FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- China’s air pollution is so bad that solar panels are much less effective.
- Confronted with relentless busyness, some modern households are starting to run more like offices and using office software to do it.
- 33% of counties nationwide use voting machines that either provide no paper trail or machines that print paper ballots that are then scanned on separate machines.
- A Dutch company is producing a car whose roof and hood are comprised of five square meters of integrated solar cells in safety glass.
by John L. Petersen
Free Book Offer
Our friends at The Fetzer Memorial Trust would like to give you a free hard-cover copy of the book “John E. Fetzer and the Quest for The New Age” by Brian Wilson, Ph. D.
John E. Fetzer, was a pioneer in the broadcast industry, owner of the World Series Detroit Tigers, advisor to two presidents and one of America’s 400 most wealthy individuals. Driven by a deep spiritual quest and interest in scientific exploration he is a true inspiration.
I found this biography of John Fetzer most interesting. Here was a titan of industry who had another life that was involved in helping to fund and enable a great deal of research in the metaphysical area and who set up a major foundation that continues to explore the leading edge of our reality.
The Fetzer Institute has always had a very impressive, big outlook on this world and what was possible and I’m pleased that they are making this hardcover book available at no cost to FUTUREdition subscribers.
I certainly would encourage you to take advantage of this offer. — JLP
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GREGG BRADEN AT TRANSITION TALKS IN AUGUST
New York Times best-selling author, Gregg Braden will be returning to Berkeley Springs on the 17th of August for an all-day event. This event is certainly going to be a sell-out again. If you’d like to spend a day with Gregg, register early at TransitionTalks.org Gregg will be presenting a brand-new program, based on his new book that will be out later this year. Complete information at TransitionTalks.org
Tom Drake on PostScript Show
Our April speaker at Berkeley Springs Transition Talks was former NSA executive and whistleblower, Tom Drake. Tom gave a moving and motivating talk – one person told me that it was the best that we have ever had! You can get a taste of it here from our interview on PostScript. Enjoy!
|Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers|
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
Endless AI-generated Spam Risks Clogging up Google’s Search Results – (Verge – July 2, 2019)
Over the past year, AI systems have made huge strides in their ability to generate convincing text, churning out everything from song lyrics to short stories. Experts have warned that these tools could be used to spread political disinformation, but there’s another target that’s equally plausible and potentially more lucrative: gaming Google. Instead of being used to create fake news, AI could churn out infinite blogs, websites, and marketing spam. The content would be cheap to produce and stuffed full of relevant keywords. But like most AI-generated text, it would only have surface meaning, with little correspondence to the real world. It would be the information equivalent of empty calories, but still potentially difficult for a search engine to distinguish from the real thing. Just take a look at this blog post answering the question: “What Photo Filters are Best for Instagram Marketing?” At first glance it seems legitimate, with a bland introduction followed by quotes from various marketing types. But read a little more closely and you realize it references magazines, people, and — crucially — Instagram filters that don’t exist. The rest of the site is full of similar posts, covering topics like “How to Write Clickbait Headlines” and “Why is Content Strategy Important?” But every post is AI-generated, right down to the authors’ profile pictures. It’s all the creation of content marketing agency Fractl, who says it’s a demonstration of the “massive implications” AI text generation has for the business of search engine optimization, or SEO. To write the blog posts, Fractl used an open source tool named Grover, made by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Tynski says the company is not using AI to generate posts for clients, but that this doesn’t mean others won’t. “I think we will see what we have always seen,” she says. “Blackhats will use subversive tactics to gain a competitive advantage.” The history of SEO certainly supports this prediction.
The Story of Humans and Neanderthals in Europe Is Being Rewritten – (Atlantic – July 10, 2019)
In 1978, in a cave called Apidima at the southern end of Greece, a group of anthropologists found a pair of human-like skulls. One had a face, but was badly distorted; the other was just the left half of a braincase. Researchers guessed that they might be Neanderthals, or perhaps another ancient hominin. And since they were entombed together, in a block of stone no bigger than a microwave, “it was always assumed that they were the same [species] and came from the same time period,” says Katerina Harvati from Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. But by thoroughly analyzing both skulls using modern techniques, Harvati and her colleagues have shown that they are very different, in both age and identity. The one with the face, known as Apidima 2, is a 170,000-year-old Neanderthal—no surprises there. But the other, Apidima 1, was one of us—a 210,000-year-old modern human. And if the team is right about that, the partial skull is the oldest specimen of Homo sapiens outside Africa, handily beating the previous record holder, a jawbone from Israel’s Misliya Cave that’s about 180,000 years old. “I couldn’t believe it at first,” Harvati says, “but all the analyses we conducted gave the same result.” Until now, most researchers have focused on the more complete (but less interesting) of the two skulls. “Apidima 1 has just been ignored,” says Harvati. But its antiquity matters for three reasons. First, it pushes back the known presence of modern humans outside Africa by some 30,000 years. Second, it’s considerably older than all other Homo sapiens fossils from Europe, all of which are 40,000 years old or younger. Third, it’s older than the Neanderthal skull next to it.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Researchers Use CRISPR to Remove HIV from Mice – (GizModo – July 2, 2019)
An interdisciplinary team of scientists is claiming to have eliminated the HIV virus from the genomes of mice by combining the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool with an experimental new drug. It’s a promising development in the battle against HIV and AIDS, but more work is required before clinical trials can begin. Using a gene-editing tool like CRISPR to clear out an infectious disease may seem strange, but HIV is a retrovirus that embeds itself within DNA as a means to replicate. Antiretroviral therapy, or simply ART, can suppress HIV replication, but it can’t eliminate every trace of the disease, as it’s not capable of purging cells in which the virus has gone dormant. As new research shows, CRISPR-Cas9, when used in conjunction with an exciting new form of ART, provided a one-two punch that flushed out the virus from the genomes of a living animal. That’s never been done before. In experiments on mice that were genetically modified to have certain similarities with humans, a research team led by Kamel Khalili from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University eliminated all traces of the HIV virus in slightly more than 30% of infected mice. It’s not a perfect result, but it provides reason to be optimistic.
Programming Bacteria to Fight Cancer – (Medical News Today – July 4, 2019)
The ability to program living cells to behave in specific ways under certain conditions is creating new opportunities in medicine. A recent mouse study in which researchers programmed bacteria to help fight cancer is an example. Some tumors thrive and spread because their cells send out a “don’t eat me” signal that makes the immune system leave them alone. Tumor cells that don’t send the signal are vulnerable to macrophages and other immune cells that can engulf and digest them. Now, scientists from Columbia University in the city of New York have shown that it is possible to program bacteria to switch off the don’t eat me signal and induce an anti-tumor immune response. The approach is an example of synthetic biology, an emerging field in which medical treatments promise to be more effective and specific than many molecular methods. Researchers describe how they programmed bacteria and used them to shrink tumors and increase survival in a mouse model of lymphoma. They saw that the treatment not only shrank the tumors that they injected, but that distant, secondary tumors, or metastases, also responded. Co-senior author Tal Danino, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University. states that what they witnessed was the first demonstration of an “abscopal effect” in cancer treatment that uses bacteria. The abscopal effect is the ability to provoke an anti-tumor response that destroys cancer cells far away from the primary target. For a different, yet equally novel, approach to treating cancer, see: A Clever New Strategy for Treating Cancer, Thanks to Darwin.
Agriculture Department Suspends Critical Tracking of Plunging Honey Bee Population – (Huffington Post – July 8, 2019)
Bees help pollinate a third of all the crops Americans eat. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Just two years ago, the USDA touted its work on honeybees, pointing out that managed colonies were responsible for increasing crop yield and quality by $15 billion. “Honey bees may be some of the hardest workers you’ll ever see, but they need our help,” the USDA said in a statement then. “At USDA, we are making sure that they get it.” But now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it is suspending tracking the plunging honeybee population because of a budget shortfall. The department will suspend data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies report, and officials did not say when — or if — it would be restarted. It will release data already collected from January 2018 through April of this year. The Agricultural Department has been a key source of data on the insects, which is critically important to scientists and farmers. The number of honey bee hives, vital to pollinating crops for the agricultural industry and other plants for wildlife, plummeted from 6 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2008. The worst honeybee hive loss on record occurred last winter as beekeepers reported a 40% loss of their colonies over the year. Critics say the USDA’s move is the latest evidence of the Trump administration’s war on science, and its goal of suppressing information about serious environmental harms increasing under Donald Trump’s presidency. Ironically, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, spoke last month about National Pollinators Week and bragged about hives at the Pence residence.
These Elegant Bottles Are Made of Soap Instead of Plastic to Create Zero Waste – (My Modern Met – July 12, 2019)
Around 552 million shampoo bottles are thrown away every year, and only 1 in 5 people consistently recycle items from their bathroom. Luckily, many eco-conscious designers are working on developing new alternatives to synthetic containers to help reduce our plastic footprint. One person fighting the good fight against plastic waste is Mi Zhou, a student at Central Saint Martins Material Futures master’s degree program. She has cleverly created bottles and jars made of soap called Soapack. Zhou’s Soapack collection is cast from vegetable oil-based soap that melts away once they are no longer needed—even the “paper” instructions dissolve in water! A thin layer of beeswax is used to line the bottles to make them waterproof, preventing the liquid contents from leaking. Zhou explains, “It is designed to invite the user to use it or even deconstruct it and make it eventually disappear.” Featuring delicate stoppers and glass-like patterns, each translucent bottle is based on the shapes of classic perfume bottles. “I found that compared to shampoo bottles, we are more likely to keep perfume bottles which mostly are made of glass and look gorgeous,” says Zhou. “Even if the perfume is used up, we keep the bottles since they are too beautiful to be discarded.” Other than their dainty shapes, each Soapack container has been dyed using pigments from minerals, plants, and flowers, resulting in soft shades of pretty pastel gradients.
China’s Air Pollution Is So Bad That Solar Panels Don’t Work Anymore – (Fast Company – July 12, 2019)
China’s efforts to green up its energy supply are hitting a roadblock. According to a new study, the country’s air pollution has gotten so bad that the sun can’t reach the solar panels—and it’s affecting the solar panels’ output. Research has mapped the impact of China’s air pollution on potential solar output from about 1960 to 2015. Over the years, the generation of solar power in China has declined by 11% to 15% due to air pollution blocking the sun’s rays. The researchers believe that if China managed to get its air quality back to 1960s levels, it could yield 12% to 13% more solar electricity and the economic benefits that goes with it, which they estimate at between $5 billion and $7 billion in U.S. dollars by 2030. China’s pollution-caused smog, particularly in its larger cities, is infamously awful. According to Greenpeace, in 2017, the deadly fine particulates in Shanghai’s air (called PM2.5) exceeded World Health Organization air-quality guidelines by nearly four times. And that jumped to six times for the air in Beijing. There’s also cause for concern about the levels of ozone (03) in the air, leading to a risk of lung damage, asthma, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Because coal burning is the leading cause of air pollution in China, switching to green energy was supposed to help alleviate the smog. However, China appears to be stuck in a chicken-or-the-egg situation, where the solar panels can’t work efficiently due to the continued use of coal, but the country can’t switch to solar power until production ramps up, which it can’t do until the air clears.
The Slackification of the American Home – (Atlantic – July 11, 2019)
Children’s free-play time has been on the decline for more than 50 years, and their participation in extracurricular activities has led to more schedule-juggling for parents. Parents are busier too, especially those whose jobs demand ever more attention after hours: 65% of parents with a college degree have trouble balancing work and family, a 2015 Pew Research Center report found, compared with about half of those without a college degree. In an effort to cope, some families are turning to software designed for offices. Parents are finding project-management platforms such as Trello, Asana, and Jira, in addition to Slack, a workplace communication tool (its slogan is “Where work happens”), particularly useful in their personal lives. In other words, confronted with relentless busyness, some modern households are starting to run more like offices. Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum, a mom of three children ages 8 to 12, uses Google Calendar to manage her children’s time and Jira to keep track of home projects. Ryan Florence, a dad in Seattle, set up a family Slack account for his immediate and extended family to communicate more easily. And Melanie Platte, a mom in Utah, says Trello has transformed her family life. After using it at work, she implemented it at home in 2016. “We do family meetings every Sunday where we review goals for the week, our to-do list, and activities coming up,” she says. “I track notes for the meeting [in Trello]. I have different sections, goals for the week, a to-do list.” Despite these tools’ utility in home life, it’s work where most people first become comfortable with them. “The membrane that divides work and family life is more porous than it’s ever been before,” says Bruce Feiler, a dad and the author of The Secrets of Happy Families. “So it makes total sense that these systems built for team building, problem solving, productivity, and communication that were invented in the workplace are migrating to the family space.” However, this strategy doesn’t always play out smoothly. There are things that productivity software doesn’t optimize for, such as carving out quality family time and allowing children to “feel all the emotions.”
12 Houses Photographed Directly from Above – (Dezeen – July 13, 2019)
With the proliferation of drone photography more houses are being photographed from the air. Here are 12 homes that look impressive in bird’s-eye view. Accompanying each bird’s eye view is a link to an article about that house showing elements of the interior. (Editor’s note: The majority of these houses look as though they were extremely challenging projects for the contractors who built them. They are all fascinating buildings, but maybe not all so livable.)
Tiny Granules Can Help Bring Clean and Abundant Fusion Power to Earth – (PhysOrg – July 2, 2019)
Beryllium, a hard, silvery metal long used in X-ray machines and spacecraft, is finding a new role in the quest to bring the power that drives the sun and stars to Earth. Beryllium is one of the two main materials used for the wall in ITER, a multinational fusion facility under construction in France to demonstrate the practicality of fusion power. Now, physicists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and General Atomics have concluded that injecting tiny beryllium pellets into ITER could help stabilize the plasma that fuels fusion reactions. Experiments and computer simulations found that the injected granules help create conditions in the plasma that could trigger small eruptions called edge-localized modes (ELMs). If triggered frequently enough, the tiny ELMs prevent giant eruptions that could halt fusion reactions and damage the ITER facility. Scientists around the world are seeking to replicate fusion on Earth for a virtually inexhaustible supply of power to generate electricity. The process involves plasma, a very hot soup of free-floating electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions. The merging of the nuclei releases a tremendous amount of energy.
Norway Invites You to Explore Its Electric Vehicle Paradise – (Wired – July 6, 2019)
In Norway, battery-powered rides are so ubiquitous, it is as if you’ve traveled 10 or 20 years into our transportation future. Jaguar I-Paces, Audi E-tron SUVs, VW E-Golfs, Hyundai Konas, and other vehicles rarely spotted in the States stream down highways and side streets en masse. For decades, based on its offshore wells in the North Sea and elsewhere, Norway has been one of the world’s largest exporter of oil and natural gas. The resulting revenues constitute a spectacular 20% of the nation’s GDP. The national government oversees and controls nearly all of the processes and profits from an industry that contributes heavily to carbon emissions. And in what looks like penance, Norway has, since the 1990s, worked to use this windfall for the common good. One major element of that effort is promoting emissions-free electric vehicles. Norway has pushed consumers and local governments toward battery power using a variety of policies. It offers strong tax incentives for the purchase or lease of EVs, and it subsidizes the construction of private and public charging infrastructure. EV drivers are exempt from many urban parking and highway lane restrictions, and they get discounted fares on toll roads, car ferries, and parking. And because Norway gets nearly all its electricity from hydropower plants, there’s nowhere better on the planet to enjoy guilt-free driving. Because of all this, over one-third of all EVs sold in Europe end up going to customers in Norway. This is the reason that the Tesla Model 3 is currently the best-selling car in the country. Not just the best-selling luxury car or electric; the best-selling car, period. (America’s top three are full-size pickups; the top EV, the Model 3, ranks number 37.) Norway isn’t just Tesla’s biggest market on a per capita basis. It’s also the company’s fourth biggest market by sales—though it’s home to only 5.5 million people. This spring, plug-in electric vehicles outsold gas and diesel cars for the first time in Norway. Don’t expect the balance to reverse: EV registrations grew by more than 10%, year over year, in May 2019. So deep is the penetration of electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, and governmental commitment, that much of the country can now readily be traversed on battery power. Privately run, nationwide charging networks are adding stations every 30 miles or less along the country’s main roads.
Dutch Company Unveils the World’s First Long-Range Solar Car – The 4-Passenger Lightyear One – (Good News Network – July 1, 2019)
The group from Eindhoven whose prototype car won the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge for three years, just introduced the world’s first long-range solar car—the four-passenger all-electric vehicle called Lightyear One. The prototype has already sold 100 orders to be filled in 2021. The designers were able to produce a 4-passenger luxury car that requires only half the energy consumption of other cars in its class—with a battery two-thirds the size of a Tesla S but providing longer range, up to 800 kilometers (497 miles) if driving in full sun. The roof and hood are comprised of five square meters of integrated solar cells in safety glass so strong that a fully-grown adult can walk on them without causing dents. It can charge directly from the sun, but also can be plugged in. So effectively, you charge a lot faster from any power outlet. You can charge up to 400 km (248 miles) at night from an ordinary household electrical outlet.
A Biotech Startup Is Making Cow-free Ice Cream. Would You Eat It? – (Technology Review – July 12, 2019)
The market for non-dairy ice cream has exploded over the past few years; in 2017, Nielsen expected that demand for dairy-free ice cream was expected to climb 50%, thanks to the growth of veganism and the increasing availability (and popularity) of non-dairy ingredients like oat, coconut, and even chickpea milk. Anyone who’s tasted non-dairy ice cream knows it sometimes seems sandy, chalky, or just … not like the real thing. That’s because one of the things that make ice cream so, well, creamy is the whey protein that is prevalent in cow’s milk. Cashew and coconut milks come close because they, like their bovine-derived counterparts, contain plenty of fat, which helps give frozen treats their silky texture. But they’re not the same. A company called Perfect Day has announced that after five years and $60 million in venture backing, it’s created ice cream made of whey protein harvested from genetically modified yeast. Is it genetically modified? Yes and no. On its website, Perfect Day says the yeast is genetically modified to turn sugars into whey and casein. But the company says only the “pure” whey makes it into the ice cream. One writer from The New Food Economy, a vegan, found the product creamy enough to stand by its dairy-free cousins. But the verdict is still out on how it compares in taste with ice cream made from old-fashioned cow’s milk.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
He Cyberstalked Teen Girls for Years—Then They Fought Back – (Wired – June 24, 2019)
Belmont, New Hampshire is an old mill town of 7,200 people and very few good jobs. Crime in Belmont tends toward opioids, thefts, and burglaries. But this is a long article about a different kind of crime — small town cyberstalker, the way in which cyberbullying can turn into sextortion (now a legal term), and how law enforcement agencies finally identified the culprit. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for the ways in which it lifts a lid on an element of cybercrime that is not commonly given much notice.)
How to Fight a War in Space (and Get Away with It) – (Technology Review – June 26, 2019)
Last March, India became only the fourth country in the world—after Russia, the US, and China—to successfully destroy a satellite in orbit. Mission Shakti, as it was called, was a demonstration of a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon (ASAT)—or in plain English, a missile launched from the ground. Typically this type of ASAT has a “kill vehicle,” essentially a chunk of metal with its own guidance system, mounted on top of a ballistic missile. Shortly after the missile leaves the atmosphere, the kill vehicle detaches from it and makes small course corrections as it approaches the target. No explosives are needed; at orbital speeds, kinetic energy does the damage. Despite the posturing, no nation has yet destroyed another’s satellite—mainly because most of the countries that can do it are also nuclear powers. But as satellites become more intertwined with every aspect of civilian life and military operations, the chances are increasing that someone, somewhere will decide that attacking a satellite is worth the risk—and just possibly trigger the world’s first full-blown space war. In the assessment of Chinese analysts, space is used for up to 90% of the US military’s intelligence. Satellites are so crucial that attacking them could be seen as an act of war. The bad news is, it may have already happened. That doesn’t necessarily mean blowing up satellites. Less aggressive methods typically involve cyberattacks to interfere with the data flows between satellites and the ground stations. Some hackers are thought to have done this already.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Supreme Court Rules against Government Transparency in Contracts with Private Businesses – (Nation of Change – June 25, 2019)
The Supreme Court has reversed decades of precedent barring private corporations from interfering with the government’s obligations to release information to the public pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, Justice Gorsuch, writing for a 6-3 majority, held that the government could withhold information about government spending through the food stamps program even if there was no showing of any competitive harm to the company. In addition to reordering FOIA to make it far more difficult for the public to learn about the details of government arrangements with private companies, the decision reverses 40 years of precedent by finding that private entities have standing to appeal an order that the government disclose information even where the government itself does not appeal. On behalf of Detention Watch Network, Prison Policy Initiative, and the Human Rights Defense Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School, filed an amicus brief in March in the case. Amici argued that private entities did not have independent standing to sue to block releases under FOIA, and that allowing them to do so would severely undermine the power of FOIA to educate the public about government contracting with private corporations. FOIA cases have been a crucial tool for prisoners’ and immigrants’ rights and advocates to obtain information about the increasingly common collaborations between the federal government and private prison contractors. “This outcome is a major step backward for government transparency under the FOIA,” said Ghita Schwarz, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “For 40 years, the court has held private companies have no rights under FOIA to stop the government from releasing information to the public. Unfortunately, we are likely to see many private actors seeking to interfere with access to government information in the future.” For specific details on this particular case (it has to do with food stamp expenditures), see: The Supreme Court rewrote FOIA into the Freedom FROM Information Act.
NY Times Admits It Sends Stories to US Government for Approval before Publication – (Information Clearing House – June 25, 2019)
The New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication. This confirms what veteran New York Times correspondents like James Risen have said: The American newspaper of record regularly collaborates with the US government, suppressing reporting that top officials don’t want made public. On June 15, the Times reported that the US government is escalating its cyber attacks on Russia’s power grid. According to the article, “the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively,” as part of a larger “digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.” In response to the report, Donald Trump attacked the Times on Twitter, calling the article “a virtual act of Treason.” The New York Times PR office replied to Trump from its official Twitter account, defending the story and noting that it had, in fact, been cleared with the US government before being printed. “Accusing the press of treason is dangerous,” the Times communications team said. “We described the article to the government before publication.” “As our story notes, President Trump’s own national security officials said there were no concerns,” the Times added. (Editor’s note: The original article referred to was noted in the 07/01 issue of FUTUREdition.)
Computer Scientists Make the Case against an Expensive New Voting System – (Atlantic – July 13, 2019)
Earlier this year, Georgia’s Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission held a public meeting at the state capitol to answer a pressing question: What should Georgia do to replace its aging touch-screen voting machines, as well as other parts of its election system? In the preceding years, security vulnerabilities in the state’s election system had been repeatedly exposed: by Russian operatives, friendly hackers, and even a Georgia voter who, just days ahead of the 2018 midterms, revealed that anyone could go online and gain access to the state’s voter-registration database. Computer scientists and election experts from around the country weighed in during the seven months of the commission’s deliberations on the issue. They submitted letters and provided testimony, sharing the latest research and clarifying technical concepts tied to holding safe, reliable elections. Their contributions were underscored by the commission member Wenke Lee, a co-director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Information Security and Privacy and the group’s only computer scientist. Despite this, the commission ultimately did not recommend measures backed by Lee and his colleagues at places such as Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Google—including the recommendation that the state return to a system of paper ballots filled out by hand, combined with what scientists call “risk-limiting audits.” Instead, the commission recommended buying a system that included another, more expensive touch-screen voting machine that prints a paper ballot. With the decision, Georgia’s counties remain among the 33% of counties nationwide that use either machines with no paper trail or machines that print paper ballots that are then scanned on separate machines. Indeed, hundreds of millions of dollars have been or will soon be spent in Georgia and other states on technology that experts say decreases election security and erodes election integrity. And this, they say, will only contribute to the sizable portion of the American public that already worries its votes are vulnerable to hacking and other threats. The sentiments of many computer scientists were crystallized by Richard DeMillo, a colleague of Lee’s at Georgia Tech, who recommends casting paper ballots filled out by hand for all voters, except those with disabilities who would benefit from using machines. “You simply can’t construct a trusted paper trail,” DeMillo says, “if you let a machine make a ballot for you.”
A 5-Year Journey to Document LGBTQ Love Stories in China – (NPR – June 28, 2019)
Although China officially decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, activists say the stigma around being LGBTQ — and discussing it publicly — remains today. In the past few years, Chinese Web censors have made headlines for repeatedly targeting depictions of homosexuality. In a 2018 survey by the U.N. and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, only 5% of LGBTQ people in China felt comfortable being out at work. Italian-born photographer Raul Ariano is currently based between Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He says he traveled from Italy because he was fascinated by “Chinese people and their way of adapting themselves in the fast-paced change of their society.” Over dinner during Ariano’s first weekend in mainland China, he says he was talking with a friend who called LGBTQ people “sick and dangerous.” “I was shocked to hear that,” Ariano says. So, over the course of five years, Ariano set out to photograph more than 30 LGBTQ participants across mainland China — eventually turning the project into a portrait series.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Can You Hear It? Sonic Devices Play High-Pitched Noises To Repel Teens – (NPR – July 10, 2019)
In Philadelphia, 30 parks and recreation centers are outfitted with a small speaker called the Mosquito. It blares a constant, high-pitched ringing noise all night long — but one that only teenagers and young adults can hear. Anyone over age 25 is supposed to be immune because, basically, their ear cells have started to die off. Philadelphia parks officials have been installing the device since 2014 intending to shoo rowdy youths from the premises. And it’s not the only U.S. city to do so. Mosquito’s Vancouver-based manufacturer Moving Sound Technologies works with roughly 20 parks departments around the country to implement the youth-repellent devices, says president Michael Gibson. It’s intended to prevent loitering and vandalism by teens and young adults at public facilities. But some say this age-based targeting is a form of prejudice. Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym refers to the devices as “sonic weapons” — and she’s working to get them removed. “In a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people,” Gym said, “how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars to turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?” Washington, D.C., officials installed the anti-kid noisemakers at the Gallery Place Metro station in 2010. The National Youth Rights Association took issue with the effort almost immediately, and members filed a complaint alleging age discrimination. The city eventually asked the manufacturer to remove the devices.
How Norway Turns Criminals into Good Neighbors – (BBC News – July 7, 2019)
What is the point of sending someone to prison – retribution or rehabilitation? Twenty years ago, Norway moved away from a punitive “lock-up” approach and sharply cut reoffending rates. At Norway’s maximum security Halden Prison, each prisoner costs about £98,000 per year. The average annual cost of a prison place in England in Wales is now about £40,000, or £59,000 in a Category A prison. A uniformed prison officer on a silver micro-scooter greets us cheerily as he wheels past. Two prisoners jogging dutifully by his side, keep pace. “It’s called dynamic security!” prison governor Are Hoidal grins. “Guards and prisoners are together in activities all the time. They eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them.” in the early 1990s, the ethos of the Norwegian Correctional Service underwent a rigorous series of reforms to focus less on what Hoidal terms “revenge” and much more on rehabilitation. Prisoners, who had previously spent most of their day locked up, were offered daily training and educational programmes and the role of the prison guards was completely overhauled. Since the reforms, recidivism in Norway has fallen to only 20% after two years and about 25% after five years. In the UK, the recidivism rate is almost 50% after just one year. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article.)
Why New Zealanders Love DIY Coffins – (Atlantic – August, 2019)
There are coffins, and then there is the Batesville Z94, better known as the Promethean. This bronze sarcophagus weighs 310 pounds; trimmings include gold-plated hardware, “Rumba Red” velvet upholstery, and a finish so shiny that pallbearers will be able to see their reflections. Price: up to $45,000, depending on the retailer. Remember Aretha Franklin’s golden casket? That was a Promethean. Now imagine a different type of casket: a humble wooden box built alongside a small community of like-minded souls who are choosing to embrace life by preparing for death, board by board. That’s what’s happening at various “coffin clubs” founded in New Zealand in recent years. Members start by selecting a coffin style (the classic “toe pincher” seems to be enjoying a revival). Next, the measuring and sawing of wood begins (MDF—think IKEA furniture—is common). After gluing and drilling comes the decision about how basic or elaborate the exterior should be (themes have ranged from hand-painted nature scenes to Elvis). The trend started in the town of Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island. With its eerie volcanic landscapes and pungent sulfur odor (a consequence of its geysers and hot springs), it is perhaps as fitting a place as any to contemplate one’s mortality. According to its mission statement, the Kiwi Coffin Club, established there in 2010, provides an “environment in which issues of death and loss can be raised, addressed, understood and accepted through discussion, support and the activity of painting and lining your own coffins.” Soon, coffin clubs were popping up elsewhere in New Zealand. Copycats have since begun launching in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. The Cleveland Community Coffin Club, which is scheduled to open later this year, already has a waiting list; applicants range from curious 16-year-olds to octogenarians. “We have become death-phobic in our daily living,” its founder, Adaire Petrichor, said. “This is a way for people to be useful while exploring our greatest fear.”
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Four Asteroids on Collision Course with Earth – (RT – June 30, 2019)
The United Nations fears that the possibility of an asteroid smashing into a densely populated area isn’t being taken seriously enough, so it designated June 30 as International Asteroid Day to raise awareness about the potentially catastrophic occurrence. The date was chosen because the largest asteroid impact in recorded history took place over Tunguska, Russia on that day in 1908 when an enormous asteroid exploded and destroyed hundreds of acres of forest. To mark the event, here are four asteroids that could wallop into Earth (but not immediately). Read about 1979 XB, Apophis, 2010 RF12, and 2000 SG344. But those are only the known asteroids flying by at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. Of course, a big part of the danger with hazardous space objects is that we are not good at detecting them and some of the most dangerous ones have caught us by surprise. When the Chelyabinsk meteor entered Earth’s atmosphere undetected, its explosion released up to 30 times more energy than the atomic bombs the US dropped on Japan in 1945. As recently as last December, another asteroid broke apart over the Bering Sea that was 10 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Neither Near Earth Objects (NEOs) was tracked in advance. It’s hoped that International Asteroid Day will prompt authorities around the world to improve how they detect the potentially cataclysmic space rocks.
Wild New Paper Claims Our Galaxy Could Have Formed Under Chameleon Theory – (Science Alert – July 9, 2019)
Einstein’s theory of general relativity has been proven time and again, and is generally accepted as a solid foundation for understanding the Universe. But it’s not the only model for explaining how gravity works and galaxies form – and new research has shown a different model under which the Milky Way could have come to be. Using powerful supercomputers, physicists have simulated the evolution of the cosmos based on a general relativity alternative called f(R) gravity, also known as Chameleon Theory. And these simulations produced disc galaxies with spiral arms, just like the Milky Way. This shows that the galaxies we see in the Universe around us could still have emerged if the laws of gravity were different. “Chameleon Theory allows for the laws of gravity to be modified so we can test the effect of changes in gravity on galaxy formation,” said physicist Christian Arnold of Durham University. “Through our simulations we have shown for the first time that even if you change gravity, it would not prevent disc galaxies with spiral arms from forming.” Chameleon Theory is so named because its properties change based on its environment; in addition to the four fundamental forces, it also incorporates a hypothetical ‘fifth force’. We don’t know what this fifth force actually is. Much like “dark matter,” it’s a term for observed phenomena and anomalies that don’t fit well into other existing theories or models of how the Universe works. But we can use the parameters of those anomalies to design theories – hence Chameleon Theory.
Scientists Want Your Input on Our Alien Response Plan – (Futurism – July 1, 2019)
Watch enough movies in which aliens contact humans, and you’ll notice a trend: the people deciding how Earth should respond to the extraterrestrial communications are usually politicians or scientists. But the UK Seti Research Network (UKSRN) thinks the average person should have a say in how Earth responds if aliens ever decide to say “hello” to humanity. To that end, the group of UK academics active in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence launched a survey at the Royal Society’s summer science exhibition. The survey’s purpose? Figure out how the public thinks we should respond to alien contact. “There is absolutely no procedure enshrined in international law on how to respond to a signal from an alien civilization,” said astronomer Martin Dominik. “We want to hear people’s views. The consequences affect more people than just scientists.”
Have Cancer, Must Travel: Patients Left In Lurch After Town’s Hospital Closes – (NPR – June 29, 2019)
Rural cancer patients typically spend 66% more time traveling each way to treatment than those who live in more urban areas, according to a recent national survey by ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, a cattle rancher’s daughter who is now chair of ASCO’s board, called this a “tremendous burden.” Cancer care, she explained, is “not just one visit and you’re done.” ASCO used federal data to find that while about 19% of Americans live in rural areas, only 7% of oncologists practice there. People in rural America are more likely to die from cancer than those in the country’s metropolitan counties, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2017. It found 180 cancer deaths per 100,000 people a year in rural counties, compared with 158 deaths per 100,000 in populous metropolitan counties. The discrepancy is partly because habits like smoking are more common among rural residents, but the risk of dying goes beyond that, said Jane Henley, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the report. “We know geography can affect your risk factors, but we don’t expect it to affect mortality.” For the next year, Kaiser Health News and NPR will track how Fort Scott, Kansas (pop. 7,800) citizens fare after the closure of their hospital in the hopes of answering pressing national questions: Do citizens in small communities like Fort Scott need a traditional hospital for their health needs? If not a hospital, what then? Nationwide, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. Residents, of course, lose health care services and doctors and nurses begin to move away. But the ripple effect can also be devastating. The economic vitality of a community takes a blow without the hospital’s high-paying jobs and it becomes more difficult for other industries to attract workers who want to live in a town with a hospital. Whatever remains is at risk of withering without the support of the stabilizing institution.
The Grim Future of Restaurants – (Axios – July 13, 2019)
The golden age of restaurants may be over, thanks to the collision of oversaturated markets, rising labor and food costs, changing consumer loyalties, a shrinking middle class, and declines in mall traffic. Restaurant growth has already exceeded population growth for years, according to analyst David Henkes of Technomic. And it’ll be 5 to 7 years before the huge millennial generation fits neatly in the spending sweet spot. Since 2006, U.S. restaurants have enjoyed a transformative period. Among the innovations: “‘fine casual dining’ …. craft cocktails, farm-to-table dining, the hipification of non-Western food, the audacity of food truck culture, the democratization of criticism via social media.” Now, the shake-up: “There are too many restaurants,” said James Beard Award-winning food writer Kevin Alexander, whose new book is Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End.
The Promises and Pitfalls of Gene Sequencing for Newborns – (NPR – July 8, 2019)
Sequencing a person’s DNA is now a routine task. That reality has left doctors looking for ways to put the technology to work. A decade ago, a top federal scientist said, “Whether you like it or not, a complete sequencing of newborns is not far away.” Dr. Francis Collins, who made that statement, has been head of the National Institutes of Health for the intervening decade. But his prophecy hasn’t come to pass, for both scientific and practical reasons. Scientists have found that, so far, a complete genetic readout would be a poor substitute for the traditional blood test that babies get at birth to screen for diseases. Even when genetic testing provides useful information, it also can raise unsettling questions. One of the big concerns about running gene scans on newborns is how families will receive and make sense of the results. It’s currently illegal to base health insurance coverage on genetic information, but there’s some reason to be concerned about efforts to weaken those protections. Life insurance and long-term care insurance could also be at risk. Furthermore, in many cases of genetic testing, it’s not that straightforward to identify the underlying genetic flaw. A disorder can be caused by any of a number of genetic variants, and those variants can be on different genes. Many have yet to be cataloged. And scientists discovered an even deeper problem: just having one of these problematic variants isn’t necessarily enough to determine whether a child actually develops a metabolic disease. It turns out that other variants can sometimes come into play in ways that scientists have yet to understand.
You Thought Quantum Mechanics Was Weird: Check out Entangled Time – (Aeon – February 2, 2018)
In the summer of 1935, the physicists Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger engaged in a rich, multifaceted and sometimes fretful correspondence about the implications of the new theory of quantum mechanics. The focus of their worry was what Schrödinger later dubbed entanglement: the inability to describe two quantum systems or particles independently, after they have interacted. The problem is that entanglement violates how the world ought to work. Information can’t travel faster than the speed of light, for one. But in a 1935 paper, Einstein and his co-authors showed how entanglement leads to what’s now called quantum nonlocality, the eerie link that appears to exist between entangled particles. Up to today, most experiments have tested entanglement over spatial gaps. The assumption is that the ‘nonlocal’ part of quantum nonlocality refers to the entanglement of properties across space. But what if entanglement also occurs across time? Is there such a thing as temporal nonlocality? The answer, as it turns out, is yes. Just when you thought quantum mechanics couldn’t get any weirder, a team of physicists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported in 2013 that they had successfully entangled photons that never coexisted. Previous experiments involving a technique called ‘entanglement swapping’ had already showed quantum correlations across time, by delaying the measurement of one of the coexisting entangled particles; but Eli Megidish and his collaborators were the first to show entanglement between photons whose lifespans did not overlap at all.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Facebook and CMU’s Poker AI Beat Five Pros at Once – (Engaget – July 11, 2019)
Facebook and Carnegie Mellon University have built another artificial intelligence bot that beat some top poker pros. While AI bots have been to best professional players in one-on-one competition, Facebook claims it’s the first time a bot has been able to beat top pros in “any major benchmark game” when there’s more than one opponent at a time. Pluribus bested professionals in no-limit Texas Hold’em in a couple of different formats: five AI bots and one human, and one bot and five real-life players. The researchers behind Pluribus wrote that creating such a multiplayer poker bot “is a recognized AI milestone.” In the likes of chess and Go, everything is laid out in the open. But in poker, there’s hidden information, namely the cards your opponents have. That brings different, complex strategies to poker not seen in other games, including bluffing. As such, AI bots have typically struggled to account for hidden information and effectively act on it. Pluribus is a more advanced version of Carnegie Mellon’s bot Libratus, which beat pros in heads up play a couple of years ago. There’s a new online search algorithm that let Pluribus look at the available options for a few moves ahead, and not just the end of the game. It also had “faster self-play algorithms for games with hidden information,” Facebook said, meaning that it was more efficient in learning how to deal with hidden information in games the bot played against copies of itself.
JUST FOR FUN
Bonsai Master Masahiko Kimura Creates Gravity-Defying Mini Forests – (My Modern Met – July 8, 2019)
Bonsai is a Japanese art form that dates back centuries. Along with ikebana and Zen gardens, it’s one of the most recognizable expressions of Japanese culture around the world. Currently, there is no bonsai master as well respected as Masahiko Kimura. Seen as a rebel in his early years, his work was later accepted and he is now widely recognized as one of the greatest bonsai masters. At first, Kimura’s designs were seen as controversial because they broke many traditional rules of bonsai. His work often features pieces of deadwood intertwined with living wood snaking about. One of his most famed bonsai is a Hanoki forest planting that is a sculptural masterpiece. Balanced on two pieces of interlocking slate, it features Hanoki cypress and Itoigawa Shimpaku Juniper. (This is a stunning piece – photograph in article.)
A FINAL QUOTE
The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn. – Alvin Toffler
A special thanks to: Jim Bovard, 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