Volume 24, Number 19 – 10/1/21

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Volume 24, Number 19 – 10/1/2021


  • Different labs come up with conflicting Covid-19 test results for the same sample.
  • Facebook would like to create an international payment system/ cryptocurrency.
  • A laser-cooked chicken retained twice as much moisture as conventionally cooked chicken, and it shrank half as much while still retaining similar flavors.
  • The smallest-ever human-made flying structure is about the size of a grain of sand.

John L. Petersen

The Outline of the Shift Emerges:

Epic changes over the coming months becoming
much clearer. 

Saturday, October 16
in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

In recent weeks, a number of the brightest alternative thinkers on the planet have begun to generate the mosaic pieces of the tapestry that are pointing to an extraordinary next four years . . . and it is a mind-blowing picture indeed.

You know about the big shift and have heard of many of the elements separately, but you’ve never seen them all put together in a clear picture of massive, multi-dimensional change . . . which certainly affect us all in very significant ways. 

At The Arlington Institute, we have anticipated and talked about this shift for many years and now this amazing transition is upon us.  Every indication is that it will upend almost all aspects of our familiar way of life – financial, economic, food, and substance – to say nothing about producing a radical new understanding of government, our cosmos, history, and beginnings. The implications are genuinely breathtaking.  It is almost impossible to overestimate the magnitude and breadth of what is headed our way.  

We’re past the point of vague generalities. Now the details are coming together into a clear vision with major events, dates, and players emerging into a coherent whole.  One of the world’s most accurate forecasters, Clif High, says, “The Apocalypse is Now!”, talking about disruptions that will signal the beginning of the general, global upheaval.  What’s really important is that he says they will appear on the second and third weeks of October – less than a month from now. 

Given the pressing importance of this shift, futurist John Petersen, The Arlington Institute’s founder, is coming to TransitionTalks on October 16th, to present an integrated, comprehensive picture of our “next” future with a timeline that we can begin to plan around. Clif High and many other big thinkers like Catherine Austin Fitts, Martin Armstrong, and others – each offer up their specific point of view – but no one has put the large chunks of the puzzle together into a big picture until now.  On the 16th of October, John will walk us out into this grand, consuming change – month by month – highlighting the major inbound events and their likely implications. 

He’ll cover the social and governmental disruptions, economic, financial, and technological shocks, big breakthroughs that will reorganize how we see ourselves, what is driving and influencing this change and what the objectives are of the major players who are vying for control.  In the end, he’ll paint a picture of how the new world looks like it will arrive and what we can all do to prepare for it.  The session will end with an extended question and answer session that will allow plenty of time for all questions both from those in the room and viewers on the livestream.  

John’s talks are always big, provocative, and inspiring and this one promises to again be equal to the magnitude of the times that dominate us. 

Do come and join us in person, if you can, or by livestream from wherever you are.  Remember, you can watch the livestream playback anytime for two weeks after the event.

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The outline of this shift is taking shape, moving away from the abstract with details becoming clear.  It’s an extraordinary time to be on this planet and a part of this great change. 

Join us in person or via livestream / replay.

A Strategy for Defeating the COVID Narrative – (No More Fake News – September 3, 2021)

The PCR test is at the heart of the COVID narrative. A positive test supposedly equals a “COVID case.” Many COVID cases equal: “we must clamp down on the citizenry; we must lock them up, close businesses; roll out a vaccine…” But the test is complete fraud. There is an open secret in the professional PCR testing community: Different labs come up with conflicting test results for the same sample. A nasal swab taken from John Jones, sent to six different labs, will frequently come back POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, POSITIVE, NEGATIVE, INDETERMINATE, NEGATIVE… Therefore, there is no reliable result. There is no standard. There is no way to ascertain whether the result should read “COVID” or “NON-COVID.” Also mainstream experts agree that the PCR test should be run at 35 cycles or lower; otherwise the result is meaningless and unusable. However, FDA/CDC guidance recommends running the test at 40 cycles. Therefore, labs comply. This in itself is a major scandal. But there is more. Labs are not required (except in Florida) to report how many cycles they deploy in their PCR tests. Therefore, the labs don’t report this essential factor to the patient or his doctor.

Best Explanation I’ve Seen About Why the Covid Jabs Are Killer Shots – (Rumble – August 30, 2021)

In this video clip, Del Bigtree replays an interview by a highly respected vaccine researcher, Geert Vanden Bosshe (after running through his extensive credentials) in which Vanden Bosshe explains that the vaccine-induced antibodies out-compete and suppress the body’s natural nonspecific antibodies which have a broad spectrum capability to defeat any corona virus variant. In the case of a coronavirus that is continually mutating that is very dangerous both at the individual level and at the population level.

Leaked Grant Proposal Details High-Risk Coronavirus Research – (Intercept – September 23, 2021)

A grant proposal written by the U.S.-based nonprofit the EcoHealth Alliance and submitted in 2018 to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, provides evidence that the group was working — or at least planning to work — on several risky areas of research. Among the scientific tasks the group described in its proposal, which was rejected by DARPA, was the creation of full-length infectious clones of bat SARS-related coronaviruses and the insertion of a tiny part of the virus known as a “proteolytic cleavage site” into bat coronaviruses. Of particular interest was a type of cleavage site able to interact with furin, an enzyme expressed in human cells. Since the genetic code of the coronavirus that caused the pandemic was first sequenced, scientists have puzzled over the “furin cleavage site.” This strange feature on the spike protein of the virus had never been seen in SARS-related betacoronaviruses, the class to which SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness Covid-19, belongs. The furin cleavage site enables the virus to more efficiently bind to and release its genetic material into a human cell and is one of the reasons that the virus is so easily transmissible and harmful. But scientists are divided over how this particular site wound up in the virus, and the cleavage site became a major focus of the heated debate over the origins of the pandemic. Many who believe that the virus that caused the pandemic emerged from a laboratory have pointed out that it is unlikely that the particular sequence of amino acids that make up the furin cleavage site would have occurred naturally. The new proposal does not provide conclusive evidence that the virus that caused the pandemic emerged from a lab. But several scientists who work with coronaviruses told The Intercept that they felt that the proposal shifted the terrain of the debate. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University who has espoused the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 may have originated in a lab, agreed. “The relevance of this is that SARS Cov-2, the pandemic virus, is the only virus in its entire genus of SARS-related coronaviruses that contains a fully functional cleavage site at the S1, S2 junction,” said Ebright, referring to the place where two subunits of the spike protein meet. “And here is a proposal from the beginning of 2018, proposing explicitly to engineer that sequence at that position in chimeric lab-generated coronaviruses.”

Facebook, Biden Officials Poised for Clash as Tech Giant Seeks Approval for New Global Payments System – (Washington Post – September 10, 2021)

Facebook executives have been meeting with senior Biden administration officials in recent weeks as the social media giant tries to assuage concerns about its controversial cryptocurrency project, but the effort is running into some of the same fears from regulators that have plagued it for more than two years. Despite rebranding and overhauling the project — which aims to establish a global network for instantaneous payments — Facebook and its partners still face scrutiny from some Treasury Department officials who feel the plans could undermine the stability of the financial system, according to two people briefed on the deliberations speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. Government officials are concerned that the proposed new network — an independent association backed by Facebook that is now known as Diem — could proliferate and then threaten the broader economy if its value crashed, the two people said. The people said that though Diem is formally independent, its association with Facebook compounds the risk because Facebook has the ability to scale its products to billions of people all over the world. The regulators’ concerns also apply to a broader suite of emerging projects — known as “stablecoins” — that use cryptocurrency’s underlying blockchain technology, but are pegged to a major currency, such as the U.S. dollar. Diem and other stablecoins aim to establish a system for seamless financial transactions, by creating a token — or “coin” — that can be traded digitally anywhere in the world. Unlike cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, the value of which is not tied to anything external, stablecoins are pegged to major currencies already in circulation, which is why proponents believe they are more stable. (Editor’s note: The intent here is to create the world’s first international currency – and, if/when it happens, it will be an entirely electronic currency. There are a lot of “what-ifs” to be worked out, but give some thought to what it might mean for there to be an international currency – created not by a government but by a social media company.)

The Battle for Digital Privacy Is Reshaping the Internet – (New York Times – September 6, 2021)

Digital ads powered the growth of Facebook, Google and Twitter, which offered their search and social networking services to people without charge. But in exchange, people were tracked from site to site by technologies such as “cookies,” and their personal data was used to target them with relevant marketing. Now that system, which ballooned into a $350 billion digital ad industry, is being dismantled. Driven by online privacy fears, Apple and Google have started revamping the rules around online data collection. But if personal information is no longer the currency that people give for online content and services, something else must take its place. One option is to make people pay for what they get online by levying subscription fees and other charges instead of using their personal data. Jeff Green, the chief executive of the Trade Desk, an ad-technology company in Ventura, Calif., that works with major ad agencies, said the behind-the-scenes fight was fundamental to the nature of the web. “The internet is answering a question that it’s been wrestling with for decades, which is: How is the internet going to pay for itself?” he said. This article looks at how different players are exploring different answers to that question.

A Teenager on TikTok Disrupted Thousands of Scientific Studies with a Single Video – (The Verge – September 23, 2021)

Thousands of scientific studies had to toss out weeks of data because of a 56-second TikTok video by a teenager. The July 23rd video is short and simple. It opens with recent Florida high school graduate and self-described “teen author” Sarah Frank sitting in her bedroom and smiling at the camera. “Welcome to side hustles I recommend trying — part one,” she says in the video, pointing users to the website “Basically, it’s a bunch of surveys for different amounts of money and different amounts of time.” That video got 4.1 million views in the month after it was posted and sent tens of thousands of new users flooding to the Prolific platform. Prolific, a tool for scientists conducting behavioral research, had no screening tools in place to make sure that it delivered representative population samples to each study. Suddenly, scientists used to getting a wide mix of subjects for their Prolific studies saw their surveys flooded with responses from young women around Frank’s age. For researchers who rely on representative samples of the US population, that demographic shift was a major problem with no obvious cause and no immediately clear way to fix. Though not particularly well known, Prolific is part of a small collection of online tools that have transformed the way corporations and scientists study the way people think and act. According to Prolific co-founder and CTO Phelim Bradley, about 4,600 studies were disrupted by Frank’s TikTok, around a third of the total that were active on the platform during the surge. Of those, he said, the vast majority should be salvageable.

All Living Snakes Evolved from a Few Survivors of Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs – (SciTech Daily – September 21, 2021)

A new study suggests that all living snakes, today including almost 4000 living species, started to diversify around the time that an extra-terrestrial impact wiped out the dinosaurs and most other species on the planet. The study, led by scientists at the University of Bath and including collaborators from Bristol, Cambridge, and Germany, used fossils and analyzed genetic differences between modern snakes to reconstruct snake evolution. The analyses helped to pinpoint the time that modern snakes evolved. The authors argue that the ability of snakes to shelter underground and go for long periods without food helped them survive the destructive effects of the impact. In the aftermath, the extinction of their competitors — including Cretaceous snakes and the dinosaurs themselves — allowed snakes to move into new niches, new habitats, and new continents. The study also suggests that snakes began to spread across the globe around this time. Although the ancestor of living snakes probably lived somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, snakes first appear to have spread to Asia after the extinction. Fossils also show a change in the shape of snake vertebrae in the aftermath, resulting from the extinction of Cretaceous lineages and the appearance of new groups, including giant sea snakes up to 10 meters long.

When Did Humans Start Wearing Clothes? Discovery in a Moroccan Cave Sheds Some Light – (CNN – September 16, 2021)

In popular culture, cave men (and women) are often draped in furs, but archaeological evidence of what our Stone Age ancestors actually wore and how they made clothes is thin. Fur, leather and other organic materials generally aren’t preserved, especially beyond 100,000 years ago. However, researchers say 62 bone tools used to process and smooth animal skins found in a cave in Morocco may be some of the earliest proxy evidence for clothing in the archaeological record. The tools are between 90,000 and 120,000 years old. “I wasn’t expecting to find them. I was studying this assemblage initially to look at the animal bones to reconstruct the human diet,” said Emily Yuko Hallett, a postdoctoral scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History’s Pan African Evolution Research Group. Unlike the bones discarded after consuming an animal for food, bones used regularly by human hands gain a sheen and polish. A pattern of cut marks on some of the bones in the cave that suggested the humans who lived there were removing the skins of carnivores such as sand foxes, golden jackals and wildcats, for their furs. The bones of cattle-like animals showed different markings, suggesting they were processed for meat. Genetic studies of lice indicate that clothing lice diverged from their human head louse ancestors at least 83,000 years ago and possibly as early as 170,000 years ago, which suggests humans were wearing clothes before major migrations out of Africa. The bone tools were found in Contrebandiers Cave on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Hallett said the climate 120,000 years ago would have been mild, as it is now, raising the possibility that early clothes could have been for ornamentation as well as protection. “There’s really no extreme temperatures or extreme climate conditions there in the past or today. So that makes me wonder was clothing strictly utilitarian or was it symbolic or was it a little bit of both?”

200,000-Year-Old Hand Art Found Near a Tibetan Hot Spring – (Gizmodo – September 15,  2021)

An international team of researchers has reported the discovery of hand and foot prints from Quesang, in the Tibetan Plateau. The fossil impressions, which date to between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago and seem to have been created intentionally, could represent the earliest known art of its kind. Called parietal art, this form of ancient visual expression typically crops up on cave walls but can also be made on the ground, as appears to be the case for the recent Tibet discovery. The fossil is a series of hand and foot impressions, none of which overlap. Besides potentially being the oldest known parietal art, the site is the earliest evidence for hominins so high on the Tibetan Plateau, which sits about 12,000 feet above sea level. “How footprints are made during normal activity such as walking, running, jumping is well understood, including things like slippage,” said Thomas Urban, a research scientist at Cornell University’s tree ring laboratory and a co-author of the new paper. “These prints, however, are more carefully made and have a specific arrangement—think more along the lines like how a child presses their handprint into fresh cement.” Based on the size of the prints, the team believes the artists could have been a 7-year-old and a 12-year-old.

Footprints in New Mexico Are Oldest Evidence of Humans in the Americas – (BBC News – September 23, 2021)

Humans reached the Americas at least 7,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to new findings. The topic of when the continent was first settled from Asia has been controversial for decades. Many researchers had been skeptical of evidence for humans in the North American interior much earlier than 16,000 years ago. Now, a team working in New Mexico has found scores of human footprints dated to between 23,000 and 21,000 years old. The discovery could transform views about when the continent was settled. It suggests there could have been great migrations that we know nothing about. And it raises the possibility that these earlier populations could have gone extinct. The footprints were formed in soft mud on the margins of a shallow lake which now forms part of Alkali Flat in White Sands. A team from the US Geological Survey carried out radiocarbon dating on seeds found in sediment layers above and below where the footprints were found. This gave the researchers remarkably precise dates for the impressions themselves.

In a Gene Tied to Growth, Scientists See Glimmers of Human History – (PhysOrg – September 24, 2021)

A new study delves into the evolution and function of the human growth hormone receptor gene, and asks what forces in humanity’s past may have driven changes to this vital piece of DNA. The research shows, through multiple avenues, that a shortened version of the gene—a variant known as GHRd3—may help people survive in situations where resources are scarce or unpredictable. GHRd3 emerged about 1-2 million years ago, and was likely the overwhelmingly predominant version of the gene in the ancestors of modern humans, as well as in Neanderthals and Denisovans. Then, “In the last 50,000 years or so, this variant becomes less prevalent, and you have a massive decrease in the frequency of this variant among East Asian populations we studied, where we see the estimated allele frequency drop from 85% to 15% during the last 30,000 years,” says University at Buffalo evolutionary biologist Omer Gokcumen. “So the question becomes: Why? Was this variant favored in the past, and it fell out of evolutionary favor recently? Or is what we are observing just a blip among the complexity of genomes?” The research provides new insights into the function of GHRd3 that may help answer those questions.

Baby Poop Has Ten Times More Microplastic in It Than Adult Poop – (Common Dreams – September 22, 2021)

Infants have an average of 10 times the concentration of a type of microplastic in their poop than adults. The research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, follows previous studies reflecting the ubiquity of microplastics—small fibers less than 5 mm in size originating from everyday objects like plastic bottles and polyester clothing and that end up in the planet’s waterways and human guts. Researchers focused on two types of common microplastics—polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polycarbonate (PC)—and measured feces from six infants and 10 adults. They also looked at three samples of newborns’ first waste, which is known as meconium. All were from New York state, and they were all found to have at least one kind of microplastic. PC levels, the researchers found, were similar between the infant and adult groups. PET concentrations, however, revealed a stark difference, with those in infants’ feces found to have levels more than 10 times higher on average. “Our study suggests that infants are exposed to higher levels of MPs than adults,” the scientists wrote. Researchers suggested the higher concentrations could be a result of products they commonly use like teethers and bottles but said larger studies should be done. See also: Manta Rays Inspire New Device to Filter Microplastics.

Spain to Ban Sale of Fruit and Vegetables in Plastic Wrapping from 2023 – (El Pais – September 22, 2021)

The sale of fruit and vegetables in plastic wrapping will be prohibited in Spain’s supermarkets and grocery stores starting in 2023. This is one of the measures in a decree being drafted by the Ministry for Ecological Transition, according to sources familiar with the initiative. The new regulation also contains measures to encourage the purchase of loose, unpackaged produce and use of non-bottled water. The ban on fruit and vegetable packaging will apply to produce weighing under 1.5 kilograms, following similar legislation in France, where it will go into effect next year. The Spanish executive wants to “fight the overuse of packaging in the most effective way,” said a ministry spokesperson. Customers could bring their own reusable containers, although hygiene conditions would have to be set by the establishments. The types of produce “at risk of deteriorating when sold loose” will be left out of the list, according to available information. The decree also contemplates forcing authorities at every level of government to “encourage the installation of drinking fountains in public spaces” and “introducing alternatives to the sale of bottled drinks,” as well as rolling back “the distribution of single-use drinking cups” at public events, beginning in 2023.

Need a New Monitor for Your Computer? You Can Wear One on Your Face. – (Washington Post – September 27, 2021)

Forget settling down in front of a computer monitor at work — someday, you might strap on a headset instead. That might sound a bit like a ’90s cyberpunk fantasy, but it’s not really all that outlandish. Beyond having more screens to work with for multi-tasking, there’s another benefit to wearing your computer’s screen(s) on your face: no one else can look at them. If you frequently work with sensitive files or data, the last thing you’d want is for a nosy neighbor on a plane or at a coffee shop peering over your shoulder. More than a few tech companies are convinced that sophisticated screens shoved into glasses could represent the future of work. But they have different visions for how a screen you wear on your face should work. This article looks at some of the possibilities.

‘Chilling’: Facial Recognition Firm Clearview AI Hits Watchdog Groups with Subpoenas – (Politico – September 24, 2021)

Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition company that scrapes public images from social media to aid law enforcement probes, has subpoenaed internal documents from some of the groups that first exposed its activities. The firm served subpoenas in August to civil society coalition Open The Government, its policy analyst Freddy Martinez and the police accountability nonprofit that he’d previously founded, Lucy Parsons Labs — demanding any correspondence they’d had with journalists about Clearview and its leaders, as well as information they’d uncovered about the company and its founders in public records requests, over the last four years. The subpoenas, obtained by Politico, could draw the groups into lengthy court battles and, they argue, dissuade others from taking on Clearview or other companies working on potentially problematic technologies. David Brody, counsel and senior fellow for privacy and technology at the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, “To use legal process to try to silence critics — silence people that are just trying to get transparency about how our criminal justice system is operating and what tools are being used by law enforcement agencies — that’s pretty problematic,” Brody said. Open the Government and MuckRock has shared their research about police use of surveillance — including Clearview’s technology — with the New York Times which published several reports last year detailing the startup’s work with law enforcement.

The Untapped Energy That Could Power the Planet – (TED Talk – August, 2021)

Deep beneath your feet is a molten ball of energy the same temperature as the surface of the sun — an immense clean energy source that could power the world thousands of times over, says technologist and climate activist Jamie C. Beard. How do we tap it? She lays out a surprising solution, and an unlikely alliance, to harvest geothermal energy from the Earth’s core and get it to anywhere in the world.

Green Hydrogen’s Rapidly Falling Costs Undermine the Gas Industry’s Argument for Blue Hydrogen – (Nation of Change – September 27, 2021)

New research predicts that green hydrogen — a clean fuel produced from water using renewables — will be comparable in cost and likely cheaper than blue hydrogen by 2030. This is much sooner than what the blue hydrogen industry is estimating when advocating for the natural gas-based fuel to be widely adopted — essentially eliminating the only viable argument to invest in blue hydrogen. “The True Cost of Solar Hydrogen,” the report from a European research team led by the European Technology and Innovation Platform for Photovoltaics, was published September 7 in the journal Solar RRL and concludes that “during this decade, solar hydrogen will be globally a less expensive fuel compared with hydrogen produced from natural gas with CCS [blue hydrogen].” (CCS is carbon capture and storage.) This is a much different scenario than the argument being made by supporters of blue hydrogen, such as the gas industry and others who are claiming that within a decade green hydrogen will still be at least double the cost of blue hydrogen.

This 3D-Printed Chicken Breast Was Cooked with Lasers – (Wired – September 25, 2021)

Who hasn’t dreamt of coming home after a long day and simply pressing a few buttons to get a hot, home-cooked 3D-printed meal, courtesy of one’s digital personal chef? It might make microwaves and conventional frozen TV dinners obsolete. Engineers at Columbia University are trying to make that fantasy a reality, and they’ve now figured out how to simultaneously 3D-print and cook layers of pureed chicken, according to a recent paper published in the journal npj Science of Food. Sure, it’s not on the same level as the Star Trek Replicator, which could synthesize complete meals on demand, but it’s a start. Coauthor Hob Lipson runs the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, where the research was conducted. His team first introduced 3D printing of food items back in 2007. “We noted that, while printers can produce ingredients to millimeter precision, there is no heating method with this same degree of resolution,” said coauthor Jonathan Blutinger. There have been some studies investigating how to cook food using lasers, and Lipson’s team thought this might be a promising avenue to explore further. Article describes the process. The results? The laser-cooked chicken retained twice as much moisture as conventionally cooked chicken, and it shrank half as much while still retaining similar flavors. But different types of lasers produced different results. The blue laser proved ideal for cooking the chicken internally, beneath the surface, while the infrared lasers were better at surface level browning and broiling.

Mossad Killed Iran’s Top Nuke Scientist with Remote-operated Machine Gun – (Times of Israel – September 18, 2021)

Top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in November 2020 in a sophisticated hit led by a Mossad team that reportedly deployed a computerized machine gun, required no on-site operatives, took less than a minute, and did not injure anyone else, including the scientist’s wife who was with him at the time. According to an in-depth New York Times report, the weapon used in the high-profile assassination last year of Fakhrizadeh — regarded by Israel and many Western officials as the “father” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program — was a modified Belgian-made FN MAG machine gun attached to an advanced robotic apparatus and powered with artificial intelligence technology. The whole device weighed about a ton and was smuggled into Iran in small parts ahead of the operation and then reassembled. The report detailed how Israel had been closely following Fakhrizadeh’s career and movements since at least 2007 and began making preparations for an assassination operation in late 2019 and early 2020, following a series of meetings between Israeli officials led by then-Mossad director Yossi Cohen and high-ranking United States officials, including then-US President Donald Trump, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the CIA director Gina Haspel. These preparations moved into high gear by the summer of 2020, according to the report, and Israel decided to press ahead, driven by two factors: Iran’s tepid response to the January 2020 killing of its top general Qassim Suleimani in a US drone strike facilitated by Israeli intelligence, and the rising likelihood that Trump would lose the national election that November to Joe Biden, who had indicated he would return the US to the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. Article details the AI assisted weapon. “The souped-up, remote-controlled machine gun now joins the combat drone in the arsenal of high-tech weapons for remote targeted killing,” and is “likely to reshape the worlds of security and espionage,” the New York Times reported. (Editor’s note: we recommend reading both the article from the Times of Israel and from the New York Times.)

FBI Held Back Ransomware Decryption Key from Businesses to Run Operation Targeting Hackers – (Washington Post – September 21, 2021)

The FBI refrained for almost three weeks from helping to unlock the computers of hundreds of businesses and institutions hobbled by a major ransomware attack this summer, even though the bureau had secretly obtained the digital key needed to do so, according to several current and former U.S. officials. The key was obtained through access to the servers of the Russia-based criminal gang behind the July attack. Deploying it immediately could have helped the victims, including schools and hospitals, avoid what analysts estimate was millions of dollars in recovery costs. But the FBI held on to the key, with the agreement of other agencies, in part because it was planning to carry out an operation to disrupt the hackers, a group known as REvil, and the bureau did not want to tip them off. The previously unreported episode highlights the trade-offs law enforcement officials face between trying to damage cyber criminal networks and promptly helping the victims of ransomware — malware that encrypts data on computers, rendering them unusable. “The questions we ask each time are: What would be the value of a key if disclosed? How many victims are there? Who could be helped?” said one individual familiar with the matter, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “And on the flip side, what would be the value of a potential longer-term operation in disrupting an ecosystem? Those are the questions we will continue to have to balance.” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, testifying before Congress, indicated the delay stemmed in part from working jointly with allies and other agencies. “We make the decisions as a group, not unilaterally,” he said. “These are complex . . . decisions, designed to create maximum impact, and that takes time in going against adversaries where we have to marshal resources not just around the country but all over the world.”

ShadowDragon: Inside the Social Media Surveillance Software That Can Watch Your Every Move – (Intercept – September 21, 2021)

Software put out by a Wyoming company called ShadowDragon allows police to suck in data from social media and other internet sources, including Amazon, dating apps, and the dark web, so they can identify persons of interest and map out their networks during investigations. By providing powerful searches of more than 120 different online platforms and a decade’s worth of archives, the company claims to speed up profiling work from months to minutes. ShadowDragon even claims its software can automatically adjust its monitoring and help predict violence and unrest. The Michigan State police acquired the software through a contract with another obscure online policing company named Kaseware for an “MSP Enterprise Criminal Intelligence System.” ShadowDragon has kept a low profile but has law enforcement customers well beyond Michigan. It was purchased twice by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in the last two years, documents show, and was reportedly acquired by the Massachusetts State Police and other police departments within the state. Kaseware and ShadowDragon are part of a shadowy industry of software firms that exploit what they call “open source intelligence,” or OSINT: the trails of information that people leave on the internet. Clients include intelligence agencies, government, police, corporations, and even schools. Kaseware, which is partnered to ShadowDragon and Microsoft, provides a platform for activities that support OSINT and other elements of digital policing, like data storage, management, and analysis.The article goes on to discuss how these software ‘solutions’ support and enhance each other. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article for its examination of social media surveillance.)

Chris Hedges: The Empire Does Not Forgive – (Consortium News – August 30, 2021)

Imperial powers do not forgive those who expose their weaknesses or make public the sordid and immoral inner workings of empire. Empires are fragile constructions. Their power is as much one of perception as of military strength. The virtues they claim to uphold and defend, usually in the name of their superior civilization, are a mask for pillage, the exploitation of cheap labor, indiscriminate violence and state terror. The killing of 13 U.S. troops by a suicide bomber at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday evoked from Joe Biden the full-throated cry of all imperialists: “To those who carried out this attack … we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.” This was swiftly followed by two drone strikes in Kabul against suspected members of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), which took credit for the suicide bombing that left some 170 dead, including 28 members of the Taliban. The Taliban, which defeated U.S. and coalition forces in a 20-year war, is about to be confronted with the wrath of a wounded empire. The Cuban, Vietnamese, Iranian, Venezuelan and Haitian governments know what comes next. It isn’t pretty. It will be paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans.

Alone in Death – (Washington Post – September 18, 2021)

There are no official statistics about how many unclaimed bodies are buried across America, but every year tens of thousands of lives end this way. Covid-19 increased the number of unclaimed bodies in many places. But even before the pandemic, this was a growing problem. A rare federally funded study published in 2020 found that in recent years in Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, between 2% and 3% of about 60,000 deaths per year resulted in an unclaimed body. Maryland, unlike most states, tracks the unclaimed in all its cities and towns, and has seen the number climb steadily in recent years. Last year during the pandemic, Maryland’s 2,510 unclaimed bodies accounted for more than 4% of all deaths. Conservative estimates are that 1% of all deaths result in an unclaimed body, which would mean that last year, when 3.4 million Americans died, there were 34,000 bodies left for local governments to bury. But many coroners and others who handle these bodies say the national figure could be as high as 3%, which would bring the unclaimed count to more than 100,000. Across the country, big cities and small towns increasingly have become the funeral director of last resort. Unclaimed bodies are distinct from unidentified bodies. Often, quite a bit of information is known and local officials are able to track down relatives. But many decline to take on the responsibility, sometimes citing the cost of a funeral and burial, which can easily run over $7,500. Several county coroners said they first started noticing families abandoning relatives’ bodies in hospitals in 2008 during the Great Recession. Funeral costs kept rising as incomes sank. Then the opioid epidemic sent the number of unclaimed bodies soaring. “It’s a mix of economic and societal issues,” said Adam Puche, chairman of the Maryland board that handles the unclaimed. One common pattern is a struggle with severe depression, drug abuse or some other mental health disorder that went untreated and shattered the family. “We’ve had some people say, ‘I’m glad they’re dead. … I hope they burn in hell,’” said Lindsey Sales, who runs the Maricopa, Arizona office that deals with the unclaimed. Maricopa County, which now employs five full-time researchers to track down family members, spends about $1 million a year to handle its unclaimed.

Winged Microchip Is Smallest-Ever Human-Made Flying Structure – The Size of a Grain of Sand – (SciTech Daily – September 22, 2021)

Northwestern University engineers have added a new capability to electronic microchips: flight. About the size of a grain of sand, the new flying microchip (or “microflier”) does not have a motor or engine. Instead, it catches flight on the wind — much like a maple tree’s propeller seed — and spins like a helicopter through the air toward the ground. By studying maple trees and other types of wind-dispersed seeds, the engineers optimized the microflier’s aerodynamics to ensure that it — when dropped at a high elevation — falls at a slow velocity in a controlled manner. This behavior stabilizes its flight, ensures dispersal over a broad area and increases the amount of time it interacts with the air, making it ideal for monitoring air pollution and airborne disease. As the smallest-ever human-made flying structures, these microfliers also can be packed with ultra-miniaturized technology, including sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communication and embedded memory to store data.

Ex Robots Compilation – Amazing Advances in Life-Like Robots – (Youtube – March 28, 2021)

EX Robot is a high-tech company from Dalian in the Panjin High-tech Zone. It is the first intelligent bionic humanoid robot manufacturer in China. Entering EX Robots new Factory and R&D Centre is like walking into a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster filming scene. The R&D staff was holding a robotic head to discuss the installation procedure. The front is a beautiful face, but the back of the head has an opened shell, revealing dense wires and components. Dozens of micro-motors installed inside allow the robot to make complex expressions, showing emotions and speech movement. The original silicone simulation skin technology can ensure better comprehensive performance of the simulated skin. From raw materials, production technology, simulated skin design, to the perfect combination of skin and mechanical structure, EX Robot is the first company to achieve this in China, and its product performance has reached an internationally leading level. The company’s own patented mechanical bones reduce the weight of the product, making her the “lightest person” of its kind in the world. (The sound track on this clip can be a bit irritating.  Here is another clip with a “Star Wars” type soundtrack. Alternative: mute the sound and just watch; it’s worth watching.)

The New Roomba Uses AI to Avoid Smearing Dog Poop All Over Your House  – (CNN – September 10, 2021)

IRobot cofounder and CEO Colin Angle noted that while a power cord is the most common obstacle for a Roomba to get caught on, pet poop is “the most spectacularly bad” obstacle. (Angle, who has a dog, said this hasn’t happened at his home.) The company has considered for more than five years different technologies — ranging from capacitive sensors, which can measure things like pressure, to olfactory sensors, which detect odor — for detecting waste, he said. Over time, it became more realistic to stuff the necessary computing power into the Roomba itself so that it could use machine vision to recognize pet waste. But in order to make this possible, the company first had to create a diverse dataset of poop (and no, it’s not the only company that has spent time working on poop recognition).  Angle said iRobot spent years building a library of pictures of poop, real and faux. The company began, he said, by buying “all the realistic gag poop you can buy on the internet,” then branched out into making hundreds of Play-doh poop models, which it painted brown and photographed in different lighting and from different angles. He thinks every iRobot employee with a pet has had that animal’s waste photographed from multiple angles. The vacuum has a camera to spot obstacles, and image-recognition algorithms trained on iRobot’s dataset can determine whether that obstacle appears to be poop. An accompanying smartphone app can then alert the vacuum’s owner, along with a picture of the mess (or power cord). Any time an obstacle is detected, Angle said, a user can decide, via the app, if they want to contribute the image to iRobot’s training data. He said the company is confident enough in the vacuum’s ability to avoid pet waste that it will replace any j7+ vacuums that get in deep, er, doo-doo.

Fast-food Customers Are Back, But Workers Are Not. It’s Triggering Major Change. – (Washington Post – September 17, 2021)

For many fast-food workers, the coronavirus pandemic opened new and better-paying alternatives to the demands of hot grills and deep-fryers. And a resurgent virus, powered by the delta variant, has compounded staffing shortages, forcing many store managers to reverse recent dining room reopenings or extend closures that took effect early in pandemic. Of the nearly 10 million job openings in the United States, roughly 1 in 6 are in the leisure and hospitality sector that includes food service workers, according to data maintained by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That’s 1,734,000 openings vs. an estimated 1,475,000 unemployed people, the Fed data shows. For the industry to meet customer demand, restaurants would probably have to draw workers from other industries, but there are indications that the opposite is true. An analysis of job seekers’ search history data by the company review site Glassdoor found that people who used to search for “restaurant server” are now more likely to type in “office assistant,” “data entry” or “Amazon,” for example. However, some economists question the accuracy of the term “labor shortage” in this context, saying businesses are simply offering too low a wage for an hour’s work. A 22-year-old former McDonald’s swing manager from Florida put it this way: “Do I want to be broke? Or do I want to be broke working 40 hours a week and working my life away?” For many fast-food establishments, the pandemic has accelerated a trend toward online and app-based ordering, and drive-through technology. The average cost to close a restaurant to improve or add an advanced drive-through ranges from $125,000 to $250,000, according to Aaron Allen, founder and chief executive of restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates. But he said stores can recover the investment quickly by boosting sales, removing bottlenecks and ultimately increasing profitability. Allen estimates that drive-throughs account for about half of annual sales for all fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, or roughly $169 billion. “One of other things they have done is turn all of us into the cashiers,” he said, pointing to restaurant apps, and touch-screen kiosks that have taken the place of some food service workers. “We did a study on automation and robotics and found that at least half could be replaced with robots or automation.”

Idled Thai Taxis Go Green With Mini-Gardens On Car Roofs – (NPR – September 17, 2021)

Taxi fleets in Thailand are giving new meaning to the term “rooftop garden,” as they utilize the roofs of cabs idled by the coronavirus crisis to serve as small vegetable plots. Workers from two taxi cooperatives assembled the miniature gardens using black plastic garbage bags stretched across bamboo frames. On top, they added soil in which a variety of crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans, were planted. The result looks more like an eye-grabbing art installation than a car park, and that’s partly the point: to draw attention to the plight of taxi drivers and operators who have been badly hit by coronavirus lockdown measures. The Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi cooperatives now have just 500 cars left plying Bangkok’s streets, with 2,500 sitting idle at a number of city sites, according to 54-year-old executive Thapakorn Assawalertkul. With the capital’s streets deathly quiet until recently, there’s been too much competition for too few fares, resulting in a fall in drivers’ incomes. Many now can’t afford the daily payments on the vehicles, even after the charge was halved to $9.09, Thapakorn said. So they have walked away, leaving the cars in long, silent rows. Some drivers surrendered their cars and returned to their homes in rural areas when the pandemic first hit last year because they were so scared, he said. More gave up and returned their cars during the second wave. The situation has left the taxi companies in financial peril, struggling to repay loans on the purchase of their fleets. Ratchapruk and Bovorn cooperatives owe around $60.8 million. The government has so far not offered any direct financial support. The cooperatives staff, who were asked to take salary cuts, are now taking turns tending the newly made gardens. “The vegetable garden is both an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this tough time,” said Thapakorn. “Thailand went through political turmoil for many years, and a great flood in 2011, but business was never this terrible.”

The True Nature of Reality – (Dilbert – September 26, 2021)

Sometimes the Dilbert cartoon strip by Scott Adams just nails it. This is one of those times.

Crazy – (Caitlin Johnstone – September 21, 2021)

Johnstone usually writes social/political commentary as prose. Here she offers it as a poem. These are the opening two stanzas: “They’ll make you poor/ then shame you for being poor,/ then push you into a job that keeps you poor/ at a billionaire megacorporation./ They’ll make you crazy,/ then shame you for being crazy,/ then sell you the cure for crazy/ at eighty bucks a pill.” Article includes an option to hear the poem read aloud; it gives you time to think about what you’re hearing whereas skimming lets it all slide off a bit too easily.

A Crypto-Trading Hamster Performs Better Than Warren Buffett and the S&P 500 – (NPR – September 25, 2021)

A hamster has been trading cryptocurrencies since June — and recently was doing better than Warren Buffett and the S&P 500. Meet Mr. Goxx, a hamster who works out of what is possibly the most high-tech hamster cage in existence. It’s designed so that when Mr. Goxx runs on the hamster wheel, he can select among dozens of cryptocurrencies. Then, deciding between two tunnels, he chooses whether to buy or sell. According to the Twitch account for the hamster, his decision is sent over to a real trading platform — and yes, real money is involved. We’re not suggesting that you follow in this hamster’s financial decisions or that this process is scientific in any way. The human behind this hamster’s account and money has not been made public. But what we can tell you is his portfolio is up nearly 20% since he started trading in June, according to his Twitter account. And as of Sept. 12, Mr. Goxx was performing better than Bitcoin, the Nasdaq 100, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the S&P 500. While Mr. Goxx’s methodology is random at best, it does remind us that where people get their financial advice is certainly changing – such as from TikTok and from two kids in Baltimore.

Playing with Time – (YouTube – June 5, 2021)

Ben Ouaniche is a cinematographer based in Tel Aviv who specializes in… well, technically the magic of post-production, but actually, the magic of playing with our perceptions. Or in this case, “Playing with Time.” It’s just a minute and a half, but you’ll see the world a little differently when you’re done.
The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.
John Sculley
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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Quartet – Are we running out of time?

PostScript Interview – Q&A with Dr. James DeMeo