Volume 17, Number 3 - 2/15/14 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  

FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • Japanese and US scientists have created stem cells by simply bathing blood cells in a weakly acidic solution for half an hour, triggering a remarkable reversion to the cells’ original embryonic state.

  • Researchers have developed an antibiotic “smart bomb” that can identify specific strains of bacteria and sever their DNA, eliminating the infection.

  • An MIT-developed lubricant called LiquiGlide can make anything – syrup, ketchup, paint – slide right out of the bottle so you don't waste a drop.

  • Across Europe, 76% of people said they thought corruption was widespread in their own country.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Visit Damanhur and Findhorn with Us in October

I’m pleased to announce that a group of us are going to visit Damanhur, Findhorn and the area around Stonehenge in October . . . and you will be most welcome to join us.

A new world is emerging on this planet and this Fall we’re going off on a two-week trip to Explore the Origins of an Emergent New World. The trip will center around two of the most innovative and progressive communities in the world, Italy’s Damanhur and Findhorn, in northern Scotland. These storied societies will give us an inside view of how two venerable groups have been experimenting with new approaches (economic, political, agricultural, et. al.) that are early indicators the next era of human existence. In each of these places, some of the most innovative and interesting ideas have been percolating for many years (Damanhur has gone through over 25 versions of their constitution, for example), so there will be a lot to learn from spending time with these good people.


Damanhur is considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world because of their extraordinary temples, carved into the inside of a mountain. We’ll spend three days at this wonderful place, touring all of the facilities and meeting with Damanhur leadership to discuss their understanding of where the world is going and some of the new approaches that they have found for living together. These are not communes or anything like that, but federations of individuals, businesses and families who have systematically worked to figure out how to effectively interface with of the larger world . . . but live together in a more effective way.

We’ll bus down near Portofino, Italy after that for a couple of days to relax and internalize what we’ve experienced at Damanhur. This famous, coastal vacation area, the location for quite a few movies, has drawn visitors from around the world for many decades.



Then we’ll fly up to Inverness, Scotland and spend another three days at Findhorn, one of the most amazing social and agricultural experiments in the world. Findhorn is famous for being the place where, on a rocky, outcrop facing the North Sea, the founders developed a way of working with the underlying spiritual forces to be able to grow extraordinary vegetables and other plants where none should be able to grow. This remarkable place has evolved to become one of the most advanced ecovillages on the planet, with a very sophisticated, practical understanding of what it means to live sustainably.



Next we’ll hop on to an all-day train headed south through the length of Scotland and England to Salisbury, in Wiltshire. That will be our two-day operating base for visiting Stonehenge, Avebury, the town of Bath, Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury – unusually energetic places all. We’ll be joined the first day by Lucy Pringle, the world’s premier expert on crop circles, to guide us around and provide an afternoon lecture on crop circles. She’ll stay for dinner for an extended conversation.





Christopher Robinson, the famous dream detective, who nightly dreams about the future, will provide commentary on day two and tell us about how he accurately helped the UK authorities for many years to anticipate attacks by terrorists. (I can assure you that Chris is for real. On a couple of days when staying with us, he came down in the morning and showed us his dreams that described where we’d be visiting later in the day – before we even knew we were going out!)

If you depart from the U.S., you’ll leave on Saturday the 4th of October and arrive Milan on Sunday, the 5th. We’ll all head home from London on Saturday, the 29th , excited by all of the experiences and memories of the previous two weeks. We’ll be staying in 3 and 4-star hotels so we will be guaranteed hot water, decent beds and good food.

This will be an extraordinarily memorable and provocative trip, designed especially to provide the group with a look into some of the best examples in the world of how humans are inventing new ways of living . . . and how they’ve successfully addressed some of the most significant issues that universally dominate how most of us now live. I promise you it will be great fun, intellectually provocative, spiritually uplifting and full of beauty.

If you’d like to hear more, click here and we’ll get you additional information the moment we’ve got the airfare information that we’re waiting for. We should have all of the details firmed up within a week or so.

America’s Wealth Distribution

We’ve all heard about the one-percent of the population that owns about everything. Here’s something that will allow you to visualize what that really means. Get ready to be surprised.

The Conspiracy Theorists Are the Sane Ones

Recent studies by psychologists and social scientists in the US and UK suggest that contrary to mainstream media stereotypes, those labeled “conspiracy theorists” appear to be saner than those who accept the official versions of contested events.

The most recent study was published on July 8th by psychologists Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas of the University of Kent (UK). Entitled “What about Building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories,” the study compared “conspiracist” (pro-conspiracy theory) and “conventionalist” (anti-conspiracy) comments at news websites.

The authors were surprised to discover that it is now more conventional to leave so-called conspiracist comments than conventionalist ones: “Of the 2174 comments collected, 1459 were coded as conspiracist and 715 as conventionalist.” In other words, among people who comment on news articles, those who disbelieve government accounts of such events as 9/11 and the JFK assassination outnumber believers by more than two to one. That means it is the pro-conspiracy commenters who are expressing what is now the conventional wisdom, while the anti-conspiracy commenters are becoming a small, beleaguered minority. (read full article)

Outernet

Now here’s something that could fundamentally change the world: Internet from space that would provide connectivity for the whole planet. Next year!

Big Dive

Want to do something memorable? Watch this!



THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Google’s Grand Plan to Make Your Brain Irrelevant – (Wired – January 21, 2014)
Google is on a shopping spree, buying startup after startup to push its business into the future. The web’s most powerful company is filling its shopping cart with artificial intelligence algorithms, robots, and smart gadgets for the home. It’s on a mission to build an enormous digital brain that operates as much like the human mind as possible — and, in many ways, even better. Recently Google purchased a stealthy artificial intelligence startup called DeepMind. That acquisition closely follows Google’s $3.2 billion purchase of smart thermostat and smoke alarm maker Nest, a slew of cutting-edge robotics companies, and another AI startup known as DNNresearch. Google is looking to spread smart computer hardware into so many parts of our everyday lives — from our homes and our cars to our bodies — but perhaps more importantly, it’s developing a new type of artificial intelligence that can help operate these devices, as well as its many existing web and smartphone services. Basically, the idea is to mimic the biological structure of the human brain with software so that it can build machines that learn “organically” — that is, without human involvement. The company has been bulking up its roster of geniuses as it seeks to explore a new branch of artificial intelligence known as “deep learning.” Deep learning can help recognize what’s in your photos without asking you to tag them yourself, and it can help understand human speech, a key tool for its smartphone apps and Google Glass computerized eyewear. But Google also sees the new AI as a better way to target ads — the core of its current business. For another example of deep learning, see: A smart-object recognition algorithm that doesn’t need humans. The algorithm could be used for numerous applications, from detecting invasive fish species to identifying flaws in produce such as apples on a production line in addition to surveillance and robot vision systems.



NEW REALITIES

Supervolcanoes Can Suddenly Explode with No Outside Cause – (RT News – January 6, 2014)
It was previously thought that supervolcanoes – which spew out hundreds more times of lava and ash than ordinary ruptures – could be triggered by earthquakes or other outside tectonic phenomena. But now, scientists have discovered what causes cataclysm-inducing supervolcanoes to erupt, and the answer offers little reassurance. Their eruptions are caused by magma buoyancy, which makes them less predictable and more frequent than previously thought. A team of geologists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) modeled a supervolcano – such as Yellowstone in Wyoming – using synthetic magma heated up with a high-energy X-ray to see what could create a powerful discharge. A separate international team, led by Luca Caricchi of the University of Geneva, conducted more than 1.2 million computer simulations of eruptions. Both groups have arrived at similar conclusions. "We knew the clock was ticking but we didn't know how fast: what would it take to trigger a super-eruption?” said Wim Malfait, the lead author of the ETH study. "Now we know you don't need any extra factor - a supervolcano can erupt due to its enormous size alone.”

DNA Test Indicates Skulls Aren't Human – (KRMG News – February 12, 2014)
A startling announcement by the assistant director of a Peruvian museum may mean that science has evidence of an entirely new humanoid species, some would say an alien humanoid species, which once lived in Peru. Brien Foerster of the Paracas Museum says initial DNA analysis of a bizarrely elongated skull shows that it is not human in origin. More than 300 skulls were found in 1928 in a mass grave near the southern coast of Peru. Foerster says a geneticist, who remains anonymous until further testing firms up the initial result, says the skull had mitochondrial DNA unknown in any human, or for that matter in any known creature on Earth for which samples have been sequenced and entered into the international database. Foerster says the geneticist does contract work for the U.S. Government, and will go public after further testing conclusively proves that the skulls are not human. Others say eventually testing will prove they're actually human, or possibly a hoax. See also: DNA Analysis of Paracas Elongated Skulls Released: Not Human. It is well-known that most cases of skull elongation are the result of cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding, in which the skull is intentionally deformed by applying force over a long period of time. However, while cranial deformation changes the shape of the skull, it does not alter its volume, weight, or other features that are characteristic of a regular human skull. The Paracas skulls, however, are different. The cranial volume is up to 25% larger and 60% heavier than conventional human skulls, results that could not have been achieved through head binding/flattening.  Brien Foerster reports on the geneticist's findings: “It had mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) with mutations unknown in any human, primate, or animal known so far. If these mutations [are reconfirmed], we are dealing with a new human-like creature, very distant from Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans. I am not sure it will even fit into the known evolutionary tree," Foerster wrote. This article includes more photographs.

Scientists Report Teleportation of Physical Objects from One Location to Another – (Collective Evolution – January 16, 2014)
Developments in quantum theory and general relativity physics have been successful in exploring the concept of teleportation for quite some time now and numerous teleportation breakthroughs have been made. Quantum teleportation (at the level of atoms) has now been replicated by numerous scientists all over the world a number of times. However, the article goes on to discuss two research papers published in reputable Chinese journals that document “psychic teleportation” – wherein individuals were able to cause the teleportation of small, physical objects from one place to another. Objects included watches, horseflies, other insects, radio micro-transmitters, photosensitive paper and more. The participants never touched the objects beforehand. The experiments were done under both blind and double-blind conditions, and the researches involved came from various colleges and sectors of the Department of Defense. This information is included in one of the three major sources for the article: a research paper titled “Teleportation Physics Study” done of the US Air Force in 2004 which has now been “approved for public release”. As noted by the author of the study, Eric Davis, Ph.D, “The results of the Chinese Teleportation experiments can simply be explained as a human consciousness phenomenon that somehow acts to move or rotate test specimens through a 4th spacial dimension, so that specimens are able to penetrate the solid walls/barriers of their containers without physically breaching them.”



GENETICS/ HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/ BIOTECHNOLOGY

Scientists Watch Glowing Molecules Form Memories in Real Time – (io9 – January 27, 2014)
For the first time ever, neuroscientists have observed memory-forming molecules travel around the brain of a living animal. The unprecedented breakthrough is shedding light on how nerve cells make memories. Neurons are incredibly sensitive to any kind of disruption, so observing them as they go about their memory-making work in living brain cells is no easy task. To overcome this, and to peer deep into neurons without harming them, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University developed a mouse model in which they fluorescently tagged all molecules of messenger RNA (mRNA) that code for beta-actin protein (proteins involved in cell structure and integrity). Then they watched fluorescently glowing molecules form in the nuclei of neurons and travel within dendrites, the neuron's branched projections. As they watched this, the scientists realized that mRNA in neurons have developed an ingenious and never-before-seen strategy for controlling how memory-forming proteins do their job. It's a novel process they describe as "masking" and "unmasking" — a process allowing beta-actin protein to be synthesized at specific times and places and in specific amounts.

New Stem Cell Production Technique Comes as a Shock – (GizMag – February 3, 2014)
An international research effort has found that mature animal cells can be shocked into an embryonic state simply by soaking them in acid or putting them under physical stress. The fortuitous breakthrough could prove to be massive for many fields of medical research if the method can be replicated using human cells, something researchers are confident will be possible. The collaboration between Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Japan found that by bathing mature cells harvested from mice in a weak acid, they reverted to a stem cell-like pluripotent state. Successful attempts at creating stem cells culminated in the 2012 Nobel Prize-winning research in which Shinya Yamanaka produced Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC) from mature cells by introducing several pieces of DNA. The new technique being pioneered by researchers at Harvard and Riken is much simpler and would greatly reduce the expense of stem cell production. Research is now taking place to achieve the same results with human blood. See also: Virus-free, cord-blood-derived stem cells repair retinal tissue in mice.

Antibiotic ‘Smart Bomb’ Can Target Specific Strains of Bacteria – (North Carolina State University – January 30, 2014)
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a de facto antibiotic “smart bomb” that can identify specific strains of bacteria and sever their DNA, eliminating the infection. The technique offers a potential approach to treat infections by multi-drug resistant bacteria. “Conventional antibiotic treatments kill both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, leading to unintended consequences, such as opportunistic infections,” says Dr. Chase Beisel, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work. “What we’ve shown in this new work is that it is possible to selectively remove specific strains of bacteria without affecting populations of good bacteria.” The new approach works by taking advantage of a part of an immune system present in many bacteria called the CRISPR-Cas system. The NC State researchers designed CRISPR RNAs to target DNA sequences in the bacteria themselves causes bacterial suicide, as a bacterium’s CRISPR-Cas system attacks its own DNA. The researchers tested the approach in controlled cultures with different combinations of bacteria present, and were able to eliminate only the targeted strain. “For example, we were able to eliminate Salmonella in a culture without affecting good bacteria normally found in the digestive tract,” Beisel says.

ETH Zurich Researchers Create Ultra-thin, Flexible Circuit – (GizMag – January 8, 2014)
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) have created clear, flexible electronic circuitry that is so thin it can sit upon the surface of a contact lens or be wrapped around a human hair. The research, led by Dr. Giovanni Salvatore, could ultimately be used for implantable medical devices. One such potential application suggested by the team is a “smart contact lens” that could monitor intraocular pressure for glaucoma patients. The research team envisages using a wireless power source for the contact lens, such as a magnetic field. Harvesting solar or kinetic energy on the parylene surface are also potential approaches that the team have considered. Besides the smart contact lens, Münzenrieder suggests that the technology could be used as a smart textile for sports or in a hospital to monitor physiological factors like body temperature. Besides this we are also exploring the possibility of integrating the membrane with other objects like textiles and elastic materials to realize something like a smart skin for robots or prostheses.”


ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

Leading Scientist on Fukushima Radiation Hitting West Coast of North America: “No One Is Measuring;Therefore We Should Be Alarmed” – (Washington’s Blog - January 26, 2014 )
Numerous models show that – while the ocean dilutes radiation – pockets and streams of concentrated radiation may still hit the West Coast of North America. Many local and state government officials have said that residents are inundating them with questions about Fukushima radiation. And yet the government isn’t measuring seawater or fish on the West Coast for radiation. Ken Buessler is the head scientist at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, one of the world’s top ocean science institutions.  “I don’t expect the radiation levels to be high but we can’t dismiss the concerns that the public has.” Buesseler recently took his concerns to Washington where he visited officials at the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. “They all said that it’s not their responsibility to test the Pacific Ocean for radiation. This issue is falling between the cracks of government responsibility.” Noting the circular logic, Buesseler said. “The government says we don’t really need to do that [test for radiation] because we’re predicting very low levels.” See also: University of Alaska Scientists: Fukushima Radiation May Be Making Alaska Seals Sick

Massive Sea Star Deaths off the West Coast Puzzle Scientists – (Raw Story - February  2, 2014)
Starfish have been mysteriously dying by the millions in recent months along the US west coast, worrying biologists who say the sea creatures are key to the marine ecosystem. Scientists first started noticing the mass deaths in June 2013. Different types of starfish, also known as sea stars, were affected, from wild ones along the coast to those in captivity, according to Jonathan Sleeman, director of the US Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center. The most commonly observed symptoms are white lesions on the arms of the sea star. The lesions spread rapidly, resulting in the loss of the arm. Within days, the infection consumes the creature's entire body, and it dies. The mortality rate is estimated at 95%. Scientists who have spent decades studying the local ecosystem have yet to identify the cause. "What we currently think is likely happening is that there is a pathogen, like a parasite or a virus or a bacteria, that is infecting the sea stars and that compromises in some way their immune system," said Pete Raimondi, chair of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Then, the creatures become more susceptible to bacteria which is "causing a secondary infection that causes most of the damages that you see."

Right Now, Slovenia Looks Eerily Similar to the Frozen Kingdom of Arendelle – (BuzzFeed – February 4, 2014)
The European country has been paralyzed by severe ice storms. Thousands were left without electricity, 40% of schools were shut, and residents were advised not to drink tap water, the BBC reported. The photographs in this article show an extraordinary landscape.



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Magnetic Nanoparticles Breakthrough Could Help Shrink Digital Storage – (GizMag – January 7, 2014)
A breakthrough in the magnetic manipulation of nanoparticles that could lead to a big boost for small scale digital storage in portable devices has been achieved by scientists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Institut Catala de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia. It centers around the ability to produce what is known as antiferromagnetic coupling (AFM) in particles as small as 10 nanometers. It involves the juxtapositioning of magnetic polarity in the layers of a structure or particle. This opposing polarity is used to store data as 1s and 0s. Magnetic nanoparticles promise to underpin advances in everything from cleaning up oil spills to improving cancer detection. The researchers found that they could control the magnetic properties of certain layered nanoparticles by adjusting temperature and magnetic fields around them. This was realized using iron-oxide and manganese-oxide layers in hard-soft shell nanoparticles. These bi-magnetic layered nanoparticles produced a magnetic relationship known as positive exchange bias that, in a world first, were able to be manipulated without having to change their structure.



SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

10 Failed Utopian Cities That Influenced the Future – (io9 – January 29, 2014)
Some of the most famous cities in history were never built. These 10 Utopian cities may have been failures, but they expressed our ideas about what the future of human civilization could look like. And many ideas contained in them continue to influence us today. For example, in 1932 Frank Lloyd Wright saw French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s plans for Ville Radieuse (also discussed in the article). He hated it, and quickly began developing his own ideal city based on his love of the open, rural prairies of the midwest. Broadacre City became his obsession for the rest of his life. Wright wanted to get rid of industrial cities entirely, replacing them with urban spaces that were a mix of developed and rural areas. In Broadacre City, each family would be given an acre of land, and the largest "villages" would have no more than 10,000 people. Public needs like water and power would never be privately owned.



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

Icelandic Drilling Project Opens Door to Volcano-Powered Electricity – (Scientific American – January 29, 2014)
Can enormous heat deep in the earth be harnessed to provide energy for us on the surface? A promising report from a geothermal borehole project that accidentally struck magma – the same fiery, molten rock that spews from volcanoes – suggests it could. The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project, IDDP, has been drilling shafts up to 5km deep in an attempt to harness the heat in the volcanic bedrock far below the surface of Iceland. But in 2009 their borehole at Krafla, northeast Iceland, reached only 2,100m deep before unexpectedly striking a pocket of magma intruding into the Earth’s upper crust from below, at searing temperatures of 900-1000°C. “Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence, and this is only the second known instance anywhere in the world,“ according to Wilfred Elders, professor emeritus of geology at the UC, Riverside. However, this time the decision was not to the plug the hole with concrete, as in a previous case in Hawaii in 2007, but instead attempt to harness the incredible geothermal heat.


TRANSPORTATION

If the Fuel Source Ain't Clean, Your Electric Car Ain't Green – (Scientific American – January 26, 2014)
As Tesla prepares to begin selling its Model S in smog-ridden China, the question is: do electric cars reduce air pollution? And the answer is: it depends. That on-the-one-hand-yes-but-on-the-other hand-no conclusion comes from a study predicting the impacts of electric cars in the U.S. to 2050, How Much Do Electric Drive Vehicles Matter to Future U.S. Emissions? The reason it depends is that we don't know the future. Will batteries be cheap? Will the U.S. have a law limiting carbon dioxide? Which will cost less: oil or natural gas? Depending on the answers, electric vehicles and hybrids might not reduce air pollution at all. They could even make it worse. As it stands, battery cars that run on electricity from burning coal can be more polluting than cars that get good mileage on gas. And that's why a Tesla in China, where most electricity comes from coal, is no zero-emissions vehicle.



AGRICULTURE/FOOD

Electronic Tongue Identifies Brands of Beer with 81.9% Accuracy – (KurzweilAI – February 4, 2014)
Spanish researchers have managed to distinguish between different varieties of beer using an “electronic tongue,” with an accuracy of 81.9%. Scientists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona used an array of 21 sensors formed from ion-selective electrodes, including some with response to cations (ammonium, sodium), others with response to anions (nitrate, chloride, etc.), and electrodes with generic (unspecified) responses. The authors recorded the multidimensional response generated by the sensors and applied supervised learning and linear discriminant analysis. The researchers said these tools could one day give robots a sense of taste, and even supplant panels of tasters in the food industry to improve the quality and reliability of products for consumption. (Editor’s note: There goes the job security for food tasters.)

Many Countries Reaching Diminishing Returns in Fertilizer Use – (Earth Policy – January 8, 2014)
The big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States—account for more than half of world fertilizer consumption. In the United States, the growth in fertilizer use came to an end in 1980. China’s fertilizer use climbed rapidly in recent decades but has leveled off since 2007. In contrast, India’s fertilizer consumption is still on the rise, growing 5% annually. Given that China uses 2.5 times more fertilizer than the United States and that the two countries’ average annual grain output totals are similar—450 million tons in China compared to 400 million tons in the United States—the grain produced per ton of fertilizer in the United States is nearly twice that in China. This is partly because American farmers are much more precise in matching application with need, but also partly because U.S. farmers regularly plant corn and soybeans (which fix nitrogen in the soil) in a two-year rotation, thus reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that has to be applied for the corn. In many other agriculturally advanced economies, fertilizer use has actually fallen in recent decades. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, which together account for over one third of the European wheat harvest, have maintained high production levels despite significant declines in fertilizer use. Farmers in France and Germany now use half as much fertilizer as they did in the 1980s, while U.K. fertilizer use has dropped by 40%. And in Japan, 56% less fertilizer is now used than in the peak year of 1973.



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Suicide Rate Among Young Veterans Has Tripled – (Think Progress – January 11, 2014)
At least 22 veterans commit suicide every day and young male veterans under the age of 30 are three times more likely to commit suicide when compared to civilian males in the same age bracket, according to a new briefing released by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The number of veteran suicides largely remained unchanged between 2009 to 2011, but the number of male veteran between the ages of 18 to 24 who committed suicide increased by a rate of 33 per 100,000 over the three year period. Young veterans in the high risk age category had a suicide rate of 79.1 per 1,000, while other American males had a suicide rate of 25 per 1,000. The study found that overall, male veterans between the age of 18 to 24 and female veterans were most likely to commit suicide. What’s more, veteran suicides among those enrolled in the Veteran Health Administration (VHA) decreased by about 30%, but suicides among veteran non-enrollees soared by 60%. The study notes that the VHA has made significant strides to address mental health concerns and has decreased the rate of suicide among older veteran health care enrollees and those with mental health issues.



TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

The Best Government Money Can Buy – (CounterPunch – February 11, 2014)
This article offers an insightful look at the “Revolving Door Syndrome” in the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Complex. Those of you who think it is incorrect to attach “Congressional” onto the end of Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC) would be advised to read “Lawmaker holds stock in defense contractor he champions” (by Donovan Slack, USA Today, 8 Feb 2014). Slack describes the ethically-challenged influence peddling capers of Congressman Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin), a Harvard educated lawyer and one of longest serving and wealthiest members of Congress.  Petri used his position in Congress to enhance his political career (and power) as well as his personal wealth by promoting a controversial $3 billion dollar armored truck procurement contract to Oshkosh corporation that pushed dollars, jobs, and profits into his home district as well as wealth into his own stock portfolio.  Slack describes how Petri intervened to (1) fend off Oshkosh’s competitors, especially Texas based BAE Corp., who had protested the contract award, accusing Oshkosh of low-balling its cost estimates and (2) how he worked to neutralize the rescue efforts by BAE’s friendly congressmen. 



GLOBAL RELATIONS

The U.S. Assassination Program in Colombia – (CounterPunch – January 29, 2014)
On December 21, 2013, The Washington Post published a story entitled, “Covert action Colombia,” about the intimate and critical role of the CIA and the NSA in helping to assassinate “at least two dozen” leaders of the Colombian FARC guerillas from “the early 2000s” to and through the present time. While The Washington Post story reads like an advertisement for the CIA and NSA, there are some truths buried in the piece which are worthy of consideration.   The most illuminating statement is that while the CIA and NSA, allegedly in the interest of fighting drug trafficking and terrorism, have assisted the Colombian government in hunting down and murdering Marxist FARC guerillas with U.S.-made smart bombs, “for the most part, they left the violent paramilitary groups alone.” This is an important point, for as the piece itself acknowledges, the paramilitaries are indeed “violent,” and, with the help of the U.S.-backed Colombian military, have been engaged in a decades-long campaign of terror against the civilian population.  And consequently, the U.S. officially designated the predecessor of the current paramilitaries – that is, the AUC — as a terrorist organization.  Meanwhile, it is well-accepted that both the Colombian paramilitaries and their military allies are major drug traffickers in their own right. In short, the U.S. is aligning with known terrorists and drug dealers in Colombia in the name of fighting terrorism and drugs.   While this may seem preposterous, there is indeed a logic to it. As The Guardian recently explained, the entire Western banking system is propped up by billions of dollars of Colombian drug monies. Therefore, it is not in the U.S. interests to too effectively combat drugs. And, sure enough, it has utterly failed to do so despite the over $9 billion it has spent on the ostensible “war on drugs” in Colombia and the greater Andean region.  

A Manufactured Crisis – (Lobe Log – January 29, 2014)
The subtitle of Gareth Porter’s new book, The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, is well-chosen. Large parts of Manufactured Crisis are indeed untold till now. Porter has been investigating the Iranian nuclear case for the best part of a decade. The result of his researches is both a fascinating addition to a growing corpus, unlike any previous work on the issue, and a disturbing indictment of US and Israeli policies. One central theme is that hidden motives have colored these policies. On the US side, Porter explains, the end of the Cold War led to a federal bureaucratic interest in exaggerating the WMD and missile threat posed by Iran (and other emerging countries) to justify funding bids. During the presidency of George W. Bush some senior administration members also sought to exploit nuclear fears to “delegitimize” the Iranian government and engineer a pretext for enforced regime change. On the Israeli side, every government since 1992–both Likud and Labor–has seen advantage in dramatizing the Iranian threat and in demonizing Iran’s leaders. “Iran and Shi’a fundamentalism are the greatest threats to global peace,” proclaimed one Israeli document. The purpose has been to maintain the value of Israel to the US as a “strategic ally”, to distract global unease from Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, and to create excuses for remaining in occupation of Palestinian territory. Porter concludes: “US and Israeli policies have been driven by political and bureaucratic interests, not by a rational, objective assessment of available indicators of the motives and intentions of Iranian leaders”. 



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Texas Man Pays Off Students’ School Lunch Debts So They Can Keep Eating – (Nation of Change – February 8, 2014)
After he heard about the children in Utah whose school lunches were thrown out because their parents were behind on payments, Kenny Thompson was worried about the elementary school kids he tutored and mentored in Houston, Texas. So he went in to check whether they were getting the proper nutrition. What he found disappointed him: Dozens of students were on “reduced” lunches, receiving cold peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches instead of the full hot meals they used to receive, all because their parents had fallen behind on lunch payments that amounted to mere 40 cents a day.  So Thompson took action. He forked over $465 of his own money and zeroed out the balances on over 60 students’ accounts. At just 40 cents a day, it may be surprising that so many kids across the country don’t have stable access to a full school lunch. But one in five American children lacks steady access to food, and three quarters of teachers report having students who regularly show up to school hungry.

What do Chinese Millionaires Like? Apple, Hermès, and Australia – (Business Week – January 17, 2014)
The Shanghai-based publishing group Hurun Report released its 10th annual Chinese Luxury Consumer Survey on Jan. 16. Defined by personal wealth of 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) or more, China’s rich spent less last year, down 15 percent over 2012. Here’s a select accounting of how they spent it: They spent, on average, eight days per month on business trips, up one day over the previous year. Most got 6.5 hours of sleep a night, from 12:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Meanwhile, leisure time dropped 20 percent, with Chinese millionaires taking 7.5 days of vacation last year. When they take time off, their favorite country is now Australia, edging out France, the choice destination in the previous four years. Chinese rich are becoming more health conscious. About 39% smoke, down from 60% five years ago. Over the same period, those who say they drink dropped to 60%.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Astronomers Baffled to Find Polaris/North Star is Getting Brighter – (Daily Mail – February 5, 2014)
A team led by Scott Engle of Villanova University in Pennsylvania recalibrated historic measurements of Polaris by Ptolemy in 137 C.E., the Persian astronomer Al-Sufi in 964 C.E., and others. They investigated the fluctuations of the star over the course of several years, combing through historical records and utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope. The team found that Polaris is 2.5 times brighter today than in Ptolemy's time, which they say is a remarkable rate of change. “If they are real, these changes are 100 times larger than predicted by current theories of stellar evolution,” says Villanova astronomer Edward Guinan. The team's data also hint that the star's cyclic 4-day variation in brightness, although still weak, is once again growing more robust--but no one knows what's driving these flutterings or how long they will last. Engle and his team began to research the star around the beginning of 2000, when they found that the dropping brightness was on the rise again.

The Archaeology of the Stars – (New York Times – February 10, 2014)
Four years ago, Anna Frebel, an astronomer at MIT, found an ancient star in a neighboring galaxy whose chemical composition proved nearly identical to some unusual stars on the outskirts of our own galaxy, which are older than the Milky Way itself. It was a striking discovery, suggesting that the relatively young Milky Way is growing by conquest — “cannibalizing” nearby older dwarf galaxies. And it underscored the importance of a new way of learning how the universe evolved from the Big Bang to the modern cosmos. Traditionally, astronomers study the early universe by looking back in time — peering deeper and deeper into space for vestiges of light from billions of years ago. But in the last decade, Dr. Frebel and others have used powerful telescopes and high-resolution spectroscopes to study the chemical composition of very old stars closer to home, in the Milky Way’s halo, producing a wealth of information about the creation of elements and the formation of the first stars and galaxies. Astronomers believe that some of the old stars formed from the chemically enriched dust left over from the explosive deaths of the very first generation of stars, and their atmospheres contain important information about their forebears, like DNA passed from parent to offspring.



STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

Corruption Report Slams EU Countries for $162 Billion ‘Abuse of Power for Private Gain’ – (Nation of Change – February 5, 2014)
Corruption affects all member countries of the European Union and costs the bloc's economies about $162.19 billion a year, according to an official E.U. report. (Please include link.) Across Europe, 76% of people said they thought corruption was widespread in their own country. But in Greece, 99% of those polled said corruption was prevalent, with Italy (97%) and Lithuania, Spain and the Czech Republic (95%) right behind. European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who presided over the first-ever official E.U.-wide study on corruption, said the estimated amount lost annually due to padded government contracts, covert political financing, bribes to secure health care and other corrupt practices would be enough to fund the European Union's yearly operating budget. All 28 E.U. member states suffer from some level of corruption — defined broadly by the report as the "abuse of power for private gain" — the report found. "There are no corruption-free zones in Europe," Malmstrom said.

Wealth Distribution In America – (YouTube – March 13, 2013)
Here is a video on the distribution of wealth in America. The info-graphics in the video show the difference between what Americans think the current distribution is, what they perceive would be an ideal distribution of wealth, and the actual distribution. The reality is not what we think it is.



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Stratasys Unveils Material Combining 3D Printer - (SmartPlanet - January 27, 2014)
Stratasys has unveiled a 3D printer which allows manufacturers to mix both materials and colors when printing objects. The 3D printer manufacturer's latest offering could potentially have implications for design, manufacturing and supply chains, as the product has taken 3D printing to the next level -- allowing the combination of base materials with "virtually unlimited" combinations of rigid, flexible, and transparent color materials in a single print run. Using similar color materials to an inkjet printer -- cyan, magenta and yellow -- this combination method means that manufacturers won't have to assemble parts or paint goods separately within a supply chain, bringing products to market faster and making production more efficient. Article includes photos of multi-color, single-printed objects.

SwatchMate Cube Lets You Capture and Reproduce Colors – (GizMag – January 7, 2014)
Have you ever seen something while you were out walking around, and thought "That's just the color I'd like to paint my living room"? With a SwatchMate Color Capturing Cube, you could act on that thought. It lets you sample colors as you come across them, so you can exactly reproduce them on a graphics program or even in a paint store. To use the Cube, you hold it up to the colored surface that you want to copy, and press the top of the device. An internal spherical light source illuminates the surface in a controlled sequence, with the reflected light being picked up by an integrated color sensor. After a few seconds, the task is complete. The device will immediately send the color to a paired iOS or Android smartphone, or to a program like PhotoShop on a nearby desktop computer, although it can also store up to 20 colors in its own onboard memory. If you're using it to create a paint color, the app will let you know which color codes to use, from several major paint brands.

Conductive Ink for Drawing Circuits for Flexible Electronic Books, Displays, Wearables – (Kurzweil AI – January 10, 2014)
Chinese researchers have developed a novel conductive metal ink made of  copper nanosheets that can be used in a pen to draw a functioning, flexible electric circuit on regular printer paper. The new process could pave the way for a wide range of new bendable gadgets, such as electronic books that look and feel more like traditional paperbacks, roll-up tablets, and wearables, according to the researchers. The researchers coated copper nanosheets with silver nanoparticles to help the copper nanosheets overlap and stack together in a laminar (multi-layer) structure to improve conductivity. They then incorporated this material into an ink pen, using it to draw patterns of lines, words and even flowers on regular printer paper. To show that the ink could conduct electricity, the scientists added small LED chips (lights) to the drawing that lit up when the circuit was connected to a battery. To test the ink’s flexibility, they folded the papers 1,000 times, even crumpling them up, and showed that the ink maintained 80 - 90% of its conductivity.

Insanely Slippery Non-Stick Coating – (Fast Company – January 10, 2014)
An MIT-developed lubricant called LiquiGlide can make anything – syrup, ketchup, paint – slide right out of the bottle so you don't waste a drop. The applications start in the kitchen, but they extend into almost every industry. Dave Smith, the MIT Ph.D. candidate behind the novel substance, was originally focused on using LiquiGlide to make ketchup flow from jars like water. (His aim was noble: Smith estimated the solution could save more than a million tons of annual food waste in the sauce industry alone.) Since then, Smith has dropped out of MIT, incorporated LiquiGlide, and built up a team of nearly 20 mechanical engineers and nano-technologists. Smith and company are hesitant to say much about the formula behind LiquiGlide. However, LiquiGlide is odorless, tasteless, and composed of only FDA-approved materials. (Editor’s note: Even FDA-approved substances have not been tested for safety of consumption at the nano-particle level; we’d feel better about having slippery paint than slippery ketchup.)

Natural 3D Counterpart to Graphene Discovered – (Space Daily – January 20, 2014)
The discovery of what is essentially a 3D version of graphene - the 2D sheets of carbon through which electrons race at many times the speed at which they move through silicon - promises exciting new things to come for the high-tech industry, including much faster transistors and far more compact hard drives. A collaboration of researchers at the U.S Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered that sodium bismuthate can exist as a form of quantum matter called a three-dimensional topological Dirac semi-metal (3DTDS). This is the first experimental confirmation of 3D Dirac fermions in the interior or bulk of a material, a novel state that was only recently proposed by theorists. "A 3DTDS is a natural three-dimensional counterpart to graphene with similar or even better electron mobility and velocity," says Yulin Chen, a physicist with Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source (ALS) when he initiated the study that led to this discovery, and now with the University of Oxford. Two of the most exciting new materials in the world of high technology today are graphene and topological insulators, crystalline materials that are electrically insulating in the bulk but conducting on the surface. Both feature 2D Dirac fermions (fermions that aren't their own antiparticle), which give rise to extraordinary and highly coveted physical properties. Topological insulators also possess a unique electronic structure, in which bulk electrons behave like those in an insulator while surface electrons behave like those in graphene. "The swift development of graphene and topological insulators has raised questions as to whether there are 3D counterparts and other materials with unusual topology in their electronic structure," says Chen. "Our discovery answers both questions." See also: Graphene's love affair with water.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

The NSA, CIA, and the Promise of Industrial Espionage – (CounterPunch – January 28, 2014)
In a weekend interview with German ARD public television network, Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. government uses its broad electronic surveillance capabilities to engage in industrial espionage. Snowden told ARD TV that, “I will say is there is no question that the U.S. is engaged in economic spying,” Snowden gave the example that, “If there is information at Siemens that they think would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security, of the United States, they will go after that information and they’ll take it.” Snowden left hanging what exactly is done with such potentially useful economic intelligence, and he provided little additional information on this subject beyond indicated the news outlets holding copies of yet published NSA leaked documents could provide more specific information. However, we would do well to recall former CIA agent and whistleblower Philip Agee’s characterization of his former-agency’s subservient role in global economic relations, when he bluntly stated that “the CIA, after all, is nothing more than the secret police of American capitalism, plugging up leaks in the political dam night and day so that shareholders of US companies operating in poor countries can continue enjoying the rip-off.”


PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Belgium's Parliament Votes Through Child Euthanasia – (BBC News – February 13, 2014)
The Belgian parliament has passed a bill allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit, by 86 votes to 44, with 12 abstentions. When, as expected, the bill is signed by the king, Belgium will become the first country in the world to remove any age limit on the practice. Four conditions must be met for the practice: the patient must be conscious of his/her decision; request must be approved by parents and medical team; the illness must be terminal; and the patient must face "unbearable physical suffering". Opponents argue children cannot make such a difficult decision. It is 12 years since Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal for children over the age of 12, if there is parental consent. Supporters of the legislation argue that in practice the law will affect an extremely small number of children, who would probably be in their teens.



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

Footage of Felix Baumgartner's Space Jump – (TwistedSifter - January 31, 2014)
On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner ascended 128,100 feet (just over 24 miles) above Earth’s surface to the edge of space in a stratospheric balloon. Then he jumped out. He broke the speed of sound while free-falling back to Earth, setting three world records in the process. Seven cameras documented every moment. If you can’t imagine what it might feel like to step out into thin air (very thin) 24 miles above the earth, this will give you some idea.

Film Clip of a Trip Down Market St., San Francisco in 1906 WITH SOUND – (YouTube – January 6, 2014)
If you’d rather stay on the ground, here is another fascinating bit of footage. A trip down Market Street with no traffic lights, no demarcated lanes, and no pedestrian crosswalks. And everything – cars, trolleys on rails, trolleys with overhead power, horses, bicyclists and people – moves at a speed that allows it all to flow smoothly.



JUST FOR FUN

Shadow Sculptures – (This is Marvelous – December, 2013)
From discarded wood, welded scrap metal, broken tools, cigarette packets, soda cans and piles of trash, Tim Noble and Sue Webster make assemblages and then point light to create projected shadows of people standing, sitting, smoking, drinking or anything easily recognizable. Every piece of debris is precisely set in place, taking into consideration its distance from the wall, and its angle with the spotlight. The result is surprising and powerful as it redefines how abstract forms can transform into figurative ones.



A FINAL QUOTE--

My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there” – Charles F. Kettering (American engineer, inventor of the electric starter, 1876-1958)



A special thanks to: Thomas Bergin, Bernard Calil, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Deva Premal, Cory Shreckengost, Tom Solomon, John Spears, 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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