FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Up for grabs – who owns the data that your car generates?
- Former president Jimmy Carter noted that the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation.
- U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for reporting UFOs.
- Bill Gates has paid more than $10 billion in taxes, and still thinks “the government should require people in my position to pay significantly higher taxes.”
by John L. Petersen
NSA Whistleblower, Tom Drake, at TransitionTalks in May
Following closely on our session with Chris Robinson will be Tom Drake, the famous whistleblower from the National Security Agency who was successful over the government’s efforts to imprison him for up to 35 years. Tom exposed major fraud and waste and the plans for the NSA to field a capability that would spy on the American people and after that happened, the government came after him. It’s an amazing story of extraordinary courage, but in addition to talking about where he’s been, Tom is going to build his idea of where the country and humanity will be going in the coming years.
Tom is a very special guy. He was the inspiration for Edward Snowden making public the deeply secret ways the government was spying on the American people. For me he is a genuine hero who, through his extraordinary experiences (that includes two out of body experiences), now has developed an exciting new understanding of how our reality works and the great potential the future presents.
Check this out.
Here’s also a short conversation that I recently had with Tom.
Do come and be with us on the 11th of May to hear and meet Tom Drake. Full information is at TransitionTalks.org.
Karen Elkins Launches Beautiful, New Book InsideOut
Visionary graphic designer, Karen Elkins (who produces the e-magazine for TransitionTalks), has published a marvelous, gorgeous new book that combines extraordinary graphics with forward looking articles by scientists and researchers who are defining the leading edge of science. It’s really an amazing piece of work that will take you to the edge of discovery – in a very beautiful environment!
Click on the image below to see just how extraordinary this book is. Tip: The video is really worth the price of admission!
Find out more here
|Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
Get Ready for a New Era of Personalized Entertainment – (Tech Crunch – April 13, 2019)
New machine learning technologies, user interfaces and automated content creation techniques are going to expand the personalization of storytelling beyond algorithmically generated news feeds and content recommendation. The next wave will be software-generated narratives that are tailored to the tastes and sentiments of a consumer. Concretely, it means that your digital footprint, personal preferences and context unlock alternative features in the content itself, be it a news article, live video or a hit series on your streaming service. When you use YouTube, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix or Spotify, algorithms select what gets recommended to you. However, so far the content experience itself has mostly been similar to everyone. If the same news article, live video or TV series episode gets recommended to you and me, we both read and watch the same thing, experiencing the same content. That’s about to change. Soon we’ll be seeing new forms of smart content, in which user interface, machine learning technologies and content itself are combined in a seamless manner to create a personalized content experience. We are already seeing the first forerunners in this space. TikTok’s whole content experience is driven by very short videos, audiovisual content sequences if you will, ordered and woven together by algorithms. Every user sees a different, personalized, “whole” based on her viewing history and user profile. Netflix has also recently started testing new forms of interactive content (TV series episodes, e.g. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) in which user’s own choices directly affect the content experience, including dialogue and storyline. (Editor’s note: Consider the implications of people seeing the “same” news article, purportedly reporting on an actual event – except that even from the same source, it’s not the same? What happens when someone wants to excerpt a quotation from that source, but someone else can’t find that quote in their version of the news article?)
Astronomers Just Found a Second Galaxy Containing No Dark Matter – and It May Change Everything We Know about How Galaxies Are Formed – (Business Insider – April 22, 2019)
When researchers at Yale University presented the results for their observations of galaxy NGC1052-DF2 in March 2018, their work was met with a mixture of praise and criticism. Their research suggested that the unusual galaxy contained little to no dark matter — the idea contradicts existing dark matter theory, which is part of the reason why it drew so much attention. However, a team led by Sol Goldman Family Professor of Astronomy at Yale University, Pieter van Dokkum, has discovered yet another galaxy that doesn’t contain any dark matter — a discovery that supports their initial observations that dark matter is actually separable from galaxies. “This means the chances of finding more of these galaxies are now higher than we previously thought. Since we have no good ideas for how these galaxies were formed, I hope these discoveries will encourage more scientists to work on this puzzle,” Dokkum told the Keck Observatory. Up until recently, it was thought that galaxies couldn’t form without dark matter — but Rita Wechsler of Stanford University observed, “We need to rethink what a galaxy is.”
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
“Hyperscans” Show How Brains Sync as People Interact – (Scientific American – April 10, 2019)
The vast majority of neuroscientific studies contain three elements: a person, a cognitive task and a high-tech machine capable of seeing inside the brain. But something has been largely missing from these studies: other people. Just one example: no one has yet captured the rich complexity of two people’s brain activity as they talk together. “We spend our lives having conversation with each other and forging these bonds,” says neuroscientist Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College. “[Yet] we know almost nothing about how minds couple.” That is beginning to change. A growing cadre of neuroscientists is using sophisticated technology—and some very complicated math—to capture what happens in one brain, two brains, or even 12 or 15 at a time when their owners are engaged in eye contact, storytelling, joint attention focused on a topic or object, or any other activity that requires social give and take. The hope is that identifying the neural underpinnings of real social exchange will change our basic understanding of communication and ultimately improve education or inform treatment of the many psychiatric disorders that involve social impairments. Beyond the practical challenges of interactive neuroscience, a more philosophical question has circulated as to whether the neural information obtained from measuring people during social interaction is significantly different from scans taken when people are alone or acting simply as observers. Does it matter if the person you look at looks back? Is there a difference between speaking a sentence and speaking it to someone who is listening? Yes, apparently there is. The evidence is growing, says psychiatrist and social neuroscientist Leonhard Schilbach of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, that “social cognition is fundamentally different when you’re directly engaged with another person as opposed to observing another person.”
Scientists Print First 3D Heart Using Patients’ Cells – (Engadget – April 15, 2019)
Researchers at Tel Aviv University managed to successfully print the first ever 3D heart that uses cells and biological materials from a patient. The medical breakthrough managed to produce an entire heart, complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers — a marked improvement over previous attempts that only printed simple tissues without vessels. The process of creating the heart started with a biopsy of fatty tissue taken from patients. The cellular material from the tissues was used as the “ink” for the print job. That allowed researchers to create complex tissue models including cardiac patches and eventually an entire heart. It should be noted that the heart isn’t very big — it’s only about the size of a rabbit’s heart. But the technology that made it possible could eventually lead to the production of a human-sized organ. Currently, the hearts can only contract but researchers plan on culturing the 3D printed hearts and teaching them how to operate like the real deal. Once that process is complete, they will attempt to transplant them into animal models. The scientists involved in the project theorize that within 10 years organ printers could be available at hospitals.
Scientists Restore Some Function in the Brains of Dead Pigs – (NPR – April 17, 2019)
The brains of dead pigs have been somewhat revived by scientists hours after the animals were killed in a slaughterhouse. The Yale University research team is careful to say that none of the brains regained the kind of organized electrical activity associated with consciousness or awareness. Still, the experiment showed that a surprising amount of cellular function was either preserved or restored. The implications of this study have staggered ethicists, as they contemplate how this research should move forward and how it fits into the current understanding of what separates the living from the dead. The potential ethical questions raised by this research range from how to protect animal welfare to how it might affect organ donation from people declared brain-dead. Researchers have long known that viable cells can be removed from post-mortem brains hours after death, says Nenad Sestan, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. Such cells can be studied in a lab dish, Sestan says, “but the problem is, once you do that, you are losing the 3D organization of the brain.” He and some colleagues wondered whether it might be possible to study brain cells while leaving them in an intact organ. Doing so meant somehow supplying them with oxygen, nutrients and various other cell-protective chemicals. The scientists have spent the past six years developing a technique to do that, testing their methods on pig heads they obtained from a local pork processing center.
New Method to Detect Off-target Effects of CRISPR – (PhysOrg – April 19, 2019)
Since the CRISPR genome editing technology was invented in 2012, it has shown great promise to treat a number of intractable diseases. However, scientists have struggled to identify potential off-target effects in therapeutically relevant cell types, which remains the main barrier to moving therapies to the clinic. Now, a group of scientists at the Gladstone Institutes and the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI), with collaborators at AstraZeneca, have developed a reliable method to do just that. Beeke Wienert and Stacia Wyman, found a new way to approach the problem. “When CRISPR makes a cut, the DNA is broken,” says Wienert, Ph.D. “So, in order to survive, the cell recruits many different DNA repair factors to that particular site in the genome to fix the break and join the cut ends back together. We thought that if we could find the locations of these DNA repair factors, we could identify the sites that have been cut by CRISPR.” To test their idea, the researchers studied a panel of different DNA repair factors. They found that one of them, called MRE11, is one of the first responders to the site of the cut. Using MRE11, the scientists developed a new technique, named DISCOVER-Seq, that can identify the exact sites in the genome where a cut has been made by CRISPR. “Because our method relies on the cell’s natural repair process to identify cuts, it has proven to be much less invasive and much more reliable,” says Corn, Ph.D. “We were able to test our new DISCOVER-Seq method in induced pluripotent stem cells, patient cells, and mice, and our findings indicate that this method could potentially be used in any system, rather than just in the lab.”
Success of Advanced-Stage Parkinson’s Treatment is ‘Beyond Researcher’s Wildest Dreams’- (GoodNewsNetwork – April 25, 2019)
Scientists from Western University in Ontario recently published the results of a pilot study in which they used spinal implants to improve motor function in several patients with advanced Parkinson’s. Prior to the study, the patients were barely able to stand on their own without falling over or they were forced to depend entirely on wheelchairs for mobility. After getting the spinal implant, however, the patients are now capable of walking unassisted for the first time in years. The implant works by using electrical stimulation to reconnect the brain’s motor signals with the spinal cord. Researchers managed to reforge these neural pathways by keeping the implants activated for 1 to 4 months. Even after the implants were turned off, patients continued to experience improved motor function.
Stanford Team Develops Brain-rejuvenating Antibodies That Let Old Mice Think Like Youngsters – (New Atlas – April 5, 2019)
In a stunning piece of research, Stanford neuroscientists have hunted down a single gene that encodes a protein responsible for age-related cognitive losses, targeted it with special blocking antibodies, and shown in mice that these antibodies can rejuvenate old brains to work as well as young ones. It all starts with the microglia, a class of brain cells responsible for immune responses and routine cleanup. Among many other functions, microglia spend their time gobbling up bits of protein deposits and cellular debris that result from normal brain activity, and it’s long been known that their garbage-collecting performance deteriorates with age. Tony Wyss-Coray, Ph.D, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, thought it was a “decent bet” that the decline in microglial cleanup performance might be linked to the kinds of cognitive declines we see with aging. Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, for example, are linked with abnormal activation patterns for genes associated with the microglia. So Wyss-Coray and his team set off on two concurrent lines of investigation. When they compared results between the two studies, expecting to find a long list of genes that both change microglial eating patterns and significantly change gene activity levels with age, they were stunned to find just one that fit both categories: a gene known as CD22 that’s found in both mice and humans. They followed up and found the CD22 protein was three times as prevalent on the surface of old mice’s microglia as on those of young mice. With a possible culprit identified, the team set about blocking CD22 proteins using specially designed antibodies – ones that are too bulky to break through into cells, but can easily target cell-surface proteins. After a month of continuous CD22 antibody infusion on both sides of mice’s brains, the researchers achieved a stunning result. The mice improved their performance on two different learning and memory tests to the point where they significantly outperformed control mice of the same age.
Anesthesia Can Help Patients Forget a Disturbing Memory – (The Verge – March 20, 2019)
Giving patients an anesthetic can help them forget a disturbing memory, according to research published in the journal Science Advances. It’s the latest study to investigate the conditions that might prevent memories from sticking, and it could be a step toward finding a technique that helps people deal with harmful memories related to anxiety, trauma, or addiction. Researchers showed 50 participants two different and unpleasant narrated slideshows. One was about kids being kidnapped, and the other was about a car accident, according to study author Ana Galarza Vallejo, a neuroscientist at the Technical University of Madrid. One week later, the scientists “reactivated” memories of only one of the slideshows by showing participants a picture from it and asking basic questions. Immediately afterward, all of the participants were given the anesthetic propofol and they underwent endoscopies, which usually only take a few minutes. (The participants had all been recruited from a hospital and were scheduled for endoscopies anyway.) In the final step, the scientists tested all of the participants on how well they remembered both stories. Half were tested right after they woke up, and half were tested 24 hours later. Patients tested immediately afterward tended to remember both. Patients who were tested a day later did not remember the story that had been “reactivated” as well as the story that had not been reactivated. This suggests that the combination of the reactivation, anesthetic, and timing kept the memory from taking hold.
Study Shows Just How Far Wind Can Carry Microplastics – (Wired – April 15, 2019)
At the top of the French Pyrenees, not far from the border with Spain, is a virtually pristine clearing, home to snow and a weather station—but mostly feet upon feet of snow. The nearest road closes in the winter. The most substantial town within 60 miles tallies just 9,000 people. Look closely at the landscape, though, and you’ll see the place is covered in plastic. Between November 2017 and March 2018, researchers gathered water from the weather station’s collectors and searched for microplastics—bits less than a fifth of an inch long—and discovered that 365 particles land on every square meter each day. The source? Likely winds blowing from big cities like Barcelona, 100 miles to the south. To a certain degree, perhaps it isn’t too surprising that the researchers found microplastics in the Pyrenees, because in their sampling they came across another important clue: a fine orange dust. This probably blew in from the Sahara, a phenomenon this monitoring station has recorded for over a century. (More incredible still, dust from the Sahara also crosses the Atlantic to fertilize the rainforests of South America.) Scientists already knew that microplastics can hang in the air of big cities like Paris and Dongguan, China, but no one has yet shown just how far these things can travel. This work was a short-term pilot study that demands further investigation from other researchers, but the implications are shocking—for supposedly pristine environments the world over, for ecosystems, and for human health. For example, one survey found that mussels sampled around the UK all had microplastics in them. Less well understood at this point is how different plastic types—the researchers found a range in their samples, from polystyrene to polyethylene to polypropylene—travel through the atmosphere differently based on their material properties.
Hard Questions about the Fluorinated Pollutants Known as PFAS – (NPR – April 22, 2019)
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are generally referred to by their plural acronym, PFAS. PFAS are resistant to water, oil and heat, and their use has expanded rapidly since they were developed by companies in the mid-20th century. Today, PFAS’ nonstick qualities make them useful in products as diverse as food wrappers, umbrellas, tents, carpets and firefighting foam. The chemicals are also used in the manufacture of plastic and rubber and in insulation for wiring. In short, they are all around us. And as a result, they’ve found their way into the soil and, especially in some regions, into our drinking water. “We’re finding them contaminating many rivers, many lakes, many drinking water supplies,” says Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. “And we’re finding them not only in the environment, but we’re finding them in people.” That’s in part because PFAS don’t break down easily — a quality that has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.” Some varieties have been found to stick around in the human body for years, if not decades. Others accumulate in soil or water, creating a continuous source of exposure. This year, the EPA signaled that it is considering setting a legal safety limit for some PFAS in drinking water, but it hasn’t acted yet. In most cases, U.S. chemical regulations do not require that companies prove a chemical is safe before they start selling it. It’s up to the EPA to determine whether a substance is unacceptably dangerous and under what circumstances, and typically such analyses begin only after public health concerns are raised. As a result, “we really don’t know much about the great majority of these chemicals,” says Birnbaum. Early studies have found a “probable link” between long-term exposure to the chemical and certain medical conditions, such as kidney cancer and thyroid disease.
NASA Predicts LOWER Ice Melt and Sea Level Rise in Antarctica – (Express – April 28, 2019)
Climate experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California believe natural processes will offset rising sea levels by the year 2250. Scientists currently estimate Antarctica’s melting ice sheet contributes to between 20 and 25 percent of global sea levels rising. The dire figure is largely caused by warming water temperatures, which affect the integrity of Antarctica’s ice sheet and glaciers. Previous climate forecasts for the next 500 years have found a rapidly expanding area of ice melt affecting Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier. NASA’s refined climate models, however, suggest the ice melt will slow down over the next 300 years. As a result, predictions about Antarctica’s future contributions to rising sea levels could be off by a whole 29%. NASA’s Eric Larour, who lead the study, said: “We found that around the year 2250, some of these solid Earth processes started to offset the melting of the ice sheet and the consequent sea level rise.”
Why You Can No Longer Get Lost in the Crowd – (New York Times – April 17, 2019)
Once, it was easy to be obscure. Technology has ended that. We are constantly exposed in public. Yet most of our actions will fade into obscurity. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2439866 Do you, for example, remember the faces of strangers who stood in line with you the last time you bought medicine at a drugstore? Probably not. Thanks to limited memory and norms against staring, they probably don’t remember yours either. This is what it means to be obscure. And our failure to collectively value this idea shows where we’ve gone wrong in the debates over data and surveillance. Lawmakers and industry leaders are missing the big picture. They are stuck on traditional concepts like “transparency,” “consent” and “secrecy,” which leads to proposals that reinforce broken mechanisms like consenting to unreadable terms of service. They are operating under the dangerous illusion that there’s a clear distinction between what’s public and what’s private. Obscurity bridges this privacy gap with the idea that the parts of our lives that are hard or unlikely to be found or understood are relatively safe. It is a combination of the privacy you have in public and the privacy you have in groups. Obscurity is a barrier that can shield you from government, corporate and social snoops. For example, facial recognition technology poses an immense danger to society because it can be used to overcome biological constraints on how many individuals anyone can recognize in real time. If its use continues to grow and the right regulations aren’t instituted, we might lose the ability to go out in public without being recognized by the police, our neighbors and corporations. Creating strong regulations for the technology is going to be an uphill battle, especially because it’s already become widespread, being deployed at airports to make boarding easier and adopted by schools to increase safety. It is even being used at summer camps so parents can automatically receive photos in which their children appear.
How to Remove Yourself from the Top People-search Sites (2018 update) – (ReputationDefender – November 20, 2018)
Would you rather be just a bit more anonymous? There are hundreds of websites that provide your personal information to anybody on the Internet. Known as people-finder, people-search, or whitepages sites, some of the most common ones include Spokeo, MyLife, PeopleSmart, US Search, Intelius, Whitepages, Radaris. This article shows you how to remove yourself from these sites. They each have site-specific opt-out instructions, and we’ll walk you through all of them. We’ll also show you some common pitfalls you need to watch out for as you go through the process. Ultimately, this website would like to sell you their services to do this work for you – but you can do it for yourself.
Downsized Dwellings: Inside Tokyo’s Tiny Living Spaces – (Japan Times – April 20, 2019)
Twenty-five-year-old Sotaro Ito lives in a 31-square-foot apartment (about 5’ x 6’) with a loft in the capital’s retro-hip Koenji district. His apartment looks more like an office cubicle, with a desk and computer chair dominating a third of the room. A reading pillow is propped up against one of the walls, but there isn’t enough space for him to stretch out his body. A clothesline rope stretches between two wall sconces for him to dry his laundry, and his kitchen is equipped with a small sink and a single induction cooktop. What his room lacks in space, however, is made up for in height. The ceiling of the apartment is 11.8 feet high and three windows have been built into the exterior wall, letting in plenty of light. A white ladder takes Ito up to a loft, roughly 6’ long and 30” wide, that’s 4 ½’ high — enough for him to sit upright. And unlike many single-person apartments with so-called “unit baths” that combine a toilet and bathtub, Ito’s crib has separate rooms for a shower and high-tech bidet toilet. When it comes to downsized living, Tokyo has it all: from capsule hotels and compact prefabs to communal share houses. There’s now a booming market for cleverly designed small apartments targeting young professionals who are happy to forgo floor space in exchange for affordable rent and inner city convenience. The trend toward smaller homes and apartments continued to accelerate as rural-to-urban migration resulted in an influx of residents to large cities — particularly Tokyo. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the capital saw a net increase of 79,844 residents in 2018, or a 9 percent rise from the previous year, despite the nation’s population shrinking overall. Meanwhile, a modern version of dormitory living for adults is catching on as a way for city dwellers to cope with expensive real estate and social isolation. In one such high rise complex, there are 19 apartments on each floor ranging from 33 to 45 square meters in size, each occupied by one to four tenants who come and go as they please — many juggle multiple jobs and have offices and residences elsewhere. There’s a shared kitchen space and lobby, as well as a gym. Article includes photos.
Battery Power’s Latest Plunge in Costs Threatens Coal, Gas – (Bloomberg NEF – March 26, 2019)
Two technologies that were immature and expensive only a few years ago but are now at the center of the unfolding low-carbon energy transition have seen spectacular gains in cost-competitiveness in the last year. The latest analysis by research company BloombergNEF (BNEF) shows that the benchmark levelized cost of electricity, or LCOE, for lithium-ion batteries has fallen 35% to $187 per megawatt-hour since the first half of 2018. Meanwhile, the benchmark LCOE for offshore wind has tumbled by 24%. Onshore wind and photovoltaic solar have also gotten cheaper, their respective benchmark LCOE reaching $50 and $57 per megawatt-hour for projects starting construction in early 2019, down 10% and 18% on the equivalent figures of a year ago. Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF, commented: “Looking back over this decade, there have been staggering improvements in the cost-competitiveness of these low-carbon options, thanks to technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience. The most striking finding is on the cost improvements in lithium-ion batteries. Batteries co-located with solar or wind projects are starting to compete, in many markets and without subsidy, with coal- and gas-fired generation for the provision of ‘dispatchable power’ that can be delivered whenever the grid needs it.
Your Car Is Watching You. Who Owns the Data? – (Roll Call – April 9, 2019)
If you’re driving a late model car or truck, chances are that the vehicle is mostly computers on wheels, collecting and wirelessly transmitting vast quantities of data to the car manufacturer not just on vehicle performance but personal information, too, such as your weight, the restaurants you visit, your music tastes and places you go. A car can generate about 25 gigabytes of data every hour and as much as 4,000 gigabytes a day, according to some estimates. The data trove in the hands of car makers could be worth as much as $750 billion by 2030, the consulting firm McKinsey has estimated. But consumer groups, aftermarket repair shops and privacy advocates say the data belongs to the car’s owners and the information should be subject to data privacy laws. Congress has yet to pass comprehensive federal data privacy legislation and it is unclear if that goal can by met by the end of this year. The European Union has already ruled that data generated by cars belongs to their owners and is subject to privacy rules under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR. Automakers, meanwhile, are still trying to shape the outcome of state data privacy laws, including the one in California that goes into effect in January 2020, but might be subject to amendment before then. The California law’s definition of personal information extends beyond what’s generated by an individual to include household information, and gives consumers the right to obtain data collected on them, to stop third-party sales of that information, and to ask companies to delete their information. The Auto Alliance, a trade group representing the world’s largest car makers, has appealed to the state’s attorney general, asking that the companies be allowed to provide only summary information to consumers as opposed to “specific pieces of personal information a business has collected about them,” as the law requires.
The Coming Obsolescence of Animal Meat – (Atlantic – April 16, 2019)
The $100 chicken nugget was chicken—albeit chicken that had never laid an egg, sprouted a feather, or been swept through an electrified-water bath for slaughter. This chicken began life as a primordial mush in a bioreactor whose dimensions and brand I’m not allowed to describe to you, for intellectual-property reasons. Before that, it was a collection of cells swirling calmly in a red-hued, nutrient-rich “media,” with a glass flask for an eggshell. The chicken is definitely real, and technically animal flesh, but it left the world as it entered it—a mass of meat, ready for human consumption, with no brain or wings or feet. Companies are racing to develop real chicken, fish, and beef that don’t require killing animals. Here’s what’s standing in their way.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Climate Chaos Is Coming — and the Pinkertons Are Ready – (New York Times – April 10, 2019)
Now over 150 years old, having long outlived its reputation as Andrew Carnegie’s personal militia, the Pinkerton agency has evolved into a modern security firm. Over the last decade or so, Pinkerton began noticing a growing set of anxieties among its corporate clients about distinctly contemporary plagues — active shooters, political unrest, climate disasters — and in response began offering data-driven risk analysis, in addition to what they’re more traditionally known for. The company has lately received several inquiries from corporate clients, asking for lessons in tactical skills like evasive driving and extraction from disaster zones, both for themselves and sometimes hundreds or more of their employees. Even if the Pinkertons can’t predict the specific risks of the future, they have a general sense of what it might look like — and what opportunities they might avail themselves of as it materializes. According to the World Bank, by 2050 some 140 million people may be displaced by sea-level rise and extreme weather, driving escalations in crime, political unrest and resource conflict. Reading these projections from the relative comforts of the C-suite, it isn’t difficult to see why a company might consider enhancing its security protocols. Among their most popular new services is the Pinkerton Dedicated Professional, in which agents join a client’s company like any other new hire, allowing them to provide intel on employees. By 2018, the agency said it could count among its clients about 80% of Fortune 1,000 companies. This article details Pinkerton readiness.
Made in China, Exported to the World: The Surveillance State – (New York Times – April 24, 2019)
Quito, Ecuador — The squat gray building in Ecuador’s capital commands a sweeping view of the city’s sparkling sprawl, from the high-rises at the base of the Andean valley to the pastel neighborhoods that spill up its mountainsides. The police who work inside are looking elsewhere. They spend their days poring over computer screens, watching footage that comes in from 4,300 cameras across the country. The high-powered cameras send what they see to 16 monitoring centers in Ecuador that employ more than 3,000 people. Armed with joysticks, the police control the cameras and scan the streets for drug deals, muggings and murders. If they spy something, they zoom in. This voyeur’s paradise is made with technology from what is fast becoming the global capital of surveillance: China. Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has vastly expanded domestic surveillance, fueling a new generation of companies that make sophisticated technology at ever lower prices. A global infrastructure initiative is spreading that technology even further. Ecuador shows how technology built for China’s political system is now being applied — and sometimes abused — by other governments. Today, 18 countries — including Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and Germany — are using Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems, and 36 have received training in topics like “public opinion guidance,” which is typically a euphemism for censorship, according to an October report from Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group. Often described as public security systems, the technologies have darker potential uses as tools of political repression. Companies worldwide provide the components and code of dystopian digital surveillance and nations like Britain and the United States also have ways of watching their citizens. But China’s growing market dominance has changed things. Loans from Beijing have made surveillance technology available to governments that could not previously afford it, while China’s authoritarian system has diminished the transparency and accountability of its use. While the authorities said the cameras had reduced crime, anecdotes of its dysfunction abound. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for its glimpse of what is fully possible on a global scale.)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Reporter Sharmine Narwani on the Secret History of America’s Defeat in Syria – (Salon – April 21, 2019)
Narwani brings impressive credentials to the craft. After earning a masters in journalism from Columbia, she was for four years (2010–14) a senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. It was during those years that she began to make her mark covering the Middle East from her bureau-of-one in Beirut. Having witnessed the Syrian war from start to finish, she now casts it in a usefully broad context. “The Syrian conflict constitutes the main battlefield in a kind of World War III,” she said during our lengthy exchange. “The world wars were, in essence, great-power wars, after which the global order reshuffled a bit and new global institutions were established.” This, in outline, is what Narwani sees out in front of us, now that the Western powers’ latest “regime change” operation has failed. We need to put what is commonly called the Syrian “political process” into perspective. Syria, Russia and Iran won. Turkey is crippled by its Syria losses and is desperately seeking a new geopolitical equilibrium. France and Germany are very worried about more refugees — and extremists — flooding their borders, and they are willing to break with the U.S.’ goals in Syria over this issue. In short, the “political process” is whatever Syria, Russia and Iran want it to be. We have had a reshuffle in the balance of power in recent years, with Russia, China, Iran in ascendance and Europe and North America in decline. That’s not to say that Washington, London or Paris don’t have levers left to pull: They do. But it is on the back of the Syrian conflict that a great-power battle was fought, and in its wake, new international institutions for finance, defense and policymaking have been born or transformed. What will happen to Western-controlled shipping routes now that Asia has started to build faster, cheaper land routes? Will the SWIFT [bank messaging] system survive when an alternative is agreed upon to bypass U.S. sanctions everywhere? There are so many examples of these shifts. It’s not to say that they are due to events in Syria, but rather that Syria triggered the great-power battle that unleashed the potential of this new order much more quickly and efficiently. Keep in mind that World War III was never going to be like the other two conventionally fought wars…. It was always going to be an irregular war that would escalate on multiple fronts — not just regime change events, but financial pressures, sanctions, propaganda, political subversion activities, destabilization, increased terrorism, proxy fights and so on. The battle for global hegemony really began to unfold over Syria, though, when the Russians, Iranians and Chinese decided to draw a line and put up a fight. The world changed after that. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article.)
‘Unprecedented’: UN Finds US-Backed Forces Killed More Afghan Civilians Than Taliban and ISIS Did So Far in 2019 – (Common Dreams – April 24, 2019)
A new quarterly report (pdf) from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) shows that “pro-government forces,” including both Afghan and international troops, killed 305 civilians from January to the end of March. That compared with 227 civilians killed by “anti-government elements” such as the Taliban and ISIS. There were 49 unattributable deaths, which includes those caught in crossfire. The UNAMA report details the “increased harm to civilians from aerial and search operations” this year. Pro-government forces carried out 43 aerial operations in the first quarter of 2019 that resulted in 228 civilian casualties (145 deaths, 83 injured), with international military forces responsible for 39 of these operations resulting in 219 civilian casualties (140 deaths, 79 injured). Women and children comprised half of the civilian casualties from all aerial operations. Pro-government forces caused 102 civilian casualties (72 deaths and 30 injured) across 32 search operations, which is an 85% increase in civilian casualties as compared to the first quarter of 2018. The majority—80%—of the search operations resulting in civilian casualties were attributed to either the National Directorate of Security Special Forces or the Khost Protection Force, both of which are supported by international military forces. UNAMA reiterates its concern that these forces appear to act with impunity, outside of the governmental chain of command.
Jimmy Carter: US Is ‘Most Warlike Nation in History’ – (Information Clearing House – April 26, 2019)
During his regular Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter revealed that he had recently spoken with President Donald Trump about China. Carter, 94, said Trump was worried about China’s growing economy and expressed concern that “China is getting ahead of us.” Carter, who normalized diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing in 1979, said he told Trump that much of China’s success was due to its peaceful foreign policy. “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody?” Carter asked. “None, and we have stayed at war.” While it is true that China’s last major war—an invasion of Vietnam—occurred in 1979, its People’s Liberation Army pounded border regions of Vietnam with artillery and its navy battled its Vietnamese counterpart in the 1980s. Since then, however, China has been at peace with its neighbors and the world. Carter then said the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation. Counting wars, military attacks and military occupations, there have actually only been five years of peace in US history—1976, the last year of the Gerald Ford administration and 1977-80, the entirety of Carter’s presidency. Carter then referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result, he said, of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.”
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
An Epidemic of Selfie Deaths – (Outside – April 16, 2019)
A recent report found that 259 people died between 2011 and 2017 while stepping in front of the camera in often dangerous destinations. Our writer went deep on the psychology of selfies to figure out what’s behind our obsession with capturing extreme risk-taking. Termed “killfies” by some social media researchers, these accidental deaths have involved social media personalities and, of course, adventurers. Then there are the hundreds of other people you’ve probably never heard about who died trying to get the perfect cliffhanger photo. The student who fell 700 feet at Ireland’s iconic Cliffs of Moher in January. The 68-year-old woman who was fatally scalded in a Chilean geyser. The man in his fifties who was struck by lightning while hiking with a selfie pole in the Welsh mountains. The teenage girl swept away by an unexpected wave on a beach in the Philippines. For each of these recorded deaths, there are also thousands of near misses. It can feel somehow reassuring to condemn deaths like these as foolish or self-absorbed, but that doesn’t seem entirely fair. And, frankly, emerging research doesn’t support that position. So, what’s really going on here? The author asked social media and psychology experts to weigh in on questions like these. What they had to say may surprise you.
Running Out of Children, a South Korea School Enrolls Illiterate Grandmothers – (New York Times – April 27, 2019)
Every morning on her way to school, Hwang Wol-geum, a first grader, rides the same yellow bus as three of her family members: One is a kindergartner, another a third grader and the other a fifth grader. Ms. Hwang is 70 — and her schoolmates are her grandchildren. Illiterate all her life, she remembers hiding behind a tree and weeping as she saw her friends trot off to school six decades ago. While other village children learned to read and write, she stayed home, tending pigs, collecting firewood and looking after younger siblings. She later raised six children of her own, sending all of them to high school or college. Yet it always pained her that she couldn’t do what other mothers did. “Writing letters to my children, that’s what I dreamed of the most,” Ms. Hwang said. Help came unexpectedly this year from the local school that was running out of school-age children and was desperate to fill its classrooms with students. South Korea’s birthrate has been plummeting in recent decades, falling to less than one child per woman last year, one of the lowest in the world. The hardest hit areas are rural counties, where babies have become an increasingly rare sight as young couples migrate en masse to big cities for better paying jobs.
Breaking News: Some Bolshut Happening Somewhere – (YouTube – March 9, 2010)
A great deal of “local” news is truly inconsequential. Its only purpose is to fill up airtime. Have you ever wondered how it would sound if TV newscasters reported such compelling news items with total honesty? Well, here’s an example.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
U.S. Navy Drafting New Guidelines for Reporting UFOs – (Politico – April 23, 2019)
The U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for pilots and other personnel to report encounters with “unidentified aircraft,” a significant new step in creating a formal process to collect and analyze the unexplained sightings — and destigmatize them. The previously unreported move is in response to a series of sightings of unknown, highly advanced aircraft intruding on Navy strike groups and other sensitive military formations and facilities, the service says. “There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” the Navy said in a statement. To be clear, the Navy isn’t endorsing the idea that its sailors have encountered alien spacecraft. But it is acknowledging there have been enough strange aerial sightings by credible and highly trained military personnel that they need to be recorded in the official record and studied — rather than dismissed as some kooky phenomena from the realm of science-fiction. Chris Mellon, a former Pentagon intelligence official and ex-staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said establishing a more formal means of reporting what the military now calls “unexplained aerial phenomena” — rather than “unidentified flying objects” — would be a “sea change.” “Right now, we have situation in which UFOs and UAPs are treated as anomalies to be ignored rather than anomalies to be explored,” he said.
Mystery of the Universe’s Expansion Rate Widens with New Hubble Data – (PhysOrg – April 25, 2019)
The universe is getting bigger every second. The space between galaxies is stretching, like dough rising in the oven. But how fast is the universe expanding? Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope say they have crossed an important threshold in revealing a discrepancy between the two key techniques for measuring the universe’s expansion rate. The recent study strengthens the case that new theories may be needed to explain the forces that have shaped the cosmos. Hubble measurements suggest a faster expansion rate in the modern universe than expected, based on how the universe appeared more than 13 billion years ago. These measurements of the early universe come from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. This discrepancy has been identified in scientific papers over the last several years, but it has been unclear whether differences in measurement techniques are to blame, or whether the difference could result from unlucky measurements. The latest Hubble data lower the possibility that the discrepancy is only a fluke to 1 in 100,000.
Nearly Half of Indebted Millennials Say College Wasn’t Worth It, and the Reason Is Obvious – (Business Insider – April 11, 2019)
An INSIDER and Morning Consult survey polled 4,400 Americans — 1,207 of them identified as millennials, defined by the survey as people ages 22 to 37 (237 respondents did not select a generation). When asked whether their student loans were worth attending college based on their financial situation, about 21% of respondents said “definitely no” and about 23% said “probably no.” Nearly 27% said “definitely yes,” while 26% said “probably yes.” Their answers all boil down to student-loan debt. For millennials who said college was definitely or probably worth it, there were more respondents who had previously paid off their student loans entirely (64%) than those who are still paying off student loans (48%). The opposite holds true for the millennials who said college was definitely or probably not worth it — there were more respondents who are still paying off their student loans (49%) than those who previously paid them off (33%). In short, those who are paying off their debt seem to feel worse about their decision to go to college, while those who have already paid off their debt feel better about having gone to college. The rising cost of college may help explain its arguably weakening value: College tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s. Richard Vedder, an author and distinguished professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University, noted, “The rewards for college have expanded and grown from 1985 to a little after 2000 and sort of leveled off in the past decade.” The “advantage of a degree today is less than it was 10 years ago, because of the rising cost,” Vedder said. “The return on investment has fallen.”
Americans Getting More Inactive, Computers Partly to Blame – (Associated Press – April 23, 2019)
Over almost a decade, average daily sitting time increased by roughly an hour, to about eight hours for U.S. teens and almost 6 1/2 hours for adults, according to the researchers. That includes school and work hours, but leisure-time computer use among all ages increased too. By 2016, at least half of American kids and adults spent an hour or more of leisure time daily using computers. The biggest increase was among the oldest adults: 15% of retirement-aged adults reported using computers that often in 2003-04, soaring to more than half in 2015-16. Most Americans of all ages watched TV or videos for at least two hours daily and that was mostly unchanged throughout the study, ranging from about 60% of kids aged 5 to 11, up to 84% of seniors. “Everything we found is concerning,” said lead author Yin Cao, a researcher at Washington University’s medical school in St. Louis. “The overall message is prolonged sitting is highly prevalent,” despite prominent health warnings about the dangers of being too sedentary. Studies have shown that prolonged periods of sitting can increase risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. U.S. activity guidelines released last fall say adults need at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week, things like brisk walking, jogging, biking or tennis. Muscle strengthening two days weekly is also advised. Kids aged 6 through 17 need 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. Regular activity is even recommended for kids as young as 3. But only about 1 in 4 U.S. adults and 1 in 5 teens get recommended amounts.
The Retail Apocalypse Has Claimed 6,000 US Stores in 2019 So Far, More Than the Total Number to Shut Down in All of 2018 – (Insider – April 17, 2019)
A report from Coresight Research shows that the retail apocalypse is continuing, with 5,994 store closures announced so far in the US this year, compared to 5,864 store closures in all of 2018. Some retailers including Fred’s and Family Dollar are closing select stores in a bid to stay profitable while chains like Payless have announced that they are shuttering all of their stores. One report predicted that 75,000 stores will have to close across North America by 2026 as reliance on e-commerce rises. UBS predicted that clothing stores would take the biggest impact, facing an estimated 21,000 store closures — 71% of all clothing shops across the US. On the flip side: There have been 2,641 store openings announced this year, Coresight said, compared to 3,239 openings in all of 2018. (Editor’s note: In other words, the retail sector is going through a massive turnover driven by shifting consumer preferences.)
American Billionaires Call for Upgrades to Capitalism, Starting with Higher Taxes on Themselves – (CNBC – April 8, 2019)
American billionaires are calling for changes to the system that enabled them to get rich. Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon, Ray Dalio, Bill Gates and a list of others say that capitalism in its current form simply doesn’t work for the rest of the United States. Some of their remedies involve higher taxes. The issue chafing billionaires and politicians alike is a growing income gap. The inequality between rich and poor Americans is as high as it was in late 1930s, Dalio pointed out in a paper posted online. The wealth of the top 1% of the population is now more than that of the bottom 90% of the population combined. In a 2011 New York Times op-ed, titled “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich,” Buffett called for a tax increase on everyone making more than $1 million and an even bigger hike on Americans making more than $10 million or more. Gates, a close friend of Buffett and one spot above him on the Forbe’s list, has also called for higher taxes. Although the Microsoft founder said he’s paid more than $10 billion in taxes, “the government should require people in my position to pay significantly higher taxes.”
Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind – (New York Times – April 17, 2019)
Prison abolition, as a movement, sounds provocative and absolute, but what it is as a practice requires subtler understanding. For Gilmore, who has been active in the movement for more than 30 years, it’s both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care — all the elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life. Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.” If prison, in its philosophical origin, was meant as a humane alternative to beatings or torture or death, it has transformed into a fixed feature of modern life, one that is not known, even by its supporters and administrators, for its humanity. In the United States, we now have more than two million incarcerated people, a majority of them black or brown, virtually all of them from poor communities. Prisons not only have violated human rights and failed at rehabilitation; it’s not even clear that prisons deter crime or increase public safety. Reform has become politically popular. But abolitionists argue that many reforms have done little more than reinforce the system. In every state where the death penalty has been abolished, for example, it has been replaced by the sentence of life without parole — to many people, that’s just a death sentence by other, more protracted means. Over all, reforms have not significantly reduced incarceration numbers, and no recent reform legislation has even aspired to do so. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for its nuanced exposition.)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Sex with Children Has Become Big Business in America – (Rutherford Institute – April 23, 2019)
According to USA Today, adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States. The average age of those being trafficked is 13. Where did this appetite for young girls come from? Look around you. Young girls have been sexualized for years now in music videos, on billboards, in television ads, and in clothing stores. Marketers have created a demand for young flesh and a ready supply of over-sexualized children. “All it takes is one look at MySpace photos of teens to see examples—if they aren’t imitating porn they’ve actually seen, they’re imitating the porn-inspired images and poses they’ve absorbed elsewhere,” writes Jessica Bennett for Newsweek. “Latex, corsets and stripper heels, once the fashion of porn stars, have made their way into middle and high school.” This is what Bennett refers to as the “pornification of a generation.” “In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn’t take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives,” concludes Bennett. “Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms. According to a 2007 study from the University of Alberta, as many as 90% of boys and 70% of girls aged 13 to 14 have accessed sexually explicit content at least once.” In other words, the culture is grooming these young people to be preyed upon by sexual predators.
JUST FOR FUN
Photographer Discovers a “Hidden City” in Reflections of New York City Skyscrapers – (My Modern Met – April 18, 2019)
Curiosity is at the heart of photographer Navid Baraty’s image making. Whether he is braving disorienting deserts or capturing total solar eclipses, his interest in the world (and beyond) results in compelling visuals. One of Baraty’s best-known series is the ongoing Hidden City collection. Through it, he takes us above the New York City streets and into skyscrapers that gaze upon the bustling metropolis below. But, there’s a twist; the photographer includes a reflection of the city on the glass buildings to create a dizzying mirror of activity. “It’s kind of fun to think of these reflections,” Baraty recounted, “as being a sort of hidden dimension or parallel universe.” Baraty discovered the reflections by happenstance while visiting one of his first skyscrapers in Manhattan. “I was extending my camera as far over the edge as I could to get as straight down of a shot of the cityscape as possible,” he explains, “and when I looked at the photos in my camera I was blown away by the reflection that I saw in the windows of the skyscraper. It was a total surprise.” Article includes numerous photos. And if you just love the art implicit in urban architecture, here’s another one: Captivating Time-Lapse Captures the Vibrant Energy of New York City.
A FINAL QUOTE
We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. ~ R. Buckminster Fuller
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