FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Bizarre worms with no mouth or gut have found a unique way to survive.
- Google’s AI can detect lung cancer better than radiologists.
- Almost one million shoes and over 370,000 toothbrushes are among the 414 million pieces of plastic found washed ashore on the remote Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.
- A Danish politician has found a unique way to find voters — by taking out an advertisement on PornHub.
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.
PostScript interview with Chris Robinson
Our April TransitionTalk speaker was Christopher Robinson, who actively –- and very accurately — dreams about the future. His capabilities made his a significant asset for the UK intelligence community and Scotland Yard.
We had a great afternoon with Chris here in Berkeley Springs. We started the day out with this PostScript interview. Enjoy.
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:
The “3.5% rule”: How a Small Minority Can Change the World – (BBC News – May 14, 2019)
Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change. In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day. In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands. Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance. In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change. There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way. Working with Maria Stephan, a researcher at the ICNC, Chenoweth performed an extensive review of the literature on civil resistance and social movements from 1900 to 2006 – a data set then corroborated with other experts in the field. They primarily considered attempts to bring about regime change. A movement was considered a success if it fully achieved its goals both within a year of its peak engagement and as a direct result of its activities. A regime change resulting from foreign military intervention would not be considered a success, for instance. A campaign was considered violent, meanwhile, if it involved bombings, kidnappings, the destruction of infrastructure – or any other physical harm to people or property. The criteria were so strict that India’s independence movement was not considered as evidence in favor of nonviolent protest in Chenoweth and Stephan’s analysis – since Britain’s dwindling military resources were considered to have been a deciding factor, even if the protests themselves were also a huge influence.
Nature’s Most Common Form of Water May be “Black, Hot Ice” – (SOTT.net – May 8, 2019)
A new experiment confirms the existence of “superionic ice,” a bizarre form of water that might comprise the bulk of giant icy planets throughout the universe. Recently at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Brighton, New York, one of the world’s most powerful lasers blasted a droplet of water, creating a shock wave that raised the water’s pressure to millions of atmospheres and its temperature to thousands of degrees. X-rays that beamed through the droplet in the same fraction of a second offered humanity’s first glimpse of water under those extreme conditions. The X-rays revealed that the water inside the shock wave didn’t become a superheated liquid or gas. Paradoxically – but just as physicists squinting at screens in an adjacent room had expected – the atoms froze solid, forming crystalline ice. The discovery of superionic ice potentially solves the puzzle of what giant icy planets like Uranus and Neptune are made of. They’re now thought to have gaseous, mixed-chemical outer shells, a liquid layer of ionized water below that, a solid layer of superionic ice comprising the bulk of their interiors, and rocky centers.
Humans and Neanderthals Evolved from a Mystery Common Ancestor, Huge Analysis Suggests – (Live Science – May 17, 2019)
Modern humans and Neanderthals may have diverged at least 800,000 years ago, according to an analysis of nearly 1,000 teeth from humans and our close relatives. This new estimate is much older than previous estimates based on ancient DNA analyses, which put the split between humans and Neanderthals as happening between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago. The researchers examined 931 teeth belonging to a minimum of 122 individuals from eight groups, including humans and our close relatives. However, while outside researchers called the new dental analysis impressive, they note that it’s based on one big assumption: that tooth shape evolves in a steady fashion, especially in Neanderthals. If tooth shape doesn’t evolve at a steady rate, then “the construction of this paper collapses,” said Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, director of research specializing in human evolution at France’s National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse, who was not involved in the study. That said, it is quite possible that teeth (and Neanderthal teeth in particular) do evolve at a predictable rate, meaning the new study’s calculation might be on target. “At the moment, there is the idea of a steady evolutionary rate change in the shape of cheek-teeth,” Ramirez Rozzi said. The result — that Neanderthals and modern humans probably diverged more than 800,000 years ago — shows that the last common ancestor of these two groups is probably not Homo heidelbergensis, as some scientists think. “H. heidelbergensis cannot occupy that evolutionary position because it postdates the divergence between Neanderthals and modern humans,” according to Gómez-Robles. “That means that we need to look at older species when looking for this common ancestral species.”
Bizarre Worms Have No Mouth or Gut, But Have Found a Unique Way to Survive – (Science Alert – April 13, 2019)
In the sandy seabeds of temperate climates, a curious flatworm thrives. It’s called Paracatenula, and it has neither mouth, butt, nor gut. These shortcomings don’t slow the worm down, though – a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live inside it keeps it alive. It works so well, in fact, they’ve been doing it for over 500 million years. Exactly how it works though has long baffled scientists. Now, after studying Paracatenula and their bacteria buddies, called Riegeria, they have figured out how the bug feeds the worm. Over millennia, the bacterium has pared back its genome so that now it only has the most essential functions. It lives in special organs called trophosomes, filling up the main body cavity of the worms. The bacteria are chemosynthetic, which means they rely on chemical processes to produce energy, rather than the Sun’s light (photosynthesis). They use the reaction between carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide to produce organic compounds, which then feed the worms. These foods contain lipids and proteins, and probably also sugars, fatty acids, and vitamins.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Scientists Redesigned an Entire Genome to Create the Most Synthetic Life Form Yet – (Science Alert – May 16, 2019)
For all its immense variation, life on Earth all shares a common language in its DNA. A handful of chemical letters are used to create dozens of three-letter ‘words’, each of which can be translated into the dialect of proteins that conduct biology’s heavy work. The four nucleic acid letters of adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine – or A, C, G and T – can be strung into 64 combinations of three-letter words called codons. Biology makes use of 61 of those codons to represent just 20 amino acids. The other three are a punctuation mark designating the end point to a single gene’s template. Like a DNA thesaurus, our genes use one of several words to refer to the same thing. This makes for a lot of redundancy, and for good reason, too. Accidental changes that turn a codon into one of its synonyms aren’t anywhere near as bad when they all translate into the same product anyway. But just how much wiggle room do we really need here? Sure, nature can be brutal, but under controlled laboratory conditions, could we have room to edit this waffle down to something a little more concise? To find out, the research team at Cambridge University took a look at the entire genetic code of a strain of E. coli and highlighted every time one of three different codons appeared. These triplets were all replaced. The real challenge was stitching together a chemical copy of the rewritten genome and exchanging it for the original inside living organisms. As each synthetic piece replaced the original code, the researchers watched to see whether the bacteria would function or perish. The edited variation, simply referred to as Syn61, isn’t quite a dead ringer for its ancestor. The cells are a touch longer, and they reproduce 1.6 times slower. But the edited E. coli seems healthy, and produces the same range and quantity of proteins as the non-edited versions.
Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis? – (New Yorker – May 6, 2019)
Hearing damage and other problems caused by excessively loud sound are increasingly common worldwide. Ears evolved in an acoustic environment that was nothing like the one we live in today. The first serious sufferers of occupational hearing loss were probably workers who pounded on metal: blacksmiths, church-bell ringers, and the people who built the boilers that powered the steam engines that created the modern world. Today, the sound source that people first think of when they think of hearing loss is amplified music. However, modern sound-related health threats extend far beyond music, and they affect more than hearing. Studies have shown that people who live or work in loud environments are particularly susceptible to many alarming problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, low birth weight, and all the physical, cognitive, and emotional issues that arise from being too distracted to focus on complex tasks and from never getting enough sleep. And the noise that we produce doesn’t harm only us. Scientists have begun to document the effects of human-generated sound on non-humans—effects that can be as devastating as those of more tangible forms of ecological desecration. Les Blomberg, the founder and executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, based in Montpelier, Vermont, said, “What we’re doing to our soundscape is littering it. It’s aural litter—acoustical litter—and, if you could see what you hear, it would look like piles and piles of McDonald’s wrappers, just thrown out the window as we go driving down the road.” In Western Europe, W.H.O.’s guidelines say, traffic noise results in an annual loss of “at least one million healthy years of life.” An intrusive volume of sound also disturbs the health and behavior of birds and land and marine animals. Scientists still don’t know everything there is to know about the effects of sound on living things, but they know a lot, and for a long time they’ve also known how to make the world substantially less noisy. For example, reducing the sound impact of global shipping would be possible, since “the navies of the world have spent billions of dollars learning how to make ships quiet.”
The Intersection of Race and Blood – (New York Times – May 14, 2019)
The history of race and blood was an ugly one. America’s earliest blood bank, founded in 1937 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, noted race on donor forms and other blood banks followed suit. During World War II, African-American blood was labeled N for Negro (and some centers refused African-American donors outright) and given only to African-American soldiers. Writing to Eleanor Roosevelt, the chairman of the American Red Cross, Norman H. Davis, admitted that segregating blood was “a matter of tradition and sentiment rather than of science,” but didn’t stop doing it until 1950. Louisiana banned the segregation of blood only in 1972. But the Red Cross was wrong: While no one is suggesting forced segregation of blood bags, it’s now scientifically established that blood can be racially or ethnically specific. So having more blood donors in certain groups can be crucial for saving the lives of patients who share their backgrounds. Most people know about the major blood groups. What group you are in depends on what combination of proteins and sugars — antigens — are on the outside of your red blood cells. The International Society of Blood Transfusion lists 360 known antigens, but the combinations are infinitely more. Many have no bearing on routine blood transfusion, though all were discovered because they caused a problem with compatibility. There is a shortfall between ethnic minority patients who need blood, and ethnic minority donors. In New York, Caucasians are 35% of the population but 58% of donors. Twenty-eight percent of New Yorkers are African-American but only 8% of the donors in New York are African-American, and that’s after five years of hard work and outreach by the New York Blood Center with its PreciseMatch campaign. At first there were problems, when staff members were initially upset by this apparent division of blood by ethnicity. “We didn’t educate the staff,” says Dr. Westhoff, “to know that we weren’t segregating the blood just to be segregating. We were doing it to send all the African-American units to the sickle program children because they were doing much better with blood that came from this same ethnic group.” Disquiet was inevitable, given sensitivity about whether race is skin-deep and whether differences should be highlighted at all, if equality is ever to be reached. But the startling truth about blood is that acknowledging, seeking and celebrating its differences can tip the balance between life and death for people who need it.
Google’s AI Can Detect Lung Cancer Better Than Radiologists – (The Week – May 20, 2019)
Google has trained an AI tool to recognize the signs of lung cancer from a CT scan of a patient’s chest. The research, which began in late 2017, has culminated in an AI capable of diagnosing lung cancer with better accuracy than certified radiologists. In order to test the AI, Google showed it 45,856 chest CT scans, comparing the AI’s diagnoses with those of six board-certified radiologists. Google’s AI was able to detect cancer in 5% more of these screenings than the radiologists; it also reduced false diagnoses by more than 11%. Radiologists typically have to view up to hundreds of images from a single CT scan in order to make a successful diagnosis for lung cancer; Google’s AI is able to generate a three-dimensional image instead of 2-D ones, as well as detecting specific areas of malignant tissue in the lungs, which radiologists are often unable to do from images alone. This AI modeling technique represents a breakthrough in the ability to diagnose cancers early.
Can We Live Longer but Stay Younger? – (New Yorker – May 13, 2019)
This article is a broad survey of the current research on aging. The work of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was established to engineer and promote new products and services specially designed for the expanding market of the aged. But the AgeLab swiftly discovered that engineering and promoting new products and services specially designed for the expanding market of the aged is a good way of going out of business. Old people will not buy anything that reminds them that they are old. They are a market that cannot be marketed to. We would rather suffer because we’re old than accept that we’re old and suffer less. The AgeLab has rediscovered the eternal truth that identity matters to us far more than utility. The most effective way of comforting the aged, the researchers there find, is through a kind of comical convergence of products designed by and supposedly for impatient millennials, which secretly better suit the needs of irascible boomers. The best hearing aids look the most like earbuds. The most effective PERS device (personal-emergency-response system, such as a neck pendant that summons emergency services when pressed) is an iPhone or an Apple Watch app. A few subway stops away from MIT is a Harvard lab where a group of engineer-entrepreneurs are trying not to make better products for aging people but to make fewer aging people to sell products to. Anti-aging research, in its “translational,” or applied, form, seems to be proceeding along two main fronts: through “small molecules,” meaning mostly dietary supplements that are intended to rev up the right proteins; and, perhaps more dramatically, through genetic engineering. The article then moves to the laboratory of Patrick Hof, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in Manhattan, who studies the aging of the brain and Alzheimer’s.
414 Million Pieces of Plastic Found on Remote Australian Islands – (CNN – May 17, 2019)
Almost one million shoes and over 370,000 toothbrushes — they’re among the 414 million pieces of plastic found washed ashore on the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean, according to new research. The study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that the Australian territory was littered with 238 tons of plastic, despite being home to around 500 people. The group of mostly uninhabited 27 islands — which are 1,708 miles from Perth — are marketed to tourists as “Australia’s last unspoilt paradise.” Much of the rubbish was single-use consumer items such as bottle caps, straws, shoes and sandals, University of Tasmania marine eco-toxicologist Jennifer Lavers, who led the study, said. Lavers said that the estimate of 414 million pieces was “conservative” as they had only sampled down to a depth of 10 centimeters, and could not access some beaches that were known as debris “hotspots.” In 2017, Lavers revealed research that showed remote Henderson Island in the South Pacific Ocean had the highest density of plastic debris reported anywhere in the world. Cocos (Keeling) Islands had a lower density of plastic than Henderson Island, but the total volume was higher than Henderson Island’s 38 million pieces which weighed 17 tons.
YouTube’s Newest Far-Right, Foul-Mouthed, Red-Pilling Star Is a 14-Year-Old Girl – (BuzzFeed – May 13, 2019)
What does a 14-year-old girl dressed in a chador have to say on YouTube to amass more than 800,000 followers? How about this: “I’ve become a devout follower of the Prophet Muhammad. Suffice to say, I’ve been having a fuck ton of fun. Of course, I get raped by my 40-year-old husband every so often and I have to worship a black cube to indirectly please an ancient Canaanite god — but at least I get to go to San Fran and stone the shit out of some gays, and the cops can’t do anything about it because California is a crypto-caliphate.” Yes, if you want a vision of the future YouTube is midwifing, imagine a cherubic white girl mocking Islamic dress while lecturing her hundreds of thousands of followers about Muslim “rape gangs,” social justice “homos,” and the evils wrought by George Soros — under the thin guise of edgy internet comedy. Actually, don’t imagine it. It’s already here. The video is called “Be Not Afraid,” and it may be the clearest manifestation yet of the culture the executives of Alphabet’s video monster are delivering to millions of kids around the world, now via children incubated in that selfsame culture. A 20-minute, unbroken, and hyperarticulate tirade ostensibly about ignoring criticism online, “Be Not Afraid” stars a high school freshman from the Bay Area who goes by the name Soph on YouTube. (She edits as well as scores the videos, which she says are comedic.) Through videos like these, she’s become a rising star — with more than 800,000 followers — in the universe of conspiracy theorists, racists, and demagogues that owes its big bang to YouTube. Interviews with Soph and asides in her videos reveal that she didn’t start as a politics caster but, predictably, as a profane 9-year-old (9!) game streamer called LtCorbis. A 2016 Daily Dot story about her bore the unintentionally profound headline “This sweary, savvy, 11-year-old gamer girl is the future of YouTube.” Soph’s popularity raises another, perhaps more difficult question, about whether YouTube has an obligation to protect such users from themselves — and one another. Of course, that’s partially the job of parents, a fact Soph pointed out in a recent video while addressing people alarmed by her content. “I’m wondering why they’re concerned with what I say instead of being concerned with the parents who let their kids watch me,” she said. Indeed, one of Soph’s messages seems to be that in a world where the adults who have grown rich through technology took the implications of that technology seriously, she wouldn’t exist.
Amazon Is Getting Closer to Building an Alexa Wearable That Knows When You’re Depressed – (Gizmodo – May 23, 2019)
It looks like Amazon is working on a new Alexa-powered gadget that can listen to you and decide how you feel, and make recommendations based on your human emotions. Citing internal documents and an unnamed source, Bloomberg reports that the company has designed a device that you wear like a wristwatch and beta testing is apparently underway. Amazon holds a number of patents that shed some light on how technology like this might work. One patent, titled “Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users,” describes how an Alexa device could receive input from a user through microphones and tag it accordingly. For example, a sick woman could arrive home, cough, and say she’s hungry. Alexa would tag her as “sick” and then recommend chicken soup. Alexa could even offer to order cough drops from Amazon. This example seems innocuous enough, but another patent awarded on April 30 of this year describes more advanced systems for analyzing not only the emotions of a user but also their mental health state. Here, the technology analyzes characteristics like articulation, pitch variation, and vocal effort (“a measure of a feature designed to discriminate soft, breathy voices from loud, tense ones”) in order to provide more data.
News in a Digital Age – (Rand Corporation – May, 2019)
This report presents a quantitative assessment of how the presentation of news has changed over the past 30 years and how it varies across platforms. The researchers considered such linguistic characteristics as social attitude, sentiment, affect, subjectivity, and relation with authority for four comparisons: newspapers before and after 2000 (through 2017), broadcast television news before and after 2000 (through 2000), broadcast news and prime-time cable programming for the period from 2000 to 2017, and newspapers and online journalism during the 2012–2017 period. Over time, and as society moved from “old” to “new” media, news content has generally shifted from more-objective event- and context-based reporting to reporting that is more subjective, relies more heavily on argumentation and advocacy, and includes more emotional appeals. These changes were observed across platforms, appearing least significant in the evolution of print journalism and most stark in comparisons of broadcast news with prime-time cable programming and of print journalism with online journalism. The report quantifies the sizes of observed changes and provides examples of what these changes look like in context. It also includes a discussion of the implications of these trends for the changing media ecosystem and for Truth Decay—the term RAND uses to refer to the diminishing role of facts and analysis in political discourse.
The Future of AT&T Is an Ad-tracking Nightmare – (The Verge – May 22, 2019)
There’s a long, excellent profile of the new AT&T and its CEO Randall Stephenson in Fortune, which you should read. AT&T has transformed itself into a media colossus by buying Time Warner, and understanding how the company plans to use its incredible array of content from HBO, CNN, TNT, and others in combination with its huge distribution networks across mobile broadband, DirecTV, and U-verse is important for anyone who cares about tech, media, or both. Seriously, go read it. Here’s the part I want you to pay attention to: two quick paragraphs describing how AT&T sees the future of advertising across those media properties and networks. It’s the same plan AT&T has laid out before, but it’s more specific now, and that specificity makes it chilling. Here’s the AT&T pitch: “Say you and your neighbor are both DirecTV customers and you’re watching the same live program at the same time,” says Brian Lesser, who oversees the vast data-crunching operation that supports this kind of advertising at AT&T. “We can now dynamically change the advertising. Maybe your neighbor’s in the market for a vacation, so they get a vacation ad. You’re in the market for a car, you get a car ad. If you’re watching on your phone, and you’re not at home, we can customize that and maybe you get an ad specific to a car retailer in that location.” Such targeting has caused privacy headaches for Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, of course. That’s why AT&T requires that customers give permission for use of their data; like those other companies, it anonymizes that data and groups it into audiences—for example, consumers likely to be shopping for a pickup truck—rather than targeting specific individuals. Regardless of how you see a directed car ad, say, AT&T can then use geolocation data from your phone to see if you went to a dealership and possibly use data from the automaker to see if you signed up for a test-drive—and then tell the automaker, “Here’s the specific ROI on that advertising,” says Lesser. AT&T claims marketers are paying four times the usual rate for that kind of advertising.” This is a terrifying vision of permanent surveillance. (Editor’s note: Article goes on to detail precisely the degree of surveillance and data crunching needed to make this kind of advertizing work.)
Chicago Finds a Way to Improve Public Housing: Libraries – (New York Times – May 15, 2019)
Is any city doing public housing right these days? I recently visited three sites that the Chicago Housing Authority has just or nearly completed. These small, community-enhancing, public-private ventures, built swiftly and well, are the opposite of Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor. With a few dozen apartments each, they’re costlier per unit than the typical public housing developments, and they’re not going to make a big dent in a city with a dwindling population but a growing gap between the number of affordable apartments and the demand for them. That said, they’re instructive. These are integrated works of bespoke architecture, their exceptional design central to their social and civic agenda. And they share another distinctive feature, too: each project includes a new branch library (“co-location” is the term of art). The libraries are devised as outward-facing hubs for the surrounding neighborhoods, already attracting a mix of toddlers, retirees, after-school teens, job-seekers, not to mention the traditional readers, nappers and borrowers of DVDs. Co-location is of course not a new idea. But Chicago’s outgoing mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has made a point of touting the concept, and seeing it through in ways other mayors haven’t. Mr. Emanuel talked often as mayor about the value of public space and good design. People don’t only need affordable apartments, as he has said. Healthy neighborhoods are not simply collections of houses. They also require things like decent transit, parks, stores, playgrounds and libraries. Mr. Emanuel persuaded federal officials that public libraries could be co-located with public housing projects without putting federal housing subsidies at risk. That freed up streams of money for the co-location idea, which was partly strategic: the library helped sway community groups resistant to public housing in their neighborhoods.
April Is Shaping up to Be Momentous in Transition from Coal to Renewables – (Inst. for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis – April 25, 2019)
The future of the U.S. electricity generation industry may have arrived, and it is not good news for struggling coal-fired generating plants. This month, for the first time ever, the renewable energy sector (hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal) is projected to generate more electricity than coal-fired plants, which totals about 240 gigawatts (GW) of still-operating capacity. According to data published this month in the Energy Information Administration (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook, renewables may even trump coal through the month of May as well. The EIA sees renewable generation topping coal-fired output sporadically this year, and again in 2020. To be fair, there are seasonal considerations. Of particular note, is the long-held practice of taking coal plants offline during the lower demand periods of the spring (and fall) to perform maintenance and upgrades to ensure that they are ready for the higher demand of the summer and winter seasons. In addition, spring tends to be peak time for hydro generation. That said, this represents a momentous development driven by the deep transition under way in the electric generation arena. It is also likely, particularly given IEEFA’s forecasts for continued declines in the amount of installed coal-fired capacity, and steady increases in the amount of installed solar and wind generation, that renewable output will begin outpacing coal more and more frequently—just as occurred with natural gas.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
The US Army Asked Twitter How Service Has Impacted People. The Answers Were Gut-Wrenching. – (Caitlin Johnstone.com – May 25, 2019)
After posting a video of a young recruit talking to the camera about how service allows him to better himself “as a man and a warrior”, the US Army tweeted, “How has serving impacted you?” As of this writing, the post has over 5,300 responses. Most of them are heartbreaking. Tweet after tweet after tweet, people used the opportunity that the Army had inadvertently given them to describe how they or their loved one had been chewed up and spit out by a war machine that never cared about them. This article exists solely to document a few of the things that have been posted in that space, partly to help spread public awareness and partly in case the thread gets deleted in the interests of “national security”. The article includes a sampling of responses in no particular order. Here’s one of the milder ones: “My parents both served in the US Army and what they got was PTSD for both of them along with anxiety issues. Whenever we go out in public and sit down somewhere my dad has to have his back up against the wall just to feel a measure of comfort that no one is going to sneak up on him and kill him and walking up behind either of them without announcing that you’re there is most likely going to either get you punch in the face or choked out.” See also: After Pat’s Birthday, Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin, who was discharged in 2005, later wrote a powerful, must-read essay. It was first published Oct. 19, 2006 and is being reprinted on the occasion of yet another Memorial Day many of our troops are spending in the Middle East fighting America’s forever wars. (Editor’s note: We particularly recommend both of these articles.)
San Francisco Bans Facial Recognition Technology – (New York Times – May 15, 2019)
San Francisco, long at the heart of the technology revolution, took a stand against potential abuse on Tuesday by banning the use of facial recognition software by the police and other agencies. The action, which came in an 8-to-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors, makes San Francisco the first major American city to block a tool that many police forces are turning to in the search for both small-time criminal suspects and perpetrators of mass carnage. Aaron Peskin, the city supervisor who sponsored the bill, said that it sent a particularly strong message to the nation, coming from a city transformed by tech. Mr. Peskin said, “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here.” But critics said that rather than focusing on bans, the city should find ways to craft regulations that acknowledge the usefulness of face recognition. “It is ridiculous to deny the value of this technology in securing airports and border installations,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. “It is hard to deny that there is a public safety value to this technology.” Similar bans are under consideration in Oakland and in Somerville, Mass., outside of Boston. In Massachusetts, a bill in the State Legislature would put a moratorium on facial recognition and other remote biometric surveillance systems. On Capitol Hill, a bill introduced last month would ban users of commercial face recognition technology from collecting and sharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent, although it does not address the government’s uses of the technology. Matt Cagle, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of Northern California, on Tuesday summed up the broad concerns of facial recognition: The technology, he said, “provides government with unprecedented power to track people going about their daily lives. That’s incompatible with a healthy democracy.” See also: San Francisco’s Facial Recognition Ban Is Just the Beginning of a National Battle over the Technology.
Ransomware Cyberattacks Knock Baltimore’s City Services Offline – (NPR – May 21, 2019)
Anonymous hackers breached the city of Baltimore’s servers two weeks ago. Since then, those servers’ digital content has been locked away — and the online aspects of running the city are at an impasse. Government emails are down, payments to city departments can’t be made online and real estate transactions can’t be processed. Hackers demanded 13 bitcoins — worth about $100,000 today — to relinquish their grip. Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young has said the city won’t pay. The FBI and Secret Service are investigating, and the city has contracted with a series of experts to assist in restoring service. The cyberattack is just one of more than 20 made on municipalities this year — and cybersecurity experts say it likely will take months for the city to recover. The hackers used a ransomware called RobinHood — an extremely powerful and malicious program that makes it impossible to access server data without a digital key. Replicating that key without the hackers is impossible, says Rubin, a Johns Hopkins computer science professor and cybersecurity expert, who has testified about his field before Congress. “I don’t even think that the NSA would be able to break this algorithm,” he said. “It’s believed by the cryptographic community, both the theoreticians as well as the practitioners, to be unbreakable by today’s technologies.” The city of Atlanta was attacked with ransomware in March 2018 — its digital civic services similarly ground to a halt. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported it cost the city $17 million to recover.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Accused of ‘Terrorism’ for Putting Legal Materials Online – (New York Times – May 13, 2019)
Carl Malamud believes in open access to government records, and he has spent more than a decade putting them online. But when Mr. Malamud’s group posted the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, the state sued for copyright infringement. Providing public access to the state’s laws and related legal materials, Georgia’s lawyers said, was part of a “strategy of terrorism.” A federal appeals court ruled against the state, which has asked the Supreme Court to step in. In an unusual move, Mr. Malamud’s group, Public.Resource.Org, also urged the court to hear the dispute, saying that the question of who owns the law is an urgent one, as about 20 other states have claimed that parts of similar annotated codes are copyrighted. The issue, the group said, is whether citizens can have access to “the raw materials of our democracy.” The case, Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, No. 18-1150, concerns the 54 volumes of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which contain state statutes and related materials. The state, through a legal publisher, makes the statutes themselves available online, and it has said it does not object to Mr. Malamud doing the same thing. But people who want to see other materials in the books, the state says, must pay the publisher. This is part of a disturbing trend, according to a new law review article, “Who Owns the Law? Why We Must Restore Public Ownership of Legal Publishing,” by Leslie Street, a law professor and librarian at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., and David Hansen, a librarian at Duke.
Assange Is Reportedly Gravely Ill, And Hardly Anyone’s Talking About It – (Medium – May 29, 2019)
Julian Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per Samuelson has told the press that “Assange’s health situation on Friday was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him.” This jarring revelation has been reported by a small handful of outlets, but only as an aside in relation to Sweden refusing Samuelson’s request for a postponement of a scheduled hearing regarding Assange’s detention in absentia for a preliminary investigation of rape allegations. The fact that the imprisoned WikiLeaks founder is so ill that he can’t converse lucidly is itself far more significant than the postponement refusal, yet headlines mentioning Samuelson’s statement focus on the Swedish case, de-emphasizing the startling news from his lawyer. Another part of this story which has gone completely uncovered in all English-language media as of this writing is the news that Assange has actually been transferred to the hospital wing of Belmarsh prison. This was reported by the Swedish outlet Upsala Nya Tidning, a newspaper published in the same district court Assange is scheduled to call in to for his hearing. It has long been an established fact that Assange was in failing health while trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London; doctors who visited him published an article with the Guardian in January 2018 titled “We examined Julian Assange, and he badly needs care — but he can’t get it”.
Danish Politician: ‘Yes It’s Me on Pornhub’ – (CNN – May 14, 2019)
A Danish politician has found a unique way to find voters — by taking out an advertisement on PornHub. In an off-color ad seen on the porn-streaming site, Joachim B. Olsen, a center-right Liberal Alliance party MP, told users to go “vote for Jokke” once they were done with the site’s services. “Jokke” is a nickname for Joachim. In a Facebook post, Olsen confirmed that the unconventional campaign was indeed his. Olsen, a former Olympic shot putter now standing in the country’s upcoming general election, said while he realized that the streaming porn site was an unusual place to campaign, it was one that had potential. Speaking to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, Olsen said, “You have to go out everywhere, and then we thought it might be fun to make an ad on Pornhub. Half of the internet is porn. And you have to be where the voters are. According to the business’s self-reported statistics, Pornhub receives 100 million visits every day and Denmark is the 28th highest source of traffic to the site. Nearly three-quarters of its Danish users are men. Olsen said that while his campaign is “95% serious,” there was room for what he called a “fun feature.” He acknowledged that the ad had sparked outrage among some people, a consequence he described as inevitable.
How Chinese Spies Got the N.S.A.’s Hacking Tools, and Used Them for Attacks – (New York Times – May 6, 2019)
Chinese intelligence agents acquired National Security Agency hacking tools and repurposed them in 2016 to attack American allies and private companies in Europe and Asia, a leading cybersecurity firm has discovered. The episode is the latest evidence that the United States has lost control of key parts of its cybersecurity arsenal. Based on the timing of the attacks and clues in the computer code, researchers with the firm Symantec believe the Chinese did not steal the code but captured it from an N.S.A. attack on their own computers — like a gunslinger who grabs an enemy’s rifle and starts blasting away. The Chinese action shows how proliferating cyberconflict is creating a digital wild West with few rules or certainties, and how difficult it is for the United States to keep track of the malware it uses to break into foreign networks and attack adversaries’ infrastructure. The losses have touched off a debate within the intelligence community over whether the United States should continue to develop some of the world’s most high-tech, stealthy cyberweapons if it is unable to keep them under lock and key. Symantec’s discovery suggests that the same Chinese hackers the agency has trailed for more than a decade have turned the tables on the agency. Some of the same N.S.A. hacking tools acquired by the Chinese were later dumped on the internet by a still-unidentified group that calls itself the Shadow Brokers and used by Russia and North Korea in devastating global attacks.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Composting of Human Bodies Now Legal in Washington State – (NBC – may 21, 2019)
Washington has become the first state to approve composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains. It allows licensed facilities to offer “natural organic reduction,” which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks. Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated — or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree. “It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death,” said Nora Menkin, executive director of the Seattle-based People’s Memorial Association, which helps people plan for funerals. Supporters say the method is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, which releases carbon dioxide and particulates into the air, and conventional burial, in which people are drained of their blood, pumped full of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can pollute groundwater, and placed in a nearly indestructible coffin, taking up land.
‘It Was Like a Zoo:’ Death on an Unruly, Overcrowded Everest – (New York Times – May 26, 2019)
This has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest, with at least 10 deaths. The problem hasn’t been avalanches, blizzards or high winds. Veteran climbers and industry leaders blame having too many people on the mountain, in general, and too many inexperienced climbers, in particular. Fly-by-night adventure companies are taking up untrained climbers who pose a risk to everyone on the mountain. And the Nepalese government, hungry for every climbing dollar it can get, has issued more permits than Everest can safely handle, some experienced mountaineers say. Add to that Everest’s inimitable appeal to a growing body of thrill-seekers the world over. And the fact that Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest nations and the site of most Everest climbs, has a long record of shoddy regulations, mismanagement and corruption. The result is a crowded, unruly scene reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies” — at 29,000 feet. At that altitude, a delay of even an hour or two can mean life or death. See also: The Photo that Captured the 2012 Climbing Season, that went viral. Here are the photographer’s thoughts on it: My deep hope was that the number of climbers on Everest would be reduced. But I fear that I’ve made Everest more popular with this picture. People may start thinking, “If there are so many people, I can also queue up.” It was my hope to make more people understand that this has nothing to do with mountaineering, that it’s a trophy hunt. But I don’t think people got the message.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Shrinking Moon May Be Generating Moonquakes – (NASA – May 13, 2019)
The Moon is shrinking as its interior cools, getting more than about 150 feet skinnier over the last several hundred million years. Just as a grape wrinkles as it shrinks down to a raisin, the Moon gets wrinkles as it shrinks. Unlike the flexible skin on a grape, the Moon’s surface crust is brittle, so it breaks as the Moon shrinks, forming “thrust faults” where one section of crust is pushed up over a neighboring part. “Our analysis gives the first evidence that these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today as the Moon continues to gradually cool and shrink,” said Thomas Watters, senior scientist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. “Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter scale.” These fault scarps resemble small stair-step shaped cliffs when seen from the lunar surface, typically tens of yards high and extending for a few miles.
The ‘Forbidden’ Planet Has Been Found in the ‘Neptunian Desert’ – (PhysOrg – May 29, 2019)
An exoplanet smaller than Neptune with its own atmosphere has been discovered in the Neptunian Desert, by an international collaboration of astronomers, with the University of Warwick taking a leading role. NGTS-4b, also nick-named ‘The Forbidden Planet’ by researchers, is a planet smaller than Neptune but three times the size of Earth. It has a mass of 20 Earth masses, and a radius 20% smaller than Neptune, and is 1000 degrees Celsius. It orbits around the star in only 1.3 days—the equivalent of Earth’s orbit around the sun of one year. It is the first exoplanet of its kind to have been found in the Neptunian Desert.The Neptunian Desert is the region close to stars where no Neptune-sized planets are found. This area receives strong irradiation from the star, meaning the planets do not retain their gaseous atmosphere as they evaporate leaving just a rocky core. However NGTS-4b still has its atmosphere of gas. Researchers believe the planet may have moved into the Neptunian Desert recently, in the last one million years, or it was very big and the atmosphere is still evaporating. “This planet must be tough—it is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive. It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2% – this has never been done before by telescopes on the ground, and it was great to find after working on this project for a year. “This planet must be tough—it is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive. It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2% – this has never been done before by telescopes on the ground, and it was great to find after working on this project for a year.
U.S. Births Fell to a 32-Year Low in 2018; CDC Says Birthrate Is in Record Slump – (NPR – May 15, 2019)
The U.S. birthrate fell again in 2018, to 3,788,235 births — representing a 2% drop from 2017. It’s the lowest number of births in 32 years, according to a new federal report. The numbers also sank the U.S. fertility rate to a record low. And it’s an ongoing slump: 2018 was the fourth consecutive year of birth declines. Birthrates fell for nearly all racial and age groups, with only slight gains for women in their late 30s and early 40s, the CDC says. The news has come as something of a surprise to demographers who say that with the U.S. economy and job market continuing a years-long growth streak, they had expected the birthrate to show signs of stabilizing, or even rising. Many current or would-be parents also responded to the report, using social media to list a string of obstacles to having kids in the U.S., from the frustration of finding child care to high insurance costs and a lack of parental leave and other support systems. And they note that while the national economy has done well, workers’ paychecks haven’t been growing at the same pace. The latest birthrate data put the U.S. further away from a viable replacement rate — the standard for a generation being able to replicate its numbers. The U.S. has generally fallen short of that level since 1971, the CDC says. The total fertility rate fell to 1,728 births per 1,000 women over their lifetimes — a 2% fall from 2017. That’s far below the replacement rate of 2,100 births per 1,000 women. According to the census agency’s Population Clock, the U.S. is currently gaining one person every 16 seconds — in part because it’s adding one international migrant every 34 seconds. Both of those are net results, meaning they account for deaths and outward migration.
Luring Refugees: N.Y. Cities Desperate for People Try a New Strategy – (New York Times – May 13, 2019)
Between 1950 and 2000, Rochester and Syracuse lost roughly 30% of their populations, Utica lost about 40% of inhabitants and Buffalo lost half its residents, according to the New York State comptroller’s office. Buffalo’s decline was the fourth highest nationwide. “The real fear for upstate cities is that if we don’t keep our population growing, we will fall into an endless cycle of decline,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Democrat from Buffalo. “We’re not at that tipping point yet, but we are very close.” Since assuming office, Mr. Trump has sharply reduced the number of refugees. The cap was set at 30,000 this fiscal year, down from 110,000 in the last fiscal year of the Obama administration. It is the lowest ceiling a president has ever placed on refugee admissions. But as the pool of refugees shrinks under President Trump, New York has positioned itself to have an advantage over other places. Cuts in federal funding meant resettlement agencies in other parts of the country had to shrink or close. In New York, the state stepped in and has been funding those agencies since 2017. They now can provide services to more refugees, an incentive for people to move to New York from elsewhere. In an era when immigration policy has drawn sharp political lines throughout the country, enticing refugees to New York has held bipartisan local appeal. In trying to draw upon the existing pool of refugees in the United States, New York is competing against places that have experienced similar declines as the country’s population growth has fallen to 80-year lows. New York is not alone in trying novel ways to reverse its dwindling population. Maine, for example, has offered an outstretched hand to refugees in hope of expanding its work force. Vermont has dangled $10,000 grants to entice people to move to the state and to work from home, in a bid to attract young tech workers. And Wyoming is trying to woo people born there back home by deploying recruiters to help them find jobs.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
New Device Appears to Defy the Laws of Thermodynamics – (Futurism – April 22, 2019)
The laws of thermodynamics are pretty straightforward: Normally, heat from a hot object will flow to a cold one until they reach the same temperature, bringing the system to a state of equilibrium. Now, physicists at the University of Zurich (UZH) have developed a surprisingly simple device that they say temporarily allows heat to flow from a cold object to a hot one. In other words, the team acknowledges, the device appears to defy the second law of thermodynamics. The team managed to cool a nine-gram piece of copper from over 100°C to 2°C below room temperature without an external power supply. To pull it off, they used a Peltier element, a long-lasting device with no moving parts commonly used in things like minibars and self-filling water bottles, and an electrical inductance, a current generated by changes in a magnetic field. Using layers of alternating types of semiconductors, the Peltier element transfers heat energy from one side of the device to the other. When an electrical current is applied the devices can create a “thermal oscillating circuit” in which energy flows between objects, from hot to cold and back again. As the object approaches room temperature the magnetic field helps drive temperature changes just a little bit cooler.
Conjuring Designs from Thin Air in a Virtual World – (BBC News – May 14, 2019)
Most designs used to start with an idea, a pen and some paper. Now, imagine conjuring 3D shapes out of thin air and sharing your life-like designs in real time with people half way around the world. The whole process of designing a new product becomes faster, cheaper and more effective. VR is finally beginning to fulfill its potential for business. “You can walk around your sketches so you can see how your lines work in a 3D environment, and move freely in a room,” explains Jan Pflueger, augmented and virtual reality co-ordinator for German car firm Audi. In the past, the technology – hardware, software, connectivity – simply wasn’t up to the job. But now that processing speeds have increased and optics tech has improved, we’re reaching the stage where VR is coming close to the limits of what the human eye can perceive. For example, Audi is working with Finnish start-up Varjo, which has recently starting selling a high-end headset boasting “human eye resolution” using a technique called “foveated rendering”. It uses eye-tracking technology to tell which part of the image you’re focusing on, then concentrates its processing power on that section to render it in high definition. So you perceive the highest quality without having to process the entire image in high definition for every frame, which would require huge computing resources.
Top 5 “Conspiracy Theories” That Turned Out To Be True – (Activist Post – May 19, 2019)
We all know the old trope of the tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist who believes crazy things like “the government is spying on us” and “the military is spraying things in the sky” and “the CIA ships in the drugs.” Except those things aren’t so crazy after all. Here are five examples of things that were once derided as zany conspiracy paranoia and are now accepted as mundane historical fact. 19 minute video clip.
Why an Indonesian Rehab Center Doesn’t Insist on Abstinence – (NPR – May 16, 2019)
Sam Nugraha runs a rehab center in Indonesia, and to understand his approach to addiction, he says it’s important to know something about his country. There’s an Indonesian word that captures this — malu. There are a lot of ways to translate malu but one way is to define malu as a mask. Everyone knows what’s underneath, but you still keep the mask on, hiding the stuff that doesn’t look good. Nugraha subscribed to Alcoholics Anonymous idea of “abstinence only” as a counselor, until something happened with a client he really liked. The client stayed sober and graduated from the program. Less than six months later Nugraha learned his former patient had overdosed and died. Nugraha started to wonder: What if AA and its focus on sobriety wasn’t right for everyone? In 2010 he decided to start his own addiction treatment program called “Rumah Singgah PEKA” — Indonesian for “Stop-by House.” The place has a lot of the things you’ll find at a lot of rehab centers, like cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy with a counselor, and job-training programs. Rumah Singgah clients are not required to be completely sober. The patients can’t use on the premises, but Nugraha will not kick out patients who do drugs or drink alcohol while still in the program, as long as they tell their counselors. It’s the first rehab program like this in Indonesia, but it’s part of a movement around the world that’s sometimes called “harm reduction.” Nugraha’s treatment program at Rumah Singgah in Indonesia is based on partnerships with patients. “We do not decide what’s best for our clients,” Nugraha says, “The clients have to decide what’s best for them.” Nugraha does not measure success based on whether people get sober but on their quality of life: Are they holding down a job, are they healthy, how are their relationships going “Many people feel ashamed when they slip, [when] they use again,” Nugraha says, “And they don’t want to admit because it gives that feeling of being a failure.” He is trying to create an environment in his center where people don’t feel ashamed for having an addiction or for relapsing. And he doesn’t want to shame them for lying. “Lying is part of the business,” Nugraha says. “Humans are fragile.”
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Owners of Kentucky’s Noah’s Ark Attraction Sue over Flooding Damage – (Weather.com – May 25, 2019)
The owners of Kentucky’s Noah’s ark attraction are suing their insurers over damage caused by flooding. In a federal lawsuit, the owners of the Ark Encounter are asking for a $1 million settlement after the attraction’s insurers, Allied World Assurance Co. Holdings of Switzerland and three other insurance companies, refused to cover damage after heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its access road. Opened in 2016, the 510-foot-long wooden ark has been a popular attraction in Williamstown, Kentucky. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and stipulates that the ark itself was not damaged. The ark is was reportedly built to the dimensions specified in the story of Noah in the Bible and is the largest timber-frame structure in the world.
JUST FOR FUN
Breathtaking Drone Imagery from the Dronestagram’s Annual Photo Awards – (New Atlas – January 8, 2019)
Founded in 2013, Dronestagram has been cultivating a thriving community of drone photographers allowing this new photographic aesthetic to flourish. The platform has just revealed the winners of its 5th annual drone photography contest, illustrating the best and most breathtaking aerial images from the past 12 months. Article includes 36 photos. (Editor’s note: For the rhythmic quality of its composition, we particularly liked #31.)
A FINAL QUOTE
When was the last time you did something for the first time? – Anonymous
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