Volume 16, Number 24 - 12/31/13 Twitter  Facebook  

FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • Network theorists working for the US military have worked out how to identify the small “seed” group of people who can spread a message across an entire network.

  • In Tokyo, researchers are developing an artificial womb and have kept a goat fetus alive in this environment for as long as three weeks.

  • It’s the end of the year. Check out 10 Mega Trends In Tech For 2014, along with the top 15 tech flops in 2013 and the 15 most underrated apps in 2013.

  • A quarter of the population of Japan is currently aged over 65 and that figure is expected to reach nearly 40% by 2060.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

One More Chance to Help

Happy New Year to you! I have lots of reasons to believe that 2014 is going to be a big year in this transition to a new world. It should be a very interesting ride.

As we do each year, we’ll give you one more piece of encouragement here to help us keep this e-newsletter coming your way. Many of you have helped with $35 to defray the annual publishing expenses of $15,000. Some have given $100, $400 and $500. We’re blessed by all of the contributions and very much appreciate your generosity.

If you haven’t already done so, consider helping to keep FUTUREdition alive and kicking. Click on this link. It’s easy . . . and painless.

Thanks so very much, and many warm wishes for 2014.

We’re Still Torturing

I woke up with a start in the middle of the night last week awash in a very vivid dream centered on the prison compound that the United States maintains in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

I felt the complete lack of hope of someone (as is the situation with the great majority of these prisoners) that had done nothing at all to slight the United States, but because a rival cab operator didn’t like me . . . or my brother-in-law saw it as a chance to get even with me, or whatever, turned me in to the U.S. authorities, accused me of supporting El Qaeda and I was put in prison. No trial, no charges, no nothing.

In many cases after many years, the authorities finally decided that there was no basis to hold me, but they still did because of domestic U.S. politics. My life meant nothing to these people. There was neither common sense nor compassion. Just acute psychological torture.

It was very dark.

In the morning, I turned on my computer and this Anthony Freda painting was in the first email I opened:


Painting by Anthony Freda: AnthonyFreda.com.

I was reminded again that The Torture Remains the Same (read this letter from one of the prisoners in Guantanamo.) Perhaps we’re not waterboarding them these days, but we’re certainly psychologically terrorizing them.

Over 100 of the prisoners had so run out of options – and hope – that they began a hunger strike to bring attention to their plight. Widely covered at first, the Marine general in command felt hassled by all of the media’s questions, so he decided not to let the press know what was going on any more. 'Most Transparent Administration' Won't Say How Many Guantanamo Detainees Are Hunger Striking.

What kind of government is it that discounts and ignores its citizens and pursues policies that fly in the face of what almost all of the rest of the western world believes is humane, decent and legal?

It’s gotten so far from the country it was less than two decades ago that now, some in our government believe that the principles upon which this country was founded are those of terrorists. (George Orwell was almost certainly channeling 2014).

Here is a question we should ask about our government: Given that the Authorities Oppose Everything the Founding Fathers Fought For, Is This Still America? This provocative question, posed by Washington’s Blog, reminds us of where this country came from.

The Founding Fathers Are Treated As “Terrorists”

The Founding Fathers started the Revolutionary War because England was spying on the colonists in the exact same way that the NSA is spying on modern Americans.  Indeed, Americans are the most spied on people in world history.

Ironically, Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams did exactly what Edward Snowden did... and were likewise labeled as traitors by the British government.

The Founding Fathers fought for freedom from an oppressive central bank which sucked the prosperity out of the economy, but the  Federal Reserve’s policies have created inequality even worse than experienced by slaves in Colonial America in 1774.

The Founding Fathers warned against standing armies, saying that they destroy freedom.  And they warned against financing wars with debt.   But according to Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. debt for the Iraq war could be as high as $5 trillion dollars (or $6 trillion dollars according to a study by Brown University.)  The U.S. has the largest standing army in history, and treats anti-war sentiment as terrorism.

The Founding Fathers fought and died for a free press... but the current American authorities treat journalism as an act of terrorism.  Indeed, Americans have lost virtually all of the rights that the Founding Fathers fought and died for.

The Founding Fathers also launched the Revolutionary War because the British government was engaging in crony capitalism (which constituted taxation without representation), instead of letting the colonists have a shot at free market competition. The modern American authorities are doing the same thing.

Indeed, some American authorities have literally said that the Founding Fathers were terrorists... and that their behavior should be treated as terrorism.

According to Daniel Ellsberg, the American authorities are even more draconian than King George. After all, he never indefinitely detained people without trial or access to a lawyer.




THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

IBM's Predictions for the Next Five Years: Everything Will Learn – (KurzweilAI – December 17, 2013)
IBM just unveiled its annual 5 in 5 — five predictions about technology innovations that IBM expects will change the way we work, live and play within the next five years. This year’s IBM 5 in 5 explores the idea that everything will learn — driven by a new era of cognitive systems where machines will learn, reason and engage with us in a more naturalized and personalized way. These innovations are beginning to emerge enabled by cloud computing, big data analytics and learning technologies all coming together, says IBM. For instance, “In five years, buying local will beat online.” The reasons offered are interesting. How accurate will IBM’s predictions turn out to be?  Here is an article with a backwards glance at IBM’s 2006 and 2007 predictions. 

US Military Scientists Solve the Fundamental Problem of Viral Marketing – (Technology Review – September 17, 2013)
Viral messages begin life by infecting a few individuals and then start to spread across a network. The most infectious end up contaminating more or less everybody. Just how and why this happens is the subject of much study and debate. Network scientists know that key factors are the rate at which people become infected, the “connectedness” of the network and how the seed group of individuals, who first become infected, are linked to the rest. It is this seed group that fascinates everybody from marketers wanting to sell Viagra to epidemiologists wanting to study the spread of HIV. So a way of finding seed groups in a given social network would surely be a useful trick, not to mention a valuable one. Step forward Paulo Shakarian, Sean Eyre and Damon Paulo from the West Point Network Science Center at the US Military Academy in West Point. These guys have found a way to identify a seed group that, when infected, can spread a message across an entire network. And they say it can be done quickly and easily, even on relatively large networks. Their method is relatively straightforward.  



NEW REALITIES

The Yellowstone Supervolcano: New Finding -- Potential to Erupt With 2,000 Times the Force of Mount St. Helens – (Daily Galaxy – December 21, 2013)
A new study by the University of Utah revealed that the hot molten rock beneath Yellowstone National Park is 2 ½ times larger than previously estimated, meaning the park’s supervolcano has the potential to erupt with a force about 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens. The magma chamber underneath the Yellowstone caldera as 55 miles long, lead author Jamie Farrell of the University of Utah said after recently presenting his findings to the American Geophysical Union. The last Yellowstone eruption happened 640,000 years ago, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The chamber is 18 miles wide and runs at depths from 3 to 9 miles below the earth, he added. That means there is enough volcanic material below the surface to match the largest of the supervolcano’s three eruptions over the last 2.1 million years, Farrell said. Some scientists tracking earthquake swarms under Yellowstone have warned the caldera is overdue to erupt. Farrell dismissed that notion, saying there isn’t enough data to estimate the timing of the next eruption. “We do believe there will be another eruption, we just don’t know when." A large earthquake at Yellowstone is much more likely than a volcano eruption, Farrell added.



GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY

Smaller Than Your Phone, This Device Could Keep You Healthy – (Mashable – November 26, 2013)
Isabel Hoffmann has put her entrepreneurial skills to work, co-creating a handheld tool to help people better understand their environments and the foods they're consuming and how they affect the body. Point the tool at food and an app on your smart phone will tell you what food it is — if it has gluten, if it has dioxins — or point at the wall to see if the wall has mold and, if so, what kind. Point at the air we breathe and see if it has pollution, and so on," says Hoffmann. Her friend Stephen Watson told her, "That sounds like Star Trek — I don't think that’s a reality possible today." But it was, and today, Watson and Hoffmann are business partners on a biotech product called TellSpec, a spectrometer that can parse the ingredients of whatever you point it at and beam this information to an accompanying smartphone app. While other spectrometers exist on the market already, Hoffmann says that TellSpec employs a better algorithm and can better interpret what it's scanning. "Our core IP is really the technology, the process." says Hoffmann. TellSpec beams a low-powered laser at the food in question, and low-energy photons are then emitted back to the TellSpec's spectrometer, which sorts the photons by wavelength and determines what chemical compounds are within. The device is expected to hit the market in August 2014 at an initial price of $350-$400. Hoffmann hopes demand will drive the price down to $50 in a few years.

The Artificial Womb Is Born – (A Sheep No More – December 27, 2013)
The artificial womb exists. In Tokyo, researchers have developed a technique called EUFI — extrauterine fetal incubation. They have taken goat fetuses, threaded catheters through the large vessels in the umbilical cord and supplied the fetuses with oxygenated blood while suspending them in incubators that contain artificial amniotic fluid heated to body temperature. Yoshinori Kuwabara, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Juntendo University in Tokyo, and his associates have kept the goat fetuses in this environment for as long as three weeks. But the doctor’s team ran into problems with circulatory failure, along with many other technical difficulties. Pressed to speculate on the future, Kuwabara cautiously predicts that ”it should be possible to extend the length” and, ultimately, ”this can be applied to human beings.” The future of human reproductive medicine lies along the speeding trajectories of several different technologies. There is neonatology, accomplishing its miracles at the too-abrupt end of gestation. There is fetal surgery, intervening dramatically during pregnancy to avert the anomalies that kill and cripple newborns. There is the technology of assisted reproduction, the in-vitro fertilization and gamete retrieval-and-transfer fireworks of the last 20 years. And then, inevitably, there is genetics. This article discusses the ways in which these four trajectories are crossing.

Scientists Print New Eye Cells – (BBC News – December 17, 2013)
Scientists say they have been able to successfully print new eye cells that could be used to treat sight loss. The proof-of-concept work in the journal Biofabrication was carried out using animal cells.The Cambridge University team says it paves the way for grow-your-own therapies for people with damage to the light-sensitive layer of tissue at back of the eye - the retina. the results are preliminary and show that a piezoelectric inkjet printer can be used to print two types of cells from the retina of adult rats―ganglion cells and glial cells. These are the cells that transmit information from the eye to certain parts of the brain, and provide support and protection for neurons. The printed cells remained healthy and retained their ability to survive and grow in culture. study has shown. See here for more technical details of the printing process.

Supplement Study Quoted in The Wall Street Journal is Misleading – (KurzweilAI – December 29, 2013)
The study quoted by The Wall Street Journal is misleading. It only looked at low potency (and low quality) supplement combinations and set a very high bar requiring dramatic reductions in cardiovascular disease and other conditions. There is no way that a routine commercial, low potency, low quality vitamin combination is going to meet that bar. The implicit conclusion of this study, and the media’s superficial interpretation of it, is that vitamins and supplements in general are of no value, whereas what the study showed is that certain low cost low quality commercial formulations do not produce dramatic reductions in heart disease and other major conditions. It also pointed out the downsides of iron, alpha tocopherol (as Vitamin E) and Vitamin A. The point of the study should be that one needs to formulate supplement combinations with sufficient potency of important ingredients (such as Vitamin D and mixed tocopherols) and avoid ones that have potential harm (such as iron, Vitamin A, excessive Alpha Tocopherol), not that vitamins and supplements in general are of no value. This rebuttal was written by Ray Kurzweil, whose knowledge of supplements is extensive, and includes as a “for example” a link to a research study that directly contradicts The Wall St. Journal article.


ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

More Cities Ban Polystyrene Foam, Citing Environment – (USA Today – December 21, 2013)
The New York City Council has passed a ban on polystyrene foam food containers, as well as the sale of loose polystyrene foam "peanuts" used in packing. Both go into effect July 1, 2015. Albany County, N.Y., passed a law in November banning use of polystyrene foam food containers, joining the ranks of Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; and Amherst, Mass. Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Chicago Alderman George Cardenas are proposing similar legislation in their respective cities. Restaurants themselves are increasingly turning a cold shoulder to polystyrene foam food containers. Fast-food titan McDonald's Corp. announced in September it would phase out foam cups at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants in favor of paper cups in coming months. It quit using polystyrene clamshell containers for burgers in 1990. And Dunkin' Brands Group, the parent company of the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robins chains, said in its most-recent corporate social responsibility report that it is rolling out an in-store foam cup recycling program at all its locations, but that it hopes to introduce an alternative cup within two to three years. For some of the more challenging details, see also: Why NYC's Looming Styrofoam Ban Is More Complicated Than You Think

Hormone-disrupting Chemicals Found in Water at Fracking Sites – (LA Times – December 16, 2013)
Water samples collected at Colorado sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas show the presence of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer, scientists reported Monday. The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River, where wastewater released during accidental spills at nearby wells could wind up. The team tested for the presence of four different classes of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Out of 39 water samples collected at five drilling sites, 89% showed estrogenic properties, 41% were anti-estrogenic, 12% were androgenic and 46% were anti-androgenic, according to the report. Water from control sites in Colorado and Missouri where there is no fracking showed some EDC activity, but the levels were lower than in the water samples from the Garfield County sites, according to the study. Over the last three years, researchers have assessed more than 700 chemicals that could be used in the fracking process and estimated that about 100 are known or suspected EDCs. Senior author Susan Nagel, who investigates the health effects of estrogen at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said that although estrogenic substances can be found naturally occurring in water, she did not know of similar sources of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic chemicals.

Thyroid Cancers Surge among Fukushima Youths – (ZeroHedge – December 23, 2013)
It seems US sailors aren't the only ones who three short years after the Fukushima disaster are being stricken by cancers and other radiation-induced diseases. Fifty-nine young people in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer. Notably, all of newly diagnosed were younger than 18 at the time of the nuclear meltdown in the area in March 2011. They were identified in tests by the prefectural government, which covered 239,000 people by the end of September. Toshihide Tsuda, a professor of epidemiology at Okayama University who has called upon the government to prepare for a possible increase in cases in the future. "The rate at which children in Fukushima prefecture have developed thyroid cancer can be called frequent, because it is several times to several tens of times higher," Japan's Asahi Shimbun quoted him as saying. He compared the figures in Fukushima with cancer registration statistics throughout Japan from 1975 to 2008 that showed an annual average of five to 11 people in their late teens to early 20s developing cancer for every 1 million people. See also: Fukushima Fallout Damaged the Thyroids of California Babies and see: Japan's Homeless 'Recruited' for Cleaning up Fukushima Nuclear Plant



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

If Cell Phone Radiation Were Visible, The World Would Look Like This – Huffington Post – December 12, 2013)
What would the world look like if you could see cell phone radiation? Artist Nickolay Lamm has tried to answer that question. In July, Lamm released a series of illustrations imaging a Washington, D.C., where Wi-Fi was visible, bathing famous sites in a rainbow of colors. On Wednesday, he finished a sequel of sorts -- a series of pictures of U.S. cities and landmarks, this time with cell phone radiation visible as a hazy, multicolored, strangely geometric overlay. Lamm worked with two professors of electrical and computer engineering to get his illustrations right. (The pictures can be seen here with more technical explanation.)

The Season's Weirdest, Wackiest Tech Gifts - (Associated Press - December 20, 2013)
It's tough to shop for techies. They already own everything with a plug or rechargeable battery. But fear not, a slew of unique technology gifts have hit the market just in time for the holidays. Here's a roundup of some of the season's most offbeat offerings. While these items may seem a bit wacky and bizarre, it's doubtful that the tech enthusiasts in your life own anything similar. For example, "Call Me Gloves", from Hammacher Schlemmer, for $80. These winter gloves let you wirelessly connect to your smartphone by making the universal "call me" sign. That is, by holding your thumb to your ear, pointing your pinkie finger toward your mouth and folding the rest of your fingers in to make the shape of a phone. The left glove has a speaker in the thumb and a microphone in the pinkie. Buttons on the glove's cuff let you answer and end calls. There also are conductive fibers woven into the tips of both thumbs and index fingers so you can text and Web surf on a smartphone or tablet without taking the gloves off. (Editor's note: This gives "talk to the hand" a whole new meaning.)

Something Is Rotten in Denmark – (Microwave News – December 13, 2013)
Just over a year ago, the Danish Cancer Society (DCS) issued a news advisory (in English using Google Translate) with some alarming news: The number of men diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most malignant type of brain cancer, had doubled over the last ten years. After that, there was silence. No one talked about the spike in glioblastomas. Finally, we turned to Mona Nilsson, a Swedish journalist who keeps close tabs on cell phones and health in Nordic countries. Nilsson guided us through a recent report from the State Serum Institute, known as SSI (the Danish equivalent of the CDC in the U.S.). It shows a 30% increase in the number of brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors among Danish men over the ten years, 2002-2011 (Table 1 on p.5 of the report which is in Danish). The increase among Danish women was 25%. [More recently, the ten-year rates through 2012 have been released. The ten-year rates, from 2003 through 2012, show an increase of CNS tumors of 41.2% among men and 46.1% among women.] The problem, Nilsson noted, is that the data lump together both malignant and benign tumors and they are not broken down by subtypes. The general category therefore includes all sorts of different kinds of brain tumors as well as acoustic neuromas. At the moment, there is no easy way to know what the increase was for glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of malignant brain tumors. (Editor’s note: This article is worth reading for the way it exhaustively traces the reporter’s attempts to get solid answers, the considerable difficulty in doing so, and the serious, unanswered questions regarding the incidence of aggressive brain tumors and a possible link to cell phone use which no one seems to want to discuss.)

10 Mega Trends In Tech For 2014 – (Business Insider – December 21, 2013)
Former Windows leader Steven Sinofsky has put together a list of the ten big trends in tech he's expecting for 2014. Sinofsky is one of the smartest people in tech. He's currently working a partner with venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, and as an executive in residence at Harvard Business School. Here are a few of the trends he has spotlighted: messaging crushes email, more people’s lives will be 100% digital/mobile, and owning stuff will be increasingly outdated. Check out the article for the rest. Or perhaps you’re interested in “The Biggest Tech Flops of 2013”? See also: The 15 Most Underrated Apps of 2013.



SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

Pop-out Outlet Hides the Holes When You Don't Need Them – (GizMag – December 23, 2013)
You probably haven’t given much thought to your electrical outlets, but the folks at Legrand have and they think those always-exposed holes are ugly. So they created the chic, minimalist, and actually practical Pop-Out Outlet (the POO). When not in use, the POO simply takes the form of a uniform square that sits flush with the wall. Press on it with a finger and its cube-shaped body slides out to reveal plug-ins on three of its sides – as opposed to the two plug-ins that would be offered ordinarily. The POO can be user-installed in place of a traditional outlet, although it needs an extra-depth wall box to hold all of its hardware. To that end, it's intended more for rebuilds, or as a standard feature in newly-built homes. It's available for about US$52. Article includes photos and demo clip.

Cyberpunk Furniture for the Environmentalist – (GizMag – December 23, 2013)
Benjamin Rollins Caldwell exults in materials, designing entire lines of furniture from a wide range of castoffs. His latest creations form his remarkable Binary collection of living room furniture, in which all components come from old PCs and defunct electronics. Caldwell describes himself as a "re-inventor," finding inspiration for his designs from castoffs found in antique stores, junkyards, thrift shops, and abandoned warehouses. The result is entire lines of furniture made from playing cards, old pianos, books, bicycles, children's toys, and more. He combines traditional materials, such as wood, metal, glass, plastic and stone with salvaged items, converting them into something new and innovative. His new Binary furniture line is constructed completely of materials salvaged from castoff computers. He reworks computer cases to form the structural framework of the furniture, then attaches computer cards, drives, motherboards, and the like to decorate the framework. Upholstery is provided by woven Ultra ATA cables or other types of wiring harnesses. The article’s author is not entirely sure how practical this furniture would be; cleaning alone would be quite a task. However, the basic design has proven sufficiently popular that the items in the Binary line are available in limited numbers. Lady Gaga's chair? US$14,000. Article includes link to 27 images.



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

Utilities Feeling Rooftop Solar Heat Start Fighting Back – (Bloomberg – December 26, 2013)
Spurred by a drop in panel prices, robust government subsidies and a technology that no longer appears experimental to mainstream America, rooftop photovoltaic solar is bursting out everywhere. About 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses added rooftop solar in the past two years alone – about 3 gigawatts of power and enough to replace four or five conventionally-sized coal plants. Utilities, seeing a threat to about $360 billion a year in power sales and a challenge to the hegemony of the conventional grid, are feeling the heat and fighting back. In California, where solar already powers the equivalent of 626,000 homes, utilities continue to aggressively push for grid fees that would add about $120 a year to rooftop users’ bills and, solar advocates say, slow down solar adoptions. Similar skirmishes have broken out in as many as a dozen of the 43 states that have adopted net-metering policies as part of their push to promote renewable energy. What’s mind-boggling to many of the stewards of America’s 3,200 utilities is how fast solar has mutated from a fringe power source to a technology being peddled today at outlets like IKEA Group and Home Depot Inc.

Lives Disrupted, Locals Flee Plains Oil Boom – (MSN – December 31, 2013)
The energy boom in the Dakotas, (The state that saw the largest growth in population percentage-wise last year was North Dakota. – according to an article in the Demographics section below), has not come without a human cost. Jim Stenslie preached for decades in several steepled churches in western North Dakota. His wife, Norma, taught piano and played organ in one of those Lutheran churches near Ross. Now in their late-70s, the ­couple planned to wind down their days in the family cabin on the banks of Lake Sakakawea. Fracking for oil interrupted those dreams. "From our spot on the lake, we used to be able to see stars and northern lights," Norma says. "It was heaven. Now all we see is oil derricks and flares." While thousands of workers and billions of dollars flow in with the oil, losing long-time residents such as teachers and preachers comes with a price. "It's people we can't afford to lose, like the postmistress and the lady who drives the ambulance," said Marilyn Hudson, 77, from her kitchen in Parshall, on the eastern edge of the oil fields. "It's people like the Stenslies, the good solid citizens who volunteer at the senior center, the folks who really contribute so much to the community," she said. "The people coming in are not stepping up to help out. They are not the same caliber of people as the residents who were here and became part of the land, part of the community and part of everything."


TRANSPORTATION

As Sea Ice Shrinks, Arctic Shipping Options Expand – (Earth Policy Institute – December 19, 2013)
On October 7, 2013, the Nordic Orion bulk carrier ship completed its journey from Vancouver, Canada, to Pori, Finland, having traveled northward around Alaska and through the Northwest Passage. It was the first large commercial freighter ever to make the voyage through these typically ice-covered Arctic waters. Avoiding the longer journey, through the Panama Canal, reportedly saved $80,000 in fuel costs and five days in travel time. Taking a deeper route than the Panama Canal also allowed the ship to carry a heavier load of its cargo: coal. A second Arctic shipping option, the Northern Sea Route, is opening up even more to transportation. In 2007, only two ships made the entire trip north of Russia. In 2010, ten ships made the passage. Seventy-one ships completed the voyage in 2013, including the first cargo ship from China. The most common cargo loaded on ships taking the Northern Sea Route has been fossil fuels, particularly diesel fuel. This jump in traffic was made possible by a dramatic shrinkage of ice coverage. Arctic sea ice has plummeted to lows unseen in the past millennium. Historical records show that the summertime Arctic ice coverage varied little for more than 1,400 years. Then it began its freefall: over each decade since satellite records began in 1979, summer sea ice extent has shrunk by nearly 14%. However, at the South Pole, it’s a different story – please see the next article.

South Pole: Icebreaker Stuck in Ice Heading for Stranded Ship – (CNN – December 28, 2013)
South Pole weather has stymied a rescue by a Chinese icebreaker trying to reach an expedition vessel trapped for four days in frozen seas. The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, was just six nautical miles away from the rescue, but now it's stuck in an Antarctica ice floe, too. The Chinese crew is hoping a French icebreaker 14 nautical miles away will arrive and offer relief, said Zhu Li, chief officer of the Chinese ship. But it's likely the French vessel Astrolabe will also be slowed by the polar cap's extreme frigidity, Zhu said.Those two icebreakers – plus a third, from Australia – were battling the planet's coldest environment in trying to reach the stranded Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, whose 74 researchers, crew and tourists remained in good condition despite being at a frozen standstill for 4 days.



AGRICULTURE/FOOD

'Superbug' Bacteria Widespread in U.S. Chicken – (Reuters – December 19, 2013)
About half of the raw chicken breasts in a nationwide sampling carried antibiotic-resistant "superbug" bacteria, according to a U.S. consumer group, calling for stricter limits on use of the medicines on livestock. It could be more difficult to treat people if they became ill after eating chicken with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, said Consumer Reports, which describes itself as the world's largest independent product-testing organization. The group said it tested for six types of bacteria in 316 raw chicken breasts purchased from retailers nationwide during July. Almost all of the samples contained potentially harmful bacteria, it said. Some 49.7 % carried a bacterium resistant to three or more antibiotics, according to the group, and 11% had two types of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs. Resistance was most common for the antibiotics used for growth promotion and disease treatment of poultry.

‘Stop GMOs’: Russian Scientists Urge 10-year Ban on Genetically Modified Products – (RT News - December 16, 2013)
Russian scientists are calling for a 10-year moratorium on GMOs to thoroughly study their influence on human health, stressing that such examinations are vital. “While GMO will be prohibited, we can plan experiments, tests, or maybe even new methods of research could be developed,” vice president of Russia’s National Association for Genetic Safety, Irina Ermakova, told Interfax news agency. According to her, there have not been enough sufficient studies on GMO influence on human health to allow for a wide introduction of genetically modified food on the market. However, scientists say that most studies prove that such food comes along with dangerous side effects. “Methods of obtaining the GMO are not perfect, therefore, at this stage, all GMOs are dangerous," Ermakova said. She went on to explain that one of the techniques uses tumor-causing soil bacteria. "Consumption and use of GMOs obtained in such way can lead to tumors, cancers and obesity among animals," Ermakova said. (Editor’s note: Russia currently requires mandatory labeling of nearly all GE foods with a labeling threshold of 0.9-1% for GMO content.)



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

The Legend of the Phoenix – (Unz – December 18, 2013)
It would seem the CIA has gone back into their archives, blown the dust off the Phoenix Program, and put it into play again as the “Drone War.” The similarities with the Drone War are readily evident to anyone old enough to know of the Phoenix Program. The Phoenix Program is usually referred to as an assassination program and was the subject of investigation by the Senate’s “Church Committee.” Indisputably, thousands of South Vietnamese civilians were killed under this CIA directed program. However, Phoenix was far more than a mere assassination program. It was a Counter-Insurgency, COIN, program, using the tactic of counter-terrorism, including assassination, against the insurgent’s so-called infrastructure. In 2009, the Rand Corporation published a study of the Phoenix Program. Its conclusion was: “As the United States and its allies shift their focus to Afghanistan and weigh counterinsurgency alternatives for that country, decision makers would be wise to consider how Phoenix-style approaches might serve to pry open Taliban and Al-Qaeda black boxes.” Since that was published, it would appear that “decision makers” not only considered this but have actually put it into practice. But unlike with the original Phoenix Program in which civilians were also captured and imprisoned; the Drone Program only allows for them to be killed.



TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

Gitmo Media Blackout Hopes to Undermine Hunger Strikers – (Al Jazeera – December 11, 2013)
A media blackout on detailing the exact number of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay has been put in place because the protest was too successful at generating media attention, a public affairs official has told Al Jazeera. Detainees at the controversial detention center launched the strike to protest their conditions and the fact that many of them have been held without charge for more than a decade, though scores have been cleared for release. The dramatic protest has been successful in generating headlines across the globe, and at one time more than 100 prisoners were involved as daily updates were issued by camp officials. But with the number of protesters dwindling, military officials last week made the decision to stop releasing figures for those remaining on hunger strike — even when specifically asked by journalists. “It’s been a self-perpetuating story,” said Cmdr. John Filostrat, director of public affairs for Joint Task Force-Guantanamo. “It’s (the strikers') desire to draw attention to themselves, and so we’re not going to help them do that.” Filostrat said the decision to end daily reports about the number of hunger strikers was made by his superiors at United States Southern Command, which has oversight of the joint task force that operates Guantanamo. Filostrat would neither confirm nor deny a claim by British prisoner Shaker Aamer, who said last week that there are now 29 prisoners protesting, of whom 19 are being force-fed. The last official tally, released on Dec. 2, was that 15 hunger strikers remained — all of them force-fed.

A Victory for the Constitution – (Counter Punch – December 18, 2013)
Judge Richard J. Leon, a Bush appointee to the federal district court of the District of Columbia, has changed the ongoing game of Obama v. Snowden. Judge Leon has published a persuasive 68 page legal opinion averaging more than one explanatory fine-print footnote per page in Klayman v. Obama (12/16/2013) holding that the dragnet data sweep by Obama’s NSA “almost certainly does violate a reasonable expectation of privacy” by the American people.  This satisfies the definition for the kind of “search” that falls within the prohibition of the Fourth Amendment.  Judge Leon answers the second question determining whether such a search could be justified under the Fourth Amendment “reasonable” exception, by  finding the search “unreasonable” when compared to the embarrassing absence of evidence that these searches have played any significant role in serving its purported purpose of detecting terrorists. Both these findings permanently legitimize Snowden’s similar responses on these questions of reasonableness, and Snowden’s willingness to risk his future life on his own reading of whether the data sweeps were Fourth Amendment “searches.”  No one can now argue that Snowden’s judgment on these questions was unreasonable as a matter of law.

Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit – (Der Spiegel – December 30, 2013)
The Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, is the NSA's top operative unit -- something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked. According to internal NSA documents viewed by Der Spiegel, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in operations ranging from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO's disposal have become -- and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks. An internal description of TAO's responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit's tasks; it must "support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations”. In other words, the NSA's hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries -- nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide. Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry's BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. According to details in Washington's current budget plan for the US intelligence services, around 85,000 computers worldwide are projected to be infiltrated by the NSA specialists by the end of this year. By far the majority of these "implants" are conducted by TAO teams via the Internet. (Editor’s note: The details above are a small sample taken from the original article; we highly recommend the entire piece.) See also this article

The NSA's 50-Page Catalog of Back Door Penetration Techniques – (Der Spiegel – December 29, 2013)
NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives -- from computing centers to individual computers, from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, the NSA seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA's specialists seem already to have gotten past them. This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division (Access Network Technology, described by Spiegel as "master carpenters" for the NSA's TAO (Tailored Access Operations) for tapping their targets' data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000. The ANT division doesn't just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer's motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on. This has a number of valuable advantages: even if the hard drive of an infected computer has been completely erased and a new operating system is installed, the ANT malware can continue to function and ensures that new spyware can once again be loaded onto what is presumed to be a clean computer. The ANT developers call this "Persistence" and believe this approach has provided them with the possibility of permanent access.



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

How Pope Francis Is Changing Our Definition of Success – (Forbes – December 27, 2013)
Pope Francis may well redefine modern concepts of success, wealth and prestige for our larger society. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without withering criticism of him along the way, from the left and right and even from the mafia, who are rumored to have placed him on a hit list because of his startlingly aggressive reforms. The changes he may bring about are due to his leadership prowess (discussed more in a separate article) and his unsurpassed global platform. But they’re also due to the fact that his values mirror some awakening aspirations of the larger world beyond his church walls. Let’s look at how the still-newish pope is likely to change society’s concepts. For example, Francis is changing how we distinguish between “important people” and “unimportant” ones. While Billy Graham seemed to take special pride in counseling presidents within the splendid halls of power, Francis has made a career of quietly heading out to slums in order to care for marginalized people.  And, strikingly, he asks those people to pray for him, which is a subtle but powerful reminder that the people at society’s margins too have something meaningful to give. (Editor’s note: The mere fact that this article is in Forbes says a tremendous amount about the global impact of Pope Francis.)

The Great American Class War - Plutocracy Versus Democracy – (Common Dreams – December 12, 2013)
Written by Bill Moyers, this article expands on this comment from him, "In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others." Moyers goes on to note: The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate.  “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections.  Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.” As usual, Moyers’ exposition is as wide-ranging as it is insightful.

Ridiculing the  Corrupt is a Big UK Comedy Hit – (Nation of Change – December 29, 2013)
A coffee kiosk in London’s financial district sells bankers coffee at a price and scams them on the change. When they complain, the vendor says unfortunately during the time of the transaction the rest of the money got tied into an unexpected debt obligation. Others hear their coffee change was secured against toxic assets. Another banker is told how the commodity markets are fluctuating; the next, that coffee traders’ petty cash reserves have a deficit. But, the vendor assures all of them: they will get their money back. The action has been watched by over 1 million people across Britain and is one of many sketches that make up the BBC3 comedy program “The Revolution Will Be Televised”. The show’s creators have talked directly with high ranking politicians and covertly gotten themselves within touching distance of Prime Minister David Cameron. They turned the Amazon distribution center into a part of Luxemburg, setting up a fake passport control to show how Amazon is dodging its taxes. Targets of “The Revolution Will Be Televised” range from the Royal Family’s wealth to Big Oil to the weapons industry and political policing. With so many anti-establishment themes, how did they get on TV? By being funny.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Giant Asteroid the Size of Arizona Reveals a New World – (Daily Galaxy – December 18, 2013)
When viewed with the human eye, the giant asteroid Vesta, (the second-most-massive asteroid in the solar system) which was the object of scrutiny by the Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2012, is quite unspectacular color-wise. Vesta looks grayish, pitted by a variety of large and small craters. But scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, have re-analyzed the images of this giant asteroid obtained by Dawn's framing camera. They assigned colors to different wavelengths of light and, in the process, revealed in unprecedented detail not only geological structures that are invisible to the naked eye, but also landscapes of incomparable beauty (not an overstatement – see the photos accompanying the article). Researchers at Max Planck can now see structures such as melts from impacts, craters buried by quakes and foreign material brought by space rocks, visible with a resolution of 200 feet (60 meters) per pixel. "The key to these images is the seven color filters of the camera system on board the spacecraft," said Andreas Nathues, the framing camera team lead at Max Planck. Since different minerals reflect light of different wavelengths to different degrees, the filters help reveal compositional differences that remain hidden without them. In addition, scientists calibrated the data so that the finest variations in brightness can be seen.



STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

U.S. Population Grows at Slowest Rate Since the Great Depression – (Huffington Post – December 30, 2013)
America's population is growing at its slowest rate in decades, and the sluggish economy is mostly to blame, according to one expert. The U.S. population grew by just 0.72 percent in the year ended July 1, 2013, according to the Census Bureau. That’s the slowest growth rate since 1937. Population growth has hovered at super-low levels for the past few years, according to William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan research organization. “This real sharp decline has to do with recession-related issues,” Frey said. “Fewer people come into the country because there aren’t as many jobs, and people are postponing child-bearing.” The state that saw the largest growth in population percentage-wise last year was North Dakota. In that state, where a recent oil boom brought tens of thousands of jobs, employees can land a job at McDonald’s that includes a $300 signing bonus. U.S. population growth is expected to slow even more in the next few decades, though that’s largely not attributable to a weak economy, Frey said. Instead, the slow growth will mostly be the result of an aging population.

Japan's Population Falls by Record 244,000 in 2013 – (BBC News – January 1, 2014)
The Japanese Health Ministry said an estimated 1,031,000 babies were born last year - down some 6,000 from the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of people that died last year was 1,275,000 - a rise of around 19,000 from 2012. Japan's population has been shrinking for several years now. If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next 50 years. A quarter of the population is currently aged over 65 and that figure is expected to reach nearly 40% by 2060.



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Robo-Gloves, Meat Hooks Help Ease Human-Machine Teamwork – (Bloomberg – December 26, 2013)
Robots and humans, for decades kept separate from each other on factory floors, are inching toward integration. After years of walling off robots to ensure safety, some companies are finding ways to put them alongside people, with lightweight materials and new sensors enabling engineers to build machines that can be employees’ partners or even worn on the job. People-friendly machines hold the potential to propel a global robot market estimated at $8.7 billion in 2012. BMW is testing models that could someday collaborate with workers, while GM is developing its “robo-glove” to give employees a more-muscular grip. Google Inc., with eight acquisitions in the past year, is also signaling its interest in robotics. Robot-human teams would combine machines’ strength and employees’ ability to see, feel, touch and think -- qualities impossible or too costly to replicate mechanically. It’s a new frontier in automation after mechanization helped boost U.S. factory output by 53% in the past two decades even as manufacturing employment tumbled 28%. BMW is using collaborative robots in a pilot program to help install glass and apply a foil lining to car doors, jobs with a risk of repetitive-motion injury. While those robots don’t yet engage with workers, interactive prototypes may be ready in a few years and reach factories in about a decade.

Fully Functional Loudspeaker Is 3D-printed – (KurzweilAI – December 17, 2013)
Cornell researchers have 3D-printed a working loudspeaker, seamlessly integrating the plastic, conductive and magnetic parts, and ready for use almost as soon as it came out of the printer. The loudspeaker is a project led by Apoorva Kiran and Robert MacCurdy, graduate students in mechanical engineering, who work with Hod Lipson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and a leading 3-D printing innovator. The researchers used two Fab@Home printers, which are customizable research printers developed by Lipson that allow for tinkering with different cartridges, control software, and other parameters. For the conductor, they used a silver ink and for the magnet, they developed a viscous blend of strontium ferrite.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You – (New York Times – December 24, 2013)
The move to exploit reading data is one aspect of how consumer analytics is making its way into every corner of the culture. Before the Internet, books were written — and published — blindly, hopefully. Sometimes they sold, usually they did not, but no one had a clue what readers did when they opened them up. Did they skip or skim? Slow down or speed up when the end was in sight? Linger over the sex scenes? A wave of start-ups is using technology to answer these questions — and help writers give readers more of what they want. The companies get reading data from subscribers who, for a flat monthly fee, buy access to an array of titles, which they can read on a variety of devices. The idea is to do for books what Netflix did for movies and Spotify for music. “Self-published writers are going to eat this up,” said Mark Coker, the chief executive of Smashwords, a large independent publisher. Last week, Smashwords made a deal to put 225,000 books on Scribd, a digital library here that unveiled a reading subscription service in October. Many of Smashwords’ books are already on Oyster, a New York-based subscription start-up that also began in the fall. Amazon and Barnes & Noble already collect vast amounts of information from their e-readers but keep it proprietary. Now the start-ups — which also include Entitle, a North Carolina-based company — are hoping to profit by telling all.


PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

In 1912, Americans Waged War Against the Giving of Useless Christmas Gifts – (Treehugger – December 10, 2013)
In 1911, faced with a surmounting culture of buying cheap, throwaway presents to give for Christmas, philanthropist August Belmont announced the formation of a new club: The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. The objective of SPUG, said Belmont, was to "eliminate, by co-operative effort, the custom of giving indiscriminately at Christmas, and to further in every way the true Christian spirit of unselfishness and independent thought, good-will, and sympathetic understanding of the real needs of others." By December of 1912, thousands of 'Spugs' had joined the Society. Membership was so strong, that SPUG's 10 cent dues helped fund America's first community Christmas Tree ceremony in New York's Madison Square Park. A New York Times article from December 14, 1912, introduced the Society's first branch for men, led by none other than a former President: “Col. Theodore Roosevelt is the head of the masculine branch of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. The selection was not only appropriate, it was inevitable. No other American knows quite so much as Col. Roosevelt about the art and practice of giving, useless and otherwise.” Even Margaret Wilson, daughter of the then-sitting president, joined the movement to end useless gift giving. The New York Times reports, in 1913, that she founded the Washington D.C. wing of SPUG, and quoted her as proclaiming: "Spugs [might] alter the whole Christmas spirit all over this mighty and prosperous land."



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

Strange Sounds Map: World Wide Reports From YouTube Of Unexplained Noises and Mysterious Booms – (Strange Sounds – May 23, 2013)
Reports of unidentified events presented as loud, unusual sounds coming seemingly from the sky, or “everywhere”, have been making their way into YouTube most frequently since the late Spring, early Summer of 2011. This article includes an interactive map that reports locations of the events, and links to the applicable YouTube report. Location is noted if the information provided by the original poster of the report. When a specific date of the event is not included in the report, the date of the posting is used. If a video is removed from YouTube, or has been determined to be a hoax, it is removed from the map, and the list. If it is determined to be a fake, it will be duly noted, and removed from the map, but NOT the list.

Mysterious Crop Circles Found on Chualar Farm – (KSBW – ABC News – December 30, 2013)
Cue "The X-Files" song. Mysterious, giant crop circles have appeared on a Chualar farm and startled observers into wondering if aliens landed in the Salinas Valley, California. No one realized how intricate the crop circles were until professional photographer Julie Belanger took a helicopter ride Monday morning. Belanger had not heard about the circles and she flew in a helicopter over the farm by coincidence. Belanger said her first immediate thought was, "What is it?" "It was beautiful. Quite beautiful," Belanger told KSBW. "I believe it's possible that aliens exist, but I don't know if they would bother making a crop circle to give us a message." However, it was done, the image is elegantly executed.



JUST FOR FUN

The Top 10 Websites to Watch Movies Online for Free – (StumbleUpon – July 1, 2012, updated for 2013)
Need we say more?



A FINAL QUOTE--

On Tuesday, she woke up and realized she had forgotten the definition of the word 'Impossible.' She decided it must not have been important. – Monique Duval 



A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Kevin Foley, 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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Edited by John L. Petersen
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