Volume 18, Number 5 - 3/15/15 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  

FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • Under its icy surface, Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, has a saltwater ocean which seems to have more water than all the water on the Earth's surface.

  • An MIT neurobiologist predicts that gene-edited humans are only 10-20 years in the future.

  • Saudi Arabia surpassed India to become the world's top importer of defense equipment in 2014.

  • In 2014, the national average cost of a wedding was $31,213.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Rosemary Ellen Guiley Coming to Berkeley Springs Next Saturday

Want to understand your dreams? Want to know what they mean for your future? Come hear Rosemary Ellen Guiley on Saturday, the 4th of April here in Berkeley Springs. You won’t be disappointed.

Rosemary is the author of 60 books dealing with all things unusual and unknown. Unlike many people who are out of the box, she keeps both feet on the ground and has really done her homework offering solid, credible explanations for the seemingly ineffable.

Rosemary is a great presenter and always has very interesting power point slides, so if you can, come be with us.

You can get complete information at: www.transitiontalks.org.

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means

"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

Read more . . .

25 Maps To Help You Understand Your World

These are really great. A series of fascinating maps that are very insightful!



See them all...






THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

What You Tweet Might Tell Yellen It's Time To Raise Rates – (Financial Advisor – March 13, 2015)
Your Google search or a tweet about your job is part of a vast trove of private economic information that might help Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues get a more complete picture of where the economy is headed. Economists at the Fed are looking into whether non- traditional data could improve the accuracy and timeliness of the forecasts they put before monetary-policy decision makers about every six weeks. For example, Fed economists are reviewing research papers by Google chief economist Hal Varian on how search terms can be useful as spending indicators, and work by University of Michigan computer scientists and economists who have built a labor-market indicator from social media posts. Varian and a co-author showed in a research paper how a Google search index for real estate agencies tracked house sales. The Fed Board’s interest in such data is significant because, with some 330 Ph.D. economists on staff, it’s one of the nation’s largest economic research organizations. About every six weeks, approximately 60 economists in the central bank’s forecasting unit have to come up with a detailed report on the economic outlook for policy makers, who vote on interest rates eight times a year.



NEW REALITIES

NASA Discovers an Underground Ocean on Jupiter's Largest Moon – (Sydney Morning Herald – March 13, 2015)
NASA has announced evidence that Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, has a saltwater ocean under its icy surface. The ocean seems to have more water than all the water on Earth's surface. New Hubble observations of Ganymede's magnetic field strongly suggest that the moon, which is the largest in our whole solar system, is home to a subsurface ocean. Scientists have already confirmed the existence of an ocean on Europa, another moon orbiting Jupiter, and NASA has announced plans to send an unmanned mission there searching for the life that might come with liquid water. While scientists have speculated about the presence of an ocean on Ganymede since the 1970s, until now the only observational evidence came from a brief flyby by the Galileo spacecraft, which did not observe the moon long enough to confirm a liquid ocean. Scientists estimate the ocean is 95 kilometers thick, which is about 10 times deeper than Earth's oceans. But unlike our salty waters, Ganymede's ocean is buried under 150 kilometers of ice.



GENETICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/BIOTECHNOLOGY

Engineering the Perfect Baby – (Technology Review – March 5, 2015)
At George Church’s labyrinthine laboratory on the Harvard Medical School campus, you can find researchers giving E. Coli a novel genetic code never seen in nature. Around another bend, others are carrying out a plan to use DNA engineering to resurrect the woolly mammoth. His lab, Church likes to say, is the center of a new technological genesis—one in which man rebuilds creation to suit himself. One young postdoctoral scientist who works there is Luhan Yang, a Harvard recruit from Beijing who’d been a key player in developing a new, powerful technology for editing DNA, called CRISPR-Cas9. With Church, Yang had founded a small company to engineer the genomes of pigs and cattle, sliding in beneficial genes and editing away bad ones. Can any of this be done to human beings? Can we improve the human gene pool? The position of much of mainstream science has been that such meddling would be unsafe, irresponsible, and even impossible. But Yang didn’t hesitate in answering. Yes, of course, she said. In fact, the Harvard laboratory had a project to determine how it could be achieved. She flipped open her laptop to a PowerPoint slide titled “Germline Editing Meeting.” Here it was: a technical proposal to alter human heredity. “Germ line” is biologists’ jargon for the egg and sperm, which combine to form an embryo. By editing the DNA of these cells or the embryo itself, it could be possible to correct disease genes and to pass those genetic fixes on to future generations.. Such a technology could be used to rid families of scourges like cystic fibrosis. It might also be possible to install genes that offer lifelong protection against infection, Alzheimer’s, and, Yang told me, maybe the effects of aging. These would be history-making medical advances that could be as important to this century as vaccines were to the last. The remainder of this lengthy article describes as much as is publically available about what this line of research has already made possible. (Editor’s note: If you only have time to read one article from among all these links, read this one.)

Scientists Developing a Treatment to Restore Memory Loss from Alzheimer's – (Daily Mail – March 12, 2015)
Australian scientists have made a major breakthrough in treating Alzheimer's with a new drug-free method that can restore memory loss. Researchers at the University of Queensland's Brain Institute hope to be able to trial their new 'cheap and mobile' ultrasound device within two years on humans. The treatment attacks the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that cause memory loss and cognitive failure with ultrasound waves. Research director Professor Jürgen Götz hopes the new method will revolutionize Alzheimer's treatment by restoring memory for sufferers. The mobile device could be used by patients in their own homes several times a year, eliminating the need for expensive drug treatment that costs up to $250,000, Prof Götz said. 'With an ageing population placing an increasing burden on the health system, an important factor is cost, and other potential drug treatments using antibodies will be expensive,' he said. 'In contrast, this method uses relatively inexpensive ultrasound and microbubble technology which is non-invasive and appears highly effective.'

RF Cancer Promotion: Animal Study Makes Waves – (Microwave News – March 13, 2015)
The RF–cancer story has recently taken a remarkable turn. A new animal study challenged many of the assumptions which lie at the heart of claims that RF radiation —whether from cell phones, cell towers or Wi-Fi— are safe. The new study, from Germany, a replication of an earlier experiment, also from Germany, found that weak cell phone signals can promote the growth of tumors in mice. It used radiation levels that do not cause heating and are well below current safety standards. Complicating matters even further, lower doses were often found to be more effective tumor promoters than higher levels; in effect, turning the conventional concept of a linear dose-response on its head. The lead author of the new animal study is Alex Lerchl, who for years has charged that the only science showing low-level RF effects is bad science. Now the one whom activists had accused of being an industry lackey is being hailed as a hero.


ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

California Left with One Year of Water, Says NASA Scientist – (Maine News – March 14, 2015)
According to UC Irvine hydrologist professor and JPL water expert Jay Famiglietti, "The situation is probably worse than we all think, and we need to really tighten our belts when it comes to water and really try to use a lot less". He said that groundwater and snowpack levels are at record low and this could lead to drought conditions. Famiglietti said that the situation is much worse than what is thought and it has to be taken seriously and people should try to use less quantity of water. As per Famiglietti, water supply in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins is seen at 34 million acre-feet less than normal in 2014. It has been shown by NASA satellite imagery, he said. And if appropriate measures are not taken, it will have an effect on production of food. A UC Davis scientist is doubtful regarding Femiglietti's prediction. UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences Director Jay Lund said that it's not right to think that anything like that is going to happen. Lund analyzes the short and long term impacts of the drought on water supply in California. He said that Famiglietti's prediction is not right. (Editor’s note: Take your pick of experts. We appreciate this article, not only for its content but for its demonstration that there’s an expert behind every projection – and it’s left to readers to choose where to give credence.)



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

What’s Lurking in the Deep End of the Internet? – (Wired – March, 2015)
Darpa announced recently that the agency is developing a new search engine (Memex) that aims to make it easier for law enforcement and government to track illegal activity on the Deep Web. So what exactly is the Deep Web? Like an iceberg, the vast majority of the Internet is obscured from easy view. This unindexed section of the Internet is dubbed “the Deep Web.” Experts agree that it is impossible to accurately gauge the exact size and scope of the Deep Web, but some dare to put the figure at hundreds of times the size of the visible or “surface” Internet. While most of this content is innocuous, more and more criminal activity is moving away from the light of day and into to the shadowy corners. Accessing the Deep Web requires specialized knowledge and tools, as well as an anonymity network to guarantee privacy protection for users. Tor is an example of such a vehicle. Developed by the U.S. Navy more than ten years ago, Tor (The Onion Router) was designed to prevent browsing activity from being traced back to the user. Silk Road was operated as a Tor hidden service, enabling users to browse it anonymously and securely. The underground markets have long become gathering points for hackers wanting to buy and sell information, while enjoying anonymity and escrow services from operators. These markets continue to grow more sophisticated every day, and are developing into a “supply chain” for all kinds of illegal activities, where each party within the chain specializes in their unique piece of a nefarious puzzle. For example, hackers who are skilled enough to breach a network and extract information may not have the interest or the resources to then use those credentials to steal actual funds. Instead, they are increasingly finding it more profitable to go into the Deep Web and find a buyer for the information (credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, other personal data) and sell it to them.

Glassed-in DNA Makes the Ultimate Time Capsule – (New Scientist – February 15, 2015)
If you want to preserve messages for people in the far future to read, Blu-ray discs and USB sticks are no good. For real long-term storage, you want a DNA time capsule. Just 1 gram of DNA is theoretically capable of holding 455 exabytes – enough for all the data held by Google, Facebook and every other major tech company, with room to spare. It's also incredibly durable: DNA has been extracted and sequenced from 700,000-year-old horse bones. But conditions have to be right for it to last. "We know that if you just store it lying around, you lose information," says Robert Grass of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. So he and colleagues are working on ways to increase DNA's longevity, with the aim of storing data for thousands or millions of years. Trying to mimic the way fossils keep a DNA sequence intact. Excluding all water from the environment was key, they encapsulated the DNA in microscopic spheres of glass. Test results suggest that data in DNA form could last 2000 years if kept at a temperature of around 10 °C. The Global Seed Vault in the Arctic could preserve it for over 2 million years at a chilly -18 °C, offering truly long-term storage. Grass would like to store all the world's current knowledge for future generations, but it's far too expensive to generate DNA at present. It cost around £1000 to encode the 83 kilobytes, so doing the same with Wikipedia would run to billions. Instead, Grass suggests that we focus on what future historians might want to read. "If you look at how we look at the Middle Ages, it's very influenced by what information has been stored," he says. "It's very important that we get a relatively neutral documentation of our current time and store that."

New Molecular Shape for Electronic Circuits Discovered – (KurzweilAI – February 18, 2015)
Corannulene is a carbon molecule with molecular shape similar to fullerene (C60) and has properties that could be ideal for building molecule-size circuits, a team of scientists from SISSA, the University of Zurich, and the University of Nova Gorica in Slovenia has found in theoretical studies. Fullerene is formed of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal network, shaped like a hollow sphere. Fullerene is known to contain “buckybowl superatom states” (BSS), which are capable of accepting electrons (needed for electronic circuits), but these states are found at very high energies, making them difficult to exploit in electronic devices. Corannulene molecules can function at almost ten times lower energy than fullerene, making them attractive candidates for nanoscale electronic circuits, the researchers note.

Clef Wants to Change the Way We Log into Websites – (GizMag – February 22, 2015)
It's had a good run, but the password's time is up. Remembering a unique unlock code for dozens of websites and apps is no longer very practical or very safe, and many different companies are exploring what comes next. One of those companies is Clef, which has developed a two-step verification system that uses an animated wave on your smart phone to confirm your identity. Two-step verification, now available on accounts with Google, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox and many others, adds an additional security measure on top of a password. But existing methods typically rely on numerical codes and can be time-consuming to configure, which is why Clef thinks its new, streamlined approach has the edge. The technology is currently powering more than 40,000 sites and the company says it's now targeting larger organizations after securing US$1.6 million in investment funding. You simply wave your phone at the screen and you're in (though a PIN or Touch ID confirmation is required initially). It can work over Wi-Fi or cell networks (handy when one is available but not the other) and as a fallback it's possible to scan the phone screen using a laptop camera. There are no codes to remember and there's nothing to type in: The unique wave generated by your phone confirms that you are who you say you are. (Editor’s note: Readers’ comments below the article suggest some shortcomings of the technology but the general concept is interesting.)



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

New Vanadium-flow Battery Delivers 250kW of Liquid Energy Storage – (ExtremeTech – February 18, 2015)
Imergy Power Systems announced a new, mega-sized version of their vanadium flow battery technology. The EPS250 series will deliver up to 250kW of power with a 1MWh capacity. A flow battery can be thought of as a type of rechargeable fuel cell. The electrolyte fuel, in this case, is kept in large external tanks that can be pumped through a reactor. One of the characteristics of a flow battery is that the energy storage can be decoupled from the energy output. The size of the reactor determines how much power can be released at once, while the size of the storage tanks determines how much total power can be stored. This, in turn, makes it theoretically much easier to expand the size of a flow battery installation as compared to a lithium-ion battery. Doubling your battery life is theoretically as simple as doubling the size of the storage tank. Flow batteries can charge and discharge rapidly — refilling the tank with “charged” electrolyte can be as simple as opening a nozzle and pumping in the replacement fluid while the original electrolyte is recharged in a separate container. The disadvantages of flow batteries are that the total energy density of the solution is rather low and the complexity of the storage and pumping mechanisms. Research into improving vanadium’s energy density is underway, a team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has found a way to boost the energy density of vanadium batteries by up to 70% by switching to a different electrolyte formulation.

World’s First Grid-connected Wave Energy Array Switched On in Perth – (Renew Economy – February 18, 2015)
Carnegie Wave Energy has officially switched on the onshore power station for its Perth Wave Energy Project, thus launching the world’s first commercial-scale grid connected wave energy array and marking the first time in Australia that wave-generated electricity has been fed into the grid. The project will sell power to the Australian Department of Defense to supply Australia’s largest naval base located on Garden Island. It will soon also sell fresh water to the base, once Carnegie’s newly commissioned desalination plant is fully integrated into the project. Carnegie’s unique technology moves with the ocean’s waves to drive tethered seabed pumps and operates under water, providing protection from storms and corrosion. The submerged pumps feed high pressure water onshore to the hydroelectric power station and desalination plant, supplying renewable energy and fresh water.

A Breakthrough in Rechargeable Batteries for Electronic Devices and Electric Vehicles – (KurzweilAI – February 26, 2015)
Researchers from Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) and Quebec’s IREQ (Hydro-Québec’s research institute) have synthesized a new material that they say could more than double the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries, allowing for longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and mobile devices. The new material for battery cathodes (the + battery pole) in based on a “lithium orthosilicate-related” compound, Li2MnSiO4, combining lithium, manganese, silicon and oxygen, which the researchers found superior to conventional phosphate-based cathodes. They report an high initial charging capacity of 335 mAh/g (milliAmpere-hours per gram). “IBN researchers have successfully achieved simultaneous control of the phase purity and nanostructure of Li2MnSiO4 for the first time,” said Professor Jackie Y. Ying, IBN Executive Director. “This novel synthetic approach would allow us to move closer to attaining the ultrahigh theoretical capacity of silicate-based cathodes for battery applications.” The researchers plan to further enhance their new cathode materials to create high-capacity lithium-ion batteries for commercialization.

New Concept in Renewable Energy: Community Solar “Garden” – (Fox News – March 7, 2015)
A new concept in renewable energy is allowing customers who might find solar panels too expensive or impractical to save money and buy green energy anyway. Community solar gardens first took root in Colorado. The model is now spreading to Minnesota, California, Massachusetts and several other states. The “solar gardens” (large banks of solar cells) feed electricity into the power grid. Customers subscribe to that power and get credit on their utility bills, with contracts that typically lock in for 25 years and shelter against rate increases. Capacity is expected to grow sharply this year. Interest is growing among residential customers who want power from the sun, and among large companies that want to cut their carbon footprints. For further details on how community solar “gardens” work, see here.


TRANSPORTATION

Autonomous Cars: Fewer Vehicles, More Miles – (EVWORLD – February 18, 2015)
The University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute projects that the advent of self-driving vehicles will cut car ownership by as much as 43%. UMTRI researchers Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak recently analyzed the revised edition of the 2009 U.S. National Household Travel Survey in the light of the advent of self-driving, autonomous vehicles and came to some interesting conclusions, one that is likely to trouble carmakers. Schoettle and Sivak looked at how and when cars are used in multi-vehicle households and "on an average day, nearly 84% of households had no trips that overlapped or conflicted." What this usage pattern suggests is that a self-driving automobile could, in most instances, provide transportation services for more than just one family member. In effect, the researchers envision, the autonomous car delivers one family member to, say, their workplace, and then returns home to be available for use by other family members. The car is then dispatched, again autonomously, back to the workplace to pick up the breadwinner. The net effect, is that vehicle ownership could drop as much as 43% in this scenario, as families ditch the need for a second vehicle. It would also mean that the total miles driven (per vehicle) would also increase from an estimated 11,661 to 20,406 annual miles, an increase of 75%. This, of course, assumes that these self-driving car are privately owned. If they are collectively owned as part of public transit networks or private vehicle share systems, then the total miles each vehicle may travel would increase, as in the example of the Rinspeed Micromax shuttle van, but the number of personal vehicles owned could drop significantly. This may be what Apple is working on as part of their rumored 'Titan" electric vehicle project. See also: Mercedes Driverless Car Spotted Cruising Around San Francisco



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Spy Agencies Could Be Funding Geo-engineering Research in Pursuit of Weaponizing the Weather, Scientists Claims – (The Independent - February 15, 2015)
A senior American climate scientist has spoken of the fear he experienced when US intelligence services apparently asked him about the possibility of weaponizing the weather as a major report on geo-engineering is to be published this week. During a debate on the use of geo-engineering to combat climate change ... Prof. Alan Robock of Rutgers University said: “I got a phone call from two men who said we work as consultants for the CIA and we'd like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we know about it? ”I told them, after thinking a little bit, that we probably would because if you put enough material in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight we would be able to detect it and see the equipment that was putting it up there. “At the same time I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else's climate, could they detect it?” Professor Robock, who has investigated the potential risks and benefits of using stratospheric particles to simulate the climate-changing effects of volcanic eruptions, said he felt “scared” when the approach was made. Professor Robock’s concerns come as a major report on geo-engineering is to be published this week by the US National Academy of Sciences. Among the report’s list of sponsors is the “US intelligence community." See also the National Academy of Science's report which notes that geoengineering technologies "present serious known and possible unknown environmental, social, and political risks, including the possibility of being deployed unilaterally."

Lockheed Martin Creates Laser That Can Disable a Truck in Seconds From More Than a Mile Away – (Huffington Post – March 6, 2015)
Lockheed Martin’s new fiber-optic laser weapon system, dubbed ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset), successfully took out a small truck “from more than a mile away” during a recent field test. The ATHENA system uses a technique called "spectral beam combining," which involves merging multiple laser modules to create a single and super-powerful 30-kilowatt laser beam. The system is described as having the “highest power ever documented by a laser weapon of its type." “To put that in perspective, the laser in an everyday pointer might be about 1 milliwatt, or 3 million times less,” said Motherboard. The truck had been resting on props for the field test, but its engine and drivetrain were reportedly running to simulate a real vehicle threat. The laser is said to have disabled the truck’s engine in a “matter of seconds.” Engadget writes: Rather than causing the engine to explode, as per Hollywood, the truck was simply rendered unable to move. Reading between the lines, perhaps Lockheed believes that the gear will be a useful, potentially non-lethal precaution against explosive vehicles being driven, at speed, towards infrastructure points, guard towers or military bases.



TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-laden 'Black Site' – (Guardian - February 24, 2015)
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound. The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Police practices at Homan Square [allegedly] include: Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases; Beating by police, resulting in head wounds; Shackling for prolonged periods; Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility; Holding people [as young as 15] without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours. Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Tracy Siska, a criminologist and civil-rights activist with the Chicago Justice Project, said that Homan Square, as well as the unrelated case of ex-Guantánamo interrogator and retired Chicago detective Richard Zuley, showed the lines blurring between domestic law enforcement and overseas military operations. “The real danger in allowing practices like Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they ... creep into domestic law enforcement, either with weaponry like with the militarization of police, or interrogation practices. That’s how we ended up with a black site in Chicago.” See also: Police ‘black site’ in Homan Square becomes major issue in Chicago mayoral race.

Operation Rent Seeking – (Washington Monthly – March/April/May, 2015)
When I (author of this article) was a congressional staffer, I became acutely aware that elected officials choose issues to put at the top of their agendas mainly for their ability to shake money out of the purses of contributors. The subsequent histrionics in the House or Senate chamber are pure theater for the benefit of C-SPAN and the poor recluses who watch it. Behind every political cause is a racket designed to privatize the profits and socialize the losses. It is no wonder, then, that James Risen, national security correspondent for the New York Times, has been in legal jeopardy with two presidential administrations of different parties. His new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, is a chronicle of fascinating and heretofore secret stories in America’s war on terrorism. The book has a simple and arresting thesis: the longest war in America’s history is pure nirvana for the greedy and unscrupulous. Whatever the architects of the war on terrorism thought they were doing, the Iraq War’s purpose rapidly evolved within the iron cage of the Washington public-private ecology into a rent-seeking opportunity for contractors and bureaucratic empire building for government employees. Its real, as opposed to ostensible, purpose seems to be endless, low-level war. The rote appeals to patriotism are just another way of mau-mauing critics. With a theme that attacks the underlying bipartisan consensus on terrorism of the last dozen years, it is no wonder the Justice Department once contemplated heaving Risen into federal prison. This article continues with an excellent in-depth review of the Risen’s book.



GLOBAL RELATIONS

Saudi Arabia Overtakes India As Top Weapons Importer – (CNBC – March 8, 2015)
Saudi Arabia surpassed India to become the world's top importer of defense equipment in 2014, according to IHS, as global defense trade rose for the sixth straight year to $64.4 billion, up from $56.8 billion. "Defense trade rose by a landmark 13.4% over the past year," said Ben Moores, senior defense analyst at IHS Aerospace, Defense & Security. "This record figure has been driven by unparalleled demand from the emerging economies for military aircraft and an escalation of regional tensions in the Middle East and Asia Pacific." Saudi Arabian imports surged 54% on year in 2014, and are forecast to rise by 52% to $9.8 billion this year, based on planned deliveries, IHS said. China jumped two spots to become the world's third largest defense importer (trailing India) last year. Earlier this month, Beijing announced its defense budget would increase by 10.1% $141.6 billion for 2015. "Despite the increases, it's important to remember that Chinese defense spending remains relatively low compared to the size of its economy, particularly when you consider the country's position in the world," said Craig Caffrey, senior defense budget analyst at IHS Aerospace, Defence & Security. "France, the U.K. and the U.S. all spend considerably more on defense as a proportion of GDP (gross domestic product)." The U.S., the world's top supplier of defense equipment, accounted for one-third of all exports last year and was the main beneficiary of strong Middle Eastern demand, IHS said. See also: Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Sweden after military ties cut. And see: China is now the world’s third biggest arms exporter.

Russia’s Remarkable Renaissance – (New Eastern Outlook – March 9, 2015)
Rather than weakening Putin’s popularity, sanctions imposed by the US and the EU have caused previously apolitical ordinary Russians to rally around the president, who still enjoys popularity ratings over 80%. A recent survey by the independent Levada Center found 81% of Russians feel negatively about the United States, the highest figure since the early 1990s “shock therapy” Yeltsin era. And 71% feel negatively about the European Union. Rather than bow to the US Treasury’s Ruble currency war and the threat that Russian banks will be frozen out of the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) international interbank clearing system, something likened to an act of war, on February 16, the Russian government announced that it had completed its own banking clearing network in which some 91 domestic credit institutions have been incorporated. The system allows Russian banks to communicate seamlessly through the Central Bank of Russia. That is inside Russia among banks that otherwise were vulnerable even domestically to a SWIFT cut. Russia joined the Brussels-based private SWIFT system as the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989. Today her banks are the second largest users of SWIFT. The new system is necessary, but not sufficient, to protect against SWIFT cutoff. The next step in discussion is joint Russia-China interbank clearing independent of SWIFT and Washington. That is also coming. The following day after Russia’s “SWIFT” alternative was announced as operational, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said China will build up its strategic partnership with Russia in finance, space and aircraft building and “raise trade cooperation to a new level.” He added that China plans to cooperate more with Russia in the financial area and in January Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said that payments in national currencies, de-dollarization, were being negotiated with China. (Editor’s note: It’s worth looking beyond the obvious bias of this article for some of the facts that it contains and social perspective that it offers.)



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Wanna Get Hitched? It’s Going to Cost You – (Kron4 – March 13, 2015)
The Knot has released its annual list of what it costs to get married throughout the country. For those wishing to get hitched this year, the study shows: you better start saving. The Knot, a multiplatform wedding resource tool, released their results of its eighth annual Real Weddings Study. The firm surveyed nearly 16,000 US brides and grooms married in 2014 and analyzed financial spending habits and trends. “While wedding budgets continue to rise, with the national average at $31,213, guest lists are shrinking. The average wedding now has 136 guests, down from 149 in 2009,” said Rebecca Dolgin, Editor in Chief of The Knot. “Couples are focusing on creating an amazing guest experience and reception details, including finding unique venues to reflect their personality. Perhaps the biggest change we’ve seen is in the amount of brides using their mobile phone to plan their wedding—it has doubled in just three years.” Couples in Manhattan and Long Island spent the most on their weddings at $76,328 and $55,327, respectively, according to the report. (Editor’s note: We wish the article had included the median cost as well as the average cost. Due to increasing economic disparity in the US, many monetary averages are now often skewed to the high end relative to the medians.) See also: Average Spending on Engagement Rings +5% in 2014.

How a Mid-Sized Tennessee Town Took on Comcast, Revived Its Economy and Did it With Socialism – (Nation of Change – March 4, 2015)
Chattanooga, Tennessee has provided a model for all American towns who want to see their economies and populations grow quickly. And that model is simple – give sub-par internet providers like Comcast some legitimate competition with publicly-owned municipal broadband networks. According to a 2011 survey by the FCC, 61% of Americans have only one cable and internet provider to choose from. And in 2012, Comcast and Time Warner both ranked in the top ten most hated companies. “People understand that high-speed Internet access is quickly becoming a national infrastructure issue just like the highways were in the 1950s,” said Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke. “If the private sector is unable to provide that kind of bandwidth because of the steep infrastructure investment, then just like highways in the 1950s, the government has to consider providing that support.” In 2008, Chattanooga formed the Electric Power Board, which is a public utility company owned by the city’s taxpayers. The EPB got right to work building a “smart grid” to better service the city’s power needs in the event of outages, and to provide super-fast, fiber-optic internet to everyone in the city, which launched in September of 2009. Since its launch, the EPB’s network has proven to be 50 times faster than the average American’s internet connection, delivering 1 gigabit of information per second. A 2-hour video that normally takes 25 minutes to download on a regular broadband network would only take 33 seconds to download on Chattanooga’s network. And like other cable providers, EPB offers TV, internet, and phone service as a bundle, and for less than Comcast charges. The internet access is so far superior to any other place in the country, that numerous businesses have moved to Chattanooga – bringing jobs – exactly for that reason.


CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Obama Aide John Podesta Says ‘Biggest Failure’ Was Not Securing the Disclosure of UFO Files – (Washington Post - February 13, 2015)
Outgoing Obama counselor John Podesta remains a devoted fan of things extraterrestrial. When Podesta, who was President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, returned to White House duty in late 2013, we wrote that his arrival meant “the Obama presidential library will be inundated — just as the Clinton library in Little Rock has been — with Freedom of Information Act requests, such as this one: for ‘e-mails to and from John Podesta, containing the words either, X-Files or Area 51.’” Karen Tumulty asked him in 2007 about the FOIA jam at the library, and Podesta, through a spokesman, replied: “The truth is out there.” And, just to make sure the FOIA requesters don’t forget, Podesta tweeted: Finally, my biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the disclosure of the UFO files.

Space Invaders? Metal Ball Containing Bio Matter Could Be Alien ‘Seed,’ Say British Scientists – (RT – February 18, 2015)
A newly discovered microscopic ball could have been sent to earth by an alien civilization in an attempt to start new life, a British scientist has claimed. The mysterious metal sphere has been photographed spewing out a biological substance, which scientists believe could be genetic material. It was discovered by a team of researchers at the University of Sheffield and the University of Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology. Scientists discovered the perplexing orb when they sent balloons 27 kilometers into the atmosphere to collect dust and particle matter from space. Professor Milton Wainwright, who led the team, described the orb as “a ball about the width of a human hair, which has filamentous life on the outside and a gooey biological material oozing from its center.” Wainwright said: X-ray analysis showed that the sphere is made up mainly of titanium, with a trace of vanadium. He said the metal ball left a tiny impact when it struck the balloon. While several theories on the tiny ball’s origins have been volunteered, the most intriguing sound like pure science fiction. “One theory is it was sent to earth by some unknown civilization in order to continue seeding the planet with life. Unless of course we can find details of the civilization that is supposed to have sent it, in this respect it is probably an unprovable theory,” Wainwright said.

STATISTICS/DEMOGRAPHICS

Social Security Data Says 6.5M in US Have Reached Age 112 – (Associated Press – March 14, 2015)
Americans are getting older, but not this old: Social Security records show that 6.5 million people in the U.S. have reached the ripe old age of 112. In reality, only few could possibly be alive. As of last fall, there were only 42 people known to be that old in the entire world. But Social Security does not have death records for millions of these people, with the oldest born in 1869, according to a report by the agency's inspector general. Only 13 of the people are still getting Social Security benefits, the report said. But for others, their Social Security numbers are still active, so a number could be used to report wages, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards or claim fraudulent tax refunds. The agency said it is working to improve the accuracy of its death records. But it would be costly and time-consuming to update 6.5 million files that were generated decades ago, when the agency used paper records, said Sean Brune, a senior adviser to the agency's deputy commissioner for budget, finance, quality and management. "The records in this review are extremely old, decades-old, and unreliable," Brune said. The internal watchdog's report does not document any fraudulent or improper payments to people using these Social Security numbers. But it raises red flags that it could be happening. For example, nearly 67,000 of the Social Security numbers were used to report more than $3 billion in wages, tips and self-employment income from 2006 to 2011, according to the report. One Social Security number was used 613 different times. An additional 194 numbers were used at least 50 times each.

The Largest Chinese Bike Share Program Is 12 Times the Size of NYC’s – (Yes Magazine – February 20, 2015)
This article contains the statistical gem above, along with 22 other statistics that shed light on our world. For example: Minimum percentage of women required by law in Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council (an advisory council to the king and his cabinet): 20. Percentage of women currently serving in the United States Congress: 19.4

NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Bio-inspired Eye Stabilizes Robot's Flight, Replaces Inertial Navigation System – (KurzweilAI – March 11, 2015)
Biorobotics researchers have developed the first aerial robot able to fly over uneven terrain that is stabilized visually without an accelerometer. Called BeeRotor, it adjusts its speed and avoids obstacles thanks to optic flow sensors inspired by insect vision. It can fly along a tunnel with uneven, moving walls without measuring either speed or altitude. To achieve this, researchers Fabien Expert and Franck Ruffier at the Aix-Marseille Université mimicked the ability of insects to use the passing landscape as they fly. This is known as “optic flow,” the principle you can observe when driving along a road: the view in front is fairly stable, but looking out to either side, the landscape passes by faster and faster, reaching a maximum at an angle of 90 degrees to the path of the vehicle. To measure optic flow, BeeRotor is equipped with 24 photodiodes (functioning as pixels) distributed at the top and the bottom of its “eye.” This enables it to detect contrasts in the environment as well as their motion. As in insects, the speed at which a feature in the scenery moves from one pixel to another provides the angular velocity of the flow. When the flow increases, this means that either the robot’s speed is increasing or that the distance relative to obstacles is decreasing.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

IBM Looking at Adopting Bitcoin Technology for Major Currencies – (Reuters – March 12, 2015)
International Business Machines Corp is considering adopting the underlying technology behind bitcoin, known as the "blockchain," to create a digital cash and payment system for major currencies, according to a person familiar with the matter. The objective is to allow people to transfer cash or make payments instantaneously using this technology without a bank or clearing party involved, saving on transaction costs, the person said. The transactions would be in an open ledger of a specific country's currency such as the dollar or euro, said the source. The blockchain - a ledger, or list, of all of a digital currency's transactions - is viewed as bitcoin's main technological innovation, allowing users to make payments anonymously, instantly, and without government regulation. The company has been in informal discussions about a blockchain-tied cash system with a number of central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, the source said. If central banks approve the concept, IBM will build the secure and scalable infrastructure for the project. There are signs that central banks are already thinking about the innovations that could arise through digital currency systems. The Bank of England, in a report in September 2014, described the blockchain's open ledger as a "significant innovation" that could transform the financial system more generally. Unlike bitcoin, where the network is decentralized and there is no overseer, the proposed digital currency system would be controlled by central banks. "These coins will be part of the money supply," the source said. "It's the same money, just not a dollar bill with a serial number on it, but a token that sits on this blockchain."

The Chinese Have Put Out Billboard Ads Announcing the Renminbi as the New World Currency – (Sovereign Man – March 4, 2015)
When I arrived to Bangkok the other day, coming down the motorway from the airport I saw a huge billboard sponsored by the Bank of China. It said: “RMB: New Choice; The World Currency”. Given that the Bank of China is more than 70% owned by the government of the People’s Republic of China, it means that China is literally advertising its currency overseas, and it’s making sure that everyone landing at one of the world’s busiest airports sees it. They know that the future belongs to them and they’re flaunting it. The renminbi’s importance in global trade and as a reserve currency is increasing exponentially, with renminbi trading hubs popping up all over the world, from Singapore to London to Geneva to Frankfurt to Toronto. Multinational companies such as McDonald’s are now issuing bonds in renminbi, and even sovereign governments are issuing debt denominated in renminbi, including the UK. (Editor’s note: The photograph of the billboard is worth seeing; it’s an excellent piece of advertising. The rest of the article is a sales pitch.)



PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Beyond Bribery – (Foreign Policy – February 17, 2015)
Recently, Greeks delivered a sharp blow to the European Union by voting in the left-wing Syriza Party, which has vowed to end years of painful austerity policies. But Syriza owes much of its popularity for its opposition to something else: elite corruption. This sense that something on high smells bad has galvanized protesters in recent years in countries as different as Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States. This type of legal corruption may be less visible, but it is practiced on a wide scale by a set of global power brokers who have rigged the system to their advantage in innovative ways. The worldwide protests triggered by this form of corruption are proof that a growing number of people have turned into disaffected outsiders, all too aware that they stand squarely apart from this system of power and influence. Its practitioners follow a thoroughly 21st-century playbook, written over the past few decades as privatization, deregulation, the end of the Cold War, and the advent of the digital age have transformed the world. A 2014 research project attempted to quantify how gamed the system is in the United States. Two political scientists looked at 1,779 policy issues hashed out from 1981 to 2002 and found that policies widely supported by economically elite Americans were adopted about 45% percent of the time. If these same privileged Americans didn’t support particular policies, then their rate of acceptance dropped to 18%. The scholars wrote: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites… have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

What? – (Book website – no date)
What? is the title of a recently published book on bridging the gap between what's said and what's heard. Listening – far more so than speaking - is a crucial communication skill, yet many of us don't properly hear what others mean to convey. New York Times Business Bestselling author Sharon Drew Morgen has written a book on how we can learn to hear each other without bias, misinterpretation, or misunderstanding. The book examines how the human brain filters out whatever is uncomfortable and leaves us with what we think has been said; how we typically listen through our mental models - filters such as biases, triggers, assumptions, and habits - causing us to hear others inaccurately; why we adamantly believe that what we think we heard is accurate; and how to listen to others with no filters at all. Morgen goes into exactly how our cognitive processes cause us to mishear (without our permission). Based on some of the recent advances in neuroscience, language and communication processing, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), What? then offers approaches on how to move beyond our brains and listen with no filters at all. Morgen – who believes that when we can hear each other we will finally be able to begin a global conversation to help heal the world - has made the (digital) book free. You can download it here www.didihearyou.com.

The Man Behind K-cups Joins These Seven Inventors with Regrets – (Market Watch – March 6, 2015)
John Sylan invented the K-Cup, the single-pod coffee container that accounts for a huge chunk of Keurig Green Mountain Coffee’s sales. And he wishes he hadn’t, given the amount of trash they now produce. The number of pods buried in 2014 alone would circle the earth an estimated 12 times, according to an article in The Atlantic. (Keurig Green Mountain Coffee says it’s working on a fully recylable version.) “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” Sylan said. He’s not the only one with inventor’s regret. The article showcases seven others who also say they wish they hadn’t created what they did.

When Silicon Valley takes LSD – (CNN - January 25, 2015)
In Silicon Valley, there is a premium on creativity, and tools thought to induce or enhance it are avidly sought. Some view psychedelics as a way to approach problems differently. There's no definitive scientific evidence that LSD or other hallucinogens improve creativity, and the DEA classifies LSD as a highly addictive, Schedule I drug. But the belief that they might work as a creative tool is enough to fuel some technologists' hope for professional epiphanies. Tim Ferriss, a Silicon Valley investor and author of "The 4-Hour Workweek," says he knows many successful entrepreneurs who dabble in psychedelics. "The billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis," Ferriss said. "[They're] trying to be very disruptive and look at the problems in the world ... and ask completely new questions." The phenomenon was satirized on HBO's Silicon Valley when psychedelic mushrooms guide one of the show's main characters in the hunt for a new name for their startup. A recent study at Imperial College London provides a possible explanation. Twenty participants ingested LSD and then had their brain activity monitored in an fMRI machine. The drug allowed new patterns of communication to form. "Psychedelics dismantle 'well-worn' networks, and this allows novel communication patterns to occur. Modules that don't usually talk to each other are talking to each other more," explained Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, the researcher who conducted the study.

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

Ancient Neanderthals Started the Jewelry Fashion Industry – (Tribune – March 12, 2015)
It has been long-believed that Neanderthals did not accomplish much more than learning basic survival skills, but new research suggests their culture may have been richer than we thought, the University of Kansas reported. A set of eagle talons discovered in Croatia and believed to be about 130,000 years old contain specific marks and polished areas, leading researchers to believe they were used as jewelry long before humans were believed to care about beauty. They were most likely made about 80,000 years before modern humans entered Europe, meaning Neanderthals are the only ones that could have made the ancient jewelry. “Neanderthals are often thought of to be simple-minded mumbling, bumbling, stumbling fools,” said David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology who was part of the study. “But the more we know about them the more sophisticated they’ve become.” The eight white-tailed eagle bones were first discovered about a century ago, but researchers did not notice the tell-tale marks on them until now. “There’s just no doubt that they made it, and it was a necklace or bracelet or piece of jewelry,” Frayer said. The researcher said he was not only impressed with the Neanderthals’ ability to build jewelry, but also to have the hunting skills to capture the three or four eagles used to make it. “It really shows a level of technical sophistication, too,” Frayer said.

Nike's "Just do it" Slogan Is Based on a Murderer's Last Words – (Dezeen – March 14, 2015)
Dan Wieden, co-founder of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, described the surprising genesis of Nike's "Just do it" slogan, one of the world's most recognizable taglines. "I was recalling a man in Portland," Wieden said, remembering how in 1988 he was struggling to come up with a line that would tie together a number of different TV commercials the fledgling agency had created for the sportswear brand. "He grew up in Portland, and ran around doing criminal acts in the country, and was in Utah where he murdered a man and a woman, and was sent to jail and put before a firing squad. They asked him if he had any final thoughts and he said: 'Let's do it'. I didn't like 'Let’s do it' so I just changed it to 'Just do it'." The murderer was Gary Gilmore, who had grown up in Portland, Oregon – the city that is home to both Nike and Wieden+Kennedy. In 1976 Gilmore robbed and murdered two men in Utah and was executed by firing squad the following year (by some accounts Gilmore actually said "Let's do this" just before he was shot). Campaign magazine described it as "arguably the best tagline of the 20th century," saying it "cut across age and class barriers, linked Nike with success – and made consumers believe they could be successful too just by wearing its products."



JUST FOR FUN

Swami’s State of the Universe 2015 – (Conscious Life News – March 3, 2015)
The Cosmic Comic Swami Beyondananda calls for an evolutionary upwising. “Greetings, Mirthlings! Welcome to the state of the Universe — which is of course, everchanging, same as always. Here we are once again in the here and now, just like last year at this time….[It’s] time to evolve from children of God to adults of Good. Yes, I know. We are collectively in this awkward tween phase called addled-essence. Our essence has been addled by obsolete myth-conceptions.” (Editor’s note: Read on! The word-play in this piece is brilliant; the humor is delightful; and the wisdom is pretty good.)



A FINAL QUOTE--

The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine. – Nikola Tesla



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




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Edited by John L. Petersen
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