Volume 15, Number 6 - 3/31/12 Twitter  Facebook  

FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT...
  • One third of the babies born this year in the UK are expected to live to 100.

  • The company Oxford Nanopore says it has built a device the size of a thumb drive that plugs into a USB port that will sequence DNA in a matter of minutes.

  • Microsoft has filed for a patent for "control-based content pricing" that will enable content owners to charge users for skipping over ads or watching a replay.

  • Beyond recycling, simply erase and reuse: a process to "unphotocopy" toner ink from paper has been developed by engineers at the University of Cambridge.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

E.Dee Conrad Coming to Berkeley Springs

We’re continuing our Transition Talks series here in Berkeley Springs with E.Dee Conrad, who will join us on Friday, the 6th of April at 7:00 PM. This will be a great presentation that you won’t want to miss. You can find complete information here.

A New Dawn Awaits
E.Dee is the author of A New Dawn Awaits: The Times Ahead and How To Shift Your Consciousness, which many FE readers have found quite helpful. I’ve received many compliments on this book, especially about how clear and compelling her picture is of what is driving the present galactic and solar change and what those forces are likely to manifest in our lives in the coming months and years.

This is one of the most coherent, comprehensive and readable summaries of the big change that I know. You can see more about it and view a video here. We have some of E.Dee’s books in stock here which I will send with free domestic shipping if you order it here or click on the book (Sorry, those of you who are out of the U.S., but we’ll need to charge you shipping.)

E.Dee wanted to have a conversation when she’s with us next month, so I’ve agreed to pitch questions to her and comment on some of her ideas. You’ll have a chance to join in on the conversation as well, so come for another provocative and informative evening!

Thinking About The Future

[I wrote this forward to Kiara Windrider’s marvelous book, Year Zero, last year. It still seems useful.]

Year Zero: Time of the Great Shift
There are structural problems with trying to look into the future.

First of all, we all walk into the room with only the baggage that we are carrying. For most people, that baggage is the sum total of their experiences. It is what they think they know from what has happened to them in the past. It is only as broad as their explorations and as narrow as their interests.

Almost all of us are also necessarily specialists. We have been educated in specific disciplines. We focus on particular professions. We have limited time for hobbies. We are not generalists, ranging widely and knowing something about most everything. We are not system thinkers, naturally visualizing all of the big contributing components of the network under consideration.

Economists, for example, don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about rapid climate change . . . even though a big, accelerated shift in the world’s weather would drive their econometric models over the nearest cliff. Energy analysts are probably not closely tracking social value shifts and the relative confidence that the public has in their government . . . even though consumer buying and traveling behavior are directly related to these factors.

It is bad enough that one’s experiences are necessarily constrained – offering a perspective of only a slight sliver of the total available knowledge – but for some reason, most of us think that our necessarily myopic, highly-colored view represents, in some significant way, absolute reality. We believe that our personal experiences are more absolute than relative and we imagine that what we, in fact, believe, we really know.

The essence of being “sane” is to have a relatively coherent concept about what is going on around one’s self. To the extent that there are holes in that concept – things that we don’t understand – we fill those holes in with ideas that we either come up with ourselves or have been given to us by friends, authorities and institutions (like government and religion). We take those notions and believe them and deem them to be true . . . because it helps us make sense of our human experience. But most of us don’t know where what we know ends and what we believe begins.

Most people seem not to have ever given a thought to the idea that everything we experience is transmitted to our brains in some way through physical transducers (eyes, ears, skin) that fundamentally shape and constrain the external signal, essentially making our reality subjective. If you’re color blind, you are aware of this – but only because someone else, with a broader perspective, has demonstrated it to you. If you’re married, you know that the same event can really look and mean different things to different people.

Furthermore, we presume what has happened in the past will necessarily repeat itself – always in some familiar form. Our radar is locked pointing backward – not forward. That is why most forecasts and predictions are based upon extrapolations of historical behavior . . . and are wrong. As the university analysts found when they did a study of the predictions and forecasts of well-known economists over the years on where the economy was going; rates of economic growth, etc. : if one had trained a parrot to say, “Same as last quarter” whenever you asked it a question, it would have been more accurate than all of the economists.

We have no innate provision for either anticipating or dealing with very disruptive change that produces a future that hasn’t already been considered. Science tells us we make sense using stored patterns in our brains collected from former experiences. If something new shows up that isn’t congruent with an existing pattern, we can’t make sense out of the situation. If we haven’t thought about it – it isn’t there. This is where we plug the hole with something that seems to make sense.

All of this suggests that there’s no place for big, rapid, revolutionary change in the cognitive set of most of the members of our species. We have a set of capabilities that are adapted to the past, not the future.

This is all important because we now appear to be running headlong into a major evolutionary shift that encompasses not only the planet (and perhaps the solar system and galaxy) but also humanity. The distinct patterns of these kinds of transitions are quite clear from history. They come at generally predictable times (each era is one-tenth of the size of the previous ones), are quicker (state changes are now measured in years, or maybe months, rather than centuries), and are more violent (8-9 times the amount of knowledge and complexity is quickly inserted into the system, both in seemingly positive and negative terms).

In every previous case, there emerged a new level of intelligence, capabilities, and self awareness in the dominant species . . . and the previous social structures collapsed. It’s one thing to live through a small segment of a shift of this type that takes, say, 200 years – it is quite another to navigate oneself through the rapids of a five or ten year transition that might be violent as well as rapid. But that is what we must do. That is why we are here.

There’s a problem with this model that I’ve just described, and that is that it is derived from the shortcomings that I’ve just enumerated. It’s hard, if not impossible, to describe from the position of an earlier era how life might transition to a new reality which doesn’t at all work like the current, familiar paradigm. What that means is the new world – and the transition from here to there – might very well be much stranger than we can generally imagine. That’s the essential nature of a paradigm shift. How you make sense of reality dramatically changes.

All of this begs the question: So, what do you do if you’re on the edge of what could be the greatest transition in the history of the planet?

I’d suggest that there are four things that would find themselves in any good list of the most important things to do in preparing for planetary shift. You need to learn from the past, anticipate what might be inbound from the future, innovate with new ideas about how to live, and become highly adaptive and able to adjust to the new reality. All of these things could be summed up in the base characteristic of agility, I suppose – the ability to easily dance to whatever new song the universal band plays.

Now that’s easy to say. Just get agile. Well, I’ll tell you that as daunting as it may seem, it’s quite possible. But there are two prerequisites. The first and most important is that you must commit yourself – you must intend – to actively engage in this transition. You must engage in order to transcend.

I can assure you that if you seriously put that intention into place, your world will change. New people will show up, you’ll hear things that are important in ways that never seemed to happen before . . . and you’ll find books like this one. Your universe will reconfigure itself to make that intention your reality.

The second prerequisite is one of the things I mentioned above: anticipation. Anticipation is more important than all of the other characteristics mentioned. If you can’t anticipate – have foresight – how do you know what to innovate for? If you don’t have an idea of what might be inbound, how do you build an adaptive life or organization? What are you going to adapt to or for? And, if you don’t have an idea of what might be in the future, where do you go in the past to learn how others have previously responded to big change?

So, anticipation, or foresight, laced with all of the human shortcomings I’ve mentioned earlier, is what we must embrace.

Foresight is about building coherent ideas in your mind about likely or plausible futures and understanding what might happen between now and then that could make those futures manifest. These are mental pictures. In my business we talk about them as scenarios, but that is a somewhat formal characterization – they’re really stories that make sense, and the more they make sense, the more powerful they are in providing you with a framework, an architecture, for action.

Conceptually, it’s the same, and almost as simple, as gathering up enough information to come to the conclusion that there might be a very large hurricane coming your way in the next six months (got that mental picture?), and thinking through what you might have to do to prepare yourself for such an event.

Now, relatively speaking, that’s rather easy to do if you’re talking about the weather – but if you presume that the giant meteorological storm, though larger, is pretty much like other hurricanes, then the analogy to the present situation starts to come apart. In this case, it’s a little like you thought the highest velocity the winds might build to were 120 mph and they turned out to be 250 mph, unlike anything ever before seen in history!

We’re on the edge of bigger change than ever before experienced by anyone on this planet in this lifetime. There are no historical records that even begin to describe these potentialities. There is no “standard operating procedure” for responding to what is bearing down on us within clear sight.

So, how do you anticipate what has never happened before? That brings us to this wonderful book. When Kiara Windrider asked me if I would write a bit for this book, I jumped at the opportunity because this book represents one of the best tools that I have found for laying the personal groundwork for engaging in this extraordinary experience that is about to consume us all.

One of the things that I’ve learned about thinking about alternative futures is that you must find resources that know more about the context than you do if you are to build a broad, rich, reasonable base from which to allow stories of alternative futures to emerge. Otherwise, you’re just talking to yourself. In this case there are two. Firstly, we’re into space that is best described by scientists – unconventional thinkers – who are starting to get a grasp of the early indicators that describe extraordinary, cyclical activities in this galaxy and our planet. The signals are there to be deciphered that start to tell a story unlike any that we have heard before. Scientific insights provide the warp of the tapestry of this emerging future.

One also needs an entering argument that this universe is very sentient, extraordinarily intelligent, basically loving, clearly directed, and essentially personal. Unless you believe that it is all random (if you do, you’ve picked up the wrong book), then there must be a purpose to this human experience – there is a direction where this all is going. Almost by definition, the ins and outs of something as multi-dimensional and complex as this is beyond the ken of most humans – at least, humans like me. So, personally, in order to start to make sense out of something that has never happened before, one needs to carefully begin to look outside of the human box to some of those entities who, more than we do, appear to be running (or influencing) this show. Maybe they’re just observing – but at least they have a much broader perspective than we do. That is the woof of this future fabric: unconventional, spiritual sources that seem ready to help with information that is otherwise inaccessible to most of us.

If understanding this transition has been one of your passions for some time now, then you know that there are bundles of books and other resources out there, each with a different (and sometimes conflicting) notion about what is going on. Almost all are unidimensional – they come at the issue from a single perspective. Most things in life are multidimensional – they’re more complex – and that’s where this volume shines. You hold in your hand a very readable systems analysis – and a rather comprehensive one, at that – of a perspective and story about the biggest event in recorded human history. This is a primer, an unparalleled conceptual framework that you can give to anyone who is interested in the big transition.

[More on Year Zero here.]

Living In The Present

In times of increasing uncertainty and potential stress, living in the present offers a very practical (and perhaps the only) method of effectively transcending all of the disruption happening all around you. There are lots of books written on this subject, but I rather liked this succinct summary that I ran into the other day.





INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Just How Much is Your Privacy Worth? – (Technology Review – March 21, 2012)
Most of us would shy away from making purchases in a foreign country if we didn't know the exchange rate. Yet, if privacy is the true currency of the Internet, as many argue, millions of us are doing that very thing every day. Meanwhile, Internet giants amend their privacy policies in ways that allow them to harvest and sell even more of our personal data. While privacy campaigners protest, users generally vote with their clicks and carry on regardless. So should we conclude the Internet generation is happy to trade its privacy for free or cheaper Web services? Not according to Nicola Jentzsch of the German Institute of Research in Berlin, and colleagues, who have published research showing that most people prefer to protect their personal data when given a choice and that a significant proportion are willing to pay extra to do so.

Bizarre Insights from Big Data – (New York Times – March 28, 2012)
Gilad Elbaz, who made a fortune helping Google map the Internet, is now building a company called Factual, which he hopes will be one of the world’s largest and most accurate repositories of facts. The idea is to have a lot of data of all kinds on hand, because sometimes unexpected combinations of information can lead to valuable insights. For example, if you buy a used car, your best bet is an orange one. Data scientists at Kaggle, a pattern recognition start-up in which Mr. Elbaz has invested, have matched previously separate data sets on buyers, colors and after-purchase problems. They figured out that if a car’s original owner chose an odd color, the car was most likely a means of self-expression. That self-identification raises the odds that the owner cared more than usual for the vehicle. Here’s another one: the best way to tell if a person is likely to make their flight is if he or she has preordered a special, dietary-influence meal. The psychology of making that trip personal, by knowing your meal is on it, makes you more likely to get to the plane on time. Meanwhile, President Obama is targeting $200 million for a big data boost. And speaking of “big data”, the NSA with its new facility in Utah, is the real giant going for big data; see the first article below in the “Trends of Governance” section.



NEW REALITIES

'Lucy' Lived Among Close Cousins – (Science Daily – March 28, 2012)
A team of scientists has announced the discovery of a 3.4 million-year-old partial foot from the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia. The fossil foot did not belong to a member of “Lucy’s” species, Australopithecus afarensis, the famous early human ancestor. Research on this new specimen indicates that more than one species of early human ancestor existed between 3 and 4 million years ago with different methods of locomotion. The partial foot is the first evidence for the presence of at least two pre-human species with different modes of locomotion contemporaneously living in eastern Africa around 3.4 million years ago. While the big toe of the foot in Lucy’s species was aligned with the other four toes for human-like bipedal walking, the newly discovered fossil foot had an opposable big toe like the earlier Ardi.

Physicists Find Patterns in New State of Matter – (Phys Org – March 29, 2012)
Physicists at UC San Diego have described the emergence of “spontaneous coherence,” “spin textures” and “phase singularities” when excitons—the bound pairs of electrons and holes that determine the optical properties of semiconductors and enable them to function as novel optoelectronic devices—are cooled to near absolute zero. This cooling leads to the spontaneous production of a new coherent state of matter which the physicists were finally able to measure in great detail at a temperature of only one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero. The discovery of the phenomena that underlie the formation of spontaneous coherence of excitons will add new insights into the quirky quantum properties of matter and, in time, lead to the development of novel computing devices and other commercial applications in the field of optoelectronics.



GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY

Monsanto's Roundup is Killing Human Kidney Cells - (Nation of Change - March 15, 2012)
Monsanto’s ‘biopesticide’ known as Bt is not only developing mutated insects and requiring excessive pesticide use, but new findings show that it is also killing human kidney cells — even in low doses. Amazingly, Monsanto’s superweed-breeding Roundup also has the same effect. Scientists have demonstrated in new research that the Bt pesticide, in addition to Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, exhibit direct toxicity to human cells. The findings add to the long list of hazardous effects presented by Monsanto’s genetically modified creations. These dangerous Bt crops currently engulf 39% of globally cultivated GMO crops, and Monsanto does not seem to be slowing down on their campaign to expand usage. Led by Gilles-Eric Séralini, a French scientist from the University of Caen, Séralini and his team are no strangers to the toxic effects of both Bt and glyphosate — the main component used in Roundup. Previously, Séralini and a group of other scientists found that Roundup is linked to infertility, killing testicular cells in rats. The report stated that within 1 to 48 hours of exposure, testicular cells of the mature rats were either damaged or killed.

Gene Flaw Linked to Serious Flu Risk – (BBC News – March 25, 2012)
A genetic flaw may explain why some people get more ill with flu than others. The researchers said the variant of the IFITM3 gene was much more common in people hospitalized for flu than in the general population. It controls a malformed protein, which makes cells more susceptible to viral infection. Researchers removed the gene from mice. They found that when they developed flu, their symptoms were much worse than those seen in mice with the gene. Evidence from genetic databases covering thousands of people showed the flawed version of the gene is present in around one in 400 people. This research adds to a growing scientific understanding that genetic factors affect the course of disease in more than one way. Genetic variations in a virus can increase its virulence, but genetic variations in that virus's host - us - matter greatly as well.

Can You Really Sequence DNA with a Thumb Drive – (Wired – March 23, 2012)
What if you could put a few bacterial cells into a USB stick, plug it into your laptop, and get back a complete DNA sequence in a matter of minutes? Oxford Nanopore has built a USB device that will do just that. At least, that’s what the company says. Known as MinION, the device is slated for commercial release in the second half of the year. But many are still skeptical that this tiny device will do what it’s designed to do. The device—which is used once and discarded—is expected to sell for $900.

With You in the Room, Bacteria Counts Spike—by About 37 Million Bacteria Per Hour – (Science Daily – March 28, 2012)
A person's mere presence in a room can add 37 million bacteria to the air every hour—material largely left behind by previous occupants and stirred up from the floor—according to new research by Yale University engineers. Many previous studies have surveyed the variety of germs present in everyday spaces. But this is the first study that quantifies how much a lone human presence affects the level of indoor biological aerosols.

One Third of UK Babies Will Live to 100 – (BBC New – March 26, 2012)
A third of the babies born in 2012 in the UK are expected to live to 100, according to a new report. The Office for National Statistics experts base their projections on current and future survival trends. And if their calculations are borne out, more than 95,000 of those who turn 65 this year can expect to celebrate their 100th birthday in 2047. The number of centenarians has been steadily increasing - from 600 in 1961 to nearly 13,000 in 2010. In 2012, the figure is expected to hit 14,500, and by 2035 will have breached the 100,000 mark. Of those born in 2012, 135,000 men and 156,000 women are expected to still be alive by age 100. The report comes as ministers have pledged to double funding for dementia research in the UK. In the next decade, the number with the disease - mostly elderly - is expected to top one million.



ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

Rising Sea Levels Seen as Threat to Coastal U.S. - (New York Times - March 14, 2012)
The ocean, one of the hallmark indicators that the climate of the earth is changing, has been rising since the late 19th century. The average global rise has been about eight inches since 1880, but the local rise has been higher in some places where the land is also sinking, as in Louisiana and the Chesapeake Bay region. About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research. If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century. By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, but virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.

Climate Change Tree Test Begins – (BBC News – March 28, 2012)
European forestry scientists have begun a multi-national field trial to identify trees that will thrive as predicted climate change develops. Thousands of trees are being planted in test plots from Portugal in the south to Scotland in the north. The trees will be measured and monitored as they grow in the diverse environments. The results are likely to have a marked impact on which species of trees are planted in the coming decades. For example, in Wales, a cleared area of the Crychan Forest about the size of five football pitches is being planted in a carefully mapped grid system. The saplings going into the ground have been imported from the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, California and beyond. Climate change is likely to have a big impact on how well trees survive and thrive in the future, and on how resistant they may be to a new wave of disease which the predicted warmer conditions may bring.



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Microsoft Seeks Patent for TV-viewing Tolls - (CNet - March 16, 2012)
Microsoft has filed for a patent for "control-based content pricing" that will enable content owners to charge users for skipping over ads or watching a replay. "If a user initiates a navigation control input to advance past (e.g., skip over) an advertisement, the cost of a requested on-demand movie may be increased," Microsoft said in the application. A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment.

Here’s How Law Enforcement Cracks Your iPhone’s Security Code – (Forbes – March 27, 2012)
Set your iPhone to require a four-digit passcode, and it may keep your private information safe from the prying eyes of the taxi driver whose cab you forget it in. But if law enforcement is determined to see the data you’ve stored on your smartphone, those four digits will slow down the process of accessing it by less than two minutes. Here’s a video posted by Micro Systemation, a Stockholm, Sweden-based firm that sells law enforcement and military customers the tools to access the devices of criminal suspects or military detainees and siphon off their personal information. As the video shows, a Micro Systemation application the firm calls XRY can quickly crack an iOS or Android phone’s passcode, dump its data to a PC, decrypt it, and display information like the user’s GPS location, files, call logs, contacts, messages, even a log of its keystrokes.



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

UCLA Engineering Researchers Use Electricity to Generate Alternative Fuel – (Eurekalert – March 29, 2012)
Imagine being able to use electricity to power your car — even if it's not an electric vehicle. Researchers at UCLA have for the first time demonstrated a method for converting carbon dioxide into liquid fuel isobutanol using electricity. Today, electrical energy generated by various methods is still difficult to store efficiently. Chemical batteries, hydraulic pumping and water splitting suffer from low energy-density storage or incompatibility with current transportation infrastructure. James Liao and his team genetically engineered a lithoautotrophic microorganism known as Ralstonia eutropha H16 to produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol in an electro-bioreactor using carbon dioxide as the sole carbon source and electricity as the sole energy input. We are using solar panels to convert the sunlight to electrical energy, then to a chemical intermediate, and using that to power carbon dioxide fixation to produce the fuel," Liao said. "This method could be more efficient than the biological system."



TRANSPORTATION

AT&T Reinvents the Steering Wheel – (Technology Review – March 22, 2012)
Distracted driving kills an estimated 3,000 people yearly in the United States, triggering calls for bans on one of the causes, mobile phone use in vehicles. In response, the wireless industry is ramping up its anti-distraction efforts. Now, AT&T Labs is contributing with a vibrating steering wheel that promises to deliver navigation information to drivers more safely than on-screen instructions or turn-by-turn GPS commands. In the prototype, a clockwise pattern of vibrations on the steering wheel means "turn right"; counterclockwise means "turn left." The wheel's 20 actuators can fire off in any pattern. And while the initial focus has been on improving delivery of GPS navigation instructions, other applications are under development, such as notifying drivers if cars are in their blind spots. The technology underlying these tactile cues is known as haptics.



AGRICULTURE/FOOD

New Foot and Mouth Disease Strain Hits Egypt – (Reuters – March 22, 2012)
A new strain of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has hit Egypt and threatens to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, jeopardizing food security in the region, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FMD is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, buffalo and pigs. There have been 40,222 suspected cases of the disease in Egypt and 4,658 animals, mostly calves, have already died, the FAO said in a statement citing official estimates. "Although foot-and-mouth disease has circulated in the country for some years, this is an entirely new introduction of a virus strain known as SAT2, and livestock have no immune protection against it," the Rome-based agency said.

Judge to FDA: Remove Antibiotics from Animal Feed – (Nation of Change – March 25, 2012)
United States Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz is ordering FDA regulators to start proceedings to revoke the approval for the use of common antibiotics in animal feed unless the drug manufacturers can prove that their usage in the food supply is safe. It would be highly unlikely that the drug makers could produce evidence showing that the antibiotic consumption is safe, considering that antibiotics have been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and even skyrocketing mental illness rates. This is in addition to creating massively resistant superbugs that are considered to be impossible to treat by mainstream medicine. The news could not have come at a more appropriate time; after it was just recently revealed that antibiotic overuse has actually spawned a heavily drug-resistant form of tuberculosis that threatens the health of individuals worldwide.



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

The Department of Homeland Security Plans to Build a High-Risk Virus Research Center - (Nation of Change - March 18, 2012)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is set to begin construction on a new high-risk bio-weapons research facility on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, though critics say the decision is fraught with risk because of the potential for damage from nearby earthquake fault lines. In a statement on its Web site, DHS said it needs the new facility to replace an aging one located. According to the department, $54 million has been approved for the construction of the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. The new facility will feature research on bio level 3 and 4 viruses—some without any known cures—and other potentially dangerous materials. The problem, critics say, is that Manhattan, Kansas, faces a number of worrisome hazards that should influence the architecture and construction of the BSL-4 laboratory. These hazards include flooding, dam failure, earthquakes, and tornadoes - issues the government seems to be downplaying.



TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

We Are This Far from a Turnkey Totalitarian State – (Zero Hedge – March 17, 2012)
The April cover story in Wired magazine is a report on the NSA's Utah Data Center, which is a must read for anyone who believes any privacy is still a possibility in the United States. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”... Much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.” The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013." In other words, in just over 1 year, virtually anything one communicates through any traceable medium, or any record of one's existence in the electronic medium, which these days is everything, will unofficially be property of the US government to deal with as it sees fit. As former NSA operative William Binney who was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician said as he held his thumb and forefinger close together. "We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state." Well worth the time to read it: the in-depth Wired article.

Standing Up for Common Sense - (Nation of Change - March 19, 2012)
During a recent city council meeting, the mayor of Keene, New Hampshire leaned over to a council member and whispered excitedly: "We're going to have our own tank." Never mind that Keene has no crime that would warrant rolling out a tank. Nonetheless, thanks to such richly funded boondoggles as the "war on drugs" and the "war on terrorism," the federal government is throwing money at cities and states to militarize their various police forces. Thus, Keene was granted $285,000 by the Department of Homeland Security to buy its very own "Bearcat," an eight-ton combat vehicle. The people of Keene, however, aren't swallowing the fearmonger pill, and they've forced the town council to reconsider. Local businesswomen Dorrie O'Meara says she hasn't met a single person who's in favor of having "this militaristic thing in Keene." She calls the tank "completely unnecessary. But it's more than that," she adds. "It's just not who we are. It's about what kind of town we want to be." (Follow up: The Keene city council approved the acquisition of the tank; the city councilors and mayor have been targeted by AntiSec for a “doxing” (disclosure of significant personal data); and a neighboring town that was going to help fund the tank backed out. For information on AntiSec, see this.)



GLOBAL RELATIONS

U.S. Intelligence Report Warns of Global Water Tensions – (New York Times – March 22, 2012)
The American intelligence community warned in a report that problems with water could destabilize countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade. Increasing demand and competition caused by the world’s rising population and scarcities created by climate change and poor management threaten to disrupt economies and increase regional tensions. While the report concluded that wars over water are unlikely in the coming decade, it said that countries could use water for political and economic leverage over neighbors and that major facilities like dams and desalination plants could become targets of terrorist attacks. Coupled with poverty and other social factors, problems with water could even contribute to the political failure of weaker nations.

Global Military Spending – (Move On – March 22, 2012)
In one chart, see a comparison of defense spending by nation or groups of nations for 2011. The U. S. spends 45.7% of the total global military spending.

Researchers Document Chinese Censorship in Detail - (Technology Review – March 27, 2012)
We already knew that the "great firewall" barred many people in China from reaching websites deemed subversive or otherwise inappropriate by the government. Now comes evidence of just how sophisticated and widespread the censorship is even on sites inside the firewall. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon analyzed how often posts to social networking sites in China would be deleted if they contain certain terms and found that, for example, at least 16% of the messages at one popular microblog site, Sina Weibo, were sent to the memory hole. (Article includes link to the original study.)



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Big Brother Wants Your Facebook Password – (Business Week – March 27, 2012)
According to the ACLU, the number of employers who request access to applicants’ Facebook profiles has risen over the past year. If you want to become a state trooper in Virginia, you should probably delete any indelicate information you have on Facebook. During the job interview process, the Virginia State Police requires all applicants to sign into Facebook, Twitter, and any social-networking site to which they regularly post information in front of an administrator. “You sign a waiver, then there’s a laptop and you go to these sites and your interviewer reviews your information,” says Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police. “It’s a virtual character check as much as the rest of the process is a physical background check.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a unique method: It requires all student athletes to friend a designated coach or administrative official on Facebook so that he or she can monitor their pages. Accessing such private information puts employers in a legal gray area and may potentially open them up to both privacy and discrimination lawsuits.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Rare 'Cigar' UFO Caught on Tape – (News Gather – March 21, 2012)
A rare "cigar-shaped" UFO was filmed over the skies of Brazil, twisting and turning in the air, flying like no known aircraft. This sighting is unique for several reasons. Most unidentified flying objects are filmed at night and are displaying strange light patterns, but their shapes are hard to distinguish. In daytime sightings, shapes are more clearly defined and are usually aerodynamic, suggesting the object is either known aircraft or natural phenomenon. In this daytime UFO sighting, the craft displays no running lights and is clearly of a shape not classically suitable for flight. There are no wings and no tail. It's just an oblong shape, which rules out explanations like weather balloons or morning stars. Article includes video clip.

Solar Eclipses Don't Just Turn the Lights Out; They Also Make the Wind Slow Down and Change Direction. – (Phys Org – March 29, 2012)
Scientists compared hourly measurements of wind speed and direction from 121 weather stations across southern England during the August 1999 total solar eclipse with the output of a high-resolution weather forecast model that wasn't programmed to represent the eclipse. The model agreed very closely with the instruments' readings right up until the eclipse began. It then showed what the weather would have been like if the eclipse hadn't happened, giving researchers a much more accurate idea of its effects. The results show that average wind speed across an inland cloud-free region over southern England dropped by 0.7 metres per second, and that the wind's direction turned anticlockwise by an average of 17° – effectively, the eclipse was causing the winds to become more easterly. Temperatures also fell by an average of about 1°C. Previous work on the subject has been based only on measurements in a few places, rather than from a network as in this case. And it didn't compare these measurements with a weather model to predict what would have happened without the eclipse. Temperatures are likely to fall when the Earth is deprived of sunlight, just like they do at night. And the slower wind speeds weren't unexpected: cooling the atmosphere close to the ground removes energy from it, damping turbulence, which will probably mean less wind. But the changes in wind direction were more of a surprise.



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

The Gray Area - (Real Strategy - March 16, 2012)
The "gray area" is a term for the fact that there’s often something between us and what we need to perceive – often obscuring something critical.  Another part of the idea is that this masking is so commonplace that we tune it out and act as if it isn’t there, interfering. But it is there, and it’s there in several forms, interfering with our efforts to get the information we need for the elements of our strategies. "The Gray Area" is a blog from Real Strategy and its founder Bill Carson. We all need and constantly use strategies to address problems. This blog won't solve any problems. But what it does brilliantly is teach the reader how to think about strategizing by detailing the processes involved in recognizing, devising, and assessing strategies along with "good, bad and interesting strategy stories". An email alert whenever there is a new blog posting is free. For a fast tutorial in strategizing, see the useful page Smart Menu.

Laser 'Unprinter' Wipes Photocopied Ink from Paper – (BBC News – March 15, 2012)
A process to "unphotocopy" toner ink from paper has been developed by engineers at the University of Cambridge. The process involves using short laser pulses to erase words and images by heating the printed material to the point that they vaporize. The researchers say it works with commonly used papers and toner inks and is more eco-friendly than recycling. However, they add that more research is needed to bring a product to market.

Artificial Intelligence Pioneer: We Can Build Robots With Morals – (Jewish World Review – March 26, 2012)
Judea Pearl, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, has developed two branches of calculus that opened the door for modern artificial intelligence, such as the kind found in voice recognition software and self-driving cars. One branch of calculus which he invented propels probabilistic reasoning, which allows computers to establish the best courses of action given uncertainty, such as a bank's perceived risk in loaning money when given an applicant's credit score. "Before Pearl, most AI systems reasoned with Boolean logic—they understood true or false, but had a hard time with 'maybe,' " Alfred Spector, vice president of research and special initiatives at Google, said of his work. The other calculus he invented allows computers to determine cause-and-effect relationships. At 75, Pearl is currently working on a branch of calculus that he says will allow computers to consider the moral implications of their decisions. He doesn’t know how long it will take, but Pearl predicts, “I think there will be computers that acquire free will, that can understand and create jokes. There will be a day when we're able to do it. There will be computers that can send jokes to the New York Times that will be publishable.” For robotic advancement in terms of tactile capacity, see Oscillating Gel Acts Like Artificial Skin, Giving Robots Potential Ability to 'Feel'.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

Feuds Threaten Asia's Family Businesses – (BBC News – March 25, 2012)
From Samsung in South Korea and India's Reliance Industries to Hon Hai, the Taiwanese maker of the iPad, family businesses dominate Asia's, and increasingly the world's, corporate landscape. They account for half of Asia's publicly listed companies, a third of the region's stock market value and employ millions of people. But these corporate dynasties, most founded in the aftermath of World War II, are facing new challenges as their founders, now in their 80s and 90s, hand over the reins to the next generation. Many are failing to plan for this transition, leading to uncertainty at best, and potentially ruinous family feuds at worst. The business - and gossip - pages of Asia's magazines and newspapers are rife with examples of corporate families locked in bitter court battles over the family fortune. For example, in Hong Kong last year, a bizarre row erupted over the future of billionaire Stanley Ho's Macau casino business, that pitted Mr. Ho against some of his own children. The Ho family is said to account for 40% of Macau's economy.

Apple, Foxconn Set New Standard for Chinese Workers – (Reuters – March 30, 2012)
Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group, whose subsidiary Hon Hai Precision Industry assembles Apple devices in factories in China, will hire tens of thousands of new workers, eliminate illegal overtime, improve safety protocols and upgrade workers' housing and other amenities. It is a response to one of the largest investigations ever conducted of a U.S. company's operations outside of America. Apple had agreed to the probe by the independent Fair Labor Association (FLA) to stem a crescendo of criticism that its products were built on the backs of mistreated Chinese workers. The association, in disclosing its findings from a survey of three Foxconn plants and over 35,000 workers, said it had unearthed multiple violations of labor law, including extreme hours and unpaid overtime. FLA President Auret van Heerden expects the agreement between Apple, the world's most valuable listed company, and Foxconn, which supplies 50 percent of the world's consumer electronics, to have far reaching affects. In terms of working conditions, see this. The biggest issue was forced overtime. The average worker was found to be working 60 hours/week (legal limit is 49), and 14% were found not to have received entitled compensation. (Editor’s Note: Apple requested the FLA review in response to American consumer criticism. Addressing corporations directly is how and where citizens do have an effective voice.)



PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

The Power of Words – (YouTube – 2010)
The right words can change a life.



FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.

Giant, 9-pound Gambian Rats Invading Florida Keys – (Yahoo – March 26, 2012)
When it comes to giant rat infestations, New York gets all the attention. But a breed of giant Gambian rats have been rapidly reproducing in the Florida Keys despite a decade-long effort to wipe them out. The invasive African native species first began showing up between 1999-2001 after a local exotic animal breeder released eight of the rats into the wild. The rodents, officially known as the Gambian pouched rat, are the largest known breed of rats in the world. They can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as nine pounds. Wildlife officials fear that if the rodents make it to the Florida mainland, they could devastate local crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working with Florida officials to wipe out the rodents, and there are only an estimated few dozen at large, but they can reproduce quickly and do so only five months after being born. Officials thought they had successfully gotten rid of all of the Gambian rats back in 2008, but several of the burrowing creatures recently began showing up in the yards of local residents.

Chocolate May Help Keep People Slim – (BBC News – March 26, 2012)
A study published in Archives of Internal Medicine of nearly 1,000 US people that looked at diet, calorie intake and body mass index (BMI) - a measure of obesity – found that people who eat chocolate regularly tend to be thinner. Even though chocolate is loaded with calories, it contains ingredients that may favor weight loss rather than fat synthesis, scientists believe. Lead author Dr Beatrice Golomb, from UC San Diego, said: "Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight." The link remained even when other factors, like how much exercise individuals did, were taken into account. And it appears it is how often you eat chocolate that is important, rather than how much of it you eat. The study found no link with quantity consumed. But the findings only suggest a link - not proof that one factor causes the other.



JUST FOR FUN

Desert Eagle Flight Trial a 6-second Success – (Arizona Daily Star – March 22, 2012)
The Pima Air & Space Museum, which has been preserving the history of flight since 1976, decided to make some history of its own by flying the largest paper airplane ever built. Art Thompson, who designed the 45-foot-long, 800-pound paper plane, identified the possible weak point shortly after the plane was dollied into place on a private airstrip east of Eloy. "Our biggest problem is getting it off the ground," Thompson said. The paper airplane, “Arturo’s Desert Eagle” is name for 7th grader Arturo Valdenegro, 12, who won the honor of working with Thompson on the plane's design by placing first out of more than 150 other Tucson-area students in a paper-plane competition at the museum in January. Article includes photo of the paper airplane—which looks surprisingly similar to the ones we all folded in grade school.

What a Wonderful World – (YouTube/BBC One – December 9, 2011)
Spend a couple minutes watching footage of some of the glories of this wonderful world, narrated by David Attenborough.



A FINAL QUOTE...

I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare—and I dare a little more as I grow older. – Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592, one of the most influential writers of the Renaissance)



A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Kurzweil AI, Diane Petersen, Petra Pieterse, Michael Spolum, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.
johnp@arlingtoninstitute.org



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Edited by John L. Petersen
johnp@arlingtoninstitute.org
www.arlingtoninstitute.org

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