FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Researchers have more proof that air pollution can contribute to dementia.
- The question of who’s responsible when AI makes a mistake is lurking at the edge of nearly every industry dabbling in the technology.
- The ranks of farmers are gradually aging. The average age of U.S. farm operators was 57.5 years in 2017, up from 54.3 years in 1997.
- China, with some of the strictest drug enforcement policies in the world, is cashing in on the cannabis boom.
by John L. Petersen
Charles Eisenstein Coming to Transition Talks
Charles Eisenstein is coming back to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks on the 15th of June. Every time he speaks I have folks who heard him thank me for inviting him to come and be with us.
Here’s a short video that features Charles.
Charles will be talking about a new way to think about climate change and the significance that this epic, transforming event has for the evolution of the species and our personal development. I can assure you that you will find his ideas very engaging.
You can find complete information on Charles and our upcoming event at TransitionTalks.org.
We look forward to having you with us on the 15th of June.
Charles Eisenstein is a teacher, speaker, and writer focusing on themes of civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution. His writings on the web magazine Reality Sandwich have generated a vast online following; he speaks frequently at conferences and other events, and gives numerous interviews on radio and podcasts. Writing in Ode magazine’s “25 Intelligent Optimists” issue, David Korten (author of When Corporations Rule the World) called Eisenstein “one of the up-and-coming great minds of our time.” Eisenstein graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator.
Karen Elkins Launches Beautiful, New Book InsideOut
Visionary graphic designer, Karen Elkins (who produces the e-magazine for TransitionTalks), has published a marvelous, gorgeous new book that combines extraordinary graphics with forward looking articles by scientists and researchers who are defining the leading edge of science. It’s really an amazing piece of work that will take you to the edge of discovery – in a very beautiful environment!
Click on the image below to see just how extraordinary this book is. Tip: The video is really worth the price of admission!
Find out more here
|Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers|
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
Now for Sale on Facebook: Looted Middle Eastern Antiquities – (New York Times – May 9, 2019)
Facebook groups advertising the items that may have been looted by Islamic State militants grew rapidly during the upheaval of the Arab Spring and the ensuing wars, which created unprecedented opportunities for traffickers, said Amr Al-Azm, a professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio and a former antiquities official in Syria. He has monitored the trade for years along with his colleagues at the Athar Project, named for the Arabic word for antiquities. At the same time, Dr. Al-Azm said, social media lowered the barriers to entry to the marketplace. Now there are at least 90 Facebook groups, most in Arabic, connected to the illegal trade in Middle Eastern antiquities, with tens of thousands of members, he said. They often post items or inquiries in the group, then take the discussion into chat or WhatsApp messaging, making it difficult to track. Some users circulate requests for certain types of items, providing an incentive for traffickers to produce them, a scenario that Dr. Al-Azm called “loot to order.” After the BBC published an article about the work of Dr. Al-Azm and his colleagues last week, Facebook said that it had removed 49 groups connected to antiquities trafficking. Dr. Al-Azm countered that 90 groups were still up. Instead of simply deleting the pages, Dr. Al-Azm said, Facebook should devise a more comprehensive strategy to stop the sales while allowing investigators to preserve photos and records uploaded to the groups. A hastily posted photo, after all, might be the only record of a looted object that is available to law enforcement or scholars. Simply deleting the page would destroy “a huge corpus of evidence” that will be needed to identify, track and recover looted treasures for years to come, he said.
Millions of People Uploaded Photos to the Ever App. Then the Company Used Them to Develop Facial Recognition Tools. – (NBC – May 9, 2019)
Investor Sues after an AI’s Automated Trades Cost Him $20 Million – (Futurism – May 5, 2019)
Robots are getting more humanoid every day, but they still can’t be sued. Hong Kong real estate tycoon Samathur Li Kin-kan is suing a company that used one of those trade-executing AIs to manage his account, causing millions of dollars in losses — a first-of-its-kind court case that could help determine who should be held responsible when an AI screws up. Li met Raffaele Costa, CEO and founder of Tyndaris Investments, in March 2017, at which point Costa told Li his company was launching a robot hedge fund controlled by a supercomputer named K1. Li expressed interest in the fund, so Costa started sharing simulations with Li that showed how K1 could make double-digit returns on investments. Li was apparently impressed, because he agreed to let K1 manage $2.5 billion, with the goal of eventually increasing that to $5 billion. Within 6 months, the AI was losing money regularly — on one particularly bad day, its decisions cost Li more than $20 million. Li then filed a $23 million lawsuit against Tyndaris, alleging that Costa exaggerated K1’s abilities. Tyndaris’ lawyers, meanwhile, are suing him for $3 million in unpaid fees. The question of who’s responsible when AI makes a mistake is already lurking at the edge of nearly every industry dabbling in the technology, from transportation to healthcare to law enforcement. Should it be the person who wrote the code? The person marketing the AI? Or are end users responsible for the outcome given that any new technology is certain to be a bit wonky at first?
Major Discovery Suggests Denisovans Lived in Tibet 160,000 Years Ago – (New Scientist – May 1, 2019)
The first fossil of our cousins the Denisovans ever to be discovered outside Siberia has been identified in Tibet. It hints that fossils from these extinct humans are more widespread than we thought, and may help settle a long-running debate about our origins. Denisovans were discovered in 2010, when the DNA from an ancient bone fragment found in Denisova cave in Siberia was sequenced. Genetic analysis has shown that many people in China and South-East Asia carry a little Denisovan DNA. This means that our ancestors must once have lived alongside and interbred with our cousins. Studies also found that people in Tibet carry a specific Denisovan gene that allows red blood cells to cope with low oxygen levels, helping people to live at high altitude. Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues examined a jawbone discovered in 1980 in Baishiya Karst cave, in Tibet’s Jiangla river valley. They found that the shape of the jaw and large size of the teeth are different to those of modern humans. Radioisotope dating suggested that the fossil is 160,000 years old at least, which is tens of thousands of years before our own species is thought to have reached the Tibetan Plateau. No DNA could be extracted from the fossil, but analyzing collagen protein in its teeth confirmed the jawbone came from a Denisovan. This is the first time that protein analysis has been used as the sole way of identifying an ancient hominin, says team member Frido Welker at Lanzhou University in China. The finding could explain the 30,000-year-old stone tools discovered in Tibet last year.
Off the Coast of Portugal, the Earth’s Crust Might Be Peeling in Two – (Live Science – May 7, 2019)
In 1969, a giant earthquake off the coast of Portugal kicked up a tsunami that killed over a dozen people. Some 200 years prior, an even larger earthquake hit the same area, killing around 100,000 people and destroying the city of Lisbon. Two earthquakes in the same spot over a couple hundred years is not cause for alarm. But what puzzled seismologists about these tremors was that they began in relatively flat beds of the ocean — away from any faults or cracks in the Earth’s crust where tectonic plates slip past each other, releasing energy and causing earthquakes. One idea is that a tectonic plate is peeling into two layers — the top peeling off the bottom layer — a phenomenon that has never been observed before, a group of scientists reported in April at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly held in Vienna. This peeling may be creating a new subduction zone, or an area in which one tectonic plate is rammed beneath another. he peeling is likely driven by a water-absorbing layer in the middle of the tectonic plate. Now, this transformed layer might be causing enough weakness in the plate for the bottom layer to peel away from the top layer. That peeling could lead to deep fractures that trigger a tiny subduction zone, National Geographic reported. A Portuguese research group isn’t the first to propose this idea, but it’s the first to provide some data on it. They tested their hypothesis with two-dimensional models, and their preliminary results showed that this type of activity is indeed possible — but is still yet to be proven.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Researchers Now Have Even More Proof That Air Pollution Can Cause Dementia – (Mother Jones – May 2, 2019)
A few years ago, the research implicating air pollution as one factor that can contribute to dementia was alarming, consistent, and, ultimately, “suggestive.” Since then scientists have published a wave of studies that reveal that air pollution is much worse for us than we had previously imagined. The evidence is so compelling, in fact, that many leading researchers now believe it’s conclusive. “I have no hesitation whatsoever to say that air pollution causes dementia,” says Caleb Finch, gerontologist and the leader of USC’s Air Pollution and Brain Disease research network, which has completed many of these new studies. In terms of its effects on our health and welfare, Finch says, “air pollution is just as bad as cigarette smoke.” This evidence arrives alongside the alarming news that air quality is actually worsening for many cities in the United States, while the Trump Administration continues its effort to delay or roll-back environmental safeguards. Three economists at Arizona State University—Kelly Bishop, Nicolai Kuminoff, and Jonathan Ketcham linked EPA air quality data to fifteen years of Medicare records for 6.9 million Americans over the age of 65. Rather than simply ask if Americans exposed to more air pollution developed dementia at higher rates, the team identified a quasi-natural experiment that arbitrarily separated Americans into higher and lower air pollution exposure groups. The quirk of legally mandated changing standards across the country allowed the researchers to ask if a manipulated decrease in air pollution exposure actually led to fewer cases of dementia, from Alzheimer’s or other dementing diseases, like strokes. And in counties that had to quickly comply with the new air quality standards, older people developed Alzheimer’s at lower rates than their peers in counties where the new rules didn’t apply.
Starbucks, Dunkin Race Against Bans, Taxes on Disposable Cups – (Bloomberg – April 28, 2019)
The U.S. accounts for about 120 billion paper, plastic and foam coffee cups each year, or about one-fifth of the global total. Almost every last one of them—99.75 percent—ends up as trash, where even paper cups can take more than 20 years to decompose. Overwhelmed by trash, jurisdictions around the world are banning single-use plastic takeaway containers and cups. Europe says plastic beverage cups have to go by 2021. India wants them out by 2022. Taiwan set a deadline of 2030. Surcharges like Berkeley’s are likely to get more common in an attempt to quickly change consumer behavior before more outright bans. Executives have long suspected this day would come. Separately and together, they’ve been working on a more environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic-lined, double-walled, plastic-lidded paper cup for more than a decade. It hasn’t gone that well. A decade ago, Starbucks pledged to serve up to 25% of its coffee in personal travel mugs. It has since ratcheted its goals way down. The company gives a discount to anyone who brings their own mug, and still only about 5% of customers do. It temporarily added a 5-pence surcharge to disposable cups in the U.K. last year, which it said increased reusable cup use 150%. Local governments, like Berkeley’s, (California) aren’t waiting. The municipality surveyed residents before it imposed the charge and found it would convince more than 70% to start bringing their own cups with the 25-cent surcharge, said Miriam Gordon, program director at nonprofit group Upstream, which helped Berkeley write its legislation. (Editor’s note: This article does an excellent job of explaining just how complex a challenge designing an environmentally sound, single use coffee cup really is – far more so than you might guess.)
Maine Becomes the First State to Ban Styrofoam – (CNN –May 1, 2019)
Food containers made of Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene, will be officially banned from businesses in Maine. The law, which will go into effect January 1, 2021, prohibits restaurants, caterers, coffee shops and grocery stores from using the to-go foam containers because they cannot be recycled in Maine. Maine has become the first state to take such a step as debate about banning plastic bags or other disposable products is spreading across the nation. While states like New York and California have banned single-use plastic bags, others such as Tennessee and Florida have made it illegal for local municipalities to regulate them. Maryland’s legislature also has approved bills to ban polystyrene, but it’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will sign the legislation.
Shrimp Are Testing Positive for Cocaine – (Newsweek – May 2, 2019)
To carry out their study published in the journal Environment International, scientists collected shrimp samples in July 2018 from 15 sites across five river catchments in the non-metropolitan county of Suffolk on the east coast of England, U.K. These included Gipping, Alde, Deben, Stour and Waveney. Cocaine was the most commonly found drug and identified in every sample, as well as the anesthetic lidocaine. This is often used by dealers to bulk up the cocaine, according to the study authors. The scientists believe cocaine could have entered the water because of leakages or overflows from sewers. Pesticides banned in the U.K. were also discovered, including fenuron. Ketamine, the animal tranquilizer which is used as a party drug, was also identified, as well as the opioid medication Tramadol and an antidepressant. The contamination of wildlife with illicit substances is not isolated to rural England. Last year, separate research by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife discovered the opioid oxycodone in shellfish off the coast of the state for the first time.
Climate Intelligence – (Cold Climate Change – May 3, 2019)
Scientists and the press are desperately trying to explain the cold (article recounts numerous examples of unseasonably cold weather all over the globe) when it’s supposed to be warming. The question has been recurring since the winter of 2013-2014 when a record cold wave ushered the term “polar vortex” into the common vernacular. The following year produced a similar pattern. Recent news coverage largely echoes reports written then. The suggestion is that the severe cold is a manifestation of global warming. That makes perfect sense to someone losing their marbles. However, we will witness a ‘Catastrophic’ decline threatening the Earth, not because of warming but because of the decimation of insect populations. A global scientific review of insect decline has warned insects will “go down the path of extinction” in a few decades, with “catastrophic” repercussions for the planet’s ecosystems. The biodiversity crisis is said to be even deeper than that of climate change, reports news.com.au.
Plastic Bans Spread in India. Winners and Losers Aren’t Who You’d Expect. – (National Geographic – February 8, 2019)
Tamil Nadu, home to nearly 68 million people, is part of an ambitious national campaign to rid the world’s second-most populous nation of plastic waste. Last June, as India hosted the United Nations’ World Environment Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced its intention to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. Delhi, India’s capital city, adopted a more expansive ban that included bags, cutlery, cups, and plates in 2017. By the beginning of this year, local governments in more than half of India’s 29 states and 7 territories had crafted legislation taking aim at single-use plastic. Bans on thin plastic shopping bags are the most common regulations. State government officials are also working to reduce the manufacturing of plastic by shutting down factories and preventing import of plastic products. They are also refining an effort begun in 2016 to establish “extended producer responsibility,” or EPR guidelines that require manufacturers to pay for the collection and recycling of waste their products become. India has a fairly low per capita use of plastics (24 pounds a year, compared to 240 pounds in the United States), but with a population of 1.35 billion, this translates into more than 550,000 tons of mismanaged plastic waste reaching the ocean every year. The Ganges alone, which provides drinking water for more than 400 million people, transports an estimated 110,000 tons of plastic every year to its mouth and ranks second only to the Yangtze River in China on a Top 20 list of rivers, published in 2017, that move the most plastic waste to the seas. Success of the bans, so far, is mixed. But street vendors who used to have small mounds of plastic waste near their shops have started switching to reusable materials, paper, and plant fibers to pack and serve food. Women’s self-help groups are swamped with orders for bags made of cotton and jute. Inmates of a prison started selling cloth bags at the prison bazaar. Some say rural residents of Tamil Nadu are benefiting financially from the plastic ban, as demand rises for such natural materials as banana leaves (lining plates), hollow papaya stalks (straws), and lotus and areca nut leaves (packaging material). Many Indians live in multi-generational homes and there is living memory of using sustainable alternatives. Kamakshi Subramaniyan, a 93-year-old civic activist in Tamil Nadu, says, “We used to take metal containers with tight lids to buy oil. That should restart as well.”
This Chip Was Demoed at Jeff Bezos’s Secretive Tech Conference. It Could Be Key to the Future of AI. – (Technology Review – May 1, 2019)
The setting was MARS, an elite, invite-only conference where robots stroll (or fly) through a luxury resort, mingling with famous scientists and sci-fi authors. Just a few researchers are invited to give technical talks, and the sessions are meant to be both awe-inspiring and enlightening. The crowd, meanwhile, consisted of about 100 of the world’s most important researchers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. Here, Vivienne Sze told the audience about the chips, being developed in her lab at MIT, that promise to bring powerful artificial intelligence to a multitude of devices where power is limited, beyond the reach of the vast data centers where most AI computations take place. “We need new hardware because Moore’s law has slowed down,” Sze says, referring to the axiom coined by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore who that predicted that the number of transistors on a chip will double roughly every 18 months – leading to a commensurate performance boost in computer power. This law is increasingly now running into the physical limits that come with engineering components at an atomic scale. And it is spurring new interest in alternative architectures and approaches to computing. The high stakes attached to investing in next-generation AI chips – and maintaining America’s dominance in chipmaking overall – aren’t lost on the US government. Sze’s microchips are being developed with funding from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program. Those chips are both extremely efficient and flexible in their design, something that is crucial for a field that’s evolving incredibly quickly. Sze’s hardware is more efficient partly because it physically reduces the bottleneck between where data is stored and where it’s analyzed, but also because it uses clever schemes for reusing data. The microchips are designed to squeeze more out of the deep-learning AI algorithms that have already turned the world upside down. And in the process, they may inspire those algorithms themselves to evolve.
Move Over, Silicon Switches: There’s a New Way to Compute – (PhysOrg – May 8, 2019)
Logic and memory devices, such as the hard drives in computers, now use nanomagnetic mechanisms to store and manipulate information. Unlike silicon transistors, which have fundamental efficiency limitations, they require no energy to maintain their magnetic state: Energy is needed only for reading and writing information. One method of controlling magnetism uses electrical current that transports spin to write information, but this usually involves flowing charge. Because this generates heat and energy loss, the costs can be enormous, particularly in the case of large server farms or in applications like artificial intelligence, which require massive amounts of memory. Spin, however, can be transported without a charge with the use of a topological insulator—a material whose interior is insulating but that can support the flow of electrons on its surface. Researchers from New York University have created a voltage-controlled topological spin switch (vTOPSS) that requires only electric fields, rather than currents, to switch between two Boolean logic states, greatly reducing the heat generated and energy used. While heterostructure devices like theirs, composed of a magnetic insulator and topological insulator, are still slightly slower than silicon transistors, vTOPSS increases functionality and circuit design possibilities, as it has integrated logic and non-volatile memory. Because vTOPPS will reduce reliance on cloud memory, it also holds the potential for making computing safer, as hackers will have greater difficulty gaining access to a system’s hardware.
The Frankfurt Kitchen Changed How We Cook—and Live – (City Lab – May 8, 2019)
We often think of apartment kitchens as problems to be solved. They’re likely to be short on counter space, storage, and light, or they’re stubbornly out of step with trends in interior design. As renters, we may try to spruce them up with extra shelves and unusual drawer pulls. Dream kitchens, by contrast, are the light-filled, airy, marble-clad workspaces where movie characters sip tea before an open laptop. They’re situated well outside the city limits, inside large houses on landscaped grounds. The ideal view over the horizon of the kitchen sink is a tall hydrangea shrub, not a brick wall. The ideal American kitchen has long had an implicit pro-suburban bias, positing city kitchens as the domain of the young, single, and struggling. Viewed through a 21st-century lens, kitchen politics usually fall along the fault line of gender and domestic labor: We debate who does their share of the housework and cooking in a family, and what that means for women’s professional development and personal well-being. The fault line prior to the mid-20th century wasn’t gender, but class. We’re used to thinking of kitchens as a universal kind of room that almost everyone has—as essential as a place to sleep, or a bathroom. Our great-great-grandparents were not. This article traces the history of the development of the modern kitchen. It’s a fascinating look at “how we got here” in terms of how we organize domestic space.
Researchers Make Organic Solar Cells Immune to the Ravages of Water, Air and Light – (NYU – May 1, 2019)
The market for organic solar cells is expected to grow more than 20% between 2017 and 2020, driven by advantages over traditional silicon solar cells: they can be mass produced at scale using roll-to-roll processing; the materials comprising them can be easily found in the earth and could be applied to solar cells through green chemistry; they can be semitransparent and therefore less visually intrusive — meaning they can be mounted on windows or screens and are ideal for mobile devices; they are ultra-flexible and can stretch; and they can be ultra-lightweight. Unlike silicon solar cells, however, organic cells are highly vulnerable to moisture, oxygen and sunlight itself. State-of-the-art remediation involves encapsulating the cell, which adds to production cost and unit weight, while reducing efficiency. Researchers at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering have discovered a means of making organic solar panels more robust, including conferring resistance to oxygen, water and light by removing, not adding, material. They employed an adhesive tape to strip the electron-accepting molecules — the conjugated fullerene derivative Phenyl-C61-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) — from the topmost surface of the photoactive layer of the solar cell, leaving only non-reactive organic polymers exposed. Removing PCBM from the exposed film surface reduces the chance of encounters with oxidation sources such as oxygen molecules and water, the latter being especially damaging to PCBM.
Trade War and Sagging Prices Push U.S. Family Farmers to Leave the Field – (Reuters – April 30, 2019)
Across the Midwest, growing numbers of grain farmers are choosing to shed their machinery and find renters for their land, all to stem the financial strain on their families, report a dozen leading farm-equipment auction houses. As these older grain farmers are retiring, fewer younger people are lining up to replace them. The trend has created boom times for the auction houses, which report that their retirement business has grown 30% or more over the past six months, compared to the same period a year earlier. But it is expected to put a strain on the agricultural supply chain: It means fewer customers for seed and chemical companies, fewer machine buyers, and fewer suppliers for grain merchants. Farmer retirement rates are not tracked by either state or U.S. government agencies, but federal data shows the ranks of farmers are gradually aging. The average age of U.S. farm operators was 57.5 years in 2017, up from 54.3 years in 1997. The number of farms is shrinking, too, as the industry increasingly is consolidated either into the hands of large-scale operators or tiny niche crop growers. Mid-sized farms – those with annual sales of more than $50,000 but less than $5 million – are dwindling. For many families, leaving farming is a painful but simple calculation: The trade war with China, sparked by the tariffs Trump slapped on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods, has just entered its tenth month. In response, China levied on about $50 billion of US agricultural exports last summer including soy, corn, wheat, cotton, rice, sorghum, beef, pork, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts, and vegetables.
Breakthrough on Non-Toxic Pest Control Which Doesn’t Harm Bees – (Good News Network – May 2, 2019)
An estimated $130 billion worth of crops are lost every year to diseases caused by nematodes. Targeting the harmful nematodes with chemical pesticides is problematic because they can indiscriminately harm other insects. There are naturally occurring bacteria contained in soil which can help protect plants against harmful nematodes, but until now there has not been an effective way to harness the power of these bacteria to protect crops on a large scale. “A nematode, as all other living organisms, requires some proteins to be produced to survive and make offspring, and RNA interference is a process which stops, or silences, production of these,” said Dr. Konstantin Blyuss from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. The team has developed a method to ‘silence’ the harmful nematode’s genes by using biostimulants derived from naturally occurring soil bacteria. The biostimulants also ‘switch off’ the plant’s own genes that are affected by the nematodes, making it much harder for the parasite to harm the crop. The gene silencing process is triggered when biostimulants, which are metabolites of bacteria occurring naturally in the soil, are applied to wheat. The biostimulants can be applied either by soaking the seeds or roots in a solution containing the biostimulants, or by adding the solution to the soil in which the plants are growing. Blyuss and his colleagues have used ‘RNA interference’ (RNAi) to precisely target a species of nematode that harms wheat.
A More Humane Livestock Industry, Brought to You by Crispr – (Wired – March 19, 2019)
The project at UC Davis was in part a proof of concept. Alison Van Eenennaam was the animal geneticist in charge of the proceedings. One of her goals is to make the raising of livestock not only more efficient but also more humane. If a calf’s sex could be altered with a copy-paste of a single gene, that might pave the way for all kinds of experimentation—and not only in the beef business. Although ranchers may prefer male animals, their colleagues in the egg and dairy industries favor females. Since bulls can’t make milk and roosters can’t lay eggs, it’s cheaper to destroy them than raise them to adulthood. But if you could ensure that only heifers and hens are born, the carnage wouldn’t be necessary. For all the anxiety and ambiguity surrounding Crispr, there’s little doubt that it could revolutionize farming as Van Eenennaam hopes. In January, British researchers announced plans to raise chickens with an immunity to influenza. A small genomic incision, they hypothesized, could prevent the virus from infecting its hosts. That would not only save chickens from untimely demise but also cut out a likely conduit for a devastating human pandemic. You may not like the idea of Crispr meddling with grandma’s chicken pot pie recipe, but would you relent if it could stop the next Spanish flu? Randall Prather is a geneticist at the University of Missouri. His lab has raised pigs that are resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, or PRRS, an untreatable disease that costs the US swine industry more than half a billion dollars each year. The solution, he says, comes down to modifying as few as two DNA base pairs out of 3 billion. Prather licensed the technology to a British company called Genus, which says it expects to spend tens of millions of dollars on the FDA approval process.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
US Tries to Cut Down on Civilian Casualties by Shooting Sledgehammer Hellfire Missiles Packed with Swords at Terrorists – (The Blaze – May 9, 2019)
According to the Wall St. Journal (article paywalled), “The U.S. government has developed a specially designed, secret missile for pinpoint airstrikes that kill terrorist leaders with no explosion, drastically reducing damage and minimizing the chances of civilian casualties, multiple current and former U.S. officials said. Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have used the weapon while closely guarding its existence.” The R9X is a missile designed to kill intended targets without subjecting nearby civilians to things like the force, heat, and shrapnel generated by explosive missiles. So how does it work? The R9X is a variant of the Hellfire missile, which was used against ISIS propagandist Mohammed Emwazi in 2015. Instead of an explosive, the new projectile contains an inert warhead that’s designed to come down on the target like a 100-pound, rocket-propelled sledgehammer, minus the handle. The warhead is assisted by a ring of six long blades that deploy around the projectile right before impact, shredding anything unfortunate enough to be in the way. The Wall Street Journal story said that the Pentagon and the CIA have used the weapon before while keeping its existence a closely guarded secret. The story also noted that the small number of people who knew about the R9X have nicknamed it “the flying Ginsu,” in reference to the famously sharp brand of knife that used to be sold on television informercials. The effects of the R9X can be seen in the photos (included in article) of the February 2017 drone strike against al-Qaeda leader Ahmad Hasan Abu Khayr al-Masri.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
U.S. Military Stops Tracking Key Metric on Afghan War as Situation Deteriorates – (Reuters – May 1, 2019)
The U.S. military has stopped tracking the amount of territory controlled or influenced by the Afghan government and militants, according to a U.S. watchdog, one of the last remaining public metrics that tracked the worsening security situation in the war-torn country. The move comes as U.S. and Taliban officials have held several rounds of talks aimed at ensuring a safe exit for U.S. forces in return for a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used by militants to threaten the rest of the world. The Taliban announced the start of a spring offensive in early April. Even before the announcement, combat had intensified across Afghanistan in recent weeks and hundreds of Afghan troops and civilians have been killed. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that the U.S. military had told the watchdog it was no longer tracking the level of control or influence the Afghan government and militants had over districts in the country. The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan had told SIGAR that the assessments were “of limited decision-making value to the (RS) Commander.” Experts said that the move to stop tracking the key data was worrying because Washington had publicly set a benchmark which would now be difficult to measure. “If the military is not going to be tracking that data anymore, that is going to make it a lot more difficult to get a sense as to how strong the Taliban is,” Michael Kugelman, with the Woodrow Wilson Center, said. “That may well be the military’s intention.”
Trump Continues Obama’s War on Whistleblowers, Arrests Another Alleged Intercept Source – (Caitlin Johnstone – May 10, 2019)
Former US Air Force language analyst Daniel Hale has been arrested and charged with violating the Espionage Act and other offenses related to leaking classified documents to the press. Court documents didn’t reveal the identity of the journalist who received the documents, but AP reports that details in the indictment make clear that Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor of The Intercept, is the reporter who received the leaks. “The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government,” Scahill’s 2015 article reads, quoting his source as saying, “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong.” Commenting on this, Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm said, “Prosecuting journalistic sources chills investigative reporting and poses an enormous threat to whistleblowers, press freedom rights, and the public’s right to know. Whistleblowers should be lauded for their courage, not charged with felonies and imprisoned.” The Trump administration is on pace to shatter the Obama administration’s record for the number of prosecutions of alleged sources. Hale is at least the sixth alleged journalistic source charged by the Trump administration in just over two years in office. The Justice Department has previously indicated dozens more under leak investigations which are ongoing.”
The U.S. Military’s 36 Code-named Operations in Africa – (Yahoo News – April 17, 2019)
Between 2013 and 2017, U.S. special operations forces saw combat in at least 13 African countries, according to retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who served at U.S. Africa Command from 2013 to 2015 and then headed Special Operations Command Africa until 2017. Those countries, according to Bolduc, are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Tunisia. He added that U.S. troops have been killed or wounded in action in at least six of them: Kenya, Libya, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Tunisia. Yahoo News has put together a list of three dozen such operations across the continent (listed and described in article). The code-named operations cover a variety of different military missions, ranging from psychological operations to counterterrorism. Eight of the named activities are so-called 127e programs, named for the budgetary authority that allows U.S. special operations forces to use certain host-nation military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions. Used extensively across Africa, 127e programs can be run either by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive organization that controls the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, the Army’s Delta Force and other special mission units, or by “theater special operations forces.” These programs are “specifically designed for us to work with our host nation partners to develop small — anywhere between 80 and 120 personnel — counterterrorism forces that we’re partnered with,” said Bolduc. “They are specially selected partner-nation forces that go through extensive training, with the same equipment we have, to specifically go after counterterrorism targets, especially high-value targets.” While the Defense Department has acknowledged the names, locations and purposes of some of these operations, others are far lower-profile. Almost all are unknown to the general public.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Bored and Lonely? Blame Your Phone. – (Vox – May 2, 2019)
Most people assume social media is making us more narcissistic, more compulsive, and lonelier. But is that really true? A new book titled Bored Lonely Angry Stupid tries to answer this question by looking at the past. The authors examined diaries, letters, and memoirs of a broad cross-section of Americans from the 19th and 20th centuries, trying to capture their inner lives as closely as possible. Then they conducted interviews with modern-day Americans in order to understand how their emotions are being transformed by technological change. The idea was to see how our views of boredom, loneliness, selfhood, and community have evolved over time, and how technologies have sparked those evolutions. And what they found was striking: We don’t merely develop new devices for expressing our emotions — our devices actually alter what emotions we express. The article is excerpted from an interview with one of the authors, Susan J. Matt. Interviewer: “What did it mean to be bored or lonely in the 18th or 19th century?” Matt: The word “boredom” didn’t even exist until the mid-19th century. When people experienced empty moments, they described them as dull or monotonous or tedious. Boredom wasn’t a category of experience yet. People expected feelings of empty time and accepted them as part and parcel of being human. And in fact many thought that’s how God had laid out the world. Later in the interview, Matt notes, “I think today we generally call being alone ‘loneliness.’ Often in the 19th century, people talked about it in terms of solitude, and it was generally seen in a more positive, redemptive light. Just having that different language gave the experience of being alone a different meaning and value. The study of the history of emotions suggests that although we may use the same words for feelings across centuries, in different eras these words are embedded in different cultures and end up having very different connotations. As a result, the words mean something different and the feeling itself may be different too.”
Tired of Spending Money on the Things You Need? Try This – (AlterNet – May 8, 2019)
Imagine needing a refrigerator, a child’s car seat, and a stroller. Except you’re broke and have no funds to make a Target or a Walmart run. What do you do? Detroiter Halima Cassells has the answer: Create your own Free Market. Cassells is co-founder of Free Market of Detroit—a place where you can probably find the things you need, and then some. In 2012, Cassells had a year-old baby, and since her other daughters were so much older, she no longer had the baby supplies she needed. So, she decided to host a backyard BBQ, invite all her family and friends, and ask them all to bring baby items they no longer needed. People could take what they needed, as much as they needed. The result was all the moms in need left with more baby gear than they could have imagined. Their needs were met. And they didn’t spend a dime. Fast-forward to 2019. The Free Market has grown into a regular event, with one or two held a month, dozens of people attending each one, serving a thousand or more annually. There is a DJ, there is a dance space, and everyone brings as much to give away, or as little, as they are comfortable doing. Some people who might not have an item to give will offer to teach people something, like knitting, crocheting, or yoga. They can also pledge to host a Free Market in their own communities. In this way, the Free Market of Detroit is a multi-genre interactive installation, while at its heart it is an old-fashioned swap meet—although nothing is technically traded. It’s all given, freely, says Cassells. “We’re pushed to say, ‘What can I give? What do I have that I’m happy to give?’” However, the Free Market may bring about one pitfall: “At one point, I started to hoard stuff, because I was finding so much cool stuff. Now I’m minimal—I love the detachment to things, and the things that are really special, we know what those are and why.”
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
How Angry Pilots Got the Navy to Stop Dismissing UFO Sightings – (Washington Post – April 24, 2019)
A recent uptick in sightings of unidentified flying objects — or as the military calls them, “unexplained aerial phenomena” — prompted the Navy to draft formal procedures for pilots to document encounters, a corrective measure that former officials say is long overdue. Recently, unidentified aircraft have entered military-designated airspace as often as multiple times per month, according to Joseph Gradisher, spokesman for office of the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare. In some cases, pilots — many of whom are engineers and academy graduates — claimed to observe small spherical objects flying in formation. Others say they’ve seen white, Tic Tac-shaped vehicles. Aside from drones, all engines rely on burning fuel to generate power, but these vehicles all had no air intake, no wind and no exhaust. In 2017, the Pentagon first confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a government operation launched in 2007 to collect and analyze “anomalous aerospace threats.” The investigation ranged from “advanced aircraft fielded by traditional U.S. adversaries to commercial drones to possible alien encounters.” According to former Pentagon officials, program funding, which totaled at least $22 million, was suspended in 2012. Luis Elizondo, a former senior intelligence officer, who ran the AATIP, said the newly drafted guidelines were a culmination of many things, most notably that the Navy had enough credible evidence — including eyewitness accounts and corroborating radar information — to “know this is occurring.” “If I came to you and said, ‘There are these things that can fly over our country with impunity, defying the laws of physics, and within moments could deploy a nuclear device at will,’ that would be a matter of national security,” Elizondo said. With the number of U.S. military personnel in the Air Force and Navy who described the same observations, the noise level could not be ignored. See also: UFO Facts and a Solution to the Energy Crisis, Testimony of 60 Government & Military Witnesses.
Evidence of Ripples in the Fabric of Space Found 5 Times This Month – (Axios – May 2, 2019)
Scientists hunting for gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space and time sent out by cataclysmic collisions — have had a busy month. The LIGO and Virgo observatories tasked with detecting these waves began their newest observing run on April 1, and they’ve already found evidence of 5 possible gravitational wave signals. The observatories are 40% more sensitive following upgrades made since the last observing run ended. By detecting these gravitational waves on Earth, scientists can work backward to find out more about what created those ripples, giving us new insights into some of the most extreme objects in the universe. Three of the gravitational wave signals are thought to be from two merging black holes, with the fourth believed to have been emitted by colliding neutron stars. The fifth, and perhaps most exciting, seems to be from the merger of a black hole and a neutron star. If confirmed, this will mark the first neutron star-black hole merger ever documented. All five signals still need to be confirmed through follow-up analysis.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Infinitely-recyclable Plastic Might Help Us Finally Clean up Landfills and Oceans – (ZME Science – May 8, 2019)
The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has produced a new kind of polymer that, akin to a LEGO playset, can be broken down and reassembled into a different shape, texture, and color without impairing its quality. The new material is called ‘poly(diketoenamine)’, or PDK. “Most plastics were never made to be recycled,” said lead author Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that takes recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective.” The most recyclable plastic today, PET — poly(ethylene terephthalate) — is only recycled at a rate of around 20-30%. The rest winds up in incinerators, landfills, or oceans, releasing CO2, or left to clog the Earth for a few centuries until it decomposes. In order to tailor plastics to particular uses, manufacturers also mix in chemical additives to improve certain properties. Fillers, for example, make a plastic tough, while plasticizers are mixed in to make it flexible. These additives are chemically-bound to carbon molecules, and they hold on tight. So they’re virtually impossible to remove even as plastics get processed in recycling plants. Plastics with different chemical compositions get mixed together, ground into bits, and melted during the recycling process. It’s impossible to predict the properties of the resulting material before it’s actually produced. The tendency of recycled plastics to inherit unknown additives has prevented plastics from becoming a “circular” material — one whose original building blocks can be recovered for reuse for as long as possible, or “upcycled” to make a new, higher quality product. PDKs won’t have this problem.
China Cashes in on the Cannabis Boom – (Indian Express/New York Times – May 3, 2019)
Two of China’s 34 regions are quietly leading a boom in cultivating cannabis to produce cannabidiol, or CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that has become a consumer health and beauty craze in the United States and beyond. They are doing so even though cannabidiol has not been authorized for consumption in China, a country with some of the strictest drug-enforcement policies in the world. “It has huge potential,” said Tan Xin, the chairman of Hanma Investment Group, which in 2017 became the first company to receive permission to extract cannabidiol here in southern China. The movement to legalize the mind-altering kind of cannabis has virtually no chance of emerging in China. But the easing of the plant’s stigma in North America has generated global demand for medicinal products — especially for cannabidiol — that companies in China are rushing to fill. The Hempsoul factory has dozens of closed-circuit cameras that stream videos directly to the provincial public security bureau. China relented on industrial hemp only in 2010, allowing Yunnan to resume production. Hemp then was used principally for textiles, including the uniforms of the People’s Liberation Army, but soon the products expanded. The growing industry has brought much-needed investment to Yunnan. The mild, springlike climate is exemplary for growing cannabis, and a farmer can earn the equivalent of $300 an acre for it, more than for flax or rapeseed, Tian of Hempsoul said. China has, in fact, cultivated cannabis for thousands of years — for textiles, for hemp seeds and oil and even, according to some, for traditional medicine. The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica, a text from the first or second century, attributed curative powers to cannabis, its seeds and its leaves for a variety of ailments.
Activists Are Trying to Force Mastercard to Cut Off Payments to the Far Right – (BuzzFeed – May 1, 2019)
Activists have successfully forced Mastercard to hold a vote by shareholders on a proposal which, if passed, could see the company monitoring payments to global far-right political leaders and white supremacist groups. The vote is slated for June 25th. The proposal aims to see Mastercard establish an internal “human rights committee” that would stop designated white supremacist groups and anti-Islam activists, such as Tommy Robinson, from getting access to money sent from donors using the company’s card payment services. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has given the green light for shareholders to get the chance to vote on the formation of the committee, despite staunch opposition from the Mastercard board and executives. It’s been conceived by US-based political activists SumOfUs, who want to escalate the battle against white supremacists and far-right groups from tech platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Patreon, and PayPal to one of the biggest companies in world finance, in an attempt to choke off donations. Robinson and several other leading figures in the global far right have been forced in recent months to solicit donations directly on their websites via Mastercard, Visa, and American Express after PayPal banned payments to them. Facebook also disabled the donation function on Robinson’s fan page before deleting it completely. “Spreading hate involves spending money,” said Eoin Dubsky, from SumOfUs.“Whether it’s paying for online advertising or organizing violent rallies, white supremacist groups need financial services from companies like Mastercard.” Here is the board of Mastercard’s take on this issue and on another, the gender pay gap (already legally mandated in the UK), which shareholders will also consider: Not only is the board of directors deeply opposed, Zero Hedge makes the point that: By doing this, journalist Ben Swann believes the government (via the SEC) granted “big corporations the ability to control what voices are heard.” The issue with such an approach, the investigative journalist argues, would lead to a wider crackdown on financial payments to anyone who the government would see as unfavorable.
The Case for Doing Nothing – (New York Times – April 29, 2019)
Running from place to place and laboring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status: I’m so busy because I’m just so important, the thinking goes. Perhaps it’s time to stop all this busyness. Being busy — if we even are busy — is rarely the status indicator we’ve come to believe it is. Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise, not to mention millennial burnout. There’s a way out of that madness, and it’s not more mindfulness, exercise or a healthy diet (though these things are all still important). What we’re talking about is … doing nothing. Or, as the Dutch call it, niksen. It’s difficult to define what doing nothing is, because we are always doing something, even when we’re asleep. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist who studies boredom and wrote the book Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World, likens niksen to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere. More practically, the idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. Indeed, the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging. According to Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in Britain, research has found that daydreaming — an inevitable effect of idleness — “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.” For that to happen, though, total idleness is required.
Cosmology Has Some Big Problems – (Scientific American – April 30, 2019)
Born out of a cosmic explosion 13.8 billion years ago, the universe rapidly inflated and then cooled, it is still expanding at an increasing rate and mostly made up of unknown dark matter and dark energy … right? This well-known story is usually taken as a self-evident scientific fact, despite the relative lack of empirical evidence—and despite a steady crop of discrepancies arising with observations of the distant universe. In recent months, new measurements of the Hubble constant, the rate of universal expansion, suggested major differences between two independent methods of calculation. Discrepancies on the expansion rate have huge implications not simply for calculation but for the validity of cosmology’s current standard model at the extreme scales of the cosmos. Another recent probe found galaxies inconsistent with the theory of dark matter, which posits this hypothetical substance to be everywhere. But according to the latest measurements, it is not, suggesting the theory needs to be reexamined. A crucial function of theories such as dark matter, dark energy and inflation, which each in its own way is tied to the big bang paradigm, is not to describe known empirical phenomena but rather to maintain the mathematical coherence of the framework itself while accounting for discrepant observations. Fundamentally, they are names for something that must exist insofar as the framework is assumed to be universally valid. Each new discrepancy between observation and theory can of course in and of itself be considered an exciting promise of more research, a progressive refinement toward the truth. But added up, they could also suggest a more confounding problem that is not resolved by tweaking parameters or adding new variables.
Is It Possible to Stamp out Terrorism? – (Cowardism-defined website – no date)
Many nations have grappled with terrorism for decades without truly understanding what keeps fuelling it. Governments have promised to eliminate it by investing millions of dollars in security and various counter-terrorism measures. We believe there is a much simpler solution – which doesn’t cost a penny! A simple change that each of us can do now that will herald the beginning of the end to what we currently call “terrorism”… What is the true nature of the crime which we currently refer to as “terrorism”? Is it not the cowardly act of killing of innocent and unarmed civilians – including children? We are advocating a change in our vocabulary whenever we refer to “terrorism” or “terrorists” – we believe “cowardism” or “cowardists” are more appropriate. Our language is full of symbolism – words such as “terrorism” has the contradictory connotation of glorifying the crime of attacking soft targets (e.g. unarmed civilians in a mall, church or airport). The use of such words serves as propaganda for the terrorist organizations and inspires new recruits. The word “cowardism” on the other hand, recognizes those attacks on innocent civilians without glorifying the crime. Once terms such as “cowardism”, “cowardist attack” or “cowardist bomber” start to become commonly used by the public at a global scale – the terrorist organizations will find it harder and harder to find inspiration for these attacks – even if they continue to refer to these by other names such as “Jihad” or “martyrdom”. The symbolism of the language used by the public will always have overarching influence.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Sunscreen Enters Bloodstream after Just One Day of Use, Study Says – (CNN – May 6, 2019)
It took just one day of use for several common sunscreen ingredients to enter the bloodstream at levels high enough to trigger a government safety investigation, according to a pilot study conducted by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, an arm of the US Food and Drug Administration. The study, published in the medical journal JAMA, also found that the blood concentration of three of the ingredients continued to rise as daily use continued and then remained in the body for at least 24 hours after sunscreen use ended. The four chemicals studied — avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene — are part of a dozen that the FDA recently said needed to be researched by manufacturers before they could be considered “generally regarded as safe and effective.” So, should you stop using sunscreen? Absolutely not, experts say. “Studies need to be performed to evaluate this finding and determine whether there are true medical implications to absorption of certain ingredients,” said Yale School of Medicine dermatologist Dr. David Leffell, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. He added that in the meantime, people should “continue to be aggressive about sun protection.”
Bezos Reveals His Ugly Vision for the World He’s Trying to Rule – (Caitlin Johnstone – May 12, 2019)
This article may not be very well titled and it definitely has an intent to persuade readers of its agenda. However, it does give a fairly good précis of Bezos’ vision for the future if you don’t have time to watch his entire presentation “Going to Space to Benefit Earth”. (Editor’s note: We recommend watching the You Tube clip. It showcases what the richest person on Earth would like to make happen.) The article then critiques Bezos’ vision for the future – humanity’s future – and offers the author’s alternative suggestions.
JUST FOR FUN
The Comedian Is in the Machine. AI Is Now Learning Puns – (Wired – May 3, 2019)
Here’s a groaner for you: The greyhound stopped to get a hare cut. Bad? Yup. You can blame a machine. A pun generator might not sound like serious work for an artificial intelligence researcher—more the sort of thing knocked out over the weekend to delight the labmates come Monday. But for He He, who designed just that during her postdoc at Stanford, it’s an entry point to a devilish problem in machine learning. He’s aim is to build AI that’s natural and fun to talk to—bots that don’t just read us the news or tell us the weather, but can crack jokes or compose a poem, even tell a compelling story. But getting there, she says, runs up against the limits of how AI typically learns. Neural networks are natural imitators, learning patterns of language by scouring vast amounts of text. If coherency is your aim, that approach works well. Neural networks, in other words, are rule-abiding to a fault, and that makes them terrible jokers. A well-crafted joke teeters at the edge of coherency without wading into nonsense, He says, and neural networks simply don’t have the sense to strike that balance. Besides, the whole point of creativity is to be, well, novel. Groaners indeed. “We’re nowhere near solving this,” He acknowledges. Still, Roger Levy, director of MIT’s computational psycholinguistics lab, says the approach is a promising step toward building AI with a bit more personality. The article explains some of the AI teaching process.
A FINAL QUOTE
To predict the future, we need logic; but we also need faith and imagination, which can sometimes defy logic itself. – Arthur C Clarke
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