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Volume 23, Number 1 – 1/1/20

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FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT–

  • The magnetic north pole is racing across the Arctic region at 50 kilometers a year and shows little sign of slowing down.
  • A $13.6B solar park is being built in the Dubai desert.
  • A Chinese hacker group has been caught bypassing the supposedly super secure Two Factor Authentication.
  • Government controlled internet shutdowns are increasingly becoming the norm in much of the world.

PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Larry Dossey, M.D. Consciousness and Healing: the Unfolding Vision — January 18th in Berkeley Springs

BONUS: At 10 am on 1/18, John Petersen will finalize his talk on “Getting to 2027”. All are welcome!

For three centuries, human health and illness has been generally viewed through the lens of “the physical” and the proper functioning of the body. A major transition is now underway in our understanding of the nature of consciousness, how it interacts with the body in health and healing, and its origin and destiny. Dr. Dossey will discuss these developments, including actual clinical cases.

Dr. Larry Dossey is a physician of internal medicine and former Chief of Staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital. He received his M. D. degree from Southwestern Medical School (Dallas), and trained in internal medicine at Parkland and the VA hospitals in Dallas. Dossey has lectured at medical schools and hospitals throughout the United States and abroad. In 1988 he delivered the annual Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, India, the only physician ever invited to do so. He is the author of twelve books dealing with consciousness, spirituality, and healing, including the New York Times bestseller HEALING WORDS: THE POWER OF PRAYER AND THE PRACTICE OF MEDICINE, and most recently One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters. His books have been translated into languages around the world. Dr. Dossey is the former co-chairman of the Panel on Mind/Body Interventions, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health. He is the executive editor of the peer-reviewed journal EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing. Dr. Dossey lectures around the world. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife Barbara, a nurse-consultant and the author of several award-winning books.

You can find complete information at TransitionTalks.org.


Full Access to Robert David Steele Transition Talk

Robert Steele held forth to a capacity crowd in Berkeley Springs last month, entertaining a clearly engaged audience in a 90 minute survey of the most life-changing books he had read. Robert’s Talk was long on lists of books and many asked that we make the video of the presentation available so that they could capture all of the detail. So they —- and you —- are in luck!

Although in the future we will be charging for access to the TransitionTalks videos, Robert and I wanted to get this one out to as many people as possible, so here is a link where you can see the great talk:

One favor for Robert: if you like this talk, please link to it and Tweet the video with your comments to both your friends and these addresses: #UNRIG #MAGA #Triggered @GOP @POTUS


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

To Receive Your Gift click here
(Limited to the first 500 requests)
Your book will be mailed to you free of charge. This is truly a free gift from The Fetzer Memorial Trust. The only mail you will receive from them, will be this book. You will not be added to a mailing list.


Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:


THINK LINKS


INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

The Top 25 Censored Press Stories of 2019 – (Project Censored – 2019)
Project Censored specializes in covering the top stories which were subjected to press censorship either by being ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media each year. Project Censored is a research team composed of more than 300 university faculty, students, and community experts who annually review many hundreds of news story submissions for coverage, content, reliability of sources, and national significance. The top 25 stories selected are submitted to a distinguished panel of judges who then rank them in order of importance. A summary of the top 25 media censorship stories of 2019 provided at the link proves quite revealing and informative. Each summary includes a link for those who want to read the entire article. (Editor’s note: As you read through the summaries, you may find items that you had presumed were fake news or, at the very least, seriously biased reportage. In those cases particularly, we urge you to click on the “read more” link, read the underlying article, and even drill down further and peruse some of the source material.)


NEW DISCOVERIES

Scientists Devise ‘Lifespan Clock’ – (PhysOrg – December 12, 2019)
An Australian research team says they have come up with a “lifespan clock” which provides accurate maximum age estimates for vertebrates, a key variable in the study of both living and extinct animals. The scientists identified specific areas—called CpG sites—in DNA which have been linked to lifespan and then checked them against existing databases of animal ages. The scientists, led by Benjamin Mayne at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Western Australia, said their research appeared to be the first of its kind to build a “genetic predictive model to estimate the lifespan of vertebrate species from genetic markers.” The main aim was to look at “poorly understood and extinct species”, for example the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) which they established likely lived for about 60 years, compared with today’s African elephant at 65. Inevitably the question arises of how this might be applied to human beings. “The lifespan clock estimated a 38-year lifespan for humans,” the team said, in line with the accepted maximum life expectancy of 40 years for pre-modern man but less than half that of his contemporary today. Mayne stressed that the lifespan clock cannot be used for individual human beings. The purpose of this study was to determine an important parameter of ecological significance which may assist in wildlife management,” he added. For example, it could be applied to managing species such as fish, sharks and threatened wild animals “where lifespan is critical in determining sustainable harvests and population viability.”

Shift in Earth’s Magnetic North Throws Navigators off Course – (Financial Times – December 13, 2019)
The magnetic north pole is the peripatetic point on the Earth’s surface where its magnetic field, created by molten iron churning deep within the planet’s core, points directly downwards. But the latest calculations reveal how magnetic north is shifting position at a rate that is unprecedented in recorded history, racing across the Arctic region at 50 kilometers a year and showing little sign of slowing down. “The movement since the 1990s is much faster than at any time for at least four centuries. We really don’t know much about the changes in the core that’s driving it,” said Ciaran Beggan, a geomagnetic specialist at the British Geological Survey. The findings were contained in the updated version of the World Magnetic Model released this week by its joint compilers, the BGS and US National Centers for Environmental Information. Phil Livermore and colleagues at Leeds University’s institute of geophysics recently deduced that a “jet stream” of liquid iron was flowing within the core, something that could explain fluctuations in magnetic north’s behavior. “We should be able to predict the ‘weather’ of the core by tracking this movement just like we forecast real weather,” said Prof Livermore. “But the liquid iron is far harder to track because it lies beneath 3,000 kilometers of rock.” The updated model also confirmed that the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening by about 5% every century. If this continues, the field could reverse, ushering in an era of magnetic chaos as the north pole flips south and vice versa.

How the Sun Illuminates Spanish Missions on the Winter Solstice – (Smithsonian – December 21, 2019)
At hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of missions stretching from northern California to Peru, the winter solstice sun triggers a fascinating event. At dawn on Dec. 21, a sunbeam enters each of these churches and bathes an important religious object, altar, crucifix or saint’s statue in brilliant light. On the darkest day of the year, these illuminations conveyed to native converts the rebirth of light, life and hope in the coming of the Messiah. Largely unknown for centuries, this recent discovery has sparked international interest in both religious and scientific circles. At missions that are documented illumination sites, congregants and Amerindian descendants now gather to honor the sun in the church on the holiest days of the Catholic liturgy with songs, chants and drumming. The astronomically and liturgically significant solar illuminations in mission churches offers insights into archaeology, cosmology and Spanish colonial history. Early Spanish friars like Fray Gerónimo Boscana also documented indigenous cosmologies and beliefs. Boscana’s account of his time as a friar describes California Indians’ belief in a supreme deity who was known to the peoples of Mission San Juan Capistrano as Chinigchinich or Quaoar. Indian converts identified Chinigchinich with Jesus during the Mission period. His appearance among Takic-speaking peoples coincides with the death of Wiyot, the primeval tyrant of the first peoples, whose murder introduced death into the world. And it was the creator of night who conjured the first tribes and languages, and in so doing, gave birth to the world of light and life. Ultimately, research showed that 14 of the 21 California missions were sited to produce illuminations on solstices or equinoxes and 18 of the 22 mission churches of New Mexico were oriented to the all-important vernal or autumnal equinox, used by the Pueblo Indians to signal the agricultural season.

Scientists Have Officially Found a Mineral Never Before Seen in Nature – (Science Alert – December 25, 2019)
It was found along the side of a road in a remote Australian gold rush town. The Wedderburn meteorite, found just north-east of the town in 1951, was a small 210-gram chunk of strange-looking space rock that fell out of the sky. For decades, scientists have been trying to decipher its secrets, and researchers just decoded another. In a study published in August this year, led by Caltech mineralogist Chi Ma, scientists analyzed the Wedderburn meteorite and verified the first natural occurrence of what they call ‘edscottite’: a rare form of iron-carbide mineral that’s never been found in nature. A synthetic version of the iron carbide mineral has been known about for decades – a phase produced during iron smelting. Since the Wedderburn meteorite’s spacey origins were first identified, the distinctive black-and-red rock has been examined by numerous research teams – to the extent that only about one-third of the original specimen still remains intact, held within the geological collection at Museums Victoria in Australia. The rest has been taken away in a series of slices, extracted to analyze what the meteorite is made from. Those analyses have revealed traces of gold and iron, along with rarer minerals such as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite. Now we can add edscottite to that list.


GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY

First Head Transplant Will Be Achievable within the Decade – (Telegraph – December 22, 2019)
The world’s first human head transplants may be just a decade away, a former National Health Service (NHS) neurosurgeon has said, after working out how to achieve the groundbreaking operation. Bruce Mathew, a former Clinical Lead for Neurosurgery at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, is an expert in hyperbaric medicine, helping divers to recover from the bends. But while working on a science fiction novel with the futurist author Michal J Lee, he realized there was a plausible way to move the consciousness of one person to another body, and that recent advancements in robotics, stem cell transplants, and nerve surgery now make the prospect achievable within the next decade. The controversial Italian professor Sergio Canavero is also currently working on the world’s first head transplant, but his method involves severing the head from the spinal column and reattaching it to a donor body. But Mathew said it would be far more effective to take the whole head and spinal cord as a single entity, and replace it in a donor body.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

Are You Ready for a Catastrophically Cold Winter? – (Principia Scientific International – November 11, 2019)
Experts are warning us that this will be a “freezing, frigid, and frosty” winter, and even though the official beginning of winter is still over a month away, it already feels like that in much of the country right now. Many areas will be hit by temperatures that are 30 degrees below normal, and heavy snow is expected in some areas of the Midwest. Unfortunately, this bitterly cold weather is coming at a very bad time for corn farmers. According to the latest USDA crop progress report (as of date of this article), only 52% of the corn in the middle of the country has been harvested. So about half of the corn is still sitting out there, and these extraordinarily low temperatures could potentially be absolutely devastating. In essence, this cold front threatens to put an exclamation point on an absolutely horrific year for U.S. farmers. So why is this happening? It is actually quite simple. During a solar minimum, solar activity drops to very low levels, and that tends to mean lower temperatures on Earth. Earlier this year, an international panel of experts who gathered at NOAA’s annual Space Weather Workshop to forecast the next solar cycle. They came to the conclusion that the solar minimum could last for years. “We expect Solar Cycle 25 will be very similar to Cycle 24: another fairly weak maximum, preceded by a long, deep minimum,” says panel co-chair Lisa Upton, a solar physicist with Space Systems Research Corp. But that would actually be a best case scenario. There are others that believe that we have now entered a “grand solar minimum” such as the one that our planet experienced several hundred years ago. That one was known as “the Maunder Minimum”, and it resulted in a “little ice age.”


COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy – (New York Times – December 19, 2019)
Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan. One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely. If you lived in one of the cities the dataset covers and use apps that share your location — anything from weather apps to local news apps to coupon savers — you could be in there, too. The data didn’t come from a telecom or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure the powers such always-on surveillance can provide an authoritarian regime like China’s. Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies. The companies that collect all this information on your movements justify their business on the basis of three claims: People consent to be tracked, the data is anonymous and the data is secure. None of those claims hold up. In this and subsequent articles we’ll reveal what we’ve found and why it has so shaken us. We’ll ask you to consider the national security risks the existence of this kind of data creates and the specter of what such precise, always-on human tracking might mean in the hands of corporations and the government. We’ll also look at legal and ethical justifications that companies rely on to collect our precise locations and the deceptive techniques they use to lull us into sharing it. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this “wake up call” and the subsequent articles in this series.)

Facebook Discovers Fakes That Show Evolution of Disinformation – (New York Times – December 20, 2019)
Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts with ties to the Epoch Media Group, parent company of the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet The Epoch Times. The accounts, including pages, groups and Instagram feeds meant to be seen in both the United States and Vietnam, presented a new wrinkle to researchers: fake profile photos generated with the help of artificial intelligence. The idea that artificial intelligence could be used to create wide-scale disinformation campaigns has long been a fear of computer scientists. And they said it was worrying to see it already being used in a coordinated effort on Facebook. The network of fake accounts showed “an eerie, tech-enabled future of disinformation,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Scientists have already shown that machines can generate images and sounds that are indistinguishable from the real thing or spew vast volumes of fake text, which could accelerate the creation of false and misleading information. This year, researchers at a Canadian company even built a system that learned to imitate the voice of the podcaster Joe Rogan by analyzing audio from his old podcasts. It was a shockingly accurate imitation. The people behind the network of 610 Facebook accounts, 89 Facebook Pages, 156 Groups and 72 Instagram accounts posted about political news and issues in the United States, including President Trump’s impeachment, conservative ideology, political candidates, trade and religion. “This was a large, brazen network that had multiple layers of fake accounts and automation that systematically posted content with two ideological focuses: support of Donald Trump and opposition to the Chinese government,” Mr. Brookie said in an interview. Twitter said that the social network was also aware of network, and had already “identified and suspended approximately 700 accounts originating from Vietnam for violating our rules around platform manipulation.” In a related move, Twitter said it also took down 32 million tweets from nearly 6,000 accounts related to a Saudi Arabian social media marketing company called Smaat, which ran political and commercial influence operations. Smaat was led in part by Ahmed Almutairi, a Saudi man wanted by the F.B.I. on charges that he recruited two Twitter employees to search internal company databases for information about critics of the Saudi government.


SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

World’s First Community of 3D Printed Homes is Set to House Mexico’s Poorest Families – (Good News Network – December 12, 2019)
It has been two years since the first ever permitted 3D printed house in the US was built in Texas in less than 24 hours. Now according to New Story—the nonprofit pioneering solutions to end global homelessness—the world’s first 3D printed community is officially underway with the first two homes already built in Mexico. The resilient, 500-square-foot homes were each 3D printed in around 24 hours of print time across several days by ICON, a construction technologies company, and feature final construction build out by ÉCHALE, New Story’s nonprofit partner in Mexico. The built-to-last homes located in rural Tabasco, Mexico will be granted to local families currently living in extreme poverty and makeshift, unsafe shelter. The community of 3D printed homes will contain 50 homes in total. The 3D printed homes feature two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bath. Co-designed with feedback from the families who will live in them, the homes have been created to meet the specific needs of the community. New Story is a nonprofit serving families in need of shelter. Since their founding just five years ago, the team has built more than 2,700 homes, serving over 15,000 people, using traditional construction methods across Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico.


ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

Scientists Find Cheaper Way to Make Hydrogen Energy out of Water – (PhysOrg – December 12, 2019)
Scientists from UNSW Sydney, Griffith University and Swinburne University of Technology showed that capturing hydrogen by splitting it from oxygen in water can be achieved by using low-cost metals like iron and nickel as catalysts, which speed up this chemical reaction while requiring less energy. Iron and nickel, which are found in abundance on Earth, would replace precious metals ruthenium, platinum and iridium that up until now are regarded as benchmark catalysts in the ‘water-splitting’ process. UNSW School of Chemistry’s Professor Chuan Zhao says in water splitting, two electrodes apply an electric charge to water which enables hydrogen to be split from oxygen and used as energy in a fuel cell. “What we do is coat the electrodes with our catalyst to reduce energy consumption,” he says. “On this catalyst there is a tiny nano-scale interface where the iron and nickel meet at the atomic level, which becomes an active site for splitting water. This is where hydrogen can be split from oxygen and captured as fuel, and the oxygen can be released as an environmentally-friendly waste.”

Lasers Could Cut Lifespan of Nuclear Waste from “a Million Years to 30 Minutes,” Says Nobel Laureate – (Big Think – April 4, 2019)
Whatever one thinks of nuclear energy, the process results in tons of radioactive, toxic waste no one quite knows what to do with. The worst of it, uranium 235 and plutonium 239, have a half life of 24,000 years. That’s the reason eyebrows were raised in Europe — where more countries depend on nuclear energy than anywhere else — when physicist Gérard Mourou mentioned in his wide-ranging Nobel acceptance speech that lasers could cut the lifespan of nuclear waste from “a million years to 30 minutes.” Mourou was the co-recipient of his Nobel with Donna Strickland for their development of Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) at the University of Rochester. In his speech, he referred to his “passion for extreme light.” CPA produces high-intensity, super-short optical pulses that pack a tremendous amount of power. Mourou’s and Strickland’s goal was to develop a means of making highly accurate cuts useful in medical and industrial settings. It turns out CPA has another benefit that’s just as important. Its attosecond pulses are so quick that they shine a light on otherwise non-observable, ultra-fast events such as those inside individual atoms and in chemical reactions. This capability is what Mourou hopes give CPA a chance of neutralizing nuclear waste, and he’s actively working out a way to make this happen in conjunction with Toshiki Tajima of UC Irvine. If Mourou can get pulses 10,000 times faster, he says he can modify waste on an atomic level. To this end, he is launching a partnership with the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, or CEA, in France. We think that in 10 or 15 years’ time we will have something we can demonstrate.” When you’re dealing with the half-life of nuclear waste, 15 years is a blink of an eye.

$13.6B Record-breaking Solar Park Rises from Dubai Desert – (CNN – April 25, 2019)
In its eighth year of development, satellite images give a sense of scale already: miles of photovoltaics arranged along neat east-west lines, their uniformity at odds with the creases and crinkles of the sands surrounding the energy plant. Once finished, Dubai Energy and Water Authority (DEWA) notes that the 50 billion-dirham ($13.6 billion) investment could power as many as 1.3 million homes, reducing carbon emissions by 6.5 million tons annually. Phases one and two, which are already complete, comprised 2.3 million photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 213 megawatts. Phase three, deep in construction, adds over 3 million photovoltaics and another 800 megawatts, and will be completed in 2020, say DEWA. And now, after years of spreading out across the desert floor, the solar project is now rising upward with phase four — perhaps the most ambitious development yet. After breaking ground in March 2018, the base is now complete for what DEWA claims will be the tallest concentrated solar power (CSP) tower in the world. It will use mirrors called heliostats to focus sunlight at the top of the tower, in order to heat up a flow of molten salts. The heat will be used to power steam turbines, generating electricity. Article includes interesting 2 minute video clip to give one a sense of the scale of the project.

AGRICULTURE/FOOD

Denmark Raises Antibiotic-Free Pigs. Why Can’t the U.S.? – (New York Times – December 6, 2019)
Drug-resistant infections now claim 700,000 lives a year around the world, including 35,000 in the United States. As use of antibiotics in livestock has soared globally, contributing to the rise of drug-resistant germs, Denmark, which ranks among the world’s top pork exporters, has proved that a country can build a thriving industry while sharply cutting back on antibiotic use in pigs. American pork producers use antibiotics at a rate seven times higher than that of Danish farmers, according to a 2018 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. American pork farmers, too, have been curtailing their use of these medicines, albeit more slowly. Although F.D.A rules bar the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion, some farmers still use them to help fatten pigs and increase profits. The changes in Denmark were achieved through tougher regulations and by removing a financial incentive that had encouraged veterinarians to liberally prescribe antibiotics when farmers requested them. But much of the about-face occurred voluntarily, as farmers learned to raise animals in ways that kept them healthier. That has included providing pigs with more living space, improving ventilation and hygiene in confinement sheds, and reducing the stress that can make animals more susceptible to infection. “Denmark’s efforts to reduce antibiotic use in pigs hasn’t had any measurable impact on public health, nor has it led to a reduction in disease prevalence among animals,” said Dr. Heather Fowler, a veterinarian and the director of producer and public health at the National Pork Board, a trade group financed by pork producers and overseen by the United States government. Many experts in public health don’t agree with that assessment. “The American pork industry’s arguments are spurious and downright embarrassing,” said Dr. Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University. He said the industry’s critiques of Denmark, Holland and other countries that have slashed antibiotic use are often based on a selective, cynical analysis of the data. American pork industry officials remain unimpressed. Those who have toured Danish pig farms said in interviews that adopting their practices would markedly increase pork prices. (Editor’s note: This is one of the dark sides of capitalism: to raise pigs in this way would be better for the public and better for pigs, but would not be price-competitive relative to the way it is done currently. And unless it was mandated for all producers, only “boutique” farmers could afford to do it.)

High Carbon Footprint Families Identified by Sweets and Restaurant Food, Not Higher Meat Consumption – (PhysOrg – December 20, 2019)
Considering the spectrum of traditional to urban lifestyles across Japan, researchers at the University of Sheffield and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan, analyzed the carbon footprints of the diets of 60,000 households across Japan’s 47 regions. Using a life-cycle approach which details food supply chains around the country, they found that meat consumption was relatively constant per household—but carbon footprints were not. The study shows that meat consumption could explain less than 10% of the difference seen in carbon footprints between Japanese families. Instead, households with higher carbon footprints tended to consume more food from restaurants, as well as more vegetables and fish. However, it was the level of consumption of sweets and alcohol—two to three times higher than in families with low carbon footprints—that really stood out. Meat has earned a reputation as an environmentally damaging food, with beef production emitting 20 times more greenhouse gases than bean production for the same amount of protein. However, the researchers caution against a one-size-fits-all policy after finding that the consumption of sweets, alcohol and restaurant food adds to families’ footprints in a larger capacity than other items. Eating out was found to contribute on average 770 kg of greenhouse gases per year for those households with a higher footprint, whereas meat contributed just 280kg.


SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Chinese Hacker Group Caught Bypassing 2FA – (ZDNet – December 23, 2019)
Security researchers say they found evidence that a Chinese government-linked hacking group has been bypassing two-factor authentication (2FA) in a recent wave of attacks. The attacks have been attributed to a group the cyber-security industry is tracking as APT20, believed to operate on the behest of the Beijing government, Dutch cyber-security firm Fox-IT said in a report published last week. The group’s primary targets were government entities and managed service providers (MSPs). The government entities and MSPs were active in fields like aviation, healthcare, finance, insurance, energy, and even something as niche as gambling and physical locks. According to researchers, the hackers used web servers as the initial point of entry into a target’s systems, with a particular focus on JBoss, an enterprise application platform often found in large corporate and government networks. APT20 used vulnerabilities to gain access to these servers, install web shells, and then spread laterally through a victim’s internal systems. Fox-IT said that despite what appears to be a very prodigious hacking activity over the past two years, “overall the actor has been able to stay under the radar.” They did so, researchers explain, by using legitimate tools that were already installed on hacked devices, rather than downloading their own custom-built malware, which could have been detected by local security software. Fox-IT analysts said they found evidence the hackers connected to VPN accounts protected by 2FA. How they did it remains unclear; although, the Fox-IT team has their theory. They said APT20 stole an RSA SecurID software token from a hacked system, which the Chinese actor then used on its computers to generate valid one-time codes and bypass 2FA at will. Normally, this wouldn’t be possible. To use one of these software tokens, the user would need to connect a physical (hardware) device to their computer. The device and the software token would then generate a valid 2FA code. If the device was missing, the RSA SecureID software would generate an error. In the article, the Fox-IT team explains how hackers might have gone around this issue.

New Orleans Declares State of Emergency Following Cyber Attack – (Forbes – December 14, 2019)
The City of New Orleans has suffered a cybersecurity attack serious enough for Mayor LaToya Cantrell to declare a state of emergency. The attack started at 5 a.m. CST on Friday, December 13, according to the City of New Orleans’ emergency preparedness campaign, NOLA Ready, managed by the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. NOLA Ready tweeted that “suspicious activity was detected on the City’s network,” and as investigations progressed, “activity indicating a cybersecurity incident was detected around 11 am.” As a precautionary measure, the NOLA tweet confirmed, the City’s IT department gave the order for all employees to power down computers and disconnect from Wi-Fi. All City servers were also powered down, and employees told to unplug any of their devices. It’s not known what ransomware malware was used during the attack, and Mayor Cantrell has said that no ransom demand has been made at this point in time, although the attach is presumed to be a ransomware attack. The ransomware attack that has hit New Orleans follows another that targeted the state of Louisiana in November. Louisiana school district computers were also taken offline, and a state of emergency declared, in response to a ransomware attack in July. It isn’t yet known if the two were connected. However, in August, 23 government agencies were taken offline by a cyber-attack on the State of Texas. Which suggests that U.S. municipalities are firmly in the crosshairs of ransomware threat actors. Colin Bastable, CEO of security awareness training company Lucy Security, said that “state and local government is woefully vulnerable to phishing-led hacking, primarily because Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) focus on technological defenses when they should also be patching their colleagues with regular simulated ransomware attacks and security awareness training.”

Ransomware Gangs Now Outing Victim Businesses That Don’t Pay Up – (KrebsOnSecurity – December 19, 2019)
As if the scourge of ransomware wasn’t bad enough already: Several prominent purveyors of ransomware have signaled they plan to start publishing data stolen from victims who refuse to pay up. To make matters worse, one ransomware gang has now created a public Web site identifying recent victim companies that have chosen to rebuild their operations instead of quietly acquiescing to their tormentors. Recently, the cybercriminals behind the Maze Ransomware strain erected a Web site on the public Internet, and it currently lists the company names and corresponding Web sites for eight victims of their malware that have declined to pay a ransom demand. KrebsOnSecurity was able to verify that at least one of the companies listed on the site indeed recently suffered from a Maze ransomware infestation that has not yet been reported in the news media. The information disclosed for each Maze victim includes the initial date of infection, several stolen Microsoft Office, text and PDF files, the total volume of files allegedly exfiltrated from victims (measured in Gigabytes), as well as the IP addresses and machine names of the servers infected by Maze. “Ransomware attacks are now data breaches,” said Lawrence Abrams, founder of the computer security blog and victim assistance site BleepingComputer.com. “During ransomware attacks, some threat actors have told companies that they are familiar with internal company secrets after reading the company’s files. Even though this should be considered a data breach, many ransomware victims simply swept it under the rug in the hopes that nobody would ever find out. Now that ransomware operators are releasing victim’s data, this will need to change and companies will have to treat these attacks like data breaches.” This is especially ghastly news for companies that may already face steep fines and other penalties for failing to report breaches and safeguard their customers’ data. For example, healthcare providers are required to report ransomware incidents to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which often documents breaches involving lost or stolen healthcare data on its own site. While these victims may be able to avoid reporting ransomware incidents if they can show forensic evidence demonstrating that patient data was never taken or accessed, sites like the one that Maze Ransomware has now erected could soon dramatically complicate these incidents.

How Your Phone Betrays Democracy – (New York Times – December 21, 2019)
In the United States, and across the world, any protester who brings a phone to a public demonstration is tracked and that person’s presence at the event is duly recorded in commercial datasets. At the same time, political parties are beginning to collect and purchase phone location for voter persuasion. “Without question it’s sinister,” said Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism at Columbia University and former president of Students for a Democratic Society, a prominent activist group in the 1960s. “It will chill certain constitutionally permitted expressions. If people know they’ll be tracked, it will certainly make them think twice before linking themselves to a movement.” A trove of location data with more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans obtained by Times helps to illustrate the risks that such comprehensive monitoring poses to the right of Americans to assemble and participate in a healthy democracy. Within minutes, with no special training and a little bit of Google searching, the Times was able to single out and identify individuals at public demonstrations large and small from coast to coast. By tracking specific devices, we followed demonstrators from the 2017 Women’s March back to their homes. We were able to identify individuals at the 2017 Inauguration Day Black Bloc protests. It was easy to follow them to their workplaces. In some instances — for example, a February clash between antifascists and far-right supporters of Milo Yiannopolous in Berkeley, Calif. — it took little effort to identify the homes of protesters and then their family members. The anonymity of demonstrators has long been a contentious issue. Several states, including New York and Georgia, have laws that prohibit wearing masks at public demonstrations. Countries including Canada and Spain have rules to limit or prohibit masks at riots or unlawful gatherings. But in the smartphone era — masked or not — no one can get lost in a sea of faces. Imagine the following nightmare scenarios: Governments using location data to identify political enemies at major protests. Prosecutors or the police using location information to intimidate criminal defendants into taking plea deals. A rogue employee at an ad-tech location company sharing raw data with a politically motivated group. A megadonor purchasing a location company to help bolster political targeting abilities for his party and using the information to dox protesters. A white supremacist group breaching the insecure servers of a small location startup and learning the home addresses of potential targets.


TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

The Infinity War – (Washington Post – December 13, 2019)
It is clearer than ever that the problem of American military intervention goes well beyond the proclivities of the current president, or the previous one, or the next. The United States has slowly slid away from any plausible claim of standing for peace in the world. The ideal of peace was one that America long promoted, enshrining it in law and institutions, and the end of the Cold War offered an unparalleled opportunity to advance the cause. But U.S. leaders from both parties chose another path. War — from drone strikes and Special Operations raids to protracted occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan — has come to seem inevitable and eternal, in practice and even in aspiration. Obama won election in part because he ran against the Iraq War. In office, however, he cemented more than reversed America’s disregard of international constraints on warmaking. While failing to end the war in Afghanistan, his administration exceeded the Security Council’s authorization by working to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, converting a permission slip to avert atrocity into a blank check for regime change. Then, to punish the Islamic State, Obama bombed Syria on a contrived rationale — one that allowed attacks against nations unwilling or unable to control terrorists on their territory. When he nearly struck again in response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Obama laid the legal foundation for Trump to strike the Syrian government, again without a U.N. sign-off. Once highly valued, then defied only with controversy, international law now scarcely figures in U.S. decisions of war and peace. In a final indignity during the Libya operation, one administration lawyer explained that “hostilities” was an “ambiguous term of art” that might exclude aerial bombardment, so Congress did not need to approve a war that toppled a regime. This deference has proved costly, allowing Trump to pose as an antiwar candidate against the mainstream of two political parties, a somnolent Congress and inactive courts. Under Trump, who applies “maximum pressure” to all foes foreign and domestic, American militarism is more perilous than ever. It is also more undeniable. That is one reason the current moment is surprisingly hopeful. The call to end “endless war” continues to rise on the flanks of both parties, even as it is flouted by leaders of each. More and more Americans insist that, whatever interests are served by endless war, their own are not. More than twice as many Americans prefer to lower than raise military spending, according to a 2019 Eurasia Group Foundation survey. Veterans support Trump’s pledge to bring Middle East wars to a close: A majority of vets deem the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria not to have been worth fighting. The Afghanistan Papers ought to strengthen the consensus. Americans deserve a president who will act accordingly. If you would be more interested in similar perspectives coming from a conservative periodical rather than a liberal one, please see this article from The American ConservativeTulsi Gabbard: Wake Up and Smell Our $6.4 Trillion Wars. (Editor’s note: We recommend either article or both.)

The Decade of Citizens United – (Slate – December 19, 2019)
In 2010, the largest reported individual contributors to federal campaigns in American politics were Robert and Doylene Perry, owners of Perry Homes, who donated about $7.5 million to support Republican and conservative candidates. In 2018, the largest reported contributors were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who contributed about $122 million in outside money to support such candidates, representing a 16-fold increase over the Perrys’ 2010 contributions, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. What explains this dramatic shift in American elections, where the wealthiest Americans get to have even greater influence over who is elected and what policies elected officials pursue? The Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In 2010, Citizens United held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend sums independently to support or oppose candidates for office. Looking at the amount of direct corporate spending in elections over the past decade, one might think that Citizens United was a bust. Few for-profit corporations spend money in their own names boosting or dissing candidates. But this case helped to usher in a sea change in American elections, and its influence on the decade that followed is hard to overstate. We’ve seen an explosion of outside, often-undisclosed money in elections, candidates skirting campaign finance rules by having shadow “super PACs,” and dangerous foreign interference in our elections. And that pivotal opinion contains all the tools the Supreme Court needs to get rid of remaining campaign contribution limits. In the Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared for the majority that the sale of access to elected officials is not corruption and that “the appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” The one bright spot in an otherwise bleak opinion was the court’s reaffirmation of the constitutionality of laws requiring those who contribute or spend money in elections to disclose their identities. The court agreed with the government that such laws are necessary for an informed electorate. Few experts expected to see large business corporations spending directly in candidate elections after Citizens United. Thanks to disclosure rules, corporations typically would be skittish to back one candidate over another for fear of alienating customers who would learn of the spending from campaign advertising or from the press. But Citizens United has had profound effects on campaigns through less direct channels. This article examines a few of the ways our elections have deteriorated since. For example, Super PACs and outside spending in campaign elections skyrocketed; Super PACs became shadow campaigns; and Foreign money in elections grew. (Editor’s note: To understand how much really has changed in 10 years with respect to campaign finance, we encourage you to read this article.)

Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2019 – (Washington Post – December 29, 2019)
Dave Barry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and author. This is his month-by-month take on the important political developments – and some other stuff – that took place in 2019. Organized month by month, it’s surprising to see how much happened – and how quickly we moved on from each “late breaking news event”. Perhaps his most telling point, reiterated numerous times and with links to prove it, is “We are not making any of this up.” (Well, he is making some of it up, but not the most absurd parts.) And as he notes, “From somewhere beyond our solar system hostile aliens are monitoring all this and concluding that they need not waste energy exterminating humanity, as we’re doing fine on our own.”


INTERNATIONAL TRENDS

The Biggest Story in the UK Is Not Brexit. It’s Life Expectancy – (Correspondent – December 16, 2019)
The numbers of people dying, week in, week out, tell us more about the four countries of the UK than we could ever hope to learn from the attention given to Brexit. This is a kingdom falling apart. In early 2014, I (a geographer who has been studying mortality records in the UK for the past 30 years) published an article in New Statesman magazine trying to highlight that the fact that something very unusual was happening: the life expectancy of elderly people in the UK – notably women – had begun to fall. Life expectancy across the whole of the UK for both women and men – as calculated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – did not return to its 2014 level in 2015. Nor did it in 2016, 2017, or 2018. With colleagues, I have looked at all the possible causes and explanations (weather, flu, etc.) and now think that the vast majority of the extra deaths that have occurred were almost certainly the result of austerity. In other words – the result of deliberate cuts in public spending. Over the last nine years, the National Health Service (NHS) has continued to deteriorate year-on-year in its ability to cope with restricted budgets given the rising health demands of the population. The situation is further complicated by the huge cuts to social service budgets, which mean that many hospital beds are now occupied by an elderly person who cannot be discharged because there is no one to help them when they get home. Premature deaths among elderly people in the UK began rising after the social service facilities they relied on were massively cut and NHS funding was first severely squeezed. And deaths continued to rise as the cuts got deeper. There has also been a rise in infant mortality. Austerity in the UK was a political choice made in the summer of 2010. Its effects have been devastating. The UK has reduced public spending to 36% of GDP by the end of 2019 from a peak of 41% in 2006. Today, rates of public spending in the UK as a whole are only a fraction above those of the US. (Editor’s note: The annual death rate per 1000 people in the US decreased from 1950 to 2008. It has been steadily rising since then. Opioid deaths are a part of that change, but they are not whole story. A lot of American encountered “hard times” in 2008 and continuing cuts to essential programs such as food stamps and health clinics have taken their toll.)

Internet Shutdowns Used to Be Rare. They’re Increasingly Becoming the Norm in Much of the World – (CNN – December 21, 2019)
At the start of this year, as Zimbabwe cut off internet access across the country following anti-government protests, the internet pressure group Keep It On warned that such “shutdowns must never be allowed to become the new normal.” Twelve months later, however, that’s exactly where we are. An ongoing internet blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy — at more than 135 days — according to Access Now, an advocacy group that tracks internet freedom. Only the autocratic governments of China and junta-era Myanmar have cut off access for longer. The blackout came as Indian troops flooded into Kashmir following New Delhi’s removal of the region’s legal autonomy. But the shutdown left some Kashmiris unaware of the reason the internet had been cut. And without internet access, they have been largely removed from the conversation ever since, so difficult is it for people in the region to get their messages out. This week, the tactic spread to other parts of India, as authorities in multiple regions, including in parts of the capital New Delhi, cut phone and internet services amid widespread protests over a controversial citizenship bill. Tens of millions of people have been affected by the most recent shutdowns. The move has attracted widespread outrage and seen pushback from politicians and even some judges. India’s increased internet censorship has been greeted with delight in China, however, where state-run media pointed to it as an endorsement of Beijing’s own authoritarian approach. The People’s Daily said that India’s example showed “shutting down the internet in a state of emergency should be standard practice for sovereign countries.” In the 10 years since, the internet has created a communications revolution across the developing world, with many countries leapfrogging older technologies and adopting smartphones, social media and mobile payments, driving economic growth and linking communities. As more and more countries have seen the internet being used to organize for political change, however, internet blackouts have become increasingly common, a go-to tool for controlling unrest and stifling criticism of the government. Nor is the tactic limited to authoritarian states: the worst offender by far is India, the world’s biggest democracy. African states have also embraced the tactic, with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Ethiopia all cutting off internet access in an attempt to rein in anti-government protests. This is in line with a general pattern of increased online censorship. It’s partly due to the spread of more sophisticated technology that makes it easier, and cheaper, to monitor and filter traffic online. It’s also influenced by a shifting perception of internet censorship, which once used to be seen as something of a losing battle. China’s Great Firewall, however, has proved beyond doubt that not only can the internet be controlled, but that doing so can help prop up the regime and prevent opposition movements from getting off the ground.

China Responds Slowly, and a Pig Disease Becomes a Lethal Epidemic – (New York Times – December 17, 2019)
China used to have 440 million pigs — almost half the world’s population — but its herd has shrunk by half or more, according to Rabobank, a Dutch bank with a heavy agricultural focus. Pork prices in China have more than doubled. A devastating disease spreading from China has wiped out roughly one-quarter of the world’s pigs, reshaping farming and hitting the diets and pocketbooks of consumers around the globe. To halt African swine fever, as the disease is called, the authorities must persuade farmers to kill infected pigs and dispose of them properly. But in China, officials have been frugal to the point of stingy, requiring farmers to jump through hoops to seek compensation from often cash-poor local governments. The pig disease — a highly contagious and untreatable outbreak that is not fatal to humans but can be spread by us — has now extended swiftly out of China. It has moved across nine other Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, which is the world’s fifth-largest pork producer and has lost much of its herd this autumn. Before reaching China, the disease had been slowly infecting occasional farms in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Powered by pork, China’s overall food prices last month were one-fifth higher than they were a year ago, after seven years of little change. Large purchases of pork by China are driving up live hog prices in the United States, Europe and around the globe, pushing up costs for everything from German sausages to Vietnamese pork meatballs. Beef and lamb prices have risen as families worldwide seek alternatives, so much so that overall meat prices in international commodity markets have increased nearly 20% in the past year. Brazil is now ramping up beef and chicken production to meet demand, partly by burning forests in the Amazon to clear land for agriculture.

Global Wave of Debt Is Largest, Fastest in 50 Years – (The World Bank – December 19, 2019)
Debt in emerging and developing economies (EMDEs) climbed to a record US$55 trillion in 2018, marking an eight-year surge that has been the largest, fastest, and most broad-based in nearly five decades, according to a new World Bank Group study that urges policymakers to act promptly to strengthen their economic policies and make them less vulnerable to financial shocks. The analysis is contained in Global Waves of Debt, a comprehensive study of the four major episodes of debt accumulation that have occurred in more than 100 countries since 1970. It found that the debt-to-GDP ratio of developing countries has climbed 54 percentage points to 168% since the debt buildup began in 2010. On average, that ratio has risen by about seven percentage points a year—nearly three times as fast it did during the Latin America debt crisis of the 1970s. The increase, moreover, has been exceptionally broad-based—involving government as well as private debt, and observable in virtually all regions across the world. According to the report, the prevalence of historically low global interest rates mitigates the risk of a crisis for now. But the record of the past 50 years highlights the dangers: Since 1970, about half of the 521 national episodes of rapid debt growth in developing countries have been accompanied by financial crises that significantly weakened per-capita income and investment. The analysis found that this latest wave is different from the previous three in several ways—it involves a simultaneous buildup in both public and private debt; it involves new types of creditors; and it is not limited to one or two regions. Some of the increase in debt has been driven by China, whose debt-to-GDP ratio has risen 72 points to 255% since 2010. But debt is substantially higher in developing countries even if China is excluded from the analysis—among EMDEs, it is twice the nominal level reached in 2007. Those characteristics pose challenges that policymakers haven’t had to tackle before. For example, nonresident investors today account for 50% of the government debt of EMDEs, considerably more than in 2010. For low-income countries, much of this debt has been on non-concessional terms, and outside the debt-resolution framework of the Paris Club. (Editor’s note: Effectively, those last two sentences mean that there is very little compassion or even flexibility structured into much of the world’s current sovereign debt. When countries default on their debt, vulnerable populations pay the price – and for some, that’s literally death.)

Vision 2030 and Poverty in Saudi Arabia – (Al Jazeera – December 23, 2019)
Although the Saudi government rarely releases statistics, it is estimated that around 20% or more of the 34 million Saudi citizens live in poverty. Many of them are women or members of female-headed households. For decades, successive Saudi governments have been reluctant to openly talk about their existence because recognizing poverty necessitates recognizing income inequality and the unfair distribution of wealth in the oil-rich country. According to a 2017 UN report, the anti-poverty measures taken by the Saudi government over the past decade were “inefficient, unsustainable, poorly coordinated and, above all, unsuccessful in providing comprehensive social protection to those most in need”. Saudi authorities have continued to ignore the problem and keep public attention away from it. In 2011, bloggers Firas Buqna and Hussam al-Darwish were arrested for posting a video documenting the tough living conditions in al-Jaradiyaa, a poor neighborhood of Riyadh. In 2014, the government played down a report by Sami bin Abdul Aziz Al-Damigh, a professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, on the poverty problem in the kingdom. Al-Damigh proposed setting a poverty line for the country, which the government rejected. In 2016, the then deputy crown prince announced Vision 2030, a reform project based on a report produced by the controversial US-based consulting company McKinsey. Vision 2030 is supposed to transform Saudi Arabia by weaning it off oil. It proposes ambitious steps to diversify its economy by growing the private sector and scaling down the public one. But the less-publicized economic initiatives include privatizing important public service institutions, like hospitals and schools, slashing public sector employment and increasing taxation. Currently two-thirds of employed Saudis work for the state; under Vision 2030, it is supposed to go down to 20%. These economic decisions sent prices of basic commodities, including fuel, soaring, which not only hit hard the Saudi poor, but also affected middle classes, who have been dependent for generations on state largesse. All of a sudden, middle-income households found themselves unable to pay for housing and their basic necessities. This caused a wave of public anger and capital flight; many Saudis decided not only to transfer money out of the country but also to emigrate. In 2016, the government estimated that as many as one million Saudis had left the country to seek livelihoods abroad in a short period of time. As lawyer Yahya al-Shahrani has pointed out, if the government really wanted to protect the poor, it would have taxed the rich instead of imposing a flat tax on everyone and cutting subsidies. Examples in other countries abound of how neoliberal policies, privatization of public services and austerity measures worsen structural poverty and lead to social upheaval. For now, repression and monetary handouts might work to suppress public anger but they will not do away with it.


LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Meet the Artist Who Designed a Hotel Room That’s Difficult to Stay in – (BBC News – December 17, 2019)
The bed is difficult to get onto and has barely enough space to squeeze around. The bathroom door doesn’t shut, and gets in the way when you reach for the toilet roll dispenser. This may sound like a pretty typical TripAdvisor review. But if you stay in the hotel bedroom created by Christopher Samuel, don’t rush to post a scathing review. He has actually designed it to be as annoying as possible (while remaining just barely habitable). Samuel is one of 19 artists who have kitted out a room in a B&B in the seaside city of Blackpool, UK. And it’s hard not to chuckle at the fiendishness of Samuel’s adaptations every time you spot another deliberately awkward feature (the upside-down shower gel dispenser is a particular triumph of user-unfriendliness). But for him, it’s not a joke. By making life difficult for visitors, the artist wants to give them a taste of the access problems faced by many disabled people, including Samuel who navigates through the world in a wheelchair. He doesn’t mind if the deliberately inaccessible room he has now designed raises a smile at first. “On the surface level it’s quite playful and theatrical,” he says. “But it’s real. The hotel room was commissioned by Unlimited, an arts organization that supports work by disabled artists, and Art B&B, which has opened as an alternative to the traditional B&Bs on Blackpool seafront. Samuel hasn’t seen his room – because he can’t get to it. “I think it’s brilliant,” he says, breaking into hysterics. “It’s perfect, this commission was perfect for me.” Elsewhere in the Art B&B, the accommodation ranges from rooms with overhead light installations, neon slogans and meditative soundscapes, to those with murals and displays inspired by the town’s architecture, faded glamour and history. The B&B idea originated from Leftcoast, an organization that uses the arts to try to improve life in the Blackpool area. It wanted to find ways to make art pay for itself – so, given that tourism is big business, it came up with the idea of combining a gallery and a hotel.


CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Russia Working on Means to Destroy Dangerous Asteroids Hurtling Toward Earth – (Sputnik – December 12, 2019)
Russian scientists are researching technologies which could allow humanity to counteract the threat of dangerous space rocks, Igor Bakaras, head of the Information and Analytical Center for Ensuring the Safety of Space Activities in Near-Earth Outer Space at Rosocosmos’s TsNIIMash rocket and spacecraft scientific center, has said. According to the official, the research includes a variety of proposals on how to destroy or change the orbit of threatening celestial objects, including work involving the concept of kinetic impact, using satellites to move an asteroid out of a dangerous trajectory by using a method known as ‘gravitational tug’, and the use of various technological solutions for these purposes, including rocket engines and solar sails. “At present, work in these areas is limited largely to theoretical research and the mathematical modeling of various countermeasures,” Bakaras explained. The technical implementation of these measures is currently hampered by the lack of accurate data on the characteristics celestial bodies and their movement, structure and physical and chemical properties. In addition to these efforts, Roscosmos is working to create a new Russian Center for Small Celestial Bodies, charged with detecting and tracking of celestial bodies, including space dust, meteors, comets and asteroids approaching Earth. The center will interact with Roscosmos, the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. It will also exchange information with foreign governments and international organizations.

Russian Astrophysicists Claim There’s No Dark Energy in Bold New Theory – (Nexus News – December 25, 2019)
Dark energy has served as a placeholder to explain away gaps in our current understanding of the universe for decades but now Professor Artyom Astashenok and undergraduate Aleksander Tepliakov from the Baltic Federal University think they have cracked the mystery. Their research was published in the International Journal of Modern Physics D. According to their model of the universe, the ever-accelerating expansion of spacetime can be explained without the need for something as baffling and intangible as Dark energy by using the Casimir effect, which describes the pull between two metal plates placed in a vacuum. In layman’s terms, according to the Casimir effect, particles appear and disappear between two metal plates and as a result a minor pull between the two is generated. According to Astashenok and Tepliakov, the same could be said for the universe, but with a kind of additional repulsion causing the ever-faster expansion of space. “In other words, there is actually no ‘dark energy’ but there is a manifestation of the limits of the Universe. This does not mean, however, that it ends somewhere but we might face some complex topology,” the researchers said. The Russian astrophysicists claim their cosmological model does not contradict the accelerated expansion of the universe nor the law of universal gravitation. Time will tell whether the scientific community agrees, but for now, their claim of a universe without dark energy is worthy of attention.


STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

Half of America Will Be Obese within 10 Years, Study Says, Unless We Work Together – (CNN – December 18, 2019)
If America does not collectively adopt healthier eating habits, over half of the nation will be obese within 10 years. Even worse, one in four Americans will be “severely obese” with a body mass index over 35, which means they will be more than 100 pounds overweight. That prediction was the result of a study analyzing 26 years of self-reported body mass index (BMI) data from over six million American adults. One of the first research efforts to drill down to the state level, the study found that 29 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, will be hit the hardest, with more than 50% of their residents considered obese. But no part of the country is spared — in all 50 states, at least 35% of the population will be obese, the study found. “What’s even more concerning is the rise in severe obesity,” said lead author Zachary Ward, an analyst at Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science. “Nationally, severe obesity — typically over 100 pounds of excess weight — will become the most common BMI category,” Ward said. “Prevalence will be higher than 25% in 25 states.” Currently, only 18% of all Americans are severely obese. If the trend continues, the study said, severe obesity would “become as prevalent as overall obesity was in the 1990s.” The study also found certain subpopulations to be most at risk for severe obesity: women, non-Hispanic black adults and low-income adults who make less than $50,000 per year. “And we find that for very low-income adults — adults with less than $20,000 annual household income — severe obesity will be the most common BMI category in 44 states,” Ward said. “So basically everywhere in the country.” “Fifty years ago, obesity was a relatively rare condition,” said Aviva Must, chair of Tufts University’s Public Health and Community Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “People who were poor were underweight, not overweight. But that has changed.” One reason is the rise of sugar-sweetened beverages and ultra-processed foods, which contribute calories but little nutrition. Another is that the price of food, including unhealthy fast food choices, has fallen in America when you adjust for inflation.


NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Elderly in Japan Are Wearing Exoskeletons to Continue Working into Old Age – (Mind Unleashed – December 13, 2019)
While powered exoskeletons may seem like something out of the movies—think Alien, Avatar, Elysium, and Iron Man—the concept has increasingly found favor in various applications, ranging from the battlefield to the assembly line and even to restore function to paralyzed people’s body. But now, elderly citizens in Japan are preparing to potentially step into powered exoskeletons so that they can continue laboring into their old age and stall retirement for as long as possible. Consider that Japan has one of the largest populations over the age of 65 out of any country, comprising about 26% of the total population, per 2015 census data. Japan has both the world’s highest life expectancy and the lowest birthrate. And as Japan’s workforce continues to decline, the government has sought to grapple with labor shortages and increased public spending on the senior citizen population by raising the retirement age from 60 to anywhere between 65 and 71. In response, Japanese tech companies hope to use these exoskeleton suits to allow people to continue their labor well into their advanced age, One suit costing only $1,300 allows people to lift up to 55 pounds. The suit can be charged through a hand pump that fills the “muscles” with pressurized air. Automotive giant Toyota has also poured funds into its motorized exoskeleton research division, in part out of hopes to support the aging workforce. Panasonic, too, has created the popular Atoun Model Y, a $5,500 suit that adds 22 pounds of lifting force to wearers.


PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

1,000 Strangers – Christians, Jews, and Muslims – Sing ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley – (You Tube – July 8, 2018)
If you have any odd corners in your heart that haven’t been dusted lately, rest assured: this will blow out the cobwebs.


FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.

New Anti-Aging Clinical Trial Begins. For $1 Million, You Can Be a Participant. – (Live Science – December 11, 2019)
An American biotech company has launched clinical trials in Colombia to test a new therapy designed to reverse the aging process, and in turn, treat age-related diseases, according to news reports. But to steal a sip from this purported fountain of youth, participants in the trial must first fork over $1 million — a fee that seems even more astronomical when you consider that most clinical trials are either free or provide participants with financial compensation. The pricey trial is being run by Libella Gene Therapeutics, a Kansas-based company whose website proclaims that “the future is here.” The company announced its intention to test its anti-aging remedies in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2018, and began recruiting for the trials in October of this year. Using a single-gene therapy, Libella aims to “prevent, delay, or even reverse” the general effects of aging, as well as treat diseases that emerge in old age, such as Alzheimer’s, according to ClinicalTrials.gov. In its own press release, the company boasted, without evidence, that its gene therapy “may be the world’s first cure for Alzheimer’s disease.” The bold claim raises an obvious question: Will the treatment actually work? Short answer: No one really knows, but the fact that Libella shipped its operation beyond the reach of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t inspire confidence. (Editor’s note: Will there be a control group that doesn’t get the treatment? We’re guessing that for $1M, everyone gets the gene therapy. So will the clinical trials be considered definitive? )

Country Clubs Where Drives Can Hit 150 M.P.H. – (New York Times – December 20, 2019)
While Florida is stacked with links, the private Concours Club is one of only a handful of such car clubs around the country. The goal is to match a desire to drive fast with family activities — pool, spa, restaurant, children’s programs — that create a golf club feel, for car enthusiasts. But the Concours Club and its ilk do not come cheap, with six-figure initiation fees and five-figure dues that make private golf clubs look reasonably priced. And of course there are the cars, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and beyond. The Concours Club, which is within Miami’s Opa Locka private airport, 14 miles west of Miami Beach, has cost $70 million to build so far. Forty founding members were invited to join, paying a one-time $350,000 initiation fee with no annual dues. The club just released 100 additional spots, with an initiation fee of $150,000 and annual dues of $35,000. It plans to limit those memberships to 200. Concours is building 62 garages that will fit six to 12 cars and rent at $2,000 to $5,000 a month. They will have lounges and bedrooms. The club is also offering 15,000-square-foot villas, from $4 million to $6 million; they have room to store 20 cars but also to put in wine cellars, movie theaters and pools. As one member in another club put it, “I tried golf. I just couldn’t do it. It’s too slow. I’ve talked to other people in the club who have similar mentalities. They all tried golf, but they just couldn’t get into it. They needed that outlet to go fast.” And this sure beats a golf cart.


JUST FOR FUN

Our Lives in the Time of Extremely Fancy Axes – (New York Times – December 18, 2019)
What does the artisanal ax craze say about what we’re chopping? The 2000s felt like a decade of looking forward. Wi-Fi went mainstream, phones got smarter, social media connected us, digital tools let us rely less on physical ones. But the 2010s brought a shift. There was still tons of new technology, but also glamping, #vanlife, tiny houses, “Cabin Porn,” the mainstreaming of the farm-to-table movement, a market for artisanal cast-iron pans and boutique butter churns, and a fascination with going back to the land (lived out, for many, via Instagram) — all signs of longing for a simpler life. The ax as a household item, even for people in cities with no cause to fell trees, fits right into the zeitgeist of the 2010s. The American ax fetish is everywhere — in designer ax brands, the rise of ax-throwing bars and the internet’s first ax emoji, which debuted this year. If you just want to hold one, try a social club like the one in Brooklyn that hosts urban wood-chopping workshops for “desk job warriors” who crave timber skills and connection to the outdoors. For decades, the ax was inextricable from a vision of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Now, they’re being given as gifts in lieu of cuff links to best men, and in lieu of salad bowls to newlyweds. Every lifestyle trend comes from somewhere. “Just because so many people live in cities doesn’t mean your internal desire to get out into the wilderness has been completely bred out of you,” said Craig Roost, known as Rooster, who is a salesman and tool designer at Council Tool Co., a legacy American ax maker. (He is also moderator of the 35,000-member Facebook group Axe Junkies.) “I think owning an ax gives some of these people the idea, at least, that they’re connecting to their heritage, and to places outside of where they feel they may be trapped,” Mr. Roost, 49, said. Modern ax throwing leagues began in 2006 in a backyard in Toronto, slowly developed a cult following, and over the past three years, swept across the United States with a wave of new ax throwing clubs, many serving beer, some serving mead. Throwers are another circle in the Venn diagram of modern ax consumers, joining collectors and restorers, survivalists and bushcrafters, aesthetes, and that circle of fancy cabin owners, weekend warriors and suburban pioneers who aspire to chop firewood not because they’ll freeze to death if they don’t, but because they find it meditative, or because it offers a sense of physical purpose in a very digital world, or because controlling the supply chain is so hot right now. (Editor’s note: As we said, most of these axes are “just for fun”. If you really need to chop wood, you’re probably using a chain saw and diesel powered log splitter.)

The 10 Strangest Animal Stories of 2019 – (Live Science – December 25, 2019)
The animal kingdom is full of cannibals, zombies and party animals. For example: A sulphur-crested cockatoo named Snowball inspired a scientific study of avian dance. Snowball went viral on YouTube when he burst into spontaneous dance to a backtrack of the Backstreet Boys. Intrigued, a team of scientists played other songs for the cockatoo and found that he consistently synchronized his movements to the beat. Snowball even came up with brand new dance moves, improvising different movements to go with specific tunes. The researchers suggested that Snowball’s dance moves indicate that humans and birds may share certain musical, social and cognitive abilities. But, hey, compared to the other 9 creatures featured in this article, the cockatoo looks pretty normal. For more fun watch this YouTube clip: Scientists discover Snowball the cockatoo has 14 distinct dance moves.


A FINAL QUOTE

Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today. – African proverb


A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Marv Langston, 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.
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Edited by John L. Petersen
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Postscript – John Petersen 2019

Volume 23, Number 2 – 1/15/20