FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT--
- Scientists have created a chemical that can be added to food to make people feel full.
- Graphene membranes could one day be used to "sieve" hydrogen gas directly from the atmosphere to generate electricity.
- During a weekly general audience at the Vatican last month, Pope Francis, speaking of the afterlife, seemed to suggest that animals could go to heaven.
- Fraud-proof credit cards are possible using the quantum properties of light.
by John L. Petersen
The Torture Wars – (TomDispatch – December 14, 2014)
It came from the top and that’s never been a secret. The president authorized the building of those CIA “black sites” and the use of what came to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and has spoken of this with a certain pride. The president’s top officials essentially put in an order at the Department of Justice for “legal” justifications that would, miraculously, transform those “techniques” into something other than torture. Its lawyers then pulled out their dictionaries and gave new meaning to tortured definitions of torture that could have come directly from the fused pens of Franz Kafka and George Orwell. But here’s one important thing to keep in mind: this report addresses only the past practices of a single agency. Its narrow focus encourages us to believe that, whatever the CIA may have once done, that whole sorry torture chapter is now behind us. In other words, the moment we get to read it, it’s already time to turn the page. So be shocked, be disgusted, be appalled, but don’t be fooled. The Senate torture report, so many years and obstacles in the making, should only be the starting point for a discussion, not the final word on U.S. torture. Here’s why. Mainstream coverage of U.S. torture in general, and of this new report in particular, rests on three false assumptions: False Assumption #1: The only question is “Did it work?”; False Assumption #2: Torture ended when George W. Bush left office; and False Assumption #3: Torture only counts when it happens in foreign wars. (Editor’s note: We encourage you to give this article your attention.)
Advocates of CIA Torture Victims Demand: 'Charge Them, Or Let Them Go' – (Common Dreams – December 15, 2014)
In the wake of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee's bombshell report last week, advocates for those who were victims of the CIA's brutal torture program have taken up a renewed call: "Charge them or let them go." In a piece published a few days ago, Helen Duffy, attorney for Abu Zubaydah, who was held and tortured at a CIA black site in Poland and is now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, argues that since the rendition and torture of detainees has now been brought to light, it's time for "truth, justice, and accountability." "It is time for victims of rendition such as Abu Zubaydah to be brought within the legal framework, to be either tried or released, to have the wrongs again them redressed, and for those responsible to be held to account," Duffy writes. According to Duffy, there are over 1,000 references to Zubaydah in the so-called torture report and, as the "first victim of the CIA's detention program," he is "the only prisoner known to have been subject to all" of the CIA's torture techniques. And despite having allegations of being "the third or fourth man in al-Qaeda" now publicly dismissed, Zubaydah continues to be held with no criminal charges, no trial, and no plan for trial. Instead, the CIA, as noted in the report, asked that he "remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life." The Senate report acknowledges that the CIA knew of "at least 26" CIA prisoners who were "wrongfully held," including an "intellectually challenged man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage." And "due to poor CIA record keeping,” the report notes, "all full accounting of how many specific CIA detainees were held and how they were specifically treated while in custody may never be known." However, as Indian historian and journalist Vijay Prashad argued in a piece published last week, the torture that these men experienced will likely only further hinder their chances of being freed. The U.S., Prashad writes, "is stuck with a serious problem." What to do with people, such as Zubaydah and Aamer, who had been tortured at CIA "black sites" for years?
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Critics Say Common Core Includes Collecting Psych Data on Kids – (Fox News – December 7, 2014)
A little-known aspect of Common Core should have students worried about what goes on the dreaded "permanent record," say critics of the national education standard. (The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an educational initiative in the United States that details what K-12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade.) Parents in Pennsylvania have written outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett to demand a moratorium on the collection of what they describe as sensitive and personal information on students, which they say is part of a federal database to track the development of every child. And education activists around the nation say it is part and parcel of the controversial campaign to impose a uniform, national standard for math and English. “This follows them from the cradle to the grave,” said Tracy Ramey, of Pennsylvanians against Common Core. Her group, along with Pennsylvanians Restoring Education, recently wrote Corbett to demand the shutdown of the state’s Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) in all 500 school districts. “What’s alarming is what they are doing with the data,” Ramey said. The process, set to play out throughout the country in what critics call a “womb to workplace” information system, was originally developed by the Department of Labor and contains information on every U.S. citizen under the age of 26. Most of the information on individuals is collected while K-12 students are in school, and includes names, grades and information such as personality traits, behavior patterns and even fingerprints. The state of Pennsylvania was one of the early adopters of the data mining and contributed to the framework for a nationwide program. Both groups allege that any state entity as well as outside contractors can access personal information.
Bizarre, Disappearing 'Matter Waves' Are the Ghosts of Physics – (Motherboard – November 2, 2014)
Ghosts are real. This is the case, at least, in a Rice University laboratory, where physicist Randy Hulet and a team of researchers have demonstrated a bizarre, paradoxical phenomenon in which matter is able to pass through other matter unimpeded. The effect in some cases is as if each piece of matter had completely disappeared relative to the other, sharing space but not. Clearly, we're not talking about regular everyday matter here. The Rice team was experimenting with a strange substance known as Bose-Einstein Condensate, which is a state in which all of the atoms making up a chunk of material start behaving in perfect coordination, all sharing the same quantum state together. The result is (relatively) macroscopic matter, hunks made up of several hundred thousand lithium atoms, that behave like a single particle. The quantum world invades the classical. These lithium clumps are cooled to one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, at which point they begin acting like single "matter waves." It's the wave-like nature of solitons that allows for ghost matter. It's possible to tweak waves—confining them to one-dimensional wave guides—such that they have opposite or non-interfering amplitudes. For example, we can imagine one of the two solitons being at 1 and the other at -1 as they pass. The waves become complementary and, as such, they both travel through the same space at the same time, yet don't interact.
A New Physics Theory of Life – (Quantum Magazine – January 22, 2014)
Why does life exist? Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”
Earth's Most Abundant Mineral Finally Has a Name – (Science Daily – December 12, 2014)
An ancient meteorite and high-energy X-rays have helped scientists conclude a half century of effort to find, identify and characterize a mineral that makes up 38% of the Earth. And in doing so, a team of scientists led by Oliver Tschauner, a mineralogist at the University of Las Vegas, clarified the definition of the Earth's most abundant mineral -- a high-density form of magnesium iron silicate, now called Bridgmanite. The mineral was named after 1964 Nobel laureate and pioneer of high-pressure research Percy Bridgman. The naming does more than fix a vexing gap in scientific lingo; it also will aid our understanding of the deep Earth. To determine the makeup of the inner layers of the Earth, scientists need to test materials under extreme pressure and temperatures. For decades, scientists have believed a dense perovskite structure makes up 38% of the Earth's volume, and that the chemical and physical properties of Bridgmanite have a large influence on how elements and heat flow through the Earth's mantle. But since the mineral failed to survive the trip to the surface, no one has been able to test and prove its existence -- a requirement for getting a name by the International Mineralogical Association. A meteorite that landed in Australia in 1879 held the answer.
Life Saving Surgeries Made Possible by 3D Printing - (GizMag - December 11, 2014)
There is one domain where 3D printing is already having a real-life impact. Its capacity to produce customized implants and medical devices tailored specifically to a patient's anatomy has seen it open up all kinds of possibilities in the field of medicine, with the year 2014 having turned up one world-first surgery after another. Let's cast our eye over some of the significant, life-changing procedures to emerge in the past year made possible by 3D printing technology. Examples in the article include forming a new skull, hip and heel implants, and a replacement vertebra.
Feeling Virtual Objects in Mid-air Using Ultrasound – (KurzweilAI – December 3, 2014)
University of Bristol researchers have developed a method for using ultrasound to generate a 3D haptic (tactile) shape that can be added to 3D displays so that invisible images can be felt in mid-air. The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumor, using haptic feedback. By focusing ultrasound from a phased array of transducers, complex patterns of air disturbances can be felt as floating 3D shapes. The researchers have also demonstrated visualization of the ultrasound patterns by directing the ultrasound at a thin layer of oil, allowing depressions or raised virtual objects to be seen on the surface.
Dramatic Correlation Shown Between GMOs and 22 Diseases – (Nation of Change – November 19, 2014)
The research highlighted in this article, “Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America,” was published in The Journal of Organic Systems this September and links GMOs to 22 diseases with very high correlation. Article includes many of the graphs from the study that show an incredible correlation between the rise of GMO crops that use the herbicide glyphosate and a wide range of diseases. Correlation is not proof of causation. But the authors point out “we have data for 22 diseases, all with a high degree of correlation and very high significance. It seems highly unlikely that all of these can be random coincidence. These data show very strong and highly significant correlations between the increasing use of glyphosate, GE (genetically engineered) crop growth and the increase in a multitude of diseases. Many of the graphs show sudden increases in the rates of diseases in the mid-1990s that coincide with the commercial production of GE crops. The large increase in glyphosate use in the US is mostly due to the increase in glyphosate-resistant GE crops.” See also: Crops Are Drenched with Roundup Pesticide Right Before Harvest; the economic benefit is that the herbicide causes faster desiccation of green foliage & stems so crops can be shipped sooner after harvest.
Scientists Make 'Feel Full' Chemical – (BBC News – December 10, 2014)
Scientists have created a chemical that can be added to food to make people feel full. Initial tests showed it helped people to eat less and slow weight gain. It harnessed the power of a proprionate, which naturally makes us feel full when it is produced by breaking down fiber in the gut. Study leader Prof Gary Frost, from Imperial College London, said: "We know that adults gain between 0.3kg and 0.8kg [11 ounces to 1 3/4 pounds] a year on average, and there's a real need for new strategies that can prevent this. The UK researchers said their chemical would have to be eaten regularly to have an effect. The ingredient is a foul-tasting soluble powder, but the team, from Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow, is trying to incorporate it into bread and fruit smoothies. The tricky part of the research was finding a way to deliver the proprionate into the colon, where it triggers the release of hormones that control appetite. Adding it on its own to food would not work because it would be absorbed by the intestine too early. So the team found a way to bind it to a natural carbohydrate found in plants, called inulin. Once bound, the proprionate can safely make its way through the digestive system before being freed from the inulin by bacteria in the colon.
Protein That Regulates Protein Production Could Also Control Fat Levels – (GizMag – December 14, 2014)
Research around how the body's fat levels are regulated and ways in which they might be manipulated has uncovered numerous potential fat switches. The latest is a particular protein that has long been known to regulate protein synthesis and has now been demonstrated to also control fat levels in worms. This has lead researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) to believe that the version found in the human body could provide a new target for fat-fighting pharmaceuticals. “We’ve known about MAF1 for over a decade, but so far people have only studied it in single cells, where it is known to regulate protein synthesis,” says Sean Curran, assistant professor at USC Davis and one of the study's co-authors. “No one really looked at its effect on the whole organism before.” Curran and his team modified the MAF1 levels in transparent worms known as C. elegans and found that adding a single copy of the gene expressing MAF1 lowered stored lipids by 34%. Conversely, lowering MAF1 levels saw lipids boosted by 94%. The fact that the version of MAF1 in humans has the same protein-producing properties leads the researchers to suspect that it, too, could control the storage of fat cells. If this proves correct, the protein could offer a target for a new breed of pharmaceutical treatments for obesity and weight-related health problems. One other notable finding was that the MAF1 protein can also impact on lipid metabolism in cancer cells, suggesting that it could be used in suppressing cancer cells.
Arctic Sea Ice Volume Holds up in 2014 – (BBC News – December 14, 2014)
Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than many observers recognize. While global warming seems to have set the polar north on a path to floe-free summers, the latest data from Europe's Cryosat mission suggests it may take a while yet to reach those conditions. The spacecraft observed 7,500 cu km of ice cover in October when the Arctic traditionally starts its post-summer freeze-up. This was only slightly down on 2013 when 8,800 cu km were recorded. Two cool summers in a row have now allowed the pack to increase and then hold on to a good deal of its volume. And while the ice is still much reduced compared with the 20,000 cu km that used to stick around in the Octobers of the early 1980s, there is no evidence to indicate a collapse is imminent.
Almost 9000 Daily Record Cold Temps in November Alone – (Ice Age Now – December 1, 2014)
8977 record cold temperatures recorded in November vs. 2022 record warm temperatures recorded. Also, 47,402 record cold temperatures recorded this year so far vs. 33,013 record warm temperatures recorded. Source: NOAA government website.
'Extinction' of Saltwater Fish to Fishing Bandied on Social Media - (Post and Courier - November 21, 2014)
The apparent collapse of the fisheries for any number of species has been at least halted in the Southeast and much of the United States, both anglers and regulators say. But globally the threat of collapse remains for seafood, the main protein for an estimated 1 billion people and as much as one-fifth of the average person's diet, according to studies. A 2006 study found an accelerating trend of catch depletion; the findings prodded more intensive management of fish catches in Western countries. Responding to critics, the study has since been updated to factor in how better management has eased the pressure on various species. But improvements are limited to countries that keep good enough data to analyze and are actively managing species and catches, he said, pointing largely to North America and industrialized Europe. The tumble to collapse might actually be accelerating in other regions, where demand for the food is increasing, and more commercial boats have moved to escape regulations, the author of the study said. "We're making the local problem better but probably making a global problem worse." Nobody really argues with that. On top of the loss of food, the collapse of alpha ocean species to overfishing also contributes to what scientists fear is the cascading effect of other problems such as acidification, problems that are making each other worse as conditions decline. As species are lost, other species move in and the diversity of the habitat is lost. Even the reserves tend to grow large predators eating the "protected" fish, said University of Florida researcher and fishery council member Sherry Larkin. Jellyfish swarms already are taking over hundreds of square miles of ocean where their predators have been depleted by catch or changing conditions, according to the National Science Foundation.
New Devices in Development Could Improve Communications as Well as Free People from Government Internet Control – (Sott.net – November 18, 2014)
If there is anything good to be said about mass surveillance, overcharging and monopolization by telecom/ISP companies, and government censorship including cell phone and Internet shutdowns as they see fit, it is that these heavy-handed measures only create a stronger desire for freedom. There are several devices in various stages of development that aim to rectify the gaps in knowledge and communication which keep large portions of humanity enslaved and threaten freedom for the rest of us if the restrictions mentioned above are permitted to flourish. It is clear that some, if not all, of what is mentioned below carry various hurdles and challenges that might be difficult to overcome if widespread adoption is a goal. However, the ideas are there to be expanded upon - and as we know: "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come."
Your Data Stolen Through Pixels – (Register – December 11, 2014)
Data loss prevention has been dealt a coup de grace with the development of a client-less system that can suck corporate data through monitors. The attack requires only that an attacker have physical access (but not necessarily authority to access) to a target machine, and install an off-the-shelf HDMI recording device and an Arduino keyboard. A local security governance bod at a blue chip company subsequently told Vulture South the technique which has been upgraded from previous incarnations quietly revealed in International Computer Security Symposium left no traces for real time security systems or forensics to analyze, and requires no installation. "The attack means data can be extracted through the screen," Latter said ahead of his presentation. "This works on the assumption that you have access to a computer but not access to the data, and these tools allow you to take the data outside of the target systems. "The whole point of the client-less version is that there is no indicators of compromise on the application server or QR codes." Previous incarnations spun sensitive data into QR codes using an agent installed on the target machine allowing both the codes and the installed agent to be potentially detected. "If this attack was done well, you would not see the attack itself," Ian Latter said. "What I think you'd find is a loss of effectiveness of your organization." Latter's proof of concept used an AverMedia Game Capture II device popular with video game players to save plays, and could capture 1920x1080 at 30 frames per second to MP4. ®
Scandic To Go: The Portable Hotel Room You Can Order to Your Favorite Location – (Independent – December 7, 2014)
Ever wondered onto a undiscovered beach or a secluded bit of forest, taken in the stunning views and thought, "This would be the perfect place to stay?" Such a wish is now a possibility - well, in Scandinavia anyway (and with a caveat). Launched in June, Scandic "To Go" is an 18-meter square portable hotel room that comes with two beds, a bathroom with shower, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a terrace and breakfast included. Albeit slightly cramped and looking from certain sides like a nuclear bunker above ground, the large windows and simple styling makes the container feel like something out of your favorite Scandinavian drama. While the box is placed in various locations pre-chosen by Scandia, there are certain days when guests can apply for their own preferred locations. The caveat? Due to the box having to be moved by truck and a placed into position by a crane, the location chosen has to be accessible by road or by boat, so a mountain top hideaway is out of the question.
Making Fuel Out of Thin Air – (ABC – November 27, 2014)
In a discovery that experts say could revolutionize fuel cell technology, scientists have found that graphene, the world's thinnest, strongest and most impermeable material, can allow protons to pass through it. The new discovery raises the possibility that graphene membranes could one day be used to "sieve" hydrogen gas directly from the atmosphere to generate electricity. This "opens a whole new area of promising applications for graphene in clean energy harvesting and hydrogen-based technologies," says study co-author Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo of Manchester University. At just one atom thick graphene is renowned for being the thinnest material on Earth. Knowing that graphene is impermeable to even the smallest of atoms, hydrogen, the research team decided to test whether protons, hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons, were also repelled. Against expectations, they found the protons could pass through the ultra-strong material fairly easily, especially at raised temperatures and if the graphene films were covered with nanoparticles such as platinum, which acted as a catalyst. The findings mean graphene could in future be used in proton-conducting membranes, a crucial component of fuel cell technology. The team also found that graphene membranes could be used to extract hydrogen from the atmosphere, suggesting the possibility of combining them with fuel cells to make mobile electric generators powered by nothing more than the tiny amounts of hydrogen in the air. "Essentially, you pump your fuel from the atmosphere and get electricity out of it," says Geim. "Our (study) provides proof that this kind of device is possible."
Tesla Batteries Might Be the Next Big Threat to Electric Companies – (Consumerist – December 4, 2014)
Electric cars might not be great for gas companies, but they feel like a net win for the electric utilities: after all, if you’re plugging in a Tesla in the garage every night, that’s a little more juice they can charge you for using. Tesla’s goal, though, isn’t just to make cars less environmentally hostile, but to make everything else that way too. And that might just be a huge problem for existing electric utilities. Most electric utilities aren’t quite caught up to what Tesla’s doing, but the ones that have should probably be scared, Bloomberg reports. The electric-car company is breaking ground on a battery “gigafactory” in Nevada. The factory itself is being designed to have essentially zero emissions and be as eco-friendly as possible. It will not draw power from the electric grid, instead generating its own wind and solar power on site — making the Nevada desert a perfect location. The factory will not only be making batteries for use powering Tesla’s current and future lines of all-electric cars, but also for the “storage market.” That storage line gets thrown in quickly and then passed over in most press releases and media stories but, Bloomberg says, it’s actually a huge deal. Those batteries can be paired with home solar panels, which are also getting less expensive every year. A homeowner who installs solar panels (also conveniently made by an Elon Musk company) and can store the excess energy for later use in a rainy week, using one of Tesla’s batteries, suddenly doesn’t even need to be connected to the local grid even for backup. One analyst told Bloomberg that battery storage is “the Holy Grail for renewables,” because “the energy is intermittent. Finding a way to store that is very powerful.” Another consultant described the potential to Bloomberg as a “mortal threat,” saying, “That [battery and solar panel package] is an unregulated product you can buy at Home Depot that leaves the old business model with no place to hide.”
Frameblock Turns a Bike into Its Own Lock – (GizMag – December 12, 2014)
Carrying a bike lock while cycling can be a hassle, which is why some companies have started developing built-in locks. One of the latest, the Frameblock, is actually part of the frame. That way, if a thief cuts through it, they're left with a damaged bike that they won't want ... a fact that they'll hopefully realize before cutting it. The Frameblock was created by Italian designer Matthew Diego Caldiroli and the concept is being marketed via his business, Milano Bike. As can be seen, part of the bike's frame consists of a thick cable lock. Its two free ends are anchored to a receptacle on the frame while riding, but are then then disconnected and locked around an adjacent immovable object when the bike is parked. Although it looks like the frame's structural integrity wouldn't be greatly affected by cutting through the cable, the unremovable nature of the lock would result in a permanently hacked-up-looking bike, which had obviously been stolen.
Autonomous Cars Will Require a Totally New Kind of Map – (Wired – December 15, 2014)
Autonomous cars will require maps that differ in several important ways from the maps we use today for turn-by-turn directions. They need to be hi-def. Meter-resolution maps may be good enough for GPS-based navigation, but autonomous cars will need maps that can tell them where the curb is within a few centimeters. They also need to be live, updated second by second with information about accidents, traffic backups, and lane closures. Finally, they’ll need to take human psychology into account and win the trust of their passengers. “The key to making autonomous driving work is to not forget about the driver,” said Peter Skillman, lead designer for Nokia HERE, the maps division the Finnish communications company. Like typical digital maps HERE is using satellite and aerial imagery as a starting point for its HD maps. The maps also incorporate anonymized “probe data” from GPS devices inside fleet vehicles owned by trucking companies and other partners. This data, which HERE collects at a rate of 100 billion points per month, contains information about the direction and speed of traffic on roads and highways. But the most detailed information being fed into the maps comes from hundreds of cars outfitted with GPS, cameras, and lidar, a laser-based method for measuring distances. When the car is in motion, the lidar system—a cylinder about the size of a soda can—spins around, shooting out 32 laser beams and analyzing the light that bounces back. It collects 700,000 points per second, Ristevski says. An inertial sensor tracks the pitch, roll, and yaw of the car so that the lidar data can be corrected for the position of the car and used to create a 3-D model of the roads it has traveled.
Pantelligent – (Kickstarter – no date)
Pantelligent was dreamed up by a team of four MIT engineers who love building things that make people’s lives better. Frying pans have barely changed in thousands of years, but Pantelligent is the next evolutionary leap in the kitchen: a frying pan that actually helps you cook. Pantelligent has a temperature sensor inside it that communicates with the Pantelligent smartphone app. Together, the pan and the app guide you to cook everything perfectly, just the way a professional chef (or your mom!) would cook it. No more overcooked, undercooked, or burned food. You’ll know exactly when the pan is at the right temperature, when it's time to flip or stir, and when your food is perfectly done. Pantelligent already comes with dozens of recipes all meticulously crafted for Pantelligent by our chefs. These special recipes go beyond a normal recipe by including time and temperature profiles that our app uses to guide you to perfect results. If you’re an experienced chef looking for the repeatability of temperature control, you don’t need to follow a recipe. Freestyle mode lets you see the current temperature of the pan, and set a target temperature on the fly. Like a sous chef that never gets distracted, the Pantelligent app will continuously monitor the pan temperature and alert you if it moves away from your desired target. You won't know how useful this is until you try it! If you stumble upon a great recipe you want to be able to consistently cook, just record it using our record mode.
China’s GMO Stockpile – (Technology Review – October 21, 2014)
Recent informal opinion surveys in Chinese social media suggest that large majorities believe GMOs are harmful, and scientific surveys also indicate that opposition is significant. An academic survey this year found that roughly one-third of respondents opposed GMOs outright and another 39% worried about them—a stark difference from earlier government surveys. Today no genetically modified food (with the exception of a virus-resistant papaya) is grown in China, even for animal feed. Yet despite the uncertainties, research on GMO crops continues. The government will have spent some $4 billion on GMOs by 2020. Researchers are using the latest modification technologies and drawing from high-throughput genomic analysis of thousands of crop strains, accelerating the pace of discovery. Cautious though they are of arousing public opposition, Chinese leaders are well aware that their country will need a lot more food. China has more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, a number expected to rise to almost 1.4 billion by 2030. Meanwhile, accelerating climate change will pose great challenges for farmers, bringing deeper droughts, more flooding, and hotter heat waves. In anticipation, the nation is building a storehouse of genetically modified crop strains for future use. China sees this as a way of protecting its long-term security. In fact, the country is the world’s top public spender on genomics and genetic modification of crops, says Scott Rozelle, a China scholar and food security expert at Stanford University. “Certainly we [the United States] aren’t doing much—and the big multinationals aren’t doing much right now in terms of spending on plant biotech research,” Rozelle says. “And yet China continues to do it.” So far China has been able to feed itself, so there is no impetus to deploy this new technology, he adds. “Yet they continue to pour money into it. They are putting away for a rainy day—or a non-rainy one. And when that day comes, I think they will have more GM technologies than anyone.” See also: China’s Growing Bets on GMOs.(Editor’s note: These are not just more “Roundup Ready” plants packed with poisons; it is important to differentiate GMOs developed to create strains of edible plants with improved nutritional characteristics or improved drought resistance from GMOs developed simply to withstand glyphosate or other toxic herbicides.)
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
NSA Director: Yes, China Can Shut Down Our Power Grids – (Business Insider – November 20, 2014)
China and "one or two" other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks that would shut down the electric grid and other critical systems in parts of the United States, according to Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command. The possibility of such cyberattacks by U.S. adversaries has been widely known, but never before confirmed publicly by the nation's top cyber official. Outside experts say the U.S. Cyber Command also has the capability to hack into and damage critical infrastructure, which in theory should amount to mutual deterrence. But Rogers, who did not address his offensive cyber tools, said the nuclear deterrence model did not necessarily apply to cyberattacks. Only a handful of countries had nuclear capability during the Cold War, he said, and nuclear attacks could be detected and attributed in time to retaliate. By contrast, the source of a cyberattack can easily be disguised, and the capability do significant damage is possessed not only by nation states but by criminal groups and individuals, Rogers noted. In cyberspace, "You can literally do almost anything you want, and there is not a price to pay for it," the NSA director said. (Editor’s note: Rogers’ last statement seem somewhat exaggerated but it served his purpose: U.S. networks would be better protected, the NSA's Rogers said, if Congress would pass a long-pending bill to allow companies to share malware signatures and other threat information with one another and with the government and be protected from liability for doing so. But the disclosures of NSA spying by former agency contractor Edward Snowden have made passage of such a bill extremely difficult, lawmakers say.)
'Regin' Malware Described as 'Groundbreaking and Almost Peerless' – (CNN – November 23, 2014)
Experts don't know where it came from, and aren't quite sure what it does. But they do know this: a newly-uncovered cybersecurity threat wasn't your typical credit-card stealing operation. It appears to be a government spying tool, and is "groundbreaking and almost peerless." Regin, as they've dubbed it, is malware that has been lurking in computers around the world for as long as six years, according to Symantec, a cybersecurity firm. "Its capabilities and the level of resources behind Regin indicate that it is one of the main cyberespionage tools used by a nation state," Symantec said Sunday, explaining that "development took months, if not years, to complete." The researchers said little to answer several key questions: Who designed it? How widely has it spread? What has it scooped up? What are the risks? They said Regin has been discovered in at least 10 countries and was most heavily concentrated in Russia and Saudi Arabia. The United States was not among the countries listed by Symantec. The malware was installed on the computers of companies around the world, but it wasn't searching for business secrets. When a target was selected it searched airline computers to find out where the target was traveling. It scoured hotel computers to find his room number. And it tapped telecommunication computers to see who he was talking to. "They were trying to gain intelligence, not intellectual property," said Symantec analyst Vikram Thakur. The malware uses a "modular" structure that conceals deeper layers of the malware and makes it "very difficult to ascertain what it is doing," researchers said. In that respect, it is similar to the Stuxnet worm, which is widely believed to be a U.S.-designed weapon against the Iranian nuclear program. Iran is one of the 10 countries where Symantec says it found the Regin bug.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
"Rectal Feeding," Threats to Children, and More: 16 Awful Abuses from the CIA Torture Report – (Mother Jones – December 9, 2014)
Finally, the Senate intelligence committee has released an executive summary of its years-long investigation into the CIA's detention and interrogation program. President George W. Bush authorized the so-called "enhanced interrogation" program after the 9/11 attacks. The United States government this week has warned personnel in facilities abroad, including US embassies, to be ready in case protests erupt in response. The full report includes over 6,000 pages and 35,000 footnotes. You can read the full 525 page executive summary here. Here are some of the lowlights: The CIA used previously unreported tactics, including "rectal feeding" of detainees (p. 100, footnote 584); Over 20% of CIA detainees were "wrongfully held." One was an "intellectually challenged" man who was held so the CIA could get leverage over his family (p. 12). If you are willing to look at more specific details without sifting through 525 pages, see Senate Torture Report Ignores CIA’s Most Brutal Crimes including some background on how this all mushroomed into existence: two retired Air Force psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, received contracts (and $81M) to develop the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and the fact that many of the CIA officers involved in the program had histories of violence, abuse, and sexual assault.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Dogs in Heaven? Pope Francis Leaves Pearly Gates Open – (New York Times – December 11, 2014)
Pope Francis has given hope to gays, unmarried couples and advocates of the Big Bang theory. Now, he has endeared himself to dog lovers, animal rights activists and vegans. During a weekly general audience at the Vatican last month, the pope, speaking of the afterlife, appeared to suggest that animals could go to heaven, asserting, “Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, analyzing the pope’s remarks, concluded he believed animals have a place in the afterlife. It drew an analogy to comforting words that Pope Paul VI was said to have once told a distraught boy whose dog had died: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” In his relatively short tenure as leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics, Francis, 77, has repeatedly caused a stir among conservatives in the church. So to some extent, it was not a surprise that Francis, an Argentine Jesuit who took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, would suggest that they have a place in heaven.
Why Is the Abortion Rate Falling? – (Atlantic – December 1, 2014)
Abortion is becoming ever rarer in the United States. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest survey of abortion in the United States. The CDC tallied 730,322 abortions in 2011, the smallest number in almost 40 years. CDC’s numbers are probably an under-count. Other surveys suggest that the number for 2011 was slightly larger than 1 million. But if the precise number of abortions is uncertain, the trend is not. The incidence of abortion in the United States sharply rose in the 1970s and 1980s, reached a peak in 1990, and has tumbled by nearly half over the past two decades. Why is this happening? Neither increased use of birth control methods nor lack of access to abortion clinics explain it. But a graph, “Births to unmarried women 1940-2007” may go a long way to explaining it. Since 1990, two things in specific have changed. First, the pro-life movement really does seem to have changed American minds about the morality of abortion. The second is that marriage has receded further from the cultural experience of the less affluent two-thirds of American society. As the wages of non-college-educated men have tumbled, marriage has looked like an increasingly pointless and even dangerous choice for poorer women.
Confessional in the Palm of Your Hand – (Technology Review – October 1, 2014)
Many of us are addicted to sharing status updates on Facebook, photos on Instagram, and thoughts on Twitter. But real, raw honesty is tricky online. It’s hard to say what you really think when your true identity is attached, especially if your post could get you in trouble, either now or years down the line. That’s why anonymous social apps like Whisper and Secret come as a relief. Yes, anonymity and self-disguise have always been available on the Web, from early chat rooms to newspaper and blog comment sections to the darkest corners of 4chan. And yes, commenters have often used that cloak of anonymity to say things that are meaner than anything they’d have the guts to say to someone’s face. Here, though, the combination of anonymity, the simplicity of a focused app, and the intimacy of a smartphone screen makes sharing your deepest, darkest thoughts and commenting on others’ strangely satisfying. The more I used these apps to confide, the more it felt like having a tiny confessional in the palm of my hand. Occasional trolls be damned, I got hooked on the rush of comments and likes that came with a juicy confession. Even if the people on the other end didn’t really know me, I felt that I could be honest with them and get real sympathy. For example, with Whisper, posts are visible to anyone using the app, and many of the more popular ones are searingly honest. On a recent day, a quick look yielded “I just found out my boyfriend was born a girl”; “My son is officially older than my boyfriend”; and “It makes me sad when I see my two year old pretend to inject meds into her stomach to be like her mommy. Fuck diabetes!”
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
"The Messier 67 Mystery" – Is Our Solar System an Orphan from a Distant Star Cluster? – (Daily Galaxy – December 14, 2014)
Astronomers over the decades have been searching for star clusters that could have shared our original region of the galaxy that come close to matching the composition and age of our Sun. The prime suspect so far is a collective known as Messier 67, some 2,700 light-years distant that contains more than a hundred stars that bear a striking resemblance to the Sun. This cluster lies about 2500 light-years away in the constellation of Cancer (The Crab) and contains about 500 stars. This past January, astronomers used the ESO's HARPS planet hunter in Chile, along with other telescopes around the world, to discover three planets orbiting stars in Messier 67. Although more than one thousand planets outside the Solar System are now confirmed, only a handful have been found in star clusters. Remarkably one of these new exoplanets is orbiting a star that is a rare solar twin — a star that is almost identical to the Sun in all respects. But is our Sun actually an orphan, ejected billions of years ago from Messier 67? Recent computer simulations of the motions of stars in the cluster and have projected the path that our solar system would have had to take if it were ejected and concluded that it doesn’t seem highly probable. It would require a very rare alignment of no less than two or three massive stars in Messier 67 to provide the gravitational slingshot to throw our solar system out to where we are today, not to mention that the gravitational forces would likely have torn our infant solar system to shreds. The scientific community is still in hot debate over our galactic origins, but there is little doubt that, one way or the other, we have been orphaned from somewhere in the outer regions of the Milky Way.
More Americans Expect to Be in Debt Forever – (Creditcards.com – December 9, 2014)
A new national survey commissioned by CreditCards.com found that for many Americans, debt will be a lifelong, inescapable companion. In fact, 18% of those already in debt expect to take their loans to the grave. That's double the 9% who expressed that pessimistic view the last time CreditCards.com asked the question in May 2013. This time around, another 11% don't expect to get out of debt until they're at least in their 70s. The average age people expect to achieve freedom from debt is 53, the same age as in 2013. Among all Americans – including both those who already owe money and those who currently are debt free – 13% say they will "never" pay off all their loans and get in the clear. Now add in another 8% who don't see themselves paying off their loans until they are at least 71 years old, and you begin to sketch a future in which more than one of every five Americans expects to struggle throughout his or her adult life to dig out of debt.
Russia's Brain Drain is Astounding – (Business Insider – December 22, 2014)
Russia is experiencing another major brain drain. But the brain drain isn't the whole story. A huge influx of immigrants are entering Russia as well. Although emigration trended downward from 1997 to 2011, there was a sudden spike in people leaving the country around the third term of President Vladimir Putin, according to Rosstat, Russia's federal state statistics service. In 2012, almost 123,000 people left, and in 2013, more than 186,000 got out. Additionally, a UN report showed that 40,000 Russians applied for asylum in 2013 — 76% more than in 2012. The biggest bombshell of all is that since April 2014 — a month after Russia annexed Crimea — 203,659 Russians have left the country. By comparison, approximately 37,000 people left the country in 2011, and less than 34,000 people left in 2010. What's particularly interesting is the type of people who are leaving the country. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the most common emigrant was a poor, unskilled young man. Today, it is a well-off professional," according to World Policy. For the most part, these people are leaving either for their children or for their professional futures. "Corruption, red tape, and allegedly crooked courts are [also] driving the exodus among entrepreneurs," according to Reuters. According to the UN, Russia saw the second-largest number of international migrants in 2013. The number of people moving into Russia actually tops the number of people moving out. Many of the immigrants come from countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine, according to data from Rosstat. Additionally, millennials who are culturally Russian but were born in the US or Europe are considering opportunities in Russia. "There are opportunities for my children in Moscow that aren't found anywhere else," one parent said. The bottom line: Russia is seeing some dramatic demographic changes that could greatly influence its economic and political future.
Colorado Pot Credit Union Could Be Open by Jan. 1 under State Charter – (Denver Post – November 20, 2014)
The world's first financial institution established specifically for the marijuana industry could be open in Colorado by Jan. 1. The Colorado Division of Financial Services has issued The Fourth Corner Credit Union an unconditional charter to operate, the first state credit-union charter issued in nearly a decade. The next hurdles will be obtaining insurance from the National Credit Union Administration, the federal regulator of credit unions, and getting a master account from the Federal Reserve System. Gov. John Hickenlooper's office called the charter "the end of the line" for the state's efforts to solve the marijuana industry's nagging problem: obtaining banking services. (It appears that all banks – which are under federal oversight – have been told not to open bank accounts or transact business for marijuana companies.) Although the NCUA insurance is not guaranteed — sale and consumption of marijuana remain illegal under federal law — Fourth Corner can operate until NCUA makes its decision.
Fraud-proof Credit Cards Possible with Quantum Physics – (EurekAlert – December 15, 2014)
A team of researchers from the Netherlands has harnessed the power of quantum mechanics to create a fraud-proof method for authenticating a physical "key" that is virtually impossible to thwart. This innovative security measure, known as Quantum-Secure Authentication, can confirm the identity of any person or object, including debit and credit cards, even if essential information (like the complete structure of the card) has been stolen. It uses the unique quantum properties of light to create a secure question-and-answer (Q&A) exchange that cannot be "spoofed" or copied. Recently, banks have begun issuing so-called "smart cards" that include a microprocessor chip to authenticate, identify and enhance security. But regardless of how complex the code or how many layers of security, the problem remains that an attacker who obtains the information stored inside the card can copy or emulate it. Though difficult to reconcile with our everyday experiences, the quantum property of light can create a fraud-proof Q&A exchange, like those used to authorize credit card transactions. "Single photons of light have very special properties that seem to defy normal behavior," said Pepijn Pinkse, a researcher from the University of Twente and lead author on the paper. The process works by transmitting a small, specific number of photons onto a specially prepared surface on a credit card and then observing the tell-tale pattern they make. Since -- in the quantum world -- a single photon can exist in multiple locations, it becomes possible to create a complex pattern with a few photons, or even just one. Due to the quantum properties of light, any attempt by a hacker to observe the Q&A exchange would, as physicists say, collapse the quantum nature of the light and destroy the information being transmitted. This makes Quantum-Secure Authentication unbreakable regardless of any future developments in technology. The technology could be employed in numerous situations relatively easily, since it uses simple and cheap technology -- such as lasers and projectors -- that is already available.
Show Us How You Play and It May Tell Us Who You Are – (University of Vienna – December 15, 2014)
The way in which toys are handled and combined with one another during object play can tell use a lot about the cognitive underpinnings of the actors. Object-object combinations, such as placing one toy on top of another can even be considered precursors of technically complex behaviors such as the use of tools. An international team of scientists around Alice Auersperg from the University of Vienna presented parrot species as well as crow species with the same set of toys and found out that the birds willingly brought objects into complex spatial relationships: Behaviors that occur in only a few species of primates. The ways animals play with inedible objects may be precursors of functional behaviors such as tool use and goal directed object manipulation. For these reasons, species of high technical intelligence are also expected to play intensely with inanimate objects when no obvious goal is pursued. Within object play, combinatory actions are considered a particularly informative trait in animals as well as human infants. (Editor’s note: Pope Francis suggested that heaven may be open to animals (see article mentioned earlier). It seems that should include birds.)
Virtual Bodyswapping Diminishes People's Negative Biases about Others – (Science Daily – December 15, 2014)
What if you could, for a moment, have the body of someone of a different race, age, or sex? Would that change the way you feel about yourself or the way that you stereotype different social groups? In a paper published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, researchers explain how they have used the brain's ability to bring together information from different senses to make white people feel that they were inhabiting black bodies and adults feel like they had children's bodies. The results of such virtual bodyswapping experiments are remarkable and have important implications for approaching phenomena such as race and gender discrimination. Professor Manos Tsakiris of the Royal Holloway University of London and Professor Mel Slater of University College London and the University of Barcelona have developed ways to expose participants to bodily illusions that induce ownership over a body different from their own with respect to race, age, or gender. For white people who were made to feel that they had black bodies, their unconscious biases against black people diminished. And adults who felt as if they had children's bodies processed perceptual information and aspects of themselves as being more childlike. "Our findings are important as they motivate a new research area into how self-identity is constructed and how the boundaries between 'ingroups' and 'outgroups' might be altered," says Professor Tsakiris. "More importantly though, from a societal point of view, our methods and findings might help us understand how to approach phenomena such as racism, religious hatred, and gender inequality discrimination, since the methods offer the opportunity for people to experience the world from the perspective of someone different from themselves." See also: Racial bias in pain perception appears among children as young as 7 reviewing a study that found that a sample of mostly white American children -- as young as seven, and particularly by age 10 -- report that black children feel less pain than white children and that the racial bias in children's perceptions of others' pain appears to strengthen from early to late childhood.
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.
The World’s Most Boring Television and Why It’s So Compelling – (TED Talk – August, 2014)
You've heard about slow food. Now here's slow ... TV? In this very funny talk, Norwegian television producer Thomas Hellum shares how he and his team began to broadcast long, boring events, often live — and found a rapt audience. Shows include a 7-hour train journey, an 18-hour fishing expedition and a 5.5-day voyage along the coast of Norway. The results are both beautiful and fascinating. If, after watching the TED talk, you’d like to see all 134 hours of the cruise ship tour of the Norwegian coastline, here it is.
JUST FOR FUN
Aurora and Northern Lights as Seen from the International Space Station – (You Tube – November 2, 2014)
This is stunningly gorgeous footage of a place we call home from a vantage point few of us will ever have.
A FINAL QUOTE--
We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up until now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future. --Max Planck
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Matthew Lakenbach, Sergio Lub, Victoria Pendragon, 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.
Edited by John L. Petersen