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FE Archive Volume 14, Number 4

Volume 14, Number 4 - 2/28/11

  • A handheld breath sensor now exists that can warn someone with asthma that an attack is imminent.
  • A planetary system has been found in which two of its apparent planets may share the same orbit around their star.
  • How former Egyptian leaders found 'Off' switch for internet
  • DARPA is funding the development of a new quadruped robot that moves faster than any human and is agile enough to "chase and evade."

by John L. Petersen

Last September in this space I wrote about love. I suppose I received more positive feedback from that piece than any other one that I have done before . . . and from some friends that usually don't comment on these things. Since then, I've been thinking more about the subject and so I offer these musings.


Our literature, both popular and sacred, is laced with categorical statements about the essence of love. Love is all there is; Love, which created me, is what I am; God is love, etc. In the things I have been reading for the past few years there is a common thread that suggests that these adages are true. We're not necessarily talking here about valentines and stuff like that - romantic love - but about a transcendent feeling of gratitude and appreciation for things that are bigger than just "us". If you walk outside on a crisp spring night and look at the majesty of the cosmos painted across the sky and feel a transcendent sense of awe and gratitude then you probably have tapped into this field of love that we're discussing here.

A scientist friend says it this way: "When one realizes that in the entangled quantum universe one is literally not just metaphorically, 'in touch' with the entire rest of the universe, the experience of it can only be expressed as a sensation of Cosmic Love."

Many years ago this same quantum physicist friend confided that he felt that the most essential energy field -at the bottom of all physical reality - is really love. Actual love. He thought that if and when we get to the place where we have generators that can access and concentrate this energy such that it can be converted into heat or electricity, that process of concentration will set up local energetic fields around the equipment that will give off a feeling of love that will be obvious to anyone who walks near it.

Interesting idea: make them small enough so that everyone is carrying one and big enough that every building has one and now, there is a broad-based "field of love" that pervades everything, everywhere. Has the potential of changing basic human relations, I'd say.

But, what is this love energy that we're talking about? What is this stuff? Where does it come from? The metaphysical and esoteric folks say the biblical pronouncement is literally true: God is love. They say that God is all there is. (Insert any alternative word for the originator of all reality here that you'd like, if "God" doesn't feel right to you.} We're certainly not talking about some old man-type figure "out there" who is messing with us all and telling us what not to do. We're trying to be a bit more sophisticated than that here.

There are bundles of sources, both religious, metaphysical, and in some cases scientific that explain our reality experience as being that of individual consciousnesses that are an integral part of the whole, cosmic consciousness which creates or manifests this extraordinary exercise that we are a part of.

Albert Einstein said: "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us a universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest….a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

You can think of it as a subroutine in a very complex computer program. The routine operates "independently" but is an integral component of the larger program, is connected directly and indirectly to all of the other subroutines, and only has meaning in the context of the larger program. . . . or something like that.

The explanations suggest that "God", which is "everything" wanted to have as many experiences as possible and so partitioned itself up into derivative (but integral) consciousnesses, and in our case, at least, provided those consciousnesses a degree of free will to do what they want. As each and all of the consciousnesses do and experience things, those rich, evolving experiences produce a net, increasingly interesting, experience for the creator of all of this. Got that? We are a piece of God. When we have an experience, IT has an experience, and IT likes that. (This, of course, is not the explanation that I got as a youth in church, but it works for me these days.}

As you might imagine, there are some unconventional implications to this paradigm. First of all, if we are each a piece of God, then "IT" doesn't need itself to worship itself. That's a little problematic for many who come from fundamental perspectives. The defining issue is perspective. Some religions see God as external to "us". IT's out there somewhere, overseeing all that we are doing, etc. If that was true, then it would be logical to have a certain degree of reverence (and worship even) for an outsider who has great control over you. That's how we think of bosses and presidents and kings.

But if IT is not separate from us and rather, we are a part of IT, then the whole perspective changes. Everything's One and there is only One. We can't make God angry, because we are God (a piece of God, anyway). We can get angry, and that is part of IT's experience, but IT being angry at us would be like you and me really being upset at our finger or knee. My knee is me - how can I be mad at my knee?

This approach also means that everyone (and everything) is connected to everyone else. To use the bodily metaphor again, my nose and arm are both parts of me and if all of the component parts of my body are not healthy and in balance then all are negatively affected. If you bloody my nose, it will certainly have a direct effect on how my arm reacts and how the whole organism feels.

If we humans could get to the place where we really believed that we were all connected to each other, particularly in nonphysical - but very real - ways, then it would change everything. We would look at other individuals differently, knowing that through our current physical eyes we certainly seem separate but we are otherwise very much connected, and injuring someone else always produces self-inflicted problems.

By the way, this is obviously an evolutionary, learning, process that takes time to assimilate. The events across the Arab world these days are pretty convincing that there are benefits to be had from using violence to change some governments. One could argue, though, that in general, much of the developed world has now learned (domestically, at least) that it is much better to affect change in governments, work situations and families without resorting to violence.

This "oneness" perspective also fundamentally informs how we see ourselves and points to the big question about how we should live. Apparently this whole human experience is about moving inexorably (albeit seemingly slowly) toward directly experiencing the essence of "God". It seems to me that if there is a common thread to the evolutionary development of humanity then it is about an increasing embrace of the notion of universal love. Before you get all excited, let me explain.

We seem to slowly be treating each other better. For example, in the U.S. every citizen has the right to vote and we don't lynch anyone. Women and others oppressed groups have made extraordinary advances within just my lifetime. There's a lot that still needs to be done, of course, but with women and minorities running some of the largest and most important businesses and government agencies, it's clear that we are making some progress.

So, what is that progress about? It's about inclusiveness. It's about seeing others with more equality. It's about "loving" others more. We obviously don't love everybody already, but one could clearly argue that the increasing inclusivity and equality that we feel toward each other certainly isn't hate. It represents increasing degrees of love.

Why is this happening? If the sages are to be believed, the relationship is somewhat simple. The essence of "God" is love and the ultimate human objective is to be increasingly transparent to that love. As Erich Fromm eloquently expressed it, "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence."

In the western world, at least, the process of human enlightenment, regardless of whether you see it in economic, political, social or spiritual terms, is about a decreasing of the influence on ourselves and our organizations of historic human values such separateness, competition and violence, and increasing the "God-like" notions of love which manifest themselves as inclusivity, equality, cooperation, et. al. That's not all of it, of course, but in behavioral terms, it starts to look like that from the outside.

Isn't that what's going on? The European nations were all fighting among themselves for many hundreds of years. Now they're not. Major corporations that used to exclusively compete are now both competing and cooperating - they call it coopetition. Enabled by the Internet, thousands of individuals located in far corners of the world from dramatically different cultures are working together . . . to bring down oppressive governments and institutions. Family members use the Web to stay in touch far more so then was possible in the past. That's all love-like.

Let's say this interests you, and you're wondering how, in practical terms, this might translate into something that you could hang your hat on every day. I alluded to an answer up above when I mentioned decreasing the influence of historic human values and transparency. I think of it in terms of this "God-love" being the lowest, most basic level of a stack of contributing factors that result in "what we do" and how we see ourselves.

Borrowing from Robert Pirsig, on top of that most basic source, we begin to overlay what we think we know about how things work in scientific terms, for example, that become assumptions that shape and constrain the way we interpret things and limit what we think is possible. These rules and principles are the things we think we "know". They have a sense of universality.

One layer up are all the social ideas and laws that we have ginned up, depending upon where we live, what we have experienced, been taught, and how we were raised. This is the layer of religions, governments, and social and family rules. They are all subjective. They change from country to country and culture to culture. They are most likely different on different sides of town. The most barbaric and dysfunctional behavior in humans comes from this layer. Most likely you have changed your mind about some of your notions about what is "right" within your life. You've changed, society changes, the priorities change. But all of us use our set of these conventions to determine what is acceptable and what is not. These ideas come from the social system, from authorities. This is the layer of things we "believe".

The frosting or top on this layer cake is where we "explore" - where we leave the comfort of the familiar and gather up the guts to strike out on our own. Here is where original ideas reside - where things that make intuitive sense live. We decide for ourselves. This is the land of joy and progress, where early independent thinking, not based necessarily on any previous rules or conventions, is nurtured. This layer is one of confidence and engagement. Enlightenment is not possible without some commitment to exploration that eschews the conventional and is independent from institutionally engendered beliefs.

Ideally, the characteristics of the love that underpins everything would illuminate the middle layers and inform the top layer. There would be unimpeded transparency from the bottom of the stack to the top.

For most of us, that is not the case. The two middle layers of "knowledge" and "beliefs" obscure and hinder the essence of love showing up in our life and therefore moving us forward into new space. Think of it as a stage light that has many gels and filters fixed on the front that guarantee that the light that illuminates the actor has significantly less intensity and a different color from that of the light itself. The filters that we add are reasons, almost all based upon fear, that tell us why we can't or shouldn't do anything other than what authorities and society - others - say is acceptable.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this. From the time that we are born throughout all of our education, employment and partnering, a full-up set of social conventions are driven into our minds. Authorities and important people in our lives reinforce a core set of rules and guidelines and we observe what society does to those who don't conform. We call them quirky, crazy, unreliable, immoral, and insane. The system expects that you will live in fear of the social implications that will result if you don't follow the "rules", either explicit or implicit.

Those rules - and, with them, a social structure - are what has given us the world we presently live in. It is axiomatic, therefore, that if you want to become enlightened or awake (or whatever you want to call your personal development) you will have to depart from the level of conventional beliefs and begin to think for yourself. If you don't, and instead keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting.

Here's the bottom-line presumption: the more love-light that illuminates your life, the better it will be. One way to state the purpose of life, then, is: to systematically eliminate the filters that hinder the ability of love to color all aspects of your life. Put another way: anything that hinders the proliferation of love must, by definition, be holding you back from what you can become.

There are two imperatives then, that must be put in place to become this new human: you must shed the conventional filters of fear-based rules that constrain the God-love light from fully illuminating all aspects of your life, and you must become an explorer, actively striking out into the relatively unfamiliar to find those new ideas and approaches that will allow you to become who you are next supposed to be.

"In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?"
- Siddhãrtha Gautama

This is not necessarily easy. It takes courage and resolution . . . and time and effort. But accomplishing anything significant requires all of that.

These ideas are sprouting up all over the place. Just today a friend sent along this link to one of Jason Mraz's new songs that suggests to me that this meme is spreading. Mraz is a Grammy award-winning singer and song writer who has a huge following.

God is but love and therefore so am I.

"Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." -- James Baldwin


WikiLeaks, Free Speech and Twitter Come Together in Virginia Court Case - (Washington Post - February 15, 2011)
An odd confluence of important issues came together in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, VA: the criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, free speech and social networking. It all stemmed from the government's attempts to get personal information from the Twitter accounts of three people linked to the WikiLeaks probe. Their lawyers argued that the data - screen names, mailing addresses, telephone numbers, credit card and bank account information, and Internet protocol addresses - are protected by the First Amendment. Prosecutors said the request is a routine part of their criminal probe. Legal arguments provided a high-profile test of outdated rules about what data the government can seize in the new world of social networking.

Distance Is Shrinking and Connections Are Strengthening between Nature and Humans - (Kurzweil AI - February 22, 2011)
Understanding and managing how humans and nature sustainably coexist is now so sweeping and lightning fast that it's spawned a new concept: "telecoupling." "This is a beginning of exploring the new frontier," said Liu, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU. "Telecoupling is about connecting both human and natural systems across boundaries. There are new and faster ways of connecting the whole planet - from big events like earthquakes and floods to tourism, trade, migration, pollution, climate change, flows of information and financial capital, and invasion of animal and plant species."


Breath Sensor Predicts an Asthma Attack the Day Before - (New Scientist - February 11, 2011)
A handheld breath sensor can warn someone with asthma that an attack is imminent, buying them time to take preventive medication, perhaps as much as 24 hours. The breath sensor, developed by Siemens, measures telltale rise in levels of nitrogen monoxide. NO is produced naturally in the body, and can signal the beginnings of inflammation in the bronchial tubes. If unchecked, the inflammation will constrict the airways and trigger an asthma attack. The sensor can detect levels of NO in the breath as low as 1 part per billion, but the higher the level the more severe the impending attack may be.

Researchers Aim to 'Print' Human Skin - (CNN - February 19, 2011)
Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine were inspired by standard inkjet printers. "We started out by taking a typical desktop inkjet cartridge. Instead of ink we use cells, which are placed in the cartridge," said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute. The device could be used to rebuild damaged or burned skin. The project may take another five years of development before it is ready to be used on human burn victims, he said. Burn injuries account for 5% to 20% of combat-related injuries, according to the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine. The skin printing project is one of several projects at Wake Forest largely funded by that institute, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense. To see a video clip of how it works: click here.

Mobile Phone App Spots Cancer with 100% Accuracy - (Daily Mail - February 25, 2011)
The device, developed at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, consists of a smartphone connected to a miniature MRI machine. In tests, patients with suspected stomach cancer had tiny samples of their growths removed using a fine needle. The researchers then added in antibodies designed to bind to proteins found in stomach tumors and tiny magnetic particles designed to latch onto the antibodies. They then used the magnet in the hand-held MRI machine to excite the molecules in the sample, making them vibrate. The more the molecules vibrate, the more likely the sample is cancerous. The smartphone app computes the results and provides doctors with a read-out.

Nearly All Drug Trials Scientifically Invalid Due to Influence of the Mind - (Natural News - February 22, 2011)
A new study in Science Translational Medicine has cast doubt over the scientific validity of nearly all randomized, double-blind placebo controlled studies involving pharmaceuticals used on human beings. It turns out that many pharmaceuticals only work because people expect them to, not because they have any "real" chemical effect on the body. When test subjects were told that they were not receiving painkiller medications - even though they were - the medication proved to be completely ineffective.

Herbal Remedies to Disappear from Shelves in UK and EU - ( WDDTY - February 23, 2011)
Most herbal remedies will disappear from stores in the UK and across Europe from next May when new EU legislation comes into force. Every single remedy from the Indian Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) traditions will also be barred. Popular herbal remedies - including red clover and chasteberry for PMS, hawthorn for cardiovascular health and meadowsweet for arthritis - will be removed from the shelves on May 1. In all, just 79 herbal products - including valerian and Echinacea - will still be available, says the Alliance for Natural Health International, which is mounting a legal challenge to the EU's Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive, responsible for the wholesale ban. (Editor's notes: Website requires free login. Ban, if upheld, will largely drive purchasers to Internet.)


Volcanoes "Wagging" Could be Clue to Prediction - (Vancouver Sun - February 24, 2011)
Volcanologist Mark Jellinek, at the University of British Columbia, says Mount Baker, located in Washington state, is probably overdue for an eruption - an explosion he and his colleagues hope to predict well in advance based on the how much "wagging" goes on inside the volcano as magma rises up from the deep. According to their research, volcanoes shake and vibrate in distinct and predictable ways when they are going to blow because giant columns of magma "wag" back and forth inside them.


Egypt Leaders Found 'Off' Switch for Internet - (New York Times - February 16, 2011)
Epitaphs for the Mubarak government all note that the mobilizing power of the Internet was one of the Egyptian opposition's most potent weapons. But quickly lost in the swirl of revolution was the government's ferocious counterattack, a dark achievement that many had thought impossible in the age of global connectedness. In a span of minutes just after midnight on Jan. 28, a technologically advanced, densely wired country with more than 20 million people online was essentially severed from the global Internet. For all the Internet's vaunted connectivity, the Egyptian government commanded powerful instruments of control: it owns the pipelines that carry information across the country and out into the world.

Imagining a World of Total Connectedness, and Its Consequences - (New York Times - February 14, 2011)
In his new book, World Wide Mind, Michael Chorost sees "the coming integration of humanity, machines, and the Internet." His predictions are conceptually feasible, he tells us, something that technology does not yet permit but that breaks no known physical laws. Mr. Chorost also wrote "Rebuilt," about his experience with deafness and his decision to get a cochlear implant in 2001. In that eloquent and thoughtful book, he refers to himself as a cyborg: He has a computer in his skull, which, along with a second implant three years ago, artificially restores his hearing. In World Wide Mind, he writes, "My two implants make me irreversibly computational, a living example of the integration of humans and computers." He takes off from his own implanted computer to imagine a world where people are connected by them.

First Full Color Display with Quantum Dots - (Technology Review - February 22, 2011)
Researchers at Samsung Electronics have made the first full-color display that uses quantum dots, semiconductor nanocrystals that glow when exposed to current or light and consume less than a fifth of the power of LCDs. They emit different colors depending on their size and the material they're made from. Quantum-dot displays promise to be brighter, cheaper, and more energy-efficient than those found in today's cell phones and MP3 players. Samsung's four-inch diagonal display is controlled using an active matrix, which means each of its color quantum-dot pixels is turned on and off with a thin-film transistor and can be produced on glass as well as on flexible plastic.

Home Internet May Get Even Faster in South Korea - (New York Times - February 22, 2011)
South Korea already claims the world's fastest Internet connections - the fastest globally by far - but by the end of 2012, South Korea intends to connect every home in the country to the Internet at one gigabit per second. That would be a tenfold increase from the already blazing national standard and more than 200 times as fast as the average household setup in the United States. A pilot gigabit project initiated by the government is under way, with 1,500 households in five South Korean cities wired. Each customer pays about 30,000 won a month, or less than $27.


Exxon Struggles to Find New Oil - (Wall St. Journal - February 16, 2011)
In a recently released annual financial report, Exxon said that for every 100 barrels it has pumped out of the earth over the past decade, it has "replaced" only 95 (in terms of locating new reserves). It's a conundrum shared by most of the other large Western oil-producing companies, which are finding most accessible oil fields were tapped long ago, while promising new regions are proving technologically and politically challenging.

First Molten Salt Energy Project Gets Green Light - (Inhabitat - December 16, 2010)
SolarReserve's Rice Solar Energy Project will end up looking a lot like the solar thermal tower above but will have a secret weapon hidden underneath - molten salt. Since the salt will be able to reach temperatures over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and retain most of the heat it collects during the day, the plant will have the ability to keep churning out juice long after the sun goes down.


USDA Deregulates GMO Corn Engineered to Produce Fuel, Not Food - (Natural News - February 16, 2011)
On the heels of the USDA's decision to deregulate GM alfalfa, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has now decided to completely deregulate genetically engineered corn used for ethanol production. The public spin on this decision is that it will allow the growing of corn engineered to produce more ethanol fuel, thereby improving the efficiency in the conversion of corn to fuel. However, in a world where food prices are rapidly rising, where crops are failing due to radical weather events, and where food stockpiles are at their lowest levels in many decades, the idea of converting food to fuel is utterly ludicrous. Making matters even worse, there's the simple fact that the ethanol advocates simply refuse to admit: Growing corn for fuel consumes more fuel than it produces!

'Judgment Day' for High Speed Rail Tracks - (South China Morning Post - January 10, 2011)
China's vaunted high-speed rail lines could start to disintegrate within 5 years, according to a researcher. The issue is low quality ash used in the concrete that forms the base of the tracks. "I'm not talking about small problems, but big problems," says Zhu Ming, "the miracle of Chinese high-speed rail will be reduced to dust." According to a study by the First Survey and Design Institute of China Railways in 2008, coal-fired power plants on the mainland could produce enough high-quality fly ash for the construction of 100 kilometers of high-speed railway tracks a year. But more than 1,500 kilometers of track have been laid annually for the past five years. Enter low-quality fly ash.

Mind Control Puts You in Charge - (New Scientist - February 21, 2011)
Engineers at the Free University of Berlin in Germany have developed a largely autonomous car whose speed and direction can be the driver's thoughts. Why do this, you may well ask? Well, imagine your autonomous taxi of the future (think of the Johnny Cabs in Total Recall) is taking you home the wrong way. You just think "right here" and the car will turn and plan a fresh route. Using laser radars, microwave radars and stereo cameras, the car can perform 360-degree obstacle detection and sense a car in front from its fenders up to 200 metres away. In all respects it's a state-of-the-art autonomous car - fully capable of driving itself or interfacing with other control systems like the iPad or iPhone. Oh yes, the brain/auto interface also works - but, as they caution, "Don't try this at home." Yet.

Saving the World Two Strokes at a Time - (Hemmings Blog - February 17, 2011)
EcoMotors, a start-up auto company is planning to bring to market a completely new concept in engine design.. It's called OPOC (Opposed Piston Opposed Cylinder), and it's a turbocharged two-stroke, two-cylinder, with four pistons, two in each cylinder, that will run on gasoline, diesel or ethanol. The two pistons, inside a single cylinder, pump toward and away from each other, thus allowing a cycle to be completed twice as quickly as a conventional engine. Earlier this year, the company received an injection of $23.5 million from Khosla Ventures and Bill Gates, and says it will have a vehicle engine ready for production by 2013. They're predicting 100 MPG in a conventional car.


Sick Oxen May Rattle Kim Jong Il Regime as Food Shortages Worsen - (Bloomberg - February 11, 2011)
North Korea's dependence on animals to plow fields and haul harvests adds greater urgency to containing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease before planting begins in the country, already dependent on food handouts. More than 10,000 draught oxen, as well as cattle and pigs have been infected with the disease, with thousands of them already dead, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency has reported. The outbreak comes as leader Kim Jong Il struggles to ease shortages after floods and as the United Nations and the U.S. maintain diplomatic and economic sanctions. "It takes only a small cut in food supply to trigger a huge shock to North Koreans, who are already barely surviving in normal times," said Cho Bong Hyun, a research fellow at the IBK Research Institute in Seoul. "North Korean society is at a point where you can't rule out large-scale riots." The outbreak may disrupt farming in a nation where an estimated 2 million people died from famine in the mid-1990s.

Chinese Rice Laced with Heavy Metals - (Yahoo - February 16, 2011)
A recent edition of the New Century magazine cited studies showing that large amounts of Chinese rice have been tainted with heavy metals like cadmium for years but that little has been done to highlight the dangers. "During China's fast-paced industrialization, activities such as mining have sprung up everywhere, releasing into the environment chemical elements like cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other harmful heavy metals," the report said. "No matter if the tests were taken by agricultural ministry departments or by academics, research all shows that about 105 of Chinese rice has levels of cadmium that surpass standards."


TSA Refusal to Release Body Scanner Safety Reports Has Many Crying Foul - (Natural News - February 14, 2011)
Two months after lawmakers ordered the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to release safety reports about the levels of radiation being emitted by baggage X-ray machines, naked body scanners, and other airport security equipment, the agency has yet to make this information public. The reports, which remain in the hands of TSA officials, are allegedly being retained to protect "sensitive security or privacy-protected information." TSA workers and travelers have continued to file numerous complaints about radiation exposure not only from the new machinery but also from faulty and poorly-maintained machinery. TSA responded by insisting the machines have all passed safety inspections, but it refused to provide evidence for this claim.

Darpa's Cheetah-Bot Designed to Chase Human Prey - (Wired - February 25, 2011)
Perhaps you thought the four-legged BigDog robot wasn't eerily lifelike enough. That'll change soon. BigDog's makers are working on a new quadruped that moves faster than any human and is agile enough to "chase and evade." Boston Dynamics, maker of the Army's robotic mule BigDog announced today that Darpa has awarded it a contract to build a much faster and more fearsome animal-like robot, Cheetah. As the name implies, Cheetah is designed to be a four-legged robot with a flexible spine and articulated head (and potentially a tail) that runs faster than the fastest human. In addition to raw speed, Cheetah's makers promise that it will have the agility to make tight turns so that it can "zigzag to chase and evade" and be able to stop on a dime.

A Remote Town in Romania Has Become Cybercrime Central - (Wired - January 31, 2011)
Three hours outside Bucharest, Romanian National Road 7 begins a gentle ascent into the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. Meadowlands give way to crumbling houses with chickens in the front yard, laundry flapping on clotheslines. But you know you've arrived in the town of Râmnicu Vâlcea when you see the Mercedes-Benz dealership. Among law enforcement officials around the world, the city of 120,000 has a nickname: Hackerville. It's something of a misnomer; the town is indeed full of online crooks, but only a small percentage of them are actual hackers. Most specialize in ecommerce scams and malware attacks on businesses. According to authorities, these schemes have brought tens of millions of dollars into the area over the past decade, fueling the development of new apartment buildings, nightclubs, and shopping centers. Râmnicu Vâlcea is a town whose business is cybercrime, and business is booming.


The Education of John Boehner - (Seattle Post Intelligencer - February 19, 2011)
John Boehner (R-Ohio), Speaker of the House, described a recent 5-day debate on the floor of the House as the opening act in a drive to decentralize power in the House, to shift it from the speaker's office and leadership after decades of creeping control of the chamber in fewer hands. Even some veteran Democrats praised what was the most open and sprawling floor fight the House had seen in years. "After as little openness as we've had, it's a very big change. It's refreshing, and I think it's a good thing," said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House and a member of Congress since 1955.

Obama Allocates $44B for Naked Body Scanners - (Natural News - February 16, 2011)
The Obama administration recently announced its $3.73 trillion dollar budget plan for the 2012 fiscal year beginning on October 1. The new budget includes a more than $44 billion allocation for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to purchase 275 more naked body scanners to be installed at U.S. airports, despite continued outcry from health experts and the public about the machines' safety hazards, threats to personal privacy, and complete ineffectiveness. Up 3% from last year's budget, the DHS allocation is part of the administration's efforts to have 1,275 naked body scanners installed in airports by the end of 2012. The plan disregards the numerous testimonies from security experts who have dubbed the machines "useless," and say they fail to detect explosive materials any better than conventional scanners.

Virginia Explores Adoption of State Currency in Event of Federal Reserve Collapse and Depression - (Smart Economy - February 24, 2011)
After many, many paragraphs beginning with "Whereas", the Virginia legislature adopted the following: Resolved by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That a joint subcommittee be appointed to study whether the Commonwealth should adopt a currency to serve as an alternative to the currency distributed by the Federal Reserve System in the event of a major breakdown of the Federal Reserve System. (Editor's note: the entire text of the bill can be read on the link site.)

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children Their Right to Seek Justice - (Natural News - February 22, 2011)
The parents of a child permanently damaged by a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine sought compensation by first filing their case with the vaccine court -- a special pseudo-justice system set up by the U.S. government to provide blanket immunity to the drug companies while still offering settlement payouts for parents whose children are damaged by vaccines. Since being formed in 1986, this court has paid out $1.9 billion to parents whose children were damaged by vaccines.


Iraq's "National Day of Rage" - (Uruknet - February 25, 2011)
Although there has been a near total media blackout on Iraqi protests, they have been going on in every major Iraqi town for the past few weeks. These protests culminated in a so-called "National Day of Rage", organized by Iraqi youth. The press has been banned from reporting any of this. Central Baghdad is now closed to all vehicles and particularly to TV vans. It is reported that a number of senior officials, ministers and members of parliament have left the country.

Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution - (New York Times - February 16, 2011)
Halfway around the world from Tahrir Square in Cairo, an aging American intellectual shuffles about his cluttered brick row house in a working-class neighborhood. His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly seems like a dangerous man. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution - most notably "From Dictatorship to Democracy," a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages - have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.


The Sad Truth about Facebook Happiness - (Irish Times - February 21, 2011)
A recent study conducted at Stanford University found that browsing Facebook and other social-networking sites can contribute to feelings of unhappiness or low self-esteem. The freedom to browse the profiles of friends (and friends of friends) is a form of licensed nosiness. But the fleeting enjoyment to be had from flicking through these presentations of other lives can leave users feeling somewhat hollow once they switch off and find themselves back in their actual lives. As one Irish journalism student put it, "I can safely say that nearly every time I come off Facebook I feel like I should be re-evaluating some aspect of my life. Then I come back into the now and realize I have just been a victim to successful acts of personal publicizing."


Is a Rogue Giant Orbiting Our Sun? - (Time - February 16, 2011)
When a pair of University of Louisiana astronomers, writing in the journal Icarus, advanced their recent theory about a new mystery planet in our solar system - and a very, very big one - their colleagues mostly just listened politely, then went back to work. They reckoned without the Web, though. A few days later, the British Independent ran an article about the possible planet, and suddenly the idea went viral. The likely reason the story caught fire: a key sentence that read "But scientists now believe the proof of its existence has already been gathered by a NASA space telescope, WISE, and is just waiting to be analyzed." That's just close enough to the truth to be dangerous, something that John Matese, co-author of the Icarus paper, admits - sort of.

Milky Way Stuffed with 50 Billion Alien Worlds - (Discovery News - February 19, 2011)
There are at least 50 billion exoplanets in our galaxy. What's more, astronomers estimate that 500 million of these alien worlds are probably sitting inside the habitable zones of their parent stars. This announcement was made by Kepler science chief William Borucki at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. However, Kepler didn't actually count 50 billion exoplanets, this number comes from extrapolations of the data taken so far by the exoplanet-hunting space telescope. Kepler has only studied 1/400th of the sky, and it can only detect exoplanets that pass in front of (or "transit") their parent stars. Also, it needs more time to detect exoplanets that orbit further away from their stars.

Vatican's Space Mission - (BBC News- February 19, 2011)
After centuries of mistrust between religion and science, a new website has been set up by the Vatican and Italy's scientific community. The website, which will be available in Italian and English, has information on everything from astronomy to theology, from space missions to philosophy and art. It is being run jointly by the Vatican and the Italian Space Agency, ASI. It will have three portals - one for a general audience, one for students and their professors, and one for scholars.

Data Suggests That Earth Once Shared Its Orbit with Mars-Sized Planet - (Daily Galaxy - February 25, 2011)
Hidden in the mass of data from the Kepler telescope is a planetary system that has two of its apparent planets share the same orbit around their star. If the discovery is confirmed, it would support the theory that Earth once shared its orbit with a Mars-sized body, labeled Theia, that later collided with it, creating the moon. The two planets are part of a four-planet system dubbed KOI-730 that circle their sun-like parent star every 9.8 days at exactly the same orbital distance, one permanently about 60 degrees ahead of the other. In their night sky, each would appear as a constant, blazing light.


Deepening Crisis Traps America's Have-nots - (Telegraph - January 09, 2011)
There is a telling detail in the US retail chain store data for December. Luxury outlets saw an 8.1% rise from a year ago, but discount stores catering to America's poorer half rose just 1.2%. Tiffany's, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue are booming. Sales of Cadillac cars have jumped 35%, while Porsche's US sales are up 29%. Cartier and Louis Vuitton have helped boost the luxury goods stock index by almost 50% since October. Yet Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have languished. Retail data can be quirky but it fits in with everything else we know. The numbers of people on food stamps have reached 43.2m, an all time-high of 14% of the population. Visits to soup kitchens are up 24% this year.


Scientists Build the World's First Anti-laser - (BBC News - February 17, 2011)
Physicists have built the world's first device that can cancel out a laser beam - a so-called anti-laser. The device, created by a team from Yale University, is capable of absorbing an incoming laser beam entirely. But this is not intended as a defense against high-power laser weapons, the researchers said. Instead they think it could be used in next-generation supercomputers which will be built with components that use light rather than electrons.

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

Global Alert Maps (RSOE EDIS Website - no date)
Constantly updated, this website provides a disaster and emergency "alert maps" covering the entire globe. Click on the part of world you are interested in and see critical data displayed over the map. The website also tracks indications of global warming and includes a volcano database. The website is sponsored by National Association of Radio Distress-Signaling and Infocommunications. (Editor's Note: the Alert Maps webpage looks bland, click on anything to get into the site; there is a great deal of information in it. For example, see this.)


Theo Jansen's Strandbeests - (You Tube - November 30, 2010)
Kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen builds 'strandbeests' from yellow plastic tubing (PVC) that is readily available in his native Holland. As Theo refines their designs to harness the wind more efficiently, the graceful creatures who slowly move over a sandy beach have evolved into beautiful phantasmagoria.


No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future. ~ Ian Wilson

A special thanks to: : Kenton Anderson, Bernard Calil, Jackie Capell, Kevin Clark, Kevin Foley, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Ray Goodman, Kurzweil AI, Rudolph Lohmeyer, Petra Peiterse, Diane Petersen, Abby Porter, T. Roberts, Stu Rose and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.


Edited by John L. Petersen

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