FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT--
- A quantum experiment suggests there’s no such thing as objective reality.
- Straws made of seaweed could soon replace single-use plastic straws.
- It has been estimated that the world will have nearly 19 billion internet-connected “things” by next year.
- An “artificial sun” designed to mimic the nuclear fusion process the real Sun uses to generate energy has hit a milestone by achieving an electron temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius, 7 times hotter than the actual Sun.
by John L. Petersen
Dream Detective Who Notified US Government About 9/11 Two Weeks Before The Event Coming to TransitionTalks
There’s only one person in the world who started dreaming about the 9/11 attack six months before it happened . . . and notified the US embassy in London of the impending disaster two weeks before that fateful day.
The Americans didn’t listen, but they should have. For Christopher Robinson was the man that British Intelligence and Scotland Yard depended on to dream about the future and notify them of upcoming IRA bombing plans. They depended on Chris because he never missed telling them when and where an upcoming attack would take place. He has anticipated plane crashes days before the event, found deceased crime victims, found missing persons that the police couldn’t locate (and told me in the morning, with extraordinary accuracy, what was going to happen in that afternoon)!
Chris’s amazing ability to dream about the future in terms that can be reliably translated into people, times, places and activities has been the subject of books, major university scientific studies, films, articles, TV shows and just about all forms of media.
He has taught many people how to dream about the future and, through his advanced intuitive capabilities, helped thousands to understand how to deal with seemingly impossible personal situations. He is also a healer, having on numerous occasions led people with supposedly terminal conditions to eliminate those issues and return to a healthy life.
There is no one in the world that has the fascinating background (undercover police work, etc.), coupled with the amazing personal gifts that Chris does and he’s coming from London especially to be with us to tell his story, explain his dreaming technique, demonstrate his healing modality and tell us what he thinks is on the horizon, in one very memorable Saturday afternoon on April 27th in Berkeley Springs.
As an added bonus, Chris will be available for personal consultations on Sunday the 28th. You can find complete information at www.transitiontalks.org.
Here’s a video about Chris that will give you a taste of this extraordinary man.
Come to Berkeley Springs on Saturday, the 27th of April to hear Christopher Robinson and stay around for the reception afterwards to meet him personally. Get the complete details at TransitionTalks.org.
How Do You Know What’s True?
Eighteen years ago I wrote a book review for a scientific journal about the fascinating book, The Missing Times: News Media Complicity In the UFO Cover-up. I stumbled onto it again the other day and found it particularly timely. You may find it of interest.
A couple of months ago there were some new findings in science that repealed a physical law that I had been taught was universal in engineering school. It was the way reality always worked. That event was a reminder that all of the things that we take for granted in science are only temporary assumptions about how physical reality works-always subject to new discoveries and theories that will surely come in the future. That is, unless we think that in some area we have struck immutable truth and there is nothing more possible to learn about a particular subject. (Some scientists act that way, but I don't think humanity has yet "arrived.")
Our understanding of reality may be conditional in science, but we bet on it in the short run, assuming that what we believe is true. It's great to believe we know what we think we know. It provides stability, sanity, authority, employment and even uninterrupted sleep at night. If everything (or even a significant portion) of what we are told by others is suspect, well, then it starts to be like the Matrix, or the Soviet Union in the early 80s, where nobody believed the media, rumors carried the day, and everyone had so lost faith in the government that they became expert at reading between the lines, three levels deep, to try to figure out what really was happening at any distance greater than one's personal line-of-sight. Very socially corrosive.
Fortunately, that isn't the case in the U.S. Here, an independent press balances the government's penchant for secrecy and, on balance, Americans have a pretty good idea of what is going on. Right?
Well, if you believe Terry Hansen, the answer is: it depends. It depends on whether the government really wants you to know about something or not. If not, there is a longstanding sweetheart relationship with the media in this country that conspires to only report the government story.
Farfetched? Another crazy conspiracy theory? You should read this book. (read more . . .)
Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers |
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
The Massacre in New Zealand Was Made to Go Viral – (New York Times – March 15, 2019)
A gunman strapped on a helmet camera, loaded his car with weapons, drove to a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and began shooting at anyone who came into his line of vision. The act of mass terror was broadcast live for the world to watch on social media. A 17-minute video of a portion of the attack leapt across the internet faster than social media censors could remove it. Though platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube scrambled to take down the recording and an accompanying manifesto apparently from the gunman, they were no match for the speed of their users; new artificial-intelligence tools created to scrub such platforms of terrorist content could not defeat human cunning and the impulse to gawk. In minutes, the video was downloaded and mirrored onto additional platforms where it ricocheted around the globe. This may be our new reality. Not only has conspiratorial hate spread from the internet to real life, it’s also weaponized to go viral.
Valve Removes Over 100 Steam Tributes to Suspected New Zealand Shooter – (Kotaku – March 15, 2019)
The gaming platform Steam has cracked down on over 100 profiles memorializing the suspected shooter behind the recent tragic mosque shooting in New Zealand. Until shortly before this article’s publication (on the day of the event), dozens of users of the PC gaming service were blatantly offering tribute to the alleged writer behind a white supremacist manifesto that takes responsibility for the New Zealand shooting. These profiles tended to appropriate the suspected killer’s name and image. In addition to nearly 100 pages that referred to or venerated the suspected New Zealand shooter, hundreds of pages continue to nod toward past mass shooters including perpetrators of massacres in Charleston, Isla Vista and Parkland and of the 2011 mass killing in Norway. These profiles also appropriate these terrorists’ names and images, sometimes their mugshots or press images from their trial. Many have been live for months or years. 45 profiles referencing the Charleston shooter’s name remain live, including four created near the date of the 2015 attack. The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Steam acted as home for 173 groups “that blatantly venerate past school shooters,” including some described as “A group for all my fellow shooters” and “School Shooters are Heroes.” Valve, the company behind Steam, has traditionally taken a hands-off approach toward moderating the content of games, groups and users’ pages that their platform hosts, which is what makes this moderation effort noteworthy. Yet Kotaku reported late 2018 that Steam was quietly removing some of the hate groups hosted on it. As of earlier this year, Steam hosted 90 million monthly users—a behemoth moderation task. “It’s very hard to speculate about why people do things on the internet. Internet culture tends to be steeped in irony and satire,” said Alice Marwick, an assistant professor of communications at UNC Chapel Hill, where she studies extremist content on social media. “With that being said, a lot of the time this kind of irony and satire does cloak genuine hatred… Even if you’re not emulating their actions, you’re emulating their belief system.”
Experiment Suggests Some Humans Can Sense Earth’s Magnetic Field – (GizModo – March 18, 2019)
The ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field—a trait known as magnetoreception—is well documented among many animals, but researchers have struggled to show that humans are also capable of the feat. Until now. New experimental evidence published today in the science journal eNeuro suggests the human brain is capable of responding to the Earth’s magnetic field, though at an unconscious level. It’s not clear if our apparent ability to sense the magnetic field is in any way useful, as it’s likely a vestigial trait left over from our more primitive past. Giving the new finding, however, researchers should investigate further to determine if magnetoreception is somehow contributing to our behavior or abilities, such as spatial orientation. To test whether the human brain is capable of magnetoreception, and to do so in a reliable, believable manner, Caltech geophysicist Joseph Kirschvink and neuroscientist Shin Shimojo set up a rather elaborate experiment involving a chamber specially designed to filter out any extraneous interference that might influence the results. Article offers detailed explanation of research design.
A Quantum Experiment Suggests There’s No Such Thing as Objective Reality – (Technology Review – March 12, 2019)
In 1961, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Eugene Wigner outlined a thought experiment that demonstrated one of the lesser-known paradoxes of quantum mechanics. The experiment shows how the strange nature of the universe allows two observers—say, Wigner and Wigner’s friend—to experience different realities. Since then, physicists have used the “Wigner’s Friend” thought experiment to explore the nature of measurement and to argue over whether objective facts can exist. That’s important because scientists carry out experiments to establish objective facts. But if they experience different realities, the argument goes, how can they agree on what these facts might be? However, recent advances in quantum technologies have made it possible to reproduce the Wigner’s Friend test in a real experiment. In other words, it ought to be possible to create different realities and compare them in the lab to find out whether they can be reconciled. And now, Massimiliano Proietti at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and a few colleagues say they have performed this experiment for the first time: they have created different realities and compared them. Their conclusion is that Wigner was correct—these realities can be made irreconcilable so that it is impossible to agree on objective facts about an experiment. Article explains the experiment.
We Just Got More Evidence That Sound Waves Really Do Carry Mass – (Science Alert – March 7, 2019)
Traditionally when we think of sound waves, we think of invisible vibrations moving weightless through the air - not carrying any mass. That might be about to change. Physicists have just provided further evidence that particles of sound really can carry tiny amounts of mass. And that means they can produce their own gravitational fields - which could be a big deal for our understanding of space. Last year, physicist Alberto Nicolis from Columbia University in New York worked with a colleague from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to investigate how different waves decay and scatter in a super cold fluid of helium. Not only did they show that sounds can actually generate a non-zero value for mass, but they might also weirdly 'float' along gravitational fields in an anti-gravity sense. This might not make much difference for relatively quiet booms and squeaks on Earth, but for the star-quaking roars that pulse through dense objects like neutron stars, interactions between massive sound waves and gravity could be important. Nicolis has now used a different set of techniques to show that sounds have mass inside ordinary fluids and solids, and even create their own faint gravitational field. Their new conclusion contradicts views that phonons are massless. Their movements don't just respond to a gravitational field in strange ways, but are a source of a field in their own right. In a Newtonian sense, this is the very definition of mass.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
With Single Gene Insertion, Blind Mice Regain Sight – (Berkeley News – March 15, 2019)
University of California, Berkeley, scientists inserted a gene for a green-light receptor into the eyes of blind mice and, a month later, they were navigating around obstacles as easily as mice with no vision problems. They were able to see motion, brightness changes over a thousandfold range and fine detail on an iPad sufficient to distinguish letters. The researchers say that, within as little as three years, the gene therapy — delivered via an inactivated virus — could be tried in humans who’ve lost sight because of retinal degeneration, ideally giving them enough vision to move around and potentially restoring their ability to read or watch video. “To the limits that we can test the mice, you can’t tell the optogenetically-treated mice’s behavior from the normal mice without special equipment,” Flannery said. “It remains to be seen what that translates to in a patient.” In mice, the researchers were able to deliver the opsins to most of the ganglion cells in the retina. To treat humans, they would need to inject many more virus particles because the human eye contains thousands of times more ganglion cells than the mouse eye. But the UC Berkeley team has developed the means to enhance viral delivery and hopes to insert the new light sensor into a similarly high percentage of ganglion cells, an amount equivalent to the very high pixel numbers in a camera.
Scientists Clear Alzheimer's Plaque from Mice Using Only Light and Sound – (Science Alert – March 15, 2019)
Clumps of harmful proteins that interfere with brain functions have been partially cleared in mice using nothing but light and sound. Research led by MIT has found strobe lights and a low pitched buzz can be used to recreate brain waves lost in the disease, which in turn remove plaque and improve cognitive function in mice engineered to display Alzheimer's-like behavior. Advancing a previous study that showed flashing light 40 times a second into the eyes of engineered mice treated their version of Alzheimer's disease, researchers added sound of a similar frequency and found it dramatically improved their results. "When we combine visual and auditory stimulation for a week, we see the engagement of the prefrontal cortex and a very dramatic reduction of amyloid," says Li-Huei Tsai, one of the researchers from MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. Previous studies showed bursts of ultrasound make blood vessels leaky enough to allow powerful treatments to slip into the brain, while also encouraging the nervous system's waste-removal experts, microglia, to pick up the pace. This technique hasn't been clinically trialed in humans as yet, so it's too soon to get excited - brain waves are known to work differently in humans and mice. But, if replicated, these early results hint at a possible cheap and drug-free way to treat the common form of dementia.
As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling – (NY Times – March 17, 2019)
Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country. Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it. Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases. Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions. With fewer buyers, recycling companies are recouping their lost profits by charging cities more, in some cases four times what they charged last year. Amid the soaring costs, cities and towns are making hard choices about whether to raise taxes, cut other municipal services or abandon an effort that took hold during the environmental movement of the 1970s. The troubles with recycling have amplified calls for limiting waste at its source. Perhaps counterintuitively, the big winners appear to be the nation’s largest recyclers, like Waste Management and Republic Services, which are also large trash collectors and landfill owners. For more specific details on the practical issues involved, see also: Is This the End of Recycling?.
Seaweed Straws Could Soon Replace Single-use Plastic Straws – (Nation of Change – March 15, 2019)
While pressure continues to mount for the elimination of single-use plastic, many companies have switched to paper straws as an alternative, “which cost three times as much to produce as their plastic counterparts and require tree-based resources,” EcoWatch reported. In an effort to phase-out single-use plastic straws and curb the effects that plastics have on climate change, one company has come up with an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic straws. The startup company, Loliware, recently developed a straw made from seaweed. In a Kickstarter-funded project, the company made “the gluten-free, non-GMO, sugar-free marine degradable straws” that “can withstand 18 hours of continuous use,” EcoWatch reported. The project has exceeded its initial goal by more than $20,000 and has close to 1,100 supporters. The sustainable seaweed straws come from “a regenerative resource capable of sequestering carbon dioxide in an effort to curb the effects of climate change”, the developers said in a statement. The straws have a shelf life of 24 months, take 60 days or less to break down – the same as food waste – and are edible.
The Internet Knows You Better Than Your Spouse Does – (Scientific American – March 14, 2019)
Automated psychological assessments are becoming a part of the digital landscape. How many ways they will ultimately be used remains to be seen. In 2015 David Stillwell and Youyou Wu, both at the University of Cambridge, and Michal Kosinski of Stanford University demonstrated that algorithms can evaluate what psychologists call the Big Five dimensions of personality quite accurately just by examining a Facebook user’s likes. These dimensions—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism—are viewed as representing the basic dimensions of personality. The degree to which they are present in individuals describes who those people are. The researchers trained their algorithm using data from more than 70,000 Facebook users. All the participants had earlier filled out a personality questionnaire, and so their Big Five profile was known. The computer then went through the Facebook accounts of these test subjects looking for likes that are often associated with certain personality characteristics. If the software had as few as 10 for analysis, it was able to evaluate that person about as well as a co-worker did. Given 70 likes, the algorithm was about as accurate as a friend. With 300, it was more successful than the person’s spouse. But Facebook is just the beginning. In early 2018 four programmers at a hacker conference, nwHacks, introduced an app that discerns mood by analyzing face-tracking data captured from the front camera of the iPhone X. The app, called Loki, recognizes emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and surprise in real time as someone looks at a news feed, and it delivers content based on the person’s emotional state. In an article about Loki, one of the developers said that he and his colleagues created the app to “illustrate the plausibility of social media platforms tracking user emotions to manipulate the content that gets shown to them.” (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.)
Scientists Invent Ingenious Emission-Free System to Bottle Solar Energy in the Summer to Save for Winter – (Good News Network – February 4, 2019)
One year ago, a research group from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden presented a special kind of molecule that was capable of retaining energy harnessed from solar panels. The Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage (MOST) uses existing technologies to turn thermal energy and water into steam, which can then be turned into electrical energy. By using their specially-designed liquid to store energy from the sun, the system is also entirely non-toxic and reusable for hundreds of cycles. First, the liquid captures energy from sunlight in a solar thermal collector on the roof of a building. Then it is stored at room temperature, leading to minimal energy losses. When the energy is needed, it can be drawn through the catalyst so that the liquid heats up. The warmth could then be utilized in, for example, domestic heating systems, after which the liquid can be sent back up to the roof to collect more energy – all completely free of emissions, and without damaging the molecule. The amount of energy stored by the fuel is nothing short of extraordinary. The most effective variant of the fuel can hold up to 250 watt hours of energy per kilogram – which is twice as much energy stored by Tesla’s Powerwall batteries. With recent advances, the first sustainable solar-powered storage system is poised for commercial release within the next 10 years.
China: New “Artificial Sun” Will Be Completed This Year – (Futurism – March 7, 2019)
In November, Chinese researchers announced that the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor — an “artificial sun” designed to mimic the nuclear fusion process the real Sun uses to generate energy — had hit a milestone by achieving an electron temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius. Achieving an ion temperature above 100 million C is one of the three challenges to reach the goal of harnessing the nuclear fusion, and the core of the sun is widely believed to be 15 million C, meaning that the ion at the device's core will be seven times higher than that of the Sun. Now, officials are saying they believe they’ll wrap up construction on a new artificial sun this year — putting us one step closer to harnessing the power of nuclear fusion.
Nike’s Self-lacing Shoes Are a Lesson in the Internet of Things – (Daily Herald – March 16, 2019)
Nike’s most advanced kicks have been turning into bricks. Blame the Internet. Last month, Nike began selling shoes that lace themselves. The $350 Adapt BB shoes wirelessly connect to a phone to tighten and loosen with an app. But fresh out of the box, Nike’s connected shoes recommended a software update — which broke some. While software mishaps happen to every company, Nike really messed up. There are many different phone models, and in its testing Nike didn’t realize some couldn’t maintain a Bluetooth connection well enough to apply a software update. A corrupted update wouldn’t have been lethal except for another Nike oversight: Some shoes were shipped without a “gold image” backup of the software they needed to operate. More than an embarrassment, it exposed a truth that bears repeating about the future of all sorts of products: When something connects to the Internet, you’re not really in control of it. Mike, a sneaker collector in Virginia, told me his expensive shoes were suddenly no longer even useful as shoes. The world will have nearly 19 billion connected “things” by 2020, triple the number from 2016, the Gartner research company estimates. There’s a ton at stake for our security and privacy, not to mention sanity and money. Nike says it has now fixed its shoes, but we can learn a few things about staying in control from how it bricked them in the first place. Nike’s app lets you dial in a precise fit and personalize some buttons. But they’re already planning for more: Inside the shoes, there’s also an accelerometer, gyroscope, capacitive and temperature sensor that could be unlocked with software updates to collect information about your steps, performance or — who knows. In interviews at the shoe’s launch, executives talked about the Adapt BB as an “intelligent product” or even a communications device. (Remember, this is a shoe.) Staying in our lives after a purchase gives a manufacturer new opportunities to make money, be it from our data, advertising, in-app purchases or services.
A New Device Can Hear Your Thoughts – (Medium – July 30, 2018)
Note: The title of this article is somewhat misleading, and the device is still in its infancy, but the idea is brilliant. In early April, MIT research assistant Arnav Kapur, 24, uploaded a short video on YouTube. The clip showed him moving around campus in various settings wearing a white plastic contraption wrapped around the right side of his face. Kapur came to MIT’s Media Lab from New Delhi in 2016 to build wearable devices that seamlessly integrate technology into our 24/7 experience. No more reaching for cellphones. No more staring at screens. No more eyes down. No more tuning out to plug in. Improbably, AlterEgo, the soundless, voiceless, earbud-less device he’d been working on for the last two years had become adept enough at reading his thoughts that he could use it to order an Uber without saying a word. When conceptualizing AlterEgo, Kapur based his design guidelines on a few fixed principles. The device couldn’t be invasive because he considers that inconvenient and not scalable. Interacting with it had to feel natural as well as be invisible to others, so the device had to be able to pick up silent cues. Painfully aware of the ways tech can get co-opted, he also wanted user-control baked into the design so that the device would only detect volitional, rather than subconscious, signals. In other words, it should only read your thoughts when you want it to. Kapur developed an aural feedback system through bone conduction; the device whispers answers to queries like a genius guardian angel. Once the device started picking up myoelectrical pulses, Kapur focused on developing a data set to train AlterEgo to recognize signal signatures for various words. It was a laborious process — someone had to sit in a lab wearing the device and silently speak specific words until the computer mastered them. So far, AlterEgo has a vocabulary of 100 words, including numbers from 1 to 9, and commands like add, subtract, reply, call.
Researchers Discover Sustainable and Natural Alternative to Man-made Chemical Pesticides – (PhysOrg – March 4, 2019)
Repurposing a strain of beneficial bacteria could offer a safe, sustainable and natural alternative to man-made chemical pesticides, according to research from Cardiff University. Using genomic techniques, the team of researchers discovered that Burkholderia ambifaria bacteria have the potential to be used as biopesticides that are both effective and safe. Biopesticides offer a natural means of protection and the group of bacteria called Burkholderia have been successfully used to protect crops against diseases. However, in the 1990s, Burkholderia bacteria were linked to serious lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis (CF), leading to concerns about their safety and eventual withdrawal of these biopesticides from the market. "I have been working with Burkholderia for many years, primarily in relation to CF lung infections, which in turn led to a new line of antibiotic discovery research," explained Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam, lead researcher on the project, from Cardiff University's School of Biosciences. "Working with plant scientist, Professor Jim Murray, Head of the School of Biosciences, and Doctoral Training Partnership student, Alex Mullins, we decided to take this research in a new direction, investigating Burkholderia-plant interactions and how they protect plants against disease. "By sequencing the genomic DNA of the bacteria, we were able to identify Burkholderia's antibiotic-making gene, Cepacin. Further testing demonstrated that Cepacin offered highly effective protection against damping off—a horticultural disease caused by a fungus-like organism." Using genetic engineering techniques similar to those used to produce live vaccines, the researchers are also exploring how to improve the safety of the bacteria.
Government Warns of Historic, Widespread Flooding “Through May” – Food Prices to Skyrocket As 1000s of Farms Are Destroyed – (Activist Post – March 22, 2019)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned that “historic, widespread flooding” would “continue through May”. More than 90% of the upper Midwest and Great Plains is currently covered by an average of 10.7 inches of snow, and all of that snow is starting to melt. That means that we are going to transition from one of the worst winters in modern history to a flood season that has already taken an apocalyptic turn for farmers all across America. At this moment, millions of acres of farmland are already underwater. Thousands of farmers are not going to be able to plant crops this year, and thousands of other farmers that have been financially ruined by the floods will never return to farming again. Millions of bushels of wheat, corn and soybeans have been destroyed by flood waters, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of livestock have been lost, and all of us will soon be feeling a lot more pain at the grocery store. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk,” Ed Clark, director of the NOAA National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said in the agency’s spring outlook. The amount of food that has just been lost is absolutely staggering. Due to the trade war, farmers were storing more wheat, corn and soybeans than ever before, and now the floodwaters have destroyed much of what had been stored. As prices plummeted last year amid the ongoing trade fight, growers, faced with selling crops at a loss, stuffed a historic volume of grain into winding plastic tubes and steel bins. Some cash-strapped families piled crops inside their barns or outside on the ground. Farmers say they are now finding storage bags torn and bins burst open, grain washed away or contaminated. Jeff Jorgenson, a farmer and regional director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he has seen at least a dozen bins that burst after grains swelled when they became wet.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
A New Age of Warfare: How Internet Mercenaries Do Battle for Authoritarian Governments – (New York Times – March 21, 2019)
The man in charge of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless campaign to stifle dissent went searching for ways to spy on people he saw as threats to the kingdom. He knew where to go: a secretive Israeli company, NSO Group, offering technology developed by former intelligence operatives. The Saudi government’s reliance on a firm from Israel, an adversary for decades, offers a glimpse of a new age of digital warfare and spies for hire, governed by few rules in a growing sector now valued at $12 billion. Today even the smallest countries can buy digital espionage services, enabling them to conduct sophisticated operations like electronic eavesdropping or influence campaigns that were once the preserve of major powers. Corporations that want to scrutinize competitors’ secrets, or a wealthy individual with a beef against a rival, can also command intelligence operations for a price, akin to purchasing off-the-shelf elements of the National Security Agency or the Mossad. NSO and a competitor, the Emirati firm DarkMatter, exemplify the proliferation of privatized spying. The Middle East is the epicenter of this new era of privatized spying. Besides DarkMatter and NSO, there is Black Cube, a private company run by former Mossad and Israeli military intelligence operatives that gained notoriety after Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul, hired it to dig up dirt on his accusers. Psy-Group, an Israeli company specializing in social media manipulation, worked for Russian oligarchs and in 2016 pitched the Trump campaign on a plan to build an online army of bots and avatars to swing Republican delegate votes. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Eight Years of Corrosive Lies about Syria – (National Review – March 21, 2019)
A recent story about Syria in the Wall Street Journal, suggested that the United States may leave 1,000 troops in that country after all. The president, if you’ll remember, announced a complete withdrawal of troops from Syria months ago. Then, weeks later the White House announced that a small force of 200 would stay behind. Now, the Journal was reporting that it would actually be 1,000. A few hours later the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff said the original plan remained unchanged. At that point, I (the author of this article) realized that I no longer knew what to believe. Consider three assertions routinely made about Syria by pundits, politicians, and policymakers: 1) Syria shows the perils of U.S. non-intervention; 2) We’re only in Syria to fight ISIS; and 3) U.S. withdrawal from Syria would mean handing a victory to Vladimir Putin. All of the above statements have become conventional wisdom. The same people sometimes repeat more than one of them. And yet they are entirely irreconcilable with one another. If withdrawing from Syria means handing a victory to Vladimir Putin, then we are doing something other than fighting ISIS there, something that certainly can’t be described as “non-intervention.” One fact I do know: The CIA began the U.S. mission in the Syrian Civil War years before ISIS came into being, and a full year before President Obama began talking up his red lines and proposing a congressional vote to authorize intervention in Syria. Another fact: We were told that we were arming “moderate rebels,” but these moderate rebels fought side by side with Al Nusra. And Al Nusra fighters were often known to be using weapons brought in by the CIA or the Department of Defense to fight this war in which we weren’t intervening. We also funded a group called Nour al-Din al-Zenki, until its members showed up on YouTube beheading a child, at which point the “moderate” label no longer quite fit. Congress, looking at the polls, refused to authorize U.S. military intervention in Syria, which was already ongoing. So did the intervention stop? No, it continued under the 2001 AUMF that authorized the president to make war on al-Qaeda. We were now using the legal authority to hunt and destroy al-Qaeda to fund and arm al-Qaeda’s allies on the ground in Syria. The article’s list of irreconcilable inconsistencies goes on.
Trump Admin to Ban Entry of International Criminal Court Investigators – (NBC News – March 15, 2019)
The United States will repeal or deny visas to International Criminal Court staff seeking to investigate Americans in Afghanistan or elsewhere and may take similar action to protect Israelis or other allied forces from prosecution, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation," Pompeo said. The unprecedented move came amid a pending request by the ICC prosecutor's office to open a probe into possible war crimes by Afghan or U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and after national security adviser John Bolton, a vehement critic of the court, threatened punitive action in September. The visa restrictions are "a part of the continued effort to convince the ICC to change course with its potential investigation and potential prosecution of Americans for their activities and our allies activities in Afghanistan," Pompeo told a press conference. Pompeo added that the administration was prepared to impose visa restrictions in other cases involving allies, including Israel. "These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel including Israelis without allies consent," he said. The prosecutor for the ICC has a request pending to investigate possible war crimes in Afghanistan linked to Afghan and U.S. military and intelligence personnel, including at detention sites. A U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2014 concluded that interrogations of detainees after the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere were "brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others."
Is Ilhan Omar Cynthia McKinney 2.0? – Will the Zionist Parasite Be Purged from the USA This Time? – (Philbetaiota – February 18, 2019)
There have been two major events in the US Congress recently that bring to the fore the long-festering matter of whether the US Congress works for the US public or the foreign state of Israel. The first event was the passage in the US Senate of a bill that makes it a felony – a major crime – to call for the boycott of Israel, never mind the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. The second event was a series of truthful statements by a newly-elected Representative with respect to the genocidal apartheid behavior of the Zionist state of Israel – statements immediately condemned by every Member of Congress taking money from Israel – or being blackmailed by Israel – as “anti-Semitic.” Cynthia McKinney (today Dr. Cynthia McKinney), almost alone among all Members of Congress in her generation, refused to sign the written “AIPAC Pledge” (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) swearing loyalty to Israel. It took the Zionists twelve years to gerrymander her district out of existence and bribe everyone else in Georgia that mattered, but they finally ran her out of office. Like Representative McKinney in her time, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, domestic and foreign. She has also refused to make the now verbal pledge to AIPAC, an undeclared unregistered agent of a foreign power, Zionist Israel.
School Shooters and Drones – (Consortium News – March 15, 2019)
In the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, a teacher said the school looked “like a war zone.” I grew up in the “school-shooting era” and now work for a non-profit called ReThink Media tracking coverage of the American drone war that has been going on for 17 years. To me, the U.S. military and CIA drones that hover constantly over eight countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and regularly terrorize, maim, and kill civilians, including children, are the equivalents of the disturbed shooters in American schools. But that story is hard to find anywhere in this country. What reports Americans do read about those drone strikes usually focus on successes (a major terrorist taken out in a distant land), not the “collateral damage.” Gun violence — and school shootings in particular — have become the preeminent fear of American teenagers. A Pew poll taken last year found that 57% of teens are worried about a shooting at their school (1-in-4 are “very worried.”) As one student told Teen Vogue: “How could you not feel a little bit terrified knowing that it happens so randomly and so often?” And she’s not exaggerating. More than 150,000 students in the U.S have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress, trauma, and anxiety are commonplace emotions in countries where U.S. drones are active, just as in American communities like Parkland that have lived through a mass shooting. (Editor’s note: This article is closely reasoned and well worth reading in full.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Philadelphia Is the First US City to Ban Cashless Stores – (Engadget – March 8, 2019)
Philadephia has passed a law requiring almost all businesses to accept cash payments, effectively banning cashless stores. It comes into force July 1st, and businesses which violate it face a fine of up to $2,000. Cashless businesses can be efficient and convenient while acting as a barrier against robbers looking to steal a stack of bills. However, they can exclude people without a bank account or those who can't or don't want to load funds onto a prepaid debit card, which often charge fees. A spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney, who signed the bill into law last week, noted to the Wall Street Journal that 26% of city residents are below the poverty line. Similar legislation is under consideration in cities including New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, DC. In New Jersey, the legislature has approved a bill which now just needs Governor Phil Murphy's signature to become law. Massachusetts, meanwhile, has long required businesses to accept cash.
‘Our Whole Life is Google’: Inside the Absurd New Rush of Silicon Valley Tourism – (Daily Beast – March 15, 2019)
Tech tourism is big—thousands of people come to Silicon Valley each year from all over the world. The author of this article spoke to people from Canada, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, Colombia, Chile, Japan, the Philippines, Texas, and California on the tech campuses for this story. So what do the tourists get out of it? The tech giants are causing seismic changes the world over, but they’re not historical landmarks open to the public in the way a museum is. No matter how many times Apple calls its stores “town squares,” these are private buildings full of people on computers. They don’t offer tours. Google and Apple, which both operate visitor centers open to the public, are more friendly to tourists than the offices of YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, and Facebook, which only offer photo ops with their logos on the side of the road. But these are lifestyle brands as much as they are technology companies, and people have toured their internet sites billions of times. Instagram employees Instagram themselves at Instagram HQ, and YouTubers take pictures with that barren sign outside the office complex to post about meetings with company liaisons. A picture at a Silicon Valley company, whether you’re there for work or not, confers a preferred status of intellect and wealth. You seem to be in control, however briefly, of the architecture of the internet we all use. Apple calls its $108 million visitor center “an architectural extension of our private campus.” It’s been open since November 2017 and smells like a museum gift shop. People can buy devices, coffee, and $40 Apple-Park-branded T-shirts. The shirts, like the iPhone, are made in China. Visitors aren’t allowed into the actual Apple Park, so they’re given a substitute: a model of the huge ring, which, viewed through an iPad, jumps to life in augmented reality.
I Deleted Facebook Last Year. Here’s What Changed (and What Didn’t). – (New York Times – March 21, 2019)
This author writes: I permanently deleted my Facebook account five months ago. After being off Facebook since October, I found that I did not feel less connected and that my social life didn’t suffer, even though I was no longer seeing status updates and pictures on my News Feed. My friends and I continued making plans over email and messaging apps. So did my family. Same old, same old. There were some differences, though — including some strange experiences with online ads. Facebook has long used information that it collects on its users to target people with the most relevant ads. Without Facebook, I realized I was spending considerably less money on my usual guilty pleasure of buying clothing and cooking gadgets online because I was no longer seeing the relevant Facebook ads that egged me on to splurge. In fact, over the past five months, my online shopping purchases dropped about 43%; I didn’t miss my ‘friends’; I still connect with all of my close friends; and advertisers gave up on stalking me. (For instructions on how to shake ad targeting more thoroughly, see this previous column.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe – (Live Science – March 17, 2019)
Just look outside and you'll see all manner of strange, self-reproducing flora and fauna, crawling upon a blue ball of semimolten rock covered in a thin, hard shell and blanketed by a tenuous film of gases. Yet our own planet represents a tiny fraction of the peculiar phenomena that can be found lurking throughout the cosmos, and every day astronomers turn up new surprises. In this gallery, we take a look at some of the most outlandish objects in space. For example, the dwarf planet Haumea, which orbits in the Kuiper Belt out beyond Neptune, is already unusual. It has a strange elongated shape, two moons and a day that lasts only 4 hours, making it the fastest-spinning large object in the solar system. But in 2017, Haumea got even weirder when astronomers watched it pass in front of a star and noticed extremely thin rings orbiting around it, likely the result of a collision sometime in the distant past.
Surprising Discovery after Sifting through Solar System Dust – (SciTech Daily – March 12, 2019)
Several dust rings circle the Sun. The rings trace the orbits of planets, whose gravity tugs dust into place around the Sun, as it drifts by on its way to the center of the solar system. The dust consists of crushed-up remains from the formation of the solar system, some 4.6 billion years ago — rubble from asteroid collisions or crumbs from blazing comets. Dust is dispersed throughout the entire solar system, but it collects at grainy rings overlying the orbits of Earth and Venus, rings that can be seen with telescopes on Earth. By studying this dust — what it’s made of, where it comes from, and how it moves through space — scientists seek clues to understanding the birth of planets and the composition of all that we see in the solar system. Two recent studies report new discoveries of dust rings in the inner solar system. One study uses NASA data to outline evidence for a dust ring around the Sun at Mercury’s orbit. A second study from NASA identifies the likely source of the dust ring at Venus’ orbit: a group of never-before-detected asteroids co-orbiting with the planet. Ironically, scientists stumbled upon the dust ring while searching for evidence of a dust-free region close to the Sun. At some distance from the Sun, according to a decades-old prediction, the star’s mighty heat should vaporize dust, sweeping clean an entire stretch of space. Knowing where this boundary is can tell scientists about the composition of the dust itself, and hint at how planets formed in the young solar system. So far, no evidence has been found of dust-free space, but that’s partly because it would be difficult to detect from Earth.
The Latest Calculation of Milky Way's Mass Just Changed What We Know About Our Galaxy – (Science Alert – March 8, 2019)
We now have the most accurate measurements of the size and mass of the Milky Way ever calculated, and it's turned out to be more massive than we thought. How massive? Well, about 1.5 trillion Suns' worth of mass (solar masses), within a radius of around 129,000 light-years. That's over twice as much as previous estimates. We now have ESA's Gaia mission, a dedicated project to accurately map the Milky Way in three dimensions. It's given us the most detailed map of our home galaxy ever made. By combining Gaia data with those from Hubble Space Telescope observations, a research team has been able to infer the galaxy's size and mass based on the orbital motion of groups of stars called globular clusters, out in the galactic halo. Because dark matter can't be observed directly, we have to infer its mass based on other methods. By starting with that outer-galaxy orbital velocity, astrophysicists can work backwards to calculate the mass responsible, based on Kepler's laws of orbital motion. This is where Gaia and Hubble come in. Their combined observations over a period of 10 years have provided more accurate measurements of the orbital motion of globular clusters in the outer reaches of the Milky Way. This is how the team reached the 1.5 trillion solar masses figure. But there are only about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the galactic centre, accounts for another 4 million solar masses. And there's a bunch of dust and gas. But, around 90% of that mass is dark matter. And that is a really nifty thing to know.
What If It's Not Dark Matter Making the Universe's Extra Gravity, But Light? – (Science Alert – March 7, 2019)
Taking the research noted in the previous article one step further, astrophysicists have explored an intriguing possibility: What if it's not dark matter that's affecting galactic rotation after all? What if it's the mass of light instead? In a 1980 paper, the American astronomer Vera Rubin pretty conclusively proved something really weird about galaxies: their rims are rotating far faster than they should be. So astrophysicists hypothesized dark matter. We don't know what it is, and we can't detect it directly. But unless all our current understanding about the physical Universe (and all the data we've collected on the phenomenon is wrong), something out there is definitely making extra gravity. But a team of researchers – specifically, plasma physicist Dmitri Ryutov, who recently retired from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and Dmitry Budker and Victor Flambaum of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany – lay out an argument that light particles (photons) are at least partially the source of the phenomenon, causing an effect that isn't gravity, but behaves a lot like it. Budker said, "By assuming a certain photon mass, much smaller than the current upper limit, we can show that this mass would be sufficient to generate additional forces in a galaxy and that these forces would be roughly large enough to explain the rotation curves." Yes, it's all purely hypothetical at this point. And it's not perfect. “But it could be part of the solution," Budker said.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
10 Breakthrough Technologies 2019 – (Technology Review – February 27, 2019)
Bill Gates writes, “I was honored when MIT Technology Review invited me to be the first guest curator of its 10 Breakthrough Technologies. Narrowing down the list was difficult. I wanted to choose things that not only will create headlines in 2019 but captured this moment in technological history—which got me thinking about how innovation has evolved over time. My mind went to—of all things—the plow. Plows are an excellent embodiment of the history of innovation. Humans have been using them since 4000 BCE, when Mesopotamian farmers aerated soil with sharpened sticks. We’ve been slowly tinkering with and improving them ever since, and today’s plows are technological marvels.” This article includes an introductory essay by Gates, (with the opening section above) and a link to Bill Gates’s conversation with editor in chief Gideon Lichfield and his picks for the 10 Breakthrough Technologies.
New Cell-sized Micro Robots Might Make Incredible Journeys – (TechXplore – March 7, 2019)
Researchers have harnessed the latest nanofabrication techniques to create bug-shaped robots that are wirelessly powered, able to walk, able to survive harsh environments and tiny enough to be injected through an ordinary hypodermic needle. Marc Miskin developed the nanofabrication techniques with his colleagues professors Itai Cohen and Paul McEuen and researcher Alejandro Cortese at Cornell University while Miskin was a postdoc in the laboratory for atomic and solid state physics there. Over the course of the past several years, Miskin and research colleagues developed a multistep nanofabrication technique that turns a 4-inch specialized silicon wafer into a million microscopic robots in just weeks. Each 70 micron long (about the width of a very thin human hair), the robots' bodies are formed from a superthin rectangular skeleton of glass topped with a thin layer of silicon into which the researchers etch its electronics control components and either two or four silicon solar cells—the rudimentary equivalent of a brain and organs. The current laser power source would limit the robot's control to a fingernail-width into tissue. So Miskin is thinking about new energy sources, including ultrasound and magnetic fields, that would enable these robots to make incredible journeys in the human body for missions such as drug delivery or mapping the brain.
Why Was I Asked to Condemn Islamist Violence Days after Christchurch? - (Guardian – March 18, 2019)
Less than two days after the horror of the massacre of 50 Muslims in two mosques in New Zealand, I (Latifa Akay, the author of this article) was asked in an interview on the BBC News channel whether or not I think Muslim communities in the UK do enough to condemn Islamist extremism. Ordinarily, I would not be surprised by this. Muslims are well used to being held collectively responsible for the violent acts of anyone identifying as Muslim, or indeed with any semblance of Muslim heritage. Like many Muslims around the world, I was still reeling – feeling the heavy hollowness of the extent to which violence against Muslims is decontextualised and undermined, and worrying as we do about the safety of our loved ones and our communities. The truth is that Muslim communities are not afforded the luxury of grieving in peace. To be able to do so would disrupt an intentionally constructed belief that is critical to western states to uphold state surveillance, barbaric immigration policies and the racist governments that are seeing a resurgence across the globe. This is the belief that Muslims are dangerous, undeserving and, ultimately, disposable. Imagine if the tables were turned. If after, God forbid, an act of terror in the name of Islam, a white guest were asked (for example, by a BBC reporter) to reflect on what white people could have done differently to stop such an act of terror happening. There would have been a national outcry. (Editor’s note: We all need to understand that it is an act of (largely unconscious) racism/prejudice/bias to think that any group of people –of color, of any particular religious faith, or of any particular gender – are collectively responsible for the violent acts either done by or done to anyone identifying as a member of that group.)
Ignorance Was Bliss for the Children of the College-Admissions Scandal – (Atlantic – March 17, 2019)
Many of the students who benefited from the admissions scandal did not know about the fraud being committed for them. A high ACT score would have seemed like just another stroke of good fortune in a life full of it. Advantage, after all, is rarely noticed by the advantaged. The author of this article also attended one of the colleges named in the indictment. The news set him to wondering, How would I have known if secret forces had worked on my behalf? In deeply looking into this question he suddenly remembered that his father had also attended his alma mater. Here was something he’d overlooked, a hidden hand behind his own good fortune, silently working to transmit his parents’ economic and social station downward to him. And he realized: Perhaps less was separating him from the admissions-scandal students than he’d thought. Then he started looking even more deeply. Consider: If you attended a high-performing public high school, your parents probably did pay a premium on their house to live in the attendance zone. And what about the countless other, smaller outlays parents can make to help propel their children upward, things like test prep, sports equipment, after-school activities, travel? Even basic necessities like healthy food, medical care, or personal safety come at a financial cost. None of these expenditures are solely the province of the very wealthy, but nor are they guaranteed, and each serves as a little investment in the future, giving children a small leg up on peers who do not receive the same. The lesson here is that in a society stratified from top to bottom by race and wealth, privilege can’t be understood as something held exclusively by the richest 1%, or even the richest 10%, to the detriment of all others. Because of that, there is often no indicting the meritocracy without indicting oneself. One might even begin to wonder whether the real fraud is the idea of merit in the first place.
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.
The Human Cost of Insulin in America – (BBC News – March 14, 2019)
This is the list of what Laura Marston has sacrificed to keep herself alive: Her car, her furniture, her apartment, her retirement fund, her dog. At 36 years old, she has already sold all of her possessions twice to afford the insulin her body needs every day. Insulin is not like other drugs. It's a natural hormone that controls our blood sugar levels - too high causes vision loss, confusion, nausea, and eventually, organ failure; too low leads to heart irregularities, mood swings, seizures, loss of consciousness. For most of us, our bodies produce insulin naturally. But for Type 1 (T1) diabetics like Ms. Marston, insulin comes in clear glass vials, handed over the pharmacy counter each month - if they can afford it. One vial of the insulin Ms. Marston uses now costs $275 without health insurance. There are any number of reasons why someone might still be uninsured in America - if they don't qualify for employer-sponsored insurance or lose their job like Ms. Marston had, for example, or if they cannot afford to pay for a plan on their own. In 1923, the inventors of insulin sold its patent for $1, hoping the low price would keep the essential treatment available to everyone who needed it. Now, retail prices in the US are around the $300 range for all insulins from the three major brands that control the market. Even accounting for inflation, that's a price increase of over 1,000%. At the heart of the issue is the complex mystery around who pays what for insulin in the US. This article unpacks that mystery.
Big Pharma’s Go-To Defense of Soaring Drug Prices Doesn’t Add Up – (Atlantic – March 23, 2019)
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that Americans spent more than $460 billion on drugs—16.7% of total health-care spending—in 2016, the last year for which there are definitive data. On average, citizens of other rich countries spend 56% of what Americans spend on the exact same drug. Yet every time Congress debates doing something about drug prices, the industry—and the advocacy groups it funds—vociferously returns to the point that lower prices will thwart innovative research. The most telling data on a disconnect between drug prices and research costs have received almost no public attention. Peter Bach, a researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and his colleagues compared the prices of the top 20 best-selling drugs in the United States with the prices in Europe and Canada. They found that the cumulative revenue from the price difference on just these 20 drugs more than covers all the drug research and development costs conducted by all the drug companies throughout the world—and then some. To be more precise, after accounting for the costs of all research—about $80 billion a year—drug companies had $40 billion more from the top 20 drugs alone. And more profit comes from the next 100 or 200 brand-name drugs. If you watch television, you know part of the answer to where this extra money is going: sales and advertising. Of the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies, only one spends more on research than on marketing its products.
JUST FOR FUN
Antarctica Anomalies Documentary: There is Definitely Something under the Ice – (YouTube – September 5, 2018)
There is a huge magnetic anomaly in Antarctica, on the east coast of Lake Vostok's shoreline. Not to mention: there is a huge, fresh water lake undisturbed for at least 13,000 years under roughly two miles of ice right there – a lake with a temperature between 55 and 65 degrees. So clearly there is some heat source maintaining the water temperature. What that heat source might be is unknown. (Editor’s note: This is a situation ripe for all sorts of theories. Repeat: All sorts. Leaving aside the hypotheses, the facts and the footage of the research facilities on Antarctica alone are pretty interesting.)
A FINAL QUOTE
I speak the truth not so much as I would, but as much as I dare: and I dare a little more as I grow older. – Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592, one of the most influential writers of the Renaissance)
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Bobbie Rohn, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen