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Volume 23, Number 3 – 2/1/20

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FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT–

  • Protists are natural living organisms that are not plants, animals or fungi.
  • Xenobots are an entirely new life form – robots made from stem cells.
  • Cyanobacteria, a common class of microbes, can now create a novel type of concrete.
  • The hottest new thing in building sustainable “supertall” skyscrapers is wood.

PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Founder of Remote Viewing Program, Leading Government Researcher on UFOs Coming to TransitionTalks

Although nominated for a Nobel Prize in physics for his breakthrough theoretical work on zero point energy, Dr. Harold Puthoff, is most recognized for having been a cofounder of the secret US government “remote viewing” program that successfully used psychics to spy on the Soviet Union and China.

Now a principal and science advisor in a leading edge effort by former senior military and intelligence managers to disclose the many decades of interest that the US has had in UFOs, he comes to Berkeley Springs on the 8th of February to give a TransitionTalk about his work in making sense out of the UFO phenomena.

Dr. Puthoff’s presentation will include a summary of his current activities with To The Stars Academy, which is on the forefront of bringing into the open formerly highly classified efforts by the government to track, record and understand the meaning of hundreds of encounters that the military has had with UFOs over the past years.

This is an extraordinary opportunity to learn from and question one of the foremost thinkers and leaders of the rapidly accelerating global effort to both make the public aware of what was previously unacknowledged about UFO and alien interaction with humans and also to address the deep questions about what is happening and what it might mean for the future of humanity.

Here’s a recent interview with Dr. Puthoff on his upcoming talk:

You can get complete information at TransitionTalks.org. Don’t miss this most memorable event!


PostScript Interview With John Petersen

We’re working on getting the edited version of our whole December/January presentation available for distribution, but in the meantime, here’s the PostScript session that I did in the morning before the December talk.


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


NEW DISCOVERIES

Ancient Sex between Different Human Species Influences Modern-day Health – (Inverse – January 14, 2020)
When Homo sapiens left Africa and encountered the Homo neanderthalensis in Europe, the two ancient hominins did the obvious thing and had sex with one another, exchanging life-saving genetic adaptions. That genetic exchange allowed human-hybrid children to skip the thousands of years of natural selection Neanderthals experienced in Europe, and inherit virus-fighting and life-saving genes fast. This genetic boon occurred some 100,000 years ago, but Neanderthal genes — along with the genes from another species of ancient human, the Denisovans — continue to influence our health today. Now, scientists say this influence may be more expansive than they previously thought. In fact, ancient humans’ genetic exchange could be one of the major causes of adaptive evolution in humans, according to a new study. The study is based on two novel approaches, explains authors Alexandre Gouy and Laurent Excoffier. One allows researchers to find networks of genes showing an excess of introgression in particular populations, and the other tests whether specific mutations in certain genes tend to be found together in modern individuals. That clumping is known as when genes are “co-introgressed.” The new study found that, in European populations, Neanderthal genes are linked to metabolism, iron- and oxygen-binding in red blood cells and muscles, as well as olfactory receptors. Among East Asians and Europeans, ancient introgression is associated with a GABA transporter and a neurotransmitter transporter, the study suggests. In Papuans, genes showing “a significant excess of introgression” associated to autism susceptibility and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were found. Especially intriguing was the finding the presence of introgressed mutations in Papua New Guineans that are potentially linked to resilience to malaria. These mutations are linked to Denisovan ancestry.

Ancient Never-before-seen Viruses Discovered Locked Up in Tibetan Glacier – (Live Science – January 22, 2020)
For the past 15,000 years, a glacier on the northwestern Tibetan Plateau of China has hosted some unusual guests: an ensemble of frozen viruses, many of them unknown to modern science. Scientists recently discovered this after examining two ice cores from this Tibetan glacier, revealing the existence of 28 never-before-seen virus groups. Investigating these mysterious viruses could help scientists on two fronts: For one, these stowaways can teach researchers which viruses thrived in different climates and environments over time. Additionally, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt could release pathogens into the environment,” the researchers wrote. If this happens, it’s best to know as much about these viruses as possible. The two ice core samples from the Guliya ice cap on the Tibetan Plateau were collected in 1992 and 2015. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote in the study, “presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.”

The Skin of the Earth Is Home to Pac-man-like Protists – (PhysOrg – January 25, 2020)
Protists are not plants, animals or fungi. They are single-celled organisms but, unlike bacteria, they have a nucleus. They move through water using whip-like flagellae and tiny hairs called cilia. Some of the nastier protists cause sleeping sickness, malaria and red tide, but nearly all play important, if mysterious, roles in the energy- and nutrient-trading relationships that connect ecosystems. “As part of a bigger project to understand all of the microbes in soil we are characterizing bacteria and fungi, but also a lesser-known, but equally important group called protists,” said Angela Oliverio, lead author on the paper with professor Noah Fierer and post-doctoral fellow Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo at the University of Colorado, Boulder; staff scientist Ben Turner at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama; researcher Stefan Geisen at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and professor Fernando Maestre at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and the Universidad de Alicante, Spain. Identifying millions of miniscule protists in soil used to be impossible, but recently-developed technology to classify protists based on their genetic code makes it possible to characterize them on a large scale. The team sequenced the 18S ribosomal RNA studied from soil samples from across six continents to better understand the ecological roles of the protists in the below-ground ecosystem. They discovered that most of the protists are the Pac-Man type that consume other, smaller organisms. But in tropical soils, a larger number of protists were parasites, living inside other organisms. “Soils are home to an astonishing diversity of organisms, the lives of which we are only beginning to understand,” said Ben Turner, co-author of the study.


GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY

Xenobot: World’s First Living, Self-healing Robots Created from Frog Stem Cells – (CNN – January 14, 2020)
Named xenobots after the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which they take their stem cells, the machines are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide — small enough to travel inside human bodies. They can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups. These are “entirely new life-forms,” said the University of Vermont, which conducted the research with Tufts University’s Allen Discovery Center. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types. The researchers scraped living stem cells from frog embryos, and left them to incubate. Then, the cells were cut and reshaped into specific “body forms” designed by a supercomputer — forms “never seen in nature,” according to a news release from the University of Vermont. The cells then began to work on their own — skin cells bonded to form structure, while pulsing heart muscle cells allowed the robot to move on its own. Xenobots even have self-healing capabilities; when the scientists sliced into one robot, it healed by itself and kept moving. “These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, one of the lead researchers at the University of Vermont, in the news release. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.” Xenobots don’t look like traditional robots — they have no shiny gears or robotic arms. Instead, they look more like a tiny blob of moving pink flesh. The researchers say this is deliberate — this “biological machine” can achieve things typical robots of steel and plastic cannot. The xenobots could potentially be used toward a host of tasks, according to the study, which was partially funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a federal agency that oversees the development of technology for military use. Xenobots could be used to clean up radioactive waste, collect microplastics in the oceans, carry medicine inside human bodies, or even travel into our arteries to scrape out plaque. The xenobots can survive in aqueous environments without additional nutrients for days or weeks — making them suitable for internal drug delivery. The organisms come pre-loaded with their own food source of lipid and protein deposits, allowing them to live for a little over a week — but they can’t reproduce or evolve. However, their lifespan can increase to several weeks in nutrient-rich environments. And although the supercomputer — a powerful piece of artificial intelligence — plays a big role in building these robots, it’s “unlikely” that the AI could have evil intentions.

Scientists Sent Mighty Mice to Space to Improve Treatments Back on Earth – (NPR – January 16, 2020)
In early December at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, two anxious scientists sent 20 years of research into orbit. “I feel like our heart and soul is going up in that thing,” Dr. Emily Germain-Lee told her husband, Dr. Se-Jin Lee, as they waited arm-in-arm for a SpaceX rocket to launch. A few seconds later the spacecraft took off, transporting some very unusual mice to the International Space Station, where they would spend more than a month in near zero gravity. Ordinarily, that would cause the animals’ bones to weaken and their muscles to atrophy. Without gravity, astronauts can lose up to 20% of their muscle mass in less than two weeks, according to research by NASA. And as muscles atrophy, bones begin to weaken too. But Lee and Germain-Lee, a power couple in the research world, were hoping that wouldn’t happen with these mice. The couple hope that what they learn from these mice will lead to new treatments for millions of people with conditions that weaken muscles and bones. Among those who might eventually benefit: children with muscular dystrophy or brittle bone disease, cancer patients with muscle wasting, bedridden patients recovering from hip fractures, older people whose bones and muscles have become dangerously weak, and astronauts on long space voyages. Lee had altered the mice genes so it wouldn’t produce a protein called myostatin. Ordinarily, myostatin limits the growth of muscles. Without it, you get the mouse version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Over the years, they realized that what many patients really needed was a way to simultaneously strengthen muscle and bone. And remarkably, they eventually identified a drug with the potential to do that. It’s a substance that affects not only myostatin, but also a protein called activin, which is involved in the growth of both muscle and bone. And it would bring together the parallel lines of research each scientist had been following for decades. The mice were brought back to earth in early January. And since then, Lee and Germain-Lee have been hard at work analyzing what happened to the animals’ muscles and bones. It will take months to know for sure whether any of the mice were able to defy the usual effects of weightlessness. Also scientists rarely discuss experiments before they’re published. But the couple says preliminary results look promising.

Possible Missing Link in Alzheimer’s Pathology Identified – (Scientific American – January 16, 2020)
Alzheimer’s disease has long been characterized by the buildup of two distinct proteins in the brain: first beta-amyloid, which accumulates in clumps, or plaques, and then tau, which forms toxic tangles that lead to cell death. But how beta-amyloid leads to the devastation of tau has never been precisely clear. Now a new study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham appears to describe that missing mechanism. The study details a cascade of events. Buildup of beta-amyloid activates a receptor that responds to a brain chemical called norepinephrine, which is commonly known for mobilizing the brain and body for action. Activation of this receptor by both beta-amyloid and norepinephrine boosts the activity of an enzyme that activates tau and increases the vulnerability of brain cells to it, according to the study. Essentially, beta-amyloid hijacks the norepinephrine pathway to trigger a toxic buildup of tau, says Qin Wang, the study’s senior author and a professor of neuropharmacology. Beta-amyloid itself can kill neurons but only in very high doses, Wang says. Add norepinephrine, and it takes only 1 to 2 percent as much beta-amyloid to eliminate brain cells in a lab dish. A drug that was developed to treat depression but too ineffective to win approval seems to act on this same pathway, Wang says. The drug, idazoxan, which has also been studied in schizophrenia, has already passed through initial clinical testing and been shown to be safe, she adds. Wang is now looking to promote larger clinical trials of idazoxan to see if it can be used to effectively treat early-stage Alzheimer’s. She hopes that eventually, a drug can be developed that will act on this Alzheimer’s-related pathway in a more targeted way to minimize side effects and maximize effectiveness.

Immune Discovery May Treat All Cancer – (BBC News – January 20, 2020)
A newly-discovered part of our immune system could be harnessed to treat all cancers, say scientists. The Cardiff University team discovered a method of killing prostate, breast, lung and other cancers in lab tests. The findings have not been tested in patients, but the researchers say they have “enormous potential”. The scientists were looking for “unconventional” and previously undiscovered ways the immune system naturally attacks tumors. What they found was a T-cell inside people’s blood. This is an immune cell that can scan the body to assess whether there is a threat that needs to be eliminated. The difference is this one could attack a wide range of cancers. “There’s a chance here to treat every patient,” said researcher Prof Andrew Sewell. He added: “Previously nobody believed this could be possible. It raises the prospect of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cancer treatment, a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population.”

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

China Says It Will Ban Plastics That Pollute Its Land and Water – (New York Times – January 20, 2020
China’s use of plastic bags, containers and cutlery has become one of its most stubborn and ugliest environmental blights. So the Chinese government has introduced measures to drastically cut the amount of disposable plastic items that often become a hazard and an eyesore in the country, even deep in the countryside and in the oceans. Among the new guidelines are bans on the import of plastic waste and the use of nonbiodegradable plastic bags in major cities by the end of this year. Other sources of plastic garbage will be banned in Beijing, Shanghai and wealthy coastal provinces by the end of 2022, and that rule will extend nationwide by late 2025. Previous efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags have faltered in China, but the government has indicated that, this time, it will be more serious and systematic in tackling the problem. Although people in China generally generate less plastic waste per capita than Americans, almost three-quarters of China’s plastic waste ends up in poorly managed landfills or out in the open. The plan is likely to be welcomed by many Chinese, who have become increasingly worried about polluted air, water, soil and natural surroundings. But it could be a hard sell for a society used to the convenience of online retailers and couriers who deliver hot meals and packages swaddled in plastic.

Dutch Guy Famous for Cleaning in the Pacific Garbage Patch is Now Clearing the World’s Rivers Too – (Good News Network – January 9, 2020)
Boyan Slat is the young engineer responsible for the organization that recently collected two shipping containers of trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time in history—and now, the Dutch conservationist is setting his sights on the very source of most of that water pollution. Slat already has his oceanic cleanup vessels deployed along the path of key ocean currents, allowing vast amounts of plastic waste to drive themselves toward his devices before being hoovered up and moved to shore for recycling. He has also confirmed they are capturing even microplastics that are one millimeter in size. Slat and his organization, The Ocean Cleanup, began targeting river pollution after their research revealed that 1,000 of the world’s rivers are responsible for depositing 80% of all the trash that is currently swirling in the ocean. By “turning off the taps” and catching the plastic along the river’s course, the much more difficult task of capturing it in the ocean can be mostly avoided. Enter Slat’s latest creation, The Interceptor: an efficient solar-powered barge that gobbles up plastic river garbage. Currently, The Ocean Cleanup has Interceptors in the Klang River in Kuala Lumpur—which is among the 50 worst rivers for pollution—and the Cengkareng Drain in Jakarta. Slat’s goal is to have Interceptors in all 1,000 of the worst polluting rivers by 2025. The Interceptor is scalable and easily manufactured, allowing it to be more widely available in poorer countries where pollution is at its worst because waste disposal is far less developed than in most Western countries.


COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

The Display of the Future Might Be in Your Contact Lens – (Wired – January 16, 2020)
A glance to the left. A flick to the right. As my eyes flitted around the room, I moved through a virtual interface only visible to me—scrolling through a calendar, commute times home, and even controlling music playback. It’s all I theoretically need to do to use Mojo Lens, a smart contact lens coming from a company called Mojo Vision. The California-based company, which has been quiet about what it’s been working on for five years, has finally shared its plan for the world’s “first true smart contact lens.” But let’s be clear: This is not a product you’ll see on store shelves next autumn. It’s in the research and development phase—a few years away from becoming a real product. Mojo Vision is all about “invisible computing.” The company, whose founders include industry veterans from the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, wants to reduce our reliance on screens. Instead of pulling out your phone to check why it buzzed in the middle of a conversation, look to the corner of your eye to activate an interface that will tell you in a split-second. The folks at Mojo Vision demoed a prototype contact lenses with an embedded display—the screen was, amazingly, about the size of a dot from an ink pen. They say it’s the “smallest, densest display ever made,” but they didn’t have a version with all the sensors inside yet. I looked through this prototype, and as expected, I saw text hovering over the real world. It’s not dissimilar from my experience using augmented reality eyewear like Google Glass or Focals, the smart eyeglasses from North—except Focals projects its interface to the glasses, whereas Mojo Vision’s contacts have the display integrated into the contact lens.

The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It – (New York Times – January 18, 2020)
Mr. Hoan Ton-That, an Australian techie and onetime model, has invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously, and licensed it to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security. His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system — whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites — goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants. Federal and state law enforcement officers said that while they had only limited knowledge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation cases. Until now, technology that readily identifies everyone based on his or her face has been taboo because of its radical erosion of privacy. Tech companies capable of releasing such a tool have refrained from doing so. But without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year, according to the company, which declined to provide a list. The computer code underlying its app, analyzed by The New York Times, includes programming language to pair it with augmented-reality glasses; users would potentially be able to identify every person they saw. The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew. And it’s not just law enforcement: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes. “The weaponization possibilities of this are endless,” said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. (Editor’s note: If you have time to follow up on only one link in this issue of FE, choose this one. If you have time, see also: We’re Banning Facial Recognition. We’re Missing the Point.

How to FBI-proof Your Encrypted iPhone Backups – (The Verge – January 23, 2020)
If you’re an iPhone user who is steadfast about retaining your privacy, you’re probably not very happy about the recent news that Apple is retaining the ability to decrypt most of what’s in an iCloud backup at the request of government entities, such as the FBI. In that case, you may want to pay attention to the adage that sometimes the best ways are the old ways. While it’s more convenient to use iCloud to back up your phone, you can back up your iPhone to your Mac or Windows computer and retain full control of your data backups. If you’ve always backed up via iCloud, or if you haven’t done a local backup in a while, you might be able to use a refresher course. This article explains in detail how you do it.


SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

Bricks Alive! Scientists Create Living Concrete – (New York Times – January 15, 2020)
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has created a novel kind of concrete — one that is alive and can even reproduce. Minerals in the new material are deposited not by chemistry but by cyanobacteria, a common class of microbes that capture energy through photosynthesis. The photosynthetic process absorbs carbon dioxide, in stark contrast to the production of regular concrete, which spews huge amounts of that greenhouse gas. Photosynthetic bacteria also give the concrete another unusual feature: a green color. “It really does look like a Frankenstein material,” said Wil Srubar, a structural engineer and the head of the research project. (The green color fades as the material dries.) To build the living concrete, the researchers first tried putting cyanobacteria in a mixture of warm water, sand and nutrients. The microbes eagerly absorbed light and began producing calcium carbonate, gradually cementing the sand particles together. But the process was slow — and DARPA, the Department of Defense’s speculative research arm and the project’s funder, wanted the construction to go very quickly. Necessity, happily, birthed invention. Stored in relatively dry air at room temperature, the blocks reach their maximum strength over the course of days, and the bacteria gradually begin to die out. But even after a few weeks, the blocks are still alive; when again exposed to high temperature and humidity, many of the bacterial cells perk back up. The Department of Defense is interested in using the reproductive ability of these “L.B.M.s” — living building materials — to aid construction in remote or austere environments. “Out in the desert, you don’t want to have to truck in lots of materials,” Dr. Srubar said.

In the Supertall Era, Is the Sustainable Skyscraper a Myth? – (Curbed – January 10, 2020)
The illustrative and alliterative “Tall Trends of 2019”, https://www.skyscrapercenter.com/year-in-review/2019/data the latest look at the global state of tall towers by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), suggests that the age of super-tall towers and expanding skylines is just beginning. In 2019, 26 supertalls, which the organization defined as buildings measuring 300 meters (984 feet) or taller, were completed, besting the previous record of 18 set in 2018. An additional 100 skyscrapers between 200 meters (656 feet) and 300 meters or more completed last year, a slight dip from the previous year, when 146 opened, but part of the decade-long trend of more and more such buildings taking shape in more and more corners of the globe. In 2020, the organization estimates between 115 and 145 200-meter-plus towers will finish, 17 to 30 of which will be supertalls. This new generation of towers, which represent the utilization of cutting-edge technologies, showcase great feats of engineering. But in a world slowly responding to climate change, can this type of construction, which requires massive amounts of energy and materials, ever approach sustainability? The answer, according Daniel Safarik, editor at the CTBUH, is complicated, mostly because of a lack of data. Many designers, construction firms, and building owners don’t share information about materials inputs, or the performance of these towers over time. The CTBUH is interested in the answer, Safarik says, and helps to conduct sustainability research. But part of being more sustainable is changing not just what we know about these buildings, but the way the industry and culture evaluate, and elevate, skyscrapers. Many of the latest generation of tall, high-tech skyscrapers exemplify improvements in design and building technology. The use of parametric design, algorithmic software to create more efficient blueprints, as well as new material technology, including the nascent growth of tall timber structures, means new buildings can be constructed with less and less concrete and steel. Increased use of new tall timber construction methods—architects at Perkins + Will have said it’s theoretically possible to build as tall as 80 stories—also raises the possibility of using a renewable, locally-sourced material for construction. But despite some reduction in total materials used, buildings still require immense amounts of energy to construct—a material cost often referred to as embodied carbon—and to operate. Article goes on to discuss innovative construction methods in particular buildings and potential ways to reduce energy footprints. See also: The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood.

The Case for Making Low-tech ‘Dumb’ Cities Instead of ‘Smart’ Ones – (Guardian – January 15, 2020)
There’s no concrete definition of a smart city, but high-tech versions promise to use cameras and sensors to monitor everyone and everything, from bins to bridges, and use the resulting data to help the city run smoothly. One high-profile proposal by Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, to give 12 acres of Toronto a smart makeover is facing a massive backlash. There are practical considerations, too, as Shoshanna Saxe of the University of Toronto has highlighted. Smart cities, she wrote in the New York Times in July, “will be exceedingly complex to manage, with all sorts of unpredictable vulnerabilities”. Tech products age fast: what happens when the sensors fail? And can cities afford expensive new teams of tech staff, as well as keeping the ground workers they’ll still need? “If smart data identifies a road that needs paving,” she writes, “it still needs people to show up with asphalt and a steamroller.” Saxe pithily calls for redirecting some of our energy toward building “excellent dumb cities.” She’s not anti-technology, it’s just that she thinks smart cities may be unnecessary. “For many of our challenges, we don’t need new technologies or new ideas; we need the will, foresight and courage to use the best of the old ideas,” she says. It is eminently possible to weave ancient knowledge of how to live symbiotically with nature into how we shape the cities of the future, before this wisdom is lost forever. We can rewild our urban landscapes, and apply low-tech ecological solutions to drainage, wastewater processing, flood survival, local agriculture and pollution that have worked for indigenous peoples for thousands of years, with no need for electronic sensors, computer servers or extra IT support. This month, Julia Watson, a lecturer in urban design at Harvard and Columbia Universities, launched her book Lo-Tek: Design by Radical Indigenism, with publisher Taschen. It’s the result of more than 20 years of travelling to research the original smart settlements, through an architect’s lens. Article goes on to showcase some of humanity’s brilliant methods of working symbiotically – and very successfully – with nature.

Toyota Will Transform a 175-acre Site in Japan into a ‘Prototype City of the Future’ – (The Verge – January 6, 2020)
Toyota wants to give a new meaning to the term “company town.” The Japanese auto giant said it will transform the 175-acre site of a former car factory in Japan into a “prototype city of the future” where it can test autonomous vehicles, innovative street design, smart home technology, robotics, and new mobility products on a population of real people who would live there full-time. The site, which is located at the base of Mount Fuji, will be designed by famed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. It will house up to 2,000 people, including Toyota employees and their families, and it will be powered by the company’s hydrogen fuel cell technology. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said at CES that the company expects to break ground at the end of 2021. Toyota is calling the site “Woven City,” a reference to weaving together three different types of streets or pathways, each for a specific type of user. One street would be for faster vehicles only. The second would be a mix of lower-speed personal mobility vehicles, like bikes and scooters, as well as pedestrians. And the third would be a park-like promenade for pedestrians only. “These three street types weave together to form an organic grid pattern to help accelerate the testing of autonomy,” the company says.


SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper – (Medium – April 20, 2018)
As gun policy discussions unfold in the wake of mass shooter incidents, they routinely end in three buckets. There’s the “tyranny can never happen here” bucket, which the left has mostly abdicated in the wake of Trump winning after they called (and still call) him a tyrant. There’s the “you can’t fight the army with small arms” bucket, which is increasingly unsound given our ongoing decade-and-a-half war with Afghani tribal goat herders. And there’s the “what the hell do you need an AR-15 for anyway?” bucket, which, by its very language, eschews a fundamental lack of understanding of what those people are thinking. I am not a prepper. But I know a few. Some of the ones I do know are smart. They may not be doing as deep an analysis as I present here, on a mathematical level, but the smart ones are definitely doing it at a subconscious level. (Editor’s note: Breeze past the probability analysis if math isn’t your thing, but give this article a chance. It’s so out of the box that it’s worth reading.)


TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

How Trump Used an Encrypted Swiss Fax Machine to Defuse the Iran Crisis – (Sarah Westhall – January 10, 2020)
Even as Trump was rage-tweeting on Jan 4, two days after the killing of Iran’s top military leader Qassem Soleimani, the US president was busy, secretly using an encrypted back-channel to bring the world back from the brink of war. Just hours after the U.S. strike which killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Trump administration sent an urgent back channel message to Tehran: “Don’t escalate.” The encrypted fax message was sent via the Swiss Embassy in Iran, one of the few means of direct, confidential communication between the two sides, according to U.S. officials. Then, in frantic attempts to de-escalate even as top US and Iranian leaders were stirring patriotic sentiment and nationalistic fervor, the White House and Iranian leaders exchanged further messages in the days that followed, which officials in both countries described as far more measured than the fiery rhetoric traded publicly by politicians. “We don’t communicate with the Iranians that much, but when we do the Swiss have played a critical role to convey messages and avoid miscalculation,” a senior U.S. official said. The Swiss Embassy, located in a Shah-era mansion overlooking Tehran, has played a role as a diplomatic intermediary that has stretched through four turbulent decades and seven presidencies, from the hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama’s nuclear deal. The encrypted fax machine operates on a secure Swiss government network linking its Tehran embassy to the Foreign Ministry in Bern and its embassy in Washington, say Swiss diplomats. Only the most senior officials have the key cards needed to use the equipment.


INTERNATIONAL TRENDS

In China, Birthrate Falls to Lowest Level in 70 Years – (NPR – January 17, 2020)
New birthrate figures show that China has so far failed to reverse the effects of its longtime one-child policy — a change that policymakers say is necessary to forestall the long-term economic consequences of an aging and shrinking population. The National Bureau of Statistics of China released the new data on the same day it announced that the country’s GDP growth has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 30 years. Last year, there were 10.48 births per 1,000 people, the lowest birthrate since 1949, the year the People’s Republic of China was founded. The number was down from 10.94 the year before. The one-child policy was put in place in 1979 by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who feared that the country’s exploding population would hold back economic development. Experts say that improved education and higher incomes in China have led to delayed marriage and childbirth and that once-strict government restrictions on births have made one-child households the norm. By 2050, a third of China’s people will be 60 or older, according to current projections, placing a significant burden on the government to care for the elderly. “China should have stopped the policy 28 years ago. Now it’s too late,” said Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a longtime critic of the country’s family-planning policies.

Singapore Overtakes the US to Become World’s Most Competitive Country, WEF Says – (CNBC – October 9, 2019)
In its 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) measured the strength of 103 key indicators, such as inflation, digital skills and trade tariffs, across 141 countries. The key indicators in the report were organized into 12 pillars, which included institutions, macroeconomic stability and health. The U.S., which held the top spot in 2018′s ranking, dropped into second place this year, although the report’s authors noted that it “remains an innovation powerhouse.” However, the country scored relatively low in some categories, with increasing trade tariffs, declining life expectancy and low digital skills among the American population taking a toll on the United States’ overall ranking. The WEF noted that life expectancy in the U.S. is now lower than it is in China, with the U.S. having only the 39th highest life expectancy in the world amid its ongoing opioid crisis. Singapore, named the most competitive economy in the world, scored highly for its public sector, labor force, diversity and infrastructure. On life expectancy, Singapore was ranked number one, with newborn children expected to live until the age of 74. In terms of competitiveness, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Switzerland rounded out the top five. (Editor’s note: WEF is assessing how countries measure up against each other, not how competitive their societies are internally, in terms of parameters such as the job market or non-public school admissions, although we suspect that rankings on that basis would be fairly similar.)


LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Who’s Watching Your Porch? – (New York Times – January 19, 2020)
Ring offers a front-door view of a country where millions of Amazon customers use Amazon cameras to watch Amazon contractors deliver Amazon packages. Ring sells a variety of video-enabled doorbells, security cameras, and an alarm system. Asked how many devices Ring has sold, Yassi Shahmiri, a company spokeswoman, replied by email: “Ring has millions of users.” According to data from the NPD Group, a market research firm, sales of smart doorbells alone increased by 58% from January 2019 to January 2020. The growth of easy-to-install home-surveillance equipment, and in particular doorbell cameras, has changed American life in ways obvious and subtle. More than 500 police departments have partnered with the company, gaining access to a service called Neighbors Portal, which allows users to “ask Ring to request video footage from device owners who are in the area of an active investigation.” The devices have also altered relations between online shoppers and the people who deliver their orders. “I’ve been worried about this,” one UPS employee wrote on Reddit. “Those Ring cameras are everywhere now and going up to houses with packages already delivered I’m afraid they’ll think I’m stealing them.” Ring is something like a home-security counterpart to the work email account on your personal phone, or the scheduling app buzzing you about a shift, ensuring you can never truly clock out. Home surveillance means you’re never quite home, but you’re never completely away from home, either. Ring can make the hyperlocal national. Our attention is directed to a porch in a small town we’ve never heard of, watching footage of somebody we don’t know that’s been recorded by somebody who isn’t home. And yet maybe we feel violated just watching those clips. The world feels less safe. We think about our own porches and the packages that may or may not be waiting for us. Who’s on our stoop? Who might show up?

New York City Bans Cashless Businesses in Step against Discrimination – (Guardian – January 24, 2020)
New York City’s council has voted to ban cashless businesses, in what politicians said was an effort to rein in “the excesses of the digital economy” and stop discrimination against low-income residents. Supporters of the ban argue that electronic-only payments discriminate against low-income people, undocumented immigrants and people of color, who are less likely to have a bank account or access to credit. If the bill is approved by New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, New York City would become the latest place to ban businesses from only accepting payment by debit or credit. New Jersey, Philadelphia and San Francisco brought in their own bans on cashless businesses in 2019.


CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

The Black Hole at the Center of the Galaxy Is Forging a Strange New Kind of Star – (Space – January 15, 2020)
Like most large galaxies, the Milky Way is glued together by a supermassive black hole at its center, buried deep in the constellation Sagittarius. Our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A* (or Sgr A*), constantly pulls stars, dust and other matter inward, forming a stellar megalopolis 1 billion times denser than our corner of the galaxy. Sometimes, stars closest to the black hole have to compete for space — and sometimes, a new study suggests, this competition becomes a strange and violent marriage. In a new study, published in the journal Nature, astronomers describe six mysterious objects swirling around our galaxy’s central black hole. According to the authors, these anomalous objects (dubbed G1 through G6) look like oblong blobs of gas several times more massive than Earth. However, they behave like small stars capable of passing perilously close to the black hole’s edge without being ripped to shreds. Are these peculiar space burps just gas, or are they stars? According to the study authors, the blobs may be a strange hybrid of both. Based on the six objects’ shapes, orbits and interactions with Sgr A*, the researchers suggest that each G object is a pair of binary stars (two stars that revolve around each other) that got smashed together by the black hole’s gravity millions of years ago and is still spilling out clouds of gas and dust in the messy aftermath of the collision.


STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

Most People Think It’s Impossible to Be Both Ethical and Competent – (Quartz – January 20, 2020)
The title above does not accurately reflect the data in the article: most people don’t necessarily think it’s impossible – they just think it’s not happening in business, government, the media, and NGOs in general. PR agency Edelman has been measuring public trust in people and institutions for the past 20 years. Its latest survey, which polled more than 34,000 people in 28 countries, found that fear has eclipsed hope, no institution is seen as both competent and effective, and nobody has a vision for the future that a majority of people believe in. “We are living in a trust paradox,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of the eponymous firm, describing the fact that economic growth no longer appears to drive optimism in developed markets. “National income inequality is now the more important factor in institutional trust,” he said. “Fears are stifling hope, as long-held assumptions about hard work leading to upward mobility are now invalid. Edelman’s model for measuring trust weighs both competence (delivering on promises) and ethical behavior (doing the right thing and working to improve society). The more institutions can balance competence and ethical behavior, the more people tend to trust it. Alas, none of the four key institutions measured by Edelman—government, business, NGOs, and media—were perceived as both competent and ethical by the public. “We now observe an Alice in Wonderland moment of elite buoyancy and mass despair,” Edelman said in an essay reflecting on the survey’s 20th anniversary. Article contains excellent graphic display of data. See also this article in Reuters: Capitalism seen doing ‘more harm than good’ in global survey. It picks up on completely different elements measured in the same survey. (Editor’s note: We recommend reading both articles.)


NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Scientists Built a Robot From 40 Pigeon Feathers and It Flies Beautifully – (GizModo – January 16, 2020)
Scientists seeking to understand the mechanics of bird flight have constructed PigeonBot, a robot made from 40 pigeon feathers (and a few other components). While airplanes maneuver by altering their wing elements, birds can morph the shape of their entire wings to dive, bank, and coast through the air, increasing both their efficiency and agility. This new study on pigeon wings has not only provided a simpler model for how bird wings work but allowed engineers to integrate that knowledge into a nimble flying machine. The researchers hope that PigeonBot will provide an inspiration for those constructing flying machines, as well as those studying birds. “You can simply use the cadaver of a bird, and there are many in museums, to develop a robot without harming any animal to study their flight,” said David Lentink, the studies’ corresponding author and assistant professor of mechanical engineering. The team put 40 real pigeon feathers onto an artificial skeleton that could move in two places, at the base and at the finger joint, with rubber bands controlling the angle of the feathers, recreating what the researchers saw in the cadaver studies. They combined it with a propeller, artificial tail and rudder, controllers, and sensors, and tested it in a wind tunnel as well as outdoors using a remote-control. PigeonBot had sidesteped the aerospace engineering instinct to articulate every piece of the flying machine, in favor of a simpler model that flew with ease.

Company Collects 80% of City’s Recyclable Plastics and Turns It All into Lumber – (Good News Network – January 15, 2020)
Roughly 80% of the plastic recyclables collected throughout Halifax, Nova Scotia are now being processed by Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd so they can be turned into building blocks. The plastic lumber can be drilled, nailed, glued, and handled the same way as wooden lumber—but without any of the same deterioration. Goodwood also made a name for themselves back in December when they partnered with a Sobeys grocery store in order to create one of Canada’s first parking lots made entirely out of post-consumer plastics saved from local landfills. Although the bulk of Goodwood’s recycled plastic comes from single-use bags, they also process food jars and other common consumer packaging. Thus far, the lumber has been used to make everything from picnic tables and park benches to agricultural posting and guardrail structures. Goodwood vice president Mike Chassie says he hopes their business model will inspire other regions to launch similar ventures. See also: Cameroon Man Uses Wasted Plastic Bottles to Build Canoes for Fishermen in Need. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/cameroon-man-uses-turns-plastic-bottles-into-canoes/


ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

Goldman to Refuse IPOs If All Directors Are White, Straight Men – (Bloomberg – January 24, 2020)
The era of the white, all-male board is coming to an end. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Wall Street’s biggest underwriter of initial public offerings in the U.S. will no longer take a company public in the U.S. and Europe if it lacks a director who is either female or diverse. The mandate is the latest in a series of signals that non-diverse boards and management are unacceptable. BlackRock Inc. and State Street Global Advisors are voting against directors at companies without a female director. Public companies with all-male boards based in California now face a $100,000 fine under a new state law. The corporate board has become a rare bright spot for gender and racial diversity at the highest echelons of corporate America. Almost half of the open spots at S&P 500 companies went to women last year, and for the first time they made up more than a quarter of all directors. In July, the last all-male board in the S&P 500 appointed a woman. “Starting on July 1st in the U.S. and Europe, we’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” said Goldman CEO, David Solomon. He didn’t mention Asia, which continues to lag behind other regions when it comes to board diversity.


PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe? – (Scientific American – January 14, 2020)
One of science’s most challenging problems is a question that can be stated easily: Where does consciousness come from? In his new book Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher Philip Goff considers a radical perspective: What if consciousness is not something special that the brain does but is instead a quality inherent to all matter? It is a theory known as “panpsychism,” and Goff guides readers through the history of the idea, answers common objections (such as “That’s just crazy!”) and explains why he believes panpsychism represents the best path forward. This article is a transcript of an interview with him. As a philosopher, he is very careful with his words. For example, “It might be important to clarify what I mean by “consciousness,” as that word is actually quite ambiguous. Some people use it to mean something quite sophisticated, such as self-awareness or the capacity to reflect on one’s own existence. This is something we might be reluctant to ascribe to many nonhuman animals, never mind fundamental particles. But when I use the word consciousness, I simply mean experience: pleasure, pain, visual or auditory experience, et cetera.”


JUST FOR FUN

Norwegian Artist Sculpts “Plush” White Pillows from Blocks of Marble – (My Modern Met – January 22, 2020)
The ability to transform marble into skin or drapery is an awe-inspiring skill that plays with our sense of sight and touch—fooling our eyes into believing something we know is stiff can be soft. Contemporary artist Håkon Anton Fagerås recalls such classical mastery in his marble sculptures of pillows. “The common denominator of most of my art is fragility and vulnerability,” explains the artist. “I usually carve figures and faces, but once in a while, I carve marble pillows.” The ongoing series, entitled Down, is immediately charming to look at. Through the use of a variety of tools, including a pneumatic hammer, Fagerås manages to create supple-looking pillows—all featuring the natural creases and folds of real fabric. Article includes photographs of the artist at work – with the actual pillow “models” and the marble “pillows” in process.


A FINAL QUOTE

The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future. – Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), first Chief of the United States Forest Service


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.
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Edited by John L. Petersen
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Volume 23, Number 2 – 1/15/20

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