FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT--
- Bumblebees have learned to hack plants to stimulate faster flower growth.
- New plant-based bottles will degrade in a year.
- Criminals made around $16.9 billion from identity fraud last year.
- Retailers are redesigning the shopping experience for a Purell-enhanced grab-and-go future.
by John L. Petersen
The further we get into this coronavirus “crisis”, the more complicated and manufactured it becomes. I did a video early on about this trend called Coronavirus: It’s an Op!, which looked at the fundamental mismatch between what was being said by the CDC and WHO and the press, and the reality that could be demonstrated “on the ground”. This incongruity gave all of the signals of the whole thing being contrived and managed, to a significant degree. The media have been essentially irresponsible, overblowing what was really happening and spinning everything such that the most fear was generated – even after all of the trends said that the initial projections were wildly erroneous and that the initial response by the medical community was proven, in many cases relating to the use of ventilators, to be absolutely wrong and harmful.
We are now to the place where Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the policy group in the White House, has said that the case fatality rate could be considerably less than 1%, the CDC has formally shown that the number of deaths from CV19 are no worse than that from the annual flu that shows up every fall, and that there is the no reason for people to be wearing masks . . . and that the negative effects of the economy being shut down could well be worse than the coronavirus.
Oh, and origins of the social distancing business that has convinced most people that every other human is a potential dire threat to his or her health – was literally the result of a science project produced by a sophomore in high school who won a science contest, but whose father had connections in Washington and pitched the ideas to the Department of Homeland Security. No one seems to have checked about whether her ideas made sense compared to many decades of epidemiological research . . . which, by the way, shows that distancing makes no sense. Nevertheless, people continue to be so frightened, that governors, commissioners and shopkeepers are still making it illegal to conduct common business without wearing a mask.
All of the indicators point to the covid being primarily a disease of elderly people.
You might say that all of this irrationality is due to the ineffectiveness of the system – the kinds of stuff you always find within bureaucracies and governments. Turns out not to be true. There are many, proven examples of conflicts of interest, pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and vaccine business; the amazing, broad-based influence of Bill Gates and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation driving the message that everyone – in the world – needs to be tested and vaccinated against the covid 19.
Here’s a great example, told by one of Britain’s most distinguished medical writers.
Coronavirus: How they deliberately terrified us
London’s Sunday Time’s bestselling author Vernon Coleman has written over 100 books which have sold over two million copies in the UK alone. Dr Coleman is a general practitioner physician, principal and a former Professor of Holistic Medical Sciences at the International Open University in Sri Lanka. He has an honorary DSc. He has given evidence to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Dr. Coleman’s extraordinary career has put him in the forefront of being able to assess and anticipate medical trends.
"Dr Vernon Coleman is one of our most enlightened, trenchant and sensible dispensers of medical advice." (The Observer)
A marvelous writer, Dr. Coleman weaves together a comprehensive and compelling assessment of the situation.
A Comprehensive Scientific Explanation of the “Pandemic”
Journalist Regina Meredith (who will be coming to TransitionTalks here in Berkeley Springs in October), reaches millions of people through her Truth Matters interviews and anchoring news and interview shows at GAIA TV. Her long career in anchoring and producing in the commercial television industry has made her a particularly insightful interviewer. Truth Matters features in-depth interviews with thought leaders at the leading edge of examining, explaining and anticipating the extraordinary shift that is taking place on this planet.
The Long Range View
Gregg Braden Coming to Berkeley Springs on the 18th of July. Don’t miss it!
We’re excited that NYT best-selling author Gregg Braden is coming back to keynote our TransitionTalks program on July 18th. It will be a wonderful day long presentation that you don’t want to miss! Come be with us in our first post-Corona TransitionTalk in Berkeley Springs!
Click on the banner below for complete information.
Complete program and registration information at TransitionTalks.org.
Lockdown Lunacy: The Thinking Person's Guide – (Handley Blog – May 30, 2020)
“Knowing what we know today about COVID-19’s Infection Fatality Rate, asymmetric impact by age and medical condition, non-transmissibility by asymptomatic people and in outdoor settings, near-zero fatality rate for children, and the basic understanding of viruses through Farr’s law, locking down society was a bone-headed policy decision so devastating to society that historians may judge it as the all-time worst decision ever made. Worse, as these clear facts have become available, many policy-makers haven’t shifted their positions, despite the fact that every hour under any stage of lockdown has a domino-effect of devastation to society.” On the basis of well supported studies, the author concludes: “the simplest policy recommendation actually makes the most sense in my opinion: If you have COVID-19, stay home. If you must go out, wear a mask. Everyone else, wash your hands, and get on with your life.” However, he writes from his position as a middle class white person, seemingly without knowing how much privilege is required to be able to follow his “simplest policy recommendation”. The US has a large number of people who have no health insurance and no paid sick leave and who can’t afford to stay home when they have Covid-19 (if they can even get a test). Witness the huge infection rates in the meat packing plants. The problem isn’t the disease itself; it’s that the US has no adequate safety nets for poor people. Many tribal people living on reservations don’t even have running water; little wonder the Navajo have a hugely disproportionate number of cases. Sweden has universal health care and universal sick leave. The US could not have matched the Swedish Covid-19 mortality rate if it had copied their approach. (Editor’s note: We found this to be a generally strong article and recommend it, although in fairness to all, it should be noted that the article opens with “Knowing what we know today…” and the realization that we did not know all of that two or three months ago.)
Nearly 40% of Icelanders Are Using a Covid App – And It Hasn’t Helped Much – (Technology Review – May 11, 2020)
When Iceland got its first case of covid-19 on February 28, an entire apparatus sprang into action. Within a few weeks, Icelanders had a high-tech tool at their disposal: a government-backed automated tracing app. Rakning C-19, which launched in early April, was hailed as a way to “make the tracing of transmissions easier” at the time. It tracks users’ GPS data to compile a record of where they have been, allowing investigators – with permission – to look at whether those with a positive diagnosis are potentially spreading the disease. And it now has the largest penetration rate of all contact trackers in the world, having been downloaded by 38% of Iceland’s population of 364,000. But despite this early deployment and widespread use, one senior figure in the country’s covid-19 response says the real impact of Rakning C-19 has been small, compared with manual tracing techniques like phone calls. And if a small, socially-cohesive, and geographically isolated nation like Iceland can only achieve 38% penetration, that could suggest that efforts in other countries will struggle to get the level of adoption required. However, case numbers have remained more or less static for several weeks, and the last confirmed covid-19 death was on April 19. While movement has been curtailed and there have been restrictions on the size of gatherings, primary schools and even some restaurants have remained open, using a mixture of social distancing and a “bubble” strategy where classes and workplaces are divided into discrete units that do not interact with each other. “We’ve been working in a collaborative model with the citizens,” he says. “There is law, and we can do fines, but we basically haven’t done any: we put our trust on the citizens that they follow the guidelines that are set out—and that model has worked fantastically, in my view.”
Coronavirus on the Border – (Washington Post – May 27, 2020)
As Mexico’s health-care system has strained under the coronavirus, small community hospitals in Southern California, some of the poorest in the state, have been flooded with Americans who have fallen ill and crossed the border. They are retirees and dual citizens, Americans working in Mexico or visiting family there. It is an example of how easily the virus moves between countries, even as governments — and particularly the Trump administration — have attempted to shut their borders. And it’s a window into how many American lives span the U.S.-Mexico border, including families who have moved freely across the region since before that line was drawn and whose movement has continued during the pandemic. Adolphe Edward, the chief executive of El Centro Regional Hospital, a former Air Force physician who helped lead the U.S. military’s medical team in Baghdad, explains that these were Americans he was treating. “We can pretend that 275,000 American retirees in Baja California don’t exist, but they do. Or the 35,000 military members,” he said. Public health issues have always straddled the border here. Texas conducts mosquito-spraying campaigns with the Mexican state of Tamaulipas during dengue outbreaks. Arizona has joint firefighting exercises with Sonora. California and Baja California have long battled a cross-border tuberculosis epidemic together. The San Ysidro border crossing, south of San Diego, is the busiest ambulance pickup point in the United States. For years, the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission conducted simulations on how the two countries would respond if a pandemic settled on the border. A special procedure was created for Mexican ambulances to transfer patients to U.S. ambulances on American soil. Then a real pandemic struck. Now, approximately half of the coronavirus patients in several California border hospitals, including El Centro Regional Medical Center, are recent arrivals from Mexico. An average of 86,000 people per day crossed the border during the week of May 11 to 18, a mix of U.S. citizens and residents and Mexicans with legal work visas whose jobs are deemed essential.
The U.S. Is Getting Shorter, as Mapmakers Race to Keep Up – (New York Times – May 22, 2020)
Across the United States, the heights of structures, landmarks, valleys, hills and just about everything else are about to change. Most will get shorter. The elevation in parts of the Pacific Northwest will shrink by as much as five feet, and parts of Alaska by six-and-a-half, according to Juliana P. Blackwell, director of the National Geodetic Survey. The grand recalibration, called “height modernization,” is part of a broader effort within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to establish more accurately where and how the United States physically sits on the planet. This new National Spatial Reference System, encompassing height, latitude, longitude and time, is expected to be rolled out in late 2022 or 2023, Ms. Blackwell said. It will replace reference systems from the 1980s that are slightly askew, having been derived from calculations that were done before the advent of supercomputers or global navigation satellite systems such as GPS. The 1988 version (currently in use) was short on accurate information for California and parts of Texas and North Carolina, said David B. Zilkoski, a geodesist who is the former director of the National Geodetic Survey. That is because the crust there has moved up or down considerably, as a result of tectonic plate activity and the removal of oil, gas and water from beneath the ground. Some Coloradans worry that a few of their mountain peaks will fall below a bragging-rights threshold under the new height system, Ms. Blackwell said. And near Beaumont, Tex., citizens are grappling with the unwelcome news that certain areas have subsided so much since previous height calculations that these regions now sit in the floodplain. As a result, some landowners may now need to insure themselves against losses from floods, said Daniel R. Roman, chief geodesist at NOAA.
In an Orange Swirl, Astronomers Say Humanity Has Its First Look at the Birth of a Planet – (NBC – May 20, 2020)
An image of a mesmerizing cosmic spiral, twisting and swirling around a galactic maw, may be the first direct evidence of the birth of a planet ever captured by humanity. The European Southern Observatory released a picture Wednesday of what astronomers believe shows the process of cosmic matter at a gravitational tipping point, collapsing into a new world around a nearby star. Astronomers said the dramatic scene offers a rare glimpse into the formation of a baby planet, which could help scientists better understand how planets come to exist around stars. "Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form," said the lead author of a study detailing the discovery, Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in France. The new image peers into the disc of material around a young star known as AB Aurigae, which is 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Auriga. Amid the hypnotic spiral arms is a "twist," visible in the photo as a bright yellow region in the center, that is thought to be a sign of a planet being born, said Emmanuel Di Folco, a researcher at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux in France, who participated in the study. When a planet forms, the clumps of material create wavelike perturbations in the gas- and dust-filled disc around a star, "somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake," Di Folco said. The bright region at the center of the new image is thought to be evidence of such a disturbance, which had been predicted in models of planetary birth.
Giant Tectonic Plate under Indian Ocean Is Breaking in Two – (Live Science – May 21, 2020)
The giant tectonic plate under the Indian Ocean is going through a rocky breakup … with itself. To humans, however, this breakup will take an eternity. The plate, known as the India-Australia-Capricorn tectonic plate, is splitting at a snail's pace — about 0.06 inches a year. Put another way, in 1 million years, the plate's two pieces will be about 1 mile farther apart than they are now. "It's not a structure that is moving fast, but it's still significant compared to other planet boundaries," said study co-researcher Aurélie Coudurier-Curveur, a senior research fellow of marine geosciences at the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris. For instance, the Dead Sea Fault in the Middle East is moving at about double that rate, or 0.2 inches (0.4 centimeters) a year, while the San Andreas Fault in California is moving about 10 times faster, at about 0.7 inches a year. The plate is splitting so slowly and it's so far underwater, researchers almost missed what they're calling the "nascent plate boundary." But two enormous clues — that is, two strong earthquakes originating in a strange spot in the Indian Ocean — suggested that Earth-changing forces were afoot. These earthquakes, as well as other geologic clues, indicated that some kind of deformation was taking place far underground, in an area known as the Wharton Basin. This deformation wasn't wholly unexpected; the India-Australia-Capricorn plate is not one cohesive unit. "It's like a puzzle," said Coudurier-Curveure. "It's not one uniform plate. There are three plates that are, more or less, tied together and are moving in the same direction together," she said.
Bumblebees Have Learned to Hack Plants – (Inverse – May 21, 2020)
Among the factors threatening bumblebees — climate change, disease, pesticides — is a loss of habitat. Bee populations struggle when there's not enough pollen to go around. However, some bees have figured out a potential solution. When pollen is hard to come by, bumblebees nibble on the leaves of plants that aren't producing flowers, damaging the plant in a way that stimulates faster flower growth. Some plants bloom up to a month earlier than usual thanks to these nibbles. Researchers Mark Mescher and Consuelo De Moraes, from the university ETH Zürich, first noticed this yet-unseen behavior in bees while working with bees in the lab. They were conducting experiments on how plants respond to insect herbivore eggs, and what that means for pollinators, when they observed the bees damaging leaves. The researchers also tried to re-create the bees' effects on plants in the lab but weren't able to ignite blooms in the same way, suggesting bees have a unique ability to do so. "It’s quite possible that we are just not able to replicate detailed aspects of the bee damage that are important for the effect on flowering," the scientists explain. "It is also possible that some additional cue, such as a chemical in the bees’ saliva might be involved."
The Mysterious Anomaly Weakening Earth's Magnetic Field Seems to Be Splitting – (Science Alert – May 26, 2020)
New satellite data from the European Space Agency (ESA) reveal that the mysterious anomaly weakening Earth's magnetic field continues to evolve, with the most recent observations showing we could soon be dealing with more than one of these strange phenomena. The South Atlantic Anomaly is a vast expanse of reduced magnetic intensity in Earth's magnetic field, extending all the way from South America to southwest Africa. Since our planet's magnetic field acts as a kind of shield – protecting Earth from solar winds and cosmic radiation, in addition to determining the location of the magnetic poles – any reduction in its strength is an important event we need to monitor closely, as these changes could ultimately have significant implications for our planet. The South Atlantic Anomaly is not sitting still. Since 1970, the anomaly has been growing in size, as well as moving westward at a pace of approximately 12 miles per year. But that's not all. New readings provided by the ESA's Swarm satellites show that within the past five years, a second center of minimum intensity has begun to open up within the anomaly. The ESA notes that the most significant effects right now are largely limited to technical malfunctions on board satellites and spacecraft, which can be exposed to a greater amount of charged particles in low-Earth orbit as they pass through the South Atlantic Anomaly in the skies above South America and the South Atlantic Ocean. In the last two centuries, Earth's magnetic field has lost about 9% of its strength on average, the ESA says, assisted by a drop in minimum field strength in the South Atlantic Anomaly from approximately 24,000 nanoteslas to 22,000 nanoteslas over the past 50 years. Exactly why this is happening remains a mystery.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Scientists Reveal a Proof-of-Concept Bionic Human Eye – (Science Alert – May 21, 2020)
Researchers say they've created a proof-of-concept bionic eye that could surpass the sensitivity of a human one. "In the future, we can use this for better vision prostheses and humanoid robotics," researcher Zhiyong Fan, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The eye is in essence a three-dimensional artificial retina that features a highly dense array of extremely light-sensitive nanowires. The team, led by Fan, lined a curved aluminum oxide membrane with tiny sensors made of perovskite, a light-sensitive material that's been used in solar cells. Wires that mimic the brain's visual cortex relay the visual information gathered by these sensors to a computer for processing. The nanowires are so sensitive they could surpass the optical wavelength range of the human eye, allowing it to respond to 800 nanometer wavelengths, the threshold between visual light and infrared radiation. That means it could see things in the dark when the human eye can no longer keep up. Each square centimeter of the artificial retina can hold about 460 million nanosize sensors, dwarfing the estimated 10 million cells in the human retina. However, This suggests that it could surpass the visual fidelity of the human eye. Plenty of work still has to be done to eventually be able to connect it to the human visual system. For more technical details, see New Artificial Eye Mimics a Retina’s Natural Curve.
Giant Viruses Spew Their DNA Through a 'Stargate.' Now, Scientists Know What Triggers Them. – Live Science – May 26, 2020)
Mistaken for big bacteria, giant viruses were essentially "discovered ten years before [scientists] knew what they were looking at," said senior author Kristin Parent, an associate professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Michigan State University. Once the technology became available, researchers dug up the samples and found that the large microbes lacked ribosomal RNA — a key molecule that allows bacteria to build their own proteins, which viruses cannot do on their own. Giant viruses, which measure about 10 times the size of a typical cold virus, infiltrate cells and inject their DNA through a special portal known as a "stargate." Now, detailed new images have revealed what conditions prompt this stargate to open and drive the viruses to infect. Viruses, giant or otherwise, lack the machinery required to make copies of their DNA; the microbes are essentially just a coil of genetic material tucked inside an envelope, called a capsid. In order to survive, viruses must sneak inside a host cell, hijack the machinery within and set up a so-called viral factory to produce new viruses. Giant viruses have a special portal for this job: the stargate. Shaped like a splayed starfish with five legs, the stargate lies on the surface of a virus and remains sealed during much of its life cycle. But once inside a host cell, each leg of the stargate "unzips", allowing viral genetic material to slip through the resulting hole. Since their initial discovery, giant viruses have been recovered from melting permafrost in Siberia, the depths of the Antarctic ocean and highly alkaline soda lakes, as well as less exotic environments, said Chantal Abergel, research director of the Structural and Genomic Information laboratory at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was not involved in the study. The viruses have mostly been found to infect amoebas and phytoplankton, but laboratory studies suggest that they can also infect animal cells, including rodent and human cells.
Wearable Tech Can Spot Coronavirus Symptoms Before You Even Realize You’re Sick – (Washington Post – May 28, 2020)
Data from a wearable device can reveal coronavirus symptoms days before you even realize you’re sick, researchers have found in preliminary studies. That means fitness trackers could be on their way to becoming sickness trackers. If Fitbits, Apple Watches and Oura smart rings prove to be an effective early-warning system, they could help reopen communities and workplaces — and evolve from consumer tech novelties into health essentials. Since March, a half-dozen studies have been exploring whether the constant stream of data that wearables gather about our bodies offers any clue about who has caught the coronavirus. However, these aren’t clinical trials — rather, researchers are gathering data and looking at it retrospectively for patterns. The greatest potential might come from a lesser-known wearable I’ve been testing for the past five weeks: a health-tracking ring called Oura. The $300 wireless device looks like jewelry and collects data about my heart rate, breathing and — critically, for the coronavirus — temperature. The ring, made by a seven-year-old company based in Finland and the United States, is being used in two studies at West Virginia University and the University of California at San Francisco involving tens of thousands of health-care workers, first responders and volunteers. Researchers at WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute reported that Oura ring data, combined with an app to measure cognition and other symptoms, can predict up to three days in advance when people will register a fever, coughing or shortness of breath. Professor Ali Rezai, the institute’s director, said the technology is valuable because it’s tuned to reveal infection early on, when patients are highly contagious but don’t know it. He calls the combination of the smart ring and app a kind of “digital PPE,” or personal protective equipment. ‘It can say, “This individual needs to stay home and not come in and infect others,’" he said.
Researchers Have Found a New Defense to Help Coral Survive Bleaching – (GizModo – May 13, 2020)
Coral reefs are home to as many species as tropical rainforests. Yet rapidly heating waters threaten to wipe coral out. Hotter water puts stress on coral and can lead to coral spitting out algae, a process known as coral bleaching. When that happens, though, it can be a death sentence for coral and the species that rely on healthy reefs. In an effort to help coral, scientists created an exposure therapy experiment for the tiny algae that provide them with life. For four years, the researchers exposed 10 strains of algae to water heated to about 89 degrees Fahrenheit, which is roughly the peak temperature the Great Barrier Reef reached in February 2020. That threshold can trigger mass bleaching. They then compared those strains to other algae, which they’d exposed to roughly 81 degrees Fahrenheit over the same period. It turns out algae can develop higher heat tolerance: All 10 of the strains exposed to higher temperatures evolved to withstand them. To see if those strains could also help prevent coral from bleaching, the researchers then introduced those strains to coral larvae and exposed them to water warmed to 89 degree Fahrenheit. In three out of the ten cases, the coral didn’t spit out the algae. This research suggests that algae that have adapted to heat could help restore the world’s coral and buffer it against future change.
The End of Plastic? New Plant-based Bottles Will Degrade in a Year – (Guardian – May 16, 2020)
A biochemicals company in the Netherlands hopes to kickstart investment in a pioneering project designed to make plastics from plant sugars rather than fossil fuels. The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, have already won the support of beer-maker Carlsberg, which hopes to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of plant plastic. The project has the backing of Coca-Cola and Danone, which hope to secure the future of their bottled products by tackling the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution and a reliance on fossil fuels. Globally around 300 million tons of plastic is made from fossil fuels every year, which is a major contributor to the climate crisis. Most of this is not recycled and contributes to the scourge of microplastics in the world’s oceans. Microplastics can take hundreds of years to decompose completely. “This plastic has very attractive sustainability credentials because it uses no fossil fuels, and can be recycled – but would also degrade in nature much faster than normal plastics do,” says Van Aken. Avantium’s plant plastic is designed to be resilient enough to contain carbonate drinks. Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in one year using a composter, and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions. But ideally, it should be recycled, said Avantium’s chief executive, Tom van Aken. The path-finder project will initially make a modest 5,000 tons of plastic every year using sugars from corn, wheat or beets. However, Avantium expects its production to grow as demand for renewable plastics climbs.
It Started as a Joke: The Animal Zoom Calls Delighting a Locked-down Public – (Guardian – May 21, 2020)
The goats of Cronkshaw Fold farm in Lancashire, UK have never been busier. In the past few weeks they’ve been to a rave in Berlin and a birthday party in New Zealand, and a goat named Mary goes to church services every Sunday – all virtually, of course. They’re one of an increasing variety of animal breeds people can now book to join their Zoom meetings, whether it’s to break the tedium of a work conference call or to surprise someone on their birthday. “I’m on the phone all day and people are just in hysterics because they’ve sneaked a goat into the business meeting and the boss hasn’t noticed,” said McCarthy. “It’s so ridiculous, it’s complete escapism.” The goats are all in pens as it is kidding season, making them convenient for filming, but also giving people the added bonus of seeing the newborns. In the US, Sweet Farm in California has animals including llamas available for video meetings, while in Fife, Scotland, Alison Johnson has started offering alpaca parties over Zoom to boost the farm’s income during lockdown. The call is just like any chaotic family video call. New mother Emily bleats calming tones at two-day-old Ethan. Best friends Joseph and Owen are having an argument before playing up for the camera. Stubborn Reginald reluctantly glances at the screen with a scowl, apparently dismissive of the whole enterprise.
Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S. – (New York Times – May 13, 2020)
The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change. It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants. Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led electric utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40% in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80%. And the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom. Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet. As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. And, because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response. In just the first four and a half months of this year, America’s fleet of wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams have produced more electricity than coal on 90 separate days — shattering last year’s record of 38 days for the entire year. On May 1 in Texas, wind power alone supplied nearly three times as much electricity as coal did.
Georgia Nuclear: Vogtle Unit 3 Is Sinking – (Fairwinds – May 14, 2020)
The Vogtle Unit 3 nuclear power plant was designed to be straight on its firm ‘basemat foundation’, which is designed with extra rebar and mathematical calculations to assure that the foundation can support an atomic reactor as heavy as the unique design of the AP1000 with 8-million-pounds of emergency cooling water sitting on top of the containment. Last month, Vogtle’s owner, Sothern Nuclear Operating Company (SNC), tried to amend its operating license with information that had been kept secret from the public. The foundation is sinking faster in the middle than at the edges, in the shape of a dish, causing internal walls to lean. When that now leaning wall was first built five years ago, SNC established a program to monitor the stability in the foundation. On May 12, 2020, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League [BREDL] announced that part of the Vogtle Unit 3 nuclear power plant currently under construction in Waynesboro, Georgia, is sinking. According to BREDL’s press release, “In a legal action filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the group called on regulators to revoke the plant’s license for false statements made by its owners, Southern Nuclear Operating Company. On May 11, BREDL filed a nineteen-page legal petition requesting a hearing before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on a License Amendment for Plant Vogtle’s Unit 3. The petition is supported by detailed, specific expert opinion. Under rules of procedure, Southern Company has 25 days to respond.” The Vogtle Unit 3 is already billions of dollars over budget and at least 5-years behind schedule.
Can Gender-bending Israeli Superprawns Help Feed the World? – (Ars Technica – May 10, 2020)
It's tough to say whether the gangly, blue-legged crustaceans lurking within the massive aquaculture tanks are actually happy, but they certainly appear to be content. It may be because the tank contains an all-female population, devoid of males, which tend to be territorial, aggressive, and create stressful conditions that don't promote optimal growth. Regardless of their state of mind, these placid crustaceans are the products of a unique gender-bending technique that promises to make them a delicious link toward a sustainable global food chain. Or, the technique could be the latest in a long line of developments that force us to take a careful look at the benefits and costs of achieving sustainability by intruding into the basic biology of the food we end up eating. The creatures in question are a species of freshwater prawns, known to biologists as Macrobrachium rosenbergii. Commonly known as giant river prawns, they are a beloved staple of traditional Southeast Asian cuisine. Their flavor and amenability to simple aquaculture techniques made them a traditional cash crop for Thai, Malaysian, and Vietnamese farmers, who raise them in large outdoor ponds. Freshwater prawns may now be able to enjoy wider commercial success, thanks to a new breeding technique developed by Enzootic, an Israeli agro-biotech venture founded in 2012 by Dr. Assaf Shechter and Professor Amir Sagi. One of the company's first initiatives was to develop and commercialize a technology for manipulating the gender of freshwater prawns in collaboration with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. They have developed a one-time, non-chemical, non-genetic gender-bending treatment (detailed in article) that allows freshwater hatcheries to produce crops of all-female prawns. Despite these advances, several large challenges must still be overcome before freshwater prawns or any of their cousins can be considered truly green. The most glaring issue is that the pellets most prawn wranglers use to feed their aquatic herds include significant amounts of fish meal and fish oil, which are derived from unsustainably harvesting vast amounts of wild fish that are not otherwise commercially viable.
Who Are Carbon Cowboys? – (Carboncowboys.org – no date)
Carbon cowboys are the men and women who are utilizing a new way to graze cattle that mimics how herds of bison grazed The Great Plains of North America, and built some of the world’s deepest and richest soils. The bison would change their scenery for two main reasons, better forage across the plain, or wolves were picking off the stragglers. The grasslands and the bison co-evolved over tens of thousands of years, creating a beneficial system. The bison ate half the grasses, stomped the other half down to give the soil a nice covering, holding in moisture – and the bison’s manure and urine fertilized the microbes in the soil. So – the bison ate, pooped and left – and the plants then went into photosynthetic hyper-drive, re-growing their shoots and stems, and sucking down carbon from the air (aka carbon dioxide, aka CO2), exhaling the O2 (aka oxygen), then mixing the carbon with water, concocting sugars that they then pushed down through their roots, into the soil, to feed the microbes. The microbes in turn mined minerals and nutrients and fed those to the plants. It was a beautiful system – bison, plants, microbes. Just add water. The carbon cowboys replicate this system with their cattle – breaking up their land into much smaller paddocks, and moving their herd frequently, sometimes daily, sometimes 4 to 5 times a day. The plants and microbes respond to the cattle just like they did to the bison. The farms vary greatly in size, from 110 acres to 20,000 acres – with herds of 80 to 5,000. This type of grazing has many names, from holistic management, mob grazing, strip grazing, managed intensive grazing, rotational grazing, high-stock/short rotational grazing, bison biomimicry. See also: Welcome to Carbon Cowboys, a documentary series in 10 parts explaining this process. (Editor’s note: We recommend the entire documentary – it’s time to make a major change to US agricultural practices.)
What Grocery Hauls Look Like around the World Right Now – (Washington Post – May 22, 2020)
In the last few months, going to the grocery store has turned from a mundane task to a tactical mission with lots of preparation. Gone are the days of grabbing one or two things on the way home from somewhere or grabbing some ice cream on a whim. Now there are meal plans laid out, long lists created and masks worn — and if something is forgotten, it will be bought in a week or two on the next trip. Our photographers around the world shared the essentials they are buying, how they prep and staples that are nearly impossible to find. From temperature checks in Bangkok to business as usual in Moscow, this is how five people are shopping around the world during the pandemic.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Think We Have Military Primacy over China? Think Again. – (Washington Post – May 12, 2020)
Here’s a fact that ought to startle every American who assumes that because we spend nearly $1 trillion each year on defense, we have primacy over our emerging rival, China. “Over the past decade, in U.S. war games against China, the United States has a nearly perfect record: We have lost almost every single time.” That’s a quote from a new book called The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare, a highly provocative critique of U.S. defense policy. It’s written by Christian Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a close adviser to late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). The book isn’t just a wake-up call, it’s a fire alarm in the night. Brose presents the truth about war with China: Our spy and communications satellites would immediately be disabled; our forward bases in Guam and Japan would be “inundated” by precise missiles; our aircraft carriers would have to sail away from China to escape attack; and our F-35 fighter jets couldn’t reach their targets because the refueling tankers they need would be shot down. How did this happen? It wasn’t an intelligence failure, or a malign Pentagon and Congress, or lack of money, or insufficient technological prowess. No, it was simply bureaucratic inertia compounded by entrenched interests. The Pentagon is good at doing what it did yesterday, and Congress insists on precisely that. We have been so busy buffing our legacy systems that, as Brose writes, “the United States got ambushed by the future.”
Pure Hell for Victims as Stimulus Programs Draw a Flood of Scammers – (New York Times – April 22, 2020)
“I’ve been in this space for over 30 years and I have not seen anything like this in my entire career,” said Eva Velasquez, the chief executive of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit based in San Diego that helps victims. “The scope, the scale, the speed and the efficiency of the scams is breathtaking.” In recent weeks, criminals have used people’s Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal information — much of which was available online from past data breaches — to assume their identities and bilk them out of their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. As a result, total traffic to Ms. Velasquez’s organization, including calls, emails and visits to its website, was 850% higher in March than a year earlier, she said, and is still soaring. The scale of the fraud has been enormous, fueled by the economic crisis and the confusion surrounding the $2 trillion stabilization plan that President Trump unveiled last month. That has been compounded by the government’s own lack of security measures for people claiming stimulus payments. While the Treasury Department electronically deposited the money for around 80 million people who have bank accounts on file with the government, the I.R.S. created an online portal for the 70 million or so other recipients who did not have that information on file. The portal allows people to enter a new bank account address for the government to send them their money. But it requires only a few pieces of data for verification: a Social Security number, an address, a phone number and a date of birth. Security experts said that the I.R.S. had opened up the door to fraud by requiring so little data to claim the money. The coronavirus has made it even easier for fraudsters to get more information. Many are bombarding Americans with emails and phone calls that use the uncertainty around the virus to distribute malware and get people to divulge their bank information and other data, which can then be used to defraud the same people. Google said it intercepted 18 million such emails last week. Even before the outbreak, losses from identity theft were enormous. Criminals made around $16.9 billion from identity fraud last year, the highest total in the last half decade, according to the data firm Javelin.
Could China’s Digital Currency Unseat the Dollar? – (Foreign Affairs – May 20, 2020)
In late April, China reached a significant milestone: after more than five years of research by its central bank, China became the first major economy to conduct a real-world test of a national digital currency. The pilot project, which is occurring in four large Chinese cities, is a clear sign that China is years ahead of the United States in the development of what is likely to become a central component of a digital world economy. U.S. policymakers are unprepared for the consequences. The advent of digital currencies will degrade the efficacy of U.S. sanctions, limiting the country’s options to respond to national security threats from Iran, North Korea, Russia, and others. It will also hamper the ability of U.S. authorities to track illicit financial flows. And China, meanwhile, will use the combination of its digital yuan and strong electronic-payment platforms (such as Alipay and WeChat) to expand its influence and reinforce its capacity for economic coercion in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. To protect the dollar’s decades-long dominance, the United States must act now to sustain its economic advantage in the coming era of national digital currencies. In part, this will require reconsidering the aggressive unilateral use of sanctions and other coercive economic policy tools, which have spurred other nations to seek alternatives to the U.S.-led and dollar-dominated global financial system. But it will also require launching a “digital dollar initiative,” an effort that brings the government together with the private sector to develop a digital national currency. Otherwise, the failure to check the influence of China’s digital yuan and develop a competitive American alternative could significantly limit the United States’ global influence in the information age. (Editor’s note: If you have time to read only one article featured in this issue of FUTUREdition, choose this one; it has the potential to have the largest global impact.)
100 Babies Stranded in Ukraine after Surrogate Births – (New York Times – May 16, 2020)
Dozens of babies born into Ukraine’s booming surrogate motherhood business have become marooned in the country as their biological parents in the United States and other countries cannot travel to retrieve them after birth. For now, the agencies that arranged the surrogate births care for the babies. Authorities say that at least 100 babies are stranded already and that as many as 1,000 may be born before Ukraine’s travel ban for foreigners is lifted. “We will do all we can to unite the children with their parents,” Albert Tochilovsky, director of BioTexCom, the largest provider of surrogacy services in Ukraine, said in a telephone interview. Ukraine does not tally statistics on surrogacy, but it may lead the world in the number of surrogate births for foreign biological parents, Mr. Tochilovsky said. His company alone is awaiting about 500 births. Fourteen companies offer the service in Ukraine. Ukraine is an outlier among nations, though not alone, in allowing foreigners to tap a broad range of reproductive health services, including buying eggs and arranging for surrogate mothers to bear children for a fee. Surrogacy is available in Ukraine only if a woman in a heterosexual partnership can demonstrate that she cannot bear children herself. The business has thrived largely because of poverty. “The cheapest surrogacy in Europe is in Ukraine, the poorest country in Europe,” BioTexCom’s website explains. Surrogate mothers in Ukraine typically earn about $15,000. The babies’ parents are now in the United States, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, China, France, Romania, Austria, Mexico and Portugal, the company said.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
America Is a Tinderbox – (New York Times – May 29, 2020)
The last two and a half months in America have felt like the opening montage in a dystopian film about a nation come undone. First the pandemic hit and hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed. The national economy froze and unemployment soared; one in four American workers has applied for unemployment benefits since March. Lines of cars stretched for miles at food banks. Heavily armed lockdown protesters demonstrated across the country; in Michigan, they forced the Capitol to close and legislators to cancel their session. Nationwide, over 100,000 people died of a disease almost no one had heard of last year. So many things make America combustible right now: mass unemployment, a pandemic that’s laid bare murderous health and economic inequalities, teenagers with little to do, police violence, right-wingers itching for a second civil war and a president eager to pour gasoline on every fire. “I think we’re indeed in a moment where things are going to get a lot more tense before they get more peaceful,” said the University of Michigan historian Heather Ann Thompson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2016 book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.” That frustration is likely to build, because the economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. In some states, moratoriums on evictions have ended or will soon. The expanded unemployment benefits passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act run out at the end of July. State budgets have been ravaged, and the federal government has so far refused to come to states’ aid, meaning we’ll likely soon see painful cutbacks in public jobs and services. “Sociologists have studied collective behavior, urban unrest for decades, and I think it’s safe to say that the consensus view is that it’s never just about a precipitating incident that resulted in the unrest,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at U.C.L.A.. “It’s always a collection of factors that make the situation ripe for collective behavior, unrest and mobilization.”
The Boogaloo Movement Is Not What You Think – (Bellingcat – May 27, 2020)
On May 26th, crowds gathered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to protest the death of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of the city’s police department. On the internet, meanwhile, a largely white, and far right movement publicly contended over what risks its members should take to support a black man killed by police. On the Facebook page, Big Igloo Bois, which at the time of writing had 30,637 followers, an administrator wrote of the protests, “If there was ever a time for bois to stand in solidarity with ALL free men and women in this country, it is now”. They added, “This is not a race issue. For far too long we have allowed them to murder us in our homes, and in the streets. We need to stand with the people of Minneapolis. We need to support them in this protest against a system that allows police brutality to go unchecked.” One commenter added, “I’m looking for fellow Minneapolis residents to join me in forming a private, Constitutionally-authorized militia to protect people from the MPD, which has killed too many people within the last two years.” These exchanges offer a window into an online update of the militia movement, which is gearing up for the northern summer. The “Boogaloo Bois” expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States. Mostly, they’re not even hiding it. And for the last several months, their platform of choice has been Facebook. Researchers have repeatedly drawn attention to Facebook’s role in radicalizing extremist actors, and the consequences of allowing extremists to organize freely on the platform, to little practical avail. Recent reporting indicates that the company’s senior management have long understood its role in promoting extremism, but have elected not to act for fear of alienating conservative sensibilities, especially in the U.S. Like many other novel extremist movements, the loose network of online pro-gun posters trace their origins to 4chan. What coherence the movement has comes from their reverence for their newly-minted martyrs and a constellation of in-jokes and memes. (Editor’s note: Both this article and the one above it deserve your time if you are interested in understanding how private militias and extremist groups are coalescing and what they envision.)
Sanitation Workers Battle Higher Waste Levels in Residential Areas as Coronavirus Outbreak Persists – (CNBC – May 16, 2020)
Data collected in December from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that people who gather and dispose of waste and recyclable materials work the fifth most dangerous job in the United States. The coronavirus has heightened that risk factor due to the inherent dangers of contracting the disease while handling waste with contaminated materials such as used tissues or face masks. Now sanitation workers across the country are trying to adjust to unusually high waste levels in residential areas as the coronavirus pandemic shuts in much of the workforce at home. Waste in residential areas has spiked by as much as 40% in some parts of the country, according to one company’s tally. Additionally, in Florida, Waste Pro USA workers have been reporting higher numbers of “bulk items,” including old televisions and mattresses. It is an indication that many Americans are using the time at home to do some heavy-duty spring cleaning. “This huge volume has resulted in significant increased expense as trucks are filling up and have to dispose, and then go back to same routes to complete,” a spokesperson said.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Could Orbital Fees Force Satellite Operators to Deal with Space Junk? – (New Atlas – May 26, 2020)
The buildup of space debris is a serious problem that won’t be going away anytime soon, with thousands of pieces of junk currently in orbit around the Earth. The accumulation of busted-up spacecraft, rockets and satellites in orbit over the years has created a significant risk for those still in operation. These pieces of space trash whiz around the Earth at up 17,500 mph (28,100 km/h), posing a very real threat to satellites and spacecraft currently in low-Earth orbit. In fact, the crew aboard the International Space Station has been forced to take shelter numerous times over the years, when orbital space debris has come a little too close for comfort. Scientists and engineers have proposed all kinds of solutions when it comes to cleaning up this giant mess. These include satellites equipped with harpoons to skewer debris, introducing space sustainability ratings that reward responsible behavior, a Space Fence to detect and track junk and nets that scoop it up for safe disposal. Now a team of researchers has put forward a novel way to keep things in check, making a case for charging satellite operators an “orbital-use fee” that would not only help reduce the risk of collisions, but possibly boost the overall value of the satellite industry. "This is an incentive problem more than an engineering problem,” says lead author Akhil Rao, assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College. “What's key is getting the incentives right.” Rao and his colleagues from the University of Colorado Boulder developed a model that considers the expected lifetime value of a new satellite and the cost to industry via the extra risk of collisions it creates. As it stands, operators tend to continue launching satellites until their private collision risk equals the value of the satellite, but the team’s model explored how an orbital-use fee could create an incentive to ensure the spacecraft are properly managed and disposed of at the end of their lifetimes.
Carbon Emissions Detected from the Moon Could Force a Major Rethink of Lunar Origins – (Science Alert – May 7, 2020)
A spacecraft orbiting the Moon has detected something really peculiar. Our satellite is emitting a steady stream of carbon ions from almost its entire surface, contrary to the long-standing thinking that the Moon is depleted of carbon and other volatile elements. In fact, it seems that carbon has been there since the Moon's formation, or very shortly after, 4.5 billion years or so ago. This means that the details of the impact theory of the Moon's formation - which largely relies on a lack of volatiles - may need to be reconsidered. The results come from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Selenological and Engineering Explorer spacecraft, better known by its nickname, Kaguya. A decade ago, it spent roughly a year and a half in orbit around the Moon, collecting global-mapping observations. One of its instruments was an ion mass spectrometer, which detected and mapped lunar ions, including carbon - something that had not turned up in Apollo data, leading to the belief that the Moon had very little of them. But recent analyses have found traces of carbon and volatile water in volcanic lunar glasses, prompting adjustments to the impact formation model, so a team of researchers revisited the Kaguya data to try to figure out where the carbon came from. The readings found a concentration of carbon ions that could not be explained by the deposition of carbon by the solar wind, nor the delivery of carbon on micrometeorites - both mechanisms known to supply the Moon with small amounts of carbon. In addition, the concentrations varied. The younger volcanic basalt plains on the lunar near side emitted more carbon ions than the older highlands. This suggests that the carbon is embedded in the Moon. The reason that's a problem for the lunar impact formation model - in which a large body we call Theia collided with Earth sometime in the early years of the Solar System, breaking off a chunk and sending it into Earth orbit - is because volatiles have a low boiling point. But the Theia collision would have generated pretty intense temperatures - 4,000-6,000 Kelvin - which should have partially vaporized the debris, and boiled away the volatiles, producing what is known as a volatile-depleted 'dry' Moon. That the detections instead revealed a volatile-rich 'wet' Moon suggests that the temperatures generated by the impact could have been much less intense than we previously thought. Or perhaps the impact model will need other revisions.
April Saw the Sharpest Increase in Grocery Store Prices in Nearly 50 Years – (Washington Post – May 12, 2020)
Grocery prices showed their biggest monthly increase in nearly 50 years last month, led by rising prices for meat and eggs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. consumers paid 4.3% more in April for meats, poultry, fish and eggs, 1.5% more for fruits and vegetables, and 2.9% more for cereals and bakery products, the Labor Department said. Overall, consumers paid 2.6% more in April for groceries, the largest one-month jump since February 1974. The jump in food prices came in a month when more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs, driving 1 in 5 households into food insecurity. The hike in cereal and bakery products was the steepest single-month increase on record, which goes back to 1919, according to Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy for the Food Research & Action Center, a nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition. She attributes the inflated prices to two things: a shift in where consumers are purchasing their food, and supply chain disruptions due to covid-19 outbreaks in food production facilities as well as slowdowns related to social distancing and sheltering in place. See also: Shoppers begin to shift from stockpiling to penny pinching at the grocery store.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
A City Locks Down to Fight the Coronavirus, But Robots Come and Go – (New York Times - May 20, 2020)
Two years before the pandemic, a start-up called Starship Technologies deployed a fleet of rolling delivery robots in the small city of Milton Keynes about 50 miles northwest of London. The squat six-wheeled robots shuttled groceries and dinner orders to homes and offices. As the coronavirus spread, Starship shifted the fleet even further into grocery deliveries. The sudden usefulness of the robots to people staying in their homes is a tantalizing hint of what the machines could one day accomplish — at least under ideal conditions. Milton Keynes, with a population of 270,000 and a vast network of bicycle paths, is perfectly suited to rolling robots. Demand has been so high in recent weeks, some residents have spent days trying to schedule a delivery. But even simple tasks like robotic delivery still face myriad technical and logistical hurdles. The robots in Milton Keynes, for example, can carry no more than two bags of groceries. Elliot Katz, who helps run Phantom Auto, a start-up that helps companies remotely control autonomous vehicles when they encounter situations they cannot navigate on their own, said, “There is a limit to what a delivery bot can bring to a human, but you have to start somewhere.” Founded in 2014 and backed by more than $80 million, Starship Technologies is based in San Francisco, and it has deployed most of its robots on college campuses in the United States. Equipped with cameras, radar and other sensors, the robots navigate by matching their surroundings to digital maps built by the company in each new location. Though this may be the most extensive deployment of delivery robots in the world, others have popped up in recent years. In Christiansburg, Va., drugstore and bakery deliveries can be arranged via flying drone. Wing, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has been offering drone deliveries in the area since the fall. But like the robots in Milton Keynes, the drones can carry only so much – roughly two muffins or two croissants.
The Future Is Here – (LewRockwell.com – May 27, 2020)
This 4 minute video clip showcases a number of technologies – all of which already exist – melded together into what appears to be a life-sized holographic presentation with language translation and voice matching. It’s called “mixed reality” – neither strictly real nor strictly virtual. The intonation of Japanese is not quite correct but for a foreigner seeming to speak Japanese, it’s not bad. An added note in the article explains that this technology is only possible with a Holo-Lens device, but still the full-size hologram could be presented on a screen for an audience.
The Pandemic May Forever Change the World’s Cities – (Washington Post – May 20, 2020)
Cities across the world have become sites of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s greatest tragedies. New York City is possibly now the single biggest hot spot of the virus and has suffered close to a quarter of all U.S. deaths. It’s a similar ratio in London when set against the rest of Britain. Madrid’s toll may be even worse. The global history of plague is a centuries-old tale of civic calamity, with urban centers the main vectors of contagion and suffering. But the imperatives of social distancing have plunged the world into a giant experiment in remote work, and some office workers may never want to return to the stresses, steep housing costs and public health risks associated with life in a dense, big city. Trends already underway may accelerate: The populations of global cities like New York, Paris and even Shanghai were declining before the pandemic struck, largely as a result of soaring rent prices. The pandemic’s impact on urban life will be vast and far-reaching. UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, warned that the pandemic may shutter 1 in 8 of the world’s museums. Myriad local retailers and businesses that in part help cities distinguish themselves from suburban areas more beholden to corporate chains face extinction. A recent survey in the United States found that 70% of smaller restaurants don’t expect to reopen should the coronavirus crisis last more than four months. And with many companies probably downsizing their physical footprints and demand for commercial real estate slowing, the skyscrapers that shape skylines from Manhattan to Mumbai may start to look more like white elephants than symbols of financial might.
How the Pandemic Is Changing Shopping – (Washington Post – May 21, 2020)
Retailers that have spent years trying to get customers to linger, in hopes they’ll buy more than they need, are reimagining their stores for a grab-and-go future filled with deliberate purchases. Apple is checking shoppers’ temperatures at the door. Best Buy is asking customers to shop by appointment. Macy’s and Nordstrom are doing away with beauty consultations and alteration services, while the Gap is closing off bathrooms and fitting rooms. Cosmetics giant Sephora won’t allow shoppers to test products anymore. Others are quarantining returns for as long as 72 hours before putting merchandise back on shelves. American Eagle Outfitters, meanwhile, is reimagining every part of the shopping experience. It has invested in curbside pickup and infrared machines that measure customers’ temperatures as they walk by. Entryway displays once piled high with apparel have become “welcome tables” with bottles of hand sanitizer, disposable masks and sticky blue mats that clean shoe soles. Clothes are even folded differently, to encourage hands-off browsing. The new protocols offer a glimpse of how even the most innocuous interactions might be tempered. Retailers have spent years adding interactive displays, sample stations, even rock-climbing walls and full-service bars to their stores in hopes of offering shoppers an experience they can’t get online. But analysts say many of those efforts are now impractical or unsafe, requiring an overhaul that could ultimately make the shopping experience less enjoyable and further cut into an already weak retail environment. Many of the changes, they say, are as much about being overtly reassuring as they are pragmatic.
‘Revenge Spending’ by the Rich Could Drive Luxury Recovery – (CNBC – May 13, 2020)
A luxury rebound in China is fueling hopes of a rapid recovery for high-end brands. Yet analysts say the wealthy are likely spend very differently in the post-pandemic world. Many of the biggest brands in China — including Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci and Prada — are seeing rapid bounce backs in sales as stores reopen in China, according to Claudia D’Arpizio, partner at Bain & Co who focuses on luxury. The Hermes store in Guangzhou, for instance, hauled in $2.7 million in sales the day it reopened in April —believed to be a record for a boutique in China. The burst of sales has created a new retail term for the post-lockdown rebound: “revenge spending.” The idea is that consumers were shopping starved during their quarantine and are overcompensating by splurging more than usual. Yet the spending of the rich will shift dramatically in the next year or two, Bain said. Instead of splurging on experiences, which dominated luxury spending over the past decade and fueled much of its growth, the rich will focus their spending on physical products. Analysts say it will take at least a year or two before the affluent want return to crowded planes, restaurants and resorts. Another big trend: accessories. Handbags and shoes will rule luxury spending in the near term, since they are accessible indulgences that cross all price points. Watches and menswear will suffer, along with women’s formal wear and dress clothes. Jewelry will be a mixed bag. That’s in part because the price of gold has soared, D’Arpizio said. (Editor’s note: As a term, “revenge spending” seems a bit off – “compensation spending” is more like it.)
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.
1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic - The World's Most Expensive Car – (YouTube – December 9, 2010)
There are only three 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic still in existence. Agreed: this car is not the future, but the last time it changed hands, the purchase price – around $40 million – was definitely forward looking. It is now in the collection of the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, voted one of the top 10 automotive museums in the world. The museum’s collection includes more than 140 vehicles, pieces of art and artifacts that focus on masterpieces from manufacturers including Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, and Voisin. In this video clip (under 5 minutes), the museum’s curator introduces the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. If you’d like to see more of the collection, check out Art Deco on Wheels: The Extraordinary Mullin Automotive Museum.
Elephants Really Can’t Hold Their Liquor – (New York Times – May 20, 2020)
Humans are not the only animals that get drunk. Birds that gorge on fermented berries and sap are known to fall out of trees and crash into windows. Elk that overdo it with rotting apples get stuck in trees. Moose wasted on overripe crab apples get tangled in swing sets, hammocks and even Christmas lights. Elephants, though, are the animal kingdom’s most well-known boozers. One scientific paper describes elephant trainers rewarding animals with beer and other alcoholic beverages. Despite these widespread reports, scientists have questioned whether animals — especially large ones such as elephants and elk — actually become inebriated. In 2006, researchers calculated that based on the amount of alcohol it takes to get a human drunk, a 6,600-pound elephant on a bender would have to quickly consume up to 27 liters of seven percent ethanol, the key ingredient in alcohol. Such a quantity of booze is unlikely to be obtained in the wild. Intoxicated wild elephants, the researchers concluded, must be a myth. As the lead author said at the time, “People just want to believe in drunken elephants.” But a team of scientists say that the earlier myth-busting researchers made a common mistake: They assumed that elephants would have to consume as much alcohol to get drunk as humans do. In fact, elephants are likely exceptional lightweights because they — and many other mammals — lack a key enzyme that quickly metabolizes ethanol. The findings highlight the need to consider species on an individual basis. Humans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have an unusually high tolerance for alcohol because of a shared genetic mutation that allows them to metabolize ethanol 40 times faster than other primates. The mutation occurred around 10 million years ago, coinciding with an ancestral shift from arboreal to terrestrial living and, most likely, a diet richer in fallen, fermenting fruit on the forest floor. But most other mammals did not possess the mutation, and in some species, including elephants, dogs and cows, the ethanol-metabolizing gene had lost all function.
JUST FOR FUN
Race of the Fairy Penguins – (YouTube – May 11, 2020)
Here Andrew Cotter, the BBC sportscaster, narrates the nightly walk of the fairy penguins of Phillip Island, off Victoria, Australia as a high-stakes, long-distance race. ‘There’s the defending champion, wearing his familiar navy blue and white. Great waddling style,’ Cotter says as one penguin hits the lead. But then, "some resorting to shortcuts," he announces in his now globally recognizable brogue as one penguin ducks under a boat. "Sad, that cheating has crept into this beautiful sport. The judges will have a look at that!"
A FINAL QUOTE
Living and dreaming are two different things- but you can’t do one without the other. - Malcolm Forbes, Entrepreneur
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