D printed a plastic car called the Strati. The 3D printing process took a total of 44 hours. The car was driveable, but it was not street-legal. Article includes graphic of the car.
Soper Farms Triples Net Income Switching from GMO Crops to Organic – (Nation of Change – November 22, 2015)
Based in Emmetsburg, Iowa, Soper Farms is a century farm, having been in the family for more than 100 years. Both Harn’s grandfather and father farmed the land. Today Soper Farms, Inc. spans four generations with 73 family stockholders and 17 family board members. The Soper family voted to transition the farms, which comprise about 800 acres, to organic, starting in 2010. After unsuccessful attempts to grow organic vegetables and raise grass-fed beef on a large scale, the Sopers decided to focus on row crops, such as corn, which they had grown successfully in the past. They began the three-year transition to organic by growing oats, alfalfa, and clover in the first two years, followed by corn in the third. “We focused on soil restoration,” Harn Soper said. Soper Farms leased its land to organic farm operators as part of a crop share arrangement where the Sopers and farmers shared revenue generated from the crops. Net income from the first two years of the transition, 2010 and 2011, averaged $134 per acre, compared to $180 per acre from GMO corn and soybeans in 2008 and 2009. In 2012, the final year of the transition and first year of organic certification, net income from the organic corn crop soared to nearly $900 per acre. Continuing the rotation in 2013, the Sopers planted organic oats and alfalfa, and these produced $254 per acre. Harn’s experience inspired him to launch an investment fund to increase organic farming acreage in Iowa. He attracted several partners, and named the fund Sustainable Farm Partners, LLP. The aim is to raise money to buy conventional farms, find operators to farm the land organically, and then, after 10 years, sell the land, ideally back to the farmer who has been working it. Investors, which can include individuals, endowments or even food manufacturers, will earn returns from revenue generated by organic crops and land appreciation. The fund’s goal is to purchase 10,000-12,000 acres initially and add more over time. (Editor’s note: What is of interest here is that this is organic farming on an agri-business scale – and it’s still far more profitable than conventional, high-fertilizer, GMO farming.)
The Clone Factory – (Financial Times – November 27, 2015)
Xu Xiaochun, chief executive of BoyaLife, has announced an investment of $31m in a joint venture with South Korea’s Sooam Biotech that aims to clone one million cows a year from their hair cells. Researchers in BoyaLife’s laboratory on the outskirts of the coastal city of Tianjin will take skin cells from a few carefully chosen cattle (Kobe beef is Mr. Xu’s favorite). The scientists will extract the nucleus from each cell and place it into an unfertilized egg from another cow. The cloned embryos will then be implanted in surrogate dairy cows housed on cattle ranches throughout China. His ambition is staggering. Starting with 100,000 cloned cattle embryos a year in “phase one”, Mr. Xu envisages 1m annually at some point in the future. That would make BoyaLife by far the largest clone factory in the world. Mr. Xu says the latest techniques enable cloning to be carried out in an “assembly line format” at a rate of less than 1 minute per cell. Based on a four- hour shift and 250 working days a year, a proficient cloner would “manufacture” 60,000 cloned cow embryos a year, he says, adding that a team of 50 will be sufficient for the planned scale of the project. High quality global journalism requires investment. If the venture comes anywhere near achieving its goal, it will be another example of the recent surge of path-breaking, taboo-busting biotechnology research, with China introducing mass production and commercialization of projects that are still in the experimental and clinical stages elsewhere. The factory also plans to clone sniffer dogs and, for private customers, a few pet dogs.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Does Eleven Plus One Equal Sixty? – (Huffington Post -November 17, 2015)
Research indicates that in recent years the U.S. military has, in fact, developed a remarkably extensive network of more than 60 outposts and access points in Africa. Some are currently being utilized, some are held in reserve, and some may be shuttered. These bases, camps, compounds, port facilities, fuel bunkers, and other sites can be found in at least 34 countries — more than 60% of the nations on the continent. The U.S. also operates “Offices of Security Cooperation and Defense Attaché Offices in approximately 38 [African] nations,” according to Anthony Falvo, AFRICOM’s Public Affairs chief, and has struck close to 30 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers. “AFRICOM, as a new command, is basically a laboratory for a different kind of warfare and a different way of posturing forces,” says Richard Reeve, the director of the Sustainable Security Program at the Oxford Research Group, a London-based think tank. “Apart from Djibouti, there’s no significant stockpiling of troops, equipment, or even aircraft. There are a myriad of ‘lily pads’ or small forward operating bases… so you can spread out even a small number of forces over a very large area and concentrate those forces quite quickly when necessary.” To supply its troops in East Africa, AFRICOM has also built a sophisticated logistics system. It’s officially known as the Surface Distribution Network, but colloquially referred to as the “new spice route.” It connects Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. “Where does this go post-Obama [now that the continent is dotted with American outposts, drone bases, and compounds for elite teams of Special Operations forces]?” Reeve asks rhetorically, noting that the rise of AFRICOM and the proliferation of small outposts have been “in line with the Obama doctrine.”
This Could Be the Next Weapon of Mass Destruction – (Quartz – November 20, 2015)
On November 19, a special agent from the FBI met with researchers in Washington, DC to talk to a scientific panel about the risks of a powerful new genetic technology: “gene drive.” It allows scientists to, essentially, hijack the process of evolution, spreading a new gene through a population with incredible speed. And while it was developed with peaceful uses in mind, such as eradicating mosquitoes to end malaria, it could be used for ill too—it’s cheap and easy enough to master that bioterrorists could get their hands on it. Normally, an organism has a 50% chance of inheriting any given gene from each of its parents. But in 2012, US researchers developed a high-precision gene-editing tool—CRISPR-Cas9, which has opened up whole new realms of genetic engineering. By the end of 2014, researchers at Harvard University had used it to develop a gene drive in yeast that was inherited 99% of the time instead of 50%. In March, a research group at the University of California, San Diego showed that gene drives could work with 97% inheritance in fruit flies, a much more complex organism than yeast. In theory, a terrorist wouldn’t need to create vast amounts of a lethal virus to unleash on the world. Instead, he could create a handful of mosquitoes with a gene for making a toxin, and power it with a gene drive. Soon all the world’s mosquitoes would make the toxin, and every mosquito bite would be lethal. Hence there is talk now of regulation. However, Amesh Adalja, a biosecurity expert at the University of Pittsburgh who was also present at Thursday’s meeting, observed, “If a lone wolf or terrorist group is working on this, the regulation wouldn’t make any difference.” (Editor’s note: Researchers in China are already using the CRISPR technique in ways that far surpass research which has been reported in the US. For example, we highly recommend this article from Technology Review, First Gene-Edited Dogs Reported in China. See also: Gene-edited ‘Micropigs’ To Be Sold As Pets at Chinese Institute.)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
How Trustworthy Are Electronic Voting Systems in the US? – (Significance [an official magazine of the American Statistical Association] – June 5, 2015)
When you cast your vote for the various candidates and public propositions at an electronic voting machine, how confident are you that the results will be tabulated honestly? If you feel less than sanguine about it and do a bit of the research to assuage your doubts, be prepared to feel even less confident afterwards. Statistical analysis shows patterns indicative of vote manipulation in machines. These results form a pattern that goes across the nation and back a number of election cycles. The data reveals multiple (at least two) agents working independently to successfully alter voting results. The official report from the congressional hearing on the 2004 presidential election in Ohio describes it as ‘the abuse and manipulation of electronic voting machines and the arbitrary and illegal behavior of a number of elected and election officials which effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in order to change the outcome of an election.’ For a thorough assessment, read ‘Post-Election Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections, a 90 page paper, available online from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “Voting machine software … is proprietary and even the election officials are not allowed to inspect it. This is termed Black Box Voting and combined with Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which permits touchscreen machines and does not require a paper trail allows a situation ripe for exploitation. We have a serious, pervasive, and systematic problem with electronic voting machines.”
Washington Refines Its False Flag Operations – (Paul Craig Roberts – November 16, 2015)
Washington and its French vassal have refined how they conduct their false flag operations. With the Charlie Hebdo operation, they knew to immediately set the story in stone in order to avoid any questions from the print and TV media and in order to use the set story to take the place of an investigation. The set story made it unnecessary to explain the mysterious “suicide” of one of the main police investigators while engaged in the investigation of the event. The set story also made it unnecessary to explain why it was necessary to kill rather than capture the alleged perpetrators, or to explain how the French authorities could be so wrong about the alleged get-away-driver but not about the two gunmen. There has been no explanation why the authorities believed there was a get-away driver, although no such driver has been captured or killed. Indeed, there are many unanswered questions of no interest to any media except the alternative Internet media. What the US and France learned from the Charlie Hebdo skepticism on the Internet is to keep the story flowing. This time there were several scenes of violence, and they were better connected in the story. More importantly, the story was followed quickly by more drama, such as the pursuit of a suspected perpetrator into Belgium, a French bombing attack on the Islamic State, a French aircraft carrier sent to the Middle East, a declaration of war by the French President against ISIL, and speculation that Hollande, pressured by Washington, will invoke NATO’s Article V, which will pull NATO into an invasion of the Islamic State. By superseding each event with a new one, the public’s attention is shifted away from the attack itself and the interests served by the attack. Already the attack itself is old news. The public’s attention has been led elsewhere. The Western media has avoided many interesting aspects of the Paris attacks. For example, what did the directors of the CIA and French intelligence discuss at their meeting a few days prior to the Paris attacks. Why did the attacks occur on the same day as a multi-site simulation of a terrorist attack involving first responders, police, emergency services and medical personnel? Why has there been no media investigation of the report that French police were blinded by a sophisticated cyber attack on their mobile data tracking system? Does anyone honestly believe that ISIL has such capability? (Editor’s note: From just the first sentence, it is clear that this author is not using the carefully presented phrases of the mainstream media, but the content here raises questions well worth considering.)
File Says N.S.A. Found Way to Replace Email Program – (New York Times – November 19, 2015)
When the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of records about Americans’ emails came to light in 2013, the government conceded the program’s existence but said it had shut down the effort in December 2011 for “operational and resource reasons.” While that particular secret program stopped, newly disclosed documents show that the N.S.A. had found a way to create a functional equivalent. The shift has permitted the agency to continue analyzing social links revealed by Americans’ email patterns, but without collecting the data in bulk from American telecommunications companies — and with less oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). The disclosure comes as a sister program that collects Americans’ phone records in bulk is set to end this month. Under a law enacted in June, known as the U.S.A. Freedom Act, the program will be replaced with a system in which the N.S.A. can still gain access to the data to hunt for associates of terrorism suspects, but the bulk logs will stay in the hands of phone companies. Timothy Edgar, a privacy official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations who now teaches at Brown University, said, “The document makes it clear that N.S.A. is able to get all the Internet metadata it needs through foreign collection. The change it made to its procedures in 2010 allowed it to exploit metadata involving Americans. Once that change was made, it was no longer worth the effort to collect Internet metadata inside the United States, in part because doing so requires N.S.A. to deal with restrictions by the intelligence court (FISA).”
Plan for Hunting Terrorists Signals U.S. Intends to Keep Adding Names to Kill Lists – (Washington Post – October 23, 2015)
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.” The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones. Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years. Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight. Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war. Meanwhile, a significant milestone looms: The number of militants and civilians killed in the drone campaign over the past 10 years will soon exceed 3,000 by certain estimates, surpassing the number of people who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
US Agency Says Israel Has 115 Warhead Nuclear Arsenal – ( Menafn – November 23, 2015)
Israel has produced 115 nuclear warheads since it began making them in 1963 according to a new study released by the Washington DC-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). Israel, the report states, has produced 660 kilograms of plutonium within the last 52 years at its Dimona nuclear reactor in the southern Negev Desert. Plutonium production at Dimona began in December of 1963 making Israel the sixth country to successfully develop nuclear weapons after the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China. Israel, the report goes on to assert, has a wide range of warhead delivery systems at its disposal including ballistic missiles nuclear-capable cruise missiles and aircraft capable of delivering nuclear payloads. The study further notes that Israel has a submarine fleet from which it is capable of launching nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
Spain Issues Arrest Warrant for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu over 2010 Gaza Flotilla Attack – (Independent – November 18, 2015)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and seven other former and current government officials are at risk of arrest if they set foot in Spain, after a Spanish judge effectively issued an arrest warrant for the group. Spanish national court judge Jose de la Mata ordered the police and civil guard to notify him if Mr. Netanyahu and the six other individuals enter the country, as their actions could see a case against them regarding the Freedom Flotilla attack of 2010 reopened. The other men named in the issue are former defense minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman, former minister of strategic affairs Moshe Yaalon, former interior minister Eli Yishai, minister without portfolio Benny Begin and vice admiral Maron Eliezer, who was in charge of the operation. The case – which was put on hold by Judge de la Mata last year – was brought against the men following an attack by Israeli security forces against the Freedom Flotilla aid ships in 2010, which was trying to reach Gaza. It concerns the Mavi Marmara ship, the main civilian vessel in a fleet of six that were attempting to break an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The six ships were carrying around 500 passengers, humanitarian aid and construction materials. The Israeli Defense Force stormed the ship in a raid that left nine human rights activists dead. See also an article based on the autopsies as reported by The Guardian at the time and which contradicted Israeli reports of the incident: Gaza Flotilla Activists Were Shot in Head at Close Range.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
This Face-Melding Art Project Is Made to Teach You Empathy – (Wired – November 27, 2015)
The idiom that best describes the empathy exercise within Antonio Daniele’s installation This Is Not Private might be see your face in someone else’s face. The artist, who was born in Italy and works in London, prompts viewers to do exactly that: The installation features eight screens, each showing interviews with subjects speaking different languages. Stand in front of a screen and facial recognition software slowly merges your visage with that of the person onscreen, in a swirling, Picasso-like pattern. “The idea is about making faces communicate with each other,” he says. He designed the software to recognize facial expressions and their related emotions. While you watch, an algorithm uses the characteristics of your face—the distance between your eyes, the shape of your jaw, the size of your nose—to create a ratio between the values. It does the same for the person on screen. Daniele wrote the software so the ratio would correlate to one of six basic facial expressions (anger, fear, sadness, joy, disgust, and surprise.) When you exhibit empathy—which in this case is determined by how closely your expression mirrors that of the person on screen—the image takes on elements of your face. The more empathy you show, the more the two of you become one. This piece was part of the collective exhibition “Except/0n” held in September, 2015 at St. James Hatcham Building in London. This Is Not Private is by no means seamless—you can see the glitches and stitches on screen, which could cloud a viewer’s perception that the person on screen is indeed kindred. Still, Daniele says some viewers were too freaked out to keep watching, which suggests he achieved his goal of having viewers “experience some kind of identity displacement, or to come in contact with the actor.” For more details and a video clip of the artwork in action, see this.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Scientists Track Down Missing Carbon from Mars Atmosphere – (Tech Times – November 25, 2015)
The red planet Mars may have had a warmer and wetter state long ago compared to its current colder and drier conditions, scientists said. They suggested that Mars may have been once shrouded by an atmosphere that is thicker than that of the Earth. If it were true, scientists wonder: where did all the carbon go? A team of experts from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) believe they have a plausible explanation for the phenomenon. About 3.8 billion years ago, Mars might have had only a moderately dense atmosphere. The researchers found a photochemical process that could have helped such a moderately dense atmosphere to evolve into its current state without causing the carbon to go missing completely. The process is also incredibly consistent with carbon isotopic measurements that exist today. The new hypothesis describes a process in which the sun’s ultraviolet light particle strikes a CO2 molecule in the upper atmosphere. This molecule absorbs energy from the photon. The molecule then splits into carbon monoxide and oxygen. The ultraviolet particle hits the carbon monoxide once more, and it dissociates into an atomic carbon and oxygen. Some carbon particles had enough energy to escape, and that carbon-12 particles were far more likely to go into the atmosphere than carbon-13, the team said.
Secret Memo Shows JFK Demanded UFO Files 10 Days Before Assassination – (In5D – November 12, 2015)
A letter written on November 12, 1963 by John F. Kennedy to the head of the CIA shows that the president demanded to be shown highly confidential documents about UFOs 10 days before his assassination. Author William Lester said the CIA released the documents to him under the Freedom of Information Act after he made a request while researching his new book A Celebration of Freedom: JFK and the New Frontier. In a second memo, sent to the NASA administrator, the president expressed a desire for cooperation with the former Soviet Union on mutual outer space activities. “One of his concerns was that a lot of these UFOs were being seen over the Soviet Union and he was very concerned that the Soviets might misinterpret these UFOs as U.S. aggression, believing that it was some of our technology,” Mr. Lester said. “I think this is one of the reasons why he wanted to get his hands on this information and get it away from the jurisdiction of NASA so he could say to the Soviets, ‘Look, that’s not us, we’re not doing it, we’re not being provocative,’” he added.
Asia Struggles for a Solution to Its ‘Missing Women’ Problem – ( Wall St. Journal – November 28, 2015)
A cultural preference for male children has cost Asia dearly. Count up all the girls who were never born because of selective abortion, victims of infanticide and females who died from neglect and there are upwards of 100 million women missing on the continent today by some estimates. Asian giants China and India—one-third of humanity – continues to give birth to significantly more males. In these countries that together hold 2.7 billion people, vast numbers of men won’t be able to find brides in the coming decades, obliterating universal marriage, the underpinning of socioeconomic organization for centuries. Across Asia, the effects are only beginning to be felt as the first generation born with skewed sex ratios in the 1980s and 1990s reaches marriageable age. At the same time, educated, affluent women in Asian nations such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan choose to take what is being called a “flight from marriage,” by remaining single or in unofficial relationships. In much of Asia, the social stigma remains strong against having children outside of marriage, and so staying single almost always means staying childless. One study by Lena Edlund at Columbia University and others suggested a causal link between a more masculine sex ratio and crime, analyzing province level crime data in China to show that a single point rise in the sex ratio of men aged 16 to 25 raised property and violent crime by between 5% and 6%. China has seen a dramatic increase in crime between 1992 and 2004, and the Columbia study attributed as much as one third of that rise to the increase in the maleness of the young adult population. The theory, in part: Unmarried men are more likely to commit crimes than married men, especially as they try to accumulate assets to compete for scarce brides.
Newborn Found Buried Alive Along Compton Bike Path – (KTLA 5 – November 30, 2015)
Deputies Adam Collette and David Perry of the sheriff’s Compton Station in Los Angeles County responded to a call regarding a soft cry coming from the side of a bikepath. “We were expecting to find an animal or a doll,” Collette said. The cries came from a 2-foot-wide hole in the bike path’s pavement, McDonnell said. In disbelief, the deputies dug beneath loose dirt, vegetation and two large pieces of asphalt. “As they dug, they located a newborn baby girl, buried alive among the debris,” McDonnell said. “She was wrapped in what appears to be a hospital blanket, and her face was covered with the loose dirt.” She was cold to the touch, and medical personnel later said she would likely not have survived the cold night, the sheriff said. Investigators still have not located the girl’s parents, nor did they know their identities. They stressed Monday that the girl could have been turned over — no questions asked — via the county’s Safe Surrender program. County Supervisor Don Knabe said 16 babies had been surrendered in the county so far in 2015, and 140 since 2001. “We’ve had 140 courageous mothers that have done the right thing,” Knabe said. “No name, no shame, no blame.” The baby was taken to a hospital and was in stable condition.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
UW Team Refrigerates Liquids with a Laser for the First Time – (Univ. of Washington – November 16, 2015)
Since the first laser was invented in 1960, they’ve almost always given off heat — either as a useful tool, a byproduct or a fictional way to vanquish intergalactic enemies. University of Washington researchers are the first to solve a decades-old puzzle — figuring out how to make a laser refrigerate water and other liquids under real-world conditions. To achieve this, the team used a material commonly found in commercial lasers but essentially ran the laser phenomenon in reverse. They illuminated a single microscopic crystal suspended in water with infrared laser light to excite a unique kind of glow that has slightly more energy than that amount of light absorbed. The discovery could help industrial users “point cool” tiny areas with a focused point of light. Microprocessors, for instance, might someday use a laser beam to cool specific components in computer chips to prevent overheating and enable more efficient information processing. Scientists could also use a laser beam to precisely cool a portion of a cell as it divides or repairs itself, essentially slowing these rapid processes down and giving researchers the opportunity to see how they work. Or they could cool a single neuron in a network — essentially silencing without damaging it — to see how its neighbors bypass it and rewire themselves. The UW team also designed an instrument that uses a laser trap — akin to a microscopic tractor beam — to “hold” a single nanocrystal surrounded by liquid in a chamber and illuminate it with the laser. To determine whether the liquid is cooling, the instrument also projects the particle’s “shadow” in a way that allows the researchers to observe minute changes in its motion. As the surrounding liquid cools, the trapped particle slows down, allowing the team to clearly observe the refrigerating effect. They also designed the crystal to change from a blueish-green to a reddish-green color as it cools, like a built-in color thermometer. So far, the UW team has only demonstrated the cooling effect with a single nanocrystal, as exciting multiple crystals would require more laser power.
Researchers Create Electronic Plants – (Linköping University (Sweden) – November 20, 2015)
With the help of the channels that distribute water and nutrients in plants, the research group at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics has built the key components of electronic circuits. In doing so, they show how roses can produce both analog and digital electronic circuits, which over the long term could be used, for example, to regulate the plant’s physiology. Traditional electronics send and process electronic signals, while plants transport and handle ions and growth hormones. In the emerging field of organic electronics, based on semi-conductive polymers, both ions and electrons can serve as signal carriers. With the help of organic electronics it therefore becomes possible to combine electric signals with the plant’s own, as if translating the plant’s signals into traditional electronics. With inexpensive organic electronics integrated into plants, numerous possibilities arise – such as utilizing energy from photosynthesis in a fuel cell, or reading and regulating the growth and other inner functions of plants. Lead research Professor Berggren said, “Now we can really start talking about ‘power plants’ – we can place sensors in plants and use the energy formed in the chlorophyll, produce green antennas or produce new materials. Everything occurs naturally, and we use the plants’ own very advanced, unique systems.”
A Grim Bargain – (Washington Post – December 1, 2015)
Desperate steps are being taken in a parts of America simply trying to survive economically. In wide swaths of the Deep South, public schools struggle, turning out workers who lack basic skills. Agricultural work has long faded, while job opportunities in once-prosperous industries such as textiles and timber have been lost to cheaper options in Latin America or automation at home. Politicians say they must give freebies to lure companies here, or offer nothing at all and watch the region — which already lags behind the rest of the country on most measures of well-being — fall even further behind. But in some cases, when opportunity arrives, it highlights a grim bargain: Jobs come at great cost but offer only a slightly better version of a hard life. The region’s weaknesses — a low-skill workforce that doesn’t expect particularly high wages — become its competitive strengths. And suddenly, the only opportunity for somebody in the rural South becomes a Chinese company looking for a place from which to do more business in the United States. All told, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, one Chinese company featured in this article received subsidies worth some $200 million — the bulk of it in local and state tax abatements, plus the cash, $5 million in land and road costs and nearly $2 million in worker training. County leaders say they had little choice: They had spent years trying to lure companies, reaching out unsuccessfully to more than 100. Still, some regional experts and economic analysts say the strategy amounts to a flawed attempt at a quick fix that surrenders a source of much-needed tax dollars that could be used for spending on education, health, and infrastructure. “It’s a vicious cycle, because poorer states spend less on the things that would allow them to be less poor in the long run,” said Wesley Tharpe, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
With This Genetic Engineering Technology, There’s No Turning Back – (Technology Review – November 23, 2015)
The students in Anthony James’s basement insectary at the University of California, Irvine, knew they’d broken the laws of evolution when they looked at the mosquitoes’ eyes. By rights, the bugs, born from fathers with fluorescent red eyes and mothers with normal ones, should have come out only about half red. Instead, as they counted them, first a few and then by the hundreds, they found 99% had glowing eyes. More important than the eye color is that James’s mosquitoes also carry genes that stop the malaria parasite from growing. If these insects were ever released in the wild, their “selfish” genetic cargo would spread inexorably through mosquito populations, and potentially stop the transmission of malaria. The technology, called a “gene drive,” was built using the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR. A functioning gene drive in mosquitoes has been anticipated for more than a decade by public health organizations as a revolutionary way to fight malaria. Now that it’s a reality, however, the work raises questions over whether the technology is safe enough to ever be released into the wild. Gene drives are just the latest example of the fantastic power of CRISPR editing to alter the DNA of living things, which has already set off a debate over the possibility that gene editing could be used to generate designer human babies (see “Engineering the Perfect Baby”). But Henry Greely, a law professor and bioethics specialist at Stanford, says environmental uses are more worrisome than a few modified people. “The possibility of remaking the biosphere is enormously significant, and a lot closer to realization,” he says.
Where’s the Truth, and How Can You Find It? – (This Can’t Be Happening – November 20, 2015)
Are the American corporate media largely propaganda organs, or news organizations? Here are a few points to consider, and then you the reader can decide. Check out how one should objectively answer these questions below (in the article), and then check how the US corporate media generally answer them. For example: 1. If ISIS or Al Qaeda deliberately attacks a civilian venue as in Paris, killing dozens of civilians indiscriminately, is it terrorism? Objective answer: Yes. US media answer: Yes. 2. If the US deliberately attacks a civilian venue as in the case of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing dozens of civilians indiscriminately, is it terrorism? Objective answer: Yes. US media answer: No. Here is another pair of questions: 11. If Iran, a signatory of the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, seeks to develop the capability to refine uranium-235 which could someday be used to make a nuclear bomb, but agrees to international supervision and inspections, is that a grave threat to regional stability in the Middle East and to world peace? Objective answer: No, since there is already a powerful nuclear nation in the Middle East with the capability of totally obliterating Iran — namely Israel. Media answer: Yes. 12: If Israel, which has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which refuses to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, and which is known to have hundreds of nuclear weapons as well as the planes and missiles to deliver them anywhere, is that agrave threat to regional stability in the Middle East and to world peace? Objective answer: Yes. US media answer: No. Clearly one could go on and on with this kind of a list, but it should be obvious that the mainstream corporate media are working essentially in lockstep supporting US foreign policy in ways that involve presenting the world to the US public in a very warped pro-government manner. Why this is happening, when these news organizations are, for the most part, not directly funded or controlled by the government as they are in countries where we expect the media to be propaganda arms is a complicated story, explained clearly by experts like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. The article goes on to give links to stories reported in the alternative (online) media that are never carried by the mainstream press. And it finally notes that if you are not giving some attention to the alternative media, you are unaware of a great many news-worthy items – and gives examples.
10 Differences Between White Terrorists and Others – (Nation of Change – November 30, 2015)
White terrorists are called “gunmen” while other terrorists are called “terrorists. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane. The list goes on; reading it is an valuable exercise in understanding how word choice carefully shapes the public’s perceptions.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Using MRI to Find Where Happiness Happens – (Science Daily – November 20, 2015)
Do we really know what happiness is? Wataru Sato and his team at Kyoto University have found an answer from a neurological perspective. Overall happiness, according to their study, is a combination of happy emotions and satisfaction of life coming together in the precuneus, a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active when experiencing consciousness. People feel emotions in different ways; for instance, some people feel happiness more intensely than others when they receive compliments. Psychologists have found that emotional factors like these and satisfaction of life together constitutes the subjective experience of being “happy.” The neural mechanism behind how happiness emerges, however, remained unclear. Sato and his team scanned the brains of participants with MRI. The participants then took a survey that asked how happy they are generally, how intensely they feel emotions, and how satisfied they are with their lives. Their analysis revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. In other words, people who feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life have a larger precuneus. So how does that help us? Sato is hopeful about the implications this has for happiness training. “Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus. This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research,” he said. Here is the original research paper, The Structural Neural Substrate of Subjective Happiness, published in the journal Nature. For more scholarly articles, see also Brain Gray Matter Changes Associated with Mindfulness Meditation in Older Adults: An Exploratory Pilot Study using Voxel-based Morphometry and Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density both from the National Institutes of Health.
JUST FOR FUN
The Axe Ad Everybody Is Talking About – (Time – January 30, 2014)
Fragrance company Axe has built a grooming products business using ads well known for their sexual humor and exaggerated scenarios. Perhaps that’s why this ad has come as such a surprise. Instead of focusing on broad humor, the company’s Super Bowl spot to promote the new Axe Peace fragrance line is a sprawling epic that seemingly spans to continents and generations. Axe often visits college campuses and talks to students to discover what topics and themes will captivate their Millennial customers. According to marketing director Matthew McCarthy, those topics are peace and harmony. The commercial begins with a montage of classic wartime images. A tank rolls through a devastated eastern European city, an Asian dictator is flanked by propaganda posters and a Middle Eastern ruler wields the red button to launch a nuclear device. Midway through, though, the narrative is turned on its head. If the typical Axe ad operates on the assumption that sex sells, this one suggests that romance (and peace) may sell just as well. Here is a link to the two-minute version of this commercial.
A FINAL QUOTE–
You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret…is to press play. ― Jay Asher, author
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, 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. [email protected]
Edited by John L. Petersen