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Volume 21, Number 19 – 10/1/18
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
Currently close to 800 million people suffer from caloric hunger – and over two billion people are estimated to overconsume.More than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s.If you have a specialized brain chip, it’s now possible to communicate telepathically with a drone Swarm.No Starbucks store in China has a cash register.
by John L. Petersen
JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF CONSCIOUSNESS
October 13-14 in Berkeley Springs
Here’s our e-magazine that has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza and Bruce Lipton.
Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander got a brain disease and died.
During the time when he had no indication of physical brain activity he found himself visiting an alternative reality that was so extraordinary . . . that he called it “heaven.”
After he was revived, his whole life had changed. He had experienced such a transforming experience that his whole world view–and understanding of how our reality really works–had been fundamentally reorganized.
He wrote the New York Times best-selling book “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife,” describing his experience.
Dr. Alexander and his partner, Karen Newell, will be with us at Berkeley Springs Transition Talks on the 13th and 14th of October.
Get complete details at TransitionTalks.org., along with information on local lodging and restaurants.
New Energy: The Linchpin to Unprecedented Change and the Emergence of a New Era by John Petersen
1 hour and 10-minute presentation by John Petersen on downloadable digital video:
This is a dynamic presentation showing you the path that mankind is on and how a new human being is emerging.
Get the complete details here.
John Oliver Confronts Fake Grassroots Movements – (Time – August 13, 2018)
“Astroturfing” is when corporations or organization try to make it seem as though whatever they are selling is part of a grassroots movement. For example when a seeming small group calling themselves Americans Against Food Taxes run a national ad campaign against a potential beverage tax. It’s not paid for by a small grassroots movement of concerned citizens, but a large beverage conglomerate lobbying against a soda tax that could cut into their profits. Some astroturfing experts work with many special interest groups, creating nonprofit shell companies of sorts to ensure that their ties to the fake grassroots campaigns can be kept secret. “Astroturfing is more than just funneling money through nonprofit front groups,” explains Oliver, before laying out how these groups find so-called experts to swear by questionable findings, occasionally making up facts to support their cases. Per Oliver, though, one of “the most infuriating tools” of astroturfing is the use of paid protestors. These paid protestors show up at places like town hall meetings masquerading as concerned citizens and reciting lines fed to them by special interest groups.“ According to Oliver, the existence of these paid protestors is now a common theme on conspiracy message boards, feeding into the notion of crisis actors and the like. “That is hugely dangerous,” said Oliver. “The outcome of this cannot be that everyone assumes that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is astroturf.” (Editor’s note: Oliver’s last comment is important but he doesn’t address how one can reliably determine when that is exactly the case and when it is not – and the astroturfers certainly aren’t going away.)
You Are Surrounded by an Invisible Cloud Everywhere You Go, and Scientists Finally Measured What’s in It – (Science Alert – September 24, 2018)
If you ever feel truly, utterly alone, take heart: an invisible entourage never leaves your side. This hidden, ever-present swarm is called the exposome, and while scientists have only just begun to figure out what populates this constant cloud of chemicals, bugs, and whatnot swirling around you, new research offers an unprecedented glimpse inside. (The exposome encompasses the totality of human environmental (i.e. non-genetic) exposures from conception onwards, complementing the genome, first proposed in 2005 by a cancer epidemiologist.) “People have measured things like air pollution on a broad scale, but no one has really measured biological and chemical exposures at a personal level,” says geneticist Michael Snyder from Stanford University. “No one really knows how vast the human exposome is or what kinds of things are in there.” To find out, Snyder and his team re-engineered a small air-monitoring device, about the size of a pack of playing cards. Over the course of two years, 15 volunteers wore these units strapped to their arm, as it sucked in small puffs of air from their personal orbit and the environment around them. Every little thing inhaled by the device – bacteria, viruses, chemicals, fungi, and all manner of other particulates – was then extracted for DNA and RNA sequencing and chemically profiled, then catalogued in a custom-built database. Some participants wore the monitor for a week, others for a month. Snyder himself strapped one on for a whole two years, and in the end the team had amassed a staggering amount of data on exposome inhabitants – approximately 70 billion readouts. Participants in the study spent their time across about 50 different locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, but even when they inhabited the same environment, their personal exposome signatures were largely individual. “It turns out, even at very close distances, we have very different exposure profiles or ‘signatures,'” Snyder says. “The bottom line is that we all have our own microbiome cloud that we’re schlepping around and spewing out.” (Editor’s note: Remember “Pigpen”, the Peanuts comic strip character who always went around in a his own cloud of dirt? – Pigpen is everyone.)
Watch the Awesome Way in Which Plants Defend Themselves against Threats – (Gizmodo – September 13, 2018)
We tend to think of plants as helpless, passive green blobs, but a fascinating new study, in which scientists used fluorescent light to visualize alarm signals within plants, shows how our photosynthesizing friends are able to mobilize their defenses. New research published in Science is providing an unprecedented view of the signaling action that happens within plants when they’re under attack. A second or two after a plant receives an injury, like a chomp from a caterpillar, a warning signal radiates from the location of the wound, spreading out through the entire plant in a process that takes fewer than 120 seconds. The plant, now aware that it’s under attack—or at least, as “aware” as a plant can be—can respond to the threat by releasing chemical countermeasures. Scientists have known about this systemwide signaling system for quite some time, but the new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and several other institutions, is the first to show this remarkable defense mechanism in action. What’s more, the study offers new insights into the biological processes behind this nervous-system like signaling, which is still poorly understood. Botanist Simon Gilroy, a professor at UWM, and his colleague Masatsugu Toyota, who led the research, suspected calcium had something to do with it. Calcium ions, which produce an electrical charge, are known to perform signaling duties in plants, particularly in response to changing environmental conditions. Scientists have struggled to visualize this movement within plants, leading to a rather fascinating solution. To watch the calcium move in real time, Toyota and his colleagues bioengineered plants to produce a protein that fluoresces around calcium, lighting up the interiors of plants like a Christmas tree. Using advanced microscopes and biosensors, the researchers were able to track the presence and volume of the calcium in response to various injuries, including caterpillar chomps, scissor snips, and damage caused by crushing. This latest research expands upon the work done by Swiss scientist Ted Farmer, who previously showed that defense-related electrical signals depend on glutamate—an important neurotransmitter in mammals and a signaling agent in plants.
European Scientists Have Made an Intriguing Discovery in Alzheimer’s Drug Research – (GizModo – September 25, 2018)
Scientists in the UK and Sweden believe they’ve come across an unprecedented advance in Alzheimer’s disease research: A method of developing new drugs that can target the roots of the fatal disease in a way that previous attempts couldn’t. But while the latest published work is genuinely intriguing, outside experts are concerned that the researchers’ claims are too grandiose. In recent years, though, there’s been research showing that while the accumulation of amyloid beta can cause Alzheimer’s, it’s not actually doing damage through plaques. Before they form into plaques, misfolded amyloid beta molecules bunch into smaller clumps known as oligomers. And it’s these oligomers, not the plaques, that seem to be the most toxic to surrounding brain cells. Researchers usually screen for potential drugs based on how well they bind to the structure of whatever particles they’re targeting. But according to senior study author Michele Vendruscolo, a molecular chemist at the University of Cambridge in the UK, this approach can’t work well for amyloid beta oligomers, since oligomers are unstable, breaking down and reforming constantly. Instead, his team says they’ve developed a technique to screen for potentially useful compounds based on how well they slow down the formulation of oligomers. “The candidate drugs identified with our method can dramatically reduce the number of oligomers produced during protein aggregation,” Vendruscolo told Gizmodo via email. Alzheimer’s is one of many neurological disorders caused by misfolding proteins—others include Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease—and Vendruscolo’s team believes that their approach could be used to find anti-oligomer drugs that target those disorders as well. The hype surrounding oligomers as the true cause of Alzheimer’s and similar disorders is certainly real, according to James Hendrix, director of Global Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association. But it’s not completely confirmed yet, he said. Scientists are currently testing out antibodies that target these oligomers in human clinical trials, Hendrix said, but if these trials fail, then it’s unlikely the research by Vendruscolo and his team will receive much attention. And if these trials do show some promise, then the team will still have to provide evidence that their molecules can do a better job than the experimental antibodies.
An Ancient Virus Lurking in Our Genes Could Play an Important Role in Some Addictions – (Science Alert – September 28, 2018)
An unusual version of a retrovirus nestled between genes involved in brain chemistry is more common in individuals with a drug dependency than the rest of the population. Researchers now have evidence that this pathogen could be responsible for a change in neurochemistry that puts some at a greater risk of developing an addiction, potentially making it the third significantly harmful human retrovirus ever discovered. In a recent study led by researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Athens, scientists showed how the genetic bones of a seemingly dormant virus influence nearby genes, one of which is involved in dopaminergic activity. Our genome is a virtual graveyard of ancient microbial skeletons – coding for retroviruses that copied themselves into our DNA, typically losing their ability to reproduce their way out again. Most of them seem to be harmless and could make up as much as 8% of our own coding in one form or another. Human Endogenous Retrovirus Type K (HML-2) – or HK2 for short – is a relatively recent example, at least as far as endogenous retroviruses go. We all carry its genes, and have done for the past quarter of a million years. However, unlike many other retroviruses lurking in our genetic code, HK2 might not be all that dead. Its code implies it’s still functional, capable of creating viral particles that might make it infectious. That’s not to say it is ‘alive’, or that it’s even dangerous. But this new discovery could change how we view it. As ubiquitous as HK2 is, there are variants throughout our global population. One in particular found in about 5% -10% of the population sits nestled in between two coding sequences for the gene responsible for a protein called RASGRF2. The protein’s role is linked with the release of neurotransmitters, particularly the chemical dopamine – an important messenger in the brain’s reward pathway. Having a different version of RASGRF2 has been linked with alcoholism in teens, and the gene has also been investigated in managing the buzz from alcohol in mouse brains. So having a potentially functional retrovirus sitting inside the gene makes it an alluring candidate to examine for possible influences on addiction.
Bees Are Dying at an Alarming Rate. Amsterdam May Have the Answer. – (NBC News – September 7, 2014)
While scientists around the globe have been sounding alarm bells over the decline of bees and pollinators crucial to the growth of crops, the diversity of wild bee and honeybee species in the Dutch capital has increased by 45% since 2000. A 2015 survey of pollinators found 21 bee species not previously documented in the city. The city of 2.3 million people attributes the success to creating bee-friendly environments like the overgrown, sunburnt patch of shrubs that commuters pass by daily. The installation of “insect hotels” and a ban on the use of chemical pesticides on public land also appear to have played a role. A study by the University of Vermont found that the wild bee population in the United States declined by 23% from 2008 and 2013. The most worrisome shortfall occurred in key agricultural regions, including California, the Pacific Northwest and the Mississippi River valley, that depend on pollinators. Amsterdam’s municipal government has made significant investments, including creating a $38.5 million sustainability fund, for improving the environment — not only for bees but the entire ecosystem. It also set a goal four years ago to convert half of all public green spaces to native plants.
Microplastics May Enter Foodchain through Mosquitoes – (PhysOrg – September 19, 2018)
Researchers of the University of Reading (UK) believe they have proof for the first time that microplastics can enter our ecosystem by air via mosquitoes and other flying insects. The team observed mosquito larvae ingesting microscopic plastic beads—similar to the tiny plastic balls found in everyday cosmetic products—before monitoring them through their life cycle. They found that many of the particles were transferred into the mosquitoes’ adult form, meaning whatever creatures then ate the flying insects in the wild would also ingest the plastic. “The significance is that this is quite possibly widespread,” said Amanda Callaghan, biological scientist at Reading and the lead study author “We were just looking at mosquitoes as an example but there are lots of insects that live in water and have the same life-cycle with larvae that eat things in water and then emerge as adults.” The animals known to eat such insects include several species of birds, bats and spiders, all of which are hunted in turn by other animals. “It’s basically another pathway for pollution that hadn’t been considered previously,” Callaghan said. Several countries including Britain have banned products containing microbeads, but Callaghan said the scale of the problem was still being discovered.
Mutant Green Crabs Are Mean and They’re Invading Maine’s Waters – (Live Science – September 21, 2018)
An aggressive breed of green crab is invading Maine’s waters. The crabs (Carcinus maenas) threaten blue mussels, soft-shell clams and the eelgrass beds off the state’s rocky coast. The crustaceans are also just plain nasty: Researchers who work with the crabs say that instead of hiding from threats, the critters rush forward, pincers waving. The crabs, which measure about 5 inches long, belong to the same species that has long lived in Maine’s waters. But in the past few years, a genetically distinct population of this species has traveled south from Nova Scotia, Canada, according to research led by Markus Frederich, a professor of marine sciences at the University of New England. These non-native crabs chow down on marine animals that are important for Maine’s economy, including mussels and clams, and the invaders shred native eelgrass habitat as they hunt. In the past decade, Maine’s green crab population has exploded, a cycle probably linked to rising ocean temperatures, according to the marine resources department. A similar pattern occurred during a warm period in the 1950s. Frederich and his colleagues are working to understand why the new arrivals from Nova Scotia are so much more aggressive than the green crabs that had previously made Maine their home. The scientists are researching how water temperature and salinity might alter the crabs’ behavior and even putting crabs on treadmills to test their endurance and metabolism.
‘Sinking’ Pacific Nation Is Getting Bigger – (PhysOrg – February 9, 2018)
The Pacific nation of Tuvalu—long seen as a prime candidate to disappear as climate change forces up sea levels—is actually growing in size, new research shows. A University of Auckland study examined changes in the geography of Tuvalu’s nine atolls and 101 reef islands between 1971 and 2014, using aerial photographs and satellite imagery. It found eight of the atolls and almost three-quarters of the islands grew during the study period, lifting Tuvalu’s total land area by 2.9 percent, even though sea levels in the country rose at twice the global average. Co-author Paul Kench said the research, published in the journal Nature Communications, challenged the assumption that low-lying island nations would be swamped as the sea rose. “We tend to think of Pacific atolls as static landforms that will simply be inundated as sea levels rise, but there is growing evidence these islands are geologically dynamic and are constantly changing,” he said. “The study findings may seem counter-intuitive, given that (the) sea level has been rising in the region over the past half century, but the dominant mode of change over that time on Tuvalu has been expansion, not erosion.” It found factors such as wave patterns and sediment dumped by storms could offset the erosion caused by rising water levels. The Auckland team says climate change remains one of the major threats to low-lying island nations. But it argues the study should prompt a rethink on how such countries respond to the problem. Rather than accepting their homes are doomed and looking to migrate to countries such as Australia and New Zealand, the researchers say they should start planning for a long-term future.
Global Land Change from 1982 to 2016 – (Nature – August 8, 2018)
Abstract of article: This research analyzes 35 years’ worth of satellite data and provides a comprehensive record of global land-change dynamics during the period 1982–2016. It shows that—contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally—tree cover has increased by 2.24 million km2 (+7.1% relative to the 1982 level). This overall net gain is the result of a net loss in the tropics being outweighed by a net gain in the extratropics. Global bare ground cover has decreased by 1.16 million km2 (−3.1%), most notably in agricultural regions in Asia. Of all land changes, 60% are associated with direct human activities and 40% with indirect drivers such as climate change. Land-use change exhibits regional dominance, including tropical deforestation and agricultural expansion, temperate reforestation or afforestation, cropland intensification and urbanization. Consistently across all climate domains, montane systems have gained tree cover and many arid and semi-arid ecosystems have lost vegetation cover. The mapped land changes and the driver attributions reflect a human-dominated Earth system. The dataset we developed may be used to improve the modeling of land-use changes, biogeochemical cycles and vegetation–climate interactions to advance our understanding of global environmental change. (Editor’s note: This article is paywalled, but the abstract probably contains as much information as most readers want.)
Former Google CEO Predicts the Internet Will Split in Two – and One Part Will Be Led by China – (CNBC – September 20, 2018)
Eric Schmidt, who has been the CEO of Google and executive chairman of its parent company, Alphabet, predicts that within the next decade there will be two distinct internets: one led by the U.S. and the other by China. “I think the most likely scenario now is … a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America. If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal. Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the US, which is also a big number. If you think of China as like ‘Oh yeah, they’re good with the Internet,’ you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc. Look at the way BRI works – their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries – it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.” (The Belt and Road is a massive initiative by Beijing to increase China’s political and economic influence by connecting and facilitating all kinds of trade, including digital trade, between China and countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.) Reportedly, Google has been developing “Project Dragonfly,” a censored version of its search engine that could appease authorities in China. The project allegedly included a means to suppress some search results, booting them off the first page, and a means to fully block results for sensitive queries, for example, around “peaceful protests.” In a separate discussion between Schmidt and several start-up founders, he lauded Chinese tech products, services and adoption, especially in mobile payments. He noted that Starbucks in China don’t feature a register. Customers order ahead online and pay with their phones before picking up their lattes. See also: Google scrambled to get employees to delete internal memo detailing plans for censored search in China.
How Smart TVs Are Getting Quite Smart about You – (Fast Company – August 29, 2018)
Digital advertisers have it relatively easy. On the web, they know they can send you ads based on the products you’ve browsed, the searches you’ve made online, and the places you’ve been in the real world. And they know they’ll get precise data about which of those ads turn into site visits and purchases. Traditionally, none of those options have been available to TV advertisers. They’ve bought ad time on shows that seem to appeal to broad target demographics—like women between 18 and 50—but they’ve had no way to only target consumers actually in the market for, say, a new car or mattress. They’ve also had limited ability to measure which ads really motivate people to buy. But thanks to smart TVs, that is about to change. The digitally connected sets that research firm IHS Markit estimates will make up 70% of televisions shipped this year, advertisers and TV networks are rapidly getting new insights into who’s watching what shows and ads for how long and whether they’re making purchases afterward. Marketers are already armed with consumer data like supermarket loyalty card records, mobile phone location data, personality profiles, or any other information held in advertisers’ own databases. Now companies can get data about your TV too, since many smart sets and the apps installed on them can track the shows you watch and the video games you play, often through services that deliver features like show recommendations. Recommendations based on your viewing history may be a valuable service given that a common industry statistic holds that Americans spend about 1.3 years of their lives flipping channels. But privacy advocates aren’t convinced this is a good thing and lawmakers have also expressed concerns.
Bay Area City Blocks 5G Deployments over Cancer Concerns – (Tech Crunch – September10, 2018)
The Bay Area may be the center of the global technology industry, but that hasn’t stopped one wealthy enclave from protecting itself from the future. The city council of Mill Valley, a small town located just a few miles north of San Francisco, voted unanimously to effectively block deployments of small-cell 5G wireless towers in the city’s residential areas. Applications for commercial districts are permitted under the passed ordinance. The ordinance was driven by community concerns over the health effects of 5G wireless antennas. According to the city, it received 145 pieces of correspondence from citizens voicing opposition to the technology, compared to just five letters in support of it — a ratio of 29 to 1. While that may not sound like much, the city’s population is roughly 14,000, indicating that about 1% of the population had voiced an opinion on the matter. Blocks on 5G deployments are nothing new for Marin County, where other cities including San Anselmo and Ross have passed similar ordinances designed to thwart 5G expansion efforts over health concerns. These restrictions on small cell site deployments could complicate 5G’s upcoming nationwide rollout. The telecom industry has long vociferously denied a link between antennas and health outcomes, although California’s Department of Public Health has issued warnings about potential health effects of personal cell phone antennas. While health concerns have bubbled in various municipalities, those concerns are not shared globally. China, through companies like Huawei, is investing billions of dollars to design and build 5G infrastructure, in hopes of stealing the industry crown from the United States, which is the market leader in 4G technologies. Those competitive concerns have increasingly been a priority at the FCC, where chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners have pushed hard to overcome local concerns around health and historical preservation. The commission voted earlier this year on new siting rules that would accelerate 5G adoption. Mill Valley’s ordinance is designed to frustrate those efforts, while remaining within the letter of federal law, which preempts local ordinances. Mill Valley’s mayor has said that the city will look to create a final ordinance over the next year.
Super Cheap Earth Element to Advance New Battery Tech to the Industry – (PhysOrg – September 19, 2018)
Most of today’s batteries are made up of lithium mined from the mountains of South America. If the world depletes this source, then battery production could stagnate. On the other hand, sodium is a very cheap and earth-abundant alternative to using lithium-ion batteries, but one that is also known to turn purple and combust if exposed to water—even just water in the air. Worldwide efforts to make sodium-ion batteries just as functional as lithium-ion batteries have long since controlled sodium’s tendency to explode, but not yet resolved how to prevent sodium-ions from “getting lost” during the first few times a battery charges and discharges. Now, Purdue University researchers made a sodium powder version that fixes this problem and holds a charge properly. Even though sodium-ion batteries would be physically heavier than lithium-ion technology, researchers have been investigating sodium-ion batteries because they could store energy for large solar and wind power facilities at lower cost. The problem is that sodium ions stick to the hard carbon end of a battery, called an anode, during the initial charging cycles and not travel over to the cathode end. The ions build up into a structure called a “solid electrolyte interface.” “Normally the solid electrolyte interface is good because it protects carbon particles from a battery’s acidic electrolyte, where electricity is conducted,” said Vilas Pol, Purdue associate professor of chemical engineering. “But too much of the interface consumes the sodium ions that we need for charging the battery.” Purdue researchers proposed using sodium as a powder, which provides the required amount of sodium for the solid electrolyte interface to protect carbon, but doesn’t build up in a way that it consumes sodium ions. They minimized sodium’s exposure to the moisture that would make it combust by making the sodium powder in a glovebox filled with the gas argon. To make the powder, they used an ultrasound—the same tool used for monitoring the development a fetus—to melt sodium chunks into a milky purple liquid. The liquid then cooled into a powder, and was suspended in a hexane solution to evenly disperse the powder particles.
Plastic Pollution: The Age of Unsolvable Problems – (Cassandra’s Legacy – September 16, 2018)
Citing from a recent paper by Geyer et al., http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782 more than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Of this mass, 9% percent was recycled, 12% was incinerated, the rest is still around. It is this mass of plastics, billions of tons, which generates the pollution we see today. It is almost one ton of plastic waste for every human being living today. Still following Geyer et al., we learn that, in 2015, the world produced 380 million tons of plastics from fossil hydrocarbons. To get some idea of how polluting this mass is, we can compare it to the total carbon emissions produced by hydrocarbon combustion, around 9 billion tons per year. As an order of magnitude comparison, we can say that about 4% of the fossil hydrocarbons we extract become plastics. Apart from the horrible state of some beaches and the islands of plastics in the oceans, it is a lot of carbon pumped into the ecosystems. Its effects are unknown, especially on humans: we are all eating microplastic particles, today. What will that do to our health, nobody knows — we are all guinea pigs in a great experiment. So how do we deal with it? The Greens in their various shades will respond with the magic words “recycle!” or “reuse!” but there is a little problem here: you can’t recycle or reuse anything for more than a limited number of times. Recycling plastics is just a way to procrastinate the unavoidable: you may know the quote (attributed to Christopher Parker), “Procrastination is like a credit card; it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” Eventually, even recycled/reused plastics must become waste and at that point, we get the pollution bill to pay. But how about “bioplastics” which don’t generate extra greenhouse gases and are bio-degradable, at least in principle? Could that solve the problem while keeping everything the way it is in the best of possible worlds? This article looks at that potential solution.
Book-Sized Solar Panels Could Power a Whole Home in New Breakthrough – (Good News Network – July 27, 2018)
A team of experts from the University of Exeter has discovered an innovative way for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy – or ways in which to convert light into power. The new technique relies on ‘funneling’ the sun’s energy more efficiently directly into power cells, such as solar panels or batteries. This method has the potential to harvest three times the energy compared with traditional systems. The researchers believe their breakthrough could result in solar panels, no bigger than a book, producing enough energy to power a family-sized house. Adolfo De Sanctis, who is the lead author of the paper, said: “The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container, as we all know it is much more efficient if we use a funnel. However, such charge funnels cannot be realized with conventional semiconductors and only the recent discovery of atomically thin materials has enabled this discovery.” While current solar cells are able to convert around 20% of the energy received from the sun, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60% of it by funneling the energy more efficiently. See also: Ultra-Cheap Printable Solar Panels Are Launched in Australia.
The World’s First Self-driving Grocery Delivery Cars Are on Roads in San Jose – (Fast Company – August 27, 2018)
If you live in certain neighborhoods in San Jose, California, you can now get some of your groceries delivered by a self-driving car. Bright green cars from the self-driving startup AutoX–with a backup driver inside–will pull up with your order in the trunk. In the backseat, the window rolls down to offer a shelf of extra food to buy. “Last mile delivery for grocery and food will be faster and cheaper enabled by self-driving cars,” says Jianxiong Xiao, CEO of AutoX. The vehicle is equipped with high-resolution cameras to spot pedestrians or pets in the road–a system that Xiao, who trained at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, says works better than Lidar laser arrays and other sensors used on other self-driving cars, but is cheaper to build. Fully outfitted, the car costs $80,000 and can operate for several years; if regulations and technology get to the point that the backup driver isn’t necessary, that will be cheaper than a regular car with a human driver. Grocery stores using the system could begin to shift to warehouses rather than retail stores, helping save cost. For consumers, it could potentially be cheaper than driving to a store to shop themselves. While other autonomous delivery companies like Nuro, with a cute toaster-shaped van, or Marble, with a sidewalk delivery robot, are designing vehicles customized for delivery, AutoX is adding its technology to existing cars. “We are focusing on providing a better self-driving car service rather than building a car,” says Xiao. “What we are building is an AI driver, not a car.” That helps keep cost down,” he says, and a regular vehicle can carry multiple orders and has enough room for equipment to control the temperature of the food.
Channel Your Inner Fred Flintstone in This Peddle-Powered Car – (Wired – September 29, 2018)
There aren’t many ways to make traffic jams productive. You can make phone calls, listen to audio books, or practice your calming breathing exercises. But none of them help you escape the reality of being trapped in a metal box, surrounded by thousands of other metal boxes, all performing a dance forwards, slowly, foot by foot, across the asphalt. A Saudi Arabian inventor, Nasser Al Shawaf, decided he wanted the ability to do something useful with his hours in the car every day: exercise. He commissioned the services of a Dutch automotive engineering group, BPO, which set to work figuring out how to do that. “I didn’t say you’re crazy, because that’s not the best thing to say to a new client, but I said it’s quite challenging,” says Oscar Brocades Zaalberg, BPO founder. But the firm agreed to figure it out, and the result, via some even more bizarre sounding prototypes, is a car with bike pedals where the normal pedals should be. To move forwards, you better pump your legs. Your pedaling is converted into an electrical current, which is used to trigger the accelerator. Pedal faster, and the car moves faster. The next step was to install a prototype into a Smart car, which, for a tiny vehicle, has a good amount of space inside. The rig looks like the bottom half of a small exercise bike. His engineers went into the car’s throttle controls and replaced the signal from the one accelerator pedal, with the signal from the two spinning pedals, and installed a hand-operated brake. And then they were somewhat surprised when it all worked very well on a track. “When you give it a try, it’s so logical, just to step in the car and to drive away by pedaling,” says Brocades Zaalberg. Mind you, he cycles to work in the Netherlands, so he may have been more comfortable with the motion than most American drivers.
There’s a Serious Problem with the Way We Measure Global Food Security – (Science Alert – September 22, 2018)
The way that we currently measure food security severely underestimates the enormous scale of global hunger. A new study suggests that if we truly want to put an end to malnutrition by 2030, as per the aim of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, then we need to consider a more holistic approach to food systems. “There are two main issues with how we currently talk about food systems,” says lead author Hannah Ritchie, a researcher in malnutrition and sustainable food systems at the University of Edinburgh. “The first is that we focus our measure of food security in terms of calories (energy), when micronutrient malnutrition (‘hidden hunger’) affects more than ~2 billion people across the world.” “The second issue,” she continues, “is that aspects of our food system are reported in tons or kilograms, and it’s very hard to put these numbers in the context of how many people this could feed.” The new study is the first of its kind to quantitatively map how calories, protein, fat, essential amino acids and micronutrients make their way through the supply chain and onto our plates. The findings clearly show that we are collectively producing more than enough calories, protein and micronutrients to sufficiently feed the world’s burgeoning population. In fact, the results reveal that some nutrients were produced up to five times more than the average requirement. But despite the abundance of global food production, problems in the supply chain, like food waste, distribution and nutrient losses, ensure that many people in the world remain hungry. Today, approximately one billion people suffer from protein deficiency, two billion suffer from hidden hunger and close to 800 million suffer from caloric hunger. All the while, over two billion people are estimated to overconsume. “This challenge exists across countries of all income levels, with a growing number of developing nations experiencing a “triple burden” – an increase in the prevalence of obesity in parts of the population alongside the wide prevalence of undernourishment and micronutrient deficiencies,” the authors write.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Accessory to War – an Uncomfortable Wake-Up Call for Some – (NPR – September 17, 2018)
In Accessory to War, astrophysicist and popular director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson, indefatigable promoter of science to the general public, joins forces with his long-term editor Avis Lang to deliver a powerful report of the deadly alliance between science and the military, focusing on its history, science, and the impact it has had on the American century-long worldwide dominance. The book makes for fascinating reading. The history, dating back to ancient Greece and before, and stretching to current events, is meticulously researched. The science is carefully explained, with Tyson’s trademark passionate clarity. There are forays into ancient astronomy, astrology, navigation, the development of telescopes and the many tools that scientists use to explore all wavelengths of light from radio to gamma rays. Tyson retells the history of space exploration, and of the Cold War, excelling in bringing forth the entangled advances of science and military interests. The book’s message rings like a wake-up call, even if an uncomfortable one for the pacifists out there. War makes the world go ’round. It heats up the economy, as governments flood private military industries with lucrative contracts. It heats up scientific research, as governmental agencies flood research universities with cash. Jobs follow in many sectors, personnel get trained, with a resulting upsurge of technicians, engineers, and science PhDs. Knowledge flows both ways — from the university laboratory to the military and back. Everyone benefits from the unspoken alliance. To a large extent, American science jumped to world dominance because of the success of the Manhattan Project, which was responsible for building the atomic bomb. Tyson and Lang make it abundantly clear that America’s dominance both as a science powerhouse and as the main player in space exploration is floundering. Despite America’s still lavish investment in defense, it can no longer claim dominance over space technology. Russia, and more importantly, China and India, are rising fast. The picture is quickly changing. Tyson and Lang do end the book on a somewhat positive note, arguing that with future space exploration the situation is different. There are, of course, huge economic interests up there, from space tourism to asteroid mining — and these are the main drivers for a new player in the game, private corporations like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin. If the skies were seen by the military as an inevitable battlefield, and by physical scientists as their research ground, they are now also seen as money-making markets.
It’s Now Possible to Telepathically Communicate with a Drone Swarm – (Defense One – September 6, 2018)
A person with a brain chip can now pilot a swarm of drones — or even advanced fighter jets, thanks to research funded by the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The work builds on research from 2015, which allowed a paralyzed woman to steer a virtual F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with only a small, surgically-implantable microchip. Now agency officials have announced that they have scaled up the technology to allow a user to steer multiple jets at once. “As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control … not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” said Justin Sanchez, who directs DARPA’s biological technology office, at the Agency’s 60th-anniversary event in Maryland. More importantly, DARPA was able to improve the interaction between pilot and the simulated jet to allow the operator, a paralyzed man named Nathan, to not just send but receive signals from the craft. In essence, it’s the difference between having a brain joystick and having a real telepathic conversation with multiple jets or drones about what’s going on, what threats might be flying over the horizon, and what to do about them.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Philadelphia Forced to Abolish Civil Asset Forfeiture and Pay Back Victims the Millions It Stole from Them – (Free Thought Project – September 19, 2018)
Philadelphia, PA, a city that has gained a reputation for the egregious civil asset forfeiture practices committed by its police department, will now be forced to dismantle the program altogether, as a result of a lawsuit filed by a family who had their home seized by police after their son was accused of a minor drug crime. Residents who have been harmed by the Philadelphia Police department’s civil asset forfeiture practices could also receive part of $3 million in compensation. Markela and Chris Sourovelis initially filed a lawsuit in 2014 after their son was caught trying to sell $40 in heroin on the street. The parents complied with the judge and took their son to a court-ordered rehabilitation treatment. But when they returned home, they found that police had locked them out of their house. The Sourovelis family’s home was seized by police even though there was no evidence that the parents had any knowledge of their son’s attempt to sell drugs, and there was no evidence that the parents or any other family members had engaged in any kind of drug-related activity deemed “illegal” by the state. The story received significant media attention as the country was introduced to the horror many Philadelphia residents face, and the district attorney eventually dropped the case against the family. In a statement from December 2014, Chris Sourovelis said he was relieved by the verdict, but was committed to continuing the fight to ensure that other residents were not subjected to the same nightmare. Sourovelis worked with the Institute of Justice to file a new lawsuit a class action lawsuit, which alleged that the city was seizing 300 to 500 homes each year, violating residents’ constitutional rights and illegally creating a profit incentive because the revenue generated by the program was going straight to local police and district attorneys. To say that the city has a problem is an understatement. While the city of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, filed 200 petitions for civil asset forfeiture from 2008 to 2011, Philadelphia filed 6,560 petitions—in 2011 alone. A report from the Philadelphia Inquirer also found that the city brought in more than $64 million in seized property from 2004 to 2014, which is almost twice the amount raised by cities like Brooklyn, New York, and Los Angeles, California. A 2015 report from the American Civil Liberties Union noted that “an estimated 32% of cash forfeitures [in Philadelphia] are not supported by a conviction”. See also Vigilantes with a Badge: Warrior Cops Endanger Our Lives and Freedoms.
Justice Department Attempts to Suppress Evidence That the Border Patrol Targeted Humanitarian Volunteers – (Intercept – September 16, 2018)
Four volunteers with a faith-based humanitarian group drove onto a remote wilderness refuge in southern Arizona last summer hoping to prevent an unnecessary loss of life. A distress call had come in, a woman reporting that two family members and a friend were without water in one of the deadliest sections of the U.S.-Mexico border. For hours, the volunteers’ messages to the Border Patrol went unanswered. With summer in the Sonoran Desert being the deadliest time of year, they set off in a pickup truck, racing to the peak where the migrants were said to be. Once on the refuge, the volunteers were tracked by federal agents, beginning a process that would lead to federal charges. Now, more than a year later, they each face a year prison, and Trump administration prosecutors are fighting to keep the communications of law enforcement officials celebrating their prosecution from becoming public. The legal wrangling began when the volunteers’ attorneys filed a series of motions urging Arizona Magistrate Judge Bruce G. Macdonald to dismiss the charges against them, citing allegations of selective enforcement and violations of international law, due process, and religious freedom. Attached to the motions were several exhibits, including text messages between federal law enforcement officials. Justice Department attorneys quickly moved to have the motions sealed, but not before The Intercept downloaded them from Pacer, the public-facing repository for federal court records.
A Warning from Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come – (Atlantic – October, 2018)
Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well. The author of this article is an American/Polish journalist with a well honed understanding of history. Poland, she notes, “is now one of the most polarized societies in Europe, and we have found ourselves on opposite sides of a profound divide, one that runs through not only what used to be the Polish right but also the old Hungarian right, the Italian right, and, with some differences, the British right and the American right, too.” This is a long and very thoughtful article with not just one conclusion, but many – and all of them well illustrated by history. For example, “Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will.” Or this one, shaped as a questions: “Who gets to define a nation? And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation? For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled—but why should they ever be?” And this observation: “Monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy, democracy—these were all familiar to Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. But the illiberal one-party state, now found all over the world—think of China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe—was first developed by Lenin, in Russia, starting in 1917. In the political-science textbooks of the future, the Soviet Union’s founder will surely be remembered not for his Marxist beliefs, but as the inventor of this enduring form of political organization. It is the model that many of the world’s budding autocrats use today.” Editor’s note: These few sentences do not begin to summarize the meat of this article – instead we encourage you to read. And if you have time enough to follow up on only one link in this issue of FE, choose this one.)
How Israel Spies on US Citizens – (The Nation – August 31, 2018)
An investigative documentary by Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera scheduled for broadcast earlier this year was expected to cause a sensation. Its four 50-minute episodes centered on the young and personable James Anthony Kleinfeld, British, Jewish, an Oxford graduate who speaks six languages, including Dutch and Yiddish, and is well-informed about Middle East conflicts—seemingly a natural fit for a Western foreign ministry or a major think tank. The documentary showed Kleinfeld being enthusiastically recruited for his skills by The Israel Project (TIP), which defends Israel’s image in the media, and associating with senior members of organizations that support Israel unconditionally, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the powerful US lobbying group. For five months, he mixed with them at cocktail parties, congresses, and conventions, and on training courses. How, he asked, did they go about influencing the US Congress? “Congressmen don’t do anything unless you pressure them, and the only way to do that is with money.” How did they counter Palestinian-rights activists on university campuses? “With the anti-Israel people, what’s most effective, what we found at least in the last year, is you do the opposition research, put up some anonymous website, and then put up targeted Facebook ads.” Kleinfeld’s contacts told him they were spying on US citizens with the help of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, founded in 2006, which reports directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One official said: “We are a different government working on foreign soil, [so] we have to be very, very cautious.” But then the broadcast was postponed, with no official explanation. Eventually, articles in the US Jewish media revealed that it would never be shown. The documentary had been sacrificed to the fierce battle between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the other for US support in the feud that began in June 2017. (Editor’s note: The information above is just the beginning of what’s in this article and we recommend reading all of it for the breadth of its detail of the documentary’s content.)
Exposing the Giants: The Global Power Elite – (Transcend – September 3, 2018)
In his recently released study Giants: The Global Power Elite, Peter Phillips, a professor of political sociology at Sonoma State University in the USA, identifies the world’s top seventeen asset management firms, such as BlackRock and J.P Morgan Chase, each with more than one trillion dollars of investment capital under management, as the ‘Giants’ of world capitalism. The seventeen firms collectively manage more than $US41.1 trillion in a self-invested network of interlocking capital that spans the globe. This $41 trillion represents the wealth invested for profit by thousands of millionaires, billionaires and corporations. The seventeen Giants operate in nearly every country in the world and are ‘the central institutions of the financial capital that powers the global economic system’. They invest in anything considered profitable, ranging from ‘agricultural lands on which indigenous farmers are replaced by power elite investors’ to public assets (such as energy and water utilities) to war. In addition, Phillips identifies the most important networks of the Global Power Elite and the individuals therein. He names 389 individuals (a small number of whom are women and a token number of whom are from countries other than the United States and the wealthier countries of Western Europe) at the core of the policy planning nongovernmental networks that manage, facilitate and defend the continued concentration of global capital. The Global Power Elite perform two key uniting functions, he argues: they provide ideological justifications for their shared interests (promulgated through their corporate media), and define the parameters of action for transnational governmental organizations and capitalist nation-states. (Editor’s note: This book admirably demonstrates the interlocking systems of Western capitalism but what struck us was that by including only “a token number of [global elite individuals] whom are from countries other than the United States and the wealthier countries of Western Europe”, this book is actually looking backward, not forward. By largely leaving out the Asian billionaires and the sphere of influence that China is building, Phillips is reporting on the wave that is already receding, and missing the wave that is building.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
All the Things Tourists Are Not Allowed to Do in Venice – (Quartz – September 21, 2018)
Venice has long been known as the sinking city, but only in modern times has it begun sinking under the weight of its tourists. Each day, the Unesco World Heritage site receives up to 60,000 visitors, resulting in a city that is increasingly becoming devoid of actual Venetians. While Venice is not the only city grappling with the crisis of overtourism, it is taking a more punitive approach than most in dealing with visitors. In 2017—in addition to taking steps to divert large cruise ships to a nearby industrial town—the city’s tourism board launched the #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign to remind tourists of everything they can’t do while visiting the fine city. There are even “angels of decorum” employed each summer to ensure the rules are enforced. Tourists may soon be banned from engaging in a fairly common activity: sitting. While sitting in and around the famed St. Mark’s Square is already banned, there is a new proposal from mayor Luigi Brugnaro to ban sitting on the ground throughout the city, with offenders facing fines between €50 and €500. The rule will be voted on in October. The article includes a list of forbidden behaviors in Venice, as well as the fine they incur. Here are a few of them: Sitting is banned in the following places: “in St. Mark’s Square and in Piazzetta dei Leoncini, beneath the arcades and on the steps of the Procuratie Nuove, the Napoleonic Wing, the Sansovino Library, beneath the arcades of the Ducal Palace, in the impressive entranceway to St. Mark’s Square otherwise known as Piazzetta San Marco and its jetty.” (€200); You can’t idly stand around, even to consume food and drink, unless you are in a restaurant or cafe. (€200); You may not swim or immerse your body parts in any canal, stream, “water spot,” or in St Mark’s Basin. (€450); You may not roam Venice’s historic streets or be in any private or public vehicle “while bare-chested or wearing swimwear.” (€200); You may not scatter food or food waste, even if it’s to feed pigeons. (€50-200).
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Constructing an Alcubierre Warp Drive – (Medium – August 25, 2018)
In 1994, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre wrote a paper laying the mathematical and scientific foundation for a real life warp drive that wouldn’t interfere with general relativity. How a warp drive works is by expanding and contracting the fabric of spacetime around a ship and its bubble. The ship never accelerates or moves, it is the fabric around it that moves and pushes it forward. Imagine, as an analogy, standing on a conveyer belt where you never actually have to walk. Einstein showed that spacetime can be bent by mass or energy, and if spacetime can be bent then it can be manipulated in other ways. The reason this ship would be able to move faster than the speed of light is because general relativity tells us that nothing within space can break the speed limit, however, there is no speed limit on how fast space itself can contract or expand. We’re not moving a thing within space — we’re moving space itself. Alcubierre’s work was hopeful and impressive but it had a lot of holes as well. Later refinements to his paper by NASA scientists drastically reduced the amount of energy the warp drive would need by oscillating parts of the craft at high frequencies, making it easier to move through spacetime and lessening the amount of energy required. Modern theories on how much negative energy we’d need range from 65 exajoules to the energy of a few negative and positive solar masses. 65 exajoules is around the amount of energy the US uses in one year. Still a lot, but definitely an improvement and definitely doable. NASA has a goal of making an interstellar craft before the year 2100.
NASA Is Looking for New Ways to Detect Alien Technology – (Futurism – September 28, 2018)
Are we alone in the universe? Hunting for biological signatures of life on moons and exoplanets is just one way we might find an answer. Another is to look for “technosignatures” of alien technology — radio signals or microwaves coming from deep in space. The idea has been around for decades, but now Congress is pushing NASA to ramp up the approach. Recently the agency held a three-day workshop in Houston to explore the state of the field and what might come next. Penn State professor of astronomy and astrophysics Jason Wright said that though the search for alien technosignatures goes back decades, its pace slowed in the United States after the 1990s. But more recently, Wright wrote, there’s been a “resurgence of activity” in the field. At the conference, NASA outlined four broad goals: Define the current state of the technosignature field, identifying past projects and current limitations; Identify near-term advances in the field, noting current projects and tools that could have a future impact; Look at the longer-term potential of the technosignature field, identifying needed tools and experiments; and, Find ways NASA can work with the private sector and philanthropic organizations to advance technosignature research. But fear not: Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center, said that if NASA does identify alien life, it will exercise caution. “There are no plans to attempt communication — our technosignature searches are looking and listening,” he said.
Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not. – (New York Times – September 11, 2018)
The American economy is strong. Unemployment is down, the Dow Jones industrial average is north of 25,000 and millions of jobs are going unfilled. But for people with limited education, the question is not, Can I land a job? (The answer is almost certainly, Yes, you can.) Instead the question is, What kinds of jobs are available to people without much education? By and large, the answer is: jobs that do not pay enough to live on. And why has the phrase “working homeless,” become a now-necessary phrase in today’s low-wage/high-rent society? In recent decades, the nation’s tremendous economic growth has not led to broad social uplift. Economists call it the “productivity-pay gap” — the fact that over the last 40 years, the economy has expanded and corporate profits have risen, but real wages have remained flat for workers without a college education. Since 1973, American productivity has increased by 77%, while hourly pay has grown by only 12%. If the federal minimum wage tracked productivity, it would be more than $20 an hour, not today’s poverty wage of $7.25. American workers are being shut out of the profits they are helping to generate. The decline of unions is a big reason. During the 20th century, inequality in America decreased when unionization increased, but economic transformations and political attacks have crippled organized labor, emboldening corporate interests and disempowering the rank and file. This imbalanced economy explains why America’s poverty rate has remained consistent over the past several decades, even as per capita welfare spending has increased. It’s not that safety-net programs don’t help; on the contrary, they lift millions of families above the poverty line each year. But one of the most effective antipoverty solutions is a decent-paying job, and those have become scarce for people with little education. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour, and almost none of their employers offer health insurance. If the working poor are doing better than the nonworking poor, which is the case, it’s not so much because of their jobs per se, but because their employment status provides them access to desperately needed government help. This has caused growing inequality below the poverty line, with the working poor receiving much more social aid than the abandoned nonworking poor or the precariously employed, who are plunged into destitution. (Editor’s note: we recommend this article; it may lead you to question some assumptions we commonly make.)
31% of U.S. Households Have Trouble Paying Energy Bills – (NPR – Septeber 19, 2018)
Nearly a third of households in the United States have struggled to pay their energy bills, the Energy Information Administration said in a recently released report. The differences were minor in terms of geography, but Hispanics and racial minorities were hit hardest. About one in five households had to reduce or forego food, medicine and other necessities to pay an energy bill, according to the report. “Of the 25 million households that reported forgoing food and medicine to pay energy bills, 7 million faced that decision nearly every month,” the report stated. More than 10% of households kept their homes at unhealthy or unsafe temperatures. The data come from the federal agency’s most recent energy consumption survey in 2015. “We only conduct the Residential Energy Consumption Survey every 4-5 years,” according to survey manager Chip Berryl. “This is the first time in the history of the study (goes back to late ’70s) that we have [measured] energy insecurity across all households, so there’s not much in the way of historical comparison.” The study found that about half of households experiencing trouble reported income of less than $20,000. More than 40% had at least one child. People of color were disproportionately affected: about half of respondents who reported challenges paying their energy bills identified as black. More than 40% identified as Latino. A 2016 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and Energy Efficiency for All found that African-American and Latino households “paid more for utilities per square foot than the average household.” Housing for low income families tended to be less energy efficient, researchers found. Citing lack of need and fraud, the Trump administration called for an end to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program last fall and winter.
Blunt Advice to U.S. Tech Businesses about China’s Rising Clout – (Forbes – August 21, 2018)
Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is a respected expert on AI and China— and he states that China has suddenly caught up to the US at an astonishingly rapid and unexpected pace. This article reviews his recent book, “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order”. He notes that relatively speaking, U.S. Internet companies also tend not to adapt their products once successful. “In the U.S., once you reach success, the product actually stagnates. If you look at YouTube, or Instagram or Snapchat, they look the same as they did five years ago. But if you go to a Chinese Meituan or a Didi or a WeChat, they look completely different from five years ago.” Lee’s analysis should be a wake-up call to Americans used to thinking of the U.S. as the unrivaled No. 1 in the technology world and the center of innovative entrepreneurism. The rest of the article offers excerpts from the authors conversation with 56-year-old Lee.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
On Ecstasy, Octopuses Reached Out for a Hug – (New York Times – September 20, 2018)
Octopuses are smart. They open jars, steal fish and high-five each other. Though interactive, they’re generally asocial, and temperamental, with unique behavior patterns, like those shown by Otto, who caused blackouts at a German aquarium and Inky, who famously escaped a tank in New Zealand. They learn through experience and observation, forming lasting memories with brain-like bundles of hundreds of millions of neurons in each arm and a centralized bundle in the middle. A desire to understand the evolutionary underpinnings of this brain power led scientists to give octopuses ecstasy. Yes ecstasy — molly, E, MDMA, the party drug, which in humans reduces fear and inhibition, induces feelings of empathy, distorts time and helps people dance to electronic music all night. And under the influence of MDMA, the researchers report in a paper published in Current Biology, asocial octopuses seemed to become more social. “Even though octopuses look like they come from outer space, they’re actually not that different from us,” said Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the study with Eric Edsinger, an octopus researcher at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. They also found that humans and octopuses share parts of an ancient messaging system involved in social behaviors, one enhanced by the presence of MDMA in both animals. These shared lineages may have been conserved to reduce fear and enable social behaviors. And although preliminary, the authors think octopuses present a promising model for studying MDMA’s effects on the human brain, treating PTSD and better understanding how the brain evolved to conjure social behaviors. For Dr. Dölen, who is interested in evolution of social behavior, the octopus offered an interesting test of MDMA and serotonin, because it is separated by 500 million years of evolution from humans, but also has complex behavior. This story (as reported in a different periodical) is part of “When the Drugs Hit”, a Motherboard journey into the science, politics, and culture of today’s psychedelic renaissance. Follow along here. See also: What We’ve Learned from Giving Dolphins LSD.
JUST FOR FUN
Watch Persistent Elephant Summon Busy Caretaker to Get a Lullaby for Her Baby – (Good News Network – June 10, 2018)
This heartwarming video from a wildlife sanctuary provides evidence that music—and caring—are universal languages even to elephants. Lek Chailert is one of the caretakers at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In addition to looking after the animals during the day, she has a knack for singing them to sleep. In a unique video uploaded by the park, one of the female pachyderms, Faa Mai, can be seen interrupting Chailert’s interaction with a group of visitors. Amused by her large companion’s insistence, Chailert can’t help but giggle as Faa Mai nudges her along one of the park trails. “She pushed me along out into the field, directing me somewhere, and I wondered what it was that she really wanted,” says Chailert. “Finally, Faa Mai took me to see the little Thong Ae, whom she wants to adopt as her own. In the end, it seems as if Faa Mai wanted me to lullaby her little friend, as she is so fond of when I sing lullabies for her.” If your taste runs to something a little more classical than lullabies, this next clip is even more charming: Pianist Finds Fulfillment Playing Music for Blind Elephants.
A FINAL QUOTE
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. – Albert Einstein
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
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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