Volume 20, Number 09 – 07/01/17

Volume 20, Number 09 – 07/01/17       


The human brain can identify a face in a few thousandths of a second, form a first impression of its owner and retain the memory for decades.

A new technology has enabled internet data transmission that is 100 times faster than the best Wi-Fi.

Researchers have discovered a way to produce hydrogen cheaply with no carbon footprint.

Hawaii could become the first state to implement universal basic income.



Amazon Granted a Patent That Prevents In-store Shoppers from Online Price Checking – (The Verge – June 15, 2017)
Amazon’s long been a go-to for people to online price compare while shopping at brick-and-mortars. Now, a new patent granted to the company could prevent people from doing just that inside Amazon’s own stores. The patent, titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” details a mechanism where a retailer can intercept network requests like URLs and search terms that happen on its in-store Wi-Fi, then act upon them in various ways. The document details in great length how a retailer like Amazon would use this information to its benefit. If, for example, the retailer sees you’re trying to access a competitor’s website to price check an item, it could compare the requested content to what’s offered in-store and then send price comparison information or a coupon to your browser instead. Or it could suggest a complementary item, or even block content outright. Though recently approved, the patent was originally filed in 2012. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is not one to shy away from playing the long game, so it’s hard to say how this will factor into any of Amazon’s immediate plans (if at all — it could be a defensive patent), especially as its physical store initiatives are fairly new. As mentioned, it does appear that this patent would only be implemented via an in-store Wi-Fi network, meaning you could work around it by using your provider’s data to surf.

Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse – (Vanity Fair – March 26, 2017)
Elon Musk is famous for his futuristic gambles, but Silicon Valley’s latest rush to embrace artificial intelligence scares him. And he thinks you should be frightened too. Inside his efforts to influence the rapidly advancing field and its proponents, and to save humanity from machine-learning overlords. Musk believes that his ultimate goal at SpaceX is the most important project in the world: interplanetary colonization. As he sees it, one reason we needed to colonize Mars is so that we’ll have a bolt-hole if A.I. goes rogue and turns on humanity.


Human Brain Constantly Rewires to Build a Multi-Dimensional Network –“Could Never Be Produced By Chance” – (Daily Galaxy – June 14, 2017)
In 2015, Blue Brain published the first digital copy of a piece of the neocortex – the most evolved part of the brain and the seat of our sensations, actions, and consciousness. In this latest research, using algebraic topology, multiple tests were performed on the virtual brain tissue to show that the multi-dimensional brain structures discovered could never be produced by chance. Experiments were then performed on real brain tissue in the Blue Brain’s wet lab in Lausanne confirming that the earlier discoveries in the virtual tissue are biologically relevant and also suggesting that the brain constantly rewires during development to build a network with as many high-dimensional structures as possible. When the researchers presented the virtual brain tissue with a stimulus, cliques of progressively higher dimensions assembled momentarily to enclose high-dimensional holes, that the researchers refer to as cavities. “The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner,” says Ran Levi from Aberdeen University. “It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates.” “We found a world that we had never imagined,” says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, “there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions.”


You Look Familiar. Now Scientists Know Why. – (New York Times – June 1, 2017)
The brain has an amazing capacity for recognizing faces. It can identify a face in a few thousandths of a second, form a first impression of its owner and retain the memory for decades. Central to these abilities is a longstanding puzzle: how the image of a face is encoded by the brain. Two Caltech biologists, Le Chang and Doris Y. Tsao, reported in the journal Cell that they have deciphered the code of how faces are recognized. Their experiments were based on electrical recordings from face cells, the name given to neurons that respond with a burst of electric signals when an image of a face is presented to the retina. By noting how face cells in macaque monkeys responded to manipulated photos of some 2,000 human faces, the Caltech team figured out exactly what aspects of the faces triggered the cells and how the features of the face were being encoded. The monkey face recognition system seems to be very similar to that of humans. Each face cell reads the combined vector of about six dimensions. The signals from 200 face cells altogether serve to uniquely identify a face. Dr. Tsao noted, “In our research, we’re recording from neurons at the highest stage of the visual system and can see that there’s no black box. My bet is that that will be true throughout the brain.”

Drug That Creates a Real Sun-tan Could Prevent Cancer – (BBC News – June 13, 2017)
Scientists have developed a drug that mimics sunlight to make the skin tan, with no damaging UV radiation involved. The drug tricks the skin into producing the brown form of the pigment melanin in tests on skin samples and mice. Evidence suggests it will work even on redheads, who normally just burn in the sun. The team at Massachusetts General Hospital hope their discovery could prevent skin cancer and even slow the appearance of ageing. UV light makes the skin tan by causing damage. This kicks off a chain of chemical reactions in the skin that ultimately leads to dark melanin – the body’s natural sunblock – being made. The drug is rubbed into the skin to skip the damage and kick-start the process of making melanin. Dr David Fisher, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “It has a potent darkening effect. “Under the microscope it’s the real melanin, it really is activating the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion.” Tests, detailed in the journal Cell Reports, have shown the melanin produced by the drug was able to block harmful UV rays. Eventually the scientists want to combine their drug with sun-cream to give maximum protection from solar radiation. Stopping UV damage could have an extra boon beyond cancer – slowing the appearance of ageing.

CRISPR Gene-editing Tool Causes Unintended Genetic Mutations – (New Atlas – May 29, 2017)
It’s not hyperbolic to say that the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique has been a revolutionary breakthrough, allowing scientists the ability to quickly, easily and precisely edit sections of DNA. But questions over how precise the CRISPR tool is have been raised in a new study from Columbia University Medical Center, which shows this gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome. The team of scientists involved in the study had previously been working with the CRISPR tool to treat a serious eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which leads to blindness. They decided to examine the entire genome of the CRISPR-treated mice from their previous experiments, looking for any potential mutations, even those that altered just a single nucleotide. In examining the entire genome from the CRISPR-treated mice, they found that the tool had successfully corrected the specific gene they were targeting, but it also potentially caused a great deal of other genetic changes. In two CRISPR-treated animals, more than 100 large gene deletions or insertions and over 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations were identified. Most significantly, all of these identified mutations were not picked up by the general computer algorithms most researchers use to look at the off-target effects of CRISPR-editing. There were no obvious or immediately deleterious effects in the animals from these unexpected mutations, but it is unknown what longer term effects the altered genes could have. “Researchers who aren’t using whole genome sequencing to find off-target effects may be missing potentially important mutations,” says co-author Dr. Stephen Tsang. “Even a single nucleotide change can have a huge impact.”


World’s First Commercial Carbon Sucking Machine Turns Greenhouse Gas into Fertilizer – (Nation of Change – June 1, 2017)
A revolutionary plant that can suck carbon dioxide right from the air has been unveiled on top of a waste recovery facility near Zurich. Swiss company, ClimeWorks, is capturing CO2 from the air with the world’s first commercial carbon removal technology. Its Direct Air Capture plant is capable of removing 900 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year. At the new Swiss plant, three stacked shipping containers each hold six of Climeworks’ CO2 collectors. Small fans pull air into the collectors, where a sponge-like filter soaks up carbon dioxide. It takes two or three hours to fully saturate a filter, and then the process reverses: The box closes, and the collector is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which releases the CO2 in a pure form that can be sold, made into other products, or buried underground. The extracted greenhouse gas will be sent to nearby greenhouses as a fertilizer for tomatoes and cucumbers. The company boasts that its technology could extend to other markets, including carbonation for soft drinks or the production of climate-neutral fuels. Climeworks, founded by engineers Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher, has a goal of capturing 1% of global emissions by 2025. The company said 750,000 shipping container-sized units would be needed to fulfill this goal. While that might sound like a lot, the same number of shipping containers pass through the Port of Shanghai every two weeks. See more technical details.


Why Printers Add Secret Tracking Dots – (BBC News – June 14, 2017)
On 3 June, FBI agents arrived at the house of government contractor Reality Leigh Winner in Augusta, Georgia. They had spent the previous two days investigating a top secret classified document that had allegedly been leaked to the press. In order to track down Winner, agents claim they had carefully studied copies of the document provided by online news site The Intercept and noticed creases suggesting that the pages had been printed and “hand-carried out of a secured space”. At that point, experts began taking a closer look at the document, now publicly available on the web. They discovered something else of interest: yellow dots in a roughly rectangular pattern repeated throughout the page. They were barely visible to the naked eye, but formed a coded design. After some quick analysis, they seemed to reveal the exact date and time that the pages in question were printed: 06:20 on 9 May, 2017 – at least, this is likely to be the time on the printer’s internal clock at that moment. Several security experts who decoded the dots came up with the same print time and date. The dots also encode a serial number for the printer. “Microdots” are well known to security researchers and civil liberties campaigners. Many color printers add them to documents without people ever knowing they’re there. Microdots have existed for many years. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) maintains a list of color printers known to use them. The article includes a list of those manufacturers.

China’s Quantum Satellite in Big Leap – (BBC News – June 15, 2017)
The term “spy satellite” has taken on a new meaning with the successful test of a novel Chinese spacecraft. The mission can provide unbreakable secret communications channels, in principle, using the laws of quantum science. Called Micius, the satellite is the first of its kind and was launched from the Gobi desert last August. It is all part of a push towards a new kind of internet that would be far more secure than the one we use now. The experimental Micius, with its delicate optical equipment, continues to circle the Earth, transmitting to two mountain-top Earth bases separated by 1,200km. The optics onboard are needed to distribute to the ground stations the particles, or photons, of light that can encode the “keys” to secret messages. “I think we have started a worldwide quantum space race,” says lead researcher Jian-Wei Pan, who is based in Hefei in China’s Anhui Province. The satellite passes 500km over China for just less than five minutes each day – or rather each night, as bright sunlight would easily swamp the quantum signal. Micius’ intricate optics create the all-important photon pairs and fires them down towards telescopes on some of China’s high mountains. Due to clouds, dust and atmospheric turbulence, most of the photons created on the satellite failed to reach their target: only one pair of the 10 million photon pairs generated each second actually completed the trip successfully. But that was enough to show that the photons that did arrive preserved the quantum properties needed for quantum crypto-circuits. See also: Researchers discover shortcut to satellite-based quantum encryption network.

Forget Wi-Fi, This Ultrafast New Technology Is 100 Times Faster Than the Best Wi-Fi – (Wall St. Pit – March 22, 2017)
You might think you already have the best Wi-Fi system available. While that might be true in your location-the fact is that the best speed attainable still can’t be more than 300Mbps (Megabits per second). Which again, is great but will definitely pale in comparison to Wi-Fi speeds that can actually go 100 times faster. Present WiFi systems depend on radio signals with a frequency range of only 2.5 to 5 Gigahertz, and as mentioned, capable of achieving maximum speeds of up to 300 Mbps. But now, researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have discovered a way to transform this ‘slow’ Wi-Fi into lightning speed Wi-Fi. Their solution? An infrared system that can achieve higher frequencies — up to 200 terahertz — and a massive capacity of more than 40 Gbps (Gigabits per second) per ray of light. To be more specific, this proposed system is the subject for which doctoral student, Joanne Oh, received her PhD degree and ‘cum laude’ honor for. The new system isn’t just easy to set up; it’s theoretically quite inexpensive too. All it takes is a few central ‘light antennas’ mounted strategically (ex. on the ceiling). Data will come from these antennas capable of precisely directing rays of light coming from an optical fiber source. This works through the pair of gratings within the antennas that beam light rays of varying wavelengths at varying angles to different devices.


Inside Apple’s Insanely Great (or Just Insane) New Mothership – (Wired – May 16, 2017)
On June 7, 2011, Steve Jobs addressed a meeting of the Cupertino City Council to propose a new campus for Apple. What he didn’t tell them—during what none of them could have known would be his last public appearance—is that he was not just planning a new campus for the company he cofounded, built, left, returned to, and ultimately saved from extinction. Through this new headquarters, Steve Jobs was planning the future of Apple itself—a future beyond him and, ultimately, beyond any of us. And now, after 8 years of planning and a reported $5 billion in construction costs, it’s opening. This article, despite a severe shortage of photographs, is an elegant verbal tour. The head architect of the “mothership”, Norman Foster, a Pritzker Prize winner whose commissions have included the Berlin Reichstag, the Hong Kong airport, and London’s infamous “Gherkin” tower, has grasped its essential truth: At heart it is the realization of a dying man’s wish to eternally shape the workplace of the company he founded.


Scientists Found a Low-Cost Way to Produce the World’s Cleanest Energy Source – May 18, 2017)
Breaking water down into its components — oxygen and hydrogen — is theoretically simple, but practically complex. The process demands two separate reactions, each with its own electrode; one reaction evolves hydrogen, and one evolves oxygen. While hydrogen is the component that is sought after in this process, it can’t be attained without producing oxygen — and that’s the issue. Efficient oxygen catalysts, unlike the readily available hydrogen catalysts, are hard to find, and that’s where this discovery comes into play. Physicists at the University of Houston have discovered a low-cost, efficient, and easily available catalyst that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The catalyst is far more efficient than other options that have previously been employed, and because it is grown from ferrous metaphosphate on a conductive nickel foam platform, it is both more durable and cheaper to produce. “Hydrogen is the cleanest primary energy source we have on earth,” said Texas Center for Superconductivity chief scientist Paul C. W. Chu. Now that researchers have discovered a way to produce hydrogen cheaply with no carbon footprint, this may very well be the green energy source of tomorrow.

Spectacular Drop in Renewable Energy Costs Leads to Record Global Boost – (Guardian – June 6, 2017)
Renewable energy capacity around the world was boosted by a record amount in 2016 and delivered at a markedly lower cost, according to new global data – although the total financial investment in renewables actually fell. The greater “bang-for-buck” resulted from plummeting prices for solar and wind power and led to new power deals in countries including Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates all being priced well below fossil fuel or nuclear options. The new renewable energy capacity installed worldwide in 2016 was 161GW, a 10% rise on 2015 and a new record, according to REN21, a network of public and private sector groups covering 155 nations and 96% of the world’s population. The new record capacity cost $242bn, a 23% reduction in investment compared to 2015, and renewables investment remained larger than for all fossil fuels. Subsidies for green energy, however, are still much lower than those for coal, oil and gas. New solar power provided the biggest boost – half of all new capacity – followed by wind power at a third and hydropower at 15%. It is the first year that the new solar capacity added has been greater than any other electricity-producing technology.


Michelin Unveils Airless 3D-printed Tires That Last Virtually Forever – (Inhabitat – June 19, 2017)
Fear not the flat tire, road trippers! The future of tire technology is rolling into reality, thanks to Michelin’s Vision tire. The 3D-printed tire does not need to be inflated, and it’s designed to last through the entire lifetime of a vehicle. It’s also equipped with high-tech sensors and it’s 100% biodegradable to boot. Michelin used 3D printing technology to create an airless tire modeled on alveolar structures – like as the air sacs found in human lungs. This means that the tire’s interior is structurally solid, while the outer layers are more flexible, which prevents blowouts and flat tires. The tire is printed from organic, recyclable, biodegradable materials and it can be recycled when it has reached the end of its product life. Unfortunately, these tires are still at the concept stage; no date yet for actual sales.


Has This Silicon Valley Startup Finally Nailed the Indoor Farming Model? – (Fast Company – May 18, 2017)
Indoor farming is a trendy startup space, but many of those ventures have recently failed. And the vertical farming startup callend Plenty isn’t the first to build an indoor urban farm in a warehouse. Aerofarms, for example, grows greens in a 70,000-square foot former steel factory in Newark, New Jersey. But Plenty, which has received $26 million in funding to date from investors such as Bezos Expeditions and Innovation Endeavors, believes that it has the technology to grow food more efficiently–at the same cost or less than crops grown in the field–so it can more easily scale up to supply supermarkets around the world. Most produce available in conventional grocery stores has been bred or engineered to last through rough handling in distribution centers and long distances in trucks–not for taste. The heirloom seeds that Plenty uses, which were bred for taste, are more delicate. Unlike most other indoor farming companies, which typically grow food in rows on shelves, Plenty grows food vertically–each plant popping out of the side of a tall, skinny tower. Lights are also arranged vertically rather than pointing down from above. The company continually iterates on the design, tweaking the placement of lights or plumbing or how the towers are moved in and out of a room in order to improve cost or productivity or flavor. A custom designed “growth medium” made from recycled plastic bottles takes the place of soil, holding roots in place, delivering nutrients, and hosting microbes. Plenty says it can grow some of its crops up to 350 times more produce in the same amount of space as conventional farming, with 1% of the water. In a sealed environment, there are so few pests that the company can use ladybugs to deal with them rather than pesticides. The process also cuts the cost and pollution associated with a typical supply chain.

The Surprising Number of American Adults Who Think Chocolate Milk Comes from Brown Cows – (Washington Post – June 15, 2017)
Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy. If you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar. But the most surprising thing about this figure may actually be that it isn’t higher. For decades, observers in agriculture, nutrition and education have griped that many Americans are basically agriculturally illiterate. One Department of Agriculture study, commissioned in the early ’90s, found that nearly 1 in 5 adults did not know that hamburgers are made from beef. Many more lacked familiarity with basic farming facts, like how big U.S. farms typically are and what food animals eat. Studies have shown that people who live in agricultural communities tend to know a bit more about where their food comes from, as do people with higher education levels and household incomes. But in some populations, confusion about basic food facts can skew pretty high. When one team of researchers interviewed fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at an urban California school, they found that more than half of them didn’t know pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were plants.


Secret Service Relaxes Marijuana Policy in Bid to Swell Ranks – (CNN – June 1, 2017)
Instead of a policy that would disqualify an applicant who has used the drug more than a certain number of times, the U.S. Secret Service will now use a “whole-person concept” to measure marijuana use, potentially allowing candidates who admit to marijuana use based on the last age at which they used the drug and the amount of time between then and their application to the agency. The Secret Service has two primary missions: To investigate and prevent financial crimes, and to protect the US President as well as former US leaders and their families. The new director acknowledged that around-the-clock shifts and last-minute assignments have affected morale among the force, which now numbers roughly 6,500. Law requires 24-hour protection of members of the President’s family, as well as the properties that he could be using, even if no one is inside. “I think between that and the fact that he has a larger family, that’s just more stress on the organization. We recognize that,” said Randolph Alles, the new director of the Secret Service. He explained he is aiming to boost the ranks to almost 10,000 agents within the next eight years.

Report Says Canadian Sniper Has Shattered World Record for the Longest Confirmed Kill in History – (USA Today – June 22, 2017)
A Canadian soldier in Iraq has killed an ISIS militant from more than two miles away, shattering the world record for a confirmed sniper kill in military history. According to Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, the gun specialist from the elite Joint Task Force 2 achieved the feat with a shot from a high-rise during an operation within the past 30 days. “The shot in question actually disrupted a Daesh [Islamic State] attack on Iraqi security forces,” a military source — who requested anonymity because the unit’s operations are classified — said. “Instead of dropping a bomb that could potentially kill civilians in the area, it is a very precise application of force and because it was so far way, the bad guys didn’t have a clue what was happening.” The 3,450-meter shot, which took about 10 seconds to reach its target, was independently verified by a video camera and other data, the source said.

UN: Threat of a Hacking Attack on Nuclear Plants is Growing – (Associated Press – December 16, 2016)
The “nightmare scenario” is rising for a hacking attack on a nuclear power plant’s computer system that causes the uncontrolled release of radiation, according to the United Nations’ deputy chief. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a Security Council meeting that extremists and “vicious non-state groups” are actively seeking weapons of mass destruction “and these weapons are increasingly accessible.” The open council meeting focused on ways to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by extremist groups and criminals. Members unanimously approved a resolution to strengthen the work of the council committee monitoring what countries are doing to prevent “non-state actors” from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction, known as WMDs. Eliasson said there are legitimate concerns about the security of stockpiles of radioactive material suitable for making nuclear weapons but that are outside international regulation. In addition, he said, “scientific advances have lowered barriers to the production of biological weapons.” “And emerging technologies, such as 3D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, are adding to threats of an attack using a WMD,” Eliasson said.U.N. disarmament chief Kim Won-soo said the new resolution recognizes “the growing threats and risks associated with biological weapons” and the need for the 193 U.N. member states, international groups and regional organizations to step-up information sharing on these threats and risks. Kim said it is important that the Security Council keep up its focus on preventing deadly weapons from getting into the hands of extremists and criminals, but it also needs to study how to respond if prevention fails. See also: At least 1 US nuclear plant’s computer system was hacked. There was no evidence that any particularly sensitive or operational systems were breached. Instead, authorities believe only a less sensitive, business-associated side of systems was compromised in at least one breach detected over recent months.


Hawaii Could Be the First State to Implement Universal Basic Income – (True Activist – June 24, 2017)
Faced with one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, Hawaii is seeking to pass a progressive new law. Universal basic income would end the extreme poverty that overshadows Hawaii’s faltering economy. “As far as I’m told it’s the first time any state has made such a pronouncement, but I think it’s an important statement of our values here in Hawaii on which we seek to act,” wrote Rep. Chris Lee (D). Hawaii currently has the highest cost of living in the country. The bill, House Concurrent Resolution 89 (HCR 89), says all citizens deserve basic financial security. Rep. Lee presented the proposal to legislature, where it was unanimously passed by both houses. Legislation cites the impact of automation on Hawaii’s tourism-driven economy, and heavy reliance on minimum wage service jobs. Air BnB especially, say representatives, has majorly driven down the hotel industry. They fear that automated cars will soon put taxis and car services out of business. “Efforts to increase wages, benefits, and working conditions are important steps to assist local families in the short-term, but a paradigm shift in policy will soon be necessary as automation, innovation, and disruption begin to rapidly worsen economic inequality by displacing significant numbers of jobs in Hawaii’s transportation, food service, tourism, retail, medical, legal, insurance, and other sectors” states the bill.

Using Texts as Lures, Mexican Government Spyware Targets Mexican Activists and Their Families – (New York Times – June 19, 2017)
Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. The targets include lawyers looking into the mass disappearance of 43 students, a highly respected academic who helped write anti-corruption legislation, two of Mexico’s most influential journalists and an American representing victims of sexual abuse by the police. Since 2011, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased about $80 million worth of spyware created by an Israeli cyberarms manufacturer. The software, known as Pegasus, infiltrates smartphones to monitor every detail of a person’s cellular life — calls, texts, email, contacts and calendars. It can even use the microphone and camera on phones for surveillance, turning a target’s smartphone into a personal bug. The company that makes the software, the NSO Group, says it sells the tool exclusively to governments, with an explicit agreement that it be used only to battle terrorists or the drug cartels and criminal groups that have long kidnapped and killed Mexicans. But according to dozens of messages examined by The New York Times and independent forensic analysts, the software has been used against some of the government’s most outspoken critics and their families, in what many view as an unprecedented effort to thwart the fight against the corruption infecting every limb of Mexican society. The deployment of sophisticated cyberweaponry against citizens is a snapshot of the struggle for Mexico itself, raising profound legal and ethical questions for a government already facing severe criticism for its human rights record. Under Mexican law, only a federal judge can authorize the surveillance of private communications, and only when officials can demonstrate a sound basis for the request. It is highly unlikely that the government received judicial approval to hack the phones, according to several former Mexican intelligence officials. Instead, they said, illegal surveillance is standard practice. (Editor’s note: Based on comments from people in the “Occupy” movement and from the “Water Protectors” in South Dakota, one would assume the same practices are used in the US.)


Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried from View – (Jonathan Cook – June 26, 2017)
Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the man who exposed the Mai Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and the US military’s abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004, is probably the most influential journalist of the modern era, with the possible exception of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the pair who exposed Watergate. Paradoxically, over the past decade, as social media has created a more democratic platform for information dissemination, the corporate media has grown ever more fearful of a truly independent figure like Hersh. Nonetheless, despite struggling to find an outlet for his recent work, he has continued to scrutinize western foreign policy, this time in relation to Syria. The official western narrative has painted a picture of a psychotic Syrian president, Bashar Assad, who is assumed to be so irrational and self-destructive he intermittently uses chemical weapons against his own people. Hersh’s investigations have not only undermined evidence-free claims being promoted in the west to destabilize Assad’s government but threatened a wider US policy seeking to “remake the Middle East”. His work has challenged a political and corporate media consensus that portrays Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Assad’s main ally against the extremist Islamic forces fighting in Syria, as another dangerous monster the West needs to bring into line. His latest investigation questions whether Assad was responsible for another alleged gas attack – this one in April, at Khan Sheikhoun. Again a consensual western narrative was quickly constructed after social media showed dozens of Syrians dead, apparently following a bomb dropped by Syrian aircraft. For the first time in his presidency, Donald Trump received wall-to-wall praise for launching a military strike on Syria in response, even though, as Hersh documents, he had no evidence on which to base such an attack, one that gravely violated international law. Hersh’s new investigation was paid for by the London Review of Books, which declined to publish it. This is almost disturbing as the events in question. What is emerging is a media blackout so strong that even the London Review of Books is running scared. Instead, Hersh’s story appeared yesterday in a German publication, Welt am Sonntag. (Editor’s note: If you only have time to read one article featured in this edition of FE, read this one.)


The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools – (New York Times – June 6, 2017)
In San Francisco’s public schools, Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, is giving middle school principals $100,000 “innovation grants” and encouraging them to behave more like start-up founders and less like bureaucrats. In Maryland, Texas, Virginia and other states, Netflix’s chief, Reed Hastings, is championing a popular math-teaching program where Netflix-like algorithms determine which lessons students see. And in more than 100 schools nationwide, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, is testing one of his latest big ideas: software that puts children in charge of their own learning, recasting their teachers as facilitators and mentors. In the space of just a few years, technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies the linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning. The involvement by some of the wealthiest and most influential titans of the 21st century amounts to a singular experiment in education, with millions of students serving as de facto beta testers for their ideas. But the philanthropic efforts are taking hold so rapidly that there has been little public scrutiny. Furthermore, there is only limited research into whether the tech giants’ programs have actually improved students’ educational results. These efforts coincide with a larger Silicon Valley push to sell computers and software to American schools, a lucrative market projected to reach $21 billion by 2020. Already, more than half of the primary- and secondary-school students in the United States use Google services like Gmail in school. But many parents and educators said in interviews that they were unaware of the Silicon Valley personalities and money influencing their schools.

Harvard Withdraws 10 Acceptances for ‘Offensive’ Memes in Private Group Chat – (Washington Post – June 5, 2017)
The Facebook messaging group was at one point titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” It began when about 100 members of Harvard College’s incoming freshman class contacted each other through the university’s official Class of 2021 Facebook group. They created a messaging group where students could share memes about popular culture — a growing trend on the Internet among students at elite colleges. But then, the exchanges took a dark turn, according to an article published in the Harvard Crimson. Some of the group’s members decided to form an offshoot group in which students could share obscene, “R-rated” memes, a student told the Crimson. In mid-April, after administrators discovered the offensive, racially charged meme exchanges, at least 10 incoming students who participated in the chat received letters informing them that their offers of admission had been revoked. The repercussions spurred both praise and criticism from Harvard students, alumni and others at a time when university campuses across the country are in the midst of clashes over free speech. Erica Goldberg, an assistant professor at Ohio Northern Law School who said she taught at Harvard Law School for three years, compared the dark humor used by the Harvard students to the popular “unabashedly irreverent” game Cards Against Humanity, “whose purpose is to be as cleverly offensive as possible. Even many good liberals love the game, precisely because the humor is so wrong, so contrary to our values,” Goldberg wrote. (Editor’s note: Are we certain that vicious, ugly humor is contrary to “our” values? Who is included in this “us”? Who isn’t? What really are our privately held values as opposed to our politically correct ones?)


Weird Energy Beam Seems to Travel Five Times the Speed of Light – (New Scientist – May 22, 2017)
An energy beam that stabs out of galaxy M87 like a toothpick in a cocktail olive is pulling off the ultimate magic trick: seeming to move faster than the speed of light. Almost five times faster, in fact, as measured by the Hubble Space Telescope. This feat was first observed in 1995 in galaxy M87, and has been seen in many other galaxies since. We’ve known about the jet of plasma shooting from the core of M87 since 1918, when astronomer Heber Curtis saw a ray of light connected to the galaxy. To be visible from so far away, it had to be huge – about 6000 light years long. As modern astronomers now know, pretty much all galaxies have a central black hole that periodically draws in stars and gas clouds. When gas begins to swirl down the drain, it heats up and magnetic fields focus some of it into jets of hot plasma. These jets shoot out at velocities near to – but not faster than – the speed of light. All over the universe, outflows of energy from massive black holes can stop or start the formation of stars throughout galaxies. But it’s unclear how these outflows work and how much energy they contain. By appearing to move faster than light, jets such as the M87 one change visibly over just a few years, which is unusual for distant objects like galaxies. That allows astronomers to make precise estimates of how fast the plasma is moving and thus how powerful the process is. Eileen Meyer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has compiled 13 years of images, which seemed to show that the plasma might also be moving in corkscrew-like spirals – as if it weren’t already complicated enough.

Evidence That Jupiter Is the Oldest Planet in the Solar System – (PhysOrg – June 13, 2017)
An international group of scientists has found that Jupiter is the oldest planet in our solar system. By looking at tungsten and molybdenum isotopes on iron meteorites, the team, made up of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Institut für Planetologie at the University of Münsterin Germany, found that meteorites are made up from two genetically distinct nebular reservoirs that coexisted but remained separated between 1 million and 3-4 million years after the solar system formed. “The most plausible mechanism for this efficient separation is the formation of Jupiter, opening a gap in the disc (a plane of gas and dust from stars) and preventing the exchange of material between the two reservoirs,” said Thomas Kruijer, lead author of the paper appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Knowing the age of Jupiter is key for understanding how the solar system evolved toward its present-day architecture. Although models predict that Jupiter formed relatively early, until now, its formation has never been dated. The team showed through isotope analyses of meteorites that Jupiter’s solid core formed within only about 1 million years after the start of the solar system history, making it the oldest planet.


World Population to Hit 9.8 billion by 2050, Despite Nearly Universal Lower Fertility Rates – (UN New Centre – June 21, 2017)
The world population is now nearly 7.6 billion, up from 7.4 billion in 2015, spurred by the relatively high levels of fertility in developing countries – despite an overall drop in the number of children people have around the globe – the United Nations today reported. The growth is expected to come, in part, from the 47 least developed countries, where the fertility rate is around 4.3 births per woman, and whose population is expected to reach 1.9 billion people in 2050 from the current estimate of one billion. In addition, the populations in 26 African countries are likely to “at least double” by 2050, according to the report. That trend comes despite lower fertility rates in nearly all regions of the world, including in Africa, where rates fell from 5.1 births per woman from 2000-2005 to 4.7 births from 2010-2015. At this rate, the world population is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and surpass 11.2 billion in 2100.

Amazon’s and Walmart’s Latest Moves Confirm the Death of the Middle Class as We Know It – (Business Insider – June 6, 2017)
Amazon, whose Prime service claims more than 70% of upper-income households in the US — those earning more than $112,000 a year — is suddenly going after customers on government assistance who earn less than $15,444 a year. The retailer has announced it will slash the cost of its monthly Prime membership nearly in half, to $5.99 a month, for customers who have an electronic benefit transfer card, which is used for government assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. Nearly $1 out of every $5 in SNAP benefits was spent at Walmart last year. At the same time, Walmart is going after Amazon’s core customers with its $3 billion acquisition earlier this year of, which attracts a younger and higher-income group of shoppers than Walmart. The retailer has also recently been snatching up trendy online retailers like ModCloth, Moosejaw, and Shoebuy, and the high-end menswear brand Bonobos. The two retailers’ strategies of aiming at the furthest ends of the income spectrum highlight the widening gap between wealthy and poor Americans and the disappearance of what was once the most sought-after class of income-earners in the country. From 1980 onward, it started to become clear that the middle class was evaporating. After the Great Recession, several other factors aggravated the problems facing mid-tier retailers. Consumers started saving more money, and mall traffic plunged, along with spending on apparel and accessories. People started shifting their spending from durable goods to experiences, travel, and restaurants. Consumers also started dealing with higher fixed expenses from increasing technology and healthcare costs.


Hey, Buffalo Wild Wings and Company: Don’t Blame Millennials for Your Dying Restaurants – (Washington Examiner – June 5, 2017)
Millennials’ tastes and habits are partially due to the fact that many of us live in urban areas. As we migrate away from small towns in mass exodus and concentrate our lives near city centers (or easily accessible suburbs), our habits change accordingly. Our food preferences look different, too: Food trucks have risen in popularity in the past few years, providing culinary variety at a low price. During a rushed lunch break, it’s no surprise that young professionals seek food trucks or that cash-strapped entrepreneurs entering the restaurant industry choose to get their feet wet with mobile ventures. The food truck industry is, as of 2017, about four times as big as it was in 2012, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Food trucks are also aligned with our more hedonistic values: 88% of millennials surveyed by Technomic claimed they value trying different types of cuisines. Food trucks, along with local establishments, meet these preferences to a greater degree than Applebee’s or Buffalo Wild Wings ever have.

Thai Clickfarm Using 474 iPhones Gets Thumbs-down from Police – (CNet – June 13, 2017)
Social media is big business, so likes and shares can be very valuable. That, of course, means there’s a market for fake likes and shares. Three Chinese men were found to be running a complex social media operation in Thailand, the Bangkok Post reports, that involved 474 iPhones and just under 350,000 unused Thai SIM cards. The men were generating fake page views, likes and shares on WeChat, a Chinese app offering instant messaging and social media services and which has more than 900 million monthly active users. The men said a company in China supplied the phones and paid them 150,000 baht a month (about $4,400) for the operation, according to Immigration Chief, Benjaphol Rodsawasdi. The trio reportedly used Thailand as a base because of the cheaper phone coverage fees. They were arrested at two rented houses near the Cambodian border. Thai police are investigating how the men brought so many mobile phones into Thailand and acquired the SIM cards from local service providers. The men told the police they boosted engagement for products sold online in China. (Editor’s note: This is not just an issue in China.)


To Understand White Liberal Racism, Read These Private Emails – (KUOW – June 16, 2017)
On a gray day last October, teachers across Seattle wore a shirt that read BLACK LIVES MATTER. They knew there might be criticism. John Muir Elementary in south Seattle had done this in September and received a bomb threat and hate mail from across the U.S. But they did, and the day was, by most accounts, uneventful. Some kids got it – most didn’t. Just another school day. And then, a backlash, but this time not from outsiders. White parents from the city’s tonier neighborhoods wrote to their principals to say they were displeased. A Black Lives Matter day was too militant, too political and too confusing for their young kids, they said. Some danced around their discomfort, others snarked in ALL CAPS. These parents would not talk to us, so we made a public records request for their emails. Their names were blacked out, which is why they are not named here. Jill Geary, the school board director representing northeast Seattle and a white mom of five with a daughter at Laurelhurst Elementary, explained: “They would prefer to be ‘all lives matter,’ because then their child is included in the conversation about mattering,” she said. “What they don’t think is, would a black mother feel like her child matters, based upon the way that history, the nation, the city, the institutional structures, have treated her child? That’s not the process they’re using.” (Editor’s note: This is a useful article for examining and even questioning one’s own, perhaps unconscious, biases. We recommend it.)

Big Dan, a Couple of Beers and Thousands of Honeybees – (High Country News – June 12, 2017)
Meet “Dan, Dan, the Big Bee Man”. This is a story of one family’s adventures as Dad learned how to rid the house of an infestation of thousands of honeybees by working with nature rather than trying to best it.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.

Finland Tests an Unconditional Basic Income – (Economist – June 20, 2017)
This article offers a brief update on the small scale experiment in offering 2,000 Finnish recipients (who had been on welfare) a guaranteed basic income for two years. The short take-away is that it’s too soon to know much about how well it’s working (or not), but it has been much more complex to implement than had been expected. Still, the article is worth reading.

That’s Hot: Barber in New Delhi Cuts Hair With Fire – (MarketWatch – June 23, 2017)
A barber in New Delhi, India is using fire and chemicals to cut hair instead of scissors. Short video clip.


Jatt Mele a Gya || Performed by Maritime Bhangra Group || at Peggy’s Cove Halifax, NS, Canada – (YouTube – September 26, 2016)
Bhangra is a type of popular music combining Punjabi folk traditions with Western pop music. Here’s a great performance by members of Maritime Bhangra Group, a Sikh group based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada dancing to the song “Jatt Lele a Gya”. These guys have got moves! And if you liked that one, try this. Or, for something a little more traditional (at least in terms of costume), check out this.


I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. – Thomas Jefferson

A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.


Edited by John L. Petersen

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A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change
by John L. Petersen

Former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart has said “It should be required reading for the next President.”

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