FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- The legal tangles of dealing with crime in space are just beginning.
- In Earth’s interior, there exists a vast reservoir of primordial magma, undisturbed for more than 4 billion years.
- Washington, DC is sinking and will drop more than 6 inches in the next 100 years.
- In Rome, you can swap 30 plastic bottles for a subway ride.
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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Cannabis and Man: Coevolution and Sacred Connection
Drs. Brian Sanderoff and Carrie Hempel come to TransitionTalks in Berkeley Springs on September 14th to discuss the extraordinary indicators that suggest that cannabis (and other hallucinogens) seem always to be an integral part of great changes in our species. Dr. Sanderoff is the medical director for one of the largest medical marijuana clinics in Maryland and brings a lifetime of experience from the profession of pharmacology. It will be a fascinating – and provocative – afternoon. Get complete information at TransitionTalks.org
|Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
Silicon Valley Is Building a Chinese-style Social Credit System – (Fast Company – August 26, 2019)
China’s social credit system is a technology-enabled, surveillance-based nationwide program designed to nudge citizens toward better behavior. The ultimate goal is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” according to the Chinese government. In place since 2014, the social credit system is a work in progress that could evolve by next year into a single, nationwide point system for all Chinese citizens, akin to a financial credit score. It aims to punish for transgressions that can include membership in or support for the Falun Gong or Tibetan Buddhism, failure to pay debts, excessive video gaming, criticizing the government, late payments, failing to sweep the sidewalk in front of your store or house, smoking or playing loud music on trains, jaywalking, and other actions deemed illegal or unacceptable by the Chinese government. It can also award points for charitable donations or even taking one’s own parents to the doctor. Punishments can be harsh, including bans on leaving the country, using public transportation, checking into hotels, hiring for high-visibility jobs, or acceptance of children to private schools. It can also result in slower internet connections and social stigmatization in the form of registration on a public blacklist. China’s social credit system has been characterized in one pithy tweet as “authoritarianism, gamified.” Such systems, it turns out, are not unique to China. A parallel system is developing in the United States, in part as the result of Silicon Valley and technology-industry user policies, and in part by surveillance of social media activity by private companies. This article highlights some of the elements of America’s growing social credit system. For example, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced earlier this year that life insurance companies can base premiums on what they find in your social media posts. That Instagram pic showing you teasing a grizzly bear at Yellowstone with a martini in one hand, a bucket of cheese fries in the other, and a cigarette in your mouth, could cost you. Social credit systems are an end-run around the pesky complications of the legal system. Unlike China’s government policy, the social credit system emerging in the U.S. is enforced by private companies. In other words, in the future, law enforcement may be determined less by the Constitution and legal code, and more by end-user license agreements.
Someday, Someone Will Commit a Major Crime in Space – (Slate – August 28, 2019)
Add the word space before any mundane word, and suddenly it becomes way sexier. Space law. Space marriage and babies. Space archaeology! And most recently, in the news: space crime. Dozens of news stories have speculated on what could have been the world’s first-ever space crime. In a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and a letter to NASA, Summer Worden accused her estranged partner, astronaut Anne McClain, of identity theft. The two agree that McClain accessed Worden’s bank account while aboard the International Space Station. No one in this situation was in immediate danger—Worden doesn’t even suggest that McClain used or moved funds around—and thanks to an intergovernmental agreement signed in 1998 to support the International Space Station, it was obvious that the U.S. has jurisdiction in this situation. But given what we know about human behavior on Earth, there’s no reason we won’t also act poorly in space. Space crime seems poised to get a lot messier. “There are going to be crimes and instances of negligence, and we don’t have a system to deal with that yet,” says Michelle Hanlon, a professor of air and space law at the University of Mississippi. We have some guidelines written into existing space law, but in their current form, they’re loose suggestions more than functioning policy. Once space tourism takes off, these guidelines are not going to hold up for long. The space station agreement only applies to the International Space Station, and if private companies launch their own shuttles and bases, the process for determining jurisdiction is even murkier. Consider, also, that crime often goes beyond petty theft. Though there are no recorded severe space crimes, there have been incidents in other high-pressure, isolated environments, like the Antarctic researcher who, after six months at the isolated base, stabbed a colleague (though initial reports that he did it because the co-worker kept spoiling the endings of books seem to have been inaccurate). As for what happens to a suspect in space, that’s a toss-up; there’s currently no space jail, and given how current spacecraft are designed, it’d be difficult to designate any particular area as an isolation chamber, the way sci-fi movie protagonists must when their crewmates are infected with alien viruses.
One Number Shows Something Is Fundamentally Wrong with Our Conception of the Universe – (Live Science – August 26, 2019)
Measurements of the rate of cosmic expansion using different methods keep turning up with different results. The problem centers on what’s known as the Hubble constant. Named for American astronomer Edwin Hubble, this unit describes how fast the universe is expanding at different distances from Earth. Using data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Planck satellite, scientists estimate the rate to be 46,200 mph per million light-years (or, using cosmologists’ units, 67.4 kilometers/second per megaparsec). But calculations using pulsating stars called Cepheids suggest it is 50,400 mph per million light-years (73.4 km/s/Mpc). If the first number is right, it means scientists have been measuring distances to faraway objects in the universe wrong for many decades. But if the second is correct, then researchers might have to accept the existence of exotic, new physics. The trouble starts with Edwin Hubble himself. Back in 1929, he noticed that more-distant galaxies were moving away from Earth faster than their closer-in counterparts. He found a linear relationship between the distance an object was from our planet and the speed at which it was receding. “That means something spooky is going on,” said Barry Madore, an astronomer at the University of Chicago and a member of one of the teams undertaking measurements of the Hubble constant. “Why would we be the center of the universe? The answer, which is not intuitive, is that [distant objects are] not moving. There’s more and more space being created between everything.”
‘Super-Deep’ Diamonds Reveal Vast Reservoir of Primordial Magma as Old as the Moon – (Science Alert – August 15, 2019)
A careful inspection of super-deep diamonds has revealed what geologists have long suspected: Hiding somewhere in our planet’s interior, there exists a vast reservoir of primordial magma, undisturbed for more than 4 billion years. The location, the size and the contents of this ancient reservoir are still up for debate, but thanks to these diamonds, researchers are growing ever closer to what is probably the “oldest remaining” and “comparatively undisturbed” material on Earth. Brought to the surface by violent volcanic eruptions, these tough gemstones are rare survivors in a foreign land. Recognizably different to diamonds formed at shallower depths, they are some of the only contact we have with our planet’s deep interior.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Organoids Are Not Brains. How Are They Making Brain Waves? – (New York Times – August 29, 2019)
Alysson Muotri, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues have reported that they have recorded simple brain waves in brain organoids. The organoids, each containing hundreds of thousands of cells in a variety of types, each type producing the same chemicals and electrical signals as those cells do in our own brains, were grown into balls about the size of a pinhead. In mature human brains, such waves are produced by widespread networks of neurons firing in synchrony. Particular wave patterns are linked to particular forms of brain activity, like retrieving memories and dreaming. As the organoids mature, the researchers also found, the waves change in ways that resemble the changes in the developing brains of premature babies. What, exactly, are they growing into? That’s a question that has scientists and philosophers alike scratching their heads. “It’s pretty amazing,” said Giorgia Quadrato, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the new study. “No one really knew if that was possible.” But Dr. Quadrato stressed it was important not to read too much into the parallels. What she, Dr. Muotri and other brain organoid experts build are clusters of replicating brain cells, not actual brains. “People will say, ‘Ah, these are like the brains of preterm infants,’” she said. “No, they are not.” It’s been only six years since scientists created the first brain organoid from human skin cells. Now they’re being grown in laboratories around the world, offering scientists a new window onto the earliest stages of human brain development. At U.C.S.D., researchers are using them to recreate, in miniature, inherited brain disorders and brain infections.
New Study Raises Questions about How Fluoride Affects Children’s Development – (CNN – August 19, 2019)
Water fluoridation has been hailed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the top great public health achievements of the 20th century, but a new study raises questions about its role as a potential neurotoxin in utero. The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that increased levels of fluoride exposure during pregnancy were associated with declines in IQ in children. Previous research has made similar findings, but this is the first such study to evaluate the effect of fluoride on populations receiving what the US Public Health Service considers optimal levels of 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of drinking water, such as in the United States and Canada. The authors of the new study assessed 601 Canadian mother and child pairs, tracking the fluoride exposure of 512 of the mothers by looking at the average concentration of fluoride in urine samples taken throughout their pregnancies as a proxy for prenatal fluoride exposure. The authors also estimated the mothers’ daily fluoride intake by surveying their beverage intake, including tap water. Between the ages of 3 and 4, all children born from the studied mothers were tested for IQ. The authors found that for each additional 1 milligram per liter in concentration of fluoride in a mother’s urine, there was a 4.5-point drop in IQ in males. The study did not find such a significant association in female children, nor did it examine why boys were more significantly affected. The researchers also measured the fluoride intake in 400 of the mothers against their children’s IQ scores. They say this measure might reflect postnatal exposure to fluoride because a child is probably ingesting the same type of water as the mother did during pregnancy. They found that for every 1 mg/L average increase in fluoride intake by a mother, there was a 3.7-point drop in the child’s IQ, regardless of gender. Study author Christine Till, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto, her colleagues controlled their findings for income and education, as well as other elemental exposures such as lead, mercury, manganese, PFOA and arsenic, but acknowledged that there may be unknown exposures that could have influenced their findings
This Daily Pill Cut Heart Attacks by Half. Why Isn’t Everyone Getting It? – (New York Times – August 22, 2019)
About 18 million people a year die of cardiovascular disease, and 80% of them are in poor and middle-income countries threatened by rising rates of obesity, diabetes, tobacco use and sedentary living. Giving people an inexpensive pill containing generic drugs that prevent heart attacks — an idea first proposed 20 years ago but rarely tested — worked quite well in a new study, slashing the rate of heart attacks by more than half among those who regularly took the pills. If other studies now underway find similar results, such multidrug cocktails — sometimes called “polypills” — given to vast numbers of older people could radically change the way cardiologists fight the soaring rates of heart disease and strokes in poor and middle-income countries. Even if the concept is ultimately adopted, there will be battles over the ingredients. The pill in the study, which involved the participation of 6,800 rural villagers aged 50 to 75 in Iran, contained a cholesterol-lowering statin, two blood-pressure drugs and a low-dose aspirin. Medical experts, however, are sharply divided over the polypill concept.
Has This Scientist Finally Found the Fountain of Youth? – (Technology Review – August 8, 2019)
Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, who works at the Gene Expression Laboratory at San Diego’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is a shrewd and soft-spoken scientist who has access to an inconceivable power. His laboratory mice, it seems, have sipped from a fountain of youth. Izpisúa Belmonte can rejuvenate aging, dying animals. He can rewind time. But just as quickly as he blows my mind, he puts a damper on the excitement. So potent was the rejuvenating treatment used on the mice that they either died after three or four days from cell malfunction or developed tumors that killed them later. An overdose of youth, you could call it. The powerful tool that the researchers applied to the mouse is called “reprogramming.” It’s a way to reset the body’s so-called epigenetic marks: chemical switches in a cell that determine which of its genes are turned on and which are off. Erase these marks and a cell can forget if it was ever a skin or a bone cell, and revert to a much more primitive, embryonic state. The technique is frequently used by laboratories to manufacture stem cells. But Izpisúa Belmonte is in a vanguard of scientists who want to apply reprogramming to whole animals and, if they can control it precisely, to human bodies.
U.S. Government Reports: ‘It Is Raining Plastic’ – (Nation of Change – August 14, 2019)
After analyzing rainwater samples collected from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the U.S. Interior Department recently released a study concluding that microscopic plastic fibers have contaminated the air, soil, water, and even rainfall. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, plastic was found in over 90% of samples taken. In a recent report titled “It Is Raining Plastic” the U.S. Geological Survey reported, “Atmospheric wet deposition samples were collected using the National Atmospheric Deposition Program/National Trends Network (NADP/NTN) at eight sites in the Colorado Front Range. Plastics were identified in more than 90 percent of the samples.” The study continued, “Plastic particles such as beads and shards were also observed with magnification. More plastic fibers were observed in samples from urban sites than from remote, mountainous sites. However, frequent observation of plastic fibers in washout samples from the remote site CO98 at Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park (elevation 3,159 meters) suggests that wet deposition of plastic is ubiquitous and not just an urban condition.”
Indonesia’s Capital City Isn’t the Only One Sinking – (CNN – August 27, 2019)
Indonesia has said the country would be relocating its capital city, in part because it’s sinking into the Java Sea. Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, according to the World Economic Forum, due to rising sea levels and the over-extraction of groundwater. But it isn’t the only city in trouble. Houston has been sinking for decades and, like Jakarta, the over-extraction of groundwater is partly to blame. The Houston Chronicle reported that parts of Harris County, which contains Houston, have sunk between 10 and 12 feet since the 1920s, according to data from the US Geological Survey. Areas have continued to fall as much as 2 inches per year, an amount that can quickly add up. Lawmakers have tried to address the issue, creating a special purpose district meant to regulate the withdrawal of groundwater in 1975. But the problem has persisted, with privately owned wells and water suppliers continuing to pull from aquifers. As recently as the 1930s, just a third of New Orleans was below sea level. When Katrina hit in 2005, that number went up to half. The city is vulnerable to rising sea levels because it was built on loose soil and was positioned so close to on the coast. Combined with its sinking — scientists have found it to be falling at a rate of 1 centimeter a year. Washington, DC is also sinking. Research from 2015 showed that it will drop more than 6 inches in the next 100 years. But unlike Jakarta, Washington’s sinking has nothing to do with aquifers or rising sea levels — it’s actually because of an ice sheet from the last ice age. A mile-high ice sheet pushed land beneath the Chesapeake Bay upward. When the ice sheet melted, thousands of years ago, the land settled back down. The researchers now believe that the area is gradually sinking, a process that could last thousands of years. But sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay are rising too, which could cause additional problems.
Amazon Rekognition Improves Face Analysis – (Amazon – August 12, 2019)
Amazon Rekognition provides a comprehensive set of face detection, analysis, and recognition features for image and video analysis. Recently it launched accuracy and functionality improvements to its face analysis features. Face analysis generates metadata about detected faces in the form of gender, age range, emotions, attributes such as ‘Smile’, face pose, face image quality and face landmarks. With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, ‘Surprised’, ‘Disgusted’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Confused’) and added a new emotion: ‘Fear’. Lastly, we have improved age range estimation accuracy; you also get narrower age ranges across most age groups. Improved face analysis models are now available for both Amazon Rekognition Image and Video, and are the new default for customers in all supported AWS regions. No machine learning experience is required to get started.
Scientists Extract Hydrogen Gas from Oil and Bitumen, Giving Potential Pollution-free Energy – (PhysOrg – August 19, 2019)
Scientists have developed a large-scale economical method to extract hydrogen (H2) from oil sands (natural bitumen) and oil fields. This can be used to power hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are already marketed in some countries, as well as to generate electricity; hydrogen is regarded as an efficient transport fuel, similar to petrol and diesel, but with no pollution problems. The process can extract hydrogen from existing oil sands reservoirs, with huge existing supplies found in Canada and Venezuela. Interestingly, this process can be applied to mainstream oil fields, causing them to produce hydrogen instead of oil. Hydrogen powered vehicle have been acknowledged to be efficient, but the high price of extracting hydrogen from oil reserves has meant that the technology has not been economically viable. Now a group of Canadian engineers have developed a cheap method of extracting H2 from oil sands. Even abandoned oil fields, still contain significant amounts of oil. The researchers have found that injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and liberates H2, which can then be separated from other gases via specialist filters. Hydrogen is not pre-existing in the reservoirs, but pumping oxygen means that the reaction to form hydrogen can take place. Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies which is commercializing the process says “This technique can draw up huge quantities of hydrogen while leaving the carbon in the ground.”
We Now Have the Technology to Create a Grid of Cheap Fully Renewable Electricity – (Market Watch – August 22, 2019)
The outlines of a post-fossil-fuel future look like this: We make electricity with renewable sources and electrify almost everything. That means running vehicles and trains on electricity, heating buildings with electric heat pumps, electrifying industrial applications such as steel production and using renewable electricity to make hydrogen (similar to natural gas) for other requirements. So the focus is on powering the electric grid with renewable sources. There is debate, though, about whether fully renewable electricity systems are feasible and how quickly the transition can be made. In fact, feasibility appears clear, so only the transition question is relevant. There are a number of ways to make renewable electricity: hydro, wind, solar photovoltaics, geothermal and burning various forms of biomass (plant matter), besides improving efficiency to use less energy. These are mature technologies with known costs. Other possibilities include wave, tidal and concentrating solar power, where reflectors focus solar rays to produce power. While these may be used in the future, the need to address climate change is urgent, and it is estimated, the mature technologies suffice.
Soap, Detergent and Even Laxatives Could Turbocharge a Battery Alternative – (New York Times – August 22, 2019)
Living in a world with smartphones, laptops and cars powered by batteries means putting up with two things: waiting for a depleted battery to charge, and charging it more frequently when its once-long life inevitably shortens. That’s why the battery’s cousin, the supercapacitor, is still in the game, even though batteries dominate electricity storage. “There are circumstances where you don’t need a lot of energy, but you need a very quick surge of power,” said Daniel Schwartz, a chemical engineer who leads the Clean Energy Institute at the University of Washington. For example, Dr. Schwartz’s new car has start-stop technology, which is common in vehicles in the European Union to meet stringent emission standards. Start-stop systems demand that the car’s starter battery deliver big bursts of power whenever the engine starts or stops, and that it recharge quickly to keep up. That is taxing for a battery, but it is a piece of cake for a supercapacitor. And researchers are reporting a new phenomenon that could potentially bring a supercapacitor’s energy storage capacity on par with lithium-ion batteries: by using a new class of electrolytes composed of ionic liquids, or salts that remain liquid at room temperature. The materials are abundant: The molecular components in this novel class of liquid salts are found in soaps, detergents and even stool softeners.
These Robotic Shorts Make Walking and Running Easier – (GizModo – August 15, 2019)
Exosuits—wearable robotic technologies that enhance our physical abilities—are slowly but steadily leaving the world of comic books and becoming a practical reality. Recently scientists introduced an exosuit that helps users both walk and run with less effort. The exosuit is the result of a collaboration between researchers from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the University of Nebraska Omaha, and Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea. Perhaps more accurately described as a pair of exoshorts, the device is lightweight, fully portable, and mostly made out of a flexible material (except for the battery and motor unit). It works by using motors to pull cables that help extend the hips in a naturalistic and ideally optimum way as we move our legs, which should then reduce the amount of energy our bodies expend in order to move. Previous exosuits could already reduce the energy costs of walking, according to Philippe Malcolm, a biomechanics expert at the University of Nebraska Omaha and senior researcher on the project. But there’s been less luck in creating portable technology that enhances a person’s ability to run, which relies on different joint and bodily movements than walking. And though a typical human can easily transition from walking to running at a moment’s notice, the same hasn’t been true for exosuits. To get over this hurdle, the team created an algorithm that detects whether the person is running or walking. Depending on the movement, it switches to the needed “force profile” for the exosuit to do its job. Article includes embedded video clip of the shorts in action.
In Rome, You Can Swap 30 Plastic Bottles for a Subway Ride – (Fast Company – August 6, 2019)
The next time you want to travel from Rome’s Termini train station to seek forgiveness at the Vatican, you may want to pick up a few plastic bottles along the way. While plogging is always cool, those collected plastic bottles serve a different purpose. Rome is testing a scheme where people can swap plastic bottles for subway rides. The Italian capital has launched a 12-month trial of the program called “Ricicli + Viaggi,” or Recycle + Travel, at three subway stations. The program allows commuters to deposit plastic bottles in return for five euro cents each which can be used toward the cost of a ride on the metro. Those cents can be accrued on the metro app until they hit the price of a metro ticket, which is currently €1.50. For the math-challenged, that means a ride costs 30 bottles, which means 30 fewer plastic bottles eternally littering the streets of the Eternal City. After the year-long trial is over, Rome will review the results to see if the scheme should be expanded beyond its initial three stations. (Editor’s note: If you are not familiar with plogging, check out Have you tried plogging, the Instagram trend that might be the sustainable sport of the future?)
UPS Has Been Delivering Cargo in Self-Driving Trucks for Months and No One Knew – (GizModo – August 15, 2019)
The self-driving freight truck startup TuSimple has been carrying mail across the state of Arizona for several weeks. UPS has announced that its venture capital arm has made a minority investment in TuSimple. The announcement also revealed that since May TuSimple autonomous trucks have been hauling UPS loads on a 115-mile route between Phoenix and Tucson. Around the same time as the UPS and TuSimple program began, the United States Postal Service and TuSimple publicized a two-week pilot program to deliver mail between Phoenix and Dallas, a 1,000 mile trip. TuSimple claims it can cut the average cost of shipping in a tractor-trailer by 30%. TuSimple puts its own autonomous tech—which relies on nine cameras and two LIDAR sensors—in Navistar vehicles. The partnership announcement states that TuSimple has been helping UPS understand how to get to Level 4 autonomous driving where a vehicle is fully autonomous and able to reach a particular location. At this point, the TuSimple trucks carrying packages for UPS still have an engineer and a safety driver riding along. When UPS reaches Level 4, it won’t need anyone behind the wheel.
Broccoli Is Dying. Corn Is Toxic. Long Live Microbiomes! – (Scientific American – August 20, 2019)
“You would have to eat twice as much broccoli today to get the same nutrients as a generation ago.” That is according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 1975 to 2010. Data going back to 1940, as reported by Eco Farming Daily, shows: “The level of every nutrient in almost every kind of food has fallen between 10% and 100%. An individual today would need to consume twice as much meat, three times as much fruit, and four to five times as many vegetables to obtain the same amount of minerals and trace elements available in those same foods in 1940.” Why are nutrients in our food declining? Well, for one, we are killing the soil it grows in. Prodigious use of biocides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, as well as synthetic chemical fertilizers and antibiotics) kill or disrupt soil microorganisms that allow plants to absorb nutrients. Also, increased atmospheric CO2 is accelerating photosynthesis; plants grow faster but contain fewer nutrients, which is expected to lead to worldwide nutrient deficiencies. Not only are plants getting less nutritious, they’re also getting more toxic. For example, over 90% of corn plants, the U.S.A.’s number one crop, are genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with genes inserted from other species. These genes allow corn to be sprayed repeatedly with multiple weed killers including: glyphosate (in Monsanto’s Roundup, the most used herbicide ever), 2,4-D (similar to dioxin and Agent Orange) and dicamba. These herbicides are water soluble and systemic; they can go anywhere water goes, and they get inside the plant’s cells, so the toxins can’t simply be washed off before you eat the food. Plus, GMO corn is also engineered with genes that enable it to produce multiple insecticides in every cell, which the EPA euphemistically terms “plant-incorporated protectants.” Editor’s note: Despite this bleak introduction, this is NOT a doomsday article! Read it to learn more about regenerative farming which means working with, not warring against, nature—planting and saving diverse varieties of heritage seeds, protecting pollinators, growing biodiverse crops that are rotated, using natural fertilizers such as legumes and nitrogen from the atmosphere, recycling organic matter (mulches and composts), multispecies cover cropping and crop rotations to build soil, and grazing (not confining) farm animals. This can be at all scales, including climate victory gardens in yards, local parks, terraces and rooftops.
How Monsanto’s ‘Intelligence Center’ Targeted Journalists and Activists – (Guardian – August 9, 2019)
Monsanto operated a “fusion center” to monitor and discredit journalists and activists, and targeted a reporter who wrote a critical book on the company, documents reveal. The agrochemical corporation also investigated the singer Neil Young and wrote an internal memo on his social media activity and music. The records reviewed by the Guardian show Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company’s weedkiller and its links to cancer. Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, also monitored a not-for-profit food research organization through its “intelligence fusion center”, a term that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use for operations focused on surveillance and terrorism. The documents, mostly from 2015 to 2017, were disclosed as part of an ongoing court battle on the health hazards of the company’s Roundup weedkiller. For example, they show that Monsanto paid Google to promote search results for “Monsanto Glyphosate Carey Gillam” that criticized her work. Monsanto PR staff also internally discussed placing sustained pressure on Reuters, saying they “continue to push back on [Gillam’s] editors very strongly every chance we get”, and that they were hoping “she gets reassigned”. The internal communications add fuel to the ongoing claims in court that Monsanto has “bullied” critics and scientists and worked to conceal the dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. In the last year, two US juries have ruled that Monsanto was liable for plaintiffs’ non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer, and ordered the corporation to pay significant sums to cancer patients. Bayer has continued to assert that glyphosate is safe. (Editor’s note: We suspect that glyphosate will turn out to be the 21st century equivalent of asbestos in terms of legal actions.)
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Disappearing Act: Device Vanishes on Command after Military Missions – (PhysOrg – August 26, 2019)
A polymer that self-destructs? While once a fictional idea, new polymers now exist that are rugged enough to ferry packages or sensors into hostile territory and vaporize immediately upon a military mission’s completion. The material has been made into a rigid-winged glider and a nylon-like parachute fabric for airborne delivery across distances of a hundred miles or more. It could also be used someday in building materials or environmental sensors. “This is not the kind of thing that slowly degrades over a year, like the biodegradable plastics that consumers might be familiar with,” says Paul Kohl, Ph.D., whose team developed the material. “This polymer disappears in an instant when you push a button to trigger an internal mechanism or the sun hits it.” The disappearing polymers were developed for the Department of Defense, which is interested in deploying electronic sensors and delivery vehicles that leave no trace of their existence after use, thus avoiding discovery and alleviating the need for device recovery.
This Tesla Surveillance Hack Can Tell You if You’re Being Followed – (Futurism – August 14, 2019)
Hacker and security analyst Truman Kain has created a tool that can tell you in real-time if you’re being followed while driving your Tesla. The “Surveillance Detection Scout” hack scans license plates and uses facial detection to create an in-depth log of cars your Tesla spots using its Sentry Mode camera software suite. The list can then be accessed by the driver, and each license plate can be labelled as “linked to friend,” “high risk,” or “usual.” The app can even show you the exact route each detected driver took on a map, including video footage. It’s not exactly clear who Kain is targeting with the tool. It requires somebody especially paranoid — or criminal for that matter — to really get the most out of this Tesla hack. But it’s a powerful demonstration of the amount of data a Tesla can collect — and how cutting edge facial recognition tech can keep a close tally of everybody around you without you having to bend a finger. Kain released the source code for the tool at this year’s DefCon, an annual hacker convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ring and Its Doorbell Cameras Have Partnered with Over 400 Police Departments – (CNN – August 29, 2019)
Ring is generally referred to as a “smart” doorbell with a camera pointed outside the front door. It also sends a push alert and video to a resident’s phone when there is movement on the camera. That video can be posted on the Neighbors app, which functions like a social media site for certain neighborhoods, like NextDoor. The app allows people in a neighborhood to post information and video about area news or possible crime, and Ring says this makes people safer. “When communities and law enforcement work together, safer neighborhoods can become a reality,” Ring says, “Law enforcement agencies can share important crime and safety information to keep residents informed. Users can also choose to help law enforcement by providing useful information related to active investigations.” Ring’s growing presence at homes across the country has largely been a boon for police. Recently, a Ring surveillance camera helped police capture a man who had escaped from Tennessee prison and allegedly killed a prison employee. Amazon is particularly interested in the technology as the company tries to stop neighborhood porch thieves who steal package deliveries. The company has filed a patent describing how a network of cameras could work together with facial recognition technology to identify people and respond accordingly.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
When ICE Hit Mississippi, Its Citizens Showed Up for Immigrant Families – (Nation of Change – August 13, 2019)
Mississippi has never been a hotbed for immigration advocacy, despite a growing immigrant population working in its food processing and hospitality industries. The small band of migrant advocates in the state operate in hostile territory, and they are woefully underfinanced. That changed after the Department of Homeland Security agents rounded up and detained almost 700 undocumented immigrants at seven chicken processing plants in central Mississippi. The raids unleashed a national outrage that sent a legion of organizers, interpreters, attorneys, and others pouring into the state from across the country. Defying state sanctuary laws, cities and churches set up collection centers to help those affected. And within 24 hours, monetary donations to one of the state’s primary immigrant organizations, the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, had reached six-figure status. The city of Jackson slyly thumbed its nose at federal officials, holding citywide collections and drives to support families affected by the raid, which occurred on the first day of school. It was joined by local churches. Constance Slaughter-Harvey, who was the state’s first Black female judge, presides over the Legacy Education and Community Empowerment Foundation, which runs an in-school mentoring program for children living in the shadows of the chicken processing plants. Slaughter-Harvey says several of the program’s students had parents who were swept up in ICE raids; one mother who was arrested is married to a member of her organization’s advisory board. She and allies have also been working to place the children of detained parents into the homes of trusted relatives, preferably within the same school system, to avoid the hassle of registering them in a new district. “We’ve taken care of the babies, and now we’re helping the parents,” Slaughter-Harvey says. “Right now we have about 55 attorneys and organizations working with us, so we’ve got a big crew.” Meanwhile, no employer in the raid has yet been charged.
As U.S. Children Head Back to School, Sales of Bulletproof Backpacks Skyrocket – (Nation of Change – August 15, 2019)
Sales of bulletproof backpacks have gone up 300% recently as parents prepare their kids to go back to school. “We always see spikes in sales in the days or weeks after shootings. Our demographic is parents with kids… It’s a real morbid niche,” Steve Naremore, CEO of Houston-based TuffyPacks said. These bulletproof backpacks are made with the same material as police body armor. They are selling to parents for $100 to $500. “Disney-themed bullet-proof armor to put in your child’s backpack. This insert provides ballistic protection from handgun fire and can stop multiple rounds.”
Seattle Has Figured Out How to End the War on Drugs – (New York Times – August 23, 2019)
The number of opioid users has surged, and more Americans now die each year from overdoses than perished in the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars combined. And that doesn’t account for the way drug addiction has ripped apart families and stunted children’s futures. More than two million children in America live with a parent suffering from an illicit-drug dependency. But on gritty streets where heroin, fentanyl and meth stride like Death Eaters, where for decades both drugs and the war on drugs have wrecked lives, the city of Seattle is pioneering a bold approach to narcotics that should be a model for America. Anyone caught here with a small amount of drugs — even heroin — isn’t typically prosecuted. Instead, that person is steered toward social services to get help. The war on drugs has been one of America’s most grievous mistakes, resulting in as many citizens with arrest records as with college diplomas. At last count, an American was arrested for drug possession every 25 seconds, yet the mass incarceration this leads to has not turned the tide on narcotics. Seattle’s first crucial step came in 2011 when it started a program called LEAD, short for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. The idea is that instead of simply arresting drug users for narcotics or prostitution, police officers watch for those who are nonviolent and want help, and divert them to social service programs and intensive case management. Almost immediately, this was a huge success. A 2017 peer-reviewed study found that drug users assigned to LEAD were 58% less likely to be rearrested, compared with a control group. Participants were also almost twice as likely to have housing as they had been before entering LEAD, and 46% more likely to be employed or getting job training. LEAD isn’t cheap — it costs about $350 per month per participant to provide case managers. But it is cheaper than jail, courts and costs associated with homelessness. As a result, this approach has spread rapidly around the country, with 59 localities now offering LEAD initiatives or rolling them out.
You Are Already Having Sex With Robots – (Wired – August 23, 2019)
Almost nobody buys sex robots—they’re expensive, they’re heavy, they don’t fit in a bedside drawer. The idea that the future of sex will be slavering over custom-made silicon replicas is as interesting as it is unlikely. The real robo-sexual revolution will be, and already is, more software than hardware, and it’s the version of this story fewer people are talking about. People—lots of people—are curious about having sex with someone alien, someone Other. What Other you find sexiest usually depends on time and place. In the days of whaling ships, sailors fantasized about mermaids. In the past hundred years, people have often given the sexy Other treatment to technology. “There’s a much broader market for AI-based apps than there is for sex robots,” says Ellen Kaufman, an Indiana University doctoral student focusing on technologically mediated intimacy. To a digitally hyperliterate millennial, say, sexbots are kinda gross, but sexting with a lovebot might be kinda cool—if it’s smart enough to convince you it’s human. It’s easy to see how digital sexbots could fit discreetly into the average person’s life (or pocket). People are already intimate with their phones: They cradle them, caress them, and, according to Pornhub’s data, watch most of their porn on them. The question isn’t so much whether people will be getting sexy with cyberspace, it’s how—and what “sexy” will come to mean. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for the way in which it explores the “blur” between human and the AI Other. If you are not familiar with Lil Miquela, a digital (i.e. non-human) influencer, referred to in the article, see this.)
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Secretive U.S. Air Force Spaceplane Breaks Record with 719 Straight Days in Orbit – (GizModo – August 27, 2019)
The U.S. Air Force’s Boeing X-37B spaceplane has broken a record for the most amount of time in orbit around the Earth. But we still don’t know when the uncrewed plane is going to land or even what it’s doing up there. All of the details about the X-37B mission are classified. According to the Air Force description, which is light on details, to say the least: “The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” The Air Force notes that the vehicle is able to “return experiments to Earth,” but we have no idea what those experiments might be: Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends, and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis, but with an on-orbit time of 270 days or greater, the X-37B can stay in space for much longer. Technologies being tested in the program include “advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing”.
Astronomers Spot Mysterious Flash From Our Galaxy’s Supermassive Black Hole – (ExtremeTech – August 12, 2019)
In May of this year, UCLA’s Tuan Do spotted an unusual pulse from Sagittarius A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A Star”), a black hole in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy. That was so unexpected that at first, he believed the flash came from a star in the same part of the sky called S0-2. However, it became apparent over the course of about two and a half hours that the source was variable and was, in fact, Sagittarius A*. At its peak, Sagittarius A* was 75 times brighter than usual in infrared. Scientists have been watching Sagittarius A* for decades, but no one was sure what to make of it for much of that time; it was just a strong X-ray source deep in the Milky Way. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, studies of objects near Sagittarius A* demonstrated it had a strong gravity explained best by a supermassive black hole. Today, the evidence for Sagittarius A* as the gravitational center of the Milky Way is quite solid. It’s under constant observation with instruments like the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii used by the UCLA team. Do and his team have speculated on several causes for the spike in brightness. See also: Possible Detection of a Black Hole So Big It ‘Should Not Exist’.
Economic Twilight Zone: Bonds That Charge You for Lending – (Associated Press – August 21, 2019)
Imagine lending money to someone and having to pay for the privilege of doing so. Or being asked to invest and informed of how much money you’ll lose. Sounds absurd, but a rising share of government and corporate bonds are trading at negative interest yields — a financial twilight zone that took hold after the financial crisis and has accelerated on fear that a fragile global economy will be further damaged by the U.S.-China trade war. Recently, for the first time ever, the German government sold 30-year bonds at a negative interest rate. The bonds pay no coupon interest at all. Yet bidders at the auction were willing to pay more than the face value they would receive back when the bonds mature. The sale added to the mountain of negative-yielding bonds around the world that investors have gobbled up, suggesting that they expect global growth and inflation to remain subpar for years to come. After all, accepting a negative yield on a bond — agreeing, in effect, to lose money in exchange for parking money in a safe place — could reflect expectations that yields will sink even further into negative territory. “You’re essentially paying a warehouse fee by paying these negative rates,” said Jim Bianco of Bianco Research in Chicago. Worldwide debt with negative rates has surged to $16.4 trillion from $12.2 trillion in mid-July and $5.7 trillion in October, Bianco said. “Until a few months ago, negative-yielding debt was an interesting curiosity,” he said. “In the last three months, it’s become a mainstay in the marketplace.” The negative-yield phenomenon — 87% of it in Europe and Japan combined — is above all sign of pessimism about the future. Most of the negative-yielding debt is in government bonds, in part because they are seen as ultra-safe. But there are also about $60 billion U.S. corporate bonds that are in negative territory. Something similar is going on with U.S. government debt: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note has sagged to a rate that would amount to a negative one after accounting for inflation.
Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say – (New York Times – August 19, 2019)
Nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, are trying to redefine the role of business in society — and how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public. Breaking with decades of long-held corporate orthodoxy, the Business Roundtable issued a statement on “the purpose of a corporation,” arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers. The shift comes at a moment of increasing distress in corporate America, as big companies face mounting global discontent over income inequality, harmful products and poor working conditions. There was no mention at the Roundtable of curbing executive compensation, a lightning-rod topic when the highest-paid 100 chief executives make 254 times the salary of an employee receiving the median pay at their company. And hardly a week goes by without a major company getting drawn into a contentious political debate. As consumers and employees hold companies to higher ethical standards, big brands increasingly have to defend their positions on worker pay, guns, immigration, President Trump and more. “They’re responding to something in the zeitgeist,” said Nancy Koehn, a historian at Harvard Business School. “They perceive that business as usual is no longer acceptable. [But] it’s an open question whether any of these companies will change the way they do business.”
A Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Thinks We’re asking All the Wrong Questions about Inequality – (Get Pocket – December 27, 2017)
America is trying to come to terms with its economic inequality. Does inequality spur growth or kill it? Is it a necessary evil—or necessarily bad? Angus Deaton, an economics professor at Princeton, and the recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics, is asked questions like these all the time—and he doesn’t see the point. “These are questions I am often asked,” according to Deaton. “But, truth be told, none of them is particularly helpful, answerable, or even well posed.” Deaton believes the biggest misconception about inequality is that it causes certain economic, political, and social processes. But that’s backward. What we should actually investigate is which types of inequality are fair, and which are not. “Inequality is not the same thing as unfairness; and, to my mind, it is the latter that has incited so much political turmoil in the rich world today,” says Deaton. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
A Mexican Hospital, an American Surgeon, and a $5,000 Check (Yes, a Check) – (New York Times – August 9, 2019)
The hospital costs of the American medical system are so high that it made financial sense for both a highly trained orthopedist from Milwaukee and a patient from Mississippi to leave the country and meet at an upscale private Mexican hospital for a knee replacement. Ms. Ferguson gets her health coverage through her husband’s employer, Ashley Furniture Industries. The cost to Ashley was less than half of what a knee replacement in the United States would have been. That’s why its employees and dependents who use this option have no out-of-pocket co-pays or deductibles for the procedure; in fact, they receive a $5,000 payment from the company, and all their travel costs are covered. Hundreds of thousands of Americans seek lower-cost care outside the United States each year, with many going to Caribbean and Central American countries. For many, a key question is whether the facility offers quality care. In a new twist on medical tourism, a Denver company is tapping into this market. The company, North American Specialty Hospital, known as NASH, has organized treatment for a couple of dozen Americans at Galenia since 2017. Dr. Parisi, a graduate of the Mayo Clinic, is one of about 40 orthopedic surgeons in the United States who have signed up with NASH, to travel to Cancún on their days off to treat American patients. NASH is betting that having an American surgeon will alleviate concerns some people have about going outside the country, and persuade self-insured American employers to offer this option to their workers to save money and still provide high-quality care. NASH, a for-profit company that charges a fixed amount for each case, is paid by the employer or an intermediary that arranged the treatment. The American surgeons work closely with a Mexican counterpart and local nurses. NASH buys additional malpractice coverage for the American physicians, who could be sued in the United States by patients unhappy with their results.
What Was It Like to Be an Executioner in the Middle Ages? – (Live Science – August 23, 2019)
One afternoon in May 1573, a 19-year-old man named Frantz Schmidt stood in the backyard of his father’s house in the German state of Bavaria, preparing to behead a stray dog with a sword. He’d recently graduated from “decapitating” pumpkins to practicing on live animals. If he passed this final stage, Schmidt would be considered ready to start his job, as an executioner of people. We know the details of this morbid scene because Schmidt meticulously chronicled his life as an executioner, writing a series of diaries that painted a rich picture of this profession during the sixteenth century. His words provided a rare glimpse of the humanity behind the violence, revealing a man who took his work seriously and often felt empathy for his victims. There was clearly a powerful incentive to execute as cleanly as possible, and that meant having a relatively good understanding of the human body. Contrary to popular opinion, executioners weren’t uneducated. In fact, those in the profession had uncommonly high literacy rates for members of their social class, along with fundamental knowledge of human anatomy. This led to a surprising irony of the job: Some executioners could double up as doctors. This created an interesting societal paradox: “People who didn’t want anything to do with an executioner socially would come to his house and ask to be healed,” said Joel Harrington, a historian at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and the author of The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century. We know, for instance, that Schmidt “had many, many more patients he healed than people he executed,” added Harrington. In fact, Schmidt wrote that doctoring would have been his chosen career, had he not been forced into execution. Over the course of his career, he eventually gained an unusual degree of respect due to his notable professionalism, which led to his appointment as the official executioner of the town of Bamberg, Bavaria.
JUST FOR FUN
Zoom in on the Winners of the 2019 Macro Art Photography Awards – (New Atlas – July 25, 2019)
The Macro Art Photo Project is one part of the larger International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. The Macro Art competition is perhaps the most interesting side project, exploring the art of flora and fauna in profound close-up. Some of the celebrated entries in this year’s competition reveal mesmerizing and magical perspectives of common insects and plants. Article includes glorious 17 images.
A FINAL QUOTE
If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it? – Albert Einstein
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