FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Facebook is testing AI tools to help prevent suicide.
- IBM has figured out how to store data on a single atom.
- Scientists have developed a new food wrap that’s not only biodegradable, but that should also keep food fresh for longer than conventional plastic.
- AI comes to fast food restaurants: flipping burgers can now be done by a robot.
by John L. Petersen
Famed dowser and man who doesn’t eat coming to Berkeley Springs
One of the most accomplished dowsers in the world is coming to Berkeley Springs on Saturday the 15th of April as part of our TransitionTalks series. Raymon Grace, internationally known for the extraordinary things has accomplished using only a pendulum, will demonstrate how he changes the composition of water and using dowsing to help abused children – and many other things.
Joining Raymon is special guest, Jeff Jones, who in 1997 attended a Raymon Grace workshop and wondered if he could use dowsing to add vitamins and minerals to water so that he wouldn’t have to eat – only drink his activated water. Well, he’s been drinking his water and going without food ever since.
You really won’t want to miss Jeff’s story.
The things that can be done with dowsing are just amazing! I’ve been going to dowsing conventions and interacting with dowsers for years now, ever since I had an elderly man come out to find the location for a well on our farm. We drilled where he said and hit a 150 gallon per minute vein of water! I was impressed.
Since then I’ve gotten to know Raymon, who specializes in much larger and unusual situations . . . with successes in changing the composition of lakes and making organizations work better and many other areas. He’s particularly interested in helping to prepare people and the planet for the significant changes that are on our horizon.
Watch this short video that I did about this extraordinary event. Just click on the picture.
Do come and be with us. You can get complete information at www.transitiontalks.org
Alain Nu PostScript Interview
Earlier this month mentalist Alain Nu was our TransitionTalks speaker again. We had a delightful time with him where he amazed the audience with a variety of demonstrations which boggled the mind . . . and demonstrated capabilities that he said all of us had.
Before his presentation Alain sat down for a PostScript interview where I surprised him with a spoon – which he then bent, just by looking at it!
Click on the picture for the 26 minute conversation.
An Encouraging Look Forward
Trying to maintain a big-picture view of what is going on in US politics these days is hard, with the constant pounding of the infosphere by both sides in the ongoing struggle. I was going to write a high-level overview from my perspective when I recently saw a blog post from Foster Gamble that I found particularly enlightening and provocative. So I recommend you take a look at it.
An Encouraging Look Forward
Like anyone with their eyes open, I recognize the dangerously heated divide among people throughout our country and the world. I appreciate the high levels of engagement, and at the same time find the lack of open dialogue across worldview, and the outside provocateurs, to be unfortunate components of the recent activism. Nonetheless, I am encouraged by much of what I see happening in the world, and given my awareness of so much of the corruption, I wanted to explain why I feel optimistic.
As people who have seen THRIVE or follow Thrive Movement know, I am committed to following assumptions and money upstream, analyzing actions (not rhetoric) and assessing events through a lens of principles, not politics. In THRIVE we laid out how the U.S. was at risk of being subsumed by a globalist agenda, with individual sovereignty and personal accountability both being annihilated in the name of one-world governance and control. I continue to watch government land grabs for Agenda 21/2030, ramped up efforts to control the Internet, the move toward Bail-In legislation and the further authorization of the FBI to break into any computer anywhere, and more — all promoted by a media that is more than ever a megaphone for the globalists, the primary promulgators of “fake news.” So my optimism is not naive or absolute. Read rest of article
Foster brings up the idea that the mainstream media are the primary promulgators of “fake news”. To many people that may sound conspiratorial or even “crazy”, but those who say that have not done their homework.
Probably 20 years ago I reviewed a book for a scientific journal that very clearly and compellingly described how, when the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA) broke up after WWII, there was a systematic effort to place their wartime intelligence officers in leadership positions in major media outlets in the US so that they could have a network in place to influence and control news stories that were important to the then new CIA.
It has been shown from now declassified documents that the CIA, working with Walt Disney, actively (and successfully), promoted the idea for decades that aliens were “little green men” and anyone who thought that UFOs were real was off their rocker.
Other authoritative reports suggest that the CIA, early on, placed their people in senior positions in almost all major US government agencies to be able to similarly influence the policies of the US government at most (if not all), levels.
Jon Rappoport, a seasoned reporter who, years ago, broke from the mainstream media to report what he considered “real” news, also coined the term “fake news”. He is one of many who have chronicled the CIA/media nexus and their ongoing role in skewing what the American people “know” about what is happening in the country right now.
Read his The CIA-media Marriage and the Trump Effect:
In a recent article, I described how Trump is up against both the media and the CIA. The CIA started infiltrating media with Operation Mockingbird, soon after Harry Truman created the Agency in 1947— and the infiltration has continued to this day.
The crossover point occurred about five minutes after President Truman launched the Agency. The CIA’s mandate was: collect information about what was going on around the world, so it could advise the president.
But CIA directors, starting especially with Allen Dulles, had a different vision.
Why just collect information?
Since the Agency’s job was digging up secrets, why not invent secrets?
Why not invent entire patterns and platforms of information to support an agenda of US global domination? Read rest of article
The CIA effectively developed their own, independent, approach to themselves and the world which has resulted in a great deal of carnage spread across the globe. If you’ve read about the history of the Agency (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA), you will find that they have been systematically working to overthrow governments around the world for more than half a century. Last report I read said that there have been 81 of these “regime change” operations since the end of WWII.
So, the CIA is in the business of “changing governments” and multiple, ongoing reports from within the intelligence community say that they have now turned that well-developed capability on our own country in an attempt to dislodge Donald Trump.
In effect, if you believe the reporting on the present administration from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, TIME magazine, and other major US news outlets, you’re literally embracing the party line of a faction within the CIA (and apparently the FBI, as well).
When my son was contemplating a career after graduating from college he mentioned to me that one possibility was working for the CIA in the clandestine service. Hearing that, I told him emphatically that, “All they do is lie, cheat and steal for a living. Don’t spend your life doing that!”
Jon Rappoport says the same thing:
Spies tell lies, spying is lying
In recent articles, I’ve highlighted items from the latest WikiLeaks data-dump of CIA files. For example:
The CIA’s use of other nations’ hacking tools, in order to give the impression that, when the CIA hacks into secret areas, it looks like other nations did the hacking.
All this is SOP for the CIA and intelligence agencies around the world.
Spies tell lies. A day without lying is a day without joy.
Spies play chess. “Well, when we leak THIS information to the press, they’ll emphasize the source of the leak (of course we know it’s a fake source we’ve chosen). But when we leak THAT information, the press will emphasize the content of the leak—which is what we want them to do in that case.”
Naïve people are shocked that the CIA could have fabricated the whole “Russia hacked the US election” story. But this is what the CIA does. This is another day at the office. Read rest of article
The intelligence community in this country is bigger than you think. The US maintains 17 different intelligence agencies, one of the largest of which is the NGA (see, you don’t recognize it, do you?)
So, read this and think about the potential implications if this capability is refocused on the domestic environment.
On a heavily protected military base some 15 miles south of Washington, D.C., sits the massive headquarters of a spy agency few know exists. Even Barack Obama, five months into his presidency, seemed not to have recognized its name. While shaking hands at a Five Guys hamburger restaurant in Washington in May 2009, he asked a customer seated at a table about his job. “What do you [do]?” the president inquired. “I work at NGA, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,” the man answered. Obama appeared dumbfounded. “So, explain to me exactly what this National Geospatial…” he said, unable to finish the name. Eight years after that videotape aired, the NGA remains by far the most shadowy member of the Big Five spy agencies, which include the CIA and the National Security Agency.
Despite its lack of name recognition, the NGA’s headquarters is the third-largest building in the Washington metropolitan area, bigger than the CIA headquarters and the U.S. Capitol. Read rest of article
The Big Play
So, what is the big play in all of this? Why are intelligence agencies getting increasingly involved in national politics, trying to derail a legitimately elected president? My guess is that there are four forces driving this giant upheaval: money, drugs, sex, and one other one.
First of all, keeping wars going involves big bucks. There are many major forces (banks, defense contractors, defense and intelligence agencies, et. al.), that depend on continuing conflict and are directly tied to the extraordinary flows of money needed to support those activities.
Secondly, a lot of the shadowy (black) activities that support the defense and intelligence operations are funded by the proceeds that are generated by drug production and distribution within the US. Beginning with the Reagan administration, at least, and Iran Contra, it has been known that the CIA and other agencies have been directly involved in producing, transporting and distributing drugs. Any disruption of that operation would be a real problem for the powers that be.
Here’s a piece that provides an overview of those operations.
Lavrov: No force on earth can compete with NATO and US’ drug trafficking business in Afghanistan
“In country after country, from Mexico and Honduras to Panama and Peru, the CIA helped set up or consolidate intelligence agencies that became forces of repression, and whose intelligence connections to other countries greased the way for illicit drug shipments.” Read rest of article
Thirdly, the US (and some other western countries as well), have a major pedophile problem and the intelligence agencies (particularly the FBI) have been providing cover for these individuals, in part because the individuals involved have very high positions in our government and control budgets, etc.
This was explained to me independently by a friend within the Department of Homeland Security almost two years ago – a number of years after a senior official from another government agency told me to read the Franklin Scandal book if, “you really want to know what is going on”.
Furthermore, it is reported by individuals who have handled them that the CIA has built files from collected interceptions and surveillance on these individuals and uses that information to control the targets and assure that they are supportive of the intelligence organizations’ objectives.
Other countries are apparently quite active in compromising our leaders as well. If someone like Donald Trump exposed these pedophile rings (as he has committed to do), it would be disastrous for the continued functioning of the powers that be (or dark state, as it is sometimes known).
A recent Dr. Phil TV episode provided a window into one aspect of this issue.
A fourth issue is that, by some credible analysts, as much as $11 trillion unaccounted for federal funds have disappeared over the past decades, raising the question: Where would such a huge amount of money be spent? What is it supporting? A number of individuals, including Clif High and Catherine Austin Fitts, suggest that the money has probably gone to build a secret space program, with a substantial fleet of vessels that can be easily seen at night with late-version night vision goggles.
In any case, there is something very large that is being covered up by the intelligence community that, if exposed, could be very threatening. Donald Trump is enough of a wildcard that he might just do something like that, and that is their fear.
And so, within this context, it’s important for the powers that be to keep the citizenry on their side. The most effective way to do that is by driving fear into the system and making people believe that they need the government to protect them. That’s the source of the terrorist paranoia.
Inducing terrorist paranoia
This commentary is by Haviland Smith, of Williston, who is a retired CIA station chief whose focus was the Soviet Union. He was also the CIA’s first chief of counterterrorism.
President Donald Trump has taken the position that Americans have a great deal to fear from terrorism. Fear is the backbone of all his statements. Every time there is a terrorist event anywhere in the world, we get tweets and other White House media coverage that constantly remind us how vulnerable we are to this so-called “terrorist threat,” even though the event in question may have had nothing to do with America. Additionally, the “terrorist threat” is the basis for incredible amounts of “alternative facts” being circulated out of the White House and its employees. Some “true facts” are in order here.
According to Life Insurance Quotes, a business that focuses on educating consumers on the various aspects of life insurance, the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are about one in 20 million. A person is as likely to be killed by his or her own furniture, and more likely to die in a car accident, or in a building fire, or drown in a bathtub than from a terrorist attack.
The libertarian Cato Institute has arrived at its own finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump in his travel ban have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015. Zero. Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period. Zero Libyans and zero Syrians. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” the Cato Institute argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.” The study concludes that “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.”
Business Insider states that Americans are six times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth), 29 times more likely to die from an asteroid strike, 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning, 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident, 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault, 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident and 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease than they are to die in a terrorist incident. Read rest of article
So, it’s not as bad as you may think it is!
Facebook Is Testing AI Tools to Help Prevent Suicide – (New Scientist – March 1, 2017)
Facebook is trialing new tools to help with suicide prevention efforts. One approach will use artificial intelligence to identify concerning posts and make it easier for other people to report them. Facebook says it will use pattern recognition algorithms to spot posts that could indicate someone is suicidal and help their friends to flag this content by making the option to report posts about “suicide and self injury” more prominent for those that are considered potentially concerning. The algorithms are trained on posts that have previously been reported. It will also use pattern recognition to flag posts “very likely to include thoughts of suicide” so that its community operations team can take action even if the post is not reported. The team will review posts to see if the person appears to be in need of help and provide resources directly if they deem it appropriate. This system is currently being tested on a small number of users in the US. The social media giant is also making it easier for people to report Facebook Live videos and to reach out directly to the person involved. People sharing live videos will see resources onscreen that offer support options such as connecting with a friend or contacting a help line.
Chatbot That Overturned 160,000 Parking Fines Now Helping Refugees Claim Asylum – (Guardian – March 6, 2017)
The original DoNotPay chatbot, created by Stanford student Joshua Browder, describes itself as “the world’s first robot lawyer”, giving free legal aid to users through a simple-to-use chat interface. The chatbot, using Facebook Messenger, can now help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada. For those in the UK, it helps them apply for asylum support. The London-born developer worked with lawyers in each country, as well as speaking to asylum seekers whose applications have been successful. Browder says this new functionality for his robot lawyer is “long overdue”. He said, “I’ve been trying to launch this for about six months – I initially wanted to do it in the summer. But I wanted to make sure I got it right because it’s such a complicated issue. I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I’d go back and tweak it. Browder began working on this project before Donald Trump’s election as US president but he said he feels it’s more important now than ever. “I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US,” he said. The chatbot works by asking the user a series of questions, in order to determine which application the refugee needs to fill out and whether a refugee is eligible for asylum protection under international law. After this, it takes down the necessary details required for the appropriate asylum application – an I-589 for the United States or a Canadian Asylum Application for Canada. Those in the UK are told they need to apply in person, and the bot helps fill out an ASF1 form for asylum support. The 20-year-old chose Facebook Messenger as a home for the latest incarnation of his robot lawyer because of accessibility. “It works with almost every device, making it accessible to over a billion people,” he said. Once the application is sent, the data is destroyed from his servers within 10 minutes of someone using the bot.
Neanderthal Microbes Reveal Surprises about What They Ate — and Whom They Kissed – (Washington Post – March 8, 2017)
A new study, led by University of Adelaide paleomicrobiologist Laura Weyrich and published in the journal Nature, examines dental calculus from four Neanderthals who lived between 42,000 and 50,000 years ago; two in what is now Belgium, the other two in modern-day Spain. The microbiomes (the population of microbes in a body) they revealed are the first for Neanderthals and the oldest ever analyzed, Weyrich said. And they contained several surprises. For one thing, the Belgian individuals seemed to have dramatically different diets than their Spanish contemporaries. For another, the scientists were able to sequence the entire genome of a bacterium trapped in the ancient plaque and found that it’s a species that still dwells inside human mouths today — a suggestion that humans and Neanderthals shared microbes. But perhaps the most intriguing find came from the tooth of a pitiful Spanish individual who was suffering from both a tooth abscess and an intestinal parasite when he died. His dental plaque contained the DNA of a tree that produces the painkiller salicyclic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin) and bits of the fungus Penicillium (which produces the antibiotic penicillin).
This Breakthrough Promises to Revolutionize the Organ Transplant Industry – (Wall St. Pit – March 2, 2017)
Enough organs are being donated for transplant each year. Unfortunately, less than 40% of those organs (particularly hearts and lungs) actually get to be transplanted. The rest have to be discarded because they can’t be kept in ice for more than 4 hours without becoming damaged. Knowing how long the wait lists are for these organs, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that something has to be done to improve those figures. Storing the organs isn’t the problem — that can be done via freezing, also known as cryopreservation. The challenge lies in thawing the organs without causing damage. If thawing happens too quickly or unevenly, the organ will crack. If it’s thawed too slowly, dangerous ice crystals will form. Either way, the organ will be rendered useless. That’s the dilemma that the research team led by Professor John Bischof of the University of Minnesota seems to have solved. By turning to magnetic nanoparticles, they were able to achieve even thawing, which is exactly what’s needed to preserve the sample in its usable form. Referring to their technique as ‘nanowarming’, the process begins by infusing tissue and blood vessels with a mixture of cryoprotectant solution and silicon-coated iron oxide nanoparticles. After infusing, the samples are cooled in liquid nitrogen. When the time comes for rewarming, the sample is placed within an electomagnetic coil that’s designed to produce a magnetic field. By flipping the magnetic field back and forth, the nanoparticles within the sample move around, causing it to warm rapidly and uniformly. Supposedly, warming happens at a rate which is 10 to 100 times faster than current methods being used, preventing ice crystals from forming and damaging the tissue. The team did their test on samples ranging from 1 to 50 milliliters. After the nanowarming process, the tissues appeared well-preserved, without any signs of harm. Even the iron oxide nanoparticles were safely washed away. Following this preliminary positive results, the team is now planning on testing the technique on bigger tissues, then small animal organs, followed by organs of bigger animals, and eventually, human organs.
Beyond Lyme: New Tick-Borne Diseases on the Rise in U.S. – (NPR – March 11, 2017)
The world is in a new age of infectious diseases. Over the past 60 years, the number of new diseases cropping up per decade has almost quadrupled. The number of disease outbreaks each year has more than tripled since 1980. The U.S. is no exception. The country is a hot spot for tick-borne diseases. In the past 50 years, scientists have detected at least a dozen new diseases transmitted by ticks. “The more we look, in a sense, the more we find,” says Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard Collage in upstate New York. “Around here, there’s anaplasmosis, babesiosis and a bacterium related to Lyme, which causes similar symptoms.” And that’s just in the Northeast. Most of these diseases are still rare. But one is especially worrying. “It’s a scary one,” Keesing says. “Our local tick — this blacklegged tick — occasionally carries a deadly virus that’s called Powassan virus,” says Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. Powassan is named after a town in Ontario, Canada, where the virus was discovered in 1958. Now it’s here in the U.S. The country records about seven cases each year on the East Coast and in the Upper Midwest. What makes Powassan so dangerous is that it attacks the brain, making it swell up. In about 10% of cases, Powassan is deadly. And if you do recover, you have about a 50% chance of permanent neurological damage. See also this article, Authorities Scramble, Huge Deadly Disease Outbreak in U.S. Reported, supporting the position that indeed, “The world is in a new age of infectious diseases.” (Editor’s note: The title of that last article is considerably overstated, but the content is worth a quick scan.)
Scientists Discover How to ‘Upload Knowledge to Your Brain’ – (Telegraph – March 1, 2017)
In the neo-noir sci-fi classic, The Matrix, protagonist Neo is able to learn kung fu in seconds after the martial art is ‘uploaded’ straight to his brain. Researchers from HRL Laboratories, based in California, say they have found a way to amplify learning, only on a much smaller scale than seen in the Hollywood film. They studied the electric signals in the brain of a trained pilot and then fed the data into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an aeroplane in a realistic flight simulator. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that subjects who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities and learnt the task 33% better than a placebo group. “Our system is one of the first of its kind. It’s a brain stimulation system,” explained Dr Matthew Phillips. “It sounds kind of sci-fi, but there’s large scientific basis for the development of our system. The method itself is actually quite old. In fact, the ancient Egyptians 4000 years ago used electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain. Even Ben Franklin applied currents to his head, but the rigorous, scientific investigation of these methods started in the early 2000s and we’re building on that research to target and personalise a stimulation in the most effective way possible.” See also: No, We Can’t “Upload Knowledge To Your Brain,” an article that dials back on the “hype quotient” in the title of the Telegraph article and explains a bit more fully what currently is, and is not, possible.
A New Lab-Built Fungus Eats Sugar and Burps Out Drugs – (Wired – March 9, 2017)
People have been messing with yeast for millennia, ever since ancient hominins first turned wild strains of the fungus into the civilization-supporting fermenters that still make everything from beer and bread to tempeh and fish sauce. That meddling has accelerated in the last twenty years since scientists sequenced the yeast genome, yielding microbes that can burp, fart and secrete biofuels, insulin, antibiotics, and tons of other novel micro- and macromolecules useful to human industry. And soon, the takeover will be complete. Scientists have now designed an entirely artificial yeast genome and constructed more than one-third of it. They say they’ll have a 100% synthetic yeast up and fermenting by the end of the year. In seven papers published today in Science, representing a decade of work by hundreds of scientists across four continents, the Synthetic Yeast 2.0 project reports the first fully designed, and partially completed, made-from-scratch eukaryotic genome. Eukaryotes—organisms whose cells have a nucleus and other defined organelles—encompass all complex life: yeasts, plants, hamsters, humans. So writing a custom genome for one is a big deal by itself. But the artificial yeast will have a more stable, easily manipulable genome for scientists to work with, and for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and energy industries to use for a new generation of drugs, biofuels, and novel materials.
First Global Maps of Volcanic Emissions Use NASA Satellite Data – (Science Daily – March 9, 2017)
Volcanoes erupt, they spew ash, their scarred flanks sometimes run with both lava and landslides. But only occasionally. A less dramatic but important process is continuous gas emissions from volcanoes; in other words, as they exhale. A number of volcanoes around the world continuously exhale water vapor laced with heavy metals, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, among many other gases. Of these, sulfur dioxide is the easiest to detect from space. In a new study published in Scientific Reports, a team led by researchers from Michigan Technological University created the first, truly global inventory for volcanic sulfur dioxide emissions, using data from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Earth Observing System Aura satellite launched in 2004. They compiled emissions data from 2005 to 2015 to produce annual estimates for each of 91 presently emitting volcanoes worldwide. The data set will help refine climate and atmospheric chemistry models and provide more insight into human and environmental health risks.
IBM Has Figured out How to Store Data on a Single Atom – (Quartz – March 9, 2017)
IBM announced it has managed to successfully store data on a single atom for the first time. The research could have massive implications for the way we’ll store digital information in the future. Computers process bits, pieces of information that have two states—on or off, interpreted as 1s and 0s by the machine. Every computer program, tweet, email, Facebook, and Quartz post, is made up of some long series of 1s and 0s. When information is stored on a computer, it’s generally saved on a hard drive that encodes that same series of 1s and 0s on a magnetic disk or electrical cells. As IBM states in its release, the average hard drive uses about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit of information using traditional methods. IBM’s researchers found a way to magnetize individual atoms of the rare earth element holmium and use the two poles of magnetism as stand-ins for the 1s and 0s. The holmium atoms are attached to a surface of another material, magnesium oxide, which holds them in place, at a chilly 5 kelvin (-450°F). Using essentially what is a very accurate, sharp, and small, needle, the researchers can pass an electrical current through the holmium atoms, which causes their north and south poles to flip, replicating the process of writing information to a traditional magnetic hard drive. The atoms stay in whatever state they’ve been flipped into, and by measuring the magnetism of the atoms at a later point, the scientists can see what state the atom is, mirroring the way a computer reads information it’s stored on a hard drive.
FBI Used Best Buy’s Geek Squad to Increase Secret Public Surveillance – (OC Weekly – March 8, 2017)
Recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Best Buy’s Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer’s request for repairs.
With WikiLeaks Claims of C.I.A. Hacking, How Vulnerable Is Your Smartphone? – (New York Times – March 7, 2017)
WikiLeaks has released a significant cache of documents that it said came from a high-security network inside the Central Intelligence Agency. WikiLeaks called the documents Vault 7, and they lay out the capabilities of the agency’s global covert hacking program. By the end of 2016, the C.I.A. program had 5,000 registered users, including government employees and contractors, [and] had produced more than a thousand hacking systems. The files have circulated among former United States government hackers and contractors in “an unauthorized manner, one of whom provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” WikiLeaks said. The software targeted by the hacking program included the most popular smartphone operating systems. Apple’s iPhone software … was a particular target, including the development of several “zero day” exploits – a term for attacking coding flaws the company would not have known about. Google’s Android … received even more attention. By 2016, the C.I.A. had 24 weaponized Android “zero day” software programs. The C.I.A. also targeted … internet-connected computers and home and industrial devices running the Linux operating system. In 2010, the Obama administration promised to disclose newly discovered vulnerabilities to companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft. But the WikiLeaks documents indicate that the agency found security flaws, kept them secret and then used them for surveillance and intelligence gathering. See also this article from the UK’s Independent: WikiLeaks CIA files: Spy agency looked at ways to hack and control cars to carry out assassinations.
Architect Transforms Rundown Cement Factory into His Home and Working Space – (Metro – March 3, 2017)
Here’s another example of visionary repurposing: In 1973, architect Ricardo Bofill stumbled across an old, abandoned, run-down cement factory just outside of Barcelona. But he didn’t react the way that most of us would (saying ‘ooh, an old factory’, and then walking on). Ricardo looked at the factory and saw potential. He and his team bought the factory with the knowledge that it would need masses of repairs and updates. It was a World War One era factory that had closed down and been left untouched for years, so it definitely wasn’t habitable. But Ricardo and his team dedicated themselves to turning it into something wonderful – without completely tearing down the factory and starting over. Ricardo first spent a year and a half deconstructing the space, breaking down layers of the building to repair the walls and transform the rooms into living rooms, libraries, bedrooms, and an architecture studio. He divided the building into four areas – an architectural studio, where Ricardo could work, an exhibition hall, a living area, and gardens – and named it La Fabrica. Check out the photos; the place is exquisite.
Covering This Apartment Building in “Parasitic” Additions Saves Energy and Makes Space – (Fast Company – March 14, 2017)
In an outdated 1970s apartment building in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, the rooms are cramped, dark, and inefficient. But by covering the building in wooden attachments, a new design will add extra space, light, and cut energy use 76%. “It’s a little bit like a blanket—it’s creating another layer on top of the existing one, and each layer adds insulation,” says architect Stephane Malka. “We are plugging the elements pretty much everywhere.” The extra insulation helps keep the apartments warmer in the winter, so less heat is needed. The new balconies, porches, and bay windows each also bring more natural light to the apartments. “On the existing building, there were very narrow, small windows,” says Malka. The renovation is cheaper than reworking the whole facade to improve energy efficiency, he says, while also adding more room to the apartments. Energy use is expected to drop from 190 kilowatt-hours a square meter to 45, qualifying the building for a certification from the city as part of Paris’s climate plan. The project began when someone who lived on the first floor wanted extra space. When other residents saw the design, they realized that the extension would also benefit the neighbor living on the next floor; the roof of the extension could become the floor of a new balcony on the second floor. They decided to add the attachments over the whole building.
Superclean: Light and Quantum Dots Turn Plants into Hydrogen – (New Atlas – March 14, 2017)
Hydrogen is often touted as a clean fuel source, as its use in cars only produces water vapor as a byproduct. The truth is though, that producing hydrogen in the first place can often be a process that relies on natural gas or other polluting chemicals that can damage the environment. Finding a way to produce hydrogen simply and cleanly would go a long way toward eventual use of the gas as a fuel source. And that’s exactly what researchers at the University of Cambridge (UC) have done, adding to a host of other green possibilities that have been proposed for creating the gas. In the new Cambridge method, as with several other methods, the researchers used biomass as a starting point. In particular, they focused on lignocellulose, the support structure found in plants. While lignocellulose can be converted into hydrogen, the researchers say that up to this point, the processes that do so rely on high heat, which means a good deal of energy needs to go into the task. Their new method relies simply on light along with a collection of nanoparticles. The particles are actually very small semiconductors called cadmium sulfide quantum dots. First, they are suspended in alkaline water. Then, the biomass is added, the solution is beamed with light that mimics sunlight, and the dots go to work using the light to fuel a process in which they convert the biomass into hydrogen. The gas then rises out of the solution where it can be collected.
Airbus Has Designed a Part-car Part-drone to Help You Beat Traffic – (Wired – March 7, 2017)
Airbus has long had ambitions to create flying cars. It released its most recent concept at the Geneva Motor Show: a hybrid-car and drone called Pop.Up. The ‘modular vehicle’ comprises of a car that, essentially, can disconnect from its wheels and can be picked-up by a flying set of rotors. Airbus, which designed the concept with Italdesign, says the vehicle is “shaped as a passenger capsule” that can be used as a ground or air module. “The Pop.Up system aims to give time back to commuters through a flexible, shared and adaptable new way of moving within cities introducing a new user-focused transportation system concept,” the company says. “The Pop.Up combines the flexibility of a small two-seater ground vehicle with the freedom and speed of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air vehicle, thus bridging the automotive and aerospace domains.” Airbus says the bizarre system was created to allow those using it to decide how they want to travel. If the roads are busy, a passenger can take to the sky. When in the air, it is envisioned the vehicle will operate autonomously.
The Most Detailed Maps of the World Will Be For Cars, Not Humans – (Ars Technica – March 11, 2017)
The weight of the automotive and tech industries is fully behind the move toward self-driving cars. Cars with “limited autonomy”—i.e., the ability to drive themselves under certain conditions (level 3) or within certain geofenced locations (level 4)—should be on our roads within the next five years. But a completely autonomous vehicle—capable of driving anywhere, any time, with human input limited to telling it just a destination—remains a more distant goal. To make that happen, cars are going to need to know exactly where they are in the world with far greater precision than currently possible with technology like GPS. And that means new maps that are far more accurate than anything you could buy at the next gas station—not that a human would be able to read them anyway. Fully aware of this need, car makers like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford have been voting with their wallets. They’re investing in companies like Here and Civil Maps that are building the platforms and gathering the data required. The end result will be a high-definition 3D map of our road networks—and everything within a few meters of them—that’s constantly updated by vehicles as they drive along. The first step is to create the initial map, which involves sensor-encrusted mapping vehicles that put Google’s Streetview cars to shame. Here uses a fleet of vehicles equipped with a roof-mounted sensor mast that packs 96 megapixels’ worth of cameras, a 32-beam Velodyne LIDAR scanner, and highly accurate Novatel GPS Inertial Measurement Units. These mapping vehicles drive around creating a 3D scan of the road and its surroundings that gets sent to Here’s cloud. From the cloud, that data is incorporated into a cm-accurate digital recreation of the real world.
Cloves and Silver Make for Better Food Packaging – (New Atlas – March 13, 2017))
The petroleum-based plastic film typically used in food packaging is difficult to clean up and recycle, and it remains in landfills for many years after disposal. Led by Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, scientists from Lithuania’s Kaunas University of Technology (KUT) have developed a new food wrap that’s not only biodegradable, but that should also keep food fresh for longer than conventional plastic. Made mainly from a plant-derived cellulose composite, the new material also contains clove essential oil along with ionic silver nanoparticles. The former provides it with anti-oxidizing qualities by binding free radicals, while the latter adds an antimicrobial effect by killing microorganisms. Surprisingly, it was found that the addition of the silver also makes the plastic more elastic and thus stronger.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Super Hornets Drop World’s Largest Swarm of Micro-drones – (New Atlas – January 10, 2017)
With a whine like a swarm of giant angry wasps descending on a picnic, 103 micro-drones recently carried out organized maneuvers in the skies over China Lake, California. Billed by the US Department of Defense (DoD) as the world’s largest micro-drone swarm, the Perdix drones were launched last October from three F/A-18 Super Hornets and autonomously carried out a series of missions that demonstrated collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing. The autonomous micro-drone was initially designed by MIT engineering students and modified for military applications by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. It’s designed to be launched in small or large swarms from land, sea, or air to carry out low-altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and other missions, and is distinguished from other military drones in that it’s based on smartphone technology and uses commercial components, 3D printing, and agile manufacturing.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Out of Gitmo – (NPR – February 21 2017) Frontline and NPR examine the struggle over freeing prisoners once deemed international terrorists. Also in this two-part hour: “Forever Prison,” a collaboration with Retro Report exploring the untold history of the Guantanamo Bay prison. (Editor’s note: See also some other video segments on related topics accessible through this web page. We recommend browsing.)
WikiLeaks Posts Trove of CIA Documents Detailing Mass Hacking – (CBS – March 7, 2017) WikiLeaks has published thousands of secret CIA files detailing hacking tools the government employs to break into users’ computers, mobile phones and even smart TVs. The documents describe clandestine methods for bypassing or defeating encryption, antivirus tools and other protective security features intended to keep the private information of citizens and corporations safe from prying eyes. U.S. government employees, including President Trump, use many of the same products and internet services purportedly compromised by the tools. “This is huge, in terms of what it will tell the adversaries,” said former CIA acting director Michael Morrell. “We’ll have to essentially start over in building tools to get information from our adversaries, just like we did with Snowden.” Missing from WikiLeaks’ trove are the actual hacking tools themselves, some of which were developed by government hackers while others were purchased from outsiders. WikiLeaks said it planned to avoid distributing tools “until a consensus emerges” on the political nature of the CIA’s program and how such software could be analyzed, disarmed and published. See also this New Yorker article, “Five Questions About the Latest WikiLeaks Release”, which has more background material.
North Korea Threatens America. They’re Coming, They’re Going to Blow Us Up – (Global Research – March 13, 2017) Trump believes that Kim Jong-un is crazy. Take him out. The U.S. media concurs: the DPRK is a threat to US national security requiring a preemptive first strike THAAD missile attack in the name of “self defense”. Who’s crazy? Kim or Trump? Never mind if it unleashes war with China and Russia. According to the Heritage Foundation: ““The rogue regime in North Korea poses one of the most dangerous threats to U.S. national security interests. Pyongyang presents a multifaceted military threat to peace and stability in Asia as well as a global proliferation risk.” Pyongyang responds by saying that the US (including 29,000 troops stationed in South Korea) constitutes a threat to the DPRK’s national security, and they must defend themselves. America, a threat to their national security? They have no right to self defense. The North Koreans are absolutely nuts. Or are they? General Curtis LeMay who coordinated the bombing raids against North Korea during the Korean War (1950-53) acknowledged that: “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?” (excerpted from Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals). See also: The Feds Are Spending Millions to Help You Survive Nuclear War which examines the technologies and treatments to be used in the event of a nuclear catastrophe which the federal government has invested in over the last ten years.
CIA’s 1986 Report Presents Blueprint for Collapse of Syria – (Hands Off Syria – February 16, 2017) A CIA report on Syria has written in 1986 presents clues regarding the riots that began in 2011 and their aftermath. In the report, CIA emphasizes that ‘‘a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates’’ would ideally serve for US interests. It has not yet been possible to learn the whole role of the United States in the “regime change” operations began in Syria in 2011. However, a report within the CIA’s declassified documents during previous weeks allows us to forge a link between the scenarios predicted by the American intelligence for Syria in the 1980s and today’s situation in Syria. The memo dated July 1986 and entitled “Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change” was prepared by CIA only for high-level officials of the Ronald Reagan administration. The report essentially considers possible scenarios that could lead to the ouster of Hafez Al-Assad, who was Syria’s President from 1971 to 2000, Prime Minister from 1970 to 71, or other dramatic changes in Syria. Although the report fundamentally focuses on the possibilities that can overthrow the Assad’s administration, it also delivers an opinion about the question of which one of these scenarios best serves the US interests. The CIA’s library of publication provides a link to the original report, “Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change”.
Contacts with Russian Embassy – (Jack Matlock – March 4, 2017)
Matlock writes, “Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats. As one who spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an American president should do just that. It is quite common for foreign diplomats to cultivate candidates and their staffs. That is part of their job. If Americans plan to advise the president on policy issues, they would be wise to maintain contact with the foreign embassy in question to understand that country’s attitude toward the issues involved. Certainly, both Democrats and Republicans would contact Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin during the Cold War and discuss the issues with him. As the person in charge of our embassy in Moscow during several political campaigns, I would often set up meetings of candidates and their staffs with Soviet officials. Such contacts are certainly ethical so long as they do not involve disclosure of classified information or attempts to negotiate specific issues. In fact, I would say that any person who presumes to advise an incoming president on vital policy issues needs to understand the approach of the country in question and therefore is remiss if he or she does not consult with the embassy in question.”
Israel: Where Vision and Reality Violently Diverge – (The National – March 6, 2017)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Singapore last month to promote Israel as a tolerant country, one “committed to a better world, a world of diversity.” The reality could not be more different. Arabs and Muslims have always struggled to gain entry to Israel. Palestinians are routinely abused at the borders, and thousands, especially from Jerusalem, have been stripped of the right to return home after living abroad. But new figures show Israel is excluding other groups too. Entry denials have increased nine-fold in the past five years, topping 16,000 people last year. Among those increasingly turned away are political activists. Israel controls all access to the occupied Palestinian territories, and now regularly denies entry to solidarity activists and those who support the boycott movement. But in practice the net is cast wider still. Recently, Israel subjected Jennifer Gorovitz, an American Jewish vice-president of the New Israel Fund, to a humiliating interrogation at airport arrivals. NIF is one of the largest funders of Israeli organisations supporting human rights and social justice. That includes assistance to groups that monitor military abuses in the occupied territories. This presumably explains why Ms Gorovitz’s interrogators suggested she posed a “security threat”. She finally gained admittance only after Talia Sasson, the Israeli head of NIF, pulled strings. Ms Gorovitz wrote of her experience: “My privilege as a Jew means I never imagined that Israel could or would deny me entrance.”
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Iceland Plans to Become World’s First Country to Require Equal Pay for Women – (NPR – March 9, 2017)
“Gender equality benefits all of us,” Iceland’s Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said on International Women’s Day, as his government works on a law to require companies to show they pay men and women the same salary for the same work. The law, which is believed to be the first of its kind at the national level, would apply to all companies with more than 25 employees, Benediktsson said. Companies would need to undergo certification every three years to ensure that their pay policies follow the rules. In the U.S., attempts to close the wage gap have brought some success, but the gap remains wide: Last January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the most recent data showed women earning “83% of men’s median weekly earnings.”
The Fight to Legalize a Machine That Melts Flesh From Bone – (Wired – March 10, 2017)
Bio-Response, based in Danville, Indiana, specializes in building machines for liquid cremation, a fast, environmentally-friendly, and controversial method for disposing of the deceased. Only a handful of states have legalized the practice. The latest battle is taking place in Nevada, where the state’s legislature has held a hearing to discuss AB205, a bill that would legalize the chemical dissolution of the dead. Liquid cremation’s biggest opponents are typically religious groups, who believe uninhabited corporeal vessels ought not be liquefied and sent spiraling down a drain. Which is a fair, if oversimplified interpretation, of how this process actually works. Liquid cremation—or, as folks in the biz call it, alkaline hydrolysis—originated in the late 1800s as a way to turn dead livestock into plant food. A century later, a pair of researchers at Albany Medical College adapted the process to liquefy human remains. Early adopters included large research facilities seeking a quick, clean way to get rid of donated cadavers that had, uh, outlived their usefulness. The University of Florida installed the first system 22 years ago. But with legal opposition from heavyweights like the Catholic Church, only 13 states have legalized the practice so far.
Bike Box – Free. House Paint and Duct Tape – 13 Cents. 2 1/2 hours over 4 lanes – Priceless. – (Daily Kos – March 7, 2017)
Americans have found a new place to make their opinions seen: freeway overpasses. Because this is America, when it comes to political speech, you can say almost anything you want. When in doubt, stick an American flag next to it. It’s a fine looking flag, and after September 11th, when the overpasses were full of them, it opened the way for all political speech on overpasses. (See Brown vs. California Dept. of Transportation) After a bit of legal back and forth, it was settled that no flags or banners could be placed over or near freeways, but the punishment was simply that the flags or banners would be taken down. (Editor’s note: This article features a selection of freeway overpass signage strongly leaning in one direction, politically speaking. But the trend has been started; we expect that soon (if not already) those sign messages will be as varied as people’s opinions.)
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Space Sex Is Serious Business – (FiveThirtyEight – March 13, 2017)
NASA says no humans have had sex in space. There’s nothing other than speculation to suggest otherwise. (Well, speculation and a vague sense that we would want to try it, given half a chance.) But you aren’t a total junior-high pervert for wondering. If the future of humanity is written in the stars, and if we’re really serious about permanent human settlement on Mars, then we need to know what happens when this basic biological function is taken beyond the confines of the planet on which it evolved. And this is about more than just sex. Experts say that whether and how reproduction works is just one of a number of medical and biological questions related to long-duration space travel to which we need better answers and more, more-diverse data. Right now, anybody who wants to take a human to Mars for a trip that would last a minimum of nearly two years is, in many ways, flying blind. The research on reproduction in space has been slow and underfunded. It’s happened in fits and starts over the course of 50 years. All told, at least five species — from amoebas to rats — have gone through the act of reproduction while in orbit. Other species have spent part of their gestation in space or donated their space-altered sperm and eggs to science. The data that has come out of this research is not altogether reassuring. Space travel can affect reproduction in a couple of ways. First, most obviously, is the radiation. “If you look at the list of organs sensitive to radiation damage, the gonads, the ovaries and testes, are always in the top two or three,” said Joseph Tash, a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center who has studied animal reproduction in space. Any trip to Mars would result in radiation exposures exceeding the current allowed limits for astronauts.
Alien Technology? Harvard Scientists Propose Source for Fast Radio Bursts – (New Atlas – March 13, 2017)
There are plenty of strange phenomena lurking in the universe, and fast radio bursts are among the more mysterious. So named for their less-than-5-millisecond duration, the source of these intense, high-energy light bursts continues to elude scientists. Now researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are proposing they could have “an artificial origin,” specifically from planet-sized alien transmitters for powering interstellar spacecraft. Fast radio bursts (FRB) were first discovered in 2007 at Parkes Observatory in Australia, with several dozen or so detected since. The initial discoveries showed FRB to be seemingly random one-off events coming from distant galaxies, leading some to hypothesize they were the result of cataclysmic cosmic events, like the merging of black holes or a massive supernova. But in 2015, an astronomer from McGill University found 11 bursts that not only originated from the same location in space, but were repeating. More repeating FRB were discovered in 2016, which were tracked to a dim dwarf galaxy 3 billion light-years away, poking holes in the cosmic cataclysm idea. With no consensus on the source of these puzzling phenomena, Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingam from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center have offered another possibility: advanced alien technology in the form of a solar-powered radio transmitter. These beams of light, they say, could be used to power giant light sails in a “photonic propulsion” system, transporting spaceships or probes through interstellar space that approach the speed of light.
As Obesity Keeps Rising, More Americans Are Just Giving Up – (LA Times – March 7, 2017)
It stands to reason that if you know you’re overweight or obese, and you know your extra pounds are unhealthy, that you’ve made a stab at losing weight. Right? Not so much anymore, new research shows. The proportion of American adults who were either overweight or obese has been growing steadily for decades, rising from about 53% a generation ago to roughly 66% more recently. But the share of these adults who had gone on a diet dropped during the same period, researchers reported. The study relied on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the first survey period, between 1988 and 1994, about 56% of overweight or obese adults reported they had tried to lose weight in the last year. By the last survey period, between 2009 and 2014, the proportion of overweight or obese respondents reporting recent weight-loss attempts had declined to about 49%. The authors of the new report, a team from Georgia Southern University’s College of Public Health, offered a relatively simple explanation for this phenomenon, writing that “socially acceptable body weight is increasing.” They pointed to a 2010 study in the journal Obesity that chronicled “a generational shift in social norms related to body weight” in which, effectively, fat has become the new normal.
Bottled Water Overtakes Soda as America’s No. 1 Drink — (MarketWatch – March 11, 2017)
Americans now drink more bottled water than soda. Bottled-water consumption in the U.S. hit 39.3 gallons per capita last year, while carbonated soft drinks fell to 38.5 gallons, marking the first time that soda was knocked off the top spot, according to data from industry tracker Beverage Marketing Corp. But Soda is still more expensive, racking up $39.5 billion in retail sales versus $21.3 billion for water, industry research group Euromonitor found. “In 2016, bottled water overtook carbonates to become the leading soft drinks category in off-trade volume terms, an astonishing milestone a decade in the making,” it said. In the four decades since the launch of Perrier water in the U.S., consumption of bottled water surged 2,700%, from 354 million gallons in 1976 to 11.7 billion gallons in 2015, according to the International Bottled Water Association. Bottled water also had another unexpected boost aside from skittishness over sodas. Scares over possible water contamination have helped boost demand for bottled water over the last few decades, experts say. However, some 45% of bottled water brands are sourced from the municipal water supply—the same source as what comes out of the tap, according to Peter Gleick, a scientist and author of “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.” (Editor’s note: Even if the bottled water is being sourced from a municipal supply, it may be better quality than what your municipality is providing.) But whatever beverage they contain, plastic soda and water bottles are clogging up landfills and floating as vast vortices on the world’s oceans. Americans discard around 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5% of that recycled and 7.7% is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities, according to Columbia University’s Earth Center. The U.S. was recently ranked 20th among 192 countries that could have contributed to plastic waste in the oceans, according to a 2015 study led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia and published in the academic journal Science.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Cooking Burgers May Not Be a Human Job for Much Longer if Flippy Has Its Way – (Digital Trends – March 8, 2017)
Meet Flippy, a new “robotic kitchen assistant” from Miso Robotics that, as its name suggests, will automate the process of cooking those juicy patties. According to Miso Robotics CEO and co-founder David Zito, “We focus on using AI and automation to solve the high pain points in restaurants and food prep. That’s the dull, dirty and dangerous work around the grill, the fryer, and other prep work like chopping onions. The idea is to help restaurants improve food quality and safety without requiring a major kitchen redesign.” Flippy is a cart-like contraption that comes with a six-axis robotic arm and a “sensor bar.” Simply set up Flippy next to a standard grill or fryer, and it will detect necessary data from a thermal sensor, 3D sensors, and various cameras to help it detect its surroundings. It can even take your food orders directly thanks to a system that sends a ticket from the cashier straight to the kitchen. It’s capable of unwrapping burger patties, placing them on the grill, keeping tabs on the meat’s cook time and temperature, and letting its human counterparts know when they are ready to be taken off the heat. Flippy isn’t (yet) able to add condiments or wrap up the finished products.
To Save the American Dream, We Have to Change How We Think About Work – (Fast Company – March 13, 2017)
The growth of the gig economy has seen a whole new generation of non-payroll staff emerge. Companies like Uber steadfastly treat their workers as subcontractors, thus absolving themselves from having to pay benefits. Paying people under the 1099 part of the tax code, instead of as W-2 workers who receive health benefits, Social Security, Medicare, paid sick days, and vacation leave, saves employers about 30% on each worker, estimates show. One way to stop the abuse of this binary system would be to set up portable benefit schemes. These would prorate benefits based on hours worked and allow workers to move between gigs and projects more easily. So, for example, a driver who works for both Uber and Lyft could pick up fractionalized benefits from both and accrue money in an universal account. Several regional construction companies already pay into “multi-employer” plans, and unionists and gig companies have advocated for expanding the model more widely. Another idea is to reclassify workers, so there’s less of a gap between W-2 and 1099 categories. For example, Princeton economist Alan Krueger and Cornell economist Seth Harris have proposed a new compromise category of “independent worker.”This might see employers pay some Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes and allow workers some collective bargaining rights, but wouldn’t give workers benefits like overtime and injury compensation insurance. (Editor’s note: This is a long and thoughtful article that explores a number of ideas, including advocating for a basic income, about how the nature of work might usefully be changed over the coming decades.)
‘Satirical’ Texas Bill Turns Language of Antiabortion Laws on Men – (Washington Post – March 13, 2017)
State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) filed Texas House bill 4260, titled “Man’s Right to Know Act,” which would require men to wait 24 hours after an “initial health care consultation” to receive an elective vasectomy, colonoscopy or Viagra prescription. The bill, in case it’s not clear yet, is a send off on antiabortion legislation, particularly in Texas. Farrar told the Texas Tribune she knows the “proposed satirical regulations” will not be enacted. That isn’t their purpose.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Herbeau 550102 Dagobert Toilet Throne – (e-Faucets – no date)
For the sale price of $15,817.50, you truly can conduct your business like a king. Or perhaps even better: with less draft than in an old castle. The Herbeau Wooden Toilet Throne is made of solid ash with an antique satin finish. The musical chime “Le Bon Roi Dagobert” begins playing as the lid is raised. A tug on the pull chain activates the flush accompanied by the ringing of a bell. Order includes a full set of accessories including candleholder and ashtray. (What? – No magazine rack?) Orders are non-cancelable and non-returnable. Manufacturer’s warranty included. (Editor’s note: Don’t miss the customer reviews.)
JUST FOR FUN
20 Incredible Before & After Street Art Transformations – (The Mind Circle – October 28, 2016)
Opportunities to create something beautiful can be found all around us. Everywhere you look, there are empty walls ready to become something more beautiful. Thankfully, there are plenty of incredibly talented street artists out there who are turning drab public spaces into explosions of color and creativity. Check out these photos to see some truly incredible transformations.
A FINAL QUOTE
It is vain to be always looking toward the future and never acting toward it. – John Frederick Boyes, English essayist (1811 – 1879)
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Raymond Grace, 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.
Edited by John L. Petersen