FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- We each know roughly how many devices we own with a network connection; our children won’t.
- Yahoo will now tell you if your account is attacked by government hackers.
- Washington Post research shows that police shot and killed nearly three Americans every day in 2015.
- For over 40 years in a row, Denmark has been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world – and a good part of the reason may be “hygge”.
by John L. Petersen
Robert Coxon Coming to Berkeley Springs
Everything in this reality is energy, and all of that energy vibrates . . . at different frequencies.
Your body, your cells, your soul, and plants and animals all have unique frequency signatures that resonate with certain sounds. When you (or your cat or your garden), are enveloped in the sounds that target their specific signature frequencies . . . magic happens. People are healed, animals relax, plants grow much better.
One of the world’s masters of the music that heals and harmonizes, Robert Haig Coxon, has made it his life’s work to compose and perform the immensely soothing and rejuvenating music that . . . makes people better. As one listener said: “Some music makes me want to dance while others make me feel like crying but this . . . this offers me pure rest in stillness. Thank you.”
Perhaps best known for his albums that have sold more than a half-million copies, many thousands of people have also heard him in concerts in countries around the world and as the music behind Lee Carroll’s channeling of the magnetic master, Kryon. Over 13 million people have listened to this YouTube video of his music. When not traveling the World, Robert spends time in his studio scoring for television and writing for both his next albums and his many international concerts.
Now, Robert comes to Berkeley Springs on January 22-23, for a special Friday night concert and then a Saturday afternoon workshop that will take you away to another place and bring you back feeling uplifted . . . and better. You should come if you can. It will be a joyous time.
You can get complete information at www.transitiontalks.org
Tech Advances Last Year
2015 was an incredible year for science and technology. Watch the year’s biggest moments recapped in three minutes from Futurism.
Here’s a website with more information on these significant events.
Predictions from 1993
I wrote my first book, The Road to 2015: Profiles of the Future, in 1993 and, if you want to know the truth, I don’t think about it much anymore. So I was somewhat happily surprised when an old friend from that era, Mike Pocalyko, called me a couple of days ago and said that he wanted to do a year-end piece for a website to which he contributes, summarizing the relative accuracy of what I had written way back then.
He was kind of excited about the idea, but a part of me said, “What in the world did I say back then?” But he had his copy at the ready and we began talking about the different “predictions” that I had offered up then. Mike was very kind and generous with his assessment. I was surprised at some of the things that I had written. On balance I guess we were pretty much in the ballpark, so I will point you to the article with only a slight amount of embarrassment about what I got wrong. Thanks, Mike!
By the way, one thing that I do remember from two decades ago (long before 3D printing even had a name), was that prognosticators were suggesting that by 2015 every organ and part of the human body except for the brain and the central nervous system would be replicable by artificial means. My! That was pretty spot on. It’s amazing all of the body parts that can be generated by machines these days.
There was another idea from that era that appears to be a hit – the notion that advances in life extension would rapidly increase such that sometime around now the annual scientific advances would have the net effect of adding an additional year of lifetime to the early adopters every year – so you would essentially stop aging. That’s what Mike was referencing about living 200 years. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happens. Don’t know what that would do to the life insurance business!
Two Cups of Coffee a Month
It’s a new year, and our resolution to you is to keep FUTUREdition coming your way for another 24 issues. The rate of change is accelerating, so I can assure you that this will be a good place to check in every other week or so to get a fix on what is happening and where the world – and your life – might be going.
We make FUTUREdition available at no cost to anyone who wants it as we have now for almost 18 years. Many friends tell us that they particularly appreciate the perspectives and news that are unique to FE and that they don’t find this kind of information from any other source. We are encouraged and appreciative of that.
As I’ve told you before, even though FE is free to you, it costs us about $15,000 a year to publish. I don’t charge for my time, but I still have to pay the good people who help me edit and publish what we gather together.
So, if you’ve found FUTUREdition helpful and believe that our voice in an important one in making sense of all of this change we’re confronted with, this would be a good time to help.
Can you send $100? If so, that would be greatly appreciated. If you can only afford $50 or $35, let me assure you that that would certainly go directly to keeping the machinery going on this end.
Let me put this in perspective. The other day I bought a cup of coffee that cost me $4 (I think it was in an airport). If you thought that FUTUREdition was worth a single cup of coffee once every two weeks . . . well, that would be just about $100. (And there’s an outside chance that FE would be better for you than the coffee!)
So help us as you can. We would very much appreciate it. Click here. We’ll make it very easy for you to help.
Thank you very much.
Warmest wishes for the new year. Fasten your seat belt!
16 Mobile Theses – (Benedict Evans – December 18, 2015)
We’re now coming up to 9 years since the launch of the iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution, and some of the first phases are over – Apple and Google both won the platform war, mostly, Facebook made the transition, mostly, and it’s now perfectly clear that mobile is the future of technology and of the internet. But within that, there’s a huge range of different themes and issues, many of which are still pretty unsettled. Here are 16 topics to think about within the current generation of tech-stuff, and then further link to the things this author has written about them. If you wonder how your experience of the world is likely to change in the next ten years, this is a pretty good article; it doesn’t give you many answers, but it points you in the right direction to look for them. For example, “Our grandparents could have told you how many electric motors they owned – there was one in the car, one in the fridge and so on, and they owned maybe a dozen. In the same way, we know roughly how many devices we own with a network connection, and, again, our children won’t. Many of those use cases will seem silly to us, just as our grandparents would laugh at the idea of a button to lower a car window, but the sheer range and cheapness of sensors and components, mostly coming out of the smartphone supply chain, will make them ubiquitous and invisible – we’ll forget about them just as we’ve forgotten about electric motors. “
How the Internet Lied to You in 2015 – (BBC News – December 26, 2015)
In 2015, many pictures and videos went viral, some for all the wrong reasons. There were deliberate fakes created to deceive the public and then there were misleading images shared, often during breaking news situations, that were entirely unrelated to the story. Were you caught out by any of these? For example, a haunting picture shared during the Nepal earthquake? The empty streets of Paris after the recent terrorist attack? Any of these others? Slowly, we are all learning that what we see may not be exactly what we take it for, at least not at first glance. As the internet truly comes of age, we are learning to watch more critically and question more deeply. Here’s one that’s charming – and it’s not exactly a lie, but it isn’t what you probably initially imagine. Barcode readers only emit one sound; a sound which means the scanned item has been registered in the computer and added to the tally for that purchase. So how did this supermarket make barcode readers emit different tones depending on the barcode being passed in front of the electronic reader? Or did they? We’re not sure, but part of the answer seems to lie in the opening text: “13 hidden cameras, 9 cashiers, and a large instrument”. What “instrument”?
Cameras Capture Never-before-seen Footage of Wild Crows Building Tools – (Washington Post – December 24, 2015)
Tiny cameras attached to wild New Caledonian crows capture, for the first time, video footage of these elusive birds fashioning hooked stick tools, according to researchers. These South Pacific birds build tools out of twigs and leaves that they use to root out food, and they’re the only non-humans that make hooked tools in the wild, write the authors of the study. These South Pacific birds build tools out of twigs and leaves that they use to root out food, and they’re the only (currently known) non-humans that make hooked tools in the wild. Humans have previously seen the crows making the tools in artificial situations, in which scientists baited feeding sites and provided the raw tools; but researchers say the New Caledonian crows have never been filmed doing this in a completely natural setting.
Mysterious 14000-year-old Leg Bone May Belong to Archaic Human Species – (Christian Science Monitor – December 19, 2015)
A 14,000-year-old thigh bone may upend human history. Unearthed in southwest China, this femur resembles those of an ancient species of humans thought to be long extinct by the Late Pleistocene, scientists say. The scientists compare the leg bone to ancient and modern human femurs, arguing that this specimen represents a population of ancient humans that lived surprisingly recently. If they’re right, this could dramatically change the way we see human history. Today, our species, Homo sapiens, are the only humans to walk the Earth. But it hasn’t always been that way. At times, ancient human species, like Neanderthals, Denisovans, H. erectus, and H. habilis, overlapped. Some even intermingled with our own species, as Denisovan genes show up in some modern humans living today. Scientists thought that the last time there was more than one species of human on Earth was tens of thousands of years ago. One of our closest cousins, Neanderthals, for example, are thought to have died out about 40,000 years ago. “Until now, it was thought that archaic humans on mainland Asia had survived no later than around 100,000 years ago,” said study author Darren Curnoe.
Soon to Welcome the Weight Loss Diet Based on Person’s Genome – (Uncover Michigan – December 26, 2015)
A new study published in the Journal Obesity shows that a person’s obesity is gene-dependent. Researchers from the University of Texas have discovered a gene which they dubbed as ‘obesity gene’ responsible for turning energy from food to be stored in the form of fat rather than burned. Within five years, it will be possible to present a person with a master diet, based on individual patient’s genes, which will help keep the pounds off permanently. Molly Bray, a geneticist and professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, said it is expected that people will start using a combination of genetic, behavioral and other sophisticated data to develop individualized weight-management plans in coming future. “So that highlights that there are going to be several genes involved with obesity, and they’re going to interact with each other in complicated ways. And that’s certainly true of weight loss and maintenance too”. Bray said that the lowering costs of genome sequencing and portable monitors give scientists the ability to collect the data they need to do the fundamental research behind precision weight loss.
Growing Cartilage to Rebuild Body Parts – (BBC News – December 29, 2015)
Patients needing surgery to reconstruct body parts such as noses and ears could soon have treatment using cartilage which has been grown in a lab. The process involves growing someone’s cells in an incubator and then mixing them with a liquid which is 3D printed into the jelly-like shape needed. It is then put back in an incubator to grow again until it is ready. Researchers in Swansea, UK hope to be among the first in the world to start using it on humans within three years. “In simple terms, we’re trying to grow new tissue using human cells,” said Prof. Iain Whitaker, consultant plastic surgeon at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery at Morriston Hospital. 3D printing has now developed to the point that we can consider printing biological tissue called 3D bio-printing, which is very different. “We’re trying to print biological structures using human cells, and provide the right environment and the right timing so it can grow into tissue that we can eventually put into a human. It would be to reconstruct lost body parts such as part of the nose or the ear and ultimately large body parts including bone, muscle and vessels.”
A Change of Mind – (Technology Review – December 16, 2015)
Diana Bianchi, who is arguably America’s best-known neonatal geneticist, championed tests that find Down syndrome early in pregnancy. Now she is looking for a way to treat it. Bianchi has called this possibility “fetal personalized medicine.” Any kind of fetal medicine is still very unusual, though. Sixty to 70% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome in the United States opt for abortion. “Plenty of people think that their children with Down syndrome are perfect the way they are,” says Bianchi. “But there are also plenty of people who, if given the choice, would want to attempt to treat their children.” Critics of testing “don’t know the complete picture,” she says. “They don’t realize there is another half to the equation.” One of Bianchi’s first steps was to try to find a molecular signature of the disorder by collecting amniotic fluid from pregnant women, in order to measure the “transcriptome” of fetal cells—a readout of which genes are turned on or off. She found about 300 genes that behaved differently in Down syndrome, and most of them were not on chromosome 21. That underscored the complexity of the disease, but it also provided what Bianchi says is her key finding.
Shocking New Way to Get the Salt Out – (MIT News – November 12, 2015)
As the availability of clean, potable water becomes an increasingly urgent issue in many parts of the world, researchers are searching for new ways to treat salty, brackish or contaminated water to make it usable. Now a team at MIT has come up with an innovative approach that, unlike most traditional desalination systems, does not separate ions or water molecules with filters, which can become clogged, or boiling, which consumes great amounts of energy. Instead, the system uses an electrically driven shockwave within a stream of flowing water, which pushes salty water to one side of the flow and fresh water to the other, allowing easy separation of the two streams. In the new process, called shock electrodialysis, water flows through a porous material —in this case, made of tiny glass particles, called a frit — with membranes or electrodes sandwiching the porous material on each side. When an electric current flows through the system, the salty water divides into regions where the salt concentration is either depleted or enriched. When that current is increased to a certain point, it generates a shockwave between these two zones, sharply dividing the streams and allowing the fresh and salty regions to be separated by a simple physical barrier at the center of the flow. One possible application would be in cleaning the vast amounts of wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This contaminated water tends to be salty, sometimes with trace amounts of toxic ions, so finding a practical and inexpensive way of cleaning it would be highly desirable.
Yahoo Will Now Tell You If Your Account Is Attacked By Government Hackers – (Business Insider – December 24, 2015)
Yahoo has announced in a blog post that it will warn users if it thinks their accounts are being attacked by state-sponsored hackers. “We’re committed to protecting the security and safety of our users, and we strive to detect and prevent unauthorized access to user accounts by third parties,” Yahoo’s chief information security officer, Bob Lord, writes. “As part of this effort, Yahoo will now notify you if we strongly suspect that your account may have been targeted by a state-sponsored actor. We’ll provide these specific notifications so that our users can take appropriate measures to protect their accounts and devices in light of these sophisticated attacks.” He goes on: “If you receive one of these notifications, it does not necessarily mean that your account has been compromised. Rather, we strongly suspect that you may have been a target of an attack, and want to encourage you to take steps to secure your online presence. In addition, these warnings to our users do not indicate that Yahoo’s internal systems have been compromised in any way.” How does Yahoo determine that an attack is “state-sponsored”? It’s not saying. In December, multiple Twitter users — including activists and security researchers — received messages from the social network warning them that they had been targeted by government hackers. “We are alerting you that your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors,” it said.
Fairphone 2: World’s First Modular Phone Goes on Sale – (BBC News – December 16, 2015)
A smartphone designed to be easy to repair and upgrade is now available for purchase. The internal components of the Fairphone 2 are split into modules which can be replaced with minimal tools or expertise. The company behind the phone hopes this will encourage owners to keep their phones for longer, rather than regularly changing to new devices. The Fairphone company says it aim is to create a more ethical device with an emphasis on reparability and sourcing key minerals used in the phone’s construction from conflict-free areas. For more information, see the company’s website.
Algorithm Turns Smartphones into 3-D Scanners – (KurzweilAI – December 28, 2015)
An algorithm developed by Brown University researchers my help bring high-quality 3-D depth-scanning capability to standard commercial digital cameras and smartphones. “The 3-D scanners on the market today are either very expensive or unable to do high-resolution image capture, so they can’t be used for applications where details are important,” said Gabriel Taubin, a professor in Brown’s School of Engineering — like 3-D printing. Most of the high-quality 3-D scanners capture images using a technique known as structured light. The limitation with current 3-D depth scanners is that the pattern projector and the camera have to precisely synchronized, which requires specialized and expensive hardware. The algorithm Taubin and his students have developed enables the structured light technique to be done without synchronization between projector and camera. That means an off-the-shelf camera can be used with an untethered (unconnected by a wire) structured light flash. The camera just needs to have the ability to capture uncompressed images in burst mode (several successive frames per second), which many DSLR cameras and smartphones can do. After the camera captures a burst of images, the algorithm calibrates the timing of the image sequence using the binary information embedded in the projected pattern. Then it goes through the images, pixel by pixel, to assemble a new sequence of images that captures each pattern in its entirety. Once the complete pattern images are assembled, a standard structured light 3D reconstruction algorithm can be used to create a single 3-D image of the object or space.
Lego Introduces Skyline Building Kits for Recreating Cityscapes – (Dezeen – December 15, 2015)
Danish toy brand Lego has released a set of kits that allows architecture lovers to build skylines of cities around the world. The first three sets to be launched are Venice, Berlin and New York City, with each of the cities’ well-known buildings reconstructed in miniature brick form. The New York City kit features the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty (recreated with a single minifigure), the Flatiron Building and One World Trade Center. For Venice, owners can recreate landmarks including the Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Campanile and St Mark’s Basilica, while the set for the German capital features a tiny candy-striped TV Tower, alongside the Brandenburg Gate and miniature recreations of decorated sections of the Berlin Wall. All of the sets will include a booklet detailing the history of each landmark, and will be available from January 2016 with a reported price tag between $30 and $60.
Dezeen’s Top 10 Houses of 2015 – (Dezeen – December 23, 2015)
If you’d like to see something a bit bigger than Lego pieces, take a look at these structures. Over 400 houses from all over the world have been featured on Dezeen in the past year. Architecture editor Amy Frearson picks her top 10, including a transparent home in rural Japan, a top-heavy residence beside a Chilean lagoon, and a concrete property built behind crumbling walls of volcanic stone.
FAA Grounds ‘Uber for Planes’ – (Motherboard – December 19, 2015)
Sharing economies have been around long before companies like Uber and AirBnB figured out how to take the idea digital and thereby monopolize entire peer-to-peer networks. Historically, the private aviation community is one of the groups which is most familiar with the principles of a pre-Uber sharing economy, due in large part to the huge costs associated with purchasing, maintaining and operating a noncommercial aircraft. According to the FAA and a recent court ruling however, taking this well established flight-sharing network online is totally illegal. In the days before the internet, the private aviation community’s robust ride-sharing tradition was largely facilitated by bulletin boards and word of mouth. In an effort to bring the private aviation community in step with the changing times, a Boston-based startup called Flytenow created an Uber-esque flight-sharing service connecting private pilots with passengers in early 2014. Soon after their launch the FAA declared their activities to at odds with aviation regulations, and the two organizations have been locked in a legal battle ever since. Flytenow is essentially an online message board where private pilots post their flight plans and passengers (deemed “flight enthusiasts” by the company) can opt to hitch a ride if they are headed in the same direction. The crucial difference between this and buying a ticket on a commercial airliner is that the passenger cannot compensate the pilot for their service. Rather, the passenger is only splitting the costs associated with the flight with the pilot. Unfortunately for Voska and the rest of the Flytenow founders, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit didn’t agree. The appeals court sided with the FAA and decided that posting to Flytenow constituted a form of advertising and expense-splitting was a form of compensation, thus placing private pilots operating through Flytenow in league with commercial pilots and their corresponding regulations. For now, the decision means that Flytenow will no longer be allowed to facilitate ride sharing between private pilots and passengers, although Flytenow co-founder Alan Guichard said the company is still considering an appeal on the ruling.
Americans Waste Billions of Tons of Food. This Congresswoman Is Doing Something About It – (Nation of Change – December 14, 2015)
Food waste is a big problem in the United States — nearly 40% of the food produced in the country is wasted each year, costing consumers $161 billion annually. According to a poll by the American Chemistry Council, 70% of Americans are bothered by the amount of food wasted in the country. Earlier this year, the USDA and EPA teamed up to release the country’s first official national goal for reducing food waste, hoping to cut food waste in half by 2030. Still, despite widespread public support for addressing food waste, it’s an issue that has largely been championed by businesses and activists rather than politicians. Now, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is trying to change that. On Dec. 7, Pingree introduced the Food Recovery Act, a comprehensive bill that seeks to address food waste from the farm to table. The bill contains nearly two dozen provisions aimed at curbing food waste across the entire economy, from farm-level waste to food that is wasted at restaurants. At the consumer level, one of the easiest things to do, Pingree said, would be to reevaluate the “Best By” labels included on most food products.
Could ‘Resurrection Plants’ Be the Future of Food? – (BBC News – December 21, 2015)
When she was a child, Jill Farrant, a molecular physiologist based at the University of Cape Town, came across an unusual plant. It seemed dead, yet when the rain fell from the sky, it sprung back to life. Her father didn’t believe her. What Farrant saw was a “resurrection plant”, which can survive with no water for months to years. Seeing how quickly the plants recover is remarkable sight (Watch a timelapse in the embedded video at 1:30). Now Farrant hopes to tap these abilities to transform food production. Resurrection plants have many of the same genes in their roots and leaves as seeds, so now she is trying to work out how to switch those genes in wheat, rice and maize crops so that they can survive droughts.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
US Prisoners Released Early by Software Bug – (BBC News – December 23, 2015)
More than 3,200 US prisoners have been released early because of a software glitch. The bug miscalculated the sentence reductions prisoners in Washington state had received for good behavior. It was introduced in 2002 as part of an update that followed a court ruling about applying good behavior credits. State officials said that many early-release prisoners would have to return to jail to finish their sentences. “That this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening,” said Washington’s governor Jay Inslee at a press conference. The Washington Department of Corrections (DoC) added that it was made aware of the problem in 2012 when the family of one victim found out that the offender was getting out too early. Despite this, the faulty software was not corrected until a new IT boss for the DoC was appointed, who realized how serious the problem had become. Analysis of the errors showed that, on average, prisoners whose sentences were wrongly calculated got out 49 days early. One prisoner had his sentence cut by 600 days. Local police are now helping to round up those who still need to spend time in jail. Five people have already been returned to cells. An independent investigation has also been started to find out how the mistake was left uncorrected for so long.
The CIA Secret to Cybersecurity That No One Seems to Get – (Wired – December 20, 2015)
If you want to keep yourself up at night, spend some time reading about the latest developments in cybersecurity. Airplanes hacked, cars hacked, vulnerabilities in a breathtaking range of sensitive equipment from TSA locks to voting booths to medical devices. The big picture is even scarier. Former NSA Director Mike McConnell suspects China has hacked “every major corporation” in the US. Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks revealed the US government has its own national and international hacking to account for. And the Ponemon Institute says 110 million Americans saw their identities compromised in 2014. That’s one in two American adults. The system is broken. It isn’t keeping us, our companies, or our government safe. Worse yet, no one seems to know how to fix it. The information security community has a model to assess and respond to threats, at least as a starting point. It breaks information security into three essential components: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Integrity means assessing whether the software and critical data within your networks and systems are compromised with malicious or unauthorized code or bugs. Viruses and malware compromise the integrity of the systems they infect. It’s also the least understood, most nebulous, and the greatest threat to businesses and governments today. “Encrypt everything” and “secure the perimeter” of networks are no longer effective the solutions. Instead the article suggests a new way to approach the entire issue.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Obama Admits U.S. “Tortured Some Folks”. Here’s What He Didn’t Say – (Washington’s Blog – August 4, 2014)
President Obama has said: “We tortured some folks …. We did some things that were contrary to our values.” We applaud Obama admitting to this unsavory chapter in U.S. history. The government has denied for years that the U.S. tortures … even though we in the alternative media exposed the torture 10 years ago. But there’s a lot that Obama didn’t say. It wasn’t just “some folks” we tortured. The torture was widespread and systemic. And it wasn’t just bad guys who were tortured: The commander of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Janis Karpinski, estimates that 90% of detainees in the prison were innocent. The number two man at the State Department under Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, says that many of those being held at Guantanamo Bay were innocent, and that top Bush administration officials knew that they were innocent. U.S. military files show that many Guantánamo prisoners were held on the flimsiest grounds such as wearing a Casio watch, being a prisoner in a Taliban jail, driving cabs in certain geographic regions, or being Al Jazeera reporters. Many state that those tortured were mainly innocent farmers, villagers, or those against whom neighbors held a grudge. Indeed, people received a nice cash reward from the U.S. government for turning people in as “suspected terrorists”.
An ‘Extremist’ in the United States – (Nation of Change – December 27, 2015)
The author of this piece describes himself as “a mild-mannered (a polite term for ‘boring’) white Christian man, born and raised in North Dakota, a U.S. state known for being mild-mannered.” He goes on to write, “I teach university courses on freedom of expression and the role of journalism in a democratic society, concepts I take seriously. I also take seriously my obligation as a citizen to participate in conversations about public policy, but I avoid shouting. And I don’t own any weapons. But beware—I am an extremist.” He holds what are considered extreme political beliefs in today’s mainstream U.S. political dialogue, for example: that the United States should be held accountable for its past and current violations of international law and basic moral principles; that capitalism is incompatible with real democracy and basic moral principles; and that when the United States ignores that law—and by extension the U.S. Constitution, which in Article VI binds us to the treaties we’ve signed—it should be accountable. (Editor’s note: This is a article worth reading, not because it espouses anything “extreme”, but because it illuminates, by comparison, how far the current crop of political candidates have moved from a system of values that used to be assumed in this country.)
Police Shot and Killed Nearly Three Americans Every Day in 2015 – (Raw Story – December 27, 2015)
After conducting a year-long study of police shootings that resulted in death, the Washington Post is reporting that 965 people in the U.S. have been killed by police officers in 2015 — nearly three people every day. According to the Post, only 90 of the shootings occurred when the suspect was unarmed, with the bulk broken down into three categories: the suspect was wielding a weapon of some sort, they were suicidal or mentally troubled, or they attempted to flee when officers ordered them to halt. While the killing of unarmed black men makes up only 4% of the police shootings, 40% of the shootings involved black male victims — a grossly disproportionate number with African-American males making up only 6% of the population. An earlier study by The Guardian — released in late November — showed that more than 1,000 people had been killed by police (not all of them shot, as in the Washington Post study) in the shorter period. Following the shooting death of a man in Oakland on Nov. 15 after he waved a toy gun at officers, the Guardian noted at the time that it was the 883rd fatal shooting by a law enforcement officer 2015. An additional 47 people died as the result of being shocked with an officer’s Taser, 33 died after being struck by a law enforcement officer’s vehicle, and another 36 were killed while in custody.
Bush Official: U.S. Still Faking WMD Claims (Against Syria), Military-Industrial Complex Motivated By Corruption (Not Security) – (Washington’s Blog – December 22, 2015)
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson – former chief of staff to Colin Powell, the guy who wrote Powell’s famous speech on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and now distinguished adjunct professor of Government and Public Policy at William & Mary – is no stranger to controversy. In a new, wide-ranging interview (embedded in the article), Wilkerson says, among other things: “I went to every person I knew in the intelligence community, and everyone I knew outside of the United States, including two people who knew Syria at the time … None of them could confirm for me that Assad used the chemical weapons. And frankly, the evidence looked more strongly for other parties than the president [Assad].]”; “The military-industrial-congressional complex doesn’t act to protect America … they protect to line their pockets with money.”; “America’s “ship is sinking””; and “It may take a revolution to fix America.” (Editor’s note: This is a remarkably candid and bracing interview, particularly given the stature of Col. Wilkerson.)
GLOBAL RELATIONS/FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The Secret to Danish Happiness – (Greater Good – October 27, 2015)
For over 40 years in a row, Denmark has been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world. During a Democratic primary debate, candidate Bernie Sanders said, “We should look to countries like Denmark” if we wanted the US to become a happier place—a comment that triggered fierce debate about Denmark’s public policies. What is the secret to the emotional success of this small Northern European country? At least part of the answer lies with the Danish way of “hygge”—pronounced “hooga.” The word dates back to the 19th century. It is derived from the Germanic word hyggja, which means to think or feel satisfied. Hygge is essentially drama-free togetherness time. It is cozying around or “at hygge sig,” but more than that, it is being aware that that cozy time is sacred—and treating it as such. Because Danes see hygge as such a fundamental aspect of good living, they all work together to make it happen. Hygge is “we time,” not “me time”. So what is hygge exactly? Try to imagine going to a drama-free family gathering. There are no divisive discussions about politics, family issues, or Aunt Jenny’s dysfunctional kids. No snide comments, complaining, or heavy negativity. Everyone helps out, so that not one person gets stuck doing all the work. No one brags, attacks anyone, or competes with another. It is a light-hearted, balanced interaction that is focused on enjoying the moment, the food, and the company. In short, a shelter from the outside world.
If You Were Handed $1,100 a Month, Would You Amount to Anything? – (LA Times – December 27, 2015)
Would Germany be a better place if each citizen received a no-strings-attached government check for $1,100 a month? Would people still get out of bed each day and go to work or do something else productive even with that unconditional basic income of 1,000 euros, less than half the average German monthly wage, but more than twice what those on welfare receive? Those are among the questions being examined in a small real-life experiment called “Mein Grundeinkommen” (My Basic Income) taking place in Germany — where 26 people thus far are being given $1,100 a month to do whatever they want with. The idea of a basic income has four core elements: it’s universal, it’s individual, it’s unconditional, and it’s at a level that is high enough for a decent standard of living. The privately operated project, financed by crowdfunding donations, has injected new life into an old debate in Germany about utopian ideals. The idea of a “basic wage” is also touching a nerve in Germany and across Europe amid a rise in poverty and an increase in the number of working poor. At this point, 26 people have been chosen at random to get a taste of basic income. Every few weeks, several more people are selected through drawings to receive 1,000 euros per month each for a year. They’re free to do whatever they want with the money. The recipients are picked from a pool of more than 66,000 applicants and drawings are held whenever enough donations are collected. So far a total of 31,449 people have made donations. In Finland, a new conservative-led government announced plans this month to hand out a universal basic income of nearly $900 per month starting in 2017. The basic income payments would replace all other benefits, cutting administration and means-testing costs, and will be paid to everyone regardless of whether they have other sources of income. Opinion polls show 70% of Finns favor the idea, which will cost more than $50 billion a year. A referendum on the same question is due in Switzerland in February. There is growing support for a basic income in the Netherlands.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
The United States of Fear and Panic – (Boston Globe – December 23, 2015)
Religious terror is not raging across America, but it seems that way. Presidential candidates compete to offer more radical solutions, from banning Muslim tourists to carpet-bombing the Middle East. Welcome to the United States of Panic. Fear is becoming part of our daily lives. Yet it is not justified by reality. The realistic terror threat inside the United States is a fraction of what many Americans want to believe. Feeling threatened gives life a certain edge. During the Cold War, Americans were told that we were liable to be incinerated by Soviet bombs at any moment. Ever since the Soviet Union had the bad manners to collapse a quarter-century ago, we have been suffering from enemy deprivation syndrome. Islamic terror has cured us. One recent survey suggests that half of all Americans now fear that they or a loved one will be victim of a terror attack. A mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., set off this latest wave of fear. It was the second act of apparently religion-inspired terror in the United States during 2015. Together they took a total of 19 lives. Also during 2015, about 30,000 Americans died in road crashes. Lightning killed 24,000. Ten thousand were shot to death. More than 40 died in accidents involving toasters.
The Wealthiest American Families Have Built a Private Tax System for the Rich. Here’s How It Works – (New York Times – December 29, 2015)
With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions, and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans. The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27% of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17%, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups. The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.” Article includes specifics of the tax-saving maneuvers.
What to Do With All Those Gift Cards You Just Got – (Wired – December 26, 2015)
The gifting season isn’t even over, and you’re probably staring at a small pile of gift cards. That’s fine and all, but what if you don’t need fast fashion, fast casual, or whatever it is you can get with that card your crazy aunt sent you? Have no fear, here is a rundown of all the ways you can use that gift card you can’t use. Yes, of course, the first possible is regifting. That $25 to the Olive Garden didn’t have your name on it. It had no one’s name on it. Really, it had everyone’s name on it. In this case, it had Brian’s name all over it! Or consolidate them. Add them to a digital wallet service like Google Wallet or Apple Pay, or use an app like GoWallet or Gyft to keep track of everything. Most popular retailers, including Starbucks and Target, have apps that let you transfer the value of a gift card onto them. Or donate them, sell them, or exchange them. Read this article to find out how.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
What are UFOs? New Study Aims to Find Out – (Space.com – December 30, 2015)
A new science project launched in 2015 with a lofty goal: to record data on reported sightings of “Unidentified Flying Objects” (or UFOs) in the hopes of identifying what they are. The group is called “UFODATA” – short for UFO Detection And TrAcking – and is based on building a network of automated surveillance stations with high-tech sensors for gathering scientific data on sightings of alleged UFOs. The aim is to move toward a scientific solution to the UFO reports by implementing an effort to gather systematic instrumented observations. The main project goal is to directly record physical data – photos, videos, magnetometer readings, electromagnetic radiation, etc. – about unexplained aerial phenomena “in a more comprehensive manner than has ever been done before,” the website adds. “Whether or not our observations suggest an extra-terrestrial presence,” the website explains, “collecting such data would show (a) that UFO phenomena can be studied in a rigorous and systematic fashion, and (b) thereby hopefully break down the ‘taboo’ that has long stymied basic scientific research in this area.” UFODATA’s initial goal is to raise enough money to design and construct one prototype station that would undergo testing for up to one year. The intellectual sparkplugs behind UFODATA are over a dozen volunteers, a confab of scientists, engineers, and UFO researchers. “We are also joined by several ‘silent partners,’ all scientists and engineers at academic institutions who are prepared to help, but because of the cultural stigma attached to UFOs have chosen to keep their involvement private,” explains the UFODATA website.
From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer – (NYC Consumer Affairs – December 22, 2015)
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is responsible for maintaining a fair and vibrant marketplace. To this end, DCA conducted a first-ever study of the gender pricing of goods in New York City across multiple industries. The industries studied for this report include: toys and accessories, children’s clothing, adult clothing, personal care products, and home health care products for seniors. This study reflects an average consumer lifecycle, from baby to senior products, providing a glimpse into the experiences of consumers of all ages. On average, across all five industries, DCA found that women’s products cost 7 percent more than similar products for men. Specifically: 7% more for toys and accessories; 4% more for children’s clothing; 8% more for adult clothing; 13% more for personal care products; 8% more for senior/home health care products. In all but five of the 35 product categories analyzed, products for female consumers were priced higher than those for male consumers. Across the sample, DCA found that women’s products cost more 42% of the time while men’s products cost more 18% of the time. Over the course of a woman’s life, the financial impact of these gender-based pricing disparities is significant. In 1994, the State of California studied the issue of gender-based pricing of services and estimated that women effectively paid an annual “gender tax” of approximately $1,351 for the same services as men. While DCA’s study does not estimate an annual financial impact of gender pricing for goods, the findings of this study suggest women are paying thousands of dollars more over the course of their lives to purchase similar products as men. Though there may be legitimate drivers behind some portion of the price discrepancies unearthed in this study, these higher prices are mostly unavoidable for women. Article includes a few examples of actual price discrepancies.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Super Strong, Lightweight Metal Could Build Tomorrow’s Spacecraft – (UPI – December 24, 2015)
A new metal, a combination of magnesium and ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles, is promising to change how airplanes, spacecraft and cars are manufactured. Its inventors, materials scientists at UCLA, say the metal is super strong, but most importantly, lightweight. The metal’s stiffness-to-weight ratio is what sets it apart from similar inventions. Researchers say the metal may be just the first of many groundbreaking manufacturing materials. That’s because they’ve invented a new technique for infusing metals without nanoparticles without hurting the metal’s structural integrity. The new material showed improved strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures. Previous research showed ceramic nanoparticles have a tendency to clump together when added to metals, making them stronger but weakening their plasticity. Researchers solved this problem by dispersing the nanoparticles in a molten magnesium zinc alloy.
Mystery Material Stuns Scientists – (Kurzweil AI – December 18, 2015)
In a remarkable chance landmark discovery, a team of researchers at four universities has discovered a mysterious material that emits ultraviolet light and has insulating, electrical conducting, semiconducting, superconducting, and ferromagnetic properties – all controlled by surface water. It happened while the researchers were studying a sample of lanthanum aluminate film on a strontinum titanate crystal. The sample mysteriously began to glow, emitting intense levels of ultraviolet light from its interior. After carefully reproducing the experimental conditions, they tracked down the unlikely switch that turns UV light on or off: surface water moisture. The team of researchers from Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Berkeley, and Temple University also found that the interface between the materials’ two layers of electrical insulators also had an unusual electrical conducting state that, like UV, could also be altered by the water on the surface. On top of that, the material also exhibited superconducting, ferromagnetic ordering, and photoconductive properties.
Curbside Shopping to Eliminate Stress – (CNN – December 23, 2015)
Curbside lets customers purchase items from select shops nearby through its app. Curbside’s premise is to help consumers avoid crowded stores and queues, as well as to get around expedited delivery fees that online retailers tend to charge. Just 45 minutes later, the items will be bagged and available for pickup at the curb of that store. Don’t worry about parking. You don’t have to set foot into the shop: A helper will hand it to you. And the service is free: Consumers just pay the cost of the item that’s set by the retailer. The one-year-old Palo Alto-based startup is partnered with hundreds of stores which also happen to be popular holiday shopping destinations like Target, Best Buy and CVS. Curbside, which has 130 employees, gets a commission from retailers on purchases made through the app. Curbside says retailers benefit from its service: Consumers buy things more often now thanks to the convenience. “We get a spike of orders in the evening — people are setting up orders to swing by and get it,” said Jaron Waldman, co-founder, who sold his last company to Apple and then worked as the head of Apple’s location-based services for four years. It’s now in New York (but not yet Manhattan), New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay area, and some Los Angeles malls. Last year at this time, it was only in the Bay area.
Colorado Pot Banking Case Tests Federal Drug Rules – (Denver Post – December 27, 2015)
A marijuana banking case is testing the federal government’s stated goal of addressing the cash-only nature of the quasi-legal pot industry. Should pot sellers be able to use the nation’s banking system as long as marijuana is nationally an illegal drug? It’s a question before a federal judge trying to weigh a Colorado-chartered bank’s attempt to force the U.S. Federal Reserve to let those pot shops access the nation’s banking system. The case involves Fourth Corner Credit Union, which Colorado set up last year to serve the marijuana industry. Federal banking regulators have issued guidelines for how banks can accept money from pot sales, but banks frequently say those guidelines are unwieldy and refuse to open accounts for cannabis businesses. That leaves many pot shops stuck trying to pay bills and taxes in cash. No major marijuana-related cash heists have been reported in Colorado, but the cash-intense nature of the pot industry leaves many in the business feeling nervous about operating in cash. Many Colorado marijuana businesses use armed security. But the U.S. Federal Reserve, a private entity that nonetheless acts as the government’s fiscal agent, is standing in Fourth Corner Credit Union’s way. The Federal Reserve says that despite guidance about pot banking from the Department of Treasury, pot money simply can’t be allowed into the nation’s central banking system as long as the drug remains illegal under federal law. The credit union “was formed with the intent to serve a federally illegal purpose,” the regional Federal Reserve argued in one of its court filings.
The Top 10 Retractions of 2015 – (Scientist Magazine – December 23, 2015)
This was a year for splashy headlines about retractions, after some much-ballyhooed findings were pulled. Some prominent scientists each retracted multiple papers in 2015. And, of course, the last 12 months saw more and more cases of faked peer review. Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 retraction stories of 2015. For example: “Can’t take criticism? Just make up your own reviews! It may sound far-fetched, but we’ve now counted more than 270 retractions, more than half of them this year, which occurred because authors or editors compromised the peer-review process in some way—most egregiously, some authors faked email addresses for peer reviewers and gave their own papers a green light.”
Editor-in-Chief of World’s Best Known Medical Journal: Half of All the Literature Is False – (Collective Evolution – May 16, 2015)
(The article’s title overstates Dr. Horton’s position, but even as he put it, it’s rather serious.) In the past few years more professionals have come forward to share a truth that, for many people, proves difficult to swallow. One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world. Dr. Horton recently published a statement declaring that a lot of published research is in fact unreliable at best, if not completely false. “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” This is quite disturbing, given the fact that all of these studies (which are industry sponsored) are used to develop drugs/vaccines to supposedly help people, train medical staff, educate medical students and more.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
NORAD’s Santa Tracker Started with a Typo 60 Years Ago – (CNN – December 24, 2015)
60 years ago, a local Sears store in Colorado Springs ran a “dial Santa” ad. Except the number was a misprint. Instead of listing the number for Sears’ Santa hotline, it posted the number for the Continental Air Defense Command center. On Christmas Eve 1955, Colonel Harry Shoup began receiving calls from kids asking to speak with Santa Claus. Shoup worked at the operations department for the air defense center, now known as NORAD, so the call must have come as a bit of a surprise. Instead of telling the kids that they dialed the wrong number, Shoup said that he wasn’t Santa Claus but he could track him on radar. All night, Shoup and his team fielded calls, giving kids details about Santa’s location as he and his reindeer flew through the sky to deliver gifts to children. A tradition was born, and NORAD has opened up its phone lines for its annual Santa Tracker ever since. Last year, hundreds of volunteers, including many NORAD employees and Michelle Obama, fielded 135,000 calls from 234 countries. “Our constellation of defense satellites uses infrared tracking to keep pinpoint accuracy on the heat signature from Rudolph’s nose,” NORAD says in its promotional materials. “Ground based radar tracking sites relay global positioning updates to our elite fighter pilots, who often escort Santa’s sleigh through rough weather.” May we see the day when peace prevails and fighter pilots have no job other than escorting Santa through rough weather.
JUST FOR FUN
Live Web Cams Bring Wildlife to You – (Naturally Curious blog – December 18, 2015)
With cold, rainy (or snowy) weather that after a certain point discourages even the most ardent naturalists, there comes a time when the computer can almost compete with the great outdoors. Want to see Tawny Frogmouths in Australia? Green-headed Tanagers feeding in Brazil? Bald Eagles nesting in Florida? Bananaquits feeding in Bonaire? All this and more is available with one or two taps of your finger. Live webcams have been set up to record activity at hundreds of sites that wildlife frequent. Article gives links to numerous live webcams including Audubon’s list of the 10 best wildlife webcams where cranes, wolves and birds are just some of the creatures that serve as the focus of these webcams.
A FINAL QUOTE
Living and dreaming are two different things- but you can’t do one without the other. – Malcolm Forbes, Entrepreneur
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Jim Ryder, 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