The John James Newsletter 215

posted Feb 16, 2018, 3:58 PM by Clement Clarke
The John James Newsletter 215

10 February 2018 

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A man without privacy is a man without dignity; the fear that Big Brother is watching and listening threatens the freedom of the individual no less than the prison bars 
Zelman Cowen

A population monster is plundering the Earth, threatening the future of our children everywhere, and all generations to come
Steve Sesalmony

No nation in recorded history has ever deployed its troops to more places than has the United States since 2001
Andrew Bacevich

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good 
Martin Luther King 

Facebook: Instead of news reports about the bigger world appearing at the top of our news feeds, posts from our friends are once more going to return to prominence – all that grumbling and sorrow and even worse, fake happiness, which only makes us feel more miserable about our own lives
Jenna Price

Vast Amounts of Mercury Have Been Found Lurking in The Permafrost 
The northern hemisphere's permafrost regions have been concealing a really unpleasant surprise: mercury. A lot of mercury. Nearly twice as much mercury as the rest of the planet's natural mercury combined. This finding has grave implications if the permafrost melts away. These maps show mercury concentration in micrograms per square metre for four soil depths. 

Why aren’t Labor or the Greens worried by this?
Cambridge Analytica used data from Facebook and Politico to help Trump 
In Australia the Liberal Party has engaged in conversations with Cambridge Analytica ahead of the next federal election. This profiling will drive provocative articles into the Facebook newsfeeds of persuadable voters. Cambridge Analytica may want to scare you into voting for their candidate.

The Last Days of Reality
These four strands meet in a tangled nexus of technology and capital, each amplifying the others almost beyond imagining, warping the fabric of reality, offering attractions so alluring many will find it difficult to resist, framing an emerging world that can only be termed ‘post-real’. As we blithely approach the last days of reality, technological progress engulfs every way of knowing, accelerating into epistemological crisis. The real world is about to disappear. 

Google’s AlphaGo AI wins three-match series against the world’s best Go player
Although AlphaGo could perform tens of billions of computations a second, it took thousands of games, played against very average human players, before it could beat a human reliably. Machine learning takes time. At that point Google’s researchers set AlphaGo against itself. AlphaGo knew enough Go to play a passable game, so setting it against itself allowed AlphaGo, across hundreds of thousands of matches, to deepen its strategic sense of the game. The program took on a 2-dan player in October 2015 and won those matches before defeating that first 9-dan player in March 2016. All along, AlphaGo had been learning, from itself and from the players it had defeated. It has already played more games of Go than any human in history, using every game to learn how to be a better player in the next match.
Self training machines, and with refinements to follow. If we cannot compete with our own creations, do we  ultimately – get discarded? Sounds like natural evolution. 
Learning to play Go from scratch
The updated version of AlphaGo Zero, uses a method called reinforcement learning, free of human guidance. The AI massively outperforms the already superhuman AlphaGo and, in my view, is one of the biggest advances, in terms of applications, for the field of reinforcement learning so far.

Almost four environmental defenders a week killed in 2017 
The slaughter of people defending their land or environment continued unabated in 2017, with new research showing almost four people a week were killed worldwide in struggles against mines, plantations, poachers and infrastructure projects. The toll of 197 has risen fourfold since it was first compiled in 200, underscores the violence on the frontiers of a global economy driven by expansion and consumption.

The Great Transition Initiative 
We want a life-sustaining society rather than an ecologically self-destructing one. We must inspire intelligent mainstream commitment to transformative systemic change. Why? Because piecemeal changes and the continuation of business as usual will not suffice.
Nevertheless, we persist 
The world fundamentally changed on the day of the Women’s March in 2017. Millions of women laced up their sneakers, put on their pink hats, and took to the streets to make their voices heard.

Changes to Facebook are set to make you feel hurt, angry and alone 
Through our daily journals, our daily disclosures, we all work for Facebook; and its financial success has always been built on our labour as we post into the night. Now, it will be built once more on our emotional labour. Facebook will have an even greater impact on our daily moods.

The Ozone Layer is Not Recovering and We Don’t Know Why
the ozone layer could also be getting thinner because damaging substances such as chlorine and bromine slipped through the cracks, and were not regulated under the Montreal Protocol.

'Fiction is outperforming reality': how YouTube's algorithm distorts truth
An ex-YouTube insider reveals how its recommendation algorithm promotes divisive clips and conspiracy videos. Company insiders tell me the algorithm is the single most important engine of YouTube’s growth. In one of the few public explanations of how the formula works – an academic paper that sketches the algorithm’s deep neural networks, crunching a vast pool of data about videos and the people who watch them – YouTube engineers describe it as one of the “largest scale and most sophisticated industrial recommendation systems in existence”. And one of the most controversial. 

‘Silver bullet’ to suck CO2 from air and halt climate change ruled out (!)
Scientists say climate targets cannot be met using the technologies, which either risk huge damage to the environment or are very costly. Ways of sucking carbon dioxide from the air will not work on the vast scales needed to beat climate change, Virtually all the pathways laid out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to reach the targets in the Paris agreement require huge deployment of so-called negative emissions technologies (NETs) in the second half of the century. “Negative emissions technologies are very interesting but they are not an alternative to deep and rapid emissions reductions. These remain the safest and most reliable option that we have.”

Climate change preceded Ice Age megafauna extinction
Melting glaciers and permafrost may have destroyed the grasslands that fed the giant prehistoric beasts of Eurasia and the Americas. 

Trump’s Drone Kill Rate 80 Times Greater than Under Bush
It took this admistration only seven months to surpass the number of civilian deaths in foreign nations that occurred during Obama’s entire eight-year presidency.

Australian miners receive twice as much in tax credits as the government spends on the environment 
Government support for environment protection is at its lowest ebb since before the landmark decisions to protect Kakadu, the Daintree rainforest and the Franklin river in the 1980s. while the federal environment department’s budget had been cut to a projected $950m, the commonwealth is expected to award the mining sector $2.5bn in fuel tax credits this year. An estimated $980m of that would go to coal companies.

Oldest Human Fossil Unearthed in Ethiopia
At about 2.8 million years old, the Ledi jaw may belong to “the stem for the Homo genus,” a team of researchers has now declared its original owner to be the oldest bona fide human ever found. Predating the previous oldest fossil by more than 400 millennia, the specimen pushes back the origins of our family tree.

Ancient Mayan city hidden under Guatemalan jungle 
Using a high-tech aerial mapping technique tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defence works and pyramids in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region, suggesting that millions more people lived there than previously thought. The discoveries, which included industrial-sized agricultural fields and irrigation canals. Roughly 10 million people may have lived within the Maya Lowlands, meaning that kind of massive food production might have been needed. “That is two to three times more [inhabitants] than people were saying there were,”

Julian Assange Loses Initial Bid To Overturn British Arrest Warrant
A judge in London yesterday rejected an application by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to withdraw a British arrest warrant issued against him in 2012. In a judgment full of obvious contradictions, she ruled that way even though a Swedish-initiated European arrest warrant—the trigger for the British warrant—was cancelled in May 2017.

Russiaburger: The Trump-Russia Scandal Unwrapped
Russia engaged in various efforts to influence or disrupt the 2016 presidential elections. Trump campaign staffers met with Russian officials and discussed the election. The president’s own son convened a meeting, attended by campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, with a Russian lawyer who promised compromising material on Hillary Clinton. After the election National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions then lied about their Russian contacts.

Radiation leaks at Fukushima pose a global threat
Seven years after the disaster, cleaning up the Fukushima site remains a massive challenge - and one that we're going to be reading about for decades, never mind years. Mycle Schneider, an independent energy consultant and lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, says that Tepco "hasn't a clue what it is doing” in its job to decommission the plant. "The contaminated water leaking at the site could end up in the ocean if the ongoing treatment project failed, causing a global disaster."

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