Volume 23, Number 23 – 12/1/20

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Volume 23, Number 23 – 12/1/20




  • If you need a couple of fake people — for characters in a video game, or to make your company website appear more diverse — you can get their photos for free on
  • Global renewable electricity installation will hit a record level in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • For $5.5 million, you can buy a personal submarine in “Tiffany blue” that seats up to 6 people.
  • The solar system’s orbital speed has been recalculated using new measurement techniques at 141 miles per second.



Special Day: Becoming a New Human – Rising to Engage the Biggest Change in History

Saturday, the 12th of December, will be a special day you’ll not want to miss. Futurist John Petersen returns to TransitionTalks with a major presentation on the practical aspects of rising to become the new human – the fundamental requirements for effectively engaging in the extraordinary shift that is surrounding us. The next handful of years promise to be the most turbulent – and rewarding – in human history. The result will be the emergence of a new human … and then a new world.

The key players that launch the new world will be the relatively small group of individuals that will have new values, perspectives and capabilities that are quite different from how we’ve all been raised. They will see themselves and the world – and their function in it – in radically unencumbered terms.

This is a huge transition, where the old, familiar world implodes (perhaps you’ve noticed that this is happening all around us), providing a “vacuum” for the emergence of a new world – a planet where ultimately there is no war and humans see themselves, in general, as an integral part of all that is, and specifically and directly connected to all of nature and life on earth.

The most important issue for all of us is about how we change and adapt ourselves to effectively surf this tsunami – and not be driven into the rocks by the giant wave of change. This is what we’ve come here for! It means that we must evolve – and do so quickly. It’s an amazing opportunity – literally the chance to awaken to extraordinary new, personal capabilities and an expanded perspective of who we are and what we can do.

Just think of it: the chance to be part of building a whole new world! Not too many people get the chance to play in this way. We are truly blessed.

This will be a transformative presentation that takes you step-by-step through a new understanding of who you are and how you must position yourself for the coming disruption … to practical suggestions about how to daily contribute to manifesting your own new world out of all of the change.

If you think you have a role to play in helping to facilitate the transition to the new world, you don’t want to miss this important day!

Livestream and In Person

Saturday, 12 December, 1-5 PM

Berkeley Springs, WV

You can personally join us at Coolfont Resort in Berkeley Springs for a packed afternoon of provocative information and the chance to participate in the Q&A session afterwards – always a great afternoon in our resort town. If you can’t make it to Berkeley Springs, you can still watch the whole presentation by livestream … both on the 12th and anytime (and how many times you want), for two weeks thereafter. Space is limited for the in-person event, so register early to be a part of this powerful, holiday event.

Futurist John Petersen is going to be the featured speaker at TransitionTalks in Berkeley Springs, WV on December 12th. Here he summarizes his talk about how one can prepare for the great changes that are headed this way. Click below to watch this short video.




Vedic astrologer Joni Patry will be our TransitionTalks speaker in February, illuminating what we can expect for the next five years. Here’s an excerpt from her recent newsletter with predictions and spiritual insights for December 2020.

This month is truly transformational as the Solar Eclipse occurs at 28 degrees of Scorpio in the nakshatra Jyeshta. This means a deep profound change for everyone. Scorpio is the sign for transformation, research and healing. Furthermore, a Kala Sarpa yoga begins as all the planets are on one side of Rahu and Ketu indicating extremes in major events that affect the world. Another major event that only happens every 20 years is the Saturn and Jupiter conjunction on December 21st. I see this to mean that no matter who gets into the White House, there will be a radical change with the government. Lastly, the transit of Mars in Pisces is the reason for the spike in the coronavirus as it is aspecting fully (opposition) the sign Virgo that pertains to health and healing.

To read more, visit Joni’s website and sign up for her newsletter.





Masks: Not Science Forcing Us to Wear Them, It’s Politics – (Principia Scientific – November 25, 2020)
In the name of Covid, the State has already thrust itself into every corner of our existence. Now it presumes to tell us what to wear. And what it wants us to wear is a soggy cloth muzzle, a face-nappy that turns its wearer from a normal human into a mumbling, mouthless submissive. And this, it seems, is popular. Is there nothing the modern British people will not put up with? On July 12, Deborah Cohen, the medical correspondent of BBC2’s Newsnight, revealed an astonishing thing. The World Health Organization (WHO) had reversed its advice on face masks, from ‘don’t wear them’ to ‘do wear them’. But the key fact was that it had not done so because of scientific information – the evidence had not backed the wearing of face coverings – but because of political lobbying. She revealed on Twitter that: ‘We had been told by various sources [that the] WHO committee reviewing the evidence had not backed masks but they recommended them due to political lobbying.’ She said the BBC had then put this to the WHO, which did not deny it. In March, the WHO had said: ‘There is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can protect them from infection with respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.’ The British Government has also zig-zagged. As recently as June 24, in a series of official pamphlets for reopening shops and services, the Department for Business and Enterprise said repeatedly: ‘The evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small.’ The truth is that the muzzle policy is all about power and fear. The Government began its wild, disproportionate shutdown of the country by spreading fear of a devastating plague that would destroy the National Health Service and kill untold thousands. Now, as many people find that Covid-19 is, in fact, nothing of the kind, new ways have to be found to keep up the alarm levels. The muzzle is a badge of subservience and submission. Anyone who dons it publicly is agreeing to the Government’s crazy assessment of the level of danger. Dissenters, who prefer not to muzzle themselves, are made to stand out from the surrendered majority, who then become quite keen on pressuring the nonconformists to do as they are told, and on informing against them. What is happening to us is the final closing down of centuries of human liberty and the transformation of one of the freest countries on Earth into a regimented, conformist society, under perpetual surveillance, in which a subservient people scurries about beneath the stern gaze of authority.

Johns Hopkins Study Saying COVID-19 Has ‘Relatively No Effect on Deaths’ in U.S. Withdrawn After Publication – (PJ Media – November 27, 2020)
Conventional wisdom is that COVID-19 has caused thousands of deaths in the United States and nearly 1.5 million worldwide. This perception has been directly challenged by a study published by Johns Hopkins University on November 22. Genevieve Briand, assistant program director of the Applied Economics master’s degree program at Johns Hopkins University, critically analyzed the impact that COVID-19 had on U.S. deaths. According to Briand, the impact of COVID-19 on deaths in the United States can be fully understood by comparing it to the number of total deaths in the country. According to the study, “in contrast to most people’s assumptions, the number of deaths by COVID-19 is not alarming. In fact, it has relatively no effect on deaths in the United States.” Wait, what? Really? That’s what it says. And, it should come as no surprise that the study was deleted within days. Luckily, a back-up copy remains on The Wayback Machine, and you can still read the study. Surprisingly, the deaths of older people stayed the same before and after COVID-19. Since COVID-19 mainly affects the elderly, experts expected an increase in the percentage of deaths in older age groups. However, this increase is not seen from the CDC data. In fact, the percentages of deaths among all age groups remain relatively the same. “The reason we have a higher number of reported COVID-19 deaths among older individuals than younger individuals is simply because every day in the U.S. older individuals die in higher numbers than younger individuals,” Briand said. When Briand looked at the 2020 data during that seasonal period, COVID-19-related deaths exceeded deaths from heart diseases. This was highly unusual since heart disease has always prevailed as the leading cause of deaths. However, when taking a closer look at the death numbers, she noted something strange. As Briand compared the number of deaths per cause during that period in 2020 to 2018, she noticed that instead of the expected drastic increase across all causes, there was a significant decrease in deaths due to heart disease. Even more surprising, as seen in the graph below, this sudden decline in deaths is observed for all other causes. This trend is completely contrary to the pattern observed in all previous years. Interestingly, the total decrease in deaths by other causes almost exactly equals the increase in deaths by COVID-19. This suggests, according to Briand, that the COVID-19 death toll is misleading. Briand believes that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may instead be recategorized as being due to COVID-19.

Smoking Gun: Fauci States COVID Test Has Fatal Flaw – (Jon Rappoport – November 7, 2020)
In a July 16, 2020, podcast titled “This Week in Virology”, Tony Fauci makes a point of saying the PCR COVID test is useless and misleading when the test is run at “35 cycles or higher.” A positive result, indicating infection, cannot be accepted or believed. Here, in techno-speak, is an excerpt from Fauci’s key quote, “…If you get [perform the test at] a cycle threshold of 35 or more…the chances of it being replication-confident [aka accurate] are miniscule…you almost never can culture virus [detect a true positive result] from a 37 threshold cycle…even 36…” Each “cycle” of the test is a quantum leap in amplification and magnification of the test specimen taken from the patient. Too many cycles, and the test will turn up all sorts of irrelevant material that will be wrongly interpreted as relevant. That’s called a false positive. What Fauci failed to say on the video is: the FDA, which authorizes the test for public use, recommends the test should be run up to 40 cycles. Not 35. Millions of Americans are being told they are infected with the virus on the basis of a false positive result.

The SARS-Cov-2 Virus Was Never Proved to Exist – (Jon Rappoport – December 1, 2020)
I have written several articles documenting the fact that the COVID virus is missing in action. And when I say missing, I’m talking about two MAJOR confessions, from both the CDC and a group of study-authors in Europe…and in each case, these people were in the process of assembling instructions on how to perform the diagnostic PCR test for that very virus. The virus they said they didn’t have. They didn’t have it because they couldn’t get it. They couldn’t get it because no one had it. In other words, the existence of the COVID virus is unproven. Now, I want to point out three factors that produce a hypnotic effect. Even in the absence of the virus, these factors seem to indicate the virus “must exist.” ONE: Scientists and public health agencies claim they’ve ISOLATED the virus. Isolation of a virus should mean it is separated out from all the genetic, cellular, microbial, and waste material that surrounds it. But don’t assume, when professionals are talking or writing, that this is what they DO mean. Do not assume that. TWO: “The genetic sequence of the virus is well established. Many studies confirm this.” If experts have mapped out the genetic structure of the virus, the virus must exist. Right? Wrong. The sequence is INFERRED. It is ASSUMED. The genetic sequence could be cobbled together from several sources: a piece or pieces of RNA that have been arbitrarily chosen as “relevant clues”; chosen according to a bias in favor of a certain type of virus. THREE: “If the test exists to detect the virus, the virus must exist.” Wrong. The test—which has irreparable and fatal flaws, as I’ve documented—is working, at best, from a fragment of RNA which is ASSUMED to come from the virus. If the test appears to identify that fragment as “relevant,” the test result clams the patient is “infected.” People believe the test must mean something. And the only thing it could mean is: it finds the virus in a person, or the virus isn’t in that person’s body. But either way, the virus is real. Wrong. The deck is stacked. The game is rigged. Welcome to the Deep Medical State.

Public Education and Empowerment Resource Service (PEERS) is committed to cultivating community and transformation through inspiration and education. We are also deeply dedicated to the greatest good of all who share our beautiful world. Incorporated in 2006 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, PEERS embraces a bold vision of building a brighter future by inspiring a sense of global community based on love and cooperation, and by educating the public to little-known forces underlying the political and economic structures that shape our world. We’d like to invite you to visit and subscribe to Peers. Subscriptions are free. Fred Burks is the executive director of the PEERS network of websites and the manager of Here is a selection of articles from PEERS:

The Pandemic Has Researchers Worried About Teen Suicide – (NPR – September 10, 2020)
Teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March, early studies suggest, and many experts say they fear a corresponding increase in youth suicide. At the end of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed Americans on their mental health. They found symptoms of anxiety and depression were up sharply across the board between March and June, compared with the same time the previous year. And young people seemed to be the hardest-hit of any group. Almost 11% of all respondents to that survey said they had “seriously considered” suicide in the past 30 days. For those ages 18 to 24, the number was 1 in 4 — more than twice as high. See also this Psychology Today article titled “America Is Facing a Teen Suicide Pandemic.”

Covid-19: Politicization, Corruption, and Suppression of Science – (British Medical Journal – November 13, 2020, BMJ
Science is being suppressed for political and financial gain. Covid-19 has unleashed state corruption on a grand scale, and it is harmful to public health. The pandemic has revealed how the medical-political complex can be manipulated in an emergency. Research published by The BMJ … finds that the government procured an antibody test that in real world tests falls well short of performance claims made by its manufacturers. Researchers from Public Health England and collaborating institutions sensibly pushed to publish their study findings before the government committed to buying a million of these tests but were blocked by the health department and the prime minister’s office.

Before the Pandemic, Top Contractor Received Billions from Government to Help Prepare the Nation for Biowarfare – (Washington Post – June 17, 2020)
The Trump administration has announced that one of its largest pandemic-related contracts would go to a little-known biodefense company named Emergent BioSolutions. The $628 million deal to help manufacture an eventual vaccine cemented Emergent’s status as the highest-paid and most important contractor to the HHS office responsible for preparing for public health threats and maintaining the government’s stockpile of emergency medical supplies. Emergent has long been the government’s sole provider of BioThrax, a vaccine for anthrax poisoning. Hundreds of U.S. troops who received the BioThrax treatment complained of bad reactions, such as headaches and nerve problems. Some troops risked courts-martial by refusing vaccination. Emergent spent nearly $4 million on lobbying last year alone.

Dr. Mike Yeadon: Three facts No 10’s experts got wrong – (MSN News – October 30, 2020)
With less than 24 hours’ notice, President Emmanuel Macron announced his plan to plunge the French into a second national lockdown for at least a month. And if everything I hear and read about the UK is to be believed, the UK is heading in the same direction. While Boris Johnson will be the person announcing that catastrophic decision, the measures are being dictated by a small group of scientists who, in my view, have repeatedly got things terribly wrong. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has made three incorrect assumptions which have had, and continue to have, disastrous consequences for people’s lives and the economy. Firstly, Sage assumes that the vast majority of the population is vulnerable to infection; second, that only 7% of the population has been infected so far; and third, that the virus causing Covid-19 has a mortality rate of about 1%.

Mike Yeadon and Economics of Vaccine: Is Big Pharma Keeping Covid-19 Panic Alive? – (International Business Times – November 25, 2020)
In a Youtube video, Dr. Michael Yeadon said half or even almost all of the tests for COVID are false positives. Youtube banned the video within hours. Perhaps what irked the Big Tech was Yeadon’s assertion that the panic over the second or third wave of coronavirus may be unfounded. Yeadon, who had worked as Chief Science Officer for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for 16 years, went on to say that “this pandemic is fundamentally over.” Yeadon argued, citing principles of epidemiology, that a “second wave” of COVID is entirely manufactured. Citing the experience with other recent virus outbreaks – the SARS virus in 2003, and MERS in 2012 – he says that the idea of subsequent waves itself is wrong. Instead, what appears like subsequent waves is actually a single wave occurring in different geographical regions at different points in time.

Will Florida Order Residents to Get Vaccinated for COVID-19? – (USA Today – May 2, 2020)
The claim: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order allows civilians to receive a coronavirus vaccination. An Instagram post from April claims an executive order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allows the state to require its “civilians” to receive a coronavirus vaccination. The Instagram post [refers] to an executive order issued by DeSantis on March 23. Section B of the executive order … references powers given under section 5 of Florida statute 381.00315 , which details the proceedings of public officials in the time of a public health emergency. The statute says the government, amid a public health emergency when imposing isolation or quarantine, can adopt rules such as “tests or treatment, including vaccination, for communicable disease required before employment or admission to the premises or to comply with an isolation or a quarantine.” It is true that Florida statute 381.00315, as cited in DeSantis’s executive orders, makes it legal to order an individual to be vaccinated, among other public safety measures, during a public health emergency. But because there is not yet a coronavirus vaccine, it is false to imply this action is imminent. Note: The Instagram post did not say that the vaccine mandate is imminent.


Designed to Deceive: Do These People Look Real to You – (New York Times – November 21, 2020)
There are now businesses that sell images of fake people. On the website Generated.Photos, you can buy a “unique, worry-free” fake person for $2.99, or 1,000 people for $1,000. If you just need a couple of fake people — for characters in a video game, or to make your company website appear more diverse — you can get their photos for free on Adjust their likeness as needed; make them old or young or the ethnicity of your choosing. If you want your fake person animated, a company called Rosebud.AI can do that and can even make them talk. These simulated people are starting to show up around the internet, used as masks by real people with nefarious intent: spies who don an attractive face in an effort to infiltrate the intelligence community; propagandists who hide behind fake profiles, photo and all; online harassers who troll their targets with a friendly visage. The creation of these types of fake images only became possible in recent years thanks to a new type of artificial intelligence called a generative adversarial network. In essence, you feed a computer program a bunch of photos of real people. It studies them and tries to come up with its own photos of people, while another part of the system tries to detect which of those photos are fake. The back-and-forth makes the end product ever more indistinguishable from the real thing. The portraits in this story were created using GAN software that was made publicly available by the computer graphics company Nvidia. Given the pace of improvement, it’s easy to imagine a not-so-distant future in which we are confronted with not just single portraits of fake people but whole collections of them — at a party with fake friends, hanging out with their fake dogs, holding their fake babies. It will become increasingly difficult to tell who is real online and who is a figment of a computer’s imagination. (Editor’s note: This article is interactive, so you can manipulate some of the images yourself. These look like totally real people, except that, as a group, they look a little too flawless. Undoubtedly that too will shortly be rectified.)


Study Revealing the Secret Behind a Key Cellular Process Refutes Biology Textbooks – (PhysOrg – November 26, 2020)
New research has identified and described a cellular process that has remained elusive to scientists until now—precisely how the copying of genetic material that, once started, is properly turned off. The finding concerns a key process essential to life: the transcription phase of gene expression, which enables cells to live and do their jobs. During transcription, an enzyme called RNA polymerase wraps itself around the double helix of DNA, using one strand to match nucleotides to make a copy of genetic material—resulting in a newly synthesized strand of RNA that breaks off when transcription is complete. That RNA enables production of proteins, which are essential to all life and perform most of the work inside cells. Just as with any coherent message, RNA needs to start and stop in the right place to make sense. A bacterial protein called Rho was discovered more than 50 years ago because of its ability to stop, or terminate, transcription. In every textbook, Rho is used as a model terminator that, using its very strong motor force, binds to the RNA and pulls it out of RNA polymerase. But a closer look by these scientists showed that Rho wouldn’t be able to find the RNAs it needs to release using the textbook mechanism. “We started studying Rho, and realized it cannot possibly work in ways people tell us it works,” said Irina Artsimovitch, co-lead author of the study and professor of microbiology at The Ohio State University.

Plant Evolves to Become Less Visible to Humans – (PhysOrg – November 20, 2020)
A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to become less visible to humans. The bulb of the fritillary species has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, and high prices in recent years have led to increased harvesting. Scientists found that Fritillaria delavayi plants, which live on rocky slopes of China’s Hengduan mountains, match their backgrounds most closely in areas where they are heavily harvested. This suggests humans are “driving” evolution of this species into new color forms because better-camouflaged plants have a higher chance of survival. “Like other camouflaged plants we have studied, we thought the evolution of camouflage of this fritillary had been driven by herbivores, but we didn’t find such animals,” said Dr. Yang Niu, of the Kunming Institute of Botany. “Then we realized humans could be the reason.” Professor Hang Sun, of the Kunming Institute of Botany, added: “Commercial harvesting is a much stronger selection pressure than many pressures in nature. “The current biodiversity status on the earth is shaped by both nature and by ourselves.”


Scientists Aren’t Sure Why Identical Twins Differ. Armadillo Quads Offer an Answer – (Stat – November 20, 2020)
Armadillo siblings often differ in appearance as well as in behavior. But armadillo quadruplets are genetically identical, the result of a single fertilized egg splitting in half, and the two halves splitting in half again, a reproductive strategy unique in the animal kingdom. So while biologists have long used armadillos in research aimed at detecting, preventing, and treating Hansen’s disease (leprosy) — they’re one of the only mammals other than humans who can harbor the bacteria that cause it — scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory had a very different thought: That makes the long-nosed, armored creatures perfect for studies probing the power of DNA. “Uniquely among mammals, armadillos always have genetically identical quadruplets,” said CSHL computational biologist Jesse Gillis. Physical differences, between “identical” armadillo quadruplets are hard to explain away. They might reflect slightly different conditions in the womb, but since the quadruplets share a placenta, such differences should be slight. Whenever scientists calculate how much of a trait is heritable and how much is environmental, they end up with a total less than 100%. That is, besides genetic and environmental influences, there is “unexplained, non-heritable ‘noise’,” Gillis said. He and his colleagues therefore set off on the trail of that noise. Identifying that noise could prove relevant for people. Identical human twins often differ in many strongly genetic traits, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and breast cancer. For type 1 diabetes, 61% of twin pairs are “discordant” (one has it, the other doesn’t); for autism it’s 60%, for schizophrenia 58%. Gillis and his colleagues sequenced the animals’ DNA and its downstream cousin RNA — a first for a full set of quadruplets — and ran a series of molecular analyses, focused on changes to gene expression over time, comparing siblings to each other. What they found is that differences in gene expression start early, when an armadillo embryo consists of only about 25 cells. For the most part, armadillos bred in captivity experience the same environment. Their genomes are identical, too, of course. The epigenetic differences therefore stand out as an important source of individuality, Gillis said.

Old Dogs, New Research, and the Secrets of Aging – (New York Times – November 9, 2020)
Scientist are hoping that research on how dogs grow and age will help us understand how humans age. Their research so far shows that dogs are similar to us in important ways, like how they act during adolescence and old age, and what happens in their DNA as they get older. They may be what scientists call a “model” for human aging, a species that we can study to learn more about how we age and perhaps how to age better. Most recently, researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna have found that dogs’ personalities change over time. They seem to mellow in the same way that most humans do. The most intriguing part of this study is that like people, some dogs are just born old, which is to say, relatively steady and mature, the kind of pup that just seems ready for a Mr. Rogers cardigan. Scientists also reported recently that adolescent dogs share some of the characteristics of adolescent humans, like, say, “reduced trainability and responsiveness to commands.” Not your children, of course, but those of other parents. Perhaps I shouldn’t be flippant about these research projects. In 2018 the co-director of the project, Daniel. E. L. Promislow at the University of Washington, Seattle, laid out the reasons dogs make a good animal in which to study aging and get results that will help people. In essence, they suffer a lot of similar ailments, such as “obesity, arthritis, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.” That’s not all of course, but when we imagine that an old dog walks funny for the same reasons we do (it hurts), we’re not being anthropomorphic.

These Algorithms Could Bring an End to the World’s Deadliest Killer – (New York Times – November 20, 2020)
Tuberculosis is the most deadly infectious disease in the world and claimed nearly 1.4 million lives last year. In some of the most remote and impoverished corners of the world, where respiratory illnesses abound and trained medical professionals fear to tread, diagnosis is increasingly powered by artificial intelligence and the internet. In less than a minute, a new app on a phone or a computer can scan an X-ray for signs of tuberculosis, Covid-19 and 27 other conditions. “Among all of the applications of A.I., I think digitally interpreting an image using an algorithm instead of a human radiologist is probably furthest along,” said Madhukar Pai, the director of the McGill International TB Center in Montreal. “The machine plus clinician is better than the clinician, and it’s also better than machine alone,” said Dr. Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego and the author of a book on the use of A.I. in medicine. In India, where roughly one-quarter of the world’s TB cases occur, an app that can flag the disease in remote locations is urgently needed.

Scientists Figured Out How Much Exercise You Need to ‘Offset’ a Day of Sitting – (Science Alert – November 26, 2020)
Just how much exercise is needed to counteract the negative health impact of a day at a desk? A new study suggests about 30-40 minutes per day of building up a sweat should do it. Up to 40 minutes of “moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity” every day is about the right amount to balance out 10 hours of sitting still, the research says – although any amount of exercise or even just standing up helps to some extent. That’s based on a meta-analysis across nine previous studies, involving a total of 44,370 people in four different countries who were wearing some form of fitness tracker. “In active individuals doing about 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, the association between high sedentary time and risk of (a hastened) death is not significantly different from those with low amounts of sedentary time,” according to the researchers. In other words, putting in some reasonably intensive activities – cycling, brisk walking, gardening – can lower your risk of an earlier death right back down to what it would be if you weren’t doing all that sitting around, to the extent that this link can be seen in the amassed data of many thousands of people.


Using Wolves as First Responders Against a Deadly Brain Disease – (New York Times – November 12, 2020)
Are the wolves of Yellowstone National Park the first line of defense against a terrible disease that preys on herds of wildlife? That’s the question for a research project underway in the park, and preliminary results suggest that the answer is yes. Researchers are studying what is known as the predator cleansing effect, which occurs when a predator sustains the health of a prey population by killing the sickest animals. If the idea holds, it could mean that wolves have a role to play in limiting the spread of chronic wasting disease, which is infecting deer and similar animals across the country and around the world. Experts fear that it could one day jump to humans. Chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease, is so unusual that some experts call it a “disease from outer space.” First discovered among wild deer in 1981, it leads to deterioration of brain tissue in cervids, mostly deer but also elk, moose and caribou, with symptoms such as listlessness, drooling, staggering, emaciation and death. It is caused by an abnormal version of a cell protein called a prion, which functions very differently than bacteria or viruses. The disease has spread across wild cervid populations and is now found in 26 states and several Canadian provinces, as well as South Korea and Scandinavia. The disease is part of a group called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, the most famous of which is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease. A human variant of mad cow disease is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and there was an outbreak among people in the 1990s in Britain from eating tainted meat. Cooking does not kill the prions, and experts fear that chronic wasting disease could spread to humans who hunt and consume deer or other animals that are infected with it. The disease has infected many deer herds in Wyoming, and it spread to Montana in 2017. Both states are adjacent to Yellowstone, so experts are concerned that the deadly disease could soon make its way into the park’s vast herds of elk and deer. Unless, perhaps, the park’s 10 packs of wolves, which altogether contain about 100 individuals, preyed on and consumed diseased animals that were easier to pick off because of their illness (the disease does not appear to infect wolves).


‘Extremely Aggressive’ Internet Censorship Spreads in the World’s Democracies – (University of Michigan – November 17, 2020)
A University of Michigan team used Censored Planet, an automated censorship tracking system launched in 2018 by assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science Roya Ensafi, to collect more than 21 billion measurements over 20 months in 221 countries. Ensafi’s team found that censorship is increasing in 103 of the countries studied, including unexpected places like Norway, Japan, Italy, India, Israel and Poland—countries which the paper notes are rated as some of the freest in the world by advocacy group Freedom House. They were among nine countries where Censored Planet found significant, previously undetected censorship events between August of 2018 and April of 2020. Previously undetected events were also identified in Cameroon, Ecuador and Sudan. While the study observed an increase in blocking activity in these countries, most were driven by organizations or internet service providers filtering content. The study did not observe any nationwide censorship policies such as those in China. While the United States saw a smaller uptick in blocking activity, Ensafi points out that the groundwork for such blocking has been put in place in the United States. “When the United States repealed net neutrality, they created an environment in which it would be easy, from a technical standpoint, for internet service providers to interfere with or block internet traffic,” Ensafi said. “The architecture for greater censorship is already in place and we should all be concerned about heading down a slippery slope.”

Meet GPT-3. It Has Learned to Code (and Blog and Argue). – (The New York Times – November 24, 2020)
This summer, an artificial intelligence lab in San Francisco called OpenAI unveiled a technology. This new system, GPT-3, had spent months learning the ins and outs of natural language by analyzing thousands of digital books, the length and breadth of Wikipedia, and nearly a trillion words posted to blogs, social media and the rest of the internet. In the weeks since its arrival, GPT-3 has spawned dozens of experiments that raise the eyebrows. It generates tweets, pens poetry, summarizes emails, answers trivia questions, translates languages and even writes its own computer programs, all with very little prompting. Some of these skills caught even the experts off guard. GPT-3 is the culmination of several years of work inside the world’s leading artificial intelligence labs, including OpenAI, an independent organization backed by $1 billion dollars in funding from Microsoft, as well as labs at Google and Facebook. At Google, a similar system helps answer queries on the company’s search engine. These systems — known as universal language models — can help power a wide range of tools, like services that automatically summarize news articles and “chatbots” designed for online conversation. Jordan Singer is a product designer at Square, the Silicon Valley mobile-payments company. He helps design the company’s smartphone apps, building the graphics, menus, buttons and other widgets that define an app’s look and feel. When he heard about GPT-3, he wondered if this automated system could do his job. Short answer: it very nearly can.


Covid Pushes Real Estate into the Future – (New York Times – November 13, 2020)
The coronavirus could be the crisis that finally propels the tech-averse real estate industry into the 21st century. Here are host of new or newly valuable technologies emerging in the post-Covid housing market, from rent-regulated apartments to luxury condos. They range from robotic furniture that reimagines itself inside our shrinking walls, to contactless apps designed to bring neighbors together. They are futuristic takes on prosaic features, like ultraviolet wands in air ducts, and “Ghostbusters”-inspired blasters to hose down Amazon boxes. Some may be passing fads. Still, the ones that stick could have long-term implications for a stubbornly analog industry, even as some critics have raised concerns about data collection and privacy. And it remains unclear whether these improvements will reach the workaday housing market, or remain a luxury niche. Showcased in this article are some of the products and ideas that could stay with us long after the pandemic.

A Brilliant Plan to Turn Parking Garages into Rooftop Gardens – (Fast Company – November 24, 2020)
There are more than 41,000 parking spaces in the central business district of Melbourne, Australia. Many of them could be put to better use, says Julian Anderson, a director at the large Australian architecture firm Bates Smart. “It’s the third largest land use in the city,” he says. Community space, on the other hand, ranks dead last. Bates Smart crunched the numbers and found that, in total, parking takes up nearly 1,200 acres of space, or more space than New York’s Central Park. And if it’s not bad enough that these parking spaces take up so much space and encourage more driving, they also sit empty most of the time. One potential solution, he says, is to convert some of that parking into much-needed community space such as playgrounds, community gardens, and rooftop parks. And with a new mechanism his firm is developing in consultation with the city government, there may be a way to incentivize the owners of these parking spaces to make that happen. The idea Bates Smart has come up with is known as a transfer of development rights. Cities often have rules about how big a development project can be based on the size of its lot, a rule sometimes called a floor-area ratio. In Melbourne, this ratio is 18 to 1. If a building site is 1,000 square feet, the completed project can be up to 18,000 square feet of total area. “You can exceed that 18-to-1 if you can prove some sort of public benefit is being provided,” Anderson says. By adding a rooftop garden or ground floor public space to a project, developers can sometimes add additional density to their projects. But, he says, proving the public benefit of something like a small garden on the top of a skyscraper can be difficult if not impossible. Bates Smart’s proposal would create a transfer scheme, allowing developers to buy up parking garages for conversion into new kinds of public spaces, and transfer the additional development rights to their projects in other parts of the city, adding more floors to a new office or residential tower, for example. Anderson calls these potential projects a new kind of “vertical urban space.” (Editor’s note: This is an interesting idea that essentially applies the carbon cap-and-trade idea to a different arena.)


Renewable Energy Defies Covid-19 to Hit Record Growth in 2020 (Guardian – November 10, 2020)
Global renewable electricity installation will hit a record level in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in sharp contrast with the declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the fossil fuel sectors. The IEA report says almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 will be renewable, with just 10% powered by gas and coal. The trend puts green electricity on track to become the largest power source in 2025, displacing coal, which has dominated for the past 50 years. Solar power capacity has increased by 18 times since 2010 and wind power by four times, according to IEA data. Hydropower provided 77% of green power in 2010, but that has fallen to 45% in 2020. However, electricity is only about one-fifth of all energy use, with the burning of fuels in transport, industry and heating making up the bulk of energy emissions. The IEA forecasts that new renewable capacity around the world will increase by a record 200 gigawatts in 2020, driven by China and the US where developers are rushing to take advantage of expiring incentive schemes. There is even stronger growth to come in 2021, the IEA said, when India and the European Union will be the driving forces. But growth could decline slightly in 2022 under current policies, the IEA warned.


This $5.5 Million Personal Submarine’s Transparent Compartment Seats 4 Passengers for Adventures Under the Sea! – (Yanko Design – November 27, 2020)
The Florida-based company, Triton Submarines, is pitching a $5.5million submarine as “a salon under the sea”. The Triton 3300/6 has the world’s largest capacity transparent acrylic compartment, which offers the occupants panoramic underwater views. Certified to reach a depth of 1,000 meters (3,280 ft), the sub is delivered in Tiffany blue exterior and has spacious and luxurious ‘club-class’ seating arrangement that can be easily reconfigured for either four or six passengers. The Triton 3300/6 interior space measures five cubic meters in total and provides ample leg, head, and elbow room for all onboard passengers, equipment, and other essentials for extended deep water explorations.


A Long-Forgotten CIA Document From WikiLeaks Sheds Critical Light on Today’s U.S. Politics and Wars – (Glenn Greenwald – November 23, 2020)
One WikiLeaks document that particularly caught my attention was a classified 2010 CIA “Red Cell Memorandum,” named after the highly secretive unit created by Bush/Cheney CIA Director George Tenet in the wake of the 9/11 attack. What made this document so fascinating, so revealing, is the CIA’s discussion of how to manipulate public opinion to ensure it remains at least tolerant if not supportive of Endless War and, specifically, the vital role President Obama played for the CIA in packaging and selling U.S. wars around the world. In this classified analysis, one learns a great deal about how the “military industrial complex,” also known as the “Blob” or “Deep State,” reasons; how the Agency exploits humanitarian impulses to ensure continuation of its wars; and what the real function is of the U.S. President when it comes to foreign policy. For example, using the popularity among Europeans of President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to put a pretty, sophisticated, cosmopolitan face on the war in Afghanistan in place of the hardened Evangelical Texan swagger that George W. Bush represented. The CIA, as it so often does, knew the hidden truth: that Obama’s most important value was in prettifying, marketing and prolonging wars, not ending them. They saw him for what U.S. Presidents really are: instruments to create a brand and image about the U.S. role in the world that can be effectively peddled to both the domestic population in the U.S. and then on the global stage, and specifically to pretend that endless barbaric U.S. wars are really humanitarian projects benevolently designed to help people — the pretext used to justify every war by every country in history. One major reason for the contempt the CIA harbored for Trump was his inability and unwillingness to prettify barbaric U.S. actions and to pretend that the U.S. is something other than it is. Recall the fury and rage provoked in 2017 when, in response to a question by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly about Putin’s use of violence against journalists and others, Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”

Kill Lists: Barack Obama’s Blind Spot – (Al Jazeera – November 22, 2020)
The first volume of former President Barack Obama’s memoirs, A Promised Land, has recently been published. Most of the commentary about these memoirs has contrasted the former constitutional law professor’s polite and consensual approach to government to the mayhem that has taken place under his successor. But very little has been said about Obama’s immoral and counterproductive approach to the so-called “war on terror” – which has set human rights back a long way, and only encouraged his successor to behave even more reprehensibly. On his very first day in office, as Obama proudly writes, he made two commitments: “One … was closing Gitmo, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay – and thus halting the continuing stream of prisoners placed in indefinite detention there. Another was my executive order ending torture.” Both were indeed important announcements although, instead of being closed in 12 months, Guantanamo remains open 12 years later, and prisoners continue to be abused there. Obama writes that his “highest priority was creating strong systems of transparency, accountability, and oversight – ones that included Congress and the judiciary and would provide a credible legal framework”. All the sadder, then, that Obama sided with Republicans to suppress Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Senate torture report, so that much of the truth remained behind the sealed doors of the CIA. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Perhaps even more important, in a little-noted but extraordinary development, Obama ramped up the use of “kill lists” where he acted as judge and jury in the White House and imposed a secret death sentence on people who had hitherto been taken to prison, albeit Guantanamo. This policy was proudly leaked to the media, dubbed “Terror Tuesday”: Obama himself would watch a slide presentation of bearded Muslims and then, like a latter-day Emperor Caligula in the Coliseum, turn his thumb down to authorize their assassination by Hellfire Missile. In other words, the law professor who opposed the racist imposition of the death penalty by state courts jettisoned all his principles in the interests of domestic poll numbers and applied the death penalty without trial exclusively to Muslims. In targeting Ayman al-Zawahiri, for example, the CIA has thus far killed 76 children and 29 innocent adults, yet the leader of al-Qaeda is reportedly still alive. Seventy-six children: each was a much-loved child in a family, and in a local community, all of whom we turned into enemies. In other words – just like Guantanamo, but more so – the Obama Doctrine created exponentially more enemies for America.

What Have They (and We) Learned? Patton and Westy Meet in a Bar – (Tom Dispatch – September 10, 2020)
This article makes the point that the national security establishment that has lost its way and is no longer able to distinguish between myth and reality. According to myth: We’re (militarily) Number 1! Planet Earth’s unquestioned maximum leader. The reality is somewhat different. Despite exorbitant sums spent by the Pentagon year after year, the American brand of global leadership looks increasingly tarnished, if not ready for the junk heap. It may be that when a general meets privately with his fellow four-stars to discuss how things are going, they ruminate over the lack of meaningful success in places like Afghanistan and Iraq despite endless years of effort. Maybe they even feel some sense of remorse. But if they do, they keep such critical thoughts under wraps. My guess is that they choose to ignore the recent past in favor of conjuring up future wars more to their liking — imaginary wars rather than real ones. And that qualifies as professional malpractice. To illustrate the scope of this dishonesty and its implications, I’ve conjured up a conversation between three senior army officers — World War II’s hard-driving George Patton (a Trump favorite), Vietnam War commander (and “light at the end of the tunnel” guy) William Westmoreland, and a present-day general of my own invention. Listen in as they engage one another on the imperative of, and difficulty of, learning what war has to teach us all.

The Truth That Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Know – (New York Times – November 20, 2020)
The Defense Department recently announced troop withdrawals by Jan. 15 that will reduce American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to 2,500 each from their one-time highs of some 170,000 and 100,000 troops, respectively. This drawdown makes explicit what those of us who served in the military have long realized: We lost. War is evil even when it is necessary but our inability to win has stolen even the possibility that the ends might justify the means. For the roughly three million service members whose boots touched soil in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 19 years, our defeat is a uniquely personal loss. The cost of these wars has been astronomical: Roughly $6 trillion in government spending, with the Defense Department spending alone costing each American taxpayer an estimated more than $7,000. Additionally, today’s young veterans face a legacy of psychological and physical injury, as well as illness from our war’s Agent Orange: the toxic burn pits whose smoke we inhaled. Even more costly are the approximately 515,000 people killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, including more than 260,000 civilians. And for what? Iraq remains a tenuous democracy teeming with militias while Afghanistan is locked in a conflict with a resurgent Taliban, and peace talks are in deadlock.


Iraqi Deputy PM Says Economy in Crisis and Riddled with Corruption – (Guardian – November 24, 2020)
Iraq’s economy is so riddled with corruption that minor border post jobs are changing hands for as much as $100,000, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Ali Allawi, has admitted. In an extraordinarily frank speech about his government’s efforts to introduce reforms, he said there were no quick wins, adding the economy would probably remain in “existential crisis so long as oil does not reach $70 a barrel for a sustained period” and called for cuts in public spending as its revenues fall short. Allawi said only a tenth of the $8bn due annually to the Iraqi treasury arrived from border customs, in contrast to Jordan, where 97% was received. He said border customs “are riddled with corruption to the point where minor clerks’ jobs in some outposts change there for $50,000 to $100,000 and sometimes it goes up to multiples of that”. Allawi said: “On the assumption that oil prices don’t move up, something somewhere has to give – either we follow a sort of Venezuela course and become an oil economy that goes belly up, or we tighten our belts.” He said “nobody’s going to be for belt-tightening”, but claimed there was a subliminal recognition that things had to change. Current levels of public spending were unsustainable, he said. Allawi added: “A lot of the country’s problems are interlocking and whenever there is an issue that requires resolution, there’s bound to be some vested interest, sometimes extremely powerful, that stop this from happening. People say, ‘Why not go after low-hanging fruit.’ There really is no such thing as low-hanging fruit if the entire environment around you is to a large extent devastated.” Discussing the role of US troops in Iraq, he said: “In terms of the significance of US presence, it’s moved from being sort of essential to stability to being somewhat ornamental.” The US has 3,000 troops in the country, but the numbers are set to fall to 2,500 in January, before Joe Biden’s inauguration. Iraq’s national security adviser, Qasim Al-Araji, said US policies had pushed armed groups in Iraq to escalate. The killings of the Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and the leader of the Iranian Quds force, Qassem Suleimani, had “undoubtedly made the situation worse. Iraq has been a victim of these regional conflicts and disputes.”

The Pandemic Is Revealing a New Form of National Power – (Atlantic – November 15, 2020)
One of the pandemic’s lessons is that national clout and advantage, and thus international power dynamics, will be rooted in resilient power amid the types of mass traumas that look set to dominate this century—not just pandemics, but also climate change, cyberattacks, financial crises, and disinformation campaigns. When the coronavirus arrived, as the historian Sulmaan Khan has observed, it “didn’t care how many aircraft carriers you had or how many Confucius Institutes you could stick up around the world or what the size of your economy was. The virus asked simply how your least wealthy people would be treated in times of illness. How effectively you could trace the contacts of those it afflicted. How swiftly your medical system could cope with unexpected demands. It wouldn’t spare you completely, of course, but if you could meet it with a dull, technocratic honesty, it would be easier to survive.” The need for governments and societies to be resilient in order to thrive is not new. What’s new is the scale at which, and the frequency with which, that need is arising. “There’s a greater complexity” with contemporary threats as a result of globalization, noted political scientist Joseph Nye. “We have less historical precedent [for] or understanding” of today’s challenges, and that demands “a new dimension of resilience.” Nowadays, they noted, systemic shocks not only are more common and intense but also increasingly cascade from one complex system to another. Witness how the outbreak of a novel virus in Wuhan, China, swiftly paralyzed the global economy. “Tomorrow’s successful states will probably be those that invest in infrastructure, knowledge, and relationships resilient to shock,” the U.S. National Intelligence Council predicted in a 2017 report. If there were one elemental building block of resilience shared by all nations that exhibit it, then enhancing resilience might be easy. But the pandemic has shown that resilience comes in many different forms. One way or another, it is about the mundane alchemy of doing “enough things right.” (Editor’s note: We highly recommend this article for its analysis of the global shifts in power exacerbated by the coronavirus.)

The ‘Banal’ Trauma of Israel’s Nightly Raids on Palestinian Children – (Middle East Eye – November 26, 2020)
Sometimes, the Israeli soldiers come with no particular reason. Too often, they leave accompanied by a blindfolded and handcuffed youngster plucked from his bed, followed from a distance by the receding sounds of crying, painful screaming and muted voices of despair of the family. Hundreds of Palestinian teenagers are arrested by the Israeli military every year in nightly raids, violating the military’s own regulations with regards to issuing summons for interrogation prior to detention, according to a report issued by the Israeli human rights group HaMoked. The report said summons would have enabled the boys to attend interrogation without the need for the traumatic experience of the nightly raids. Its findings are based on 81 testimonies from boys aged 14 to 17, who were arrested at various times in 2018 and 2019. Recently the coronavirus-stricken world found alternative ways to mark International Children’s Day (usually celebrated on June 1). In Israel, under the title: “At night, while everybody is asleep”, several Israeli human rights organizations, including Breaking the Silence and Parents Against Child Detention, gathered to read testimonies of soldiers who participated in those nightly actions, as well as from Palestinian children and families who suffered from this practice and are victims of its long-lasting consequences.

Hundreds of Fraudulent Votes Were Discovered. Then a Fat Green Parrot Was Elected. – (Washington Post – November 16, 2020)
A plump, waddling parrot has soared past its competition to claim victory in New Zealand’s Bird of the Year contest, a tense race marked by attempted voter interference during a divisive month of campaigning. In what the event organizers conceded was “a stunning upset,” the critically endangered kakapo flew into first place to steal the title — ruffling the feathers of those who say the bright-green parrot unfairly secured a second term as chosen bird. The bird-of-the-year controversy took flight after data analysts working with Forest & Bird discovered that roughly 1,500 fraudulent votes had been cast. The “illegal votes,” which were submitted using a suspicious email account and came from the same IP address in Auckland, briefly pushed the country’s tiny kiwi pukupuku bird into the lead, a brazen meddling attempt that sent officials and campaign managers into a flap. Those votes were immediately disregarded, organizers said. Officials urged voters to play by the rules and only vote once per email. “Be warned, we will find you, and we will be disappointed!” a statement on the competition’s official website read in a bid to deter meddling. New Zealand’s Antipodean albatross, also known as the toroa, was the favorite to win, leading polls in recent weeks. That was until the kakapo overtook it in the race’s final moments. In recent weeks, local media reported that birds attempting to extend their fan base had flocked to Twitter, Tinder and TikTok in a bid to win votes. Typically, the competition generates around 40,000 votes across a scoreboard of more than 70 entrants. More than 55,000 votes were cast in the contest that anointed the kakapo the country’s top bird — the largest turnout to date. (Editor’s note: For all its delightful humor, this article is not a spoof. Forest and Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition has been held every year since 2005 to raise awareness for New Zealand’s endangered birds. The winner is determined by election – which is apparently subject to the vicissitudes of elections all over the world.)


The Dirty Little Secret Pollsters Need to Own Up To – (Washington Post – November 19, 2020)
There’s a dirty little secret that we pollsters need to own up to: People don’t talk to us anymore, and it’s making polling less reliable. When I first undertook telephone polling in the early 1980s, I could start with a cluster of five demographically similar voters — say, Republican moms in their 40s in a Midwestern suburb — and expect to complete at least one interview from that group of five. As the years drifted by, it took more and more voters per cluster for us to get a single voter to agree to an interview. Between 1984 and 1989, when caller ID was rolled out, more voters began to ignore our calls. The advent of answering machines and then voicemail further reduced responses. Voters screen their calls more aggressively, so cooperation with pollsters has steadily declined year-by-year. Whereas once I could extract one complete interview from five voters, it can now take calls to as many as 100 voters to complete a single interview, even more in some segments of the electorate. And here’s the killer detail: That single cooperative soul who speaks with an interviewer cannot possibly hold the same opinions as the 99 other voters who refused. In short, we no longer have truly random samples that support claims that poll results accurately represent opinions of the electorate. Despite knowledge of this, pollsters (including myself) have glossed over this reality by dressing up our results with claims of polls having a “margin of error” of three or four percentage points when we knew, or should have known, that the error factor is incalculable given the non-random sample. Some say online polling will help, and it may. But most online polling uses non-random samples from pre-recruited “panels” of voters who have signed up to be interviewed, typically for some incentive. And online surveys have serious data quality or integrity issues. Most voters rush through them too rapidly for real thought. And we cannot verify that online voters are indeed registered to vote or have the requisite vote history they may claim.

Sports Has a Gen Z Problem. The Pandemic May Accelerate It. – (Washington Post – November 24, 2020)
The bulky and bankable U.S. sports industry, built on towers of cash and lucrative television contracts, is confronting a Generation Z problem. The nation’s youngest cohort is fundamentally different from the generations that preceded it. Having grown up with smartphones in their pockets, its members eschew traditional television-viewing and subscribe to digital habits that make grooming a new generation of sports fans a challenge. Leagues and teams were slow to tailor their offerings to the youngest generation, even as research made clear that Gen Z members — loosely defined as those born after 1996 — interact with the world much differently than millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. And these habits have taken a toll on the way they engage in sports, research shows. According to ESPN’s internal data, some 96% of 12- to 17-year-olds still identify as sports fans, a consistent figure over the past decade. But the share of fans who call themselves “avid” has been dropping, from 42% a decade ago to 34% last year. Rich Luker is a social psychologist and founder of Luker on Trends, a sports polling outfit that has been measuring fandom and consulting with pro leagues for more than a quarter-century. He has been watching fandom drop among young people for the past decade and sounding alarms. Tim Ellis, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, says the league’s own data bears that out. “There’s no strategy for bringing in a 35-year-old fan for the first time. You have to make them a fan by the time they’re 18, or you’ll lose them forever,” he said. The issue has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, as youth sports suffer and young people spend more time than ever online. Sports executives “haven’t paid enough attention yet to this generation, and they have to,” said Mark Beal, an assistant professor at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information who has written two books on Gen Z. “They need to prioritize them because these are the sports fans of the future that over the next 10 to 15 years can make or break a sports team, league or manufacturer. This is your most important consumer, and they’ll determine your future success.” The NBA has been ahead of the curve there. Forty percent of the league’s core fan base is under 35, and the league is finding success engaging young fans online, where it has 148 million followers across the major social media platforms — more than the other U.S. leagues combined. It has seen 43% growth in social media views in the past three years. Those views might plant seeds for future loyalty, but they don’t offer the same revenue flow that comes from traditional means. As legal sports gambling expands nationwide, one club owner is convinced that betting is a key to making games more interactive and engaging.


The Dazzling Blue Ring Nebula Puzzled Scientists for 16 Years – (Space – November 18, 2020)
Scientists have uncovered new evidence in the mysterious fluorescent debris of the Blue Ring Nebula that may explain how the strange structure formed. The Blue Ring Nebula harbors a central star, known as TYC 2597-735-1. An unusual ultraviolet ring surrounds the star, which astronomers first observed in 2004 using NASA’s now-defunct Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) space telescope. Until now, the formation of this peculiar ring — which is actually invisible ultraviolet light that has been color-coded blue in the telescope images — has largely remained a mystery. Scientists have uncovered new evidence in the mysterious fluorescent debris of the Blue Ring Nebula that may explain how the strange structure formed. The Blue Ring Nebula harbors a central star, known as TYC 2597-735-1. Using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, researchers found that the blue ring is actually the base of a cone-shaped cloud of glowing molecular hydrogen that extends away from the central star, toward Earth. The new observations also show a second cone-shaped cloud that extends from the star in the opposite direction. The bases of the cone-shaped clouds appear to overlap when viewed from Earth, creating the ring shape around the star, said Christopher Martin, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and former principal investigator of GALEX. The scientists behind the new research believe that the clouds of fluorescent debris formed after a sunlike star collided with and consumed a smaller stellar companion only a few thousand years ago. The recent observations capture a never-before-seen evolutionary phase of a stellar collision. See photos in article.

Space Trash Cleanup: ESA Signs Off on First-ever Mission – (Deutsche Welle – November 26, 2020)
A Swiss company is set to launch our planet’s first space cleanup mission after the European Space Agency (ESA) after signing a €86 million ($102 million) deal with the representatives of the Swiss start-up. The firm, ClearSpace, hopes to launch a special satellite by 2025 that would be able to snatch pieces of space debris in the Earth’s orbit. Currently, thousands of defunct satellites and many more smaller pieces of trash are circling the planet, posing an ever growing collision risk to working satellites and even the International Space Station. Founder and CEO of ClearSpace has warned that, “The need is clear for a ‘tow truck’ to remove failed satellites from this highly trafficked region.” The first-ever space cleanup mission, ClearSpace-1, would rendezvous with a discarded rocket fragment weighing some 112 kilograms (247 pounds). The discarded object, dubbed Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) helped bring up a satellite in 2013. The ESA says its sturdy construction would make it a good starting point, with the follow-up missions aiming to capture more challenging objects and then several bits of debris at once.

Earth Is a Whole Lot Closer to Our Galaxy’s Supermassive Black Hole Than We Thought – (Science Alert – November 27, 2020)
According to a new map of the Milky Way galaxy, the Solar System’s position isn’t where we thought it was. Not only is it closer to the galactic centre – and the supermassive hole therein, Sagittarius A* – it’s orbiting at a faster clip. We’re not actually moving closer to Sgr A*, and we’re in no danger of being slurped up. Rather, our map of the Milky Way has been adjusted, more accurately identifying where we have been all along. And the survey beautifully demonstrates how tricky it is to map a galaxy in three dimensions from inside it. Distances are important – they help us determine the intrinsic brightness of objects. A good recent example of this is the red giant star Betelgeuse, which turned out to be closer to Earth than previous measurements suggested. This means that it’s neither as large nor as bright as we thought. Another is the object CK Vulpeculae, a star that exploded 350 years ago. It’s actually much farther away, which means that the explosion was brighter and more energetic, and requires a new explanation, since previous analyses were performed under the assumption it was relatively low energy. In 1985, the International Astronomical Union defined the distance to the galactic centre as 27,700 light-years. Last year, the GRAVITY collaboration recalculated it and found it closer, just 26,673 light-years away. The new measurements bring it closer still, to a distance of just 25,800 light-years. And the Solar System’s orbital speed is faster, too – 141 miles per second, rather than the official velocity of 137 miles per second.


For Months, He Helped His Son Keep Suicidal Thoughts at Bay. Then Came the Pandemic. – (Washington Post – November 23, 2020)
Since the coronavirus arrived, depression and anxiety in America have become rampant. Federal surveys show 40% of Americans are now grappling with at least one mental health or drug-related problem. But young adults have been hit harder than any other age group, with 75% struggling. Even more alarming, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently asked young adults if they had thought about killing themselves in the past 30 days, 1 of 4 said they had. America’s system for monitoring suicides is so broken and slow that experts won’t know until roughly two years after the pandemic whether suicides have risen nationally. But coroners and medical examiners are already seeing troubling signs. For example, in the sprawling Chicago suburbs, DuPage County has reported a 23% rise compared with last year. And in the city itself, the number of suicides among African Americans has far surpassed the total for 2019, even as officials struggle to understand whether the deaths are being driven by the pandemic, racial unrest or both. The coronavirus has exposed and deepened every crack in America’s foundation. But when it comes to suicide prevention, the country’s system was already falling apart. Even as suicide rates have fallen globally, they have climbed every year in the United States since 1999, increasing 35% the past two decades. Still, funding and prevention efforts have continued to lag far behind all other leading causes of death. Experts warned the toxic mix of isolation and economic devastation could generate a wave of suicides, but those dire predictions have resulted in little action. What makes this moment especially perilous for young people is that their suicide rates were already rising faster than any other group. Between 2007 and 2018, suicides increased 56% among teens and young adults. Three in 4 young adults are struggling with at least one mental health problem, such as anxiety and depressive disorders, trauma and stress disorders, or substance use disorder.

Can an Algorithm Prevent Suicide? – (New York Times – November 23, 2020)
For more than a decade, health officials have watched in vain as suicide rates climbed steadily — by 30% nationally since 2000 — and rates in the V.A. system have been higher than in the general population. The trends have defied easy explanation and driven investment in blind analysis: machine learning, or A.I.-assisted algorithms that search medical and other records for patterns historically associated with suicides or attempts in large clinical populations. Deploying A.I. in this way is not new; researchers have been gathering data on suicides through the National Health Service in Britain since 1996. The U.S. Army, Kaiser Permanente and Massachusetts General Hospital each has separately developed a algorithm intended to predict suicide risk. But the V.A.’s program, called Reach Vet, is the first of the new U.S. systems to be used in daily clinical practice, and it is being watched closely. How these systems perform — whether they save lives and at what cost, socially and financially — will help determine if digital medicine can deliver on its promise. “It is a critical test for these big-data systems,” said Alex John London, the director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “If these things have a high rate of false positives, for instance, that marks a lot of people at high risk who are not — and the stigma associated with that could be harmful indeed downstream. We need to be sure these risk flags lead to people getting better or more help, not somehow being punished.” Doctors who have worked with Reach Vet say that the system produces unexpected results, both in whom it flags and whom it does not. The A.I. behind Reach Vet seems to home in on other risk factors (other than a previously attempted suicide), Dr. Goodman said: “The things this program picks up wouldn’t necessarily be the ones I thought about. The analytics are beginning to change our understanding of who’s at greatest risk.” The algorithm is built on an analysis of thousands of previous suicides in the V.A.’s database, dating to 2008, and integrates 61 factors in all, including some that are not obvious, like arthritis and statin use, to produce a composite score for each person.


New Experiments Produce Another Claim to Metallic Hydrogen – (Chemical & Engineering News – February 3, 2020)
The quest to make metallic hydrogen has been long and arduous. Victory has been declared several times, and sometimes retracted. Scientists predicted hydrogen’s metallic state—which could be useful as a superconductor, rocket fuel, and more—almost 85 years ago, but it wasn’t until the 2010s that research groups announced results that looked to put the field on the long-sought material’s doorstep. In the opening weeks of a new decade, another team has reported they have made a metallic form of hydrogen using a new experimental design. Like other elements, hydrogen should become a metal under high pressures, when its electrons delocalize and move freely through a matrix of protons. But getting to almost 5 million times ambient pressure has made experimental attempts difficult . Researchers have had success with diamond anvils, made from carefully-produced synthetic diamonds with flattened tips between which small amounts of hydrogen get squeezed. In the new study, Paul Loubeyre of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission and colleagues used an anvil with a new type of squeezing surface—a ring-shaped depression carved with an ion beam—and measured changes in their hydrogen sample’s infrared absorption. Above 400 GPa, Loubeyre’s group measured IR spectra indicating that the hydrogen sample had become metallic, which aligns with theoretical predictions. The research team and others agree that the results are most consistent with a metallic state of diatomic hydrogen molecules, rather than a metal of hydrogen atoms, which is the state with the most-sought-after properties. To show that the measurements weren’t the result of the diamond anvil’s deformation—an issue in some previous studies—the researchers reported data suggesting that the changes also reverse as the pressure decreases.


Can a Computer Devise a Theory of Everything? – (New York Times – November 23, 2020)
In 1980, Stephen Hawking, the renowned Cambridge University cosmologist, argued that the so-called Theory of Everything might be achievable, but that the final touches on it were likely to be done by computers. The Theory of Everything is still not in sight, but with computers taking over many of the chores in life — translating languages, recognizing faces, driving cars, recommending whom to date — it is not so crazy to imagine them taking over from the Hawkings and the Einsteins of the world. Why couldn’t one of these marvelous learning machines, let loose on an enormous astronomical catalog or the petabytes of data compiled by the Large Hadron Collider, discern a set of new fundamental particles or discover a wormhole to another galaxy in the outer solar system? To think otherwise is to engage in what the physicist Max Tegmark calls “carbon chauvinism.” Dr. Tegmark, a professor at MIT, noted, “In 10 years, machine-learning will be as essential to doing physics as knowing math.” For now, he conceded, there are limits to what can be achieved by the algorithm’s recursive method of problem solving, a practice known as regression. Although the machine can retrieve from a pile of data the fundamental laws of physics, it cannot yet come up with the deep principles — like quantum uncertainty in quantum mechanics, or relativity — that underlie those formulae. (Editor’s note: The short answer is: It might be possible, but not anytime soon – and there’s no guarantee that we humans will understand the result. Now that you have that, we recommend reading the article for all the rest of what it contains.)

The Power of Decency in the Legal Profession – (American Bar Assoc. Journal – November 19, 2020)
There is a fever in America today. And it has nothing to do with the pandemic. It is a fever of indecency, and it has infected our institutions, our people and our social discourse. The clinical manifestations of this fever include name-calling, derision, intimidation, bullying, the distortion of truth, an unwillingness to compromise, a lack of caring and a reluctance to serve others. The legal profession is complicit in the spread of this fever and its underlying infection. That is undeniable to anyone familiar with current legal practices. And the questions are: How did it happen, and what will we do about it? This op-ed piece seeks to find answers to those questions.


The Power of Sound to Create Order – (Twitter – November 14, 2020)
Seeing sound. This has a fancy name—cymatics—but that’s like saying what’s on the Sistine Chapel ceiling is called a “painting.” In both cases, you have to see it to realize what it is. Kenichi Kanazawa, a Japanese artist, uses a steel table sprinkled with sand to make visible the vibrations caused by rubbing a mallet across its surface. Depending on the mallet, and hence the oscillations it produces, the sand moves into different patterns. Or as music historian and jazz critic Ted Gioia puts it more poetically with this Twitter video, it creates “a visual demonstration of the power of sound to create order out of chaos.”


Pocket-Sized Mint Tins Open to Reveal Miniature Oil Paintings of Bucolic Landscapes – (My Modern Met – November 8, 2020)
Impressionist artists like Monet and Renoir are famous for their exquisite plein air paintings which captured the atmosphere of the outdoors at a specific moment in time. Contemporary painters carry on this tradition while finding subtle ways to keep the practice fresh. Colorado-based artist Remington Robinson creates miniature masterpieces of scenery in the U.S. and abroad and houses them inside of Altoid tins. Robinson velcros small, primed wooden panels onto the lids of emptied mint containers before traveling to a new painting site and then uses the metal canister as the palette for his array of oil paints.


The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.
― Barack Obama


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

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Regina Meredith – TransitionTalks Excerpt Part 3

Volume 23, Number 24 – 12/15/20