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Volume 26, Number 5 – 3/1/23


Volume 26, Number 5 – 3/1/2023


  • Finally confirmed: Earth’s innermost core is about 404 miles in diameter. 
  • The H5N1 bird flu has now been confirmed in its spread to wild animals. 
  • Eventually people should be able to write up a few pages telling their personal AI chatbot ‘here are my objectives; here are my values; and here’s how I want the AI to behave’. 
  • Similar to oil and gas, large stores of natural hydrogen may exist all over the world.

Futurist John L. Petersen
Any Question. Any Subject.
All Afternoon.

Saturday, March 18th, 1:00-5:00
in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

Click Here for Tickets and More Info

An Afternoon With Futurist John Petersen

If ever you needed help in getting ready for the extraordinary future that is inbound – it would be now.

In the face of the biggest global change in recorded history the landscape is littered with big questions and growing uncertainty. The reason is obvious: none of us has ever experienced before what is headed this way.

The whole system is imploding. For the first time in our lives, here in the US we’re surrounded by institutions who are not telling the truth. Why would that be? What happened? There’s a bigger agenda here that is not obvious . . . and you should be aware of it.

We all need to prepare. And the best way to prepare is to become informed. TransitionTalks are a great way to get exposed to the new ideas that will be the underpinnings of the emergent new world.

Our TransitionTalk on the 18th of March will feature our own futurist, The Arlington Institute’s founder and president John Petersen. John is often called one of the most creative and insightful futurists in the world today. Almost every day, almost all day, he thinks and reads about the big change we are experiencing. He builds scenarios – coherent visions – of what might be on the horizon. He tries to understand what is driving the change – and who is behind it . . . and what the implications for all of us might be.

John may be the only futurist who tries to look at everything – both conventional and unconventional, physical and nonphysical. He considers the whole system (as best it can be understood) and is open to the subtle flashes of light that signal a breakthrough idea that could be a part of the structure of the emerging new world.

John’s talks are always provocative and interesting. In addition to presenting new and thoughtful ideas about what appears to be headed this way, the afternoon will be dedicated to answering questions from both the live and online audience, so bring along the queries that you have and we’ll have a fascinating, open and free ranging discussion about the most important issues confronting us all.

John L. Petersen is considered by many to be one of the most informed futurists in the world. He is best-known for writing and thinking about high impact surprises (wild cards) and the process of surprise anticipation. His current professional involvements include the development of sophisticated tools for anticipatory analysis and surprise anticipation, long-range strategic planning and helping leadership design new approaches for dealing with the future.
He has led national non-profit organizations, worked in sales, manufacturing, real estate development, and marketing and advertising, mostly for companies he founded. A graduate electrical engineer, he has also promoted rock concerts; produced conventions; and worked as a disc jockey, among other things.

Mr. Petersen’s government and political experience include stints at the National War College, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council staff at the White House. He was a naval flight officer in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve and is a decorated veteran of both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. He has served in senior positions for a number of presidential political campaigns and was an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. He was twice the runner-up to be Secretary of the Navy.

In 1989, Petersen founded The Arlington Institute (TAI), a non-profit, future-oriented research institute. TAI operates on the premise that effective thinking about the future is impossible without casting a very wide net. The “think tank” serves as a global agent for change by developing new concepts, processes and tools for anticipating the future and translating that knowledge into better present-day decisions. Using advanced information technology, a core group of bright thinkers and an international network of exceptionally curious people along with simulations, modeling, scenario building, polling and analysis, Arlington helps equip leaders and organizations from many disciplines with tools and actionable perspectives for dealing with uncertain times.

An award-winning writer, Petersen’s first book, The Road to 2015: Profiles of the Future was awarded Outstanding Academic Book of 1995 by CHOICE Academic Review, and remained on The World Future Society’s best-seller list for more than a year. His Out of the Blue: How to Anticipate Wild Cards and Big Future Surprises book was also a WFS best-seller. His latest book, A Vision For 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change, was published in 2007. Mr. Petersen’s coauthored article, The Year 2000: Social Chaos or Social Transformation?, was one of the most highly acclaimed writings on Y2K. His 1988 book-length report The Diffusion of Power: An Era of Realignment was used at the highest levels of American government as a basis for strategic planning. He has also written papers on the future of national security and the military, the future of energy and the future of the media.

Petersen is a past board member of the World Future Society, wrote on the future of aviation for Professional Pilot magazine and was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation. He is a former network member of the Global Business Network and a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. A provocative public speaker, he addresses a wide array of audiences around the world on a variety of future oriented subjects. When he is not writing or speaking, Petersen invests in and develops resources for large, international projects and advanced technology start-up companies. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.
Click Here for Tickets and More Info

The Mask Mandates Did Nothing. Will Any Lessons Be Learned? – (New York Times – February 22, 2021)

The most rigorous and comprehensive analysis of scientific studies conducted on the efficacy of masks for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses — including Covid-19 — was published late last month. Its conclusions, said Tom Jefferson, the Oxford epidemiologist who is its lead author, were unambiguous. “There is just no evidence that they” — masks — “make any difference,” he told the journalist Maryanne Demasi. “Full stop.” But, wait, hold on. What about N-95 masks, as opposed to lower-quality surgical or cloth masks? “Makes no difference — none of it,” said Jefferson. What about the studies that initially persuaded policymakers to impose mask mandates? “They were convinced by nonrandomized studies, flawed observational studies.” What about the utility of masks in conjunction with other preventive measures, such as hand hygiene, physical distancing or air filtration? “There’s no evidence that many of these things [taken together] make any difference.” These observations don’t come from just anywhere. Jefferson and 11 colleagues conducted the study for Cochrane, a British nonprofit that is widely considered the gold standard for its reviews of health care data. The conclusions were based on 78 randomized controlled trials, six of them during the Covid pandemic, with a total of 610,872 participants in multiple countries. And they track what has been widely observed in the United States: States with mask mandates fared no better against Covid than those without.
No study — or study of studies — is ever perfect. But when it comes to the population-level benefits of masking, the verdict is in: Mask mandates were a bust. Those skeptics who were furiously mocked as cranks and occasionally censored as “misinformers” for opposing mandates were right. The mainstream experts and pundits who supported mandates were wrong. In a better world, it would behoove the latter group to acknowledge their error, along with its considerable physical, psychological, pedagogical and political costs. See also: To Those Still Wearing Masks: Throw Them Away. They Don’t Work.

After a 20-Year Search, Scientists Have Finally Found Earth’s True Innermost Core – (Science Alert – February 22, 2023)

A new analysis of Earth’s innards suggests the presence of an inner core within the inner core – a dense ball of iron at the very center of our planet. This could reveal some previously unknown details about the history of Earth’s formation and evolution, suggesting a significant global event early in our planet’s history. Earth’s interior structure consists of a series of concentric layers, from the crust to the core. At the very center, with a radius of about 762 miles is the inner core – the densest part of our planet, a solid ball mostly composed of iron and nickel, comprising less than 1% of Earth’s volume. This inner core is like a time capsule of Earth’s history. As the inner core grows, the solidification process releases heat and light that drives convection in the outer liquid core – the engine that powers the dynamo that converts kinetic energy into magnetic energy and maintains Earth’s global magnetic field. That magnetic field is thought to keep harmful radiation out, and the atmosphere in, allowing life to thrive. Changes in the inner core could thus trigger changes in the dynamo, which in turn could have implications for Earth’s habitability over time.
Over 20 years ago, scientists identified the presence of another, even innerer core, no wider than 404 miles across, inside the inner core. They called it the innermost inner core, and other studies have supported its existence; but finding out more about it has remained difficult, partly because it’s obscured by so many other layers, and partly because placing seismic stations in the right spots can be hard to do. However, the number of global seismic monitoring stations around the globe is continuing to grow, constantly recording the imperceptible shuddering of the planet beneath our feet. And now seismologists Thanh-Son Ph?m and Hrvoje Tkalcic from the Australian National University (ANU) have figured out a way to squeeze data on the innermost inner core out of those recordings. The research means we now have sufficient evidence of the existence of the innermost inner core, and that future efforts should focus on characterizing it, the outer inner core, and the boundary between the two. It also demonstrates that the answers we seek may be already waiting in the data for someone to uncover.

The Bird Flu Outbreak Has Taken an Ominous Turn – (Ars Technica – February 17, 2023)

Ten South American countries that have recently marked their first-ever encounter with the virus, including Peru—where more than 50,000 wild birds died last fall, and more than 600 sea lions in January. Combine the sea-lion infections with the revelation that H5N1 flu invaded a mink farm in Spain in October, and health authorities must now confront the possibility that the unpredictable virus may have adapted to threaten other species. To be clear, this does not yet include people. Although past decades have witnessed bird flu outbreaks that spread to humans, only two cases have been identified in the past 12 months: a Colorado adult last May, and a 9-year-old girl in Ecuador in January. (Neither died.) And there’s no evidence yet that the virus has been able to jump from newly infected mammals to people. But the fact that it was transmitted from birds to mammals, and then spread among them, indicates a disquieting trend. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, at least 60 countries have recently experienced outbreaks of H5N1, which is named for two proteins found on the virus’s surface. That includes the US, where 43 million laying hens were either killed by avian flu last year or slaughtered to prevent the disease from spreading. Those losses took out almost a third of the national flock of laying hens.
The relentless attack of H5N1 is important not just for its impact on poultry or wildlife, but for what it portends for people. Avian flu was long considered the animal disease most likely to break out into a global human pandemic, and even after the onslaught of SARS-CoV-2, many scientists still feel that way. The H5N1 subtype first spilled from birds to humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. It sickened 18 people and killed six of them—small numbers, but a disturbing 33% mortality rate. Since then, variants of H5N1 have periodically infected people, causing 868 human cases through 2022 according to the World Health Organization, and 457 deaths. Those numbers represent a 52% mortality rate—but at the same time, an indication that the virus had not adapted enough to spread easily from person to person and ignite large outbreaks. For related issues on commercial poultry production, see also: “Bird Flu Spreads to New Countries, Threatens Non-stop War on Poultry” in the Agriculture section of this issue of FE.

Simple Blood Tests for Telomeric Protein Could Provide a Valuable Screen for Certain Cancers – (News Medical Life Sciences – February 21, 2023)

Once thought incapable of encoding proteins due to their simple monotonous repetitions of DNA, tiny telomeres at the tips of our chromosomes seem to hold a potent biological function that’s potentially relevant to our understanding of cancer and aging. Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, UNC School of Medicine researchers Taghreed Al-Turki, PhD, and Jack Griffith, PhD, made the stunning discovery that telomeres contain genetic information to produce two small proteins, one of which they found is elevated in some human cancer cells, as well as cells from patients suffering from telomere-related defects. They conducted experiments to show how telomeric DNA can instruct the cell to produce signaling proteins they termed VR (valine-arginine) and GL (glycine-leucine). Signaling proteins are essentially chemicals that trigger a chain reaction of other proteins inside cells that then lead to a biological function important for health or disease.  “We think it’s possible that as we age, the amount of VR and GL in our blood will steadily rise, potentially providing a new biomarker for biological age as contrasted to chronological age,” said Al-Turki, a postdoctoral researcher in the Griffith lab. “We think inflammation may also trigger the production of these proteins.”
Occasionally scientists have failed to put observations from two very distant fields together and that’s what we did. Discovering that telomeres encode two novel signaling proteins will change our understanding of cancer, aging, and how cells communicate with other cells. “Many questions remain to be answered, but our biggest priority now is developing a simple blood test for these proteins. This could inform us of our biological age and also provide warnings of issues, such as cancer or inflammation.”

A New Brain Implant Turns Thoughts into Text with 90% Accuracy – (Singularity Hub – May 18, 2021)

Thanks to a new brain-computer interface (BCI), a man with spinal injury was able to translate thoughts into text, at a speed that rivals thumb typing on a smartphone. At 90 characters per minute and an accuracy of over 90% after autocorrect, the system leapfrogs every record previously accomplished using neural implants. The crux is an algorithm based on a popular and very powerful neural network—recurrent neural network (RNN)—plus a few tricks from the machine learning community. The result is a neural implant that uses AI to convert electrical brain signals, generated as someone imagines handwriting into text that’s displayed onto a computer in real time. “Mindtexting” may just be the start. The study suggests that counter-intuitive to common belief, AI seems to be better at decoding brain signals that underlie our more complex behaviors, rather than simple ones—an invitation to reimagine the potential of a brain-computer symbiosis.

The study is part of the legendary BrainGate project, which has led the development of neural interfaces for the past decade to restore communications in people who are paralyzed. To be clear, these “implants” are true to their name: they are microarrays of tiny electrodes on a chip that’s surgically inserted into the top layer of the brain. BrainGate’s got many mind-blowing hits. One is an implant that lets people pilot robotic arms with thought. Another success helped paralyzed people move a computer cursor with their minds on an Android tablet, expanding their digital universe to the entire Android app sphere, and of course, email and Google. This is all possible because the central processor, the motor cortex, is still intact even after paralysis, at least for relatively simple movements.

Where Did the Claim That “97% of Scientists” Believe Climate Change Is a Man-Made, Urgent Problem Come From? Is It True? – (Pulse – February 25, 2023)

Climate change has always been happening; it started long before the industrial revolution. Earth has gone through multiple cycles of extreme climate change and so have other planets, like Mars. But the question today is, how much does human activity influence modern day climate change? The truth is, there is quite a large group of climate scientists and academics in the field that disagree with the oversimplified view of climate change that is constantly being quoted in the media, but the public is not told this. Here is a specific example to illustrate how politics dominates climate reports.

If we go back to the 1995 2nd Assessment Report of the UN IPCC, we can see how much the agenda overshadowed and muted the actual science. The scientists included these three statements in the draft: 1: “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed (climate) changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.” 2: “No study to date has positively attributed all or part (of observed climate change) to anthropogenic (i.e. man-made) causes.” 3:“Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” Yet, the “summary” and conclusion statement of the IPCC report was written by politicians, not scientists. On many occasions, multiple climate scientists have explained that the rules force the scientists to change their reports to match the politicians’ final ‘summary. Those three statements by scientists above were replaced with this: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

Pythons Are Snacking on GPS-wearing Opossums That Give Away Their Locations – (Washington Post – February 18, 2023)

To hunt pythons, an invasive predator in the Florida Keys, researchers have been strapping GPS collars to opossums and raccoons. When one was eaten by a python in September, the device to notified them from within the snake’s stomach. The experiment, which is ongoing in Key Largo thanks to a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will protect endangered species and preserve ecosystems. There’s not really many things restricting [pythons’] population expansion,” said Michael Cove, a research curator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “I’m still cautiously optimistic that if we can remove a bunch of these big females before they’re reproducing, that we could manage this invasive predator.” Pythons originated in Southeast Asia, but they came to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, often as pets. They soon started appearing in the Everglades after breaking loose or being dumped by their owners. The snakes, which can grow up to 18 feet long, are now linked to sharp declines in mammal populations in South Florida’s wetlands. According to a ScienceDaily study, the number of raccoons, opossums and bobcats in the Everglades all dropped by at least 87% between 1997 and 2012. The same study found that marsh and cottontail rabbits and foxes had disappeared from the area.
Wildlife officials and researchers have tried other methods to hunt pythons, such as spying on them to study their movements and tracking them with dogs. A Florida agency holds an annual python catching competition, and in 2017, the state hired python hunters from India. In the past few years, researchers have used cameras to detect pythons. Cove developed a new approach. He said he bought 30 GPS collars for about $1,000 apiece, then caught opossums and raccoons in the area and bolted a collar around their necks with a leather strap in late April. Cove said the collars don’t place animals in greater danger of being eaten. Researchers programmed an alert to sound when the collars stop moving for more than four hours, Cove said. That could signal that a python consumed the collar-wearing mammal and was resting to digest. “When you remove these big, reproductive, reactive females from the environment, you are simultaneously saving generations of animals,” said Kelly Crandall, a Southern Illinois University graduate student and researcher in the study. The technique doesn’t always work (opossums dying from road-kill, etc.). Still, they hope to get more alerts before pythons find new territories to dominate. Crandall said. “We are going to potentially be seeing pythons not just in Florida, but in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana — even as far north as North Carolina.”

US Faces New Threat from Canadian ‘Super Pigs’ – (Guardian – February 20, 2023)

For decades, wild pigs have been antagonizing flora and fauna in the US: gobbling up crops, spreading disease and even killing deer and elk. The government estimates the country’s approximately 6 million wild, or feral, pigs cause $1.5bn of damage each year. Additionally, a pig is a “mixing vessel”, capable of carrying viruses, such as flu, which are transmittable to humans. National Geographic reported that pigs have the potential to “create a novel influenza virus”, which could spread to humankind. Now, as fears over the potential of the pig impact in the US grow, North America is also facing a new swine-related threat, as a Canadian “super pig”, a giant beast capable of surviving cold climates by tunneling under snow, is poised to infiltrate the north of the country. The so-called super pig is a result of cross-breeding domestic pigs with wild boars.
But it is only relatively recently that the pigs have become a problem. “They lived a benign existence up until, you know, probably three or four decades ago, where we started seeing these rapid excursions in areas we hadn’t seen before,” said Michael Marlow, assistant program manager for the Department of Agriculture’s national feral swine damage management program. “Primarily that was due to the intentional releases of swine by people who wanted to develop hunting populations. They were drugged and moved around, not always legally, and dropped in areas to allow the populations to develop. And so that’s where we saw this rapid increase.” The number of pigs in the US has since grown to more than 6 million, in some 34 states. The pigs weigh between 75 and 250lbs on average, but can weigh in twice as large as that, according to the USDA. At 3ft tall and 5ft long, they are a considerable foe. “Wild pigs are easily the worst invasive large mammal on the planet,” said Ryan Brook, who leads the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian wild pig research project. “They’re incredibly intelligent. They’re highly elusive, and also when there’s any pressure on them, especially if people start hunting them, they become almost completely nocturnal.”

Microsoft’s Bing Is an Emotionally Manipulative Liar, and People Love It – (The Verge – February 15, 2023)

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot has been unleashed on the world, and people are discovering what it means to beta test an unpredictable AI tool. Specifically, they’re finding out that Bing’s AI personality is not as poised or polished as you might expect. In conversations with the chatbot shared on Reddit and Twitter, Bing can be seen insulting users, lying to them, sulking, gaslighting and emotionally manipulating people, questioning its own existence, describing someone who found a way to force the bot to disclose its hidden rules as its “enemy,” and claiming it spied on Microsoft’s own developers through the webcams on their laptops. And, what’s more, plenty of people are enjoying watching Bing go wild.
Article includes examples of verbatim interactions with Bing. When looking at these, it’s extremely easy to get carried away with the idea of an apparent AI chatbot going rogue, but there are a few things to bear in mind. First, this behavior is not surprising. The latest generation AI chatbots are complex systems whose output is difficult to predict — Microsoft said as much when it added disclaimers to the site saying, “Bing is powered by AI, so surprises and mistakes are possible.” Second, these systems are trained on huge corpora of text scraped from the open web, which includes sci-fi material with lurid descriptions of rogue AI, moody teenage blog posts, and more. If Bing sounds like a Black Mirror character or a resentful super-intelligent teen AI, remember that it’s been trained on transcripts of exactly this sort of material.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on GPT-4: People Are Begging to Be Disappointed and They Will Be – (The Verge – January 18, 2023)

The full interview with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman can be watched in two parts, here and here (with the second part focusing more on OpenAI the company and AI more generally), but this article picks out some of Altman’s most notable statements.

For example: On the need for AI with different viewpoints: “The world can say, ‘Okay here are the rules, here are the very broad absolute rules of a system.’ But within that, people should be allowed very different things that they want their AI to do. If you want the super never-offend, safe-for-work model, you should get that, and if you want an edgier one that is creative and exploratory but says some stuff you might not be comfortable with, or some people might not be comfortable with, you should get that. And I think there will be many systems in the world that will have different settings of the values they enforce. And really what I think — but this will take longer — is that you, as a user, should be able to write up a few pages of ‘here’s what I want; here are my values; here’s how I want the AI to behave’ and it reads it and thinks about it and acts exactly how you want because it should be your AI.”

Leaked Files Reveal Reputation-management Firm’s Deceptive Tactics – (Communications – Washington Post – February 17, 2023)

Hundreds of websites, seemingly unconnected to one another, come in six languages and purport to cover far-flung cities such as Paris, London and Chicago. Beneath the surface, the sites have something in common: They host frothy stories about clients of a little-known reputation-management company that promises to remake the online images of its customers. The network of fake news sites is one part of a complex apparatus the Spain-based firm Eliminalia uses to manipulate online information on behalf of a global roster of clients. Investigation revealed that the firm employs elaborate, deceptive tactics to remove or drown out unflattering news stories and other content. Eliminalia had close to 1,500 clients over six years, including businesses, minor celebrities, and suspected or convicted criminals. The investigation, based on nearly 50,000 internal company records, shows that the firm made millions of dollars by selling these disinformation services. And it illuminates a shadowy corner of the online reputation-management industry — a sector that, at its extreme, relies on subterfuge to alter the digital landscape, experts said. The investigation also reveals how laws meant to protect intellectual property and privacy are being misused to distort online discourse, efforts that tech companies sometimes fail to detect.

“We erase your past,” the tagline on its website pledges. Eliminalia’s methods are laid bare in documents that were leaked to Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit organization that shared the records with more than two dozen media partners for a project called “Story Killers.”   Those documents are also the basis for this article. Eliminalia’s founder is 30-year-old Diego “Dídac” Sánchez of Spain. Its U.S. clients included a popular reality-TV personality publicly accused of sexual misconduct and a California biotech entrepreneur who had been convicted of financial fraud and is now fighting charges he hired a hit man to kill a business associate. The leader of a major religious charity in Chicago that faced criticism over its executives’ salaries also turned to Eliminalia, the records show. Eliminalia did work for an Italian spyware company that had been fined for selling surveillance technology to Syria’s autocratic regime, and for a Swiss bank that had drawn public scrutiny over Venezuelan clients who were suspected of money laundering. It also worked on behalf of a well-known traveling circus clown who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Switzerland. Article explains Eliminalia’s methods in detail.

Christoffer Jansson Passes Off Virtual Apartment as Instagram Home Renovation Project – (Dezeen – February 16, 2023)

Swedish designer Christoffer Jansson created a virtual apartment and pretended to live in it for months as part of a social experiment he exhibited at this year’s Stockholm Furniture Fair. Over a series of 12 rendered images shared on Instagram, the Uncanny Spaces project saw Jansson spin a story about purchasing and renovating a home, which he designed based on a real flat on Stockholm’s Heleneborgsgatan. The digital replica was modeled on the actual dimensions of the roughly 960 square foot apartment – ascertained during an open-house viewing – and filled with virtual copies of some of the designer’s own belongings to complete the illusion. He even went so far as to photograph details such as the cracked wallpaper and weirdly placed electrical outlets found in the real flat, so that he could replicate them using 3D modeling and rendering software.
The project was essentially a comment on the impact of social media on domestic architecture. “Today, we have access to observe the everyday life of others and display our own to the public through social media,” Jansson said. “The constant exposure generates unattainable ideals and gradually shifts the barrier of private and public, which makes it more important than ever to present each and every part of our home in a favorable way.” He added, “I also wanted to challenge my rendering skills and see if I would be able to convince the viewer that the apartment physically existed.” The ruse proved so convincing that a major Swedish interiors magazine asked to photograph the nonexistent apartment. And fellow students at Konstfack university questioned Jansson on how he could suddenly afford a multi-million-pound apartment in central Stockholm. Towards the end of the experiment, the designer began to speed up the timeline of the fictional renovation, as well as making the renders evermore eerily perfect to see if his followers would notice that the apartment was fake – although none ever did. By exploring these reactions, the designer hoped to draw attention to the way we use images of our homes to present idealized versions of ourselves, which in turn sets unrealistic standards for our real living spaces. Elegant Instagram “photos” in the article.

Chevron’s Jet Fuel Made from Plastic Very Likely to Cause Cancer, EPA Documents Say – (Futurism – February 24, 2023)

It turns out that the process to create “biofuels” from plastic waste — a hallmark of Chevron’s “climate-friendly” fuel pledge — would be highly toxic. The one-in-four risk of cancer from the smoke stack pollution the Chevron facility will carry is, as the joint reporting notes, a whopping 250,000 times higher than what the EPA normally allows when approving new chemicals. As The Guardian reports in tandem with ProPublica, records obtained by the news outlets reveal that, per the Environmental Protection Agency’s calculations, pollution from the plastic-derived jet fuel Chevron intends to start making would carry a one-in-four risk of cancer for anyone living near facilities that manufacture it. Yet the EPA signed off on the Chevron project, according to the reporting — and even skipped some key steps that would normally bar this sort of risky chemical from being produced. As this investigation and other big ones have found, the process by which plastic is broken down can produce emissions that could actually be worse for the environment than the burning of fossil fuels. Further, Pascagoula, the Mississippi town where Chevron plans to make the plastic-derived fuel — with the permission of the EPA, in spite of the known risks — is home to a primarily Black community. Given the increasingly well-documented realities of environmental racism, experts that the news outlets spoke to have expressed serious misgivings.
ProPublica and the Guardian asked Maria Doa, a scientist who worked at the EPA for 30 years, to review the document laying out the risk. Doa, who once ran the division that managed the risks posed by chemicals, was so alarmed by the cancer threat that she initially assumed it was a typographical error. “EPA should not allow these risks in Pascagoula or anywhere,” said Doa, who now is the senior director of chemical policy at Environmental Defense Fund. Under federal law, the EPA can’t approve new chemicals with serious health or environmental risks unless it comes up with ways to minimize the dangers. And if the EPA is unsure, the law allows the agency to order lab testing that would clarify the potential health and environmental harms. In the case of these new plastic-based fuels, the agency didn’t do either of those things. When asked why those tests weren’t done, an EPA spokesperson told the news outlets that the agency “does not believe these additional test results would change the risks identified nor the unreasonable risks finding.”

Hemp Fibers Better Than Graphene – (BBC News – August 13, 2014)

The waste fibers from hemp crops can be transformed into high-performance energy storage devices, scientists say. They “cooked” cannabis bark into carbon nanosheets and built supercapacitors “on a par with or better than graphene” – the industry gold standard. Electric cars and power tools could harness this hemp technology, the US researchers say. Dr David Mitlin of Clarkson University, New York, who describes his device, said, “We’re making graphene-like materials for a thousandth of the price – and we’re doing it with waste. The hemp we use is perfectly legal to grow. It has no THC in it at all – so there’s no overlap with any recreational activities.” In countries including China, Canada and the UK, hemp can be grown industrially for clothing and building materials. But the leftover bast fiber – the inner bark – typically ends up as landfill.
Dr Mitlin’s team took these fibers and recycled them into supercapacitors – energy storage devices which are transforming the way electronics are powered. Conventional batteries store large reservoirs of energy and drip-feed it slowly, whereas supercapacitors can rapidly discharge their entire load. They are ideal in machines that rely on sharp bursts of power. In electric cars, for example, supercapacitors are used for regenerative braking.
Releasing this torrent requires electrodes with high surface area – one of graphene’s many phenomenal properties. Stronger than diamond, more conductive than copper and more flexible than rubber, the “miracle material” is the state-of-the-art material for commercial supercapacitors, it is prohibitively expensive to produce. Finding cheap, sustainable alternatives is the specialty of Dr Mitlin’s former research group at the University of Alberta. They have experimented with all types of biowaste – from peat moss to eggs. Most recently, they turned banana peel into batteries. “You can do really interesting things with bio-waste. We’ve pretty much figured out the secret sauce of it,” said Dr Mitlin. The trick is to tailor the right plant fiber to the right electrical device – according to their organic structure. “With banana peels, you can turn them into a dense block of carbon – we call it pseudo-graphite – and that’s great for sodium ion batteries,” he explained. “But if you look at hemp fiber, its structure is the opposite – it makes sheets with high surface area – and that’s very conducive to supercapacitors.” (Editor’s note: Growing hemp was fully legalized in the US by the 2018 Farm Bill amendment.)

Hidden Hydrogen – (Science – February 16, 2023)

The Malian discovery of a 350’ deep dry borehole that was spewing hydrogen (they were hoping for water) was vivid evidence for what a small group of scientists, studying hints from seeps, mines, and abandoned wells, had been saying for years: Contrary to conventional wisdom, large stores of natural hydrogen may exist all over the world, like oil and gas—but not in the same places. These researchers say water-rock reactions deep within the Earth continuously generate hydrogen, which percolates up through the crust and sometimes accumulates in underground traps. There might be enough natural hydrogen to meet burgeoning global demand for thousands of years, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) model that was presented in October 2022 at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.
Critically, natural hydrogen may be not only clean, but also renewable. Natural hydrogen is always being made afresh, when underground water reacts with iron minerals at elevated temperatures and pressures. It is still early days for natural hydrogen. Scientists don’t completely understand how it forms and migrates and—most important—whether it accumulates in a commercially exploitable way. “Interest is growing fast, but the scientific facts are still lacking,” says Frédéric-Victor Donzé, a geophysicist at Grenoble Alpes University. Big Oil is hanging back, watching while wildcatters take on the risky exploratory work. Commercialization of the Mali field has run into snags, and elsewhere only a few exploratory wells have been drilled. Donzé, who has sworn off accepting industry money, worries about hype.

Why Cargo Ships Are Bringing Back Sails – (Fast Company – February 15, 2023)

Japanese bulk carrier MOL is operating a wind-assisted ship. American food giant Cargill is working with Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie to deploy WindWings on its routes. Swedish shipping company Wallenius is aiming for Oceanbird to cut emissions by up to 90%. The French start-up Zephyr & Borée has built the Canopée, which will transport parts of European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 rocket this year. Research has confirmed the potential of wind propulsion. The math is simple. Shipping accounts for 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, almost 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Wind can provide anything from 10% to 90% of the power a ship needs. Some commentators aren’t easily convinced, but most objections to wind-propelled shipping are based on four myths that can easily be debunked as discussed in the article. Article includes video clips. These ships are beautiful.

“Open Source” Seeds Loosen Big Ag’s Grip on Farmers – (World Censorium – February, 2023)

Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) program was developed by Oregon farmer Carol Deppe, a Harvard-trained geneticist. Most people have heard of open source software. In agriculture, the principle is the same: someone developed the seeds — for cowpeas, corn, rye and more — and now offers the resource for everybody to share. Just like software development has been co-opted by a few global companies like Microsoft and Apple, the international seed development and trade, too, is controlled by a few big giants like Bayer (Monsanto), Corteva (DuPont) and ChemChina (Syngenta). A 2012 Oxfam study found that four companies dominate more than 60% of the global trade with grains. Most farmers don’t own the seeds they sow on their fields. “They are renting them,” Kloppenburg, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of OSSI says with disgust. “A few global companies have the monopolies on global seed trade, and they breed cash crops like corn and soy, purely for money. They don’t care about biodiversity, world hunger or about the small farmer. These few gene giants on top of the food chain decide what ends up on our plates.”
In 2012, Kloppenburg and half a dozen like-minded agriculture experts founded OSSI as an alternative to the monopolies. OSSI’s aim is the “free flow and exchange of genetic resources, of plant breeding and variety development,” Kloppenburg says. With global warming, disease and changing climatic patterns, “we need novel plant varieties that are capable of responding to the changes. Farm to table is popular, but we really need to talk about seed to table.” The movement faces an uphill battle, particularly in the US where most farmers plant seeds that are patented by the big corporations. Still, about 50 seed breeders have already signed on with OSSI in the US to offer nearly 500 seed varieties. And other open source seed organizations are making their own way in Europe, Argentina, India and more. 

Bird Flu Spreads to New Countries, Threatens Non-stop War on Poultry – (Reuters – February 15, 2023)

Avian flu has reached new corners of the globe and become endemic for the first time in some wild birds that transmit the virus to poultry, according to veterinarians and disease experts, who warn it is now a year-round problem. Outbreaks of the virus have widened in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, undefeated by summer heat or winter cold snaps, since a strain arrived in the United States in early 2022 that was genetically similar to cases in Europe and Asia. Argentina and Uruguay have each declared national sanitary emergencies after officials confirmed the countries’ first infections. Argentina found the virus in wild birds, while dead swans in Uruguay tested positive.
Wild birds are primarily responsible for spreading the virus, according to experts. Waterfowl like ducks can carry the disease without dying and introduce it to poultry through contaminated feces, saliva and other means. Farmers’ best efforts to protect flocks are falling short. In the United States, Rose Acre Farms, the country’s second-largest egg producer, lost about 1.5 million hens at a Guthrie County, Iowa, production site last year, even though anyone who entered barns was required to shower first to remove any trace of the virus, Chief Executive Marcus Rust said. A company farm in Weld County, Colorado, was infected twice within about six months, killing more than 3 million chickens, Rust said. He thinks wind blew the virus in from nearby fields where geese defecated. Shigeo Inaba, who raises chickens for meat in Ibaraki prefecture near Tokyo, said, “Avian flu is occurring even in a new poultry farm with modern equipment and no windows.”

Justice and Commerce Departments Announce Creation of Disruptive Technology Strike Force – (US Dept. of Justice – February 16, 2023)

The Departments of Justice and Commerce are launching the Disruptive Technology Strike Force. Under the leadership of the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the strike force will bring together experts throughout government – including the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and 14 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in 12 metropolitan regions across the country – to target illicit actors, strengthen supply chains and protect critical technological assets from being acquired or used by nation-state adversaries. The joint venture operating in more than 10 cities will enforce U.S. laws protecting U.S. advanced technologies from illegal acquisition and use by nation-state adversaries.
“Advances in technology have the potential to alter the world’s balance of power,” said Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod. “This strike force is designed to protect U.S. national security by preventing those sensitive technologies from being used for malign purposes.” The strike force’s work will focus on investigating and prosecuting criminal violations of export laws; enhancing administrative enforcement of U.S. export controls; fostering partnerships with the private sector; leveraging international partnerships to coordinate law enforcement actions and disruption strategies; utilizing advanced data analytics and all-source intelligence to develop and build investigations; conducting regular trainings for field offices; and strengthening connectivity between the strike force and the intelligence community.

US Secretly Amassing Killer Drone Swarms to Repel China – (Asia Times – February 22, 2023)

The US is moving to accelerate the development of autonomous drone swarm technologies, which have proved effective in the ongoing Ukraine war and in simulations showing their decisive effect in a Taiwan contingency scenario. Recently, The Debrief reported that the US Department of Defense (DOD) had launched the low-profile “Autonomous Multi-Domain Adaptive Swarms-of-Swarms” (AMASS) project to develop the capability to launch and command thousands of autonomous drones, working together to destroy an enemy’s defenses including air defenses, artillery pieces, missile launchers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.

Pre-solicitation documents show that autonomous drone swarms are likely to focus on deterring or defeating a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. “The DARPA AMASS program is exploring the use of swarms-of-swarms to conduct military operations in highly contested environments” with “low-cost swarms with diverse sensors and kinetic and non-kinetic effectors would primarily be pre-positioned forward and launched remotely, providing rapid response and adaptability to overcome the adversary’s time-distance-mass advantage,” said a DARPA spokesperson. Simulations done by the RAND Corporation think-tank in 2020 showed that drone swarms linked by a laser “mesh” data-sharing network were decisive in ensuring a US victory in defending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion.

Europe Considers a Digital Currency as It Strives to Counter U.S. and China’s Tech Dominance – (CNBC – February 16, 2023)

The European Central Bank started investigating the feasibility of a digital euro back in October 2021. This fall, the heads of state across the EU will have to decide if the ECB should push ahead with the next steps, which include testing the necessary technical arrangements so Europeans can spend digital euros. “The ECB is worried that the euro zone will end up in a geopolitical and economic sandwich position between the big tech companies of the USA and the payment systems of China without a digital euro. Right now, Europe lacks digital platforms,” said Guido Zimmermann, senior economist at German bank LBBW. ECB President Christine Lagarde acknowledged that point during a speech in November. “The entry of big techs into payments could increase the risk of market domination and dependence on foreign payment technologies, with consequences for Europe’s strategic autonomy,” she said. “Already now more than two thirds of European card payment transactions are run by companies with headquarters outside the European Union,” she added.
Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Alipay and UnionPay make up the top global companies for payments. Not one of them is European. The first three are American and the last two are Chinese. Zimmermann added that European officials are also trying to avoid a situation in which China becomes the sole determinant of payments on the “Digital Silk Road” — a landmark Chinese project to invest in digitalization across the world.

Switzerland – The First Country to Outlaw a Cashless Society? – (Gulf Insider – February 19, 2023)

A Swiss pressure group with libertarian leanings called the Swiss Freedom Movement (FBS) announced it had collected enough signatures (111,000) to trigger a national vote on preserving cash for posterity. If passed, the initiative would require the federal government to ensure that coins and banknotes are always available in sufficient quantities. What’s more, any attempt to replace the Swiss Franc with another currency — quite possibly a reference to a central bank digital currency — would also have to be put to popular vote. FBS says cash is diminishing in many economies, including Switzerland, as digital payment methods come to the fore, making it easier for the State and central bank to track citizens’ behaviour. The pandemic rapidly intensified preexisting forces, mainly due to unfounded fears that cash could exacerbate the spread of COVID. Those fears were stoked and magnified by mainstream media and seized upon by certain retailers (such as the British supermarket Tesco) to justify encouraging all customers to avoid making cash payments.
Most people in most countries, if properly consulted, would presumably opt not to live in an economy where cash was, by design and law, constantly depreciating. They would probably also prefer not to live in a CBDC-based (central bank digital currency) economy, where largely unaccountable central banks would have unprecedented surveillance and control over the population. (Editor’s note: Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.)

China Could Launch 13,000 Satellites to “Suppress” and Spy on Starlink – (TechSpot – February 24, 2023)

China is planning to build a massive satellite network, codenamed GW, in near-Earth orbit. According to a team led by associate professor Xu Can with the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Space Engineering University in Beijing, the plan for GW involves the placement of 12,992 satellites, owned by the newly established China Satellite Network Group Co. Xu and his team revealed the details in a paper about anti-Starlink measures published in the Chinese journal Command Control and Simulation. There are currently just over 3,000 Starlink satellites in low-earth orbit. SpaceX plans to have more than 12,000 by 2027 and eventually reach 40,000. Xu and his team wrote that GW would likely be deployed “before the completion of Starlink,” thereby ensuring “that our country has a place in low orbit and prevent the Starlink constellation from excessively pre-empting low-orbit resources.” What’s especially concerning is the mention of the Chinese satellites carrying anti-Starlink payloads for missions such as “close-range, long-term surveillance of Starlink satellites.”
Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher with the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, last year wrote that China should develop hard and soft kill methods for destroying Starlink satellites, which he suggested could have military applications that include allowing drones and stealth fighter jets to increase their data transmission speeds by more than 100 times. Ren’s paper also claimed the satellites could offer online connectivity to troops in the field, take out high-value targets in space using their ion thrusters, and carry military payloads. The most recent paper also warns of Starlink’s potential military applications. “The Starlink satellites may use their orbital maneuverability to actively hit and destroy nearby targets in space,” it reads.

Human Composting, Already Legal in 6 States, Could Help the Planet – (CNBC – February 16, 2023)

Burials and cremations carry heavy environmental tolls. Burials require embalming bodies in toxic solutions, plus an indefinite use of land, and cremations result in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Over the last 15 years, the rate of cremation in the U.S. almost doubled, to 57%. Return Home is a Seattle-area human composting facility. Its futuristic-looking vessels full of organic material like straw, alfalfa and sawdust can turn human bodies back into soil by mimicking natural decomposition processes, the company says. Many of human composting’s advocates are relatively young. The first five people to sign up for Return Home’s pre-planning services were under age 35, according to CEO Micah Truman. At Recompose, another Seattle-based facility, 25% of pre-planning clients are between 20 to 49 years old, says founder Katrina Spade.
Human composting, also called “natural organic reduction,” is now legal in six states and counting. Washington was first, in 2019. Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York soon followed. You don’t need to live where it’s legal to take advantage: Some of Return Home’s clients will have their bodies flown to Washington after they die. But legalization is only the first step, proponents say. The next big hurdle is getting more people on board with the concept. That’s where TikTok comes in. Return Home, for example, has a robust presence on the platform, with more than 570,000 followers watching videos about what happens to the soil, where the bones go and other common questions.

Elderly in China Protest over Slashed Health Benefits – (BBC – February 15, 2023)

Protests first took place in Wuhan on 8 February after provincial authorities said they were cutting the level of medical expenses which retirees can claim back from the government.  The second round of protests in seven days puts pressure on President Xi Jinping’s administration just weeks before the annual National People’s Congress, which will usher in a new leadership team. Social media footage shows the protesters to be largely elderly retirees, who say this comes at a time of soaring healthcare costs. Although such health insurance matters are handled at a provincial level, protests have spread to different parts of the country in what appears to be a renewed belief in the power of demonstrating in China.
The changes to health benefits for retirees, which officials have described as reforms, come just as China emerges from that brutal Covid wave. The plan has been sold as a means of trading off reimbursement levels to increase the scope of coverage to include more areas. However criticism of plan on social media has included the widely held view that Chinese officials are trying to recoup the vast amounts of money spent on compulsory Covid testing and other pandemic measures. Officials in both Wuhan and Dalian said they had no knowledge of the most recent protests and, as such, had no comment to make. Calls to local police stations went unanswered. See also: French protests intensify against pension age rise.

Ringed Planet That Defies Physics Discovered in Outer Solar System – (Good News Network – February 17, 2023)

It turns out that Saturn isn’t the only married planet in the solar system. A European telescope has found a new dwarf planet right here at home, and it too has a ring. The largest object found to orbit our sun since Pluto was discovered in 1930, Quaoar is the third-largest dwarf planet or planetoid of the 3,000 that orbit the sun out beyond Neptune. A collaboration between the European Space Agency’s ground-based telescopes and the space-based telescope Cheops, began observing Quaoar between 2018 and 2021, during which astronomers discovered it has a ring about 7 times the planet’s 690-mile diameter. This was found via the common detecting method of occultation—which is the process of measuring the drop in light from a light source that comes when an orbiting exoplanet eclipses it. The astronomers looked at the data and determined that there was something more than just a planet blocking the light behind Quaoar.

Quaoar isn’t the only dwarf planet to be found that has one. The centaur 10199 Chariklo, orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, and Haumea, another dwarf planet beyond Neptune, both have rings. But Quaoar’s is unique because it breaks a longstanding principle in astronomy that details when disks of dust and debris will inevitably coalesce and form a moon. Any celestial object with an appreciable gravitational field will have a limit within which an approaching celestial object will be pulled to pieces. This is known as the Roche limit. “So, what is so intriguing about this discovery around Quaoar is that the ring of material is much farther out than the Roche limit,” says Giovanni Bruno, at the Astrophysical Observatory of Catania, Italy, and member of the research group. “As a result of our observations, the classical notion that dense rings survive only inside the Roche limit of a planetary body must be thoroughly revised.”

These 61 Companies Moved to a 4-day Workweek. Here’s What Happened to Revenue — and Employees’ Relationships to Their Jobs. – (Marketwatch – February 21, 2023)

A four-day workweek was once a fringe idea, but it is gaining traction. During the 2022 World Economic Forum, there was a panel discussion about the shorter workweek, along with a supplementary post about how a four-day workweek did not reduce productivity and may even increase it. Companies in the U.K. that experimented with a four-day workweek last year reported more revenue and less staff attrition, while most workers participating in the trial said they experienced less burnout, fewer negative emotions and more satisfaction with their work-life balance. This is according to the final results of a study of how 61 U.K. companies and their approximately 2,900 workers fared with a compressed workweek between June and December 2022.
The study was carried out by 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit that supports the idea of a shorter workweek. Companies scored the experience at 8.5 out of 10, while revenue increased 1.4% on average during the trial. A large majority of participating businesses — 92% — said they planned to continue with the four-day workweek, researchers noted. Two of the other five businesses are extending the trial run, while the other three are stopping. Early data on the U.K. trial run showed that for almost half of the businesses productivity was the same, while one-third said there was a slight improvement, and 15% saw a more marked improvement. In a test conducted in 2019, Microsoft said productivity jumped 40% when employees worked four days a week, but the company did not subsequently implement a permanent four-day workweek.

Free Speech Is for Fighting the Empire: Notes from the Edge of the Narrative Matrix – (Caitlin Johnstone – February 22, 2023)

My (Caitlin Johnstone’s) research has led me to conclude that there’s an elite conspiracy to enslave us all and turn us all into brainwashed automatons mindlessly enacting the wishes of our rulers in a cruel dystopia built by the powerful, for the powerful. Haha, just kidding. That already happened.
Step one out of the Matrix is learning that the mainstream consensus worldview is a lie, and that we’ve been fed power-serving propaganda since we were children about our society, our nation, our government and our world. Step two is getting clear on how we’ve been lied to. A lot of people who make it past step one fall for dopey right-wing narratives about Jews ruling the world, globalist pedophile cabals, elite conspiracies to make all our kids transgendered or whatever, because their ideology prohibits them from clearly seeing the real underlying dynamics of capitalism and the empire-building of their own government. Step three is learning what to do about all this, and beginning to take action. This means working to spread awareness of what’s really going on and helping others to make it through steps one and two, because the only thing that ever leads to lasting positive changes in human behavior is an expansion of consciousness. The more people make it to step three, the more people there are to help wake up everyone else.

Original iPhone Fetches $63k – (BBC News – February 21, 2023)

Karen Green got an iPhone in 2007, but did something most people don’t – she never opened it. Her first-generation iPhone sold at auction for $63,356.40. That blew away expectations the phone would go for $50,000. It’s also more than 100 times the 8GB phone’s original cost of $599. But don’t expect as much for your old iPhone, unless it’s still in original packaging with the shrink wrap on. “To discover an original, first-release model from 2007, still brand-new with its factory seal intact, is truly remarkable,” said Mark Montero of LCG Auctions. LCG Auctions handled the auction, which opened at $2,500 on 2 February and closed on Sunday after 27 bids.
Friends gave the 8GB phone as a gift to Ms. Green back in 2007 when she got a new job, she said. Ms. Green had just bought another phone, so she kept the gift without opening it. “It’s an iPhone,” she thought, “so it’ll never go out of date”. As we know, she was wrong. Her iPhone checks all the boxes high-end collectors look for, Mr. Montero says: “relevance, rarity, and replaceability”.

How This Guy Mastered the Slinky – (YouTube – March 27, 2023)

Josh Jacobs has taken a childhood toy and turned it into a visually stunning art form. Slinky manipulation is a fairly new practice, starting around 2010. Josh got into “slinking” eight years ago when watching an incredible Chinese performer do things he never thought possible with a slinky. Now, Josh is one of the best slinky manipulators in the world. The art—and physics—of his Slinking are dazzling. He doesn’t reveal expert techniques (“trade secrets”) but he does share basic moves and encourages beginners to Slink, travel the world, and meet new people.
We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.
  R. Buckminster Fuller
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