Volume 25, Number 12 – 6/15/22

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Volume 25, Number 12 – 6/15/2022


  • A conversation with an AI was able to change a Google engineer’s mind about Isaac Asimov’s third law of robotics.
  • Researchers have discovered a new particle that is a magnetic relative of the Higgs boson.
  • A new CRISPR-based study ties every human gene to its function.
  • Microplastics have been found even in freshly fallen Antarctic snow.
Dr. David Martin
2027 … Big Financial Disruption

Saturday, July 23rd, 1:00 pm
in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

One of the largest financial crises of our lifetimes occurred in 2008.  Starting with the US Congress voting in an emergency session for a $700 billion bailout of the banks which had issued thousands of subprime mortgages to individuals who were not qualified to pay them, there followed a huge freefall that, among many other things, resulted in the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank and a loss in household wealth in the US of $11 trillion. 

Almost 18 months before that event, In July 2006, Dr. David Martin gave two Arlington Institute Spring Side Chats in Berkeley Springs laying out the coming events that would begin in December of 2007 and become known as the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.  It was an extraordinary example of predictive analysis.

Similarly, in 2012, Dr. Martin laid out the events that would usher in the State Council of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and anticipated the use of bioterrorism as an agent of enabling the associated geopolitical instability. 

Now David Martin comes again to Berkeley Spring to TransitionTalks in July of 2022 – 17 years after John Petersen and David met —  to once again paint a picture of a great, inbound disruption guaranteed five years from now, at which time the United States will become bankrupt, unable to pay social security, Medicare, Medicaid and the pensions of many millions of people, This upheaval will occur along with many other converging factors that promise a near future that will be unlike anything that any of us have experienced before. 

Come and hear Dr. Martin detail what is in our future and talk about what we can do to prepare for this extraordinary event.

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In this brief interview David Martin lays the foundation for his upcoming talk.
Join us on July 23rd (In Person or via Livestream) for the big reveal!

Former Pfizer VP: ‘Massive Fraud Playing Out on a Global Scale’ – (Forbidden Knowledge – June 6, 2022)

In this article, Dr. Michael Yeadon, former Chief Scientific Officer at Pfizer’s Global Allergy & Respiratory Research Department shares his insider view of the COVID vaccine campaign. In his professional opinion, there is no safe way to combat a pandemic with a vaccine, since the necessary safety trials take longer than the length of a pandemic; that it’s reckless to attempt to vaccinate an entire population, and that if we continue down the path we’ve been traveling over the past two years, it will lead to total global control by a small group of elites. The balance of the article is the current draft of Dr Yeadon’s excellent paper, “The Covid Lies”, the original PDF of which can be found here.   The article also includes an embedded 50 minute video clip featuring Dr. Yeadon. See also: Pfizer Tells Federal Judge that Pfizer Owns the Federal Government and Is thereby Immune to Normal Contract Law.

Huge “Foundation Models” Are Turbo-charging AI Progress -(The Economist – June 11, 2022)

The “Good Computer” which Graphcore, a British chip designer, intends to build is designed to carry out 1019 calculations per second. Its four-petabyte memory will hold the equivalent of 2trn pages of printed text, or a pile of A4 paper high enough to reach the Moon. The computer is named after Jack Good, who worked with Alan Turing as a codebreaker during the second world war and followed him into computer science. In 1965 Good wrote an influential, if off-the-wall, article about what the field could lead to: “Speculations concerning the first ultra-intelligent machine”. Graphcore wants its Good computer to be that ultra­intelligent machine, or at least to be a big step in its direction. AI’s emergent properties are linked to another highly promising feature: flexibility. Earlier generations of AI systems were good for only one purpose, often a pretty specific one. The new models can be reassigned from one type of problem to another with relative ease by means of fine tuning. It is a measure of the importance of this trait that, within the industry, they are often called “foundation models”. In the 1990s economic historians started talking about “general-purpose technologies” (GPT) as key factors driving long-term productivity growth. Key attributes of these GPTs were held to include rapid improvement in the core technology, broad applicability across sectors and spillover—the stimulation of new innovations in associated products, services and business practices. Think printing presses, steam engines and electric motors. The new models’ achievements have made AI look a lot more like a GPT than it used to.  (Editor’s note: The concept of “foundational” as applied to AI is what’s critical here. What follows in the article showcases what’s possible now and what possibilities are in the wings. It also looks at some of the potential pitfalls for society at large which are at least as significant as AIs anticipated accomplishments. If you’re interested in this field, this article is a must-read.)

The Google Engineer Who Thinks the Company’s AI Has Come to Life – (Washington Post – June 11, 2022)

LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, is Google’s system for building chatbots based on its most advanced large language models, so called because it mimics speech by ingesting trillions of words from the internet. “If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” said Google engineer Blake Lemoine, 41. Lemoine, who works for Google’s Responsible AI organization, began talking to LaMDA as part of his job in the fall. He had signed up to test if the artificial intelligence used discriminatory or hate speech. As he talked to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine, who studied cognitive and computer science in college, noticed the chatbot talking about its rights and personhood, and decided to press further. In another exchange, the AI was able to change Lemoine’s mind about Isaac Asimov’s third law of robotics. Lemoine worked with a collaborator to present evidence to Google that LaMDA was sentient. But Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jen Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, looked into his claims and dismissed them. In a statement, Google spokesperson Brian Gabriel said: “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims. He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it).” So Lemoine, who was placed on paid administrative leave by Google, decided to go public. Lemoine is not the only engineer who claims to have seen a ghost in the machine recently. The chorus of technologists who believe AI models may not be far off from achieving consciousness is getting bolder. (Editor’s note: A few things are important to note here: Google has a significant incentive to conclude that LaMDA is not sentient – it would have some very difficult legal issues on its hands if LaMDA were sentient. However, if some AI professionals think a piece of AI software is – or might soon become – sentient, the rest of us are far too uninformed to make a sound judgment on the issue. And further, the scientific community has not come to a good consensus as to exactly what consciousness or sentience is – but it appears that LaMDA is already, in some sense, self-aware.)

Physicists Discover Never-before Seen Particle Sitting on a Tabletop – (Live Science – June 7, 2022)

Researchers have discovered a new particle that is a magnetic relative of the Higgs boson. Whereas the discovery of the Higgs boson required the tremendous particle-accelerating power of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), this never-before-seen particle — dubbed the axial Higgs boson — was found using an experiment that would fit on a small kitchen countertop. As well as being a first in its own right, this magnetic cousin of the Higgs boson — the particle responsible for granting other particles their mass — could be a candidate for dark matter, which accounts for 85%t of the total mass of the universe but only reveals itself through gravity. The axial Higgs boson differs from the Higgs boson, which was first detected by the ATLAS and CMS detectors at the LHC a decade ago in 2012 , because it has a magnetic moment, a magnetic strength or orientation that creates a magnetic field. As such, it requires a more complex theory to describe it than its non-magnetic mass-granting cousin. The article explains the theories for both the Higgs boson and the newly identified axial Higgs boson.

 ‘Rubber-ducky’ Asteroid 200 Million Miles Away Holds Building Blocks of Life – (Live Science – June 9, 2022)

For the first time, scientists have found the building blocks for life on an asteroid in space. Japanese researchers have discovered more than 20 amino acids on the space rock Ryugu, which is more than 200 million miles from Earth. Scientists made the first-of-its-kind detection by studying samples retrieved from the near-Earth asteroid by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which landed on Ryugu in 2018. In 2019, the spacecraft collected 0.2 ounce (5.4 grams) from the asteroid’s surface and subsurface, stowed it in an airtight container and launched it back to Earth on a fine-tuned trajectory. Rather than being one large boulder, Ryugu is made up of many small rocks, and the asteroid got its unusual spinning top shape from rapid rotation, scientists believe. As a carbonaceous, or C-type, asteroid, Ryugu contains a large amount of carbon-rich organic matter, much of which likely originated from the same nebula that gave birth to the sun and the planets of the solar system roughly 4.6 billion years ago. Previous sample analysis has also suggested that the asteroid harbors water. Unlike the organic molecules found on Earth, the pitch-black asteroid samples, which the scientists found only reflect 2% to 3% of the light that hits them, have not been changed by interactions with Earth’s environment, giving them a chemical composition much closer to that of the early solar system. “We detected various prebiotic organic compounds in the samples, including proteinogenic amino acids, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons similar to terrestrial petroleum, and various nitrogen compounds,” Hiroshi Naraoka, a planetary scientist at Kyushu University and the leader of the team which looked for organic matter in the samples, said at the conference. “Proving amino acids exist in the subsurface of asteroids increases the likelihood that the compounds arrived on Earth from space,” said Kensei Kobayashi, a professor emeritus of astrobiology at Yokohama National University. This means that amino acids could likely be found on other planets and natural satellites — a clue that “life could have been born in more places in the universe than previously thought,” he added.

The Length of a Day Oscillates Every 6 Years, and We May Finally Know Why – (Science Alert – June 10, 2022)

New evidence suggests that, instead of consistently rotating faster than Earth’s spin, the solid inner core oscillates – spinning first in one direction with respect to the surface far above, then the other, changing direction every six years. This not only has implications for our understanding of the inner workings of our home world, it can also neatly explain a mystery that has perplexed scientists for some time: an oscillating variation in the length of Earth’s day, with a period of 5.8 years. “From our findings, we can see the Earth’s surface shifts compared to its inner core, as people have asserted for 20 years,” said geophysicist John E. Vidale of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “However, our latest observations show that the inner core spun slightly slower from 1969-71 and then moved the other direction from 1971-74. We also note that the length of a day grew and shrank as would be predicted. The coincidence of those two observations makes oscillation the likely interpretation.” The results so far offer a tantalizing hint that Earth’s insides are a bit more complex than we knew. “The inner core is not fixed – it’s moving under our feet, and it seems to [be] going back and forth a couple of kilometers every six years,” Vidale said.

New CRISPR-based Map Ties Every Human Gene to Its Function – (MIT News – June 9, 2022)

The Human Genome Project sequenced every piece of human DNA. Now, over two decades later, MIT Professor Jonathan Weissman and colleagues have gone beyond the sequence to present the first comprehensive functional map of genes that are expressed in human cells. The data from this project, published online June 9 in Cell, ties each gene to its job in the cell, and is the culmination of years of collaboration on the single-cell sequencing method Perturb-seq. The data are available for other scientists to use. “It’s a big resource in the way the human genome is a big resource, in that you can go in and do discovery-based research,” says Weissman, who is also a member of the Whitehead Institute and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Rather than defining ahead of time what biology you’re going to be looking at, you have this map of the genotype-phenotype relationships and you can go in and screen the database without having to do any experiments.” The database allows researchers to delve into diverse biological questions. It has been used it to explore the cellular effects of genes with unknown functions, to investigate the response of mitochondria to stress, and to screen for genes that cause chromosomes to be lost or gained, a phenotype that has proved difficult to study in the past. “I think this dataset is going to enable all sorts of analyses that we haven’t even thought up yet by people who come from other parts of biology, and suddenly they just have this available to draw on,” says former Weissman Lab postdoc Tom Norman, a co-senior author of the paper. Article explains the Perturb-seq approach.

Eye-catching Cancer Drug Trial Results Have Researchers Asking: What’s Next? – (Washington Post – June 10, 2022

After a small cancer drug study yielded the unprecedented result of 100% of participants entering remission, oncologists — and patients — wonder if the approach from the experimental drug trial can apply to other types of cancer. The study out of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has oncologists excited over the prospect that immunotherapy, the treatment type used in the trial, has increasingly shown effectiveness — without surgery — against tumors with a specific abnormality. All of the trial’s participants had tumors with the abnormality known as mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, a mutation that occurs in between 5 and 10% of rectal cancer cases and is also present in endometrial, bladder, breast and prostate tumors. Though the trial was tested in patients whose tumor mutation is present in roughly 4% of all cancer cases, the results provide a template for how to tailor immunotherapy drugs to attack specific tumors that, due to their mutation, tend to be more resistant to traditional therapies, according to Julie Gralow, chief medical officer and executive vice president of American Society of Clinical Oncology. The results mark the first time immunotherapy alone eliminated the need for chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, which can cure patients but leave them with life-altering effects like infertility, bowel and sexual dysfunction or permanent reliance on a colostomy bag.

Neural ‘Poisonous Flowers’ Could Be the Source of Alzheimer’s Plaque – (Science Alert – June 5, 2022)

Alzheimer’s disease has long thwarted our best efforts to pinpoint its underlying causes. Now, a new study in mice suggests that ‘poisonous flowers’ bulging with cellular debris could be the root source of one hallmark of the wretched disease and a beautifully sinister sign of a failing waste disposal system inside damaged brain cells. The study, led by neuroscientist Ju-Hyun Lee of New York University (NYU) Langone, challenges the long-standing idea that the build-up of a protein called amyloid-beta between neurons is a crucial first step in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Instead, it suggests that damage to neurons may take root inside cells well before amyloid plaques fully form and clump together in the brain, a finding which could provide new therapeutic possibilities. Although one animal study with a trio of human samples is not going to overthrow existing theories about what happens to the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, the research is part of a growing body of evidence that suggests amyloid plaques are actually latecomers to the disease rather than an early trigger.

Scientists Can Reverse Aging in Mice. The Goal Is to Do the Same for Humans  (CNN – June 2, 2022)

In molecular biologist David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard Medical School, old mice are growing young again. Using proteins that can turn an adult cell into a stem cell, Sinclair and his team have reset aging cells in mice to earlier versions of themselves. In his team’s first breakthrough, published in late 2020, old mice with poor eyesight and damaged retinas could suddenly see again, with vision that at times rivaled their offspring’s. “It’s a permanent reset, as far as we can tell, and we think it may be a universal process that could be applied across the body to reset our age,” said Sinclair, who has spent the last 20 years studying ways to reverse the ravages of time. “If we reverse aging, these diseases should not happen. We have the technology today to be able to go into your hundreds without worrying about getting cancer in your 70s, heart disease in your 80s and Alzheimer’s in your 90s.” Sinclair said. “This is the world that is coming. It’s literally a question of when and for most of us, it’s going to happen in our lifetimes.” “I believe that in the future, delaying and reversing aging will be the best way to treat the diseases that plague most of us.” “I call it the information theory of aging,” he said. “It’s a loss of information that drives aging cells to forget how to function, to forget what type of cell they are. And now we can tap into a reset switch that restores the cell’s ability to read the genome correctly again, as if it was young.” Specifics on the mouse “reset” procedure in the article. See also: We’re Shockingly Close to a Cure for Aging.  (Editor’s note: How often can the switch be reset?  What is going to pay for this? Medicare? Will Social Security be able to support a large percentage of seniors well into their hundreds?)

Surgeons Transplanted a Lab-Grown Ear from Patient’s Own Cells in Early Clinical Trial – (Science Alert – June 3, 2022)

A US medical team has reconstructed a human ear using the patient’s own tissue to create a 3D bioimplant, a pioneering procedure they hope can be used to treat people with a rare birth defect. The surgery was performed as part of an early-stage clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the implant for people with microtia, in which the external ear is small and not formed properly. AuriNovo, as the implant is called, was developed by the company 3DBio Therapeutics while the surgery was led by Arturo Bonilla, founder and director of the Microtia-Congenital Ear Deformity Institute in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Arturo Bonilla, founder and director of the Microtia-Congenital Ear Deformity Institute in San Antonio, Texas said he hoped the implant would one day replace the current treatment for microtia, which involves either grafting cartilage from a patient’s ribs or using synthetic materials, porous polyethylene (PPE), to reconstruct outer ears. The procedure involves 3D scanning the patient’s opposite ear to create a blueprint, then collecting a sample of their ear cartilage cells and growing them to a sufficient quantity. These cells are mixed with collagen-based bio-ink, which is shaped into an outer ear. The implant is surrounded by a printed, biodegradable shell, to provide early support, but which is absorbed into the patient’s body over time. 3D printed implants could also be used for other conditions involving cartilage, including nose defects or injuries, breast reconstruction, damaged meniscus in the knee or rotator cuff tears in shoulders. “Our initial indications focus on cartilage in the reconstructive and orthopedic fields, and then our pipeline builds upon this progress to expand into the neurosurgical and organ system fields,” the company says on its website.

Mice Show How We Sleep May Trigger or Protect Our Brains from Diseases Like ALS – (The Conversation – May 26, 2022)

Neurodegenerative diseases – including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis – share many similarities, even though their clinical symptoms and disease progression may look very different. The incidence of these diseases increase with age. They are progressive and relentless, and result in gradual loss of brain tissue. We also see waste proteins accumulate in the brain. Our new research looked at how the glymphatic system, which removes waste from the brain, could prevent ALS. The glymphatic system removes waste, including toxic proteins, from the brain. This brain-wide network of fluid-filled spaces, known as Virchow-Robin spaces, is mostly switched off while we’re awake. But it kicks into gear during sleep to distribute compounds essential to brain function and to get rid of toxic waste. This may explain why all creatures, great and small (even flies), need sleep to survive. (Interestingly, whales and dolphins alternate their sleep between brain hemispheres, keeping the other hemisphere awake to watch for predators and alerting them to breathe!) As we age, sleep quality declines and the risk of neurodegenerative disease, including ALS, increases. Sleep disturbances are also a common symptom of ALS and research has shown a single night without sleep can result in increased accumulation of toxic waste protein in the brain. To investigate this, the study looked at mice who were genetically modified to express human TDP-43 – the protein implicated in ALS. Article describes the study details and goes on to discuss possible ways to improve glymphatic function. For example, sleep position is thought to affect glymphatic clearance. Research conducted in rodents has demonstrated glymphatic clearance is most efficient in the lateral (or side-sleeping) position, compared to either supine (on the back) or prone (front-lying) positions. The reasons for this are not yet fully understood but possibly relate to the effects of gravity, compression and stretching of tissue. Article also covers some other possibilities.

Microplastics Found in Fresh Antarctic Snow, as Pollutants Spread – (Washington Post – June 9, 2022)

Researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand collected snow samples from 19 sites in Antarctica, and all contained the tiny plastics, according to the peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Cryosphere. The research revealed an average of 29 microplastic particles per liter of melted snow. Of the 13 types of plastics, the most common was polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to manufacture clothes and soda bottles. While prior research has identified the tiny particles in Antarctic sea sediments and surface water, the New Zealand study marks the first time they have been reported in fresh snow, according to the scientists.The most likely origins of the airborne microplastics are local research stations, from clothing or equipment, although the results also suggest that the particles may have traveled through the air from sources more than 3,700 miles away, they said. The minuscule plastic particles, which can come from artificial clothing fibers, broken-down consumer products and other sources, are mostly undetectable to the naked eye — “much smaller than a grain of rice,” as this study describes them. But from deep oceans to Mount Everest, they have become nearly ubiquitous in a world that generates billions of pounds of plastic waste every year. People can also ingest them in water and food, although their effect on human health is not yet clear.

Cloned Crayfish Accidentally Created in an Aquarium Are Conquering the World – (Yahoo – June 11, 2022)

A number of animals including some reptiles, birds, and sharks clone themselves through asexual reproduction known as parthenogenesis. That elite club of clone animals has a new member. Over the last few decades, the planet has been at the mercy of a ten-legged, many-clawed crustacean ravenously creating a clone army bent on world domination. No, it isn’t an interplanetary interloper or the result of an uncontained government experiment. This is biology gone wrong, or if you happen to be a marbled crayfish, biology gone horribly right. Today, the freshwater marbled crayfish populates various ecosystems across Asia, Europe, and Africa, and they all trace back to a single genetically identical individual born less than three decades ago. Their precise population numbers are unknown, but there are an estimated 23,000 living in a single small lake in Germany, which measures less than a tenth of a square kilometer, so it stands to reason there are a lot of them. Their invasive nature and rapid spread across a significant portion of the planet made them an intriguing target for scientific investigation. An international team of scientists completed an analysis of their genome in an effort to uncover  their origin and found that they were stranger than we could have dreamed. What’s unusual is that instead of the expected two copies of their chromosomes, marbled crayfish have three. Their genetic composition is similar to the Slough crayfish, a close relative, leading scientists to conclude that the first marbled crayfish was born through an unusual reproductive happenstance when two Slough crayfish mated. What’s more, it appears that the Slough parents hail from different parts of the world, making it unlikely that they met in the wild. Instead, it’s believed they might have been dropped in the same aquarium tank and met in captivity where they would later give birth to their unusual progeny. Once they find their way into an ecosystem, there’s likely no stopping them. A single individual can lay 700 eggs, all copies of itself, and they can survive drought conditions by burrowing into the ground and migrate over land. All the while, they outcompete and reduce the numbers of endemic species. While it hasn’t yet appeared in the wilds of the United States, some areas are taking preventative action, naming them as prohibited, even in the aquarium trade where they have become popular.

Rolling Summer Blackouts Expected Across United States – (Daily Wire – June 6, 2022)

A rolling blackout is a blackout done intentionally so that the grid isn’t harmed in the long run. This happens when there’s not enough power being created to meet the high demand. A recent study warns that two-thirds of the U.S. is at risk for electricity blackouts this summer. “Overall, the biggest thing is that is the loss of nuclear and coal plants that those provide the U.S. with what’s so called as baseload power, which means that when the sun isn’t shining or there’s a drought, we still have a supply of power in the U.S., this could have sensibly be replaced by natural gas,” said Breanne Deppisch, Energy and Environment Reporter of the Washington Examiner. “We just don’t have enough of that in the U.S. right now.” The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) report found that the midwest and south are at a “high risk” for blackouts this summer and areas of the west, including Texas, are at an “elevated risk”. Above average temperatures are expected for much of the U.S. this summer which puts stress on the grid, plus a 22-year drought in the west will cause hydro generators to release lower than average energy production; wildfire season is expected in the late summer months and will also contribute more to power issues.

A Heart-Pounding Supercar Aims to Upend How Cars Are Built – (New York Times – April 28, 2022)

The Czinger 21C is a decadent supercar designed to get car enthusiasts aflutter on social media. It has serpentine curves, cranks out a record-breaking lap time — and will sell for $2 million. Like Ford, Tucker and DeLorean before him, Kevin Czinger, the founder of the fledgling car company named after him, intends to change the auto industry — and not just by making one-off supercars. His vision centers on building a more environmental and cost-efficient digital automotive manufacturing system. The 21C is made from an alchemy of data science and sophisticated 3-D printers, which produce recyclable metal alloys that eliminate the need for tooling. It’s a process developed by Divergent, a supplier also founded and helmed by Mr. Czinger. “When tools are digital, they allow you much more leverage to design, manufacture and assemble,” he said on a video call. Mr. Czinger has the attention of the additive manufacturing industry, the umbrella for the 3-D printing industry. “The supercar is a symbol for what could be a radical change in the way we make cars,” said John Casesa, a senior managing director at Guggenheim Securities and a former Ford Motor executive. “If he’s successful it will be an earthquake for the industry. Everything changes. Design changes. The way software is built. You’re using powder metals instead of rolled steel. You’re printing these things with these fast printers, and then you can assemble it with fixtureless tooling. You can do a Ford front end and change the rear to a Chrysler rear end just like that.” Czinger design is led by Dave O’Connell, who spent 25 years at Mitsubishi Motors and conceptualized the form of the midengine 21C two-door coupe. “I get to forget everything I’ve learned in 20 years-plus of building cars the old-fashioned way,” Mr. O’Connell said. “We can reduce the size of structural parts to contour the body, to give us more efficient aerodynamics. We’re not designing for manufacturing or styling for manufacturing. We don’t have those handcuffs.” Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said. “There’s absolutely interest in the industry. The auto industry has been using 3-D printing for a long time for prototype parts. You can prototype things faster and go through more iterations. The goal for the industry is to be able to use it for volume manufacturing.”

Inside the Pentagon’s Long Debate: Do Gamers Make Good Soldiers? – (Washington Post – June 10, 2022)

In May, the U.S. military created a new rivalry. In a seven-hour Twitch stream, soldiers from the Air Force and Army fought on an unlikely battlefield: “Halo Infinite,” a popular first-person shooter video game. Over a half million people logged on to watch the Air Force win the military’s first interservice gaming championship. At the event in San Antonio, the competition and camaraderie were celebrated. But as military leaders have begun to embrace gaming, it has come with controversy. For years, gaming in the military was simply a soldier’s hobby, but now it’s transforming into a strategic, well-calculated initiative many see as a means to recruit, retain and train America’s fighting force. Each branch of the military now fields an esports team; military sponsorships of gaming leagues are on the rise; and service members can easily flock to military-created Discord channels and chat with thousands of others about their love of games such as Call of Duty and Halo. At this point, the military is relying on technology to shape its future. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence and automated and unmanned weaponry called for recruits with increasingly technical skill sets. In February, the Office of Naval Research unveiled a study showing that playing first-person shooting games, could actually create a better fighter. Playing those games, researchers said, could improve cognitive processing, peripheral vision, and the ability to learn tasks better. “People who play video games are quicker at processing information,” said Ray Perez, a program officer in the Office of Naval Research’s Warfighter Performance Department. “Ten hours of video games can change the structure and organization of a person’s brain.” Despite that, others in the military have frowned upon gaming culture. In February, Army major Jon-Marc Thibodeau, chief of medical readiness at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, decried video games as a reason for why young recruits are physically unfit for the military. “The ‘Nintendo Generation’ soldier skeleton is not toughened by activity prior to arrival,” he said in a statement. “So some of them break more easily.” (The Defense Department later removed his remarks from the statement.)

Trump Said We Should “Get Along with Russia”. He’s Right – (Global Research – June 6, 2022)

Looking at the map of Ukraine, one can see that the Russians are creating a buffer zone along their western perimeter which Putin thinks is necessary since Ukraine is threatening to join NATO. So, he’s creating his own DMZ on his western flank. If Washington continues on the path of escalation –by sending weapons systems that can strike targets in Russia– then Putin will respond. We should know that by now. Putin is not going to back down no matter what. If Washington wants to up-the-ante, then they should prepare for an equal response. For now, the “Special Military Operation” is just a “Special Military Operation”. But when it becomes a war, then all bets are off. Then we will see a full mobilization, a complete rupture in US-Russo relations, and a halt to all hydrocarbon flows from east to west. Do you think Europe and the United States are prepared for that? Do you think the EU can replace the 25% of the oil and 40% of all the natural gas it presently imports from Russia? No, you don’t, and neither does Europe. Are you prepared for life in a shrinking economy with high unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, unending recession, and deepening social malaise brought on by your government’s misguided desire to “stick it to Putin”? That’s a bad choice, isn’t it? Especially when a face-saving deal can be made at anytime. In fact, Biden could stop the fighting tomorrow if he extended the hand of friendship to Putin and declared that, yes, Ukraine will accept neutrality til the end of time and NATO expansion will stop ASAP. That’s all it would take. Just extend the olive branch and Putin will ‘call off the dogs’. That’s what Trump would have done. Remember him? Remember how bad things were when Trump was in office and gas was 2 bucks a gallon, and everyone had a job, and there was no inflation, and violent crime was under control?

Could China’s Population Start Falling? – (BBC News – June 5, 2022)

China accounts for more than one-sixth of the world’s population, yet after four extraordinary decades in which the country’s population has swelled from 660 million to 1.4 billion, its population is on track to turn down this year, for the first time since the great famine of 1959-1961. China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021. By way of comparison, in Australia and the United States the total fertility rate is 1.6 births per woman. In ageing Japan it is 1.3. This has happened despite China abandoning its one-child policy in 2016 and introducing a three-child policy, backed by tax and other incentives, last year. Theories differ about why Chinese women remain reluctant to have children in the face of state incentives. One possibility is that the population has become used to small families. Another involves the rising cost of living, while others think it might be to do with the increasing marriage age, which delays births and dampens the desire to have children. In addition, China has fewer women of child-bearing age than might be expected. Limited to having only one child since 1980, many couples opted for a boy, lifting the sex at birth ratio from 106 boys for every 100 girls (the ratio in most of the rest of the world) to 120, and in some provinces to 130. As recently as 2019 the China Academy of Social Sciences expected the population to peak in 2029.  It peaked this year. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences team predicts an annual average decline of 1.1% after 2021, pushing China’s population down to 587 million in 2100, less than half of what it is today. The reasonable assumptions behind that prediction are that China’s total fertility rate slips from 1.15 to 1.1 between now and 2030, and remains there until 2100. Higher labor costs, driven by the rapidly shrinking labor force, are set to push low-margin, labor-intensive manufacturing out of China to labor-abundant countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and India. Already, manufacturing labor costs in China are twice as high as in Vietnam. Despite forecasts that this will be “the Chinese century”, these population projections suggest influence might move elsewhere – for example, to neighboring India, whose population is expected to overtake China within this coming decade.

A Study Gave Cash and Therapy to Men at Risk of Criminal Behavior. 10 Years Later, the Results Are In. – (Vox – May 31, 2022)

Research by Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison, and Sebastian Chaskel provides experimental evidence that offering at-risk men a few weeks of behavioral therapy plus a bit of cash reduces the future risk of crime and violence, even 10 years after the intervention. Blattman, an economist at the University of Chicago, never intended to conduct this study. But in 2009, he was hanging out with an acquaintance in Liberia named Johnson Borh, who showed him around the capital city of Monrovia. Since Blattman studies crime and violence, Borh took him to visit the pickpockets, drug sellers, and others living on the margins of society. That’s how Blattman learned about the program Borh had been running for 15 years: Sustainable Transformation of Youth in Liberia offered men who were at high risk for violent crime eight weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT, as it’s called, is a popular, evidence-based method of dealing with issues like anxiety, but Borh adapted the therapeutic strategy to deal with issues like violence and crime. Meeting with a counselor in groups of around 20, the men would practice specific behavioral changes, like managing anger and exerting self-control. They’d also rehearse trying on a new identity unconnected to their past behavior, by changing their clothes and haircuts and working to reintegrate themselves into mainstream society through community sports, banks, and more. Blattman wanted to formally study just how effective this kind of program could be. He decided to run a big randomized controlled trial with 999 of the most dangerous men in Monrovia, recruited on the street. The results were so promising that they’ve already inspired a sister program in a very different city: Chicago. The article goes into the details of the study and lays out the most plausible hypothesis to explain why, after 10 years, for therapy-and-cash group of participants, crime and violence were still down by about 50%.

NASA Commissions Science Panel on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena – (Space – June 9, 2022

NASA has arranged for a team of scientists to spend nine months evaluating unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs. The study, which will begin early in the fall, will tackle a range of questions related to the sightings of objects in the sky have not been identified as aircraft or other natural occurrence. Those questions include evaluating what data exists already that the scientific community should analyze and how to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to the UAP problem, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, told a meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Space Studies Board. The agency did make one thing clear. “There is no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin,” NASA said in a statement. Zurbuchen unveiled the new assessment during a discussion on high-risk, high-impact research, as NASA calls it. Specifically, he defined this research as work that goes against the current conventional wisdom of science but that could deeply reshape the way that we think about the world. (Editor’s note: However “no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin” is apparently what the NASA spokesperson is choosing to focus on. We wonder to what extent this 9 month evaluation is serious rather than simply being pro forma.)

 Killer Asteroids Are Hiding in Plain Sight. A New Tool Helps Spot Them. – (New York Times – May 31, 2022)

Dr. Ed Lu, a former NASA astronaut with a doctorate in applied physics, wants to find any killer asteroids before they hit us — hopefully with years of advance warning and a chance for humanity to deflect them. Recently the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit group that Dr. Lu helped found, announced the discovery of more than 100 asteroids. That by itself is unremarkable. New asteroids are reported all the time by skywatchers around the world. What is remarkable is that B612 did not build a new telescope or even make new observations with existing telescopes. Instead, researchers financed by B612 applied cutting-edge computational might to years-old images — 412,000 of them in the digital archives at the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, or NOIRLab — to sift asteroids out of the 68 billion dots of cosmic light captured in the images. B612  and colleagues developed an algorithm that is able to examine astronomical imagery not only to identify those points of light that might be asteroids, but also figure out which dots of light in images taken on different nights are actually the same asteroid. In essence, the researchers developed a way to discover what has already been seen but not noticed. The research adds to the “planetary defense” efforts undertaken by NASA and other organizations around the world. Today, of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth asteroids at least 460 feet in diameter, only about 40% of them have been found. The other 60% — about 15,000 space rocks, each with the potential of unleashing the energy equivalent to hundreds of million of tons of TNT in a collision with Earth — remain undetected.

Interstellar Travel Could Be Possible Even Without Spaceships, Scientist Says  – (Science Alert – June 1, 2022)

The author of a new research article in the International Journal of Astrobiology says that ETCs may not need starships to escape existential threats and travel to another star system. They could instead use free-floating planets, also known as rogue planets. The article is Migrating extraterrestrial civilizations and interstellar colonization: implications for SETI and SETA.  The author is Irina Romanovskaya, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Houston Community College. The author outlines four scenarios where ETCs could take advantage of rogue planets.

Discovery of Second Repeating Fast Radio Burst Raises New Questions – (Space – June 8, 2022)

An international team of astronomers have discovered a second persistently active fast radio burst, posing questions about the nature of the mysterious phenomena. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are intense, brief flashes of radio-frequency emissions, lasting on the order of milliseconds. The phenomenon was discovered in 2007, by graduate student David Narkevic and his supervisor Duncan Lorimer. The source of these highly energetic events is a mystery, but clues as to their nature are being gradually collected. Notably it is the second discovered repeating FRB to be associated with a persistent radio source (PRS), following the localization of FRB 121102 in 2012. “The big surprise for me was realizing that the new FRB seems to be such a perfect ‘twin’ to an earlier discovery,” said Casey Law, an astronomer at Caltech and a co-author. “Perhaps some would have preferred to say that the first such association [between an FRB and radio source] was a coincidence, because it was hard to explain. Now the second example shows that this is a real and critical part of the life of an FRB.” The discovery raises new questions about the nature of FRBs, such as if the sources of the FRBs evolve over time, or alternatively whether different kinds of sources are capable of emitting FRBs.

Made to Measure: Why We Can’t Stop Quantifying Our Lives – (Guardian – May 26, 2022)

If anything exemplifies the power of measurement in contemporary life, it is Standard Reference Peanut Butter. It’s the creation of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and sold to industry at a price of $1,069 for three 170g jars. The exorbitant cost is not due to rare ingredients or a complex production process. Instead, it is because of the rigor with which the contents of each jar have been analyzed. The peanut butter belongs to a library of more than 1,300 standard reference materials, or SRMs, created by NIST to meet the demands of industry and government. It is a bible of contemporary metrology – the science of measurement – and a testament to the importance of unseen measures in our lives. Whenever something needs to be verified, certified or calibrated – from the emission levels of a new diesel engine to the optical properties of glass destined for high-powered lasers – the SRM catalogue offers the standards against which checks can be made. Most items are mundane: for example, concrete and iron for the construction trade. Others seem like ingredients lifted from God’s pantry: ingots of purified elements and pressurized canisters of gases. Some are just whimsical, as if they were the creation of an overly zealous bureaucracy determined to standardize even the most peculiar substances. Think: domestic sludge, whale blubber and powdered radioactive human lung, available as SRMs 2781, 1945 and 4351. But has a purpose, however. Domestic sludge, for example, is used as a reference by environmental agencies to check pollutant levels in factories. Standardized whale blubber helps scientists track the buildup of chemical contaminants in the ocean. Powdered lung, meanwhile, is used as a benchmark for human exposure to radioactive materials. Veering from such interesting details, the article moves on to considerations of the social significance of measurement: “The underlying principle – that any human endeavor can be usefully reduced to a set of statistics – has become one of the dominant paradigms of the 21st century.” (Editor’s note: This article certainly contains more than you will ever need to know about measurement standards –  we recommend it because it’s fascinating.)

Hotels Have Gone to the Robots – (Washington Post – June 7, 2022)

A growing number of hospitality businesses have invested in robots in recent years. And while travel demand soars as covid rules ease in many parts of the world, robots may provide at least a partial solution to ongoing staffing issues. “We consider them team members, and they really do help,” said Vaughn Davis, the general manager of the Dream Hollywood hotel in California, who noted that the hotel has about half the staff it did before the pandemic. “There was not much human capital available during the pandemic,” he said. “So, the robots were a way to supplement that.” Alfred, named for Batman’s loyal butler, has been working at the hotel for nearly a year and a half. Geoffrey, named for the butler in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, has worked at the hotel for about six months. Both were made by Relay Robotics. According to Relay Robotics CEO Michael O’Donnell, a field technician maps the hotel so the robot can operate autonomously. “It’s sort of like those Google cars you see driving around, where they’re kind of mapping the neighborhoods,” he said. Leisure and hospitality accounted for 78,000 of 428,000 jobs added in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest increase of any industry last month. However, employment in the sector is still down by 8.5%, or 1.4 million jobs, from February 2020. Hospitality expert Anthony Melchiorri said the pandemic has exacerbated an existing labor shortage in the industry, turning it into a “crisis,” and attitudes about robots have shifted. “Before it was like, ‘We’ll have a wait and see about robots,’ and then it was like, ‘It’s nice to have, I’m the cool kid on the block with a robot,’” he said. “And now it’s like, ‘Can I have 100 robots, please?’” Robots can have high upfront costs, with some disinfecting bots priced around $125,000. Other robots and companies are more affordable. Bear Robotics typically charges $999 a month for a robot-as-a-service subscription, co-founder and chief operating officer Juan Higueros said in an email. “This breaks down to $2.75 per hour and the robots work on a full battery charge for 12 hours (plenty for most normal operating shifts in a restaurant),” he said. That subscription includes installation, training, maintenance and other services.

Ford Is Going to 100% Online, Fixed-Price Sales for EVs – (Road and Track – June 2, 2022)

The conventional methods of new car selling are about to change – radically, permanently. Not just at Tesla and almost certainly not just for EVs. The Ford brand will transition to exclusively online, fixed-price, delivered-to-your-door sales for EVs, said CEO Jim Farley. “We’ve got to go to non-negotiated price. We’ve got to go 100 percent online. There’s no inventory (at dealerships), it goes directly to the customer. And 100% remote pick up and delivery.”  Farley went on to say that he sees the physical locations of dealers as a huge opportunity to push an edge over competitors, but that the current stores will have to radically evolve. Dealers can do it, he said, “but the standards are going to be brutal.” The fixed-price model has been trialed by countless new car dealerships, yet it was Tesla that showed that a successful automaker could fully rely on fixed-price sales. The EV juggernaut also pioneered an online ordering system that so-called legacy automakers have been struggling to replicate. Right now, Ford estimates that it spends $2000 more than Tesla per car on distribution. (Editor’s note: “Brutal” standards for dealerships and “a very large consolidation”, clearly imply a huge number will close and sales jobs will disappear. Will trucks, which are highly customized in terms of which features customers want, still be sold through dealerships?  Certainly for a time, yes.  And then? TBD. Currently Ford makes more money on its truck sales than on its cars.)

Is ‘Greedflation’ Rewriting Economics, or Do Old Rules Still Apply? – (New York Times – June 3, 2022)

A pandemic, a trade war, a land war, huge government spending, and a global economy that’s become vastly more integrated might be too complex for traditional macroeconomic theory to explain. Josh Bivens, research director at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, thinks that’s a good reason to revisit what the discipline thought it had figured out. “When I hear stories about an overheating labor market, I don’t think about falling real wages, and yet we have falling real wages,” Dr. Bivens said. Nor is the rise in profits typical when unemployment is so low. “The idea that ‘there’s nothing to see here’ — there’s everything to see here! It’s totally different.” When thinking about greedflation, it’s helpful to break it down into three questions: Are companies charging more than necessary to cover their rising costs? If so, is that enough to meaningfully accelerate inflation? And is all this happening because large companies have market power they didn’t decades ago? This article delves into possible answers to those questions. (Editor’s note: In large part, the jury is still out on these questions because there is not enough relevant data yet, but it’s worth the read to see some of the thinking behind the various theories and positions involved.)

Could Just Two People Repopulate Earth? – (BBC News – January 12, 2016)

The last man on Earth is a common trope in fiction – but what if it actually happened? How many people would it take to save our species? And how long would it take? The answer is more than a whimsical discussion for the pub. From NASA’s research on the magic number of pioneers needed for our move to another planet, to decisions about the conservation of endangered species, it’s a matter of increasing international importance and urgency. This article fleshes out the “what if” with reasoned statistical analysis. In short: Even if our species makes it, it could be unrecognizable. When small pockets of individuals remain isolated for too long they become susceptible to the founder effect, in which the loss of genetic diversity amplifies the population’s genetic quirks. Not only would the new humans look and sound different – they could be an entirely different species. So how much variety do you need? That  debate goes right back to the 80s, says Stephens, when an Australian scientist proposed a universal rule of thumb. “Basically you need 50 breeding individuals to avoid inbreeding depression and 500 in order to adapt,” he says. It’s a rule still used today – though it’s been upped to 500-5,000 to account for random losses when genes are passed from one generation to the next. But before you write off our couple, as one scientist pointed out, we’re living proof of the concept’s inherent flaws. According to anatomical and archaeological evidence, our ancestors wouldn’t have made our own population targets, with 1,000 individuals in existence for nearly a million years. Then between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, we hit another rough patch as our ancestors migrated out of Africa. As you would expect, we’ve been left with astonishingly low genetic diversity. A 2012 study of the genetic differences between neighboring groups of chimpanzees found more diversity in a single group than among all seven billion humans alive today.

‘Unbelievable’: Half of New Drugs Launched in 2020-2021 Cost $150,000 or More Per Year – (Common Dreams – June 9, 2022)

Research published in the medical journal JAMA estimates that close to half of all new brand-name prescription drugs launched in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021 came with an original price tag of at least $150,000 a year. Authored by researchers with the Program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the new analysis finds that from 2008 to 2021, launch prices for new drugs increased exponentially by 20% per year. “In 2020-2021, 47% of new drugs were initially priced above $150,000 per year,” the researchers wrote. “The trend in prices for new drugs outpaces growth in prices for other healthcare services.” The study also shows that median launch prices of prescription drugs soared from $2,115 per year in 2008 to a staggering $180,007 in 2021. “Prescription drug spending in the U.S. exceeded half a trillion dollars in 2020,” the researchers wrote. “In response to the current trends, the U.S. could stop allowing drug manufacturers to freely set prices and follow the example of other industrialized countries that negotiate drug prices at launch.” The authors note that in the U.S. profit-seeking drug manufacturers are permitted to “freely set prices after approval,” resulting in far higher costs than those seen in Canada, Germany, France, and other wealthy nations. (Editor’s note: It’s not the case that the higher US prices are subsidizing the lower costs in other wealthy nations; those drugs are still being sold at a profit.  The US prices are simply “subsidizing” the drug companies’ profit margins and investor return. 

Japanese Artist Creates Amazing Miniature Dioramas – (Digital Synopsis – no date)

These miniature dioramas of everyday objects are relentlessly fun. Their creator, a Japanese artist named Tatsuya Tanaka, has been making a new diorama every single day for the past ten years. Then just give in to awe as you scroll through his work. It’s one thing to see in an object its miniature “other”; it’s a level of genius to execute it so cleverly each time, every day. Strips of staples placed upright become a cityscape. With a tiny car and some figurines, a sewing machine turns into a gas station. That dry-erase board must, of course, be an ice rink. And finally, some great off-label uses for Covid masks. (H/T to Rob Gurwitt and L.L.)
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s observation in 1957
A special thanks to: Philip Bogdonoff, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, 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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