Volume 16, Number 21 - 11/15/13 Twitter  Facebook  

FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • One in three Americans get news from Facebook; one in ten get news from Twitter.

  • While we are asleep, our bodies may be resting, but our brains are busy taking out the biochemical trash.

  • McDowell County, West Virginia has a life expectancy close to that of Haiti; a number of other places in the U.S. are not much different.

  • Unlike Earth, Mars is not protected by a global magnetic field. Instead, it has “magnetic umbrellas” scattered around the planet that shelter only part of the atmosphere.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Help Us Keep FUTUREdition Going

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and then Christmas (and all of the other seasonal holidays), each year we appeal to you to help support this free e-newsletter that you are reading. The truth of the matter is that without your help we would not be able to publish FE. As I’ve mentioned before, it costs something more than $15,000 a year (not counting any of my time) to gather up, organize and get it out to you twice month.

Throughout the year I receive a great number of positive comments from FE readers recounting why they value the unique articles and perspectives that they find here. Most say something like they don’t know where else they could go to get the broad coverage of many different – and important – trends and events, all of which have the potential of significantly influencing our lives in the coming months and years. And, “How in the world do you collect so many interesting articles each issue. It must take you all month just to gather them up.”

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The situation will only become exacerbated as the underlying exponential compounding moves us rapidly into situations for which there are no precedents. Even more reason to be aware, as soon as possible, of what might be headed this way. That’s our goal here – anticipating the emergence of a new era -- and I hope that you will support us this holiday season.

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Warm holiday wishes.


Fukushima Getting Worse

Here’s something that you’re probably not reading a whole lot about in most places where you get news – Fukushima. It turns out it is getting worse than it was and we are sitting on the edge of a possible catastrophic event that could really influence the whole planet in a very negative way.

Here’s a short clip of environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki summarizing the particular situation that we are facing.

Here’s a summary of the fuel rod removal program that Suzuki talks about.

The problem, of course, is not just with the fuel rod removal and the dismantling of the plants (which no one apparently knows when might happen). There is the huge flow of radioactive water that is gushing into the Pacific Ocean each day. Read this piece on why the entire Pacific fishery could be tainted. Writer John LaForge says:

Distracting the public from the 300 tons of highly radioactive water (80,000 gallons) spreading into the Pacific Ocean every day from the triple reactor melt-through at Fukushima-Daiichi, is news of the plan to build an underground “ice wall” to damn up the poisoned water before it leaks to the sea. The project is reportedly a better plan than the failed concrete wall that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) first decided to build.

This frozen finger-in-the-dike won’t be completed until 2015, and it will then fail. Even if it were to work as planned, there is a risk of reversing the water flow, forcing highly radioactive water to seep out from the reactor buildings to the aquifer. Meanwhile, nothing is slowing the relentless radioactive contamination of the Pacific — the world’s largest ocean which covers about a third of Earth.


You can get a sense of the options that are available to Japan and the rest of the world from the fact that Tokyo Electric Power Company has reportedly said that they don’t know what to do with the situation and the government of Japan is considering taking over the whole project. Here’s a good recap from the HuffingtonPost.



THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

One-third of U.S. Adults Get News through Facebook – (Reuters – October 23, 2013)
One in three Americans get news through Facebook, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. Almost 80% of those surveyed happen upon news when they are checking up on friends or sharing photos. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all experimenting with ways to aggregate and share news as a way to keep people coming back to their platforms. Facebook users are not discriminating when it comes to the source of news – 70% click on news stories because of interest in the topic. Only 20% said they read a story based on the news organization. Heavy news consumers did not describe Facebook as an important source of news, the study found.

Twitter News Consumers: Young, Mobile and Educated – (Pew Journalism - November 4, 2013)
Nearly one in ten U.S. adults (8%) get news through Twitter, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. Compared with the 30% of Americans who get news on Facebook, Twitter news consumers stand out as younger, more mobile and more educated. According to the survey, 16% of U.S. adults use Twitter. Among those, roughly half (52%) “ever” get news there — with news defined as “information about events and issues that involve more than just your friends or family.” Mobile devices are a key point of access for these Twitter news consumers. The vast majority, 85%, get news (of any kind) at least sometimes on mobile devices. That outpaces Facebook news consumers by 20 percentage points; 64% of Facebook news consumers use mobile devices for news. The same is true of 40% of all U.S. adults overall, according to the survey.

How Americans Get TV News at Home – (Pew Journalism – October 11, 2013)
Almost three out of four U.S. adults (71%) watch local television news and 65% view network newscasts over the course of a month, according to Nielsen data from February 2013. While 38% of adults watch some cable news during the month, cable viewers—particularly the most engaged viewers—spend far more time with that platform than broadcast viewers do with local or network news. This comparison of in-home network and local television, cable and internet news consumption offers a unique look at how people get news across different platforms in a rapidly changing media environment. In one finding that may seem counterintuitive in an era of profound political polarization, significant portions of the Fox News and MSNBC audiences spend time watching both channels. More than a third (34%) of those who watch the liberal MSNBC in their homes also tune in to the conservative Fox News Channel. The reverse is true for roughly a quarter (28%) of Fox News viewers. Even larger proportions of Fox News and MSNBC viewers, roughly half, also spend time watching CNN, which tends to be more ideologically balanced in prime time. The most dedicated cable news viewers average 72 minutes of home viewing a day. That compares with about 32 minutes for the heaviest network news viewers and 22 minutes for the most engaged local news audience. There is, however, a precipitous drop—to only three minutes a day—for the second most dedicated group of cable watchers. (Editor’s note: This article contains a wealth of more fine-grained data which we recommend.)

Surveys of Audience Habits Suggest Perilous Future for News – (Pew Research – October 4, 2013)
And finally, we wrap up this collection of articles on how and how much we are all tending to inform ourselves with this one. Today’s younger and middle-aged audience seems unlikely to ever match the avid news interest of the generations they will replace, even as they enthusiastically transition to the Internet as their principal source of news. Pew Research longitudinal surveys find that Gen Xers (33-47 years old) and Millennials (18-31 years old), who spent less time than older people following the news at the outset of their adulthood, have so far shown little indication that that they will become heavier news consumers as they age. Notably, a 2012 Pew Research national poll found members of the Silent generation (67-84 years old) spending 84 minutes watching, reading or listening to the news the day before the survey interview. Boomers (48-66 years old), did not lag far behind (77 minutes), but Xers and Millennials spent much less time: 66 minutes and 46 minutes, respectively.



NEW REALITIES

Biology's Brave New World, the Promise and Perils of the Synbio Revolution – (Foreign Affairs – December, 2013)
V. Craig Venter has tried to warn a largely oblivious humanity about what was coming. He cautioned in a 2009 interview, for example, that “we think once we do activate a genome that yes, it probably will impact people’s thinking about life.” Venter defined his new technology as “synthetic genomics,” which would “start in the computer in the digital world from digitized biology and make new DNA constructs for very specific purposes. . . . It can mean that as we learn the rules of life we will be able to develop robotics and computational systems that are self-learning systems.” “It’s the beginning of the new era of very rapid learning,” he continued. “There’s not a single aspect of human life that doesn’t have the potential to be totally transformed by these technologies in the future.” When Venter’s team first created the phi X174 viral genome, Venter commissioned a large analysis of the implications of synthetic genomics for national security and public health. The resulting report warned that two issues were impeding appropriate governance of the new science. The first problem was that work on synthetic biology, or synbio, had become so cheap and easy that its practitioners were no longer classically trained biologists. This meant that there were no shared assumptions regarding the new field’s ethics, professional standards, or safety. The second problem was that existing standards were a generation old, therefore outdated, and also largely unknown to many younger practitioners. Venter’s team predicted that as the cost of synthetic biology continued to drop, interest in the field would increase, and the ethical and practical concerns it raised would come increasingly to the fore. They were even more prescient than they guessed. Combined with breakthroughs in another area of biology, “gain-of-function” (GOF) research, the synthetic genomics field has spawned a dizzying array of new possibilities, challenges, and national security threats. As the scientific community has started debating “human-directed evolution” and the merits of experiments that give relatively benign germs dangerous capacities for disease, the global bioterrorism and biosecurity establishment remains well behind the curve, mired in antiquated notions about what threats are important and how best to counter them.

4-D Printing Means Building Things That Build Themselves – (WVPublic – November 6, 2013)
3-D printers have created prosthetic hands, action figures, food, even blood vessels, simply by depositing layer after layer of different kinds of ink. Now a handful of engineers around the world are trying to push the boundaries one step further — by printing objects that can build themselves. It's called 4-D printing, and the fourth dimension in this case is time. Here's how it works: A 3-D printer with extremely high resolution uses materials that can respond to outside stimuli, like heat or light, as ink. The resulting structure can change, move or even assemble itself after it's been printed. One team of researchers led by H. Jerry Qi, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, is using heat and mechanical pressure to transform flat objects into three-dimensional structures. They printed an unfolded box with glassy polymer fibers — a composite material that has "shape memory behavior" — along the folds. They heated it, pulled on the sides and cooled it, and the flat structure responded by folding into a box. Another team — a collaboration between University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Harvard University — recently garnered an $855,000 grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to explore how adaptive materials can respond to stimuli like light or temperature. One potential application? You could make a fabric that changes color in response to light or changes permeability in response to temperature. It could provide a protective layer in the presence of toxic chemicals — that would be particularly useful for soldiers in combat. Another application is in places where traditional manufacturing is impractical — like in space. You could make an instrument that's small and flat and expand it aboard a spacecraft. You can't make these products at home, at least not yet. The printers are still being tested by individual academic labs, along with the responsive inks. Balazs says integrating the two for reliable commercial use will probably take another three to five years.



GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY

Brains Flush Toxic Waste in Sleep, Including Alzheimer’s-linked Protein – (Washington Post – October 19, 2013)
A new study has found that the cleanup system in the brain, responsible for flushing out toxic waste products that cells produce with daily use, goes into overdrive in mice that are asleep. The cells even shrink in size to make for easier cleaning of the spaces around them. Scientists say this nightly self-clean by the brain provides a compelling biological reason for the restorative power of sleep. “Sleep puts the brain in another state where we clean out all the byproducts of activity during the daytime,” said study author and University of Rochester neurosurgeon Maiken Nedergaard. Those byproducts include beta-amyloid protein, clumps of which form plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Sleep is a riddle that has baffled scientists and philosophers for centuries. Drifting off into a reduced consciousness seems evolutionarily foolish, particularly for those creatures in danger of getting eaten or attacked. Another puzzle involves why different animals require different amounts of sleep per night. For instance, cats sleep more than 12 hours a day, while elephants need only about three hours. Sleep does play a key role in memory formation. But sleeping for eight hours or more just to consolidate memories seems excessive, Nedergaard said, especially for an animal such as a mouse. Last year, Nedergaard and her colleagues discovered a network that drains waste from the brain, which they dubbed the glymphatic system. It works by circulating cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain tissue and flushing any resulting waste into the bloodstream, which then carries it to the liver for detoxification.

Eye Cells Could Help Diagnose Alzheimer's Disease – (BBC News – November 13, 2013)
Changes to specific cells in the retina could help diagnose and track the progression of Alzheimer's disease, scientists say. Scott Turner, director of the memory disorders program at Georgetown University Medical Center, said: "The retina is an extension of the brain so it makes sense to see if the same pathologic processes found in an Alzheimer's brain are also found in the eye." Dr Turner and colleagues looked at the thickness of the retina in an area that had not previously been investigated. This included the inner nuclear layer and the retinal ganglion cell layer. They found that a loss of thickness occurred only in mice with Alzheimer's. The retinal ganglion cell layer had almost halved in size and the inner nuclear layer had decreased by more than a third."This suggests a new path forward in understanding the disease process in humans and could lead to new ways to diagnose or predict Alzheimer's that could be as simple as looking into the eyes," said Dr Turner. Alterations in the same retinal cells could also help detect glaucoma - which causes blindness - and is now also viewed as a neurodegenerative disease similar to Alzheimer's, the researchers report. This work could one day lead to opticians being able to detect Alzheimer's in a regular eye check, if they had the right tools.

Lasers Might Be the Cure for Brain Diseases Such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s - (My News Desk - November 4, 2013)
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, together with researchers at the Polish Wroclaw University of Technology, have made a discovery that may lead to the curing of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the so called mad cow disease) through photo therapy. The researchers discovery, published in the journal Nature Photonics, is that it is possible to distinguish aggregations of the proteins, believed to cause the diseases, from the well-functioning proteins in the body by using multi-photon laser technique. “Nobody has talked about using only light to treat these diseases until now. This is a totally new approach and we believe that this might become a breakthrough in the research of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. We have found a totally new way of discovering these structures using just laser light”, says Piotr Hanczyc at Chalmers University of Technology. If the protein aggregates are removed, the disease is in principle cured. The problem until now has been to detect and remove the aggregates. The researchers now harbor high hopes that photo acoustic therapy, which is already used for tomography, may be used to remove the malfunctioning proteins. Today amyloid protein aggregates are treated with highly toxic chemicals, both for detection as well as removal.

Protein Interplay in Muscle Tied to Life Span – (Science News – November 14, 2013)
Fruit flies are notoriously short-lived but scientists interested in the biology of aging in all animals have begun to understand why some fruit flies live longer than others. They have documented a direct association between insulin and life span, for example, and have observed a tradeoff between prolific reproduction and longevity. The central feature of the study is the newly discovered role of the fruit fly equivalent of the mammalian protein complex activin. They found that it blocks the natural mechanism in muscle cells for cleaning out misfolded proteins, leading to a decline in muscle performance. In what scientists at Brown University think is no coincidence, blocking the activity of that activin equivalent, called dawdle, can lengthen a fly's life span by as much as 20%, about 10 days. What excites the researchers is not that they can allow flies to stick around another week or two, but that the same fundamental proteins they have implicated in flies are "conserved" in evolution, meaning they also operate in mammals including humans.


ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

Three Fukushima Reactor Cores Melted – (Bill Totten – October 30, 2013)
This link provides a good summary of the current situation at the Fukushima Power Plant. Basically, there are three major problems at Fukushima: (1) Three reactor cores are missing; (2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and (3) Eleven thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed. 1,533 of those are in a very precarious and dangerous position. Each of these three could result in dramatic radiation events, unlike any radiation exposure humans have ever experienced.  The article carefully discusses each one giving further links for more details. If anything goes wrong in removing the spent rods from the damaged housing, the results have the potential to be a wild card – a game changer the likes of which the planet has never seen (unless the stories about Atlantis happen to have some truth in them).

Marcellus Shale Fracking Wells Use 5 Million Gallons of Water Apiece – (Grist – October 31, 2013)
Forget about residents. Forget about fish. The streams and rivers of Pennsylvania and West Virginia are being heavily tapped to quench the growing thirst of the fracking industry. According to a new report, each of the thousands of fracking wells drilled to draw gas and oil out of the Marcellus Shale formation in those two states uses an average of 4.1 to 5.6 million gallons of fresh water. That’s more than the amount of water used by fracking wells in three other big shale formations around the country. The entire flow of the Susquehanna River contributes 26 billion gallons of water per day to the Chesapeake Bay. The cumulative volume of water used by all wells in Pennsylvania is roughly equal to the daily flow from the entire river basin. These cumulative impacts are especially important because such a large percentage of the water injected does not return to the surface and is lost to the hydrologic cycle. The volume of water injected to date in Pennsylvania is also roughly 1% of the 2.5 trillion gallons of total surface water in Pennsylvania alone. While overall, 1% might be seen as only a marginal impact, these volumes could be critical in times of drought. Also, as drilling expands, the cumulative impacts are likely to grow proportional to water use. The development of the deeper and thicker Utica Shale that underlies the Marcellus with similar techniques will require substantially more water. See also: Fracking Wastewater May Be Transported By Barge Under Coast Guard Proposal.



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Why is Broadband More Expensive in the US? – (BBC News – October 27, 2013)
Home broadband in the US costs far more than elsewhere. At high speeds, it costs nearly three times as much as in the UK and France, and more than five times as much as in South Korea. Why? Men's haircuts, loaves of bread... it is surprising how much more expensive some things are in the US than the UK. Now home broadband can be added to that list. The price of basic broadband, TV and phone packages - or bundles - is much higher in American cities than elsewhere, according to the New America Foundation think tank, which compared hundreds of available packages worldwide. "Americans pay so much because they don't have a choice," says Susan Crawford, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama on science, technology and innovation policy. "We deregulated high-speed internet access 10 years ago and since then we've seen enormous consolidation and monopolies, so left to their own devices, companies that supply internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight." Two-thirds get their broadband via their television cables, she says, because the DSL (digital subscriber line) service provided by phone companies over copper lines can't compete with cable speeds, while wireless and satellite services are subject to low usage caps.



SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

This Impeccably Designed $20,000 House Could Soon Be Yours – (Fast Company – November 5, 2013)
Ask anyone at Auburn University's Rural Studio about what makes the architecture program's housing designs unique, and someone will proudly tell you about the refrigerator. "We can spend four days discussing where a refrigerator goes," explains Rural Studio's 20K House product line manager Marion McElroy. That's because, unlike other design firms, Rural Studio students have been perfecting a series of radically affordable, well-designed 550-square-foot houses for nearly a decade--and they've been building them exclusively for residents of impoverished Black Belt Alabama. Now, in the program's 20th year, Rural Studio is looking to finally put its $20,000 house out on the larger market. Rural Studio started making the 20K house in 2005, keeping in mind the assumption that $20,000 was the total cost of housing someone living on Social Security could afford to pay in monthly mortgage installments. Since then, students have built 12 houses for their rural neighbors, with each design building off the knowledge and real-world experience of the last. The last 20K house built included passive heating and a safe-room in the shower, after the Moore tornado ripped through Oklahoma and killed 23 people earlier this year.

Hairy Skyscraper to Collect Energy Through Piezo-electric Straws – (TreeHugger – May 22, 2013)
Stockholm-based architecture firm Belatchew is proposing to retrofit a tower on one of the city's island neighborhoods with 14 new floors and millions of tiny piezo-electric 'straws'. Calling the idea the Strawscraper, Belatchew said the retrofit of the landmark Söder Torn would result in the building being an urban power plant, with the millions of strands of piezo-electric straw collecting energy as they vibrated in the swirling wind. Is this even possible? Theoretically - Belatchew said research in what are called pizoelectric microcantilevers is ongoing. Belatchew said it introduced this concept design because it is looking for a better way for 'static' buildings to collect and generate power, but also for a way for those same monolithic structures to be more interactive with citizens. Belatchew said this form of electricity generation would be less harmful to birds, and pleasant to look at, especially if lit with changing colors. But now for the downsides of reality - how do you clean all those piezo-strands? How much noise might they make on a windy day? In addition, most piezo-electric generators are sheets or plates installed where people move about, and underneath the collectors is wiring to bring the generated energy to where it can be used. Last but not least, piezo-electricity isn't very efficient. Not yet, at least.



TRANSPORTATION

In Almost Every European Country, Bikes Are Outselling New Cars – (NPR – October 24, 2013)
Spain, which has long had a love affair with cars, is embracing the bicycle: For the first time on record, Lauren noted, bicycles outsold cars in the country. But it's becoming a Continent-wide phenomenon. More bikes were sold in Italy than cars — for the first time since World War II. In fact, bicycle sales outpaced new-car sales last year in every EU country, except Belgium and Luxembourg. Parts of the data can be explained by the slump in car sales across Europe due to the recession. But it’s not just in Europe; in Australia, bike sales have now outstripped car sales for the tenth year in a row. The U.S. has fared much better in terms of car sales. But U.S. automakers face another problem: Millennials aren't interested in buying cars. Bike sales, on the other hand, are solid. For some relevant additional details on U.S. bicycle vs. car sales, see: Why bikes outsell cars in the USA, too (and why it doesn't matter). See also: A Stunning Elevated Biking Track Keeps Cyclists Far Away from Careening Cars.

New Approach Advances Wireless Power Transfer for Electric Vehicle – (Phys Org – November 14, 2013)
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed new technology and techniques for transmitting power wirelessly from a stationary source to a mobile receiver – moving engineers closer to their goal of creating highway "stations" that can recharge electric vehicles wirelessly as the vehicles drive by. "We've made changes to both the receiver and the transmitter in order to make wireless energy transfer safer and more efficient," says Dr. Srdjan Lukic, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the research. The researchers developed a series of segmented transmitter coils, each of which broadcasts a low-level electromagnetic field. The researchers also created a receiver coil that is the same size as each of the transmitter coils, and which can be placed in a car or other mobile platform. The size of the coils is important, because coils of the same size transfer energy more efficiently. The researchers modified the receiver so that when it comes into range and couples with a transmitter coil, that specific transmitter coil automatically increases its current – boosting its magnetic field strength and the related transfer of energy by 400 percent. The transmitter coil's current returns to normal levels when the receiver passes out of the range of the transmitter. What exists currently is a desktop prototype that serves as a proof of concept. That’s a good beginning.


AGRICULTURE/FOOD

Just How Badly Are We Overfishing the Oceans? – (Washington Post – October 29, 2013)
Humans now have the technology to find and catch every last fish on the planet using trawl nets, drift nets, longlines, GPS, and sonar. As a result, fishing operations have expanded to virtually all corners of the ocean over the past century. That, in turn, has put a strain on fish populations. The world's marine fisheries peaked in the 1990s, when the global catch was higher than it is today.* And the populations of key commercial species like bluefin tuna and cod have dwindled, in some cases falling more than 90%. So just how badly are we overfishing the oceans? Are fish populations going to keep shrinking each year - or could they recover? Those are surprisingly contentious questions, and there seem to be a couple of schools of thought here. (Editor’s note: This article does not take into consideration rising levels of radiation slowly spreading throughout the Pacific Ocean due to Fukushima contamination. Despite official assurances that the fish are safe to eat, there is a growing concern about safety that may well reduce consumption and give the fish a better chance of recovery. On the other hand, there is some evidence that the incidence of fish mutations is also rising. See: Radioactive Bluefin Tuna: Japan Nuclear Plant Contaminated Fish Found off California Coast and Radiation from Japan Nuclear Plant Arrives on Alaska Coast .)

What's In That Chicken Nugget? Maybe You Don't Want To Know – (NPR – October 11, 2013)
Chicken nuggets: Call 'em tasty, call 'em crunchy, call 'em quick and convenient. But maybe you shouldn't call them "chicken." So says Dr. Richard deShazo, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In a research note published in The American Journal of Medicine, deShazo and his colleagues report on a small test they conducted to find out just what's inside that finger food particularly beloved by children. Their conclusion? "Our sampling shows that some commercially available chicken nuggets are actually fat nuggets," he says. "Their name is a misnomer," he and his colleagues write. The nuggets they looked at were only 50% meat — at best. The rest? Fat, blood vessels, nerve, connective tissue and ground bone — the latter, by the way, is stuff that usually ends up in dog food. Now, this was an informal test. To conduct their chicken "autopsy," the researchers went to two different national fast-food chains near their health center in Jackson, Miss., and ordered chicken nuggets over the counter. When put under the microscope, one chicken sample consisted of just 40% skeletal muscle — what we tend to think of as "meat" — and just 19% protein. The other sample was 50% meat and only 18% protein. While the sample size was obviously tiny, the findings, says deShazo, were nonetheless disturbing.



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Bernard Kerik on Prison: Americans Wouldn't Stand for What I Saw – (NewsMax - November 1, 2013)
As New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik was ultimately responsible for the incarceration of many criminals. Now that he has seen the prison system from the inside, having served three years behind bars, he has a new appraisal of the U.S. penal system: "insane." In his first interview since his release from prison, where he served time for tax evasion and lying to federal authorities, Kerik said: "No one in the history of our country has ever been in the system with my background. You have to be on the other side of the bars. You have to see what it's like to be a victim of the system. There's no way to do that from the other side.” Kerik's main beef is with mandatory minimum sentences. He served his time with non-violent inmates, many of them first-time offenders who received disproportionate sentences for their crimes. Kerik handed the interviewer a nickel during his interview to demonstrate the amount of cocaine that sends an offender to jail. "I was with men sentenced to 10 years in prison for five grams of cocaine," he said. "That's insane. That's insane." He went on to say: "Anybody that thinks you can take these young black men out of Baltimore and D.C., give them a 10-year sentence for five grams of cocaine, and then believe that they're going to return to society a better person 10 years from now, when you give them no life improvement skills, when you give them no real rehabilitation? That is not benefitting society." Mandatory sentences do not discourage criminal behavior, but rather sets up inmates for failure, Kerik maintained. "The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them," he said.

Sweden Closes Four Prisons As Number of Inmates Plummets – (Guardian – November 11, 2013)
Prison numbers in Sweden, which have been falling by around 1% a year since 2004, dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to do the same again both this year and next, Nils Öberg, the head of Sweden's prison and probation services said. As a result, the prison service has this year closed down prisons in the towns of Åby, Håja, Båtshagen, and Kristianstad, two of which will probably be sold and two of which will be passed for temporary use to other government authorities. Öberg said that while nobody knew for sure why prison numbers had dropped so steeply, he hoped that Sweden's liberal prison approach, with its strong focus on rehabilitating prisoners, had played a part. One partial explanation for the sudden drop in admissions may be that Swedish courts have given more lenient sentences for drug offences following a ruling of the country's supreme court in 2011. According to Öberg, there were about 200 fewer people serving sentences for drug offences in Sweden last March than a year previously. According to data collected by the International Centre for Prison Studies, the five countries with the highest prison population are the US, China, Russia, Brazil and India. The US has a prison population of 2,239,751, equivalent to 716 people per 100,000. China ranks second with 1,640,000 people behind bars, or 121 people per 100,000, while Russia's inmates are 681,600, amounting to 475 individuals per 100,000. Brazilian prisons hold 548,003 citizens, 274 people per 100,000; finally, India's prison population amounts to 385,135, with a per capita rate of just 30 inmates per 100,000 citizens. Sweden ranked 112th for its prison population.



TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

NSA’s “MUSCULAR” Secretly Breaks into the Cloud of US Tech Companies, Siphons Off Data – (Testosterone Pit - October 30, 2013)
Edward Snowden’s revelations have added a new dimension, deeper and more disturbing still, to the perfect, seamless, borderless surveillance society: under a program with the evocative moniker, MUSCULAR, the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, have secretly targeted American companies, managed to get around their security measures, broken into their “clouds,” and siphoned out user data on a large scale. That would be illegal in the US. But the cloud is a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a beacon of growth for American tech companies. Facebook, Amazon (its AWS hosts a number of big cloud-based websites, such as Netflix), Microsoft, IBM, Google, Yahoo... just about all tech companies, online retailers, social media companies, financial firms, app makers, every company with online products, they’re all using cloud technology. Even Obamacare is in the cloud. You log into a website to access software and your own data – that’s the cloud. In terms of hardware, it’s data centers and fiber-optic links. Thousands of them. Everywhere. The cloud is where the NSA goes to pick through everyone’s data. Under the PRISM program, revealed by Snowden some time ago, the NSA has enjoyed easy access to user accounts and their data. Companies cooperate. It’s permitted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We just didn’t know about it. MUSCULAR is darker. It secretly targets American companies. To get around legality issues in the US, the NSA broke into Google’s and Yahoo’s overseas data centers. If you have anything in the cloud – and you do, whether you want to or not – it’s stored in numerous locations, including overseas.



GLOBAL RELATIONS

Poland Asks European Court to Hide CIA Secret Torture Prison Case from Public – (RT - October 30, 2013)
Poland has asked the European Court of Human Rights to bar media and public presence during an upcoming hearing on Poland’s complicity with the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program that delivered terror suspects to secret prisons around the world. The public hearing in Strasbourg, France, scheduled for Dec. 3, will be the first arguments testing allegations that the Polish government allowed the CIA to operate a jail for supposed Al-Qaeda fighters in Poland. Poland cited national security concerns as to why it wants the hearing to remain confidential. The Polish government would not comment on the story. A Polish human rights group criticized the request for privacy, saying the public deserves to know whether Poland allowed the CIA to hide prisoners from the American court system. "We should have the right to review this case in public," said Adam Bodnar, vice president of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. "I do not see a reason for confidentiality of proceedings." Bodnar added that most of the evidence about the alleged CIA jail is already public, and keeping it secret is pointless now. His organization was instrumental in uncovering evidence of Poland’s cooperation with the agency.

Indonesian 'Anonymous' Hackers Deface Scores of Australian Websites in Revenge over Spying – (RT - November 03, 2013)
Hackers claiming to be part of the ‘hacktivist’ collective Anonymous have responded to Edward Snowden’s latest revelations about the NSA using Australian embassies to spy in Asia – by defacing the websites of scores of small Australian businesses. A group calling itself Anonymous Indonesia replaced the front pages of over 200 websites with the .au address and the message “Stop spying on Indonesia!,” along with a selection of images of varying offensiveness. It is not clear whether the choice of sites - which do not appear to have an overt connection with espionage - was random, or based on their technological susceptibility. Documents reportedly obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and passed along to Der Spiegel magazine in Germany revealed the existence of a program called STATEROOM, which used the diplomatic facilities of Washington’s closest partners, including Australia, to house American surveillance equipment. shot from ozchess.com.au Among the Australian missions named were Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing, and Kuala Lumpur. The document revealed that the “true mission [of the equipment] is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned.” Another report in the Guardian showed that Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate and the NSA worked alongside each other to spy on top Indonesian officials during the UN Climate Summit in Bali in 2007.

An Ordinary Tuesday Morning in Palestine? – (Daily Pennsylvanian – November 4, 2013)
As we were waiting for the other students to arrive, our professor casually asked us if we saw the demolition of a Palestinian home going on outside the main gates of campus on our way in. Having been dropped off at one of the bottom gates, I didn’t see anything, but all of a sudden the booms I heard on my way in made sense, as did the missing students in class. The Israeli occupation forces guarding the demolition team closed the area around the house, declaring it a “closed military zone.” There were fears that the Israeli occupation forces soldiers would invade campus, as they have done previously, so it was deemed safer if we left for the day. These home demolitions mainly take place in East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, where Israel maintains total military and civil control. Together, this constitutes 70% of the occupied Palestinian territories, and Palestinians must obtain a building permit from Israel to build anything, even on land that they own. Israel denies more than 94% of building permits submitted by Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build illegal settlements for Jewish Israelis to live in, right next door. As a result and out of necessity, many Palestinians build homes without permits. Some accuse me of using buzzwords like “ethnic cleansing,” which they say are polarizing and shut down dialogue or cause people to stop listening. Maybe you prefer the more academic term — “forced population transfer.” But at the end of the day, Israel is systematically destroying Palestinian homes, with the help of armed soldiers guarding the streets. We should call it what it is.



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

The Couple Having Four Babies by Two Surrogates – (BBC News – October 27, 2013)
A British couple will shortly become parents of two sets of twin babies carried by two Indian surrogate women they have never met. Experts say twiblings - or children born to separate surrogates but created from the same batch of embryos - are not uncommon in India. The four babies, all due in March 2014, are the result of a commercial surrogacy agreement with a clinic in the Indian city of Mumbai. There are no official figures, but Natalie Gamble, a lawyer who specializes in international surrogacy cases, estimates hundreds of British couples travel to India for surrogacy each year. A surrogacy package in India, on average costs from $27,500 to $32,500. Several couples who have had babies as a result of surrogacy in India have said clinics offered them the opportunity of using more than one surrogate per cycle. Attorney Gamble confirms there are similar cases but she believes it is a trend which is largely unique to the sub-continent. In fact there is even a new term coined for these babies - twiblings. "They're not quite twins and not quite siblings either," she says. Medical experts believe twiblings represent a fertility phenomenon which has emerged as a direct result of India's estimated billion dollar surrogacy industry. The Indian government is under increasing pressure to introduce laws to regulate the surrogacy industry. The couple is confident they will be financially able to provide for their children.

Gallup: Americans Now Overwhelmingly Support Marijuana Legalization – (Activist Post – October 22, 2013)
A national Gallup poll showed the American people now overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization. Survey participants were asked very directly, "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?" Those in favor of legalizing cannabis surged 10% points over last year's Gallup poll to 58%. This is the first time ever that a Gallup poll showed a majority of the nation wants legalization. Gallup points out that even though it has taken over forty years to reach this threshold, the pace of marijuana acceptance has rapidly accelerated in the last few years. Gallup writes, "The increasing prevalence of medical marijuana as a socially acceptable way to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as arthritis, and as a way to mitigate side effects of chemotherapy, may have also contributed to Americans' growing support."



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Mars Once had Long Flowing Rivers that Emptied into Lakes and Shallow Seas – What Happened? – (Daily Galaxy – November 13, 2013)
Mars looks like a dead, rusted hulk of a world . But billions of years ago when the planets of our solar system were still young, it was a very different world. Liquid water flowed in long rivers that emptied into lakes and shallow seas. A thick atmosphere of CO2, a potent greenhouse gas, blanketed the planet and kept it warm. In this cozy environment, living microbes might have found a home, starting Mars down the path toward becoming a second life-filled planet next door to our own. If Martian microbes still exist, they're probably eking out a meager existence somewhere beneath the dusty Martian soil. The only way Mars could have been wet and warm 4 billion years ago, is if it also had a thick atmosphere. A thick blanket of CO2 and other greenhouse gases would have provided the warmer temperatures and greater atmospheric pressure required to keep liquid water from freezing solid or boiling away. Something caused Mars to lose that blanket. One possibility is the solar wind. Unlike Earth, Mars is not protected by a global magnetic field. Instead, it has “magnetic umbrellas” scattered around the planet that shelter only part of the atmosphere. Erosion of exposed areas by solar wind might have slowly stripped the atmosphere away over billions of years. Recent measurements of isotopes in the Martian atmosphere by Mars rover Curiosity support this idea: light isotopes of hydrogen and argon are depleted compared to their heavier counterparts, suggesting that they have floated away into space.



STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

McDowell County, West Virginia Has Close to Haiti's Life Expectancy: Welcome to Third World America – (AlterNet – October 16, 2013)
According to the World Health Organization, the U.S., factoring in both genders, has an overall life expectancy of 79 (76 for males, 81 for females) compared to 83 in Japan and Switzerland, 82 in France, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, Israel, Luxembourg, Singapore and Sweden, 81 in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, New Zealand, Finland, South Korea, the Republic of Ireland and Norway, and 80 in Belgium, Slovenia, the U.K., Malta, Kuwait and Portugal. Those WHO figures for the U.S. take into account the country as a whole, and overall, Americans clearly aren’t living as long as Europeans. But the news becomes even more troubling when one examines a report that the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released in July 2013. That study broke down life expectancy for men and women in different parts of the U.S., showing a strong correlation between income levels and longevity. The report found that life expectancy is 81.6 for males and 84.5 for females in Fairfax County, Virginia (a very affluent area) and 81.4 for males and 85.0 for females in Marin County, California (another upscale area) compared to only 63.9 for males and 72.9 for females in McDowell County, West Virginia or 66.7 for males and 73.3 for females in Tunica County, Mississippi. The fact that males in McDowell County are, on average, dying 18 years younger than males in Fairfax County or Marin County speaks volumes about inequality in the U.S. That type of disparity is more typical of a developing country than a developed country. Comparing life expectancy in McDowell County to life expectancy in Guatemala, one of Latin America’s poorest countries, Guatemalans come out slightly ahead. WHO has reported an overall life expectancy of 69 for Guatemala (66 for men, 73 for women). So in other words, the poor in Guatemala are outliving the poor in McDowell County. In fact, McDowell County is only slightly ahead of Haiti, Ghana and Papua New Guinea when it comes to life expectancy for males: according to WHO, life expectancy for males is 62 in those three countries.



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Texas Firm Makes World’s First 3D-printed Metal Gun – (Fox News – November 8, 2013)
A company by the name of Solid Concepts has made the world’s first metal gun using a 3D printer. Based out of Austin, Texas, the 3D-printed metal pistol made by Solid Concepts is based on the Browning 1911 firearm. Solid Concepts set out to make this gun in an effort to prove that they can make weapons that are fit for “real world applications.” To make the gun, Solid Concepts utilized a manufacturing process known as direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS. DMLS is a 3D manufacturing process used to make metal parts for the aerospace and medical industries. The application for DMLS in the latter example is specific to surgical tools, meaning it’s perfectly suited for the creation of precision firearms. Don’t get the wrong idea: you can’t just slap down a couple thousand bucks for a MakerBot 3D printer and hope to make your own firearm in the comfort of your own garage. “The industrial printer we used costs more than my college tuition (and I went to a private university),” said Alyssa Parkinson, a Solid Concepts rep. In other words, there’s a big difference between the gun made by Solid Concepts and the weapons made by Defense Distributed, a Texas-based firm that designed guns intended to be built using 3D printers in your home. Article includes link to demo of Solid Concepts Browning 1911 pistol.

How Teen Nick D'Aloisio Has Changed the Way We Read – (Wall St. Journal – November 6, 2013)
When a Hong Kong billionaire emailed a London tech startup to inquire about investing, he didn't realize its entire workforce consisted of a single kid working in his bedroom. Meet the 18-year-old WSJ. Magazine Technology Innovator of 2013 who became an overnight millionaire by inventing Summly, an app that may revolutionize how we read on the go. Upon hearing, in March of this year, reports that a 17-year-old had sold a piece of software to Yahoo for $30 million, you might well have entertained a few preconceived notions about what sort of child this must be. Your notions are likely to have been wrong. Instead, picture a guy who can confidently expound (while maintaining steady eye contact) on topics ranging from Noam Chomsky's theories to the science of neural networks to the immigrant mind-set to the Buddhist concept of jnana. And now picture this fellow trapped inside the gangly body of a British teen who might easily be mistaken for a member of the pop boy band One Direction—clad in a hipster T-shirt beneath a fitted blazer, hair swooping over his forehead, taking bites of a cheeseburger between bold pronouncements. D’Aloisio is someone to keep an eye on.

Mixing Nanoparticles to Make Multifunctional Materials - (Brookhaven National Lab - October 20, 2013)
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a general approach for combining different types of nanoparticles to produce large-scale composite materials. The technique opens many opportunities for mixing and matching particles with different magnetic, optical, or chemical properties to form new, multifunctional materials or materials with enhanced performance for a wide range of potential applications. The approach takes advantage of the attractive pairing of complementary strands of synthetic DNA. After coating the nanoparticles with a chemically standardized "construction platform" and adding extender molecules to which DNA can easily bind, the scientists attach complementary lab-designed DNA strands to the two different kinds of nanoparticles they want to link up. The natural pairing of the matching strands then "self-assembles" the particles into a three-dimensional array consisting of billions of particles. Varying the length of the DNA linkers, their surface density on particles, and other factors gives scientists the ability to control and optimize different types of newly formed materials and their properties. Future applications could include quantum dots whose glowing fluorescence can be controlled by an external magnetic field for new kinds of switches or sensors; gold nanoparticles that synergistically enhance the brightness of quantum dots' fluorescent glow; or catalytic nanomaterials that absorb the "poisons" that normally degrade their performance.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

FAA Takes Initial Steps to Introduce Private Drones in U.S. Skies – (CNN – November 7, 2013)
There is a large and growing demand to use remotely piloted vehicles for private and commercial purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the initial steps toward introducing privately operated unmanned aircraft into the heavily populated U.S. skies, issuing two documents it hopes will pave the way for manned and unmanned aircraft to co-exist. One of the documents outlines the many steps federal agencies must take; the second is a road map for the FAA itself. The documents set forth a process to increase access to airspace in the next five to 10 years, the FAA said. The mission is complicated, requiring the mixing of manned aircraft, which operate under see-and-avoid rules, with remotely piloted aircraft, which operate under sense-and-avoid rules. And the new rules must address everything from small aircraft used by hobbyists to large Predator-type drones currently used by the military.

China Calls for a New Global Currency – (ABC News – October 13, 2013)
China is calling for a global currency to replace the dominant dollar, showing a growing assertiveness on revamping the world economy. The surprise proposal by Beijing's central bank governor reflects unease about its vast holdings of U.S. government bonds and adds to Chinese pressure to overhaul a global financial system dominated by the dollar and Western governments. Central bank Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan recommended creating a currency made up of a basket of global currencies and controlled by the International Monetary Fund. But China is in a bind: to keep the value of its currency steady, the Chinese government has to recycle its huge trade surpluses, and the biggest, most liquid option for investing them is U.S. government debt. Analysts say the proposal isn't likely to gain much traction because it faces major obstacles. For one thing, it would require acceptance from nations that have long used the dollar and hold huge stockpiles of the U.S. currency. Perhaps more importantly, managing such a currency would require balancing the contradictory needs of countries with high and low growth or with trade surpluses or deficits. The 16 European nations that use the euro have faced huge difficulties in managing monetary policy even though their economies are similar. "It's hard for me to imagine how it's going to be easier for the world to have a common currency for trade," Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management said. (Editor’s note: We don’t usually run links to articles about what is not likely to occur, at least in any sort of foreseeable future, but we included this article because it gives good insight into the practical issues – quite apart from all the political issues – holding back the implementation of such an idea.)

Chip Designers See Dollar Signs in Bitcoin Miners – (Reuters – November 3, 2013)
While they quickly gained a reputation for facilitating drug deals and money laundering, Bitcoins have of late garnered attention from investors, such as venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The volume of transactions using Bitcoins today remains miniscule, but enthusiasts believe the peer-to-peer currency will play a major role in e-commerce and could eventually become as ubiquitous as email. Bitcoin mining is based on a unique feature of the digital currency. Unlike traditional currencies, where a central bank decides how much money to print based on goals like controlling inflation, no central authority governs the supply of Bitcoins. Instead, Bitcoin transactions are tracked by a network of computers that solve complex mathematical problems to validate transactions and prevent counterfeit. The system automatically generates new Bitcoins as the math problems are solved and rewards them to the computer operators. In a key twist that keeps inflation in check, the difficulty of the cryptographic math that leads to newly minted coins grows as more computers join the network. That has led some technology professionals to target a new market in souped-up computers and specialized chips aimed at the growing ranks of Bitcoin "miners." Bitcoin is not backed by physical assets, is not run by any person or group, and its value depends on people's confidence in the currency. The dollar price of Bitcoins has spiked over the past year as more people became aware of the currency and speculators jumped into the market, which remains highly volatile. Bitcoin recently broke $200, compared to $12 a year ago. The goal of Bitcoin miners is to pull in more than what they spend on their rigs - some cost over $20,000 - and the electricity they need to keep the machines running 24 hours a day. That is no easy feat. In the past three months, miners added so much gear with drastically improved chips that processing power on the network jumped from 289 terahashes per second to more than 4,000 terahashes per second, according to The Genesis Block, a blog that collects Bitcoin data. In reaction, the network drove up the difficulty of verifying each cryptographic block of transaction data, making it even harder to break even on investments in costly mining gear. (Editor’s note: As of 11/12, the value of a Bitcoin broke $400. See China Fuels Bitcoin Surge to Record High.)


PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Trouble at the Lab – (Economist – October 19, 2013)
The idea that the same experiments always get the same results, no matter who performs them, is one of the cornerstones of science’s claim to objective truth. If a systematic campaign of replication does not lead to the same results, then either the original research is flawed or the replications are. Either way, something is awry. A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six. Months earlier Florian Prinz and his colleagues at Bayer HealthCare, a German pharmaceutical giant, reported that they had successfully reproduced the published results in just a quarter of 67 seminal studies. The governments of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, spent $59 billion on biomedical research in 2012, nearly double the figure in 2000. One of the justifications for this is that basic-science results provided by governments form the basis for private drug-development work. If companies cannot rely on academic research, that reasoning breaks down. When an official at America’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) reckons, despairingly, that researchers would find it hard to reproduce at least three-quarters of all published biomedical findings, the public part of the process seems to have failed. Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong. But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently corrected or withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. Various factors contribute to the problem.

When Power Goes to Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart – (NPR – August 10, 2013)
Even the smallest dose of power can change a person. You've probably seen it. Someone gets a promotion or a bit of fame and then, suddenly, they're a little less friendly to the people beneath them. So here's a question that may seem too simple: Why? Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, has an explanation: Power fundamentally changes how the brain operates. In an ingenious experiment, Obhi's team tracked participants' brains, looking at a special region called the mirror system. The mirror system is important because it contains neurons that become active both when you squeeze a rubber ball and when you watch someone else squeeze a rubber ball. It is the same thing with picking up a cup of coffee, hitting a baseball, or flying a kite. Whether you do it or someone else does, your mirror system activates. In this small way, the mirror system places you inside a stranger's head. Obhi's team wanted to see if bestowing a person with a feeling of power or powerlessness would change how the mirror system responds to someone else performing a simple action. It turns out, feeling powerless boosted the mirror system — people empathized highly. But, Obhi says, "when people were feeling powerful, the signal wasn't very high at all."

Lessons from a Pay-It-Forward Restaurant: The Importance of Gratitude – (Yes – November 1, 2013)
Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu; a place where the meal is served as a gift by volunteers, and at the end of it guests receive a bill for a total of $0.00. The bill comes with a note that explains their meal was a gift from someone who came before them. If they wish to pay it forward, they can make a contribution for someone who comes after them and help keep the circle going. This restaurant is called Karma Kitchen—and it actually exists. It baffles people to know that Karma Kitchen has no tracking systems—it doesn’t monitor how much individual tables receive and how much they give. Instead, the restaurant just focus on giving everyone a genuine experience of generosity. When the owners started in 2007 in Berkeley, Calif., they had no idea whether they would sink or float. But more than six years later Karma Kitchen is still going strong. It has served more than 30,000 meals and now has chapters in half a dozen cities around the world. And it is all sustained by gratitude. The sociologist Georg Simmel called gratitude "the moral memory of mankind." It serves to connect us to each other in small, real, and human ways. (Editor’s note: We encourage you to check out the website for KindSpring.org, a place to practice small acts of kindness. For over a decade the KindSpring user community has focused on inner transformation, while collectively changing the world with generosity, gratitude, and trust. The site is 100% volunteer-run and totally non-commercial. Karma Kitchen is a service project of KindSpring.)



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

Why Making a $6,000 Smartphone May Not Be Crazy After All – (Business Week – October 18, 2013)
Vertu is a maker of luxury mobile phones. And “luxury” means models that cost anywhere from roughly $6,000 all the way up to $12,000 (and well past that, for special orders that can go into the mid-six figures). What drives those looney-tunes prices? Materials and craftsmanship, mainly. Sapphire crystal faces instead of Gorilla Glass. Titanium bodies (or gold, or platinum) instead of plastic or aluminum. Here’s the case against the company: They’re just making bejeweled versions of ordinary smartphones. Their products are gaudy, silly things that offer no functional advantage over many other smartphones on the market. They are designed for, and purchased by, status-obsessed arrivistes who have more money than sense. It sounds like a recipe for failure, except for one thing: Vertu’s sales figures keep going up. What Virtu’s clients are buying is a smartphone that doesn’t look like all the others. They’re buying it because it’s exclusive, special, and rare. You don’t need anything fancier than a Timex Easy Reader if you want something on your wrist to tell time. And yet Patek Philippe exists. See also: What a $10,000 Smartphone May Mean for the Watch Industry.



JUST FOR FUN

Mosaiculture – (My Virtual Garden – September, 2013)
Once every three years, an international competition in horticultural sculpture, called "mosaiculture," is held in a major city somewhere in the world.  This year it was in Montreal.  This is not topiary but rather creating sculptures out of living plants.  Some of the finest horticulturalists in the world, from 20 different countries, submitted plans a year in advance.  Steel armatures were then created to support the works (some 40 feet high); they were then wrapped in steel mesh and filled with dirt and moss and watering hoses.  Then they ordered 3 million plants of different shades of green and brown and tan, and these were grown in greenhouses all over Quebec.  In late May, these horticulturalists came to Montreal and planted all of their plants in the forms at the Montreal Botanic Gardens.  There were 50 major sculptures along a path two miles long. 



A FINAL QUOTE--

You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!” --Robert A. Heinlein



A special thanks to: Kent Anderson, Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.
johnp@arlingtoninstitute.org




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