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Volume 21, Number 11 – 6/1/18
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
Beyond the double helix: a new form of DNA has been identified.The 9.9% is the new American aristocracy.In China, money flows mainly through a pair of digital ecosystems that blend social media, commerce, and banking services – and not through banks.The oldest known case of dandruff has been identified in a small feathered dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 125m years ago.
by John L. Petersen
Penny Kelly returns to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks
Join us Saturday, June 23, 2018, 2 to 4 pm in Berkeley Springs
ETs, Consciousness, and The Nature of Reality
As we move closer to official disclosure of the fact that we are not the only beings in the universe, it becomes more and more important to prepare ourselves and consciousness to interact with other beings, many of whom have a much more advanced understanding of the true nature of reality.
This brings us to ask, “What do they know that we do not know? How do they manage themselves within this reality system? What is their understanding of the nature of reality?”
Join us for a deep look at information, technology, and perspectives held by beings that are waiting for us to join the greater community and that we must mature into before we can take on a greater role.
Penny Kelly is an author, teacher, speaker, publisher, personal and spiritual consultant, and Naturopathic physician. She travels, lectures, and teaches a variety of classes and workshops, and maintains a large consulting practice. She has been involved in scientific research and investigations into consciousness at Pinelandia Laboratory near Ann Arbor, MI.
Get complete details at TransitionTalks.org.
John Petersen to speak at Energy, Science and Technology Conference
I will be one of the keynote speakers at one of the foremost new energy conferences in the world, held in Idaho (near Spokane, Washington), on the 5th – 8th of July. ESTC is a marvelously interesting mix of researchers and inventors who are on the leading edge of “free” and alternative energy. It is always a most provocative time full of new ideas . . . and mind-blowing technology that really works. The revolution is starting there.
Here’s what some of the folks who attended last year had to say about their experience:
This is a really great conference, with ample opportunities to meet many very interesting people and hear sometimes amazing presentations about working technologies that trumpet the emergence of a new world. That’s what I’m going to talk about. Here’s the description of my talk.
New Energy: The Linchpin to Unprecedented Change and the Emergence of a New Era
We are full into the most extraordinary period of change ever experienced by humanity . . . and the acceleration will increase before things begin to settle down. Amazing breakthroughs and manipulations of our reality signal a transition the likes of which baffles conventional wisdom.
The endpoint is a new world populated by new humans – both fundamentally different from the familiar forms that we all grew up with. Many sources paint a picture of a world without war for millennia.
Futurist John Petersen will paint the big picture of what is going on, where it could be headed and why new energy is such a key piece of the extraordinary new world.
You can get complete information on the program at energyscienceconference.com. If this is of interest to you, there are only about 40 seats left, so register soon.
Hope to see you there.
Are Bots Entitled to Free Speech? – (Columbia Journalism Review – May 24, 2018)
How will the courts address free-expression rights for artificially intelligent communicators? This conversation is coming, and it may push the Supreme Court to do something it has avoided: define who is and is not a journalist. For nearly half a century, the US legal system has lived a double life. On the one hand, the Supreme Court has held that journalists do not have greater or lesser rights than other citizens (see Branzburg v. Hayes). On the other, the lower courts have generally ignored or let stand numerous laws or privileges that provide journalists special protections. These include the qualified First Amendment–based reporter’s privilege in some federal jurisdictions and fee waivers in FOI statutes. Most of these laws and privileges were devised before the Web was publicly available, and the case law is inconsistent in who it applies these protections to online. So where do bots come in? Networked technologies have already challenged journalists to distinguish their work from the countless other types of information that flood virtual spaces. Now, non-human entities have the potential to muddy the waters even more. Courts will soon have to explore whether AI communicators have rights as publishers—and whether a bot can be entitled to journalistic protections. While giving free speech to bots might sound shocking, perhaps even absurd, a court decision in favor of an AI entity could benefit news organizations, some of which (the AP and Reuters, among them) have published AI-constructed stories for years. An example is the daily stock-market roundup. Many such stories could be understood as a public good (think news alerts) and thus receive journalistic legal protections—again, if the courts focused on what was published rather than how it was published. These issues become more complex in the context of fake news and clickbait.
Simulations Suggest Multiverse Is Either Teeming with Life – Or Doesn’t Exist – (New Atlas – May 14, 2018)
In the 1990s, it was found that the universe isn’t expanding at a constant rate, it’s accelerating. Scientists dubbed the force behind this acceleration “dark energy,” although that’s more of a placeholder name than any actual description of it. Our universe seems conveniently set up to support life, and it’s been assumed that if there were even a little bit more or less dark energy, then stars, planets and, by extension, life, wouldn’t have been able to develop. But a new study, done by researchers at the University of Sydney, Durham University, Western Sydney University and the University of Western Australia, looked at how different levels of dark energy might affect the development of life. The team produced simulations using the Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments (EAGLE) project, which is one of the most comprehensive simulations of the observed universe. Pascal Elahi, an author of the study, said, “Our simulations showed that the accelerated expansion driven by dark energy has hardly any impact on the birth of stars, and hence places for life to arise. Even increasing dark energy many hundreds of times might not be enough to make a dead universe.” That has wide-reaching implications for life in the multiverse. Previously, it was thought that most parallel universes would have evolved with conditions hostile to life, but the new study suggests life might be far more common across the multiverse. Or, perhaps this could be a blow to the very idea of a multiverse. After all, the amount of dark energy in our universe is no longer a suspiciously perfect amount. To the contrary, the researchers say the multiverse theory suggests there should be 50 times more dark energy in our universe than there is.
A New World’s Extraordinary Orbit Points to Planet Nine – (Wired – May 20, 2018)
In early 2016, two planetary scientists declared that a ghost planet is hiding in the depths of the solar system, well beyond the orbit of Pluto. Their claim, which they made based on the curious orbits of distant icy worlds, quickly sparked a race to find this so-called Planet Nine—a planet that is estimated to be about 10 times the mass of Earth. “It has a real magnetism to it,” said Gregory Laughlin, an astronomer at Yale University. “I mean, finding a 10-Earth-mass planet in our own solar system would be a discovery of unrivaled scientific magnitude.” Now, astronomers are reporting that they have spotted another distant world—perhaps as large as a dwarf planet—whose orbit is so odd that it is likely to have been shepherded by Planet Nine. The object confirms a specific prediction made by Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown, the astronomers at the California Institute of Technology who first argued for Planet Nine’s existence. “It’s not proof that Planet Nine exists,” said David Gerdes, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and a co-author on the new paper. “But I would say the presence of an object like this in our solar system bolsters the case for Planet Nine.” Gerdes and his colleagues spotted the new object in data from the Dark Energy Survey, a project that probes the acceleration in the expansion of the universe by surveying a region well above the plane of the solar system. This makes it an unlikely tool for finding objects inside the solar system, since they mostly orbit within the plane. But that is exactly what makes the new object unique: Its orbit is tilted 54 degrees with respect to the plane of the solar system. It’s something Gerdes did not expect to see. Batygin and Brown, however, predicted it.
Memory Transplant Achieved in Snails – (BBC News – May 14, 2018)
A team successfully transplanted memories by transferring a form of genetic information called RNA from one snail into another. The snails were trained to develop a defensive reaction. When the RNA was inserted into snails that had not undergone this process, they behaved just as if they had been sensitized. The research could provide new clues in the search for the physical basis of memory. The scientists gave mild electric shocks to the tails of a species of marine snail called Aplysia californica. After these shocks were administered, the snails’ defensive withdrawal reflex – where the snails contract in order to protect themselves from harm – became more pronounced. When the researchers subsequently tapped the snails, they found those that had been given the shocks displayed a defensive contraction lasting about 50 seconds, while those that had not received the shocks contracted for only about one second. The shocked snails had been “sensitized” to the stimulus. The non-sensitized snails injected with the RNA from the shocked animals behaved as if they had themselves received the tail shocks, displaying a defensive contraction of about 40 seconds. They saw a similar effect when they did the same thing to sensory nerve cells being studied in petri dishes. Prof David Glanzman, one of the authors, from the University of California, Los Angeles, said the result was “as though we transferred the memory”. He also stressed that the snails did not get hurt: “These are marine snails and when they are alarmed they release a beautiful purple ink to hide themselves from predators. So these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren’t physically damaged by the shocks,” he said. Traditionally, long-term memories were thought to be stored at the brain’s synapses, the junctions between nerve cells. Each neuron has several thousand synapses. But Prof. Glanzman said: “If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked.”
Most Common Childhood Cancer Partly Caused by Lack of Infection – (Guardian – May 21, 2018)
Clean modern homes, antiseptic wipes and the understandable desire to protect small babies against any infection are all part of the cause of the most common form of childhood cancer, a leading expert has concluded after more than 30 years of research. Childhood acute leukemia, says the highly respected Prof Mel Greaves, is nothing to do with power lines or nuclear fuel reprocessing stations. Nor is it to do with hot dogs and hamburgers or the Vatican radio mast, as have also been suggested. After the best part of a century of speculation, some of it with little basis in science, Greaves – who recently won the Royal Society’s prestigious Royal Medal – says the cancer is caused by a combination of genetic mutations and a lack of childhood infection. The best news, says Greaves, is that the cancer is likely to be preventable. And part of the answer could be to ensure children under the age of one have social contact with others, possibly at daycare centers. Greaves describes a “triple whammy” that he believes is the cause of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). One in 20 children, he says, are born with a genetic mutation that puts them potentially at risk. But they will be fine if their immune system is properly set up. For that to happen, they must encounter benign bacteria or viruses in their first year of life. Those whose immune systems are not fully functioning because they have not had an early challenge to deal with – and who then later encounter an infection such as a cold or flu – may develop a second genetic mutation that will make them susceptible to the cancer. ALL, he says, is increasing globally at the rate of about 1% a year. Unlike most diseases, it is increasing in more affluent populations. Something about our modern lifestyles has to be involved, Greaves reasoned. “Infectious disease tracks with poverty,” he said. “The problem is not infection. The problem is lack of infection.” There is a similar story at work in type 1 diabetes, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple sclerosis and allergies, he says. ALL rates are low or non-existent in the poorest countries, where families have lots of children and cross-infection is common. One exception is Costa Rica, which has invested heavily in medical schools and its health system, and brought down family sizes from 7.2 children on average to 2.3. They now have significant levels of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, type 1 diabetes and ALL.
Found: A New Form of DNA in Our Cells – (Scimex – April 24, 2018)
It’s DNA, but not as we know it. In a world first, Australian researchers have identified a new DNA structure – called the i-motif – inside cells. A twisted ‘knot’ of DNA, the i-motif has never before been directly seen inside living cells. The new findings, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, are published today in the leading journal Nature Chemistry. The iconic ‘double helix’ shape of DNA has ca¬ptured the public imagination since 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick famously uncovered the structure of DNA. However, it’s now known that short stretches of DNA can exist in other shapes, in the laboratory at least – and scientists suspect that these different shapes might play an important role in how and when the DNA code is ‘read’. The new shape looks entirely different to the double-stranded DNA double helix. Although researchers have seen the i-motif before and have studied it in detail, it has only been witnessed in vitro – that is, under artificial conditions in the laboratory, and not inside cells. In fact, scientists in the field have debated whether i-motif ‘knots’ would exist at all inside living things – a question that is resolved by the new findings. To detect the i-motifs inside cells, the researchers developed a precise new tool – a fragment of an antibody molecule – that could specifically recognize and attach to i-motifs with a very high affinity.
It Seems Someone Is Producing a Banned Ozone-depleting Chemical Again – (Ars Technica – May 16, 2018)
The Montreal Protocol—a 1987 international agreement to end production of ozone-destroying chemicals like freon—seems miraculous compared to the long struggle to achieve meaningful action on climate change. Even more astonishing is that the agreement has worked. Those chemicals (known as CFCs) take a long time to flush out of the atmosphere, but monitoring has shown that the flushing is proceeding largely according to plan. That keeps the hole in the ozone layer on track to shrink over the coming decades. However, a new study shows that someone has been cheating in the last few years. A group of researchers led by Stephen Montzka of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been tracking the progress of CFCs and noticed something off with CFC-11. This chemical has been used as a refrigerant, solvent, and propellant for aerosol spray cans, as well as in the production of styrofoam. As with the other CFCs, nations agreed to end production of CFC-11 entirely. While there may still be some older machines leaking CFC-11, these sources should gradually disappear over time, allowing the decline of its atmospheric concentration to accelerate. Instead of an accelerating decline, CFC-11 showed a steady drop of 2.1 parts-per-trillion each year between 2002 and 2012. Since then, its decline has actually slowed. The concentration of these gases has always been a little higher in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere, because most of the sources are in the north. Over the last few years, the difference between the two hemispheres has increased a bit. Similar gases haven’t done that, which points to increased emissions from the Northern Hemisphere rather than just a change in the winds. Second, measurements from atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii show correlations between CFC-11 concentrations and a few other gases known to come from industrial emissions. That means CFC-11 isn’t the only human pollutant seeing an uptick over the same time span. Finally, the researchers used some models to find out what kinds of emissions would fit the pattern of measurements around the world. Modeling weather patterns since 2000 shows that natural variability in atmospheric circulation could explain some portion of the changing trend—but less than half. The measurements can only really be explained by an increase in emissions from Eastern Asia.
Humans Are Changing the Location of Water around the World, NASA Says – (Weather.com – May 17, 2018)
“The human fingerprint is all over changing freshwater availability. We see it in large-scale overuse of groundwater. We see it as a driver of climate change,” said Jay Famiglietti, a co-author of the research who is the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The study shows that humans have really drastically altered the global water landscape in a very profound way.” Using NASA satellites and data on human activities to map locations where freshwater is changing around the globe, researchers found that there are several factors involved in the shifts, including water management practices, climate change and natural cycles. Researchers, led by Matt Rodell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, tracked global trends in freshwater in 34 regions, or hotspots, around the world using 14 years of observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission. They combined this information with satellite precipitation data from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project, Landsat imagery from the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA, irrigation maps and published reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations. “This is the first time that we’ve used observations from multiple satellites in a thorough assessment of how freshwater availability is changing, everywhere on Earth,” said Rodell. “A key goal was to distinguish shifts in terrestrial water storage caused by natural variability – wet periods and dry periods associated with El Niño and La Niña, for example – from trends related to climate change or human impacts, like pumping groundwater out of an aquifer faster than it is replenished.” At least 40% of 34 hotspots studied around the world can be linked to human water management activities, such as excessive groundwater pumping for farming. This includes areas including northern India, the North China Plain and parts of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the shifts in eight regions can be linked to climate change, while the shifts in the remaining 12 regions can be linked to natural factors like cyclical weather patterns, the study found.
Giant Predatory Worms Quietly Invaded France – (Science Alert – May 23, 2018)
When Jean-Lou Justine received the first photograph of a giant worm with a head like a shovel, the biologist was astounded. Hammerhead flatworms, which grow to a foot or more in length, do not belong in European vegetable gardens. “We do not have that in France,” said Justine, a professor at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. The predatory worms are native to Asia, where they happily gobble up earthworms under a warmer sun. The gardener who took the first photo, an amateur naturalist named Pierre Gros, emailed Justine a second picture a week later. It was of a completely different species of giant worm. When Gros sent a third photograph, of a third species, Justine thought the images must be a prank: “The man is bringing back worms from his travels, and he pretends he finds them in his garden!” Gros and Justine, co-authors of a new report published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, had stumbled upon an alien predator in the soil beneath their feet. For the better part of two decades, several species of flatworm have made a home in metropolitan France. “The species are cryptic and soil-dwelling so can be easily overlooked, which often explains their inadvertent shipment round the world,” said entomologist Archie Murchie of Britain’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, who was not involved with the study. Just as hammerhead sharks cruise through lagoons, hammerhead flatworms hunt through soil. Their soft bodies are chemical factories; they produce small amounts of a substance called tetrodotoxin to immobilize prey. What they lack in physical defenses, they make up in a cocktail of disgusting bodily juices. Most flatworms do their damage to humans indirectly. Murchie has studied how invasive New Zealand flatworms devour earthworms in Ireland and Scotland, eating so many that yields of agricultural grass in affected areas shrank by about 6%. Smaller flatworms also have invaded Florida, where they, too, feed on earthworms.
Vancouver to Be First Major Canadian City to Ban Plastic Straws – (Globe and Mail – May 27, 2018)
Vancouver will become the first major Canadian city to ban plastic drinking straws, as it reduces its reliance on disposable single-use items that end up in landfills or incinerators. The straw ban, which takes effect in the fall of next year, is part of a suite of waste-reducing policies adopted this week that also includes a ban on the distribution of polystyrene foam cups and containers, as well as restrictions on disposable cups and plastic shopping bags. According to the policy passed unanimously at city council, the city aims to completely eliminate the disposal of solid waste by 2040. “It’s a coastal city, with the plastic items having a significant impact on the environment, we feel it’s important to take action,” according to City of Vancouver director of waste management and resource recovery Albert Shamess. The city’s ban on plastic drinking straws, foam cups and foam take-out containers will apply to restaurants and vendors with city business licenses. The city is still working out details for enforcement and is considering a recommendation to punish offenders with a $250 ticket through complaints and spot-checks. Ian Tostenson, the president of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, said that while it will be an adjustment, the environmental benefits outweigh any potential financial problems that will come from phasing out single-use straws and other containers. “Restaurants will make the adjustment and supply chains will make the adjustment,” he said. “Change like this can be costly and can be inconvenient, but if we keep this bigger picture in mind, especially in terms of the environment, it’s a no-brainer.”
Email No Longer a Secure Method of Communication after Critical Flaw Discovered in PGP – (GizModo – May 14, 2018)
PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is an encryption program that is considered the gold standard for email security and was first developed in 1991. Encrypted email, often sold as a kind of invisibility shield became more mainstream after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the scope of the U.S. government’s electronic surveillance in June of 2013. But encrypted email isn’t perfect, just as no security system ever will be. But if you use PGP or S/MIME for email encryption you should immediately disable it in your email client. Researchers have discovered a critical vulnerability they’re calling EFAIL that exposes the encrypted emails in plaintext, even for messages sent in the past. The vulnerability was first reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The group of European researchers say that, “there are currently no reliable fixes for the vulnerability.” For its part, the privacy community is insisting that this vulnerability is overblown and that people are overreacting. What should you use as an alternative? The EFF says that there are no reliable email alternatives, and recommends using Signal for end-to-end encrypted texts and phone calls. But be aware: nothing is foolproof.
iPhones Will Reportedly Get the Power to Unlock Doors Using NFC – (Engadget – May 24, 2018)
Your iPhone’s NFC chip (Near Field Communications chip) will soon have the ability open your house’s and car’s doors, as well as pay for your fare, according to The Information. The tech giant is reportedly gearing up to introduce a huge update for its devices’ near-field communication chip, which is (at the moment) mostly used to make purchases via Apple Pay. Its employees already have access to the new features, the publication says, and have apparently been using their iPhones to access offices and buildings at Apple’s HQ in Cupertino. While you can use iPhones to open a lot of smart locks via Bluetooth, NFC is considered the more secure option. According to the publication’s sources, Apple has been working with HID Global, the company that made its security systems, to give iPhones the capability to gain access to buildings and offices since 2014. The company has reportedly been talking to transit card maker Cubic for years, as well. As you might know, you can use Apple mobile payment solution to pay for your fare in places like Japan, parts of China, London and a few cities in the US, but working with Cubic will give iPhones the power to act as transit cards for tens of millions of people around the globe. Once the features become available, even older iPhones made in 2014 or later can unlock them by downloading a software update. (Editor’s note: Your cell phone replaced wallet photos years ago. Now it is on its way to replacing your driver’s license, checkbook, credit cards, cash, and all your keys. It won’t replace your sunglasses and a comb.)
CLOTHING AND FASHION
Puma and MIT Design Lab Envision a Future of Self-adapting, Performance-enhancing Sportswear – (Dezeen – May 24, 2018)
Insoles that measure athletic performance using bacteria, and trainers that “breathe” are among the latest experimental pieces of sportswear being developed by Puma and MIT Design Lab. The Adaptive Dynamics: Biodesign project features four cases that test how bacteria could be used within sportswear design to improve performance and sustainability. For example, the Breathing Shoe is a trainer that changes in response to the biology of the wearer. The upper is made from a material molded to include cavities that are filled with bacteria. Responding to heat generated by the wearer, the bacteria eats away at the material to create a unique pattern of air passages. Deep Learning Insoles could collect biological information about the wearer by using bacteria that responds to chemicals in sweat both in the short-term and long-term. The changes would be detected by a layer of electronic circuits, and turned into data that is transmitted using micro-controllers. This data could then be used to measure fatigue among other factors. “[Biodesign can] provide a new way of engaging with materials, a self-assembly of material, where bacteria can be responsible for completing the manufacturing of the shoe, where the whole experience of the shoe becomes complete when it interacts with the human body,” said MIT Design Lab director Yihyun Lim.
Tesla’s Giant Australian Battery Saved Consumers $35 Million in Four Months – (Nation of Change – May 14, 2018)
Since switching on in December, Tesla’s massive battery in South Australia has already drastically lowered prices in the region’s frequency and ancillary services market (FCAS) and has taken a major share of that market, Renew Economy reported. McKinsey and Co. partner Godart van Gendt boasted about the stunning efficiency of the 100-megawatt Powerpack system, which is connected to Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm. “In the first four months of operations of the Hornsdale Power Reserve, the frequency ancillary services prices went down by 90%, so that’s 9-0 per cent,” van Gendt said. The Australian Energy Market Operator calls upon the FCAS to provide back-up energy whenever generators fail or fall short. This service has typically relied upon costly gas generators and steam turbines, with electricity rates up to $14,000 per megawatt during these outages. But Tesla’s big battery, which was designed to feed South Australia’s unstable power grid, has changed the game. Whenever it has needed to discharge its power to the grid, costs have hovered as low as $270 per megawatt, as The Guardian noted. As Renew Economy noted, “various estimates have put the cost savings to consumers from the FCAS market alone at around $35 million, just in the first four months of its operation.” What’s more, the Powerpack system has responded much quicker to power outages (within milliseconds), with the benefit of no greenhouse gas emissions. (Editor’s note: The “consumers” enjoying the reduced FCAS charges are other generators and big energy users. Ordinary consumers are expected to benefit ultimately.)
Chernobyl’s Transformation into a Massive Solar Plant Is Almost Complete – (Science Alert – January 13, 2018)
A huge new solar plant that’s set to provide one megawatt of renewable power for the local electricity grid has been built at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. The new plant sits just 328 feet from the Object Shelter, nicknamed the “sarcophagus”, a sealed metal dome designed to prevent further radiation leakage from the remains of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. “This solar power plant can cover the needs of a medium-sized village,” said Yevgen Varyagin, boss of the Solar Chernobyl running the project. That’s the equivalent of about 2,000 homes, and eventually the region as a whole could produce 100 times that. The soil in the area remains heavily contaminated, and Ukrainian authorities have said it would take more than 24,000 years before people could safely return to live there, but the new plant shows that this vast area of sealed-off land can be put to good use. The new solar plant covers some 3.95 acres and is fitted with 3,800 photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electricity. That’s not to say there aren’t still a lot of problems with the site. As one precaution, the solar panels are fixed to concrete slabs rather than being put in the ground – drilling and digging is still strictly prohibited. But there are now some 25 square kilometers (6,178 acres) that have been made available by the Ukrainian government for solar power developments, with 60 proposals currently being considered by the authorities. Solar Chernobyl and several partners also recently completed a 4.2-megawatt solar power plant in nearby Belarus, which still falls in the irradiated zone. Another advantage of the site is that it’s already connected up to the grid because of the nuclear power station, which continued to operate in some form until the year 2000.
Intel’s Application for a Patent Relating to Cars and Blockchains Published – (EthNews – March 29, 2018)
In late 2016, the technology and manufacturing giant Intel, which has been actively conducting autonomous vehicle research, applied to patent a system for transmitting data to and from motor vehicles. In some configurations, the system would rely on blockchain technology for data transmission and verification. The application for “Trusted Vehicle Telematics Using Blockchain Data Analytics,” which was published on March 29, 2018, relates that cars increasingly contain computerized components, and that “several automobile manufacturers have stated goals to enable telematics capabilities for all vehicle models produced in the upcoming decade.” It defines telematics as “the collection and use of telecommunications and information processing in internal or connected motor vehicle systems.” It also notes that there are significant privacy concerns around the logging of driver data. Therefore, the application’s authors propose a system that would allow information to be sent to and from cars in a way that disambiguates user data from identity indicators. Among the mechanisms that the system will employ toward this end are zero-knowledge proofs, which allow data transmitted from a vehicle to be verified as accurate but prevent them from being traced back to the specific vehicle of origin.
This App Delivers Leftover Food to the Hungry, Instead of to the Trash – (Fast Company – May 3, 2018)
Jasmine Crowe had been hosting formal pop-up dinners for the homeless in Atlanta for about two and a half years when a video about her efforts went viral in January 2016. The most common question among viewers surprised her. “Which restaurants donated the food?” she says they asked. “And the reality was that no restaurants donated the food. I literally was just taking volunteer donations and spending sometimes my last money to make these things happen.” Crowe decided to change that: In January 2017 she launched Goodr, a food-waste management company that redirects surplus food from businesses to nonprofits that can share it with those who are food insecure. “Hunger is not a scarcity issue. There’s more than enough food. It’s actually a logistics issue,” she says. After all, many restaurants, catering, and event companies often end up with plenty of leftovers, but don’t want to cost or liability of figuring out how to donate and deliver them to those in need. At the same time, those in need–not just the homeless, but also low-income families and the elderly–may not have the time or transportation to plug into existing free-meal services or food banks in their area. Goodr solves that through an app that allows its clients to signal that there’s a surplus ready to be collected. The company provides its own packaging (when needed) and transport for each item and logs every part of the transaction via the blockchain, creating an unalterable digital ledger that shows food providers who ultimately received their goods, and where they ended up being consumed. Beneficiaries can also access a shared dashboard to share testimonials with the donors. Goodr’s tracks the quantity weight of each delivery in order to estimate each participant’s environmental impact (what’s not going to landfill), and financial bonus (both lower trash-disposal fees, and can be written off as a donation). Goodr charges companies a variable fee based on pickup volume. That can range from $2,500 to $15,000 a month, with a la carte pricing for things like galas and weddings. Crowe estimates for every dollar spent on her services, she can save a company $14 in saved costs and tax deductions.
W.H.O. Calls for Worldwide Elimination of Trans Fats by 2023 – (New York Times – May 14, 2018)
The World Health Organization on Monday announced a sweeping plan that urges governments around the globe to eliminate the use of trans fats, the industrially produced edible oil that gave birth to margarine, Crisco and other artery-clogging products that have been linked to millions of premature deaths. Artificial trans fats, better known to many American consumers as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, have contributed to a half million deaths a year, many of those in developing countries ill-equipped to address the health threats posed by a product cherished for its low price and long shelf life. The campaign, more a set of guidelines than an edict, seeks to eradicate trans fats from global food supplies by 2023, potentially saving some 10 million lives, according to the W.H.O. The campaign was developed in partnership with Vital Strategies, a global health group backed by Michael Bloomberg, who introduced the nation’s first municipal ban on trans fats in 2006, when he was mayor of New York City. A number of countries have already moved to restrict or ban trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, including Denmark, Switzerland, Canada, Britain and the United States. Next month, all products sold in the United States must be free of industrially produced trans fats. Thailand is expected to issue a ban in the coming weeks. But trans fats remain popular in many emerging economies, particularly in South Asia, where local producers dominate the edible oil industry and regulations are weak or nonexistent. In India, trans fats often take the form of vanaspati, an inexpensive cooking oil that is sometimes used repeatedly by restaurants and street vendors. Researchers say the process of reheating vanaspati, which is made from palm oil, renders it even more lethal, and likely contributes to soaring rates of heart disease among South Asians. A study published in the journal Nutrition found that Pakistani men had a 62% higher mortality rate from heart attacks than men in England and Wales.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Google Employees Resign in Protest against Pentagon Contract – (GizModo – May 14, 2018)
It’s been nearly three months since many Google employees—and the public—learned about the company’s decision to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. Now, about a dozen Google employees are resigning in protest over the company’s continued involvement in Maven. In addition to the resignations, nearly 4,000 Google employees have voiced their opposition to Project Maven in an internal petition that asks Google to immediately cancel the contract and institute a policy against taking on future military work. However, the mounting pressure from employees seems to have done little to sway Google’s decision—the company has defended its work on Maven and is thought to be one of the lead contenders for another major Pentagon cloud computing contract, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, better known as JEDI, that is currently up for bids. Employees’ demands that Google end its Pentagon contract are also complicated by the fact that Google claims it is only providing open-source software to Project Maven, which means the military would be able to still use the technology, even if Google didn’t accept payment or offer technical assistance. Google has emphasized that its AI is not being used to kill, but the use of artificial intelligence in the Pentagon’s drone program still raises complex ethical and moral issues for tech workers and for academics who study the field of machine learning. In addition to the petition circulating inside Google, the Tech Workers Coalition launched a petition in April demanding that Google abandon its work on Maven and that other major tech companies, including IBM and Amazon, refuse to work with the U.S. Defense Department. “We can no longer ignore our industry’s and our technologies’ harmful biases, large-scale breaches of trust, and lack of ethical safeguards,” the petition reads. “These are life and death stakes.” More than 90 academics in artificial intelligence, ethics, and computer science released an open letter that calls on Google to end its work on Project Maven and to support an international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems. Peter Asaro and Lucy Suchman, two of the authors of the letter, have testified before the United Nations about autonomous weapons; a third author, Lilly Irani, is a professor of science and a former Google employee. Google’s contributions to Project Maven could accelerate the development of fully autonomous weapons, Suchman said. Although Google is based in the U.S., it has an obligation to protect its global user base that outweighs its alignment with any single nation’s military, she said.
A Shadowy War’s Newest Front: A Drone Base Rising from Saharan Dust – (New York Times – April 22, 2018)
Air Base 201, Niger — Rising from a barren stretch of African scrubland, a half-finished drone base represents the newest front line in America’s global shadow war. At its center, hundreds of Air Force personnel are feverishly working to complete a $110 million airfield that, when finished in the coming months, will be used to stalk or strike extremists deep into West and North Africa, a region where most Americans have no idea the country is fighting. Near the nascent runway, Army Green Berets are training Nigerien forces to carry out counterterrorism raids or fend off an enemy ambush — like the one that killed four American soldiers near the Mali border last fall. Taken together, these parallel missions reflect a largely undeclared American military buildup outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, often with murky authorities and little public attention, unfolding in remote places like Yemen, Somalia and, increasingly, West Africa. “The base, and the more frequent flights that its opening will allow, will give us far more situational awareness and intelligence on a region that has been a hub of illicit and extremist activity,” said P.W. Singer, a strategist at New America in Washington who has written extensively about drones. “But it will also further involve us in yet more operations and fights that few Americans are even aware our military is in.” Questions about whether the American military, under the Trump administration, is seeking to obscure the expanding scope of operations in Africa surfaced last month when it was revealed that the United States had carried out four airstrikes in Libya between September and January that the military’s Africa Command had failed to disclose at the time.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
How Should the State of Illinois Pay for its Unfunded Pension Liability? The Case for a Statewide Residential Property Tax – (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago – May 7, 2018)
The State of Illinois has a very large unfunded pension liability and will likely have to pay much of it off by raising taxes. The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability estimated the state’s unfunded liability at $129.1 billion in mid-2017, which was about 19% of state personal income. Benefits to public employees are protected under the Illinois Constitution, and a recent attempt to reduce the unfunded liability by reducing retirees’ benefits was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. So, assuming that the state can’t reduce its current pension obligations and that it wants to maintain its current level of services, Illinois residents are going to have to pay higher taxes. Because the debt is so large, it’s unrealistic to think that new taxes (such as a tax on legalized marijuana or financial transactions) or increases that affect only a narrow segment of the population will be enough. Therefore Illinois will have to find additional revenues from already existing tax bases, either by increasing rates, expanding the definition of what is taxable, or a combination of the two. Illinois state and local governments have three primary tax revenue sources: income, sales, and property –- and each presents a unique set of tradeoffs in terms of how it affects the economy and who pays it. In our view, Illinois’s best option is to impose a statewide residential property tax that expires when its unfunded pension liability is paid off. In our baseline scenario, we estimate that the tax rate required to pay off the pension debt over 30 years would be about 1%. This means that homeowners with homes worth $250,000 would pay an additional $2,500 per year in property taxes, those with homes worth $500,000 would pay an additional $5,000, and those with homes worth $1 million would pay an additional $10,000. Perhaps the best counterargument to adding a statewide property tax is that Illinois homeowners already pay higher local property taxes compared to the national average. But remember that Illinois residents will be paying higher taxes one way or another. At the very least, higher property taxes should be part of the solution, perhaps in addition to the solutions proposed by the Civic Federation. There are several good reasons to pay off Illinois’s pension debt through a statewide residential property tax: fairness, certainty, transparency, and equity (all explained in article). (Editor’s note: The unfunded pension liability in Illinois is the worst in the country, but the majority of states have some degree of the same problem. What’s useful here is to notice the various options and watch how they start to be played out. This is a situation that’s likely to come to your state sooner or later. To learn where your state ranks, see “Does Your State Have a Pension Problem?“)
White House, EPA Headed off Chemical Pollution Study – (Politico – May 14, 2018)
Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a “public relations nightmare,” newly disclosed emails reveal. The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia. The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails. “The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.” More than three months later, the draft study remains unpublished, and the HHS unit says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. Critics say the delay shows the Trump administration is placing politics ahead of an urgent public health concern — something they had feared would happen after agency leaders like Pruitt started placing industry advocates in charge of issues like chemical safety.
An Alternative Explanation to the Skripal Mystery – (Consortium News – April 17. 2018)
An alternative explanation to the mystery surrounding the poisoning of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter may involve a possibility that neither the British nor Russian governments want to talk about. For weeks, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have insisted that there is “no alternative explanation” to Russian government responsibility for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK. But in fact the British government is well aware that such an alternative explanation does exist. It is based on the well-documented fact that the “Novichok” nerve agent synthesized by Soviet scientist in the 1980s had been sold by the scientist–who led the development of the nerve agent– to individuals linked to Russian criminal organizations as long ago as 1994 and was used to kill a Russian banker in 1995. The connection between the Novichok nerve agent and a previous murder linked to the murky Russian criminal underworld would account for the facts of the Salisbury poisoning far better than the official line that it was a Russian government assassination attempt. The highly independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has published a detailed account of how Russian organized crime figures obtained nerve agent in 1994 from Leonid Rink, the head of the former Soviet government laboratory that had synthesized it. The newspaper gleaned the information about the transaction from Rink’s court testimony in the 1995 murder of prominent banker Ivan Kivelidi, the leader of the Russian Entrepreneurs’ Round Table, an organization engaged in a conflict with a powerful group of directors of state-owned enterprises. Rink testified that after the post-Soviet Russian economic meltdown had begun he filled each of several ampoules with 0.25 grams of nerve agent and stored it in his own garage. Just one such ampoule held enough agent to kill 100 people, according to Rink, the lead scientist in the development of the series of nerve agents called Novichok (“newcomer” in Russian). Rink admitted in court in 2007 that he had sold four of the vials to someone named Ryabov, who had organized crime connections in 1994. (Editor’s note: In his denial of Russian state involvement, Putin is reported to have made a comment to the effect that “if Russian agents had been responsible, the Skripals would be dead.” That actually has credibility.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
4 Sex Workers on What They’ve Learned about Men’s Mental Health – (Men’s Health – May 16, 2018)
May was Mental Health Awareness Month. The authors of this article spoke to porn performers, phone sex operators, exotic dancers, and former escorts about what they’ve learned about men’s mental health from their work. “In my experience as a sex worker, sex (or dirty talk, in my case), is probably the least important part of the job. Clients call for a wide range of reasons, but underlying all of these desires is a need for connection. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing sex work, it’s that many men are extraordinarily lonely.” Our country is steeped in a quiet mental health crisis: the suicide rate for men is much higher than it is for women, having risen nearly 50% between 1999 and 2010, and men tend not to seek help for depression, due to the cultural stigma associated with mental illness. In her book Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendship and the Crisis of Connection, Harvard researcher Niobe Way attributes this in part to the absence of an emotional support system for men. Before becoming adults, Way theorizes, young men have extraordinarily intimate friendships with each other; but as they grow older, they are pressured into giving up these close ties and becoming stoic and independent, leaving them totally isolated and unable to speak with anyone about their struggles. It’s no wonder, then, that many of these men, not knowing where else to turn, discuss their most intimate secrets with sex workers: their relationship struggles, their insecurities about their bodies, the kinks that they are embarrassed to share with their partners. That’s why sex workers have a unique window into men’s mental health issues: they share things with them that they would not share with anyone else.
The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy – (Atlantic – June, 2018)
So what kind of characters are we, the 9.9%? We are mostly not like those flamboyant political manipulators from the 0.1%. We’re a well-behaved, flannel-suited crowd of lawyers, doctors, dentists, mid-level investment bankers, M.B.A.s with opaque job titles, and assorted other professionals—the kind of people you might invite to dinner. In fact, we’re so self-effacing, we deny our own existence. We keep insisting that we’re “middle class.” As of 2016, it took $1.2 million in net worth to make it into the 9.9%; $2.4 million to reach the group’s median; and $10 million to get into the top 0.9%. The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. Money may be the measure of wealth, but it is far from the only form of it. Family, friends, social networks, personal health, culture, education, and even location are all ways of being rich, too. These nonfinancial forms of wealth, as it turns out, aren’t simply perks of membership in our aristocracy. They define us. We are the people of good family, good health, good schools, good neighborhoods, and good jobs. We may want to call ourselves the “5Gs” rather than the 9.9%. We are so far from the not-so-good people on all of these dimensions, we are beginning to resemble a new species. But we are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy. Our delusions of merit now prevent us from recognizing the nature of the problem that our emergence as a class represents. We tend to think that the victims of our success are just the people excluded from the club. But history shows quite clearly that, in the kind of game we’re playing, everybody loses badly in the end. (Editor’s note: It’s practically impossible to summarize this article adequately: it’s insightful; it’s complex in the number of ideas it explores; and for those reasons, it’s long. It’s also the article that, if you have time for only one article mentioned in this issue, you should read.)
These Are the Five Types of Alexa Users – (Slate – May 24, 2018)
As of January, 1 in 6 Americans own a voice-activated speaker, but Gartner predicts 75% of U.S. households will have one by 2020. But just because our Echos, Google Homes, and HomePods can do all sorts of things doesn’t mean we’re taking advantage of every single one of their features. Many of us are content to rely on our digital assistants for just one, or a handful, of specific tasks. With that in mind, there seem to be several distinct emerging classes of smart speaker users to which people belong. Which one are you? The Creeped-Out Owner of an Overpriced Paperweight; the Early Adopting Die-Hard; the Streamer; the Weather Summoner; the Person Who Really Just Needs a Clock. Most smart speaker owners will fall into only one of those categories of use, but there’s also the question of how they talk to their assistant. And for that, there are really only two camps: the Alexa Denigrator and the Alexa Apologist. While some just treat their A.I. neutrally—it is a computer, after all—others say please, thank you, and issue apologies to their home assistant when others treat it with disrespect. Amazon clearly embraces this camp, at least for families with kids: Amazon recently introduced Kids editions of some Echo products that reward children for speaking to the bot politely.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
This Object Isn’t Supposed to Be in Our Solar System – (CNN –May21, 2018)
In 2017, the first observed interstellar visitor, an asteroid named ‘Oumuamua, was found traveling through our solar system. Now, for the first time, astronomers have discovered a permanent resident that moved in during the early stages of our solar system’s development, about 4.5 billion years ago. The researchers call this exo-asteroid, known as 2015 BZ509, an “interstellar immigrant.” It’s known as an exo-asteroid because it originated outside our solar system. “The object was the first observational example of the type of orbits we were studying and we wanted to understand what was its origin,” said Helena Morais, study author and professor of statistics at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil. At first glance, 2015 BZ509 is just one of many objects orbiting the gas giant Jupiter in a stable configuration called a resonance. Though all of the planets and most of the objects in our solar system orbit the sun by moving in the same direction, the exo-asteroid is going its own way. 2015 BZ509 moves in the opposite direction in a retrograde orbit. “The asteroid and Jupiter take the same amount of time to complete one orbit around the Sun but one moves clockwise and the other counter-clockwise so they pass by each other twice per each full orbit,” Morais wrote. “This pattern is repeated forever — it is a stable configuration — in a simplified model with only the Sun, Jupiter and the asteroid. We saw that when we include the other planets it is still very stable, over the solar system’s age.” But how did it get here in the first place? “Stars form in packed groups called stellar nurseries and then later disperse as they move around the galaxy center,” Morais said. “Stars in these nurseries are so close to each other that they can exchange material amongst them by mutual gravitational interactions. Capture of 2015 BZ509 must have happened in the early stages of the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago.”
NASA Completes Early Tests of Mini Nuclear Fission Reactor That Could Power Human Settlements on Mars – (Newsweek – May 3, 2018)
NASA has successfully completed tests of a miniature nuclear reactor that could one day power long-term human settlements on the Moon, Mars and beyond. Kilopower, as the system is known, is a small, lightweight fission reactor. It will be capable of producing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power—enough to run several households continuously for 10 years. Kilopower consists of a solid, cast-uranium-235 reactor core about the size of a paper-towel roll that generates heat that drives engines, producing electricity. Just four of these reactors would be sufficient to power a Martian outpost, according to NASA. A reliable and efficient power system will be an essential part of future space missions as humans begin to settle other worlds, enabling outposts to be self-sufficient. The new reactor will provide the power for lighting, water and oxygen, as well as for running experiments and producing fuel. This capability will mean astronauts won’t have to take all the resources they need with them, opening up new possibilities for exploration. The reactor will be especially useful in the challenging environments of places such as the moon and Mars, where generating power using solar panels can be difficult. On Mars, for example, sunlight is limited by seasonal variation and periodic dust storms, which can go on for months. Meanwhile, nighttime on the Moon can last about 14 days.
More Than One-Third of College Students Don’t Have Enough Food – (US News – April 3, 2018)
A new survey has found that more than one-third of college students in the United States were not able to get enough food in a given month and 36% faced housing insecurity issues. The study, “Still Hungry and Homeless in College”, found those percentages increased for community college students, with 42% feeling food insecure and 51% feeling housing insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey. Additionally, 9% of university students were homeless in the last year, compared to 12% of community college students. Researchers from Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab surveyed 43,000 students at 66 institutions, including 35 four-year universities and colleges, as well as community colleges, in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The study defined food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner,” with the most extreme form accompanied by sensations of hunger. Housing insecurity was defined as “the inability to pay rent or utilities or the need to move frequently.” Of the students who said they suffered from food insecurity, most (46% at two-year institutions and 40% at four-year institutions) said they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals. Thirty-one percent of two-year institution students and 25% of four-year institution students said they cut the size of their meals or skipped meals entirely because they didn’t have enough money for food.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Advanced Microscope Shows Cells at Work in Incredible 3D Detail – (Engadget – April 20, 2018)
For the first time, scientists have peered into living cells and created videos showing how they function with unprecedented 3D detail. Using a special microscope and new lighting techniques, a team from Harvard and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute captured zebrafish immune cell interactions with unheard-of 3D detail and resolution. The tech has already yielded new insights on cell function and could transform our understanding of how organisms function at the smallest scales. Imaging on such small scales normally requires intense light levels that can kill the organism being studied. Instead, the team used a technique called “latice light-sheet microscopy,” which involves rapidly passing sheets of light across living tissue, leaving it undamaged. At the same time, the team co-opted technology normally used to correct astronomical images called “adaptive optics.” A laser is beamed through the target tissue, and by comparing the beam’s appearance before and after it passes, the microscope can calculate the distortion and correct it. The technique also allowed the researchers to look at the cells layer-by-layer and see interactions on an extremely granular level.
Why China’s Payment Apps Give U.S. Bankers Nightmares – (Bloomberg – May 23, 2018)
The future of consumer payments may not be designed in New York or London but in China. There, money flows mainly through a pair of digital ecosystems that blend social media, commerce and banking—all run by two of the world’s most valuable companies. That contrasts with the U.S., where numerous firms feast on fees from handling and processing payments. Western bankers and credit-card executives who travel to China keep returning with the same anxiety: Payments can happen cheaply and easily without them. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. created Alipay in 2004 to let millions of potential customers who lacked credit and debit cards shop on its vast online marketplace. Tencent Holdings Ltd., similarly, debuted its payments function in 2005 in a bid to keep users inside its messaging system longer. Alipay and WeChat have since swelled in popularity, boasting 520 million and 1 billion monthly active users, respectively. Consumers sent more than $2.9 trillion inside the two systems in 2016, equivalent to about half of all consumer goods sold in China, according to the payments consultancy Aite Group. In contrast, U.S. consumers still rely on banks for most non-cash payments—whether it’s by check, debit, credit or a growing number of other payment systems tied to their bank accounts. Connected to that is a universe of wallets and payments systems operated by the likes of PayPal Holdings Inc., Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. From the perspective of merchants, too much of the U.S. system siphons off enormous amounts of money. The nightmare for the U.S. financial industry is that a technology company—whether from China or a homegrown juggernaut such as Amazon.com Inc. or Facebook Inc.—replicates the success of Alipay and WeChat in America. The stakes are enormous, potentially carving away billions of dollars in annual revenue from major banks and other firms. But processing electronic transactions are just one way that U.S. banks impose fees. They also generate revenue by dispensing cash. If payments apps were to replace paper money—as they have in many situations in China—another form of income could take a big hit. Checking accounts generate about $3 billion in bank fees, which would dwindle if consumers embrace apps.
Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind – (New York Review of Book – April 20, 2018)
We are living in an age in which the behavioral sciences have become inescapable. The findings of social psychology and behavioral economics are being employed to determine the news we read, the products we buy, the cultural and intellectual spheres we inhabit, and the human networks, online and in real life, of which we are a part. Aspects of human societies that were formerly guided by habit and tradition, or spontaneity and whim, are now increasingly the intended or unintended consequences of decisions made on the basis of scientific theories of the human mind and human well-being. Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project seems destined to be the most popular celebration of this ongoing endeavor to understand and correct human behavior. It recounts the complex friendship and remarkable intellectual partnership of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the psychologists whose work has provided the foundation for the new behavioral science. It was their findings that first suggested we might understand human irrationality in a systematic way. When our thinking errs, they claimed, it does so predictably. Kahneman tells us that thanks to the various counterintuitive findings—drawn from surveys—that he and Tversky made together, “we now understand the marvels as well as the flaws of intuitive thought.” The most influential of Kahneman and Tversky’s discoveries is “prospect theory,” since this has provided the most important basis of the “biases and heuristics” approach of the new behavioral sciences. They looked at the way in which people make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and found that their behavior violated expected utility theory—a fundamental assumption of economic theory that holds that decision-makers reason instrumentally about how to maximize their gains. Kahneman and Tversky realized that they were not observing a random series of errors that occur when people attempted to do this. Rather, they identified a dozen “systematic violations of the axioms of rationality in choices between gambles.” These systematic errors make human irrationality predictable. (Editor’s note: We recommend this in-depth book review particularly because it goes beyond the book itself and discusses some of the terrain of behavioral manipulation that the book quietly leaves out. See also another article from the New York Review of Books exploring ways in which behavioral science research enables both governments and private companies to advance their agendas: The New Military-Industrial Complex of Big Data Psy-Ops.
A Controversial Study Has a New Spin on the Otherworldliness of the Octopus – (Quartz – May 19, 2018)
Octopuses are strange, smart creatures that certainly seem alien—what with the tentacles, camouflage, and shape-shifting skills. Still, the idea that they actually came from outer space would seem to fall strictly into the realm of sci-fi. But in these interesting times, real life reads like fiction. Recently, a group of 33 scientists worldwide—including molecular immunologist Edward Steele and astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe—published a paper suggesting, in all seriousness, that octopuses may indeed be aliens. The paper, published in the March issue of the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, is controversial, obviously, and the vast majority of scientists would disagree. But the paper is still worthy of discussion—for one, as a thought exercise, because outlandish ideas are often initially rejected. And in provoking us with seemingly bizarre theories, it forces us to acknowledge that there are aspects of life on Earth for which classic evolutionary theory as yet has no explanation. The octopus, for example, is traditionally considered to come from the nautiloid, having evolved about 500 million years ago. But that relationship doesn’t explain how these odd cephalopods got all their awesome characteristics or why octopuses are so very different, genetically speaking, from their alleged nautiloid ancestors. The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral nautilus to the common cuttlefish to squid to the common octopus can’t be found in any pre-existing life form, the authors say. So far, so good. But then the paper gets highly speculative. The researchers continue, “It is plausible then to suggest they [octopuses] seem to be borrowed from a far distant ‘future’ in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large.” To make matters even more strange, the paper posits that octopuses could have arrived on Earth in “an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized octopus eggs.” And these eggs might have “arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago.” The authors admit, though, that “such an extraterrestrial origin…of course, runs counter to the prevailing dominant paradigm.” Indeed, few in the scientific community would agree that octopuses come from outer space. But the paper is not just about the provenance of cephalopods. Its proposal that octopuses could be extraterrestrials is just a small part of a much more extensive discussion of a theory called “panspermia,” which has its roots in the ideas of ancient Greece.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Oldest Known Case of Dandruff Found in 125m-year-old Dinosaur – (Guardian – May 25, 2018)
The oldest known case of dandruff has been identified in a small feathered dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 125m years ago. Paleontologists found tiny flakes of fossilized skin on a crow-sized microraptor, a meat-eating dinosaur that had wings on all four of its limbs. Tests on two other types of feathered dinosaurs also revealed pieces of fossilized dandruff on the animals’ bodies. The prehistoric skin flakes are the only evidence scientists have of how dinosaurs shed their skin. The material shows that rather than losing their outer layer in one piece, or in large sheets, as is common with modern reptiles, the feathered dinosaurs adapted to shed their skin in tiny flakes. Images of the dandruff taken with a powerful electron microscope show that the material is extremely well-preserved and is almost identical to that found on modern birds. Like human dandruff, the skin flakes are made of tough cells called corneocytes that are full of the protein keratin. Modern birds have very fatty corneocytes that are loosely packed with keratin, a feature which helps the birds lose heat from the exertion of flying. The dinosaur dandruff cells lacked such fat, suggesting that the animals did not get as warm as modern birds, perhaps because they could not fly far, or failed to get airborne at all. Many dinosaurs that sported feathers were not competent fliers. Instead, their plumage served other purposes: to keep them warm, provide camouflage, and perhaps attract members of the opposite sex with multicolored displays.
JUST FOR FUN
How Trees Talk – (YouTube – October 23, 2017)
“A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes. Trees don’t actually compete with each other. They are super-cooperators. This video is only a little over 4 minutes long. To learn more about how trees talk, check out the full TED talk by Suzanne Simard.
A FINAL QUOTE
One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. – Walter Bagehot (1826 – 1877)
A special thanks to: Martha Christian, Ellen Crockett, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, Heidi Waltos, 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
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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