Volume 21, Number 2 - 1/15/18 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  


  • Facebook is on track to become more powerful than the National Security Agency — so says a senior advisor to the US military intelligence community.
  • Jet stream changes since 1960s have been linked to more extreme weather.
  • In China, you can track your chicken on a blockchain.
  • As of January 1, 2018, Iceland has become the first country to enact a law that makes it illegal to pay men more than women.

by John L. Petersen

Robert David Steele coming to Berkeley Springs

One of the country’s most outspoken and informed analysts of current events and designer of integrated approaches for the evolution of a new country, Robert David Steele, will be presenting at Berkeley Springs TransitionTalks on the 17th of March. Steele, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in developing systems-based solutions for the world’s biggest problems, will be talking about a grand strategy – an approach that considers all aspects in an integrated plan -- for a new United States. Robert is well-known internationally for his substantial and informed on-line presence, which draws from an extensive network of informers inside and outside of governments.

This will be a particularly interesting talk that has both practical and conceptual proposals for coming up with a whole new country . . . and by extension, a new world.

You can get complete information on this event at TransitionTalks.org.

PostScript Interview with John Petersen

I was the presenter at our TransitionTalks series in early December. My futurist friend Gary Sycalik and I had a conversation on our PostScript Show. Here are the links to those two interviews.



Facebook Will Become More Powerful Than the NSA in Less Than 10 Years — Unless We Stop It – (Medium.com – December 27, 2017)
Feel free to ignore the opening pitch and go right to the text. Facebook is on track to become more powerful than the National Security Agency — so says a senior advisor to the US military intelligence community who predicted the rise of artificial intelligence and robot warfare. In less than a decade, Facebook’s growth will mean it potentially has the ability to monitor almost everyone on the planet. This will make the firm more powerful than any other government contractor in the world. Increasing evidence reveals that Facebook’s most lucrative business model is to outsource itself as a conduit for psychological warfare to any third party that wants to influence the beliefs and behaviors of citizens. The already slim accountability in our public institutions is gradually eroded, replaced instead by the manipulative, unaccountable reach of those that control Big Data. Zuckerberg and his lieutenants sit atop an overarching, unelected meta-government on which nation states become irrevocably dependent for crucial information services focused on influencing our decisions. (Editor’s note: This is another article offering a look at the players behind the scenes and how they are structuring the very nature of the game. It may be overstating the case in some areas and rather naïve in others, but it’s worth reading and considering the basic propositions it puts forth.)


Experimenter's Gender Can Skew Science – (GizModo – January 12, 2018)
There are many factors as to why the same experiment might produce two different sets of results—but a new review confirms that the experimenter’s gender could play an important role. The researchers behind the review think that these biases could skew the results of clinical trials and misrepresent how well medications work. The authors suggest some policies, like new kinds of reporting and experimental controls, that they hope will help the problem in the future. “I think the big takeaway is that [experimenter gender] is something that should be reported and tracked,” Colin Chapman, the study’s first author from Uppsala University in Sweden said. “Right now it isn’t, and it’s a very simple thing to control and report for. There’s really no excuse.” Chapman’s team’s paper in Scientific Advances finds a number of concerning correlations. Children seem to do better on IQ tests when experimenters are female. Some studies find that men report less pain when the experimenter is female, but women report more pain when experimenters are male. Researchers studying sex find that men report more sexual encounters when a woman administers the questionnaire. Chapman’s study tries to explain the difference with a few hypotheses, like the psychological and social stress of dealing with the opposite gender, or hoping to look more fit to a potential mate. Obviously these results are pretty rooted in the overarching majorities and social norms—but those social norms are biasing science.

Serious Gap in Cosmic Expansion Rate Hints at New Physics – (BBC News – January 11, 2018)
A mathematical discrepancy in the expansion rate of the Universe is now "pretty serious", and could point the way to a major discovery in physics, says a Nobel laureate. The most recent results suggest the inconsistency is not going away. The difference is found when comparing precise measurements of the rate obtained in different ways. However, the statistics are not yet at the threshold for claiming a discovery. Professor Riess, who is based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was one of three scientists who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating. This phenomenon was widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained "dark energy" filling the cosmos. The unit of measurement used to describe the expansion is called the Hubble Constant, after 20th Century astronomer Edwin Hubble - after whom the orbiting space observatory is named. To calculate the Hubble Constant, Prof Riess and others use the "cosmic ladder" approach, which relies on known quantities - so-called "standard candles" - such as the brightness of certain types of supernova to calibrate distances across space. However, a different approach uses a combination of the afterglow of the Big Bang, known as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), as measured by the Planck spacecraft and a cosmological model known as Lambda-CDM. The gap between the two is now at a confidence level of about 3.4 sigma. The sigma level describes the probability that a particular finding is not down to chance. For example, three sigma is often described as the equivalent of repeatedly tossing a coin and getting nine heads in a row. A level of five sigma is usually considered the threshold for claiming a discovery.


FDA Approves First Shock Wave Device Made to Heal Wounds – (Engadget – December 31, 2017)
Using "acoustic shock waves" to promote healing , Sanuwave has obtained FDA approval for its Dermapace System (Pulsed Acoustic Cellular Expression = PACE). Its approval is specifically to help heal foot ulcers in diabetic patients, where damage to blood vessels and nerves can lead to reduced circulation, infection and sometimes amputation. The Dermapace mechanically stimulates the wound, which Sanuwave says promotes healing. Like several other "first" FDA approvals we've seen recently, this device went through the de novo review process designed specifically to get new technology on the market. After two double-blind studies, the results showed an increase in wound healing at 24 weeks with a 44 percent wound closure rate with the real Dermapace device, vs. a 30 percent closure rate for patients treated with a fake system. See also this article which notes that “Similar devices have been used in veterinary medicine for some time, and pet owners can often opt to have surgery wounds on their animals treated with shock wave instruments in order to speed up the healing process by promoting the growth of blood vessels in tissue.”

How the Immune System Could Stymie Some CRISPR Gene Therapies – (Nature – January 8, 2018)
Hopes are high that CRISPR-Cas9 could one day be used in people to correct mutations that cause disease. But a new study, which was published on the preprint server bioRxiv and has not yet been peer reviewed, is generating questions about whether this approach will succeed. CRISPR-Cas9 is a primitive immune system that is found in a wide range of microbes. The system relies on an enzyme called Cas9, which slices DNA at a site determined by the sequence of a particular strand of RNA. But foreign proteins such as Cas9 can also provoke lasting immune responses. And two versions of the Cas9 enzyme that are most prized by molecular biologists come from common bacteria that can live in the human body — increasing the chances that some people will have already formed immune responses against those proteins. A team of researchers led by pediatric hematologists Matthew Porteus and Kenneth Weinberg of Stanford University in California analyzed blood samples from 22 babies and 12 healthy adults for immune responses to the two most commonly used forms of the Cas9 enzyme. They found that 79% of study participants made antibodies against Cas9 from the bacterium Staphlococcus aureus, and 65% of them made antibodies against the enzyme from Streptococcus pyogenes. The body’s immune responses can sabotage a gene therapy — and pose a health risk to the person receiving the treatment. Antibodies against Cas9 can bind to the enzyme in the bloodstream, before it has had a chance to act. And T cells that target Cas9 could destroy cells in which the protein is expressed, wiping out ‘corrected’ cells and potentially triggering a dangerous widespread attack on the body’s own tissues.

Gut Check: Gas-Sniffing Capsule Charts the Digestive Tract – (NPR – January 8, 2018)
To study the human gut and the microbes that live within it, scientists have a couple of options. They can grab a small piece of tissue from the gastrointestinal tract or collect a sample of fecal matter. Neither way is ideal, says Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist and director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago. "By studying [the sample], you're changing it, just by observing it, because you have to cut it out and analyze it," he says. But a third way may become available to both scientists and clinicians. It's an ingestible electronic capsule that senses certain gases released in the human gut – some of the same stuff that you may already be familiar with when it eventually passes into the open air. The capsule's creator, electrical engineer Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, says that the device has already begun revealing secrets about the human gut. To test the capsule, Kalantar-Zadeh enlisted 26 healthy volunteers – one being himself. Each person ate the same diet to help rule out food as a cause for different results, except for two volunteers who ate a high-fiber diet and two others who got one with little fiber. At roughly an inch long and half an inch wide, the electronic pill looks something like the biggest multivitamin a human could reasonably swallow. Curled around its tiny batteries is an antenna that beams data out of the body where it can be viewed on a nearby smartphone. A membrane on the capsule's nose lets gases through to a sensor that detects concentrations of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Kalantar-Zadeh says those three gases were picked because they provide important information about the gut.

New Polygenic Hazard Score Predicts When Men Develop Prostate Cancer – (DDDMag – January 12, 2018)
An international team, led by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, has developed and validated a genetic tool for predicting age of onset of aggressive prostate cancer, a disease that kills more than 26,000 American men annually. Currently, detection of prostate cancer relies primarily upon the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening blood test. But PSA testing is not very good as a screening tool. While it reduces deaths from prostate cancer, indiscriminate PSA screening also produces false positive results and encourages over-detection of non-aggressive, slow-growing tumors. Seibert, senior author Anders Dale, PhD, professor and co-director of the Center for Translational Imaging and Precision Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues in Europe, Australia and the United States, used genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to determine whether a man's genetic predisposition to developing prostate cancer could be used to predict his risk of developing the aggressive and lethal form of the disease. "This kind of genetic risk stratification is a step toward individualized medicine," said Dale, who also noted that PSA tests are much more predictive of aggressive prostate cancer in men with high polygenic hazard score than in those with low polygenic hazard score. "Polygenic Hazard Score methodology is specialized in finding age-dependent genetic risks and has already been proven to be very useful in predicting age of onset for Alzheimer's disease", said study co-author Chun Chieh Fan, MD, PhD, in the Department of Cognitive Science at UC San Diego. The study authors note that an individual's genotype does not change with age, so the polygenic hazard score can be calculated at any time and used as a tool for men deciding whether and when to undergo screening for prostate cancer. This is especially critical for men at risk of developing prostate cancer at a very young age, before standard guidelines recommend consideration of screening.

Who Needs a Hospital, When This Self-Driving Doctor Comes to You? – (Fast Company – June 21, 2017)
Aim, a new concept by the Seattle based design firm Artefact is a new concept for health care, built from the ground up–one in which you wouldn’t have to worry whether or not your insurance covers an MRI or you could instantly glean whether that expensive, out-of-pocket drug will really alleviate your chronic back pain. Aim imagines a near future in which health care is not a destination–a visit to the hospital–but a continuum of care. It starts in your bathroom, with a smart mirror, toothbrush, and toilet that can keep track of your vitals, like a more advanced Fitbit. If there’s a problem, the next step is an autonomous doctor car, dispatched to your home or place of work, that self-directs you to take more tests. And only if it’s medically necessary will you need to see a doctor. A doctor, who, incidentally, will have an AI assistant who has scanned what may be years of your diagnostic trend lines, compared to those of your peers, to pre-suggest diagnoses and treatments. To anyone following the evolving health care sector, a lot of these ideas will feel familiar. But the most radical bit of the concept is the self-driving car. What may appear to be a gimmick is actually a carefully designed space. “The vehicle provides an in-between space,” says Jordan. It’s like a CVS Minute Clinic on wheels, with a patient self-directed as to what to do next via software–cutting down on the staffing costs behind routine measurements often gathered by nurses. The floor automatically weighs you when you walk in. Its pressure sensitivity can measure BMI, and posture, too. The chair has built-in acoustic sensors, which hears your respiration like a stethoscope. And a wraparound screen provides augmented reality interactions, to guide the patient through the experience.

How to Grow Functioning Human Muscles from Stem Cells – (Kurzweil AI – January 10, 2018)
In the study, biomedical engineers at Duke University started with human induced pluripotent stem cells. (Pluripotent stem cells are important in regenerative medicine because they can generate any type of cell in the body and can propagate indefinitely; the induced version can be generated from adult cells instead of embryos.) These are cells taken from adult non-muscle tissues, such as skin or blood, and reprogrammed to revert to a primordial state. The pluripotent stem cells are then grown while being flooded with a molecule called Pax7 — which signals the cells to start becoming muscle. After two to four weeks of 3-D culture, the resulting muscle cells form muscle fibers that contract and react to external stimuli such as electrical pulses and biochemical signals — mimicking neuronal inputs just like native muscle tissue. The researchers also implanted the newly grown muscle fibers into adult mice. The muscles survived and functioned for at least three weeks, while progressively integrating into the native tissue through vascularization (growing blood vessels).


Jet Stream Changes Since 1960s Linked to More Extreme Weather – (Science Daily – January 12, 2018)
Increased fluctuations in the path of the North Atlantic jet stream since the 1960s coincide with more extreme weather events in Europe such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding, reports a University of Arizona-led team. The research is the first reconstruction of historical changes in the North Atlantic jet stream prior to the 20th century. By studying tree rings from trees in the British Isles and the northeastern Mediterranean, the team teased out those regions' late summer weather going back almost 300 years -- to 1725. "We find that the position of the North Atlantic Jet in summer has been a strong driver of climate extremes in Europe for the last 300 years," Trouet said. Having a 290-year record of the position of the jet stream let Trouet and her colleagues determine that swings between northern and southern positions of the jet became more frequent in the second half of the 20th century, she said. With the discovery of much older trees in the Balkans and in the British Isles, Trouet hopes to reconstruct the path of the North Atlantic jet stream as much as 1,000 years into the past. She is also interested in reconstructing the path of the North Pacific jet stream, which influences the climate and weather over North America.

Scientists Use Genetic Barcoding to Count Larvae in Coral Reefs – (Forbes – December 31, 2017)
In a new study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, a team of three scientists say they've developed a genetic barcode to quantify significant populations of larvae in a coral reef ecosystem which gives them a tool for monitoring the health of reef ecosystems and understand precisely which species of larvae are present in the water around reefs. The study looked at genetic barcoding of nearly 80% of the fish species in the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba (between Eilat and Aqaba). Scientists sampled larvae twice a month over the course of a year at various sites and depths near the two coasts and middle of the Gulf. Ultimately, the team sequenced the genomes of around 10,000 larvae in 400 different samples and created a map that could tell them, species by species, how many could be found, at what time of year, at which particular location and depth. Traditionally to study larvae, scientists count their spines under a microscope, but this method only shows the taxonomic family, not the species. So the team created a new approach by sequencing a barcode from the fish larvae genomes to determine the larvae identity. To do this, they created a database of barcodes for reef fish in the gulf by clipping the fins of adult fish for a DNA analysis which produced a database of barcodes for about 420 to 540 of the primary fish species which were known to visit the reef. All of the fish DNA in each sample was sequenced together using a metagenomics technique. Then, they matched pictures of the larvae to their DNA sequence which told them exactly how many individual larvae of each species were in the sample. Their barcode method allowed them to analyze thousands of larvae at a finer resolution. The study also reported that the genetic barcoding provided new insight on how fish move in waters.

Cape Town May Become 1st Major City in World to Run out of Water – (AccuWeather – January 11, 2018)
As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, residents of Cape Town, South Africa, ushered in 2018 — the start of a new year and the start of the city’s stringent new water regulations. The Level 6 restrictions came into effect to combat an unprecedented drought which threatens to make Cape Town the first major city devoid of water. The slew of new measures include limiting individuals municipal water usage per day and threatening to impose fines on those who exceed it. They also reduce agricultural water use by 60% and commercial use by 45%, compared to pre-drought allocations. The drought and water stress across most of South Africa follows a strong El Niño in 2015 and 2016. The weather pattern — characterized by warmer-than-normal ocean water in the equatorial Pacific — resulted in extreme heat and spells of dry weather. Beneficial rain eventually returned in late fall for much of the country, including the drought-stricken western Cape. But according to the South Africa Water and Sanitation Department, it failed to restore the water supply in the country’s dams. Soaring temperatures in between spells of rain meant a high rate of evaporation and usage, resulting in sinking water levels in dams. Throughout December, temperatures continued to simmer, averaging 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in Cape Town. See also: Extreme Volatility in Weather – Part of Climate Change?

Snow Covers Parts of the Sahara Desert as Freak Storm Sees 16 Inches Fall in One Day – (Daily Mail – January 8, 2018)
This is the third time in 37 years that the town of Ain Sefra in Algeria has seen snow cover the red sand dunes of the desert. While the town saw an inch or two, the sand dunes on its outskirts were covered in snow. See photos in the article of the usually orange-colored sand dunes covered in snow. See also this article which discussed it in terms of climate change and global cooling.

Plastic Fantastic: How It Changed the World – (BBC News – January 11, 2018)
It's not too much of a stretch to say that plastic made the modern world possible. Many things that we take for granted today depend on it. Plastic has allowed supermarkets to offer a wider range of fresher produce in a variety of portion sizes. Grapes sold in sealed trays rather than loose bunches have reduced waste in stores by more than 20%, retail analysts say. Modern medicine has also greatly benefited from the disposable plastic syringe, invented in 1955. According to the British Plastics Federation, studies have also shown that if plastic packaging had to be replaced by other materials, it would lead to a rise in consumption of packaging, in terms of mass, energy and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it says, alternative materials to plastic would result in 2.7 times more greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetime. For all these reasons, few environmental campaigners seriously talk of turning back the clock to a pre-plastic age. The challenge is rather to mitigate the worst effects of its proliferation and find ways of reducing the pollution it causes. 78 million tons of plastic packaging are produced in the world every year, of which 40% goes straight to landfill. Thirty-two per cent of it leaks into the environment, 14% is incinerated and only 14% is collected for recycling. Of that, only 2% gets recycled into the same quality of plastic. And 2% of 78 million tons is tiny. However, 50% of plastic could be redesigned to be effectively recycled. All too often, products are made that are not recyclable, because recyclable and non-recyclable plastic parts were combined and could not easily be separated. Ultimately, the solution is in consumers' hands, say the experts. The question is: are consumers prepared to accept compromises to reduce plastic pollution?


Technology Can't Rescue Us from AI-generated Fake News – (Wired – January 8, 2018)
After two decades as a digital forensics expert Hany Farid has come to know the telltale signs of a fake image. The shadows are often a dead giveaway. “They tell you a lot about the scene,” he says. “The nature of the light in the scene, where it was coming from.” Forgers often get them wrong, putting shadows in improbably locations or omitting them altogether. For most of Farid’s career, digital forensics has boiled down to a simple question. "It’s asking whether the video, image or audio recording has been manipulated since it was recorded,” he says. But now the question is no longer “has this blemish been removed or this scene altered,” it’s “did this scene ever exist in the first place?" “There’s a whole new host of ways of manipulating photographs now,” Farid says. Recent advancements in machine learning have got Farid particularly worried. 2017 was a bumper year for image-faking technology. For the time being, however, digital forensic experts have an ace card when it comes to spotting machine-generated images. Camera sensors always introduce minute artifacts into images, invisible to the human eye but easily detected if you know what to look for. By identifying these artifacts, researchers can work out the model of device that has taken an image, sometimes right down to the serial number. Algorithmically-generated images don’t have those artifacts, so they’re relatively easy to spot as fakes. But technology can only take us so far, Farid says. If a fake video ends up going viral, often the damage is done before anyone even has the chance to analyze the content. “In the media we used to have a couple of days to [inspect] content and now we have a couple of hours and we’re getting even less,” he says. If someone faked a video of President Trump saying: “I just fired nuclear weapons at North Korea” and it went viral, the repercussions could be huge.

Hushme Mask Lets Users Make Private Calls – (BBC News – January 11, 2018)
Ever wanted to make a private call in a public space? A Ukranian start-up thinks it has the solution: a hi-tech face mask that muffles the user's voice while blasting out electronic sounds. The device is one of the more curious items on show at the CES tech trade fair in Las Vegas, where the BBC's Chris Foxx put to the test. (See attached video clip.)

The World’s Biggest Biometric Database Keeps Leaking People’s Data – (Fast Company – January 12, 2018)
India’s national scheme holds the personal data of more than 1.13 billion citizens and residents of India within a unique ID system branded as Aadhaar, which means “foundation” in Hindi. The Aadhaar unique identification number ties together several pieces of a person’s demographic and biometric information, including their photograph, fingerprints, home address, and other personal information. But as more and more evidence reveals that the government is not keeping this information private, the actual foundation of the system appears shaky at best. On January 4, 2018, The Tribune of India, a news outlet based out of Chandigarh, created a firestorm when it reported that people were selling access to Aadhaar data on WhatsApp, for alarmingly low prices. Ajay Bhushan Pandey, the CEO of UIDAI (Unique Identity Authority of India, the agency responsible for issuing Aadhaar numbers) has repeatedly maintained that the exposure of Aadhaar numbers alone poses little risk as “Aadhaar numbers are like bank account numbers.” But this has been proven to leave people vulnerable to phishing, identity fraud, and corporate malfeasance, as seen in December 2017, when telecom giant Airtel opened three million payment accounts for customers without obtaining their informed consent.


IKEA Launches First Collection of Furniture for Cats and Dogs – (Dezeen – October 10, 2017)
IKEA's first furniture collection designed specifically for pets includes a treehouse-like cat hideaway, and a bowl that encourages dogs to eat slowly. The Lurvig collection was designed by Inma Bermudéz, who felt there was a gap in the market for reasonably priced but nice-looking pet products. Bermudéz's 62-piece collection covers the basic areas of sleep, eat, play, travel and walk. For sleeping, she designed the mini Klippan sofa, a treehouse-like hideaway, and cocooning inserts for Kallax shelving units. A "friendly-smelling bed" is designed to be filled with owner's old clothes and blankets, while a bed frame can be used as a cosy nook or turned upside down as a kennel. The designer even considered the less-than-savoury moments of pet ownership – creating a colorful range of poo bags and a litter tray shovel. "The piece that I'm most proud of is a pet cushion: we encourage owners to fill it with their old clothes, blankets or towels," the designer explained. "The idea is that pets get a comfortable cushion with comfortable, familiar smells too."

Denver’s Solution to Its Housing Crisis: Subsidize Rent for Expensive, Empty Apartments – (Fast Company – January 12, 2018)
In an effort to address the affordability issues faced by key workers like teachers and nurses, several cities have introduced “inclusionary zoning” policies that reward developers with permits to construct bigger buildings in return for offering apartments at below-market prices. Some school districts have even explored becoming their own landlords in an effort to moderate prices. But Denver arguably has a more radical idea. It plans to subsidize rent so that lower-income people can live in high-end apartments that are currently too expensive to attract market rate tenants. The plan, called LIVE Denver, is aimed at workers earning between 40% and 80% of average area incomes, or $23,520 to $47,040 for individuals, or $33,560 to $67,120 for families of four. The city estimates that about 13,000 renters in these categories currently have to pay out more than 50% of their income in housing costs. The Denver metro area has about 16,000 vacant units, according to figures from RealPage, a real estate data firm. But most of those are at the high end–an average of $1,600 a month for a single bedroom. Indeed, that’s how it is in many cities around the country. New York is another metro area with a glut of high-end buildings: there were more than 60,000 vacant units in 2017, according to RealPage, up from 49,000 in 2012. Occupancy rates remain above 95% on average nationally, with availability tending to be in new, luxury-type stock rather than moderately-priced older buildings. Housing prices in Denver rose 9% last year and 30% over the last five years, while wages are rising at only 2%-3% on average. “There is a disconnect when housing costs across the city are increasing at a more rapid pace than an employer’s ability to increase wages,” a website promoting the initiative says. “The city cannot dictate wages to employers, but we can work with others to create opportunities for employers to directly invest in providing housing affordability for its employees.” Part of the cost of the program is being met by local companies and foundations. The interesting question will be if the city simply ends up propping up the high-end of the market, perversely offering incentives to developers to build new unaffordable homes.


Surprising Discovery Could Lead to Better Batteries – (Science Daily – January 12, 2018)
A collaboration led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory has observed an unexpected phenomenon in lithium-ion batteries -- the most common type of battery used to power cell phones and electric cars. As a model battery generated electric current, the scientists witnessed the concentration of lithium inside individual nanoparticles reverse at a certain point, instead of constantly increasing. This discovery is a major step toward improving the battery life of consumer electronics.


World’s First Fully Solar Train – (Fast Company – December 20, 2017)
The Australian beach town of Byron Bay has a traffic problem–especially during holidays, when tourists cause gridlock on local streets. Until recently, there were few options for public transit. But the town now has a second option for traveling one common route: The world’s first fully solar-powered train, running on a restored train line that was out of use for more than a decade. Converting the train to solar–using a vintage vehicle built shortly after World War II–was a challenge. “We were aware that it had not been done before and wanted to push the boundaries,” says Jeremy Holmes, development director of the nonprofit Byron Bay Railroad Company, which runs the train. The route, which travels between the central business district and the northern part of the town, had advantages: At a little less than two miles long, it’s short, and the track is flat and almost perfectly straight between the stations, requiring less power than other routes might. The vintage train, which was built with aluminum fuselage in a factory that made planes during World War II, is also lightweight. Custom curved solar panels on the roof of the train send power to a set of batteries that replace one diesel engine; the other engine is still in place and can provide backup power in an emergency. As the train brakes, it generates more electricity, like a hybrid car. At a train station, the train can be plugged in to pull more power from solar panels on the roof of the station.


These Are Not Your Father’s GMOs – (Technology Review – December 19, 2017)
The U.S. soybean crop is four billion bushels a year, about 240 billion pounds. It generates the most cash receipts for American farms after cattle and corn. Of those beans, more than 90 percent are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs—that is, they’ve been genetically enhanced, most often through the addition of a gene from a soil bacterium that renders them immune to the weed killer glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup. However, a startup called Calyxt, located Minneapolis has now employed gene editing technology to introduce changes in two genes involved in fatty-acid synthesis, so that oil pressed from soybeans is more like olive oil than typical soy oil. At the company’s greenhouses, thousands of plants are being altered with gene editing every week. The virtue of the technology is that it lets scientists create designer plants that don’t have foreign DNA in them. The technique, which adds or deletes snippets of genetic information, is similar to what could be achieved through conventional breeding, only much faster. In essence, if there’s some quality about a soybean that you like, and if you know the genetic instructions responsible, gene editing can move them to another bean in a single molecular step. To many scientists, the potential of gene editing seems nearly limitless, offering a new way to rapidly create plants that are drought-resistant, immune to disease, or improved in flavor. There is another reason gene editing is causing excitement in industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has concluded that the new plants are not “regulated articles.” The reason is a legal loophole: its regulations apply only to GMOs constructed using plant pathogens like bacteria, or their DNA. (Editor’s note: We recommend this detailed and balanced article.)

Fast Food Makes the Immune System More Aggressive in the Long Term – (Science Daily – January 11, 2018)
The immune system reacts similarly to a high fat and high calorie diet as to a bacterial infection. This is shown by a recent study led by the University of Bonn. Particularly disturbing: Unhealthy food seems to make the body's defenses more aggressive in the long term. Even long after switching to a healthy diet, inflammation towards innate immune stimulation is more pronounced. These long-term changes may be involved in the development of arteriosclerosis and diabetes, diseases linked to Western diet consumption. Details of the study involving mice placed for a month on a so-called "Western diet": high in fat, high in sugar, and low in fiber are in the article.

In China, You Can Track Your Chicken Using Blockchain Technology – (Fast Company – January 12, 2018)
If you buy a free-range chicken in the U.S., it’s often hard to be sure that the chicken ever went outside. No farm inspections are required to make the claim, and some companies with certifications–including a Whole Foods supplier–have been accused of selling “free range” birds that were raised on factory farms. In China, now consumers who want to feel good about their chickens have another option: free-range and organic birds raised with an anklet that tracks and reports every aspect of their lives. “All info related to the chicken can be verified in the blockchain,” says Xuefeng Li, CTO of ZhongAn Technology, the tech incubator of the Chinese insurance company ZhongAn, which developed the technology. The chicken’s age and location, how far it walks each day, air pollution, the quality of the water it drinks, when it’s quarantined, when it’s slaughtered, and other details, are all recorded in the blockchain, the same secure digital ledger used in cryptocurrency transactions. The meticulous detail of the product, called Gogochicken, is designed to appeal to Chinese consumers who have dealt with a long series of food safety scandals. Others are also using the blockchain to track food in China. JD.com, an e-commerce platform, traces the production and delivery of beef raised in Inner Mongolia and sold to customers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. With a scan of a QR code, someone can see the age and size of the cow, what it ate, when it was slaughtered and the meat was packaged, and the results of food safety tests. Alibaba, another Chinese e-commerce company, plans to use blockchain on beef from Australia. Walmart and IBM piloted the use of blockchain on pork in China, and launched a Blockchain Food Safety Alliance in December 2017.


In the Trump Era, Understanding the Power of the Janus Effect Could Make Gender Equality a Top Priority – (Huffington Post – January 13, 2018)
The Janus Effect comes into play in business or politics the moment an alpha male leader makes a decision that is dead wrong. At that moment, none of the men he has hand-picked for his inner circle are able to go against his wishes because, as his followers, they know exactly what he wants and expects. Decisions made under the Janus Effect by an alpha male leader are so powerful because the team members believe that to go against their leader carries the risk of becoming ridiculed, ostracized or even exiled from the team. So what’s the solution? The solution is for leaders to surround themselves with an inner circle or cabinet that represents a 50/50 balance of masculine and feminine traits. Why? While men are highly susceptible to the Janus Effect, women are uniquely immune. Highly empathetic leaders are also immune to the Janus Effect. (Editor’s note: Women as “uniquely immune” overstates the matter; “relatively immune” would be more accurate. But the suggestion to balance the gender of close advisors has merit.)

The FBI Hand Behind Russia-gate – (Consortium News – January 11, 2018)
Russia-gate is becoming FBI-gate, thanks to the official release of unguarded text messages between loose-lipped FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and his garrulous girlfriend, FBI lawyer Lisa Page. (Ten illustrative texts from their exchange appear at the end of this article.) Despite his former job as chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence section, Strzok had the naive notion that texting on FBI phones could not be traced. Strzok must have slept through “Security 101.” Or perhaps he was busy texting during that class. Girlfriend Page cannot be happy at being misled by his assurance that using office phones would be a secure way to conduct their affair(s). It would have been unfortunate enough for Strzok and Page to have their adolescent-sounding texts merely exposed, revealing the reckless abandon of star-crossed lovers hiding (they thought) secrets from cuckolded spouses, office colleagues, and the rest of us. However, for the never-Trump plotters in the FBI, the official release of just a fraction (375) of almost 10,000 messages does incalculably more damage than that. We suddenly have documentary proof that key elements of the U.S. intelligence community were trying to short-circuit the U.S. democratic process. (Editor’s note: That last sentence is a substantial overstatement if the ten “illustrative texts” are accurately representative of the entire – and highly unethical – correspondence. But at the bottom of the article, you can read them for yourself and come to your own conclusions.)

Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett – (CounterPunch – January 12, 2018)
Wormwood is Errol Morris’s mesmerizing new six part docu-drama. Frank Olson was a scientist working on the secret biological weapons (germ warfare) program at Fort Detrick, Maryland, a U.S. military research facility. He was also closely involved in two top secret CIA programs. One, code-named Artichoke, was developing special interrogation techniques. The other, code-named MKUltra, was experimenting with mind-control methods, including the use of LSD. As Eric Olson says in the film “This conflation of things, biological weapons on one hand, covert operations on the other, was what brought Fort Detrick and the CIA together. Wormwood tells the story of Eric Olson’s lifelong investigation into his father’s death. Did he fall? Did he jump? Was he pushed? Was it an accident? A mind-control experiment gone wrong? Was it murder? Was it an execution? (Editor’s note: In view of the degree to which North Korea is now in news headlines, this article and the docu-drama it discusses have a potential and surprising relevance.)


Iceland Becomes First Country to Fix the Gender Inequality Problem – (Nation of Change – January 2, 2018)
As of January 1, 2018, Iceland has become the first country to enact a law that makes it illegal to pay men more than women. Iceland is now the only country in the world that has legalized equal pay between the sexes. Now, public and private employers in Iceland that have 25 or more employees will have to obtain government certification of equal pay policies, or face fines. The island country, which is home to 323,000 people, has been ranked by the World Economic Forum as the world’s most gender-equal country for the past nine years. This was confirmed in the Global Gender Gap Report, which examined the gender gap across four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The top five best performers in the global gender gap behind Iceland are Norway, Finland, Rwanda and Sweden. The United States ranks 49.


Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person – (New York Times – December 29, 2017)
Nearly three years ago, the author of this article started following the lives of six New Yorkers over the age of 85, one of the fastest-growing age groups in America. The series of articles began the way most stories about older people do, with the fears and hardships of aging: a fall in the kitchen, an aching leg that did not get better, days segueing into nights without human contact. They had lived through — and some were still challenged by — money problems, medical problems, the narrowing of life’s movements. But as the series went along, a different story emerged. When the elders described their lives, they focused not on their declining abilities but on things that they could still do and that they found rewarding. Older people report higher levels of contentment or well-being than teenagers and young adults. The six elders put faces on this statistic. If they were not always gleeful, they were resilient and not paralyzed by the challenges that came their way. All had known loss and survived. None went to a job he did not like, coveted stuff she could not afford, brooded over a slight on the subway or lost sleep over events in the distant future. They set realistic goals. Only one said he was afraid to die. Gerontologists call this the paradox of old age: that as people’s minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better. In memory tests, they recall positive images better than negative; under functional magnetic resonance imaging, their brains respond more mildly to stressful images than the brains of younger people. For three years, visiting them has been a lesson in living, and a rejoinder to the myth that youth is life’s glory, after which everything is downhill. Their muscles weakened, their sight grew dim, their friends and peers gradually disappeared. But each showed a matter-of-fact resilience that would shame most 25-year-olds. Their message was so counterintuitive that it took a long time to sink in. But finally it did: If you want to be happy, learn to think like an old person. (Editor’s note: the bulk of this article is a short photo essay on each of the six elders.)


Why DARPA and NASA Are Building Robot Spacecraft Designed to Act Like Service Stations on Orbit – (Washington Post – December 31, 2017)
There’s a graveyard in space littered with the corpses of dozens of dead satellites, a remote spot in the cosmos reserved to entomb spacecraft at the end of their lives. Even the most robust and expensive satellites eventually break down or run out of fuel and must be retired to a remote parking orbit more than 22,000 miles away, safely out of the way of other satellites. There, the graveyard holds billions of dollars' worth of some of the most expensive hardware ever to leave Earth — not just commercial communications satellites but some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive assets, used for spying, guiding bombs and warning against missile launches. Now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), NASA and others, are developing technologies that would extend the life of the critical infrastructure in space, preventing satellites from being shipped to the graveyard for years. If successful, the agencies would have fleets of robots with arms and cameras that could inspect, refuel and repair satellites, keeping them operational well beyond their expected lifetimes. The spacecraft might even upgrade the satellites they service with the latest technology, like an iPhone update. Everything that we now do on Earth we will eventually do on-orbit,” said Richard White, president of SSL Government Systems, which is working with DARPA on the program. “The satellite-manufacturing facility of the future could be located in space.” DARPA’s program to service satellites comes at a time when the Pentagon is increasingly worried about, and planning for, war in space. Citing the advancements of Russia and China, the White House’s recently released National Security Strategy cited space as one of the Pentagon’s top priorities and issued this warning: “Any harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital U.S. interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.”

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program – (New York Times – December 16, 2017)
In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find. Which was how the Pentagon wanted it. For years, the program investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times. It was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, deep within the building’s maze. The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties. Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004. See also: Why I Believe in UFOs and You Should Too


Why Millennials Are Facing the Scariest Financial Future of Any Generation Since the Great Depression – (Huffington Post – December, 2017)
(Scroll down past the opening moving graphic as soon as you have seen enough of it.) The touchstone experience of millennials, the thing that truly defines us, is not helicopter parenting or unpaid internships or Pokémon Go. It is uncertainty. In 2007, more than 50% of college graduates had a job offer lined up. For the class of 2009, fewer than 20% of them did. According to a 2010 study, every 1% uptick in the unemployment rate the year you graduate college means a 6% - 8% drop in your starting salary—a disadvantage that can linger for decades. The same study found that workers who graduated during the 1981 recession were still making less than their counterparts who graduated 10 years later. “Every recession,” Spriggs says, “creates these cohorts that never recover.” The decline of the decent job has its primary origins in the 1970s, with a million little changes the boomers barely noticed. The Federal Reserve cracked down on inflation. Companies started paying executives in stock options. Pension funds invested in riskier assets. The cumulative result was money pouring into the stock market like jet fuel. Between 1960 and 2013, the average time that investors held stocks before flipping them went from eight years to around four months. (Editor’s note: This entire article is graphically presented: there is no massed body of text, per se. For that reason alone, it’s interesting. Not to mention: the content is well worth your time.)


James Risen's Stunning Inside Story – (ZeroHedge – January 3, 2018)
During his extended tenure working for the New York Times, James Risen became a legend in the world of investigative and national security journalism: Risen broke some of the most important stories of the post 9/11 era, from the warrantless surveillance against Americans conducted under the Bush-Cheney administration, to black prison sites run by the CIA, to failed covert actions in Iran, stories for which Risen won the Pulitzer among other awards. But what Risen is perhaps most famous for, is fighting a battle under both the Bush and Obama administrations as they demanded — under threat of imprisonment —the name of one of Risen’s alleged confidential sources. In the end, Risen prevailed and refused to testify and he was not locked up. But during the course of his case, there were rulings that could have far reaching implications for journalists. Risen is now a senior national security correspondent at The Intercept where his incredible inside story has now been published. The article presents some excerpts from "My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror". (Editor’s note: The excerpts are extensive, filled with enough details that a rushed reading winds up being more confusing than revealing. But if you have wondered how much independence the main stream media outlets actually have, this will clearly answer your questions. As lengthy as this article is, we recommend it.)

Global Networks Are Necessary to Overcome Abusive Governments and Oligarchy – (Liberty Blitzkrieg – January 11, 2018)
What history has shown is that the typical response to a small group of crooked elites seizing all money and power is to launch a violent revolt that merely empowers another small group who said all the right things during their crusade, but then act as viciously and unethically as those they replaced once in power. This situation can and should be avoided at all costs. The idea isn’t to swap one group of rulers for another. We need to think about building a world defined by networks governed by rules, but with no rulers. Indeed, this is the greatest lesson Bitcoin has shown to the world. It is a global network/community of people who have voluntarily opted into an alternative monetary system with no one in charge. Let me repeat that again, nobody is in charge. Bitcoin’s governance can be best described as anarchy, and it’s precisely this structure that appeals to so many. It’s a voluntary system governed by rules, but there are no rulers. There are key influencers and people whose opinions matter to the direction of the project, but these people have no official position, and their influence can disappear as quickly as it rose. It may not be clean and pretty, but it’s the way I think governance ought to work. Another significant and potent lesson we can learn from the success of Bitcoin is the global community that’s been built around it. This global network helps people understand how connected we are as human beings. That we have infinitely more in common with each other than the corrupt governments and sleazy oligarchs who rule our respective nation-states. It’s a very valuable lesson that “we the people” on a global level need to internalize if we’re to overcome the centralized hierarchies that dominate human affairs on earth at this time.

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

Miami Beach's Museum of Ice Cream Fined for Plastic Pollution from Sprinkle Pool – (Dezeen – January 11, 2018)
The city of Miami Beach has fined the organizers of an Instagrammable ice cream-themed museum $3,000 for environmental damage, after remnants of its plastic sprinkle ball pit were found littering the streets and feared heading into the ocean. The pool of colorful plastic pieces that visitors can plunge into is among the main attractions of the Museum of Ice Cream, a pop-up interactive art exhibit that opened in Miami Beach's Faena District last month. As the plastic parts fill paving cracks and clutter storm drains, concerns were also raised that they will be washed into the sea when it rains. Once in the water, the sprinkles won't be able to degrade and could cause harm to sea life or birds. The organizers of the ice-cream-themed exhibit said they were taking the issue seriously. Their plans include developing a biodegradable sprinkle for the pool, and hiring cleaners to sweep up around the museum all day with "extra attention to the waterway entrance". Large blowers will also be used to blast off any sprinkles attached to visitor clothing. The sprinkles will then be collected and vacuumed up.


Artist Builds High-Tech Robots & Has Them Destroy Each Other - (Artsy - January 8, 2018)
“I love wasting technology,” Mark Pauline says. “I love it when you take something that’s really practical and do something ridiculous with it.” We’re standing in the middle of Marlborough Contemporary, a white cube gallery in New York’s Chelsea district that has suddenly been converted into what appears to be a near-future auto repair shop. The heady tang of gasoline and grease fills the air. A crew of assistants is performing last-minute surgery on a variety of large-scale machines—inspecting welds, checking voltages—and Pauline roves around the space, the crew-cutted foreman overseeing this high-tech madness. Nothing here resembles a contemporary art exhibition, but Pauline isn’t really in the contemporary art business. He’s the founder of something called Survival Research Laboratories (SRL), an outfit he launched in 1978 with the intent of creating chaotic live performances featuring remote-controlled robotic creatures. Or, as he bills them, “dangerous and disturbing mechanical presentations.” SRL’s exhibition at Marlborough Contemporary (which bears the unwieldy title “Inconsiderate fantasies of negative acceleration characterized by sacrifices of a non-consensual nature”) will have plenty of the machine-on-machine violence that the group has become known for. A typical SRL creation stomps and shudders on metal legs, perhaps while unleashing thick tongues of flame; others have been programmed to wield bats and stab things. Their public appearances are orgiastic celebrations of fire and noise in which things are broken, intentionally or otherwise. Shoehorned into the normally polite context of a gallery, SRL promises something different, and perhaps uncomfortable.


The future started yesterday and we are already late. -- from John Legend's "If You're Out There"

A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, David Townsend, 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

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