FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- A wavelength of ultraviolet light known as far-UVC can kill superbugs safely, without penetrating our skin.
- Between October and November, the number of mobile devices that encountered at least one cryptojacking script increased by 287%.
- The U.S. deployed special ops teams or personnel to 149 of the 190 (or so) nations on this planet in 2017.
- Tokyo-based Ispace Inc. has said it raised $90 million to establish a “projection mapping service” (translation: billboards) on the moon’s surface.
by John L. Petersen
Gregg Braden Coming to Berkeley Springs
NYT best-selling author and international researcher on the leading edge of science and spirituality, Gregg Braden, will be coming to Berkeley Springs again on Saturday, the 20th of January for our TransitionTalks.
Gregg has a new book out, Human by Design: From Evolution by Chance to Transformation by Choice, and his all-new presentation will feature three-hours of fresh materials derived from this latest research.
We’re rapidly approaching selling out for this talk, so if you want to attend, you should register very soon.
I talked to Gregg about his presentation recently. Here’s what he had to say:
Nobel Peace Prize nominee and strategic thinker, Robert David Steele, will be with us on February 10th. Always articulate, provocative and inventive, Robert’s talk will certainly have you looking at the world in a different – and more informed – way.
All information on the Gregg Braden and Robert Steele talks can be found at www.TransitionTalks.org.
YES, I’LL HELP KEEP FUTUREDITION COMING!
I really think it is important that you have access to the information that we publish in FUTUREdition. Providing a unique window onto the most extraordinary period of change in history is our mission. That’s why we cover all of the unusual – but significant – happenings that we do.
Our objective is to touch a little on most of the likely shapers of the emerging new world . . . so that none of us are greatly surprised by what actually transpires. We’re trying to illuminate the path ahead to help you be able to anticipate what is inbound.
Right now, for example, I’m trying to finish up a solar electric system on our roof and put in place a vertical farming operation because I believe that the climate will change to being colder within the next 3-4 years. If you’ve been closely following FE over the last couple of years, then you know about the mini-ice age that many international indicators now point toward. There will likely be problems with agriculture and energy, they say.
There’s also a really good chance that we’re the first ones who told you about the former government officials who stood up in October and said that UFO’s are real . . . and that they’re starting a new initiative to make sure that secrets the government has been keeping will get public exposure.
Some of these things are controversial. But if they turn out to be what they look like they might, then the whole planet changes. And because you read about it in FUTUREdition, you will not be surprised.
FUTUREdition is pretty much a labor of love. I don’t get anything for my time, but I have to pay my dedicated associates who help with the editing and computer coding. And there are the costs for the service that sends out each issue twice a month.
It all totals up to about $15,000 a year and that’s why every holiday season we give our subscribers the opportunity to help support this work and offset these expenses.
Consider this. Do you think an issue of FE is worth a cup of coffee? If that sounded fair, then by Starbucks pricing, at least, you’d be saying that you receive about $72 of value during the year from what we send you with no obligation.
I’m not asking you to send a gift of $72 (unless you want to, of course), but how about consider making a tax-deductible contribution of $49? That would be less than a latte . . . and a great help to keeping FE coming your way.
Maybe you would like to give $100 or $500. Every year, some of our readers do that and more. They think this effort to illuminate the path ahead is particularly valuable and they get information from us that they couldn’t get anywhere else.
There are a lot of wonderful people who are doing amazing work to make this a better world . . . who are certainly also trying to get your attention at this time of year. I hope that you’ll help those that you think are doing a good job.
And I hope that you’ll include us in that group – so that we can continue to send FUTUREdition your way in 2018. I can promise you one thing: It’s going to be an extraordinarily interesting year. And we’ll do our best to make sure that you’ll have a front-row seat.
You can contribute $49 – or anything you’d like – by clicking here.
Thank you so very much.
My warmest holiday wishes,
John L. Petersen
Silicon Valley Is Turning into Its Own Worst Fear – (BuzzFeed – December 18, 2017)
This summer, Elon Musk spoke to the National Governors Association and told them that “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization,” because, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect. This sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies. Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? The hypothetical AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do – grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. When Silicon Valley tries to imagine a superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism. (Editor’s note: If you have time for only one article in this set of links, read this one.)
Impeachment Drive Builds Digital Footprint to Take on Trump – (Politico – December 27, 2017)
When billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer launched a digital petition drive to impeach President Donald Trump two months ago, some Democratic Party leaders dismissed it as an unhelpful vanity project — and even Steyer thought he’d top out at a million signatures. But nearly four million digital signatures later, campaign experts say Steyer’s petition drive is breaking new ground in digital organizing in the nontraditional political terrain of the Trump era, though it’s been anchored by a traditional media onslaught — national television ads that have been running nonstop since Oct. 20. So far, 3.73 million people have signed on to Steyer’s NeedToImpeach.com drive, which has brought his message into the living rooms of millions of average Americans. Political insiders say that Steyer’s most recent effort — which he says represents an investment of more than $20 million — represents a game-changer in how political players use digital media. “He’s not only communicating to a national audience through a massive nationwide ad buy, but he’s also running an intense digital campaign,’’ noted Dave Jacobson, a veteran Democratic consultant in California. “Tom Steyer is broadening his footprint digitally. And if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that conventional norms have been flipped — and your traditional cookie cutter campaigning doesn’t apply. Digital is king.”
The Secret Hiding inside a Scallop’s 200 Glittering Eyes – (Live Science – December 2, 2017)
Gaze into the fleshy maw of the scallop, and lo, the scallop will gaze back — its up to 200 eyes glittering and alien, giving no sign as to what they think of you in their endless hunt for particles of floating food. Scientists have known since at least the 1960s that scallops use mirrors at the backs of their eyes to reflect light forward and project images onto their double retinas. That was the work of Michael Land, a pioneer in researching animal vision. But Land could never figure out what those mirrors were made of, or how they worked; he guessed that crystalline guanine was involved, but all the microscopic techniques of the era dehydrated the mirrored tissue, destroying his samples before he could study them. Now a team of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Lund University in Sweden announce that the mirror tissue indeed is made up of guanine crystals. But there is something strange and powerful about the crystal structure. The mirrors themselves do the focusing for scallops, and they pull that off by precisely structuring and shaping the guanine within living tissue. Just how do scallops control the formation of crystal so finely? The researchers still don’t know.
Bad News for the Highly Intelligent – (Scientific American – December 5, 2017)
In a study just published in the journal Intelligence, Pitzer College researcher Ruth Karpinski and her colleagues emailed a survey with questions about psychological and physiological disorders to members of Mensa. A “high IQ society”, Mensa requires that its members have an IQ in the top two percent. For most intelligence tests, this corresponds to an IQ of about 132 or higher. (The average IQ of the general population is 100.) The survey of Mensa’s highly intelligent members found that they were more likely to suffer from a range of serious disorders. The survey covered mood disorders (depression, dysthymia, and bipolar), anxiety disorders (generalized, social, and obsessive-compulsive), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism. It also covered environmental allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders. Respondents were asked to report whether they had ever been formally diagnosed with each disorder, or suspected they suffered from it. With a return rate of nearly 75%, Karpinski and colleagues compared the percentage of the 3,715 respondents who reported each disorder to the national average. The biggest differences between the Mensa group and the general population were seen for mood disorders and anxiety disorders. More than a quarter (26.7%) of the sample reported that they had been formally diagnosed with a mood disorder, while 20% reported an anxiety disorder—far higher than the national averages of around 10% for each. The differences were smaller, but still statistically significant and practically meaningful, for most of the other disorders. The prevalence of environmental allergies was triple the national average (33% vs. 11%). To explain their findings, Karpinski and colleagues propose the hyper brain/hyper body theory. This theory holds that, for all of its advantages, being highly intelligent is associated with psychological and physiological “overexcitabilities”, or OEs. A concept introduced by the Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dbrowski in the 1960s, an OE is an unusually intense reaction to an environmental threat or insult. This can include anything from a startling sound to confrontation with another person.
Older Adults’ Forgetfulness Tied to Faulty Brain Rhythms in Sleep – (NPR – December 18, 2017)
Older brains may forget more because they lose their rhythm at night. During deep sleep, older people have less coordination between two brain waves that are important to saving new memories, a team reports in the journal Neuron. “It’s like a drummer that’s perhaps just one beat off the rhythm,” says Matt Walker, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. “The aging brain just doesn’t seem to be able to synchronize its brain waves effectively.” The finding appears to answer a long-standing question about how aging can affect memory even in people who do not have Alzheimer’s or some other brain disease. “This is the first paper that actually found a cellular mechanism that might be affected during aging and therefore be responsible for a lack of memory consolidation during sleep,” says Julie Seibt, a lecturer in sleep and plasticity at the University of Surrey in the U.K. Seibt was not involved in the new study. The team also found a likely reason for the lack of coordination associated with aging: atrophy of an area of the brain involved in producing deep sleep. People with more atrophy had less rhythm in the brain, Walker says. That’s discouraging because atrophy in this area of the brain is a normal consequence of aging, Walker says, and can be much worse in people with Alzheimer’s. But the study also suggests that it’s possible to improve an impaired memory by re-synchronizing brain rhythms during sleep. One way to do this would be by applying electrical or magnetic pulses through the scalp. “The idea is to boost those brain waves and bring them back together,” Helfrich says. Walker already has plans to test this approach to synchronizing brain waves.
Child Receives Transgenic Skin over Most of His Body – (The Scientist – November 8, 2017)
Thanks to an international team of scientists and doctors, a seven-year-old Syrian refugee who lost most of his outer skin to a life-threatening genetic disease now has a transgenic replacement, derived from his own cells, over approximately 80% of his body. And he’s doing well. The work “establishes a landmark in the field of stem cell therapy,” Elaine Fuchs, a skin scientist at the Rockefeller University who did not participate in the research. “In addition, it makes considerable headway in resolving a brewing controversy in the epidermal stem cell field,” she adds. Specifically, the study has clarified the way skin cells regenerate, which has been a subject of intense discussion among skin biologists. Epidermolysis bullosa is a genetic disease in which mutated connective proteins prevent the epidermal layer of the skin from attaching properly to the underlying dermis. The result is skin that readily blisters, causing large, chronic wounds and immense pain to the patient. Sufferers are also at an increased risk of infections and skin cancer and in severe cases the disease can be lethal.
Health Care Is Hemorrhaging Data. AI Is Here to Help – (Wired – December 30, 2017)
In the doctor’s office, AI is already helping dermatologists tell cancerous growths from harmless spots, diagnose rare genetic conditions using facial recognition algorithms, and lending an assist in reading X-rays and other medical images. Soon, it will be detecting signs of diabetes-related eye disease in India. But image classification isn’t the only thing it’s getting good at; AI can also mine text data. That kind of tech undergirds a platform that gives any primary care doc access to the expertise of specialists from all over the world. No more waiting six months for that referral you can’t really afford anyway. And after you get that diagnosis, you can now take home an AI-equipped robot to help you stick to your treatment plan. It nags, but it looks cute while it’s doing it. Of course, as machine learning powers more and more medical device software, it’s made regulating them a whole lot trickier. This year the US Food and Drug Administration even had to create an entirely new digital health task force just to tackle it. How exactly do you regulate software that is always learning and evolving, constantly changing on the fly? What happens in a zero code world, where AI writes and rewrites its own instructions? Instead of trying to keep up with that radically different pace, the agency is piloting a new course—that certifies trusted companies with good track records, as opposed to individual software packages.
Crispr Isn’t Enough Any More. Get Ready for Gene Editing 2.0 – (Wired – December 26, 2017)
In fewer than five years, the gene-editing technology known as Crispr has revolutionized the face and pace of modern biology. Since its ability to find, remove, and replace genetic material was first reported in 2012, scientists have published more than 5,000 papers mentioning Crispr. Biomedical researchers are embracing it to create better models of disease. And countless companies have spun up to commercialize new drugs, therapies, foods, chemicals, and materials based on the technology. But like the Model T, Crispr Classic is somewhat clunky, unreliable, and a bit dangerous. It can’t bind to just any place in the genome. It sometimes cuts in the wrong places. And it has no off-switch. So teams at Harvard and the Broad Institute have been working on an even more daring tweak to the Crispr system: editing individual base pairs, one at a time. To do so, they had to design a brand-new enzyme—one not found in nature—that could chemically convert an A-T nucleotide pairing to a G-C one. It’s a small change with potentially huge implications. David Liu, the Harvard chemist whose lab did the work, estimates that about half of the 32,000 known pathogenic point mutations in humans could be fixed by that single swap. And groups at Harvard and the Broad led by Crispr co-discoverer Feng Zhang are working with a new class of Cas enzymes that target RNA instead of DNA. Because RNA comes and goes, making changes to it would be useful for treating short-term problems like acute inflammation or wounds. The system, which they’re calling Repair, for RNA Editing for Programmable A to I Replacement, so far only works for one nucleotide conversion. The next step is to figure out how to do the other 11 possible combinations.
A New Weapon in the Fight against Superbugs – (YouTube – April 17, 2017)
Since the widespread use of antibiotics began in the 1940s, we’ve tried to develop new drugs faster than bacteria can evolve — but this strategy isn’t working. Drug-resistant bacteria known as superbugs killed nearly 700,000 people last year, and by 2050 that number could be 10 million — more than cancer kills each year. Can physics help? In this TED talk from the frontiers of science, radiation scientist David Brenner shares his work studying a potentially life-saving weapon: a wavelength of ultraviolet light known as far-UVC, which can kill superbugs safely, without penetrating our skin. Followed by a Q&A with TED Curator Chris Anderson.
Plummeting Temperatures Could Send World into ‘Mini Ice Age’ in 2030, Say Scientists – (Deccan Chronicle – December 28, 2017)
Researchers, led by maths professor Valentina Zharkova at Northumbria University, built up on previous research that predicts magnetic waves produced by the sun. According to the study, the Sun’s solar cycle is producing accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun’s 11-year heartbeat and draws on dynamo effects in two layers of the Sun, one close to the surface and one deep within its convection zone. The model predicts that the pair of waves become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of sync and this will cause a significant reduction in solar activity. According to Dr Zharkova, in cycle 26, the two waves will exactly mirror each other – peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun, which will nearly cancel each other, which, they believe, will lead to a ‘Maunder minimum.’ However, Zharkova has warned that her model could not be used as proof of a mini ice age – in part because of global warming. See also: Don’t look now, but Arctic sea ice mass has grown almost 40% since 2012.
California Warns People to Limit Exposure to Cellphones – (Gizmodo – December 15, 2017)
Since the earliest days of mobile phones, a small but steady contingent of environmental activists, conspiracy-inclined folks, and some scientists have warned about the hidden damage they could be causing to our bodies, due to the radio frequency energy cellphones use to communicate with cell towers. They fear that this non-ionizing radiation could penetrate our cells and cause damage, increasing our risk of brain and head cancer. But scientists elsewhere have dismissed this potential link as, at best, unproven and, at worst, utterly implausible. In a surprising move this week, however, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) weighed in on the debate, warning people, especially kids, to stay away from cellphones whenever possible. The agency also issued guidelines on how to reduce exposure to radio frequency energy. Aside from brain and head cancer, the guidelines note, radio frequency energy has been suspected of causing infertility, headaches, and memory or learning problems. Of course, there’s still the larger question of who to believe about cellphones. For now, it’s fair to say there hasn’t been a smoking gun piece of research tying cellphones to brain cancer. Those inclined to wait for a better answer, though, might want to keep an eye on the COSMOS project, an ambitious study currently tracking the cellphone usage and health of more than a half million people scattered across Europe. The study, which began in 2007, will follow these people for the next 20 to 30 years. (Editor’s note: That’s great: in 20 or 30 years, we may have definitive answers on this issue – or not. In the meantime, we each get to come to our own scientifically unsubstantiated opinions on a plethora of issues and live our lives based on them.) For a completely different take on this issue, see this article in which Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health, clarified the report: “This is not a warning. This isn’t an alert. This is a response to concerns that have been expressed to us, over and over again, by the general public,” she said, adding,“Our response is, if you have a concern, here are some very practical things you can do.”
Why We Desperately Need Women to Design AI – (FreeCodeCamp – August 4, 2017)
At the moment, only about 12–15% of the engineers who are building the internet and its software are women. Here is an example that illustrates why this is such a problem. A frustrated middle school-aged girl who enjoyed gaming couldn’t find an avatar she could relate to. So she analyzed 50 popular games and found that 98% of them had male avatars (mostly free!), and only 46% of them had female avatars (mostly available for a charge!). Even more askew when you consider that almost half of gamers are women. The hands and minds that make technology will have a direct impact on us as humans and on the world around us. So, aside from the obvious, why does this matter? Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at Google, explains: “If we don’t get women and people of color at the table — real technologists doing the real work — we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible.” Leah Fessler wrote an eye-opening piece after testing several personal assistant bots to see how they’d stand up to sexual harassment (literally, they sexually harassed the bots, who, by the way, are most often defaulted to female voices unless you change them). “Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Home have women’s voices because women’s voices make more money. Yes, Silicon Valley is male-dominated and notoriously sexist, but this phenomenon runs deeper than that. Bot creators are primarily driven by predicted market success, which depends on customer satisfaction — and customers like their digital servants to sound like women.” See also: Inside the Surprisingly Sexist World of Artificial Intelligence.
Six Futuristic Homes That Will Protect You from Climate Change – (Futurism – December 12, 2017)
Flooding, drought, hurricanes, wildfires — extreme weather events, once infrequent, are becoming more common and powerful due to climate change. But simply relocating populations at risk only gets us so far — for instance, relocating a subsistence-based fishing village inland would leave people without livelihoods, and sprawling cities into new developments would mean disrupting even more of our natural environment. We have to find a more sustainable long-term solution — homes hardy enough to survive more frequent extreme weather events, and with minimal carbon footprints to not make them worse. Skilled designers, architects, and engineers have been hard at work, looking for a solution that tries to tackle both of these issues: develop homes that can survive future conditions on Earth, without damaging our environment even further. Here are some of the most creative ways we can adapt where and how we live to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.
Verdego Aero 7 – (YouTube – October 23, 2017)
In 1927 Charles Lindbergh’s pioneering New York to Paris flight jump-started the golden age aviation. Now, 90 years later, Erik Lindbergh, Charles’ grandson, has assembled a team to make short range air travel as useful and efficient as long distance air travel. Verdego Aero’s mission is to create “flying taxis” to meet the multi-billion dollar global market for fast, clean, quiet, and efficient urban transportation. The link above takes you to a 2-minute infomercial showcasing a “Personal Air Taxi”. See also the company’s website.
One Man’s Stand against Junk Food as Diabetes Climbs Across India – (New York Times – December 26, 2017)
Rahul Verma’s son was born gravely ill with digestive problems, but over years of visits to the boy’s endocrinologist, Mr. Verma saw the doctor grow increasingly alarmed about a different problem, one threatening healthy children. Junk food, the doctor warned, was especially dangerous to Indians, who are far more prone to diabetes than people from other parts of the world. Mr. Verma, who had no legal training, sat late into the nights with his wife, Tullika, drafting a petition. He filed the public interest lawsuit in the Delhi High Court in 2010, seeking a ban on the sale of junk food and soft drinks in and around schools across India. The case has propelled sweeping, court-ordered regulations of the food industry to the doorstep of the Indian government, where they have languished. They have outsize importance in India, population 1.3 billion, because its people are far more likely to develop diabetes as they gain weight than people from other regions, according to health experts. Since 1990, the percent of children and adults in India who are overweight or obese has almost tripled to 18.8% from 6.4%, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The International Diabetes Federation projects that the number of Indians with diabetes will soar to 123 million by 2040 as diets rich in carbohydrates and fat spread to less affluent rural areas. In the years since the court ordered the government to develop guidelines to regulate junk food, the case has encountered ferocious opposition from the All India Food Processors Association, which counts Coca-Cola India, PepsiCo India and Nestlé India as members, as well as hundreds of other companies. So far, the regulations to ban sales near schools sought by the court in Mr. Verma’s case have led to naught. “At such a slow pace, we will all be sick and diseased by the time any changes come in,” said Shweta Khandelwal, a nutritionist at the Public Health Foundation of India.
Edible Food Packaging May End Plastic Waste for Good – (Futurism/YouTube – December 7, 2017)
Short video: Casein-based food packaging isn’t just edible — it’s also 500 times better than plastic at keeping oxygen away from food and keeping foods fresh.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Cryptojacking Has Gotten Out of Control – (Wired – December 27, 2017)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
A Wider World of War – (Tom Dispatch – December 14, 2017)
Across the globe, American embassies lack ambassadors, including South Korea, a country that has been a focus of the Trump administration. Similarly, at the time of the president’s inflammatory Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. had no ambassadors yet in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, among other Middle Eastern states. In this context, as the State Department shrinks, America’s Special Operations forces increasingly act as our “diplomats” globally, training and bolstering allies and attempting to undermine enemies more or less everywhere. Unlike the slashing of the diplomatic corps, it’s a story barely noted in the mainstream press. In the post-9/11 years, the once “elite” units of the U.S. military, perhaps a few thousand Green Berets and other personnel, have become a force of approximately 70,000. In other words, that secretive crew cocooned inside the U.S. military has grown as large as or larger than the militaries of countries such as Argentina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, South Africa, or Sweden. Those Special Operations forces are not only being dispatched to more countries annually than ever before, but to more countries than any nation has ever deployed its military personnel to. Period. We’re talking about the deployment of special ops teams or personnel to 149 of the 190 (or so) nations on this planet in 2017. Earlier this year General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), offered some clues about the planetwide reach of America’s most elite troops. “We operate and fight in every corner of the world,” he boasted. “Rather than a mere ‘break-glass-in-case-of-war’ force, we are now proactively engaged across the ‘battle space’ of the Geographic Combatant Commands… providing key integrating and enabling capabilities to support their campaigns and operations.” U.S. commandos specialize in 12 core skills, from “unconventional warfare” (helping to stoke insurgencies and regime change) to “foreign internal defense” (supporting allies’ efforts to guard themselves against terrorism, insurgencies, and coups). Counterterrorism — fighting what SOCOM calls violent extremist organizations or VEOs — is, however, the specialty America’s commandos have become best known for in the post-9/11 era.
Has Our Government Spent $21 Trillion of Our Money without Telling Us? – (Forbes – December 8, 2017)
On July 26, 2016, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report “Army General Fund Adjustments Not Adequately Documented or Supported”. The report indicates that for fiscal year 2015 the Army failed to provide adequate support for $6.5 trillion in journal voucher adjustments. According to the GAO’s Comptroller General, “Journal vouchers are summary-level accounting adjustments made when balances between systems cannot be reconciled. Often these journal vouchers are unsupported, meaning they lack supporting documentation to justify the adjustment or are not tied to specific accounting transactions…. For an auditor, journal vouchers are a red flag for transactions not being captured, reported, or summarized correctly.” Given that the entire Army budget in fiscal year 2015 was $120 billion, unsupported adjustments were 54 times the level of spending authorized by Congress. The July 2016 report indicates that unsupported adjustments are the result of the Defense Department’s “failure to correct system deficiencies.” The result, according to the report, is that data used to prepare the year-¬end financial statements were unreliable and lacked an adequate audit trail. The report indicates that just 170 transactions accounted for $2.1 trillion in year—end unsupported adjustments. No information is given about these 170 transactions. In addition many thousands of transactions with unsubstantiated adjustments were, according to the report, removed by the Army. There is no explanation concerning why they were removed nor their magnitude. (Editor’s note: This article is in Forbes, a periodical about as far from “alternative” as it gets, and the information comes straight from the government website noted above. Yes, the magnitude of the unaccounted funds is phenomenal.)
Western Wars Have Killed Four Million Muslims Since 1990 – (Stop the War – June 16, 2017)
The Washington DC-based Physicians for Social Responsibility (PRS) released a landmark study concluding that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the 9/11 attacks is at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as 2 million. The 97-page report by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning doctors’ group is the first to tally up the total number of civilian casualties from US-led counter-terrorism interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The PSR report is described by Dr. Hans von Sponeck, former UN assistant secretary-general, as “a significant contribution to narrowing the gap between reliable estimates of victims of war, especially civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and tendentious, manipulated or even fraudulent accounts”. It is heavily critical of the figure most widely cited by mainstream media as authoritative, namely, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) estimate of 110,000 dead. For instance, although 40,000 corpses had been buried in Najaf since the launch of the war, IBC recorded only 1,354 deaths in Najaf for the same period. That example shows how wide the gap is between IBC’s Najaf figure and the actual death toll – in this case, by a factor of over 30. According to the PSR study, the much-disputed Lancet study that estimated 655,000 Iraq deaths up to 2006 (and over a million until today by extrapolation) was likely to be far more accurate than IBC’s figures. In fact, the report confirms a virtual consensus among epidemiologists on the reliability of the Lancet study.
An Open-letter from Prince Turki bin Faisal to President Donald Trump – (Arab Digest – December 10, 2017)
Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is a Saudi politician, former head of Saudi intelligence, and diplomat. Here is a brief section of his open letter: “No, Mr. Trump. Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital. Your country was one of the architects of resolution 242 of the Security Council which clearly states the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”; which is a cardinal principle of international law; reaffirmed by subsequent UN Security Council resolutions. East Jerusalem is conquered by war. Your failure to acknowledge this fact is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate and inject “fake news” into a reality that all the world knows and accepts, except you, Mr. Netanyahu, and the right-wing extremists in Israel, your country and other countries. No, Mr. Trump. Israel is not the democracy that you applaud. Just ask the Muslims and Christians who live there and suffer discrimination and denial of their rights. You can also ask the Muslims and Christians who live under the brutal military occupation that Israel imposes on them and allows its citizens to steal their lands, assassinate their men, and incarcerate their children, women and elders.” The letter concludes: “Our King, Crown Prince, government and people condemn your act and our King advised you to retract it. For the sake of world peace and security, I hope that this time you listen to his advice.”
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Robo-cat Designed to Soothe Aged – (NW Arkansas Democrat Gazette – December 25, 2017)
Imagine a cat that can keep a person company, doesn’t need a litter box and can remind an aging relative to take her medicine or help find her eyeglasses. That’s the vision of toymaker Hasbro and scientists at Brown University, who have received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to find ways to add artificial intelligence to Hasbro’s Joy for All robotic cat. The cat, which has been on the market for two years, is aimed at senior citizens and meant to act as a “companion.” It purrs and meows, and even appears to lick its paw and roll over to ask for a belly rub. The Brown-Hasbro project is aimed at developing additional capabilities for the cats to help older adults with simple tasks. Researchers at Brown’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative are working to determine which tasks make the most sense and which can help older adults stay in their own homes longer. Tasks could range from finding lost objects to reminding the owner to call someone or go to a doctor’s appointment. Bertram Malle, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University, said they don’t want to make overblown promises of what the cat can do, something he and his fellow researcher — computer science professor Michael Littman — said they’ve seen in other robots on the market. They hope to make a cat that would perform a small set of tasks very well. They also want to keep it affordable, just a few hundred dollars. The current version costs $100. The scientists are embarking on surveys, focus groups and interviews to get a sense of the landscape of everyday living for an older adult. They’re also trying to figure out how the souped-up robo-cats would do those tasks, and then how it would communicate that information. They don’t think they want a talking cat, Littman said. “Cats don’t generally talk to you,” Littman said, and it might be upsetting if it did. (Editor’s note: We’ve all grown up with Disney animation; our guess is that talking cats would be just fine.)
Philanthropy in 2017 Saw the Rise of Trump-Powered Giving – (Fast Company – December 28, 2017)
The Trump administration’s efforts to deregulate industry, enforce Muslim bans, oppose abortion, and deny climate change have inspired a new charitable term. It’s dubbed “rage philanthropy”–when your giving is aimed at protecting whatever basic rights and values the president trivializes. Here’s one example: When Trump announced his Muslim travel ban in late January, rage philanthropists countered by donating $24 million to the ACLU in a single weekend, a sum that grew to $79 million during the first three months after the inauguration, according to Newsweek. There are plenty of others. Democrats are expected to donate about 50% more than usual this year, while Republicans will give 28% more, mostly in ways that follow party lines. The left is backing women’s rights, the environment, and civil liberties. The right is all about religious groups and military and veteran associations. That is expected to contribute to record-breaking charitable totals in 2017, although what happens next is a bit murky, thanks to a different Trump effect: His new tax plan, which takes effect in 2018, will substantially shift how people are donating because of a change in what they can deduct.
Inside Barbie’s Fight to Stay Relevant – (Fast Company – December 12, 2017)
Just before Thanksgiving this year, Barbie had her wokest moment yet. On the official BarbieStyle Instagram channel, she was pictured in a series of photos with another doll, Aimee, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Love Wins,” the slogan of the marriage equality movement. The posts were a tableaux of domesticity. In one, the pair is sitting cosily in Barbie’s walk-in closet, stroking a dog and staring into each others’ eyes. The status of Aimee and Barbie’s relationship wasn’t made explicit in the post, but people quickly came to their own conclusions. Along with much celebration, vitriol also exploded in Barbie’s Instagram feed, with people accusing Mattel of promoting homosexuality to young girls. These “Love Wins” photos were part of a broader trend for Barbie. In September, the BarbieStyle Instagram account featured Barbie wearing a “People Are People” T-shirt designed by Christian Siriano as a protest against President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. Mattel also released its first hijab-wearing Barbie, modeled after the American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. This effort to remake Barbie as a progressive icon appears to be a calculated business decision on Mattel’s part to win over today’s millennial parents. While Barbie is still a powerful force in the toy market, generating $971 million in sales in 2016, younger parents have been less keen on buying the doll for their daughters than those in generations past. Analysts have also attributed the decline of Barbie to the fact that Mattel hasn’t been able to shake the stigma that the brand is a bad influence on girls because she promotes sexism. “Millennial parents are a very different demographic than generations before,” says Christia Spears Brown, a psychology professor and author who studies gender stereotypes in children. “They want to spend their money in ways that align with their values, and we’re seeing a trend of parents being very sensitive to the gender stereotypes found in toys. We’re in the middle of a culture war between the progressives interested in social change and others nostalgic for a time past,” Brown says. “Toy companies put themselves in one of those factions, and when you’re still making a princess Barbie, you’ve picked one of those sides. It’ll be interesting to see if Barbie is still around in 10 years.”
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Russia’s Plan to Build a Luxury Hotel on the ISS – (Popular Mechanics – December 21, 2017)
Space tourism isn’t a new idea. SpaceX announced plans this year to send civilians skyward and Virgin Galactic is still working toward its goal of regular space flights. And Blue Origin has released footage of its future space tourism ambitions. However these plans aren’t exactly offering a first-class experience. Even after paying millions, a few super-wealthy adventurers have to brave spartan accommodations in orbit alongside well-trained astronauts. But in a few years, space tourism agents might be offering five-star orbital adventures, courtesy of the Russian space agency. The amenities will include a luxury orbital suite parked at the International Space Station (ISS) offering private cabins with big windows, personal hygiene facilities, exercise equipment and even Wi-Fi. In addition gazing at our tiny blue orb from a dizzying altitude of 250 miles, space tourists will have an opportunity for space walks accompanied by a professional cosmonaut. The entire trip, lasting from one to two weeks will cost $40 million per person and going with the spacewalk option and an extended month-long stay will set the traveler back an additional $20 million. According to a detailed proposal, the 20-ton, 15.5-meter-long module would provide 92 cubic meters of pressurized space. It would accommodate four sleeping quarters sized around two cubic meters each and two “hygiene and medical” stations of the same volume. Each private room would also have a porthole with a diameter of 9 inches, while the lounge area would have a16-inch window. The module is estimated to cost from $279-$446 million. In order to recoup this money as soon as possible, RKK Energia plans to fly two tourists on each Soyuz flight accompanied by one professional cosmonaut. With four Soyuz flights available throughout the year, it will be possible to carry up to six tourists on short visits to the station annually while keeping professional cosmonauts in orbit on year-long shifts. At that rate, RKK Energia hopes to recoup the module’s cost in about seven years. (Editor’s note: With only six tourists per year, but sleeping quarters for four, and a projected payback term of seven years, we wondered if the article was correct in all of its details. And, as a similar article in Condé Nast notes, if the engineers take the projected five years to build it, the hotel will be open for business by (late) 2022. However, the ISS is scheduled to close in 2028, so there may not be seven years in which to recoup the investment. Nonetheless, if you have $40M to spend on a luxury space adventure, there will be something available relatively soon – although we still have some doubts about the quality of the dining.)
Here’s How the Gender Gap Applies to Retirement – (Forbes – November 1, 2017)
In its 2016 study “Shortchanged in Retirement,” The National Institute on Retirement Security explored financial hardships facing employed women, women approaching retirement and retired women. Co-authored by Manager of Research Jennifer Brown, the study identified that women are much more likely to face poverty in retirement than their male counterparts. Here are three key findings from the study: More women are working as they approach retirement. The percentage of women age 55-64 in the workforce increased from 53% in 2000 to 59% in 2015, hitting a high of 61% in 2010. There’s a glaring gender gap when it comes to retirement security. In 2013, women were 80% more likely than men to face poverty in retirement. Women’s varying backgrounds can impact financial stability in retirement. Factors like age, marital status and race can all impact the financial circumstances of retired women. For example, the gap widens as retirees age: women age 75 to 79 are three times more likely to be impoverished than men.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
The Most Futuristic Predictions That Came True in 2017 – (Gizmodo – December 18, 2017)
The trouble with the future is that it never seems to arrive. That’s why we call it the future. We consequently have this bad habit of taking the present, and all the wondrous and horrific things it has to offer, for granted. As a reminder that we’re actually living in the future of a not-so-distant past, Gizmodo presents a list of the most futuristic things that happened in 2017. Some of them are ones that you could predict, such as “AI continued its steady march toward the Singularity” and “Robots got even scarier”. But check out the others; you may have missed a few.
Bulletproof Graphene: Paper-Thin Material Becomes Harder Than Diamonds On Impact – (International Business Times – December 23, 2017)
A team of scientists at Advanced Science Research Centre at the City University of New York has created a bullet-proof suit material with graphene that becomes harder than diamond on impact from any fast moving or heavy object. Researchers from the have layered sheets of graphene to create a material that has this unique property. The team used this to make a bullet-proof suit that becomes a diamond plate on your body when a bullet touches it, effectively making anyone who wears it as close to Superman as a normal man can get. This material, thinner than Aluminum foil, has been named diamene. The material switches immediately on impact, making it a foolproof way to stop even the fastest, most powerful bullets immediately. “This is the thinnest film with the stiffness and hardness of diamond ever created,” said Elisa Riedo, professor of physics at the ASRC and the project’s lead researcher. “Previously, when we tested graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene, we would apply pressure and feel a very soft film. But when the graphite film was exactly two-layers thick, all of a sudden we realized that the material under pressure was becoming extremely hard and as stiff, or stiffer, than bulk diamond.” Interestingly, they found that this graphite-diamond transition does not occur for structures which have more than two layers of graphene or just a single layer. The property is exhibited only when two sheets are used. Future research will explore methods for stabilizing the transition and allow for practical applications for the resulting materials.
Ford Employees Are Using Exoskeletons, and They May Change Manual Labor Forever – (YouTube – December 12, 2017)
Short video: The exoskeletons protect employees from repetitive motion injuries and decrease fatigue.
Space Startup Raises $90 Million to Start Moon Ads by 2020 – (Bloomberg – December 18, 2017)
Japanese companies are planning to kick-start the lunar economy by backing a local startup’s mission to land on the moon by 2020. Tokyo-based Ispace Inc. said it raised $90 million from some of the country’s biggest businesses, including Japan Airlines Co. and television network Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings Inc. The funds will be used to send a spacecraft into lunar orbit by 2019, and then land one a year later. Ispace says a thriving lunar economy is still decades away, but it is putting profits and corporate projects at the heart of its missions in the coming years. “Human beings aren’t heading to the stars to become poor,” Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive officer of Ispace, said at a press event in Tokyo. “That’s why it’s crucial to create an economy in outer space.” Ispace says the initial business opportunity is mostly in marketing, including slapping corporate logos on its spacecrafts and rovers, and delivering images to be used in advertising. A successful landing will also let the company offer what it calls a “projection mapping service” (translation: billboards) on the moon’s surface. The startup says there will be demand from corporations looking to show off their logos with Earth in the background.
A Nobel Prize-winning Economist Thinks We’re Asking All the Wrong Questions about Inequality – (Quartz – December 27, 2017)
America is trying to come to terms with its economic inequality. Does inequality spur growth or kill it? Is it a necessary evil—or necessarily bad? Angus Deaton, an economics professor at Princeton, and the recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics, is asked questions like these all the time, and he notes, “Truth be told, none of them is particularly helpful, answerable, or even well posed.” Deaton believes the biggest misconception about inequality is that it causes certain economic, political, and social processes. But that’s backward. Economic inequality is a symptom of processes—some good, some bad—that drive the global economy. It’s the residue of a post-industrialized age. What we should actually investigate is which types of inequality are fair, and which are not. Americans adore inventors and rags-to-riches heroes. “Inequality is not the same thing as unfairness; and, to my mind, it is the latter that has incited so much political turmoil in the rich world today,” says Deaton. Aspects of globalization and technological change, like outsourcing and robotics, also suppress worker wages while benefiting the rich. But these alone can’t explain why median incomes have stagnated for half a century, while incomes at the top have skyrocketed.
Amazon Ordered Not to Pull in Customers Who Can’t Spell ‘Birkenstock’ – (Reuters – December 29, 2017)
A German court has barred Amazon from drawing in online shoppers who misspell iconic German sandal maker Birkenstock in their Google searches. Amazon reportedly won business for common Birkenstock misspellings by booking variants like “Brikenstock,” “Bierkenstock,” and “Birkenstok” in Google AdWords, so that they produced search results for shoes sold on Amazon.com. Birkenstock sought the injunction because it feared unsuspecting shoppers might buy low-quality counterfeits through Amazon that would erode its reputation. Earlier this month, Birkenstock said that it would end the sale of its products over Amazon in Europe after Amazon “failed to proactively prevent” the sale of counterfeit Birkenstock goods. A year ago, Birkenstock ended its relationship with Amazon in the United States. (Editor’s note: In other words, Amazon was improving its sales odds by increasing the likelihood that search engines would direct misspellers’ traffic to its website and then selling counterfeit goods rather than direct them to the Birkenstock website; what you are seeing here is how one online retailer is taking astute and less than ethical advantage of the ways in which search engines’ algorithms direct traffic.)
The Christmas Gregg Doyel Learned the Truth about His Grandma – (IndyStar – December 20, 2017)
This article isn’t about the future. It’s about the past, a past that many of us share in one form or another. It’s about the hardships (please keep in mind that not all hardships are material) and the generosity of family members one and/or two generations before us. And, in that sense, it is about the future – because where you are going looks different if you can view from the vantage point of where you have come from rather than just from that small doorstep into the future called “now”. In truth, we are all going into a future that we can’t accurately imagine, despite our best efforts to do so, but as we head off into a great unknown, it’s helpful to remember something of the trajectory that got us this far.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
The Billion-dollar Loophole – (Nation of Change – December 21, 2017)
The idea seems like the perfect marriage of environmentalism and capitalism: Landowners give up their right to develop a piece of property, and in exchange they receive a special tax deduction. Nature is preserved and everybody benefits. That’s traditionally how what are known as “conservation easements” worked. A growing number of recent easement donations, however, are driven by a more commercial reward – an outsized tax deduction for wealthy investors. Known as “syndications” (or “syndicated partnerships,” since they’re typically offered in that structure), they’re deals orchestrated by middlemen with the goal of big payoffs for all of the participants, many of whom have never visited the land in question. One example: the former Millstone Golf Course outside of Greenville, South Carolina. Closed back in 2006, it sat vacant for a decade. Abandoned irrigation equipment sat on the driving range. Overgrowth shrouded rusting food and beverage kiosks. The land’s proximity to a trailer park depressed its value. In 2015, the owner put the property up for sale, asking $5.8 million. When there were no takers, he cut the price to $5.4 million in 2016. Later in 2016, however, a pair of promoters appeared. They gathered investors who purchased the same parcel at the market price and, with the help of a private appraiser, declared it to be worth $41 million, nearly eight times its purchase price. With that new valuation and a bit of paperwork, the investors were suddenly able to claim a tax deduction of $4 for each $1 they invested. The use of syndicated easement deductions has exploded in recent years, according to Brookings Institution economist Adam Looney, who began researching the subject while serving as a top tax official in the Obama Treasury Department. They cost the Treasury between $1.2 billion and $2.1 billion, he estimates, in lost tax revenue last year.
JUST FOR FUN
20 Gorgeous Hubble Photos That Showcase the Universe’s Beauty – (Forbes – December 25, 2017)
When it comes to the Universe itself, perhaps no better views have come, ever, than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. Across a myriad of objects, Hubble’s eyes have shown us the Universe as we’ve never seen it before. Here are 20 of its finest moments.
A FINAL QUOTE
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F. Kennedy
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