Volume 21, Number 5 – 3/1/18

Volume 21, Number 5 – 3/1/18       


You may soon be able to offer your DNA data for sale directly to research companies using a blockchain account. On the horizon: personalized cancer vaccines. In a recent study, 86% of teens were found to have Bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, in their digestive systems. In Kenya, startup Sanivation processes human waste using a solar thermal technology and converts it into charcoal-like briquettes, which are sold in the local community for cooking and domestic heating.
by John L. Petersen


Former clandestine operator and international alternative media star, Robert David Steele, knows what he’s talking about. From an extraordinary network of sources around the world he puts together a credible – and shocking – picture of what it is that holds the present system together . . . and what it will take, practically, to build a new world.

Fresh from personal visits with very highly placed sources in Japan and China, and stopping by Tehran on his way home, Steele represents one of the best alternatives to the mainstream media: very bright, articulate, deep contacts, brilliant ideas, and the ability to stitch it all together to paint a real picture of the present that will change forever how you think of politics, banking and finance, the leadership of the free world, the overall influencers of life on this planet. You’ll also see a new world that could clearly be built from the presently crumbling one.

Our upcoming event in Berkeley Springs promises to be a very special – and provocative — afternoon with a very special speaker. If you come to Robert’s talk on March 17th, I promise you that you will go away seeing the world in a very different way. Your eyes will be opened to very important things that you didn’t know.

So, do come to hear Robert David Steele. You can find complete information at It will be a great afternoon.

Let me tell you more about Robert:

And then check out this interview:



Human Sequencing Pioneer George Church Wants to Give You the Power to Sell Your DNA on the Blockchain – (TechCrunch – February 8, 2018)
MIT professor and godfather of the Human Genome Project, George Church, wants to put your genes on a blockchain. His new startup Nebula Genomics plans to sequence your genome for less than $1,000 (the current going rate of whole genome sequencing) and then add your data to the blockchain through the purchase of a “Nebula Token.” The idea sounds outlandish, but Church and his colleagues laid out in a recently released white paper that this will put the genomic power in the hands of the consumer, as opposed to companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, which own your genomic data after you take that spit tube test. These companies sell that data in large swaths to pharmaceutical and research companies, often for millions of dollars. However, using the blockchain, consumers can choose to sell their own data directly – or not. Many people have yet to sequence their data, mostly due to cost or privacy concerns, but with the option to then sell that data to drug companies, possibly discover cures for rare diseases and make a buck while doing it could sweeten the incentive to sequence.

The Follower Factory – (New York Times – January 27, 2018)
Celebrities, athletes, pundits and politicians have millions of fake followers. The world’s social media platforms are struggling to respond. But popularity has a price. An obscure American company named Devumi has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found. The accounts that most resemble real people reveal a kind of large-scale social identity theft. At least 55,000 of the accounts use the names, profile pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors, according to a Times data analysis. These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of online influence, reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience — or the illusion of it — can be monetized. Fake accounts, deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs, now infest social media networks. By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter’s reported active users — nearly 15% — are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that number is far lower. In November, Facebook disclosed to investors that it had at least twice as many fake users as it previously estimated, indicating that up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations. Yet their creation and sale fall into a legal gray zone.


Earth’s Inner Core Shouldn’t Technically Exist – (Live Science – February 9, 2018)
About a billion years ago, Earth’s inner core had a growth spurt. The molten ball of liquid metal at the center of our planet rapidly crystallized due to lowering temperatures, growing steadily outward until it reached the roughly 760-mile diameter which it’s believed to currently have. That’s the conventional story of the inner core’s creation, anyway. But according to a new paper published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, that story is impossible. In the paper, the researchers argued that the standard model of how the Earth’s core formed is missing a crucial detail about how metals crystallize: a mandatory, massive drop in temperature that would be extremely difficult to achieve at core pressures. Weirder still, the researchers said, once you account for this missing detail, the science seems to suggest that Earth’s inner core shouldn’t exist at all. In their paper, the researchers proposed one possibility to account for the care: Perhaps a massive nugget of solid metal alloy dropped from the mantle and plunged into the liquid core. Like an ice cube dropped into a glass of slowly freezing water, this solid chunk of metal could have lowered the core’s nucleation barrier enough to kick-start a rapid crystallization. There’s a big caveat, though: It would have to be a truly massive chunk of metal to work, a piece with a diameter about the length of the island of Manhattan.

The Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Also Triggered Massive Magma Releases, Study Finds – (Sentinel Source – February 18, 2018)
The asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago appears to have caused huge amounts of magma to spew out of the bottom of the ocean, a new study of seafloor data finds. The discovery, described in the journal Science Advances, adds to the portrait of an extinction event that was as complex as it was deadly. For decades, researchers have pointed to a cataclysmic asteroid smashing into the planet as the reason the dinosaurs, and many other species of life on Earth, were wiped out during what’s formally known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (named for the periods that came before and followed after it). That impact, which scientists think left the roughly 110-mile-wide Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico, would have vaporized living things nearby and sent choking clouds of debris into the air, obscuring the sun. But scientists have also pointed to another culprit: the Deccan Traps in present-day India, one of the largest volcanic provinces in the world, which just happened to be going gangbusters at the time of the extinction event. The ash and noxious gases from the Deccan Traps are really what killed the dinosaurs, some scientists say, downplaying the asteroid’s role. However, recent work has shown that the traps started spewing roughly a quarter-million years before the asteroid hit. This article recounts some very clever data sleuthing that supports the idea that the asteroid triggered even more volcanism in the Deccan Traps than before.


In Soil-dwelling Bacteria, Scientists Find a New Weapon to Fight Drug-resistant Superbugs – (LA Times – February 13, 2018)
It’s a new class of antibiotic that promises to live up to its rough Latin translation: killer of bad guys. In a report published in the journal Nature Microbiology, researchers describe a never-before-seen antibiotic agent that vanquished several strains of multidrug-resistant bacteria. In rats, the agent — which the researchers dubbed malacidin — attacked and broke down the cell walls of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and cleared the animals’ MRSA skin infections within a day. Malacidin is short for metagenomic acidic lipopeptide antibiotic-cidins. (Also, “mal” means bad in Latin, and “cide” means to kill.) It is a distant relative of daptomycin, a powerful antibiotic that uses calcium to disrupt bacterial cell walls. Malacidin appears to work differently than daptomycin, which was introduced in 2003 and has yet to be challenged by resistant bacteria. But scientists have reason to believe it will hold up at least as well. Even after 20 days of continued contact with malacidin — more than enough time for most bacteria to find a way to thwart an antibiotic’s effects — samples of MRSA bacteria showed no signs of evolving resistance to the newly discovered agent. Not bad for a compound that’s been hiding in soil for eons. More remarkable than what it does is how scientists found it, and that process is described at some length in the new report. The result could be new discoveries, and a new way of sifting the soil for compounds that might make good medicine.

CRISPR Isn’t Just for Gene Editing Anymore – (GizModo – February 16, 2018)
Gene editing with CRISPR is so 2017. Recently, scientists have begun exploring new uses for the technology. Pioneers of CRISPR have unveiled three of them. CRISPR works by precisely targeting small snippets of DNA, and then cutting and paste them. This has a lot more value than correcting a disease-causing genetic mutation or cutting out the gene that makes a mushroom brown. In one study, Jennifer Doudna’s UC Berkeley lab used CRISPR as a sort of DNA detective to identify snippets of DNA that might signal a viral infections, cancer, or even defective genes—essentially as a diagnostic tool. In another study, by researchers from MIT and Harvard’s Broad Institute, the CRISPR system was used to locate tumor DNA in blood samples of lung cancer patients. And in yet another Broad Institute study, scientists used CRISPR to create a sort of “black box” for cellular data, recording events inside individual human and bacterial cells by programming CRISPR to, in essence, make edits when significant cellular events occur. That sort of insight into the inner-workings of cells could help us better understand aging and disease. All this adds up to the potential of CRISPR as not just a gene-editing powerhouse, but a multifunctional tool that also works as a biosensor, a medical detective, and an invaluable instrument for basic research.

Breakthrough as Scientists Grow Sheep Embryos Containing Human Cells – (Guardian – February 17, 2018)
Growing human organs inside other animals has taken another step away from science-fiction, with researchers announcing they have grown sheep embryos containing human cells. Scientists say growing human organs inside animals could not only increase supply, but also offer the possibility of genetically tailoring the organs to be compatible with the immune system of the patient receiving them, by using the patient’s own cells in the procedure, removing the possibility of rejection. Bruce Whitelaw, professor of animal biotechnology at the Roslin Institute, where Dolly the sheep was created, said that while there was a long way to go before human organs could be grown in other animals, the latest research is “an important step forward through starting to explore whether sheep offer an option for the exciting ‘chimeric’ project.” The approach is different to xenotransplantation, in which an organ that belongs to another species is transplanted into humans. While that is another possibility for tackling the dearth of organs, rejection would still be a problem. Attempts by scientists to grow organs from one species inside another is an ongoing mission: among previous efforts, scientists have grown a rat pancreas inside a mouse. The team say they have already been able to use genome editing techniques to produce pig and sheep embryos that are unable to develop a pancreas, although they are still working on the approach. The hope is that the human cells introduced to such embryos would grow to replace the missing organ. The team are currently allowed to let the chimeric embryos develop for 28 days, 21 of which are in the sheep. A longer experiment, perhaps up to 70 days, would be more convincing, although that would require additional permission from institutional review boards. “About one in 10,000 cells in these sheep embryos are human,” said Ross. For the approach to work it is thought that about 1% of the embryo’s cells would have to be human, meaning further work is needed to increase the proportion of human cells in the chimera.

Ultrathin, Elastic Skin Display Developed – (Business Standard – February 18, 2018)
Scientists have developed an ultrathin elastic display that fits snugly on the skin and can show the vital signs of the body recorded by an integrated sensor. The readings or electrocardiogram waveforms can be displayed on the screen in real time, or sent to the cloud or a memory device where the information is stored. The newly developed skin electronics system goes a step further by enhancing information accessibility for people such as the elderly or the infirm, who can be monitored in real time while they are at home. The skin display consists of a 16×24 array of micro LEDs and stretchable wiring mounted on a rubber sheet. “Our skin display exhibits simple graphics with motion. Because it is made from thin and soft materials, it can be deformed freely,” said Takao Someya at the University of Tokyo in Japan. The display is stretchable by as much as 45% of its original length. The nanomesh skin sensor can be worn on the skin continuously for a week without causing any inflammation.

Google’s New AI Algorithm Predicts Heart Disease by Looking at Your Eyes – (The Verge – February 19, 2018)
Scientists from Google and its health-tech subsidiary Verily have discovered a new way to assess a person’s risk of heart disease using machine learning. By analyzing scans of the back of a patient’s eye, the company’s software is able to accurately deduce data, including an individual’s age, blood pressure, and whether or not they smoke. This can then be used to predict their risk of suffering a major cardiac event — such as a heart attack — with roughly the same accuracy as current leading methods. The algorithm potentially makes it quicker and easier for doctors to analyze a patient’s cardiovascular risk, as it doesn’t require a blood test. Alun Hughes, professor of Cardiovascular Physiology and Pharmacology at London’s UCL, said Google’s approach sounded credible because of the “long history of looking at the retina to predict cardiovascular risk.” For Google, the work represents more than just a new method of judging cardiovascular risk. It points the way toward a new AI-powered paradigm for scientific discovery. While most medical algorithms are built to replicate existing diagnostic tools (like identifying skin cancer, for example), this algorithm found new ways to analyze existing medical data. With enough data, it’s hoped that artificial intelligence can then create entirely new medical insight without human direction.

Can You Vaccinate Yourself against Cancer? – (CNN – February 21, 2018)
The short answer to the title question is “not yet, but it may not be that long before the answer is yes”. This article opens with an interesting history of the use of various vaccine strategies teach the immune system to recognize a protein, also known as antigen, or a part of a protein that is present on the surface of cancer cells but not normal cells, starting in the 1890s and continuing through 2016. It then explores what’s on the horizon in terms of cancer vaccines, noting that, as research continues to move forward, scientists are turning their attention to personalized cancer vaccines, which means the vaccine could be tailored to the specific cancer cell mutations within an individual patient. “With advancement in the DNA sequencing technology, we have recently seen the emergence of personalized cancer vaccines,” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Dr. Dmitriy Zamarin said. “In the future, we will likely see an explosion of such strategies, which will also most effectively be used in combination with other drugs targeting various mechanisms by which tumors escape the immune system.” This year, two separate studies led by researchers at Stanford University have shown experimental vaccines as possible treatments for cancers in mice.


These Farms Are Testing a Low-Tech Pesticide Alternative: Flowers – (Fast Company – February 5, 2018)
On a farm near the town of Buckingham, England, a crop of oilseed rape–a plant that would normally make the field a solid yellow color–is planted with long, wide rows of wildflowers in the middle. The field is 1 of 14 sites in a study testing how well the wildflowers attract pest-eating bugs, and how well they could help replace commercial pesticides. Tiny parasitic wasps, for example, eat aphids, a pest for multiple crops. But the wasps only provide pest control when they’re first hatched; the adults need to eat pollen and nectar from flowers. In a typical industrial farm field, with a single crop planted across acres, there isn’t enough food for the natural predators to survive. Planting strips of flowers can change that. The study also includes borders of wildflowers around each field, something that some farmers have used over the past two decades in the area to promote general biodiversity, not specifically for pest control. But because small bugs can’t travel far, researchers are testing strips of flowers placed in strips in the middle of fields. “The wide-scale adoption of precision agricultural systems, particularly GPS mapping and precision application technologies, means that it should now possible to implement and protect these in-field habitats,” researchers Ben Woodcock and Richard Pywell, of the U.K.-based Center for Ecology and Hydrology, write in an email. “This would have been very challenging a few years ago. While this is unlikely to eliminate the need to apply pesticide, it may mean that pests populations are maintained below levels at which they cause damage to crops for longer periods, thus reducing the number of pesticide sprays applied.”

Study: 86% of Teens have BPA in Their Bodies – (ParleyTV – February 12, 2018)
In a recent study by the University of Exeter, 86% of teens were found to have Bisphenol A (BPA) in their digestive system. BPA is a chemical added in the production of plastics to make the material flexible yet strong. It is also a known endocrine disruptor; the chemical imitates female sex hormones and has been linked to a number of adverse health effects, such as breast and prostate cancers, low sperm counts and sperm disfigurements in men, liver enzyme abnormalities and cardiovascular issues. BPA has been used since the 1960s, when the use of everyday plastics began to proliferate in society. The chemical is still found in many familiar items, including: the linings of food cans, food containers, water bottles and bottle tops, dental floss, store receipts, DVDs and processed foods. The 94 participants, aged 17-19, in the U.K. study, were asked to avoid foods that may have come into contact with BPA for seven days prior to urine testing. Each received a set of ‘real-world’ guidelines designed to help them limit exposure to the chemical compounds, e.g. avoiding fruits and vegetables packed in plastic containers, as well as canned foods and microwaveable meals. Results indicate it was almost impossible for them to avoid BPA products and that efforts to do so made little to no difference in the levels of BPA found in the teens’ bodies. Furthermore, “participants also told researchers that they were unlikely to keep up a BPA-free diet, because of the difficulty in identifying foods containing the chemical compounds.” This disturbing study is the latest to sound the alarm on the impacts of plastics on human health. It is yet another wake-up call for individuals, businesses and government to take measures to avoid plastics wherever possible — and to demand more transparent labelling on packaging, as well as stricter policies on use, so consumers can make more conscious and informed decisions. Read the original study in the British Medical Journal.


“We’re in a Diversity Crisis”: Cofounder of Black in AI on What’s Poisoning Algorithms in Our Lives – (Technology Review – February 14, 2018)
Artificial intelligence is an increasingly seamless part of our everyday lives, present in everything from web searches to social media to home assistants like Alexa. But what do we do if this massively important technology is unintentionally, but fundamentally, biased? Timnit Gebru is tackling these questions as part of Microsoft’s Fairness, Accountability, Transparency, and Ethics in AI group, which she joined last summer. She notes, “There is a bias to what kinds of problems we think are important, what kinds of research we think are important, and where we think AI should go. If we don’t have diversity in our set of researchers, we are not going to address problems that are faced by the majority of people in the world. When problems don’t affect us, we don’t think they’re that important, and we might not even know what these problems are, because we’re not interacting with the people who are experiencing them.” And this, “Something I’m really passionate about and I’m working on right now is to figure out how to encourage companies to give more information to users or even researchers. They should have recommended usage, what the pitfalls are, how biased the data set is, etc. So that when I’m a startup and I’m just taking your off-the-shelf data set or off-the-shelf model and incorporating it into whatever I’m doing, at least I have some knowledge of what kinds of pitfalls there may be. Right now we’re in a place almost like the Wild West, where we don’t really have many standards [about] where we put out data sets.”

SpaceX Hid a Second, Secret Payload Aboard Falcon Heavy, and It Sounds Amazing – (Science Alert – February 12, 2018)
Elon Musk’s personal Tesla might have gotten all the headlines during SpaceX’s historic rocket launch, but the Falcon Heavy also carried a second, secret payload almost nobody knew about. Stashed inside the midnight-cherry Roadster was a mysterious, small object designed to last for millions (perhaps billions) of years – even in extreme environments like space, or on the distant surfaces of far-flung planetary bodies. Called an Arch (pronounced ‘Ark’), this tiny storage device is built for long-term data archiving, holding libraries of information encoded on a small disc of quartz crystal, not much larger than a coin. According to Arch Mission Foundation, the California-based nonprofit behind the technology, these Archs could “preserve and disseminate humanity’s knowledge across time and space, for the benefit of future generations”. The technology, developed by physicist Peter Kazansky from the University of Southampton in the UK, can theoretically hold up to 360 terabytes of data, about the same amount as 7,000 Blu-Ray discs. Arch 1.1 and Arch 1.2, are said to be two of the longest-lasting storage objects ever created by humans, theoretically stable for up to 14 billion years, thanks to ‘5D data storage’ inscribed by laser nanostructuring in quartz silica glass. The Arch 1.2 disc currently making its way through space on Musk’s Tesla Roadster at a cruising speed of some 8,021 mph has been loaded up with Issac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy – a seminal sci-fi classic, similarly concerned with the concept of preserving human knowledge and culture in a vast, unforgiving Universe.

5G Cellphone Towers Signal Renewed Concerns Over Impacts On Health – (CBS – January 25, 2018)
Wireless carriers are installing millions of cell towers across the country. It’s called a “small cell” or “distributed antenna system.” Many people are asking: Are there legitimate health concerns?. The industry says they’re safe. Many people aren’t convinced. However, according to federal law, cities simply can’t consider health concerns. It’s outlined in a small section of the Telecommunications Act. If cities do consider health, cell companies can sue them. So, with few legal arguments to deny a tower, they’re popping up outside bedroom windows and school campuses, despite objections from across the country. The International Association of Firefighters … began opposing cell towers on fire stations, after firefighters complained of health problems. “These firefighters developed symptoms,” says Dr. Gunnar Heuser. “The symptoms included problems with memory, problems with intermittent confusion, problems with weakness,” Heuser said. Heuser says their brain scans suggest even low-level RF can cause cell damage. “We found abnormal brain function in all of the firefighters we examined,” Heuser said. So, following lobbying by firefighters, officials in Piedmont, California exempted fire stations from their bill, making them one place cell companies couldn’t put a tower. See also: In January, 2015, France banned WiFi in nursery schools.


Bricking it: Turning Human Waste into Clean Fuel – (Positive News – February 14, 2018)
Andrew Foote is a 29-year-old US environment engineer. His social enterprise is transforming human waste into a clean, affordable fuel in Kenya. It smells like the future. He knows that discussing human waste and how it’s managed is “not super glamorous”. Yet, equally, he knows if he doesn’t talk about it, then few others will. Even in international development circles, it remains taboo. Yet the poop problem is at crisis levels in many poor countries. In Kenya, for instance, where Foote co-founded his firm Sanivation in 2014, an average of 17,000 under-fives die of diarrhea every year. Foote is convinced these deaths could be avoided if the children had access to a clean, safe toilet. So that’s what Sanivation does: it provides toilets to some of the poorest householders in Naivasha, a large market town north-west of Nairobi. The cost: just $2 per month. But it’s what then happens to all this “faecal fudge” (another of Foote’s euphemisms) that’s most remarkable. Sanivation collects the human waste of its participating householders and processes it using a solar thermal technology of its own design. It is then converted into charcoal-like briquettes, which are sold in the local community for cooking and domestic heating. The briquettes provide a lower-carbon and longer-lasting alternative to charcoal, producing just a third of the carbon emissions of conventional briquettes. Together with the Norwegian Refugee Council, Sanivation has set up a similar scheme in Kakuma refugee camp near the border with South Sudan. It provides sanitation services to 2,500 people in total and has sold 70,000 tons of briquettes (saving more than 6,000 trees).


Elon Musk’s Boring Company Receives Go-ahead to Start DC to NYC Hyperloop Tunnel – (Dezeen – February 20, 2018)
Entrepreneur Elon Musk has been given written permission to begin digging a transportation tunnel in Washington DC, which could eventually facilitate a 29-minute journey between the capital and New York City. Musk’s infrastructure firm The Boring Company now has the paperwork to start work on a Hyperloop transport link in the US Northeast, after receiving verbal government approval last summer. The permit, issued in November 2017, allows preliminary tests and digging on the site at 53 New York Avenue NE in Washington DC – close to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and next to a McDonald’s restaurant. The currently empty plot could eventually become a station for the super-high-speed transit line, which is planned to connect DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. Hyperloop lines have so far been proposed to link Dubai and Abu Dhabi; central European capitals Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest; and several urban areas between Mexico City and Guadalajara.


The Restaurant Where Grandmas Cook to Share Their Cultures – (Yes – February 20, 2018)
After losing his mother and sister within the same year, Jody Scaravella was struggling to figure out life without the matriarchs of his family. His grandmother had died seven years before, and he was desperate for an outlet to transform his pain into healing. Scaravella turned back to his upbringing for solace, and nearly 11 years ago opened restaurant Enoteca Maria in the heart of St. George, Staten Island’s historic district. His intention was not just to serve up hearty Italian meals passed down from previous generations, but to bring together the Italian grandmothers of New York to cook them. Each dish is prepared with the love that only a grandmother can give. Since then, Italian grandmothers with little to no professional training have come into Enoteca Maria to cook their own menus on a rotating schedule. The next logical step, Scaravella says, was to expand the restaurant’s concept and invite grandmothers from different cultures. “So many of the people who came and celebrated our Italian nonnas were not themselves Italian,” he says. “I wanted this to be inclusive.” Since expanding the concept in 2015, Enoteca Maria has attracted grandmothers from Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Syria, and more. “These women really represent their culture. They are the vessels that carry this culture forward,” Scaravella says. “On the first day that the new nonna cooks, we have one of the other nonnas that’s already cooked come in as an advocate to walk her through,” the process, Scaravella explains. “The advocate acts as the go-between and shows her how this all happens.” Despite language barriers, the grandmothers always manage to create a truly unique and special experience. “I’ve seen situations where they didn’t understand any words but they had a great time and connected,” he says. “Everyone is just cooking together in the kitchen and sharing culture.” Like Scaravella, many of the grandmothers who come into Enoteca Maria share a similar desire to connect and nurture their own loss, whether it is a loved one or leaving behind their homeland. In 2015, publishing company Simon and Schuster partnered with Enoteca Maria to launch Nonna’s House: Cooking and Reminiscing with the Italian Grandmothers of Enoteca Maria, a collection of recipes and stories. Scaravella is now working on a follow-up, Nonnas of the World, which will feature an extensive collection of recipes from grandmothers around the world.


Deploy or Get Out: New Pentagon Plan Could Boot Thousands of Non-deployable Troops – (Military Times – February 5, 2018)
Service members who have been non-deployable for the past 12 months or more will be separated from the military, based on new Defense Department policies that are under final review. “The department intends to emphasize the expectation that all service members are worldwide deployable and to establish standardized criteria for retaining non-deployable service members,” said Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Approximately 11%, or 235,000, of the 2.1 million personnel serving on active duty, in the reserves or National Guard are currently non-deployable, according to Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford. Of that total non-deployable force, Troxell said, about 99,000 are on that list for administrative reasons, such as not having all their immunizations or their required dental exams. About 20,000 are not deployable due to pregnancy, and 116,000 are not deployable due to either short- or long-term injuries. For certain non-deployable personnel, such as wounded warriors, the services would retain the ability to grant exceptions to the retention policy. And in some cases, the official number of service members on limited-duty status might be only a fraction of the true number. In 2013, the Naval Audit Service found that nearly 16,000 officers and sailors — or more than four times the official number — were medically unqualified to deploy but were not officially on limited-duty status. The great majority of those were “hiding” on shore duty, opting to use that time to quietly get healed and not allowing themselves to come up on the Navy’s limited-duty radar, which has consequences related to pay and promotions. Five years ago, the Army had 50,000 active-duty soldiers who were non-deployable. The Army whittled that number down to 20,000 as of mid-2017, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. However, estimates still put another 80,000 non-deployables in the National Guard and Army Reserve, where longer deployment cycles and infrequent face-time with commanders can make it easier to ignore an illness or injury.


Democracy, When It Suits Us – (Boston Globe – February 3, 2018)
Democracy is disintegrating in Venezuela, and American leaders are outraged. Our vociferous ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, denounced a recent constitutional referendum in Venezuela as a “sham” and “another step toward dictatorship.” Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asserted that the leftist Venezuelan government has created a “lawless environment,” and demanded that the United Nations “create a special envoy for Venezuela to monitor and address these issues.” Ritual denunciations of Venezuela, however, do not reflect true concern about the fading of freedom there. Venezuela has been a thorn in our side — to some, a dagger at our heart — ever since the late Hugo Chavez was inaugurated as president in 1999. During the Iraq War, Chavez famously called President George W. Bush “the devil.” Since his death in 2013, Venezuelan leaders have continued to support countries and movements we consider anti-American. Venezuela defies and challenges our power in the Western Hemisphere. That has led us to discover a passion for the democratic rights of its citizens. Yet just recently, with the blessing of the United States, a government that evidently stole an election was installed in Honduras. President Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in for a second term despite the fact that the Honduran constitution forbids re-election. What we say we detest in Venezuela, we pretend not to notice in Honduras. Last November’s presidential election in Honduras was straight from the banana-republic playbook. Nonetheless, vote counters announced that the opposition candidate was winning and seemed headed to victory. Then the counting stopped. After several days of silence, the official result was announced: Hernández had been re-elected by a margin of 1.5%. The State Department pronounced itself “pleased” with the Honduran election. A leaked diplomatic cable explained why: President Hernández has “consistently supported US interests.” He showed that support most recently in December, when Honduras was one of only nine countries at the United Nations that voted to approve the opening of an American embassy in Jerusalem.


Russia’s Troll Identities Were More Sophisticated Than Anyone Thought – (The Verge – February 16, 2018)
The Russian troll farm has been hit with its first major indictment. One of the most surprising lessons of the indictment is just how seriously the Russians took their fake identities. We might associate troll accounts with spam or weird visuals, but at least some of the accounts described by Mueller were backed up by full-scale identity theft. According to the indictment, defendants used stolen Social Security numbers to build entire false personas, complete with fraudulent photo IDs and PayPal accounts. Crucially, the stolen Social Security numbers meant all of it was happening in a real US citizen’s name. If anyone looked into the person behind the account, they’d see a long paper trail and plenty of government-issued verification to settle their suspicions. The Russians seem to have also received help from a California man named Richard Pinedo, who’s been indicted for selling bank account numbers linked to the stolen identities. The trickiest thing would have been the newly created financial accounts, used to funnel money to political operations in the US, but those accounts wouldn’t have looked suspicious from the outside. The name and Social Security number might be stolen, but they matched each other, and the money and transactions were all real. To anyone in the US, it would have looked like an American citizen visiting a real-name account from an American IP address. That’s a big shift from how we’ve thought of Russian interference for the past year, and it makes things much harder for Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the internet. Stopping this kind of fake account is much harder, and it cuts at the heart of how identity works on networks like Facebook. We know how to look for malware or scams, but these accounts weren’t doing anything out of bounds for a regular user. We know how to look for bots, but these accounts were directed by real humans. We know how to verify identities, but with a photo ID and a valid Social Security number, these trolls would have passed every verification test in the industry. It’s hard to know how to protect against that.


What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn – (New York Times – February 15, 2018)
Preliminary analysis of data from a 2016 Indiana University survey of more than 600 pairs of children and their parents reveals a parental naïveté gap: Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it. And depending on the sex act, parents underestimated what their kids saw by as much as 10 times. It’s hard to know if, and how, this translates into behavior. While some studies show a small number of teens who watch higher rates of porn engage in earlier sex as well as gender stereotyping and sexual relationships that are less affectionate than their peers, these only indicate correlations, not cause and effect. But surveys do suggest that the kinds of sex some teenagers have may be shifting. Over the year in which I spoke to dozens of older teenagers at Start Strong and around the country, many said that both porn and mainstream media — everything from the TV show “Family Guy” (which references choking and anal sex) to Nicki Minaj’s song “Truffle Butter” (with an apparent allusion to anal sex followed by vaginal sex) to the lyrics in Rihanna’s “S&M” (“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me”) — made anal and rough sex seem almost commonplace. These images confound many teenagers about the kinds of sex they want or think they should have. In part, that’s because they aren’t always sure what is fake and what is real in porn. Though some told me that porn was fantasy or exaggerated, others said that porn wasn’t real only insofar as it wasn’t typically two lovers having sex on film. Some of those same teenagers assumed the portrayal of how sex and pleasure worked was largely accurate. That seems to be in keeping with a 2016 survey of 1,001 11-to-16-year-olds in Britain. Of the roughly half who had seen pornography, 53% of boys and 39% of girls said it was “realistic.” The article then discusses a class for high school students known as Porn Literacy. The course, with the official title The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students Designed to Reduce Sexual and Dating Violence, is a recent addition to Start Strong, a peer-leadership program for teenagers headquartered in Boston’s South End and funded by the city’s public-health agency. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article in that it takes for granted that on-line pornography is now a fact of life for young people and explores ways in which to teach them how to see what it is – and isn’t.)

A New Netflix Show Wants to Manipulate People into Committing Murder – (The Verge – February 20, 2018)
Yes, you read that right. Reality shows, on the whole, have never been particularly ethical endeavors. From beauty pageants where women got plastic surgery makeovers to substance abuse intervention shows that allowed participants to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol, their interest has always been less in exploring the human condition and more in producing the most outlandish, desperate, and provocative behavior possible for the entertainment of the audience. But Netflix is poised to take this shameless impulse to the next level with The Push, a reality show designed to manipulate people into committing murder. No one commits “real” murder; we haven’t reached The Running Man levels of depravity… yet. But with the help of Derren Brown, who bills himself as a “psychological illusionist,” The Push plunges a seemingly unaware contestant into an elaborately constructed scenario involving 70 actors — one devised specifically to encourage him to push an old man off a building. The idea that people can do horrific things when coerced to do so by an authority figure — or an elaborately constructed psychological scenario — is not a revelation in the year 2018; it’s a thinly veiled excuse for watching a man get traumatized into committing “murder” on television for entertainment, not to mention the plot of the 1997 movie The Game. The Push appears to go several steps further, by convincing its subject / victim that he will go to prison if he does not kill. Falsely telling someone to kill or go to prison goes well beyond a matter of social compliance to actively threatening and coercing them, not that this matters to Brown and company. In the end, we will learn nothing from the show except that we are still so willing to force each other into these modern-day gladiator arenas, and watch each other suffer so that we might be entertained.

What Happens When White Parents Adopt Black Children and Move to Black Neighborhoods – (Yes – February 14, 2018)
Vickie Summerquist is White; as is her husband, Brad. Their two sons, Tyrese and Ruson, are both Black. This particular combination of race, family, and neighborhood puts the Summerquists in an interesting group: White parents raising Black kids in historically Black neighborhoods. Many White adoptive parents are realizing they are limited in what they can offer their Black children. They are seeking community with people who look like their children in hopes of helping them navigate the challenges of growing up Black in America. From Minnesota to Tennessee to Washington, I’ve interacted with many White adoptive parents who are choosing to move from their (usually) affluent, mostly White neighborhoods to less affluent, mostly Black neighborhoods. Whether for their kids or for cheap housing, White folks moving into historically Black, or Brown neighborhoods has a name we’ve been hearing in Seattle a lot lately. It’s called gentrification. Transracial adoption often manifests as privileged, White parents adopting kids of color: 73% of all adopted children of color are adopted into White families. The prevalence of White parents adopting children of color has been a concern for a long time. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers called transracial adoption cultural genocide, asserting that non-Black parents are not capable of preserving a Black child’s culture or building their identity as a person of color in the United States. Many adoptive parents disagree. In the 1980s, a White adoptive parent reflected an often-repeated sentiment among White adoptive families. “The quickest cure for racism would be to have everyone in the country adopt a child of another race,” he said. “No matter what your beliefs, when you hold a 4-day-old infant, love him, and care for him, you don’t see skin color, you see a little person that is very much in need of your love.” Many transracial adoptive families are caught amid the continuing debate, however, working hard to provide the best possible life for their children—keeping their original culture, race and identity in mind. This article goes on to explore many of the specific issued involved, both for families and communities.


Something Violent Happened to Our Solar System’s First Interstellar Visitor – (Live Science – February 13, 2018)
An interstellar object called ‘Oumuamua has confounded astronomers ever since it passed through our solar system in October of last year. Scientists initially thought that the object — the first-ever visitor from another solar system spotted by Earth-based telescopes — was a comet. Later, they considered it an asteroid and even later described it as a possibly comet-like icy body with a rocky crust. Now, scientists have found that in addition to its confusing appearance, ‘Oumuamua — an up to 1,300-foot-long, cucumber-shaped object — likely has a rather dramatic history. When astronomers from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland observed the changes in the object’s brightness, they found that it is not spinning regularly, like the majority of known asteroids and small bodies in the solar system do. Rather, it is chaotically tumbling. ‘Oumuamua’s erratic motion might be a result of a collision with another asteroid. Wes Fraser, one of the researchers behind the latest paper on ‘Oumuamua, said “While we don’t know the cause of the tumbling, we predict that it was most likely sent tumbling by an impact with another planetesimal in its system, before it was ejected into interstellar space. Our modeling of this body suggests the tumbling will last for many billions of years to hundreds of billions of years before internal stresses cause it to rotate normally again.” Scientists will probably never answer all the questions about ‘Oumuamua, because the object is long gone and never to return.

Is Humanity Ready for the Discovery of Alien Life? – (Scientific American – February 16, 2018)
Throughout history most strange new cosmic phenomena have made us wonder: Could this be it, the moment we first face alien life? The expectation isn’t necessarily outlandish—many scientists can and do make elaborate, evidence-based arguments that we will eventually discover life beyond the bounds of our planet. “There’s this feeling amongst the public—a very large fraction of the public—that the discovery of intelligent life at least would be kept secret by the government because otherwise everybody would just go bonkers,” says Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute who was not involved with the study. Perhaps it might make sense for our brains—tuned by millions of years of evolution to be wary of predators—to freak out over immensely powerful alien beings arriving on our cosmic doorstep from parts unknown. And here’s the underlying question of interest: If it’s a discovery somewhere in between the extremes of an extraterrestrial microbe and rapacious, hostile aliens laying siege to Earth, will people respond differently based on the era or society they live in? Short take-away: Most Americans would probably be thrilled to learn extraterrestrials (intelligent or not) exist. Other nationalities beg to differ. That said, the research basically supports that idea that “Culture may be a strong determinant of how we respond to novelty,” according to Cornelius Gross, a neuroscientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory–Rome who studies the neural circuitry of fear and was also not involved with the research.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot May Have Only 10 to 20 Years Left Before It Dies – (Business Insider – February 18, 2018)
Get a good look at Jupiter’s Great Red Spot while you can. The giant storm as we know it today is shrinking, and it might fade into memory within your lifetime. Jupiter’s super-storm is wider than Earth and has been swirling around since perhaps the 1600s. Glenn Orton, a lead Juno mission team member and planetary scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained why the storm has lasted so long, “Think of the GRS [Great Red Spot] as a spinning wheel that keeps on spinning because it’s caught between two conveyor belts that are moving in opposite directions. The GRS is stable and long-lived because it’s ‘wedged’ between two jet streams that are moving in opposite directions.” Jupiter’s jet streams can move at speeds of more than 300 mph, so they impart great force onto any storms that spin backward relative to the planet’s rotation. That keeps “feeding momentum into the vortex,” Orton said. In the late 1800s, the storm was perhaps as wide as 30 degrees longitude, Orton said. That works out to more than 35,000 miles — four times the diameter of Earth. When the nuclear-powered spacecraft Voyager 2 flew by Jupiter in 1979, however, the storm had shrunk to a bit more twice the width of our own planet. “Now it’s something like 13 degrees wide in longitude and only 1.3 times the size of the Earth,” he said. “Nothing lasts forever.”


Nobody Really Knows Why the Tube is Getting Less and Less Crowded – (Wired – February 14, 2018)
It’s hard to tell if you recently squeezed into a Tube carriage at rush hour, but for the first time in 20 years, fewer people are riding the London Underground than in the previous year. With 20 million fewer journeys made (roughly equivalent to four million fewer passengers) when compared with the year up to last November, it’s equal to four days of normal Tube operation. Transport for London is now expecting £240m less in fares this year, which will increase its already considerable deficit, expected to reach £1 billion by the end of the financial year. But who are the people that have let their Oyster cards gather dust? Why have they stopped using the Tube? What are they doing instead? Regular London Underground riders (the ones who are still using it anyway), might be wondering at this point why, if there are millions fewer passengers, you still can’t get a seat on your train to work. “The question is when and where these drops are coming off,” says Tom Colthorpe, a researcher for the Centre for London. Current analysis by TfL’s passenger surveys shows that this is still a concern for travellers, with worries about safety and security increasing by 11% since mid-2017, in the wake of the London Bridge attack. But as Colthorpe explains, these “one offs” do not account for longer term trends. And rising prices may have forced some habitual Tube users to look to alternative transport options to escape the rising costs. But the most likely answer is the influence of technology on people’s travelling habits. The rise in flexibly working, with more people working from home, might be partly to blame. Uber also competes directly with TfL for passengers, while Deliveroo and Netflix are keeping people at home when previously they might have gone out for dinner or an evening at the cinema. Colthorpe says this kind of “systematic” cause is a much more logical reason for the drop. There are a variety of options in terms of covering the financial shortfall; what’s interesting here is the multiple subtle ways in which technology is changing people’s behavioral patterns.


The Secret on the Ocean Floor – (BBC News – February 19, 2018)
A wave of pioneers is poised to scoop up treasure from the deep sea. But was this ocean mining boom sparked by a 1970s CIA plot? In the summer of 1974, a large and highly unusual ship set sail from Long Beach in California. It was heading for the middle of the Pacific where its owners boasted it would herald a revolutionary new industry beneath the waves. Equipped with a towering rig and the latest in drilling gear, the vessel was designed to reach down through the deep, dark waters to a source of incredible wealth lying on the ocean floor. It was billed as the boldest step so far in a long-held dream of opening a new frontier in mining, one that would see valuable metals extracted from the rocks of the seabed. But amid all the excited public relations, there was one small hitch – the whole expedition was a lie. This was a Cold War deception on a staggering scale, but one which also left a legacy that has profound implications nearly half a century later. The real target of the crew on board this giant ship was a lost Soviet submarine. Six years earlier, the K-129 had sunk 1,500 miles north-west of Hawaii while carrying ballistic nuclear missiles. The Russians failed to find their sub despite a massive search, but an American network of underwater listening posts had detected the noise of an explosion that eventually led US teams to the wreck. It was lying three miles down, deeper than any previous salvage operation. To say the least, things did not go smoothly. But in fact it proved that with clever engineering and a lavish budget it was possible – just – to operate in the otherworldly depths. Nearly half a century after the CIA men pretended to mine the ocean floor, Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian firm is about to do it for real. A Chinese firm has already agreed to buy all of the material brought to the surface. Nautilus Minerals forecasts that in copper alone an emerging undersea industry in oceans around the world could be worth $30bn a year by 2030. And it claims that by mining a small area of seabed, the venture will be friendlier to the environment. Nonetheless, the environmental impact makes the prospect of deep sea mining highly controversial.

Researchers Observe Electrons Zipping Around in Crystals – (Phys Org – February 1, 2018)
The end of the silicon age has begun. As computer chips approach the physical limits of miniaturization and power-hungry processors drive up energy costs, scientists are looking to a new crop of exotic materials that could foster a new generation of computing devices that promise to push performance to new heights while skimping on energy consumption. Known as spintronics, this technology relies on a quantum physical property of electrons—up or down spin—to process and store information, rather than moving them around with electricity as conventional computing does. On the quest to making spintronic devices a reality, scientists at the University of Arizona are studying an exotic crop of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs. TMDs have exciting properties lending themselves to new ways of processing and storing information and could provide the basis of future transistors and photovoltaics—and potentially even offer an avenue toward quantum computing. There is a catch, however: Most TMDs show their magic only in the form of sheets that are very large, but only one to three atoms thin. Such atomic layers are challenging enough to manufacture on a laboratory scale, let alone in industrial mass production. Oliver Monti, a professor in Univ. of Arizona’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and his research team recently discovered a possible shortcut. “We show that for some of these properties, you don’t need to go to the atomically thin sheets,” he says. “You can go to the much more readily accessible crystalline form that’s available off the shelf. Some of the properties are saved and survive.”


The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos – (Medium – February 15, 2018)
From a financial point of view, Amazon doesn’t behave much like a successful 21st-century company. Amazon has not bought back its own stock since 2012. Amazon has never offered its shareholders a dividend. Unlike its peers Google, Apple, and Facebook, Amazon does not hoard cash. Instead, whenever it has resources, Amazon invests in capacity, which results in growth at a ridiculous clip. This can be summarizes in one sentence: It took Amazon 18 years as a public company to catch Walmart in market cap, but only two more years to double it. From the perspective of the average consumer, it’s hard to beat Amazon. The single-minded focus on efficiency and growth has worked, and delivery convenience is perhaps the one area of American life that has kept up with our past expectations for the future. In aggregate, as average consumers, we should be cheering. But as members of a national community, I hope we stop to ask if efficiency is all we want from our delivery infrastructure. Lowering costs as far as possible sounds good until you remember that one of those costs is labor. One of those costs is us. Earlier this month, Amazon was awarded two patents for a wristband system that would track the movement of warehouse employees’ hands in real time. It’s easy to see how this could lead to a gain in efficiency: If the company can optimize employee movements, everything can be done faster and cheaper. It’s also easy to see how, for those workers, this is a significant step down the path into a dystopian hellworld. If you follow the Bezos strategy all the way, it ends in The Matrix, with workers swaddled in a pod of perfect convenience and perfect exploitation. Central planning in its capitalist form turns people into another cost to be reduced as low as possible. (Editor’s note: This article is a good example of what one might call “seeing only halfway down the road”; what it doesn’t contemplate is the enormous efficiency and cost saving of almost no human labor.)


The Last Real Evangelical – (TruthDig – February 23, 2018)
Billy Graham was determined to remind Christian believers that God calls us to “do justice; love mercy; and walk humbly.” The writer of this eulogy, who knew Dr. Graham as a personal friend, remembers him as a man who made it clear that being “born again” is not enough. God’s spirit calls us to work for peace as well, to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and confront the powers that lead to death for our planet and for all those who live upon it. Billy’s book, Approaching Hoofbeats, was rich in personal stories that illustrated what must be done if we are to stop the four horsemen: war, famine, plague and death. “Even in Eisenhower’s time, we could hear the hoof beats,” Billy said. “But now they are upon us and when we don’t answer Christ’s call to do justice and love mercy,” he warned, “when we don’t feed the hungry and house the homeless, when we don’t welcome and care for the outcast, we sin, and the Bible promises that we will be judged for that sin.” This is an article that demonstrates how – and why – his positions on many issues were surprisingly open and compassionate rather than “hard line”. For example, Graham infuriated fundamentalist Christians when he said, “I used to think that pagans in far-off countries were lost—were going to hell—if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that. … I believe there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God—through nature, for instance—and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying yes to God.” (Editor’s note: Particularly if you aren’t familiar with the many of the specifics of Dr. Graham’s preaching, we recommend this article.)

Every Solution to Mass Shootings Inevitably Involves a Serious Trade-off – (LA Times – February 14, 2018)
It is, by now, a horrifyingly familiar story. Indeed, the familiarity is what should horrify us the most: A school shooting with a bunch of people dead, many of them children, the rest teachers. Our exhibitionist culture may encourage disturbed people to perform acts of retribution that guarantee them maximum publicity; think of the mass shooter as taking a kind of mass selfie of rage. But that genie can’t be put back in the bottle, either, at least not without a massive campaign against freedom of expression. What can we do? What should we do? The answers are not easy, and they inevitably involve a trade-off: accepting the unacceptable, or restricting our freedoms. The three big ones are freedom of the press (publicity gives oxygen to these kinds of acts, so restricting coverage will reduce copycats); the right to bear arms (guns don’t cause human evil, but of course they make it easier to carry out); and due process (targeting potential mass shooters, or mentally ill people in general, is possible, but requires us to curtail Americans’ civil rights before they have actually committed a crime). It is by no means clear that any of these solutions would be more effective than the others, and each of them involves punishing a very large number of people in order to stop the evil-doings of a very small number of people.

The 11 Best School Systems in the World – (Business Insider – November 18, 2016)
Every year, the World Economic Forum releases its Global Competitiveness Report on the state of the world’s economies. have drilled down into the schooling data to look at which countries have the best education systems. Neither the US or the UK make the grade in the top 11 (3 countries are tied for 9th, making 11 the clearest cut off point.) Here are the ones that did make the grade. Finland, rated #1, routinely tops rankings of global education systems and is famous for having no banding systems — all pupils, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classes. As a result, the gap between the weakest and the strongest pupils is the smallest in the world. Finnish schools also give relatively little homework and have only one mandatory test at age 16. . You can read more about the Finnish education system here: 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System. Michael Moore has recently completed a 9 minute YouTube clip on Finnish education. Some of the content stretches the facts, (e.g there are a few private schools in Finland – although still largely state supported), but on the whole, it’s a good exploration of the Finnish model of education.

“Happiness” – Animated Short Film – (Forbidden Knowledge – January 26, 2018)
The message is not new: The pursuit of happiness, per se, is unlikely to result in happiness. Rather it may leave you terminally enmeshed in the ratrace as you chase after all the purported markers of happiness. However, the graphics of this 21st century homily are well done. The musical clips accompanying the animation were chosen with care and a wry humor. If you have about 4 ½ minutes to spare, cue it up.

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

‘Loneliest Tree’ Records Human Epoch – (BBC News – February 19, 2018)
It’s been dubbed “the loneliest tree on the planet” because of its remote location, but the Sitka spruce might represent something quite profound about the age in which we live. The spruce shouldn’t really be on Campbell Island, which is some 600km from the southern tip of New Zealand. Its natural habitat is found at northern Pacific latitudes, but a single tree was placed on the subantarctic island around 1905, possibly as the start of an intended plantation. The next nearest tree is on the Auckland Islands about 200km to the northwest. The tree records in its wood a clear radioactive trace from the A-bomb tests of the 1950s and 60s. As such, it could be the “golden spike” scientists are seeking to define the start of the Anthropocene Epoch – a new time segment in our geological history of Earth. The suggestion is that whatever is taken as the golden spike, it should reflect the so-called “Great Acceleration” when human impacts on the planet suddenly intensified and became global in extent. This occurred shortly after WWII and is seen for example in the explosion in plastics production. Chris Turney, from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues, say the Sitka spruce captures this change exquisitely in the chemistry of its growth rings. Turney and colleagues drilled a fine core into the spruce, which has wide, sharply delineated growth rings, and examined the wood’s chemistry. (Taking a wooden core sample does not harm the tree.) They found a big leap in the amount of carbon-14 in a part of a ring representing the latter half of 1965. This peak in the radioactive form of the element is an unambiguous signature of the atmospheric nuclear tests that occurred post-war. The radioisotope would have been incorporated into the tree as carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Co-author Mark Maslin, from University College London, UK, says the date comes just after the ban on atmospheric nuclear testing (1963), but describes that moment when the fallout from previous detonations had truly gone worldwide and even inveigled itself into the biosphere of the planet. Tuney observed, “If you want to represent the Anthropocene with the start of The Great Acceleration, then this is the perfect record to define it. And what’s really nice is that we planted a tree where it shouldn’t be which has then given us this beautiful record of what we’ve done to the planet.”


Deaf Singer Gets Simon Cowell’s GOLDEN BUZZER – (You Tube – June 7, 2017)
The title says it. It’s quite wonderful to see how this woman has pursued her passion as a vocal artist, despite being profoundly deaf.


Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday. — John Wayne

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


Edited by John L. Petersen

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

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

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