News Review IV

Sunday, November 17th 2019
In the news: Venice floods. Wind and solar projects. Storing a movie in glass. Surveillance of Americans. Impeachment. Expose or protect whistleblowers? Epstein's death. Russian hacking, Russian money, conservative politics.

Climate

Sustainability education In Italian schools: Societal growth in the next century depends on coming generations fully understanding human impact on the environment. In particular, our contribution to rising temperatures. In Italy, the education minister announced that climate change education is now compulsory in all schools. 33 hours a year will be dedicated to curriculum guided by the UN's 17 sustainable development goals: sustainability, preventing and cleaning up pollution, and social issues. This implementation of compulsory sustainability curriculum is a world first. Good work leading the charge here, Lorenzo Fioramonti and the Italian government at large. Read the article

Shell's electricity play: Global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is proving its intent to migrate to a new generation of energy. The company is purchasing French wind and solar energy company, EOLFI. The company has been pioneering technologies to float offshore windfarms in waters too deep for traditional anchors. It is clear why this technology was an attractive investment; the International Energy Agency estimates that offshore wind will become a $1T market by 2040. Shell aims to become the world's largest power company and will invest 10% of its budget into power by 2025. Let the money flow into renewables. Read the article

0.2% of operations emit 46% of methane in California: NASA imaging satellites revealed the same pattern we're seeing in global CO2 emissions. The majority of California's methane emissions come from just a few facilities. It's great news that we can identify an enormous amount of these emissions so effectively with satellites, especially because methane (CH4) is 25-100 times better than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Balancing freedom of business and the impact businesses have on our climate is an increasingly important but tricky problem. Read the article

Carbon dioxide harvesting: Scientists and firms are evaluating ways to collect and use carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere. Ultimately, I believe many carbon capture technologies will be very important to our society. However, being able to productively use captured carbon will be critical to economically scaling them. I look forward to seeing the day when John Deere makes big green CO2 harvesters. Read the article

Fox news reporting legitimate studies on rising seas: Wow. Fox news cited multiple scientific studies laying out the connection between CO2 emissions, global temperatures, and sea level rise. This is a very strong article that even discusses the growing threat posed by the melting Antarctic ice sheet. They also touch on President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which was aimed at keeping sea level rise manageable. Fox News has been full of surprises over the past few months. Read the article

Venice floods: An immediate dose of reality is a great way to change those who ignore it. On Tuesday November 12th, the Veneto regional council met at their office in Venice to to vote on measures aimed at countering climate change. The council majority rejected the measures. No less than two minutes later, the council chambers began flooding. As of Friday, Venice is in a state of emergency and rains continue while flood waters inch closer to the all time record. Read the article

November 2019 Venice floods   

$2.7B energy project at Fukishima: The earthquake-damaged Japanese prefecture is undertaking 11 solar and 10 wind projects amounting to 600 megawatts of generation capacity by 2024. Read the article

Technology

Microsoft stores a movie in glass: Microsoft's Project Silica is developing technologies to encode data in etched quartz glass. The most interesting part is their retrieval mechanism: machine learning algorithms that decode patterns created by light as it is shined through the glass. The is a relatively industructible way to store digital information, but the medium's I/O problem might take quite some time to figure out. It's still really, really cool. Read the press release

Microsoft Project Silica   

Most Americans know they're being watched: According to a Pew Research study, over 60% of Americans believe they are regularly tracked during their daily lives. Edward Snowden publicly revealed the U.S. government's use of secret FISA courts to authorize widespread data collection on Americans. According to the study, Americans have also shown an awareness of mishandling or intentional misuse of the data we give to technology companies. Read the article

FCC's robocall crackdown fail: Since 2015, the FCC has levied $208.4m in fines against robocallers, but it has only collected $6,790, showing the difficulty of targeting robocalling operations. Read the article

"Eerily Cogent" text-generation AI released: OpenAI released their GPT-2 AI model. They previously stated they would not release it due to the danger it posed. It is so effective at generating text from very limited input that they feared it could be used to generate disinformation at scale. Feed it a news headline, and it can write a reasonable news story. Equal parts promising and concerning. OpenAI stated they had not seen widespread misuse and so chose to release the model. Read the article

New bill proposes a Digital Privacy Agency: Two representatives from California have instroduced a bill that would create the Digital Privacy Agency. The agency would enforce privacy protections for American citizens' online data. Read the article

Using brain waves to reconstruct images: A recently released paper details a new way to use non-invasive electroencephalograms to visualize images as they are interpreted by the brain. The results are amazing. Read the article

Original images shown to people alongside images resulting from the novel analysis of EEG data   

Politics

Donald Trump invited to Russian Victory Parade: Each year, Russia celebrates the Soviet Union’s World War Two victory over Nazi Germany. President Vladimir Putin extended an invitation to President Trump to attend the 75th anniversary parade. Trump responded with "I’ll see if I can do it, but I would love to go if I could." Read the article

BBC will air all impeachment hearings: Since the House Intelligence Committee began holding public hearings on November 13th, BBC's Parliament television network has gone live from Washington, D.C. Read the article

Trump's tax returns will go to the Supreme Court: The President's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear their appeal of a lower-court ruling that would allow the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to obtain eight years’ worth of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns from his accountants as part of its criminal investigation. Read the article

Donald Trump Jr. exposes alleged whistleblower: On Wednesday November 6th, the President's son tweeted the name of a CIA analyst and claimed he was the whistleblower whose complaint started the impeachment inquiry. Donald Trump Jr. tweet came as part of the administration's larger effort to discredit the whistleblower and paint the impeachment as partisan. Read the article

The whistleblower statute: Many Republican lawmakers, including senior leaders in the Senate, stated that all laws protecting whistleblowers should be followed and that the whistleblower has a right to remain anonymous. Some of those senior Republicans had previously made whistleblower protections a legislative focus. Read the article

Jeffery Epstein didn't kill himself: A growing number of people have publicly stated that Jeffery Epstein's death was not a suicide. ABC News' Amy Robach stated on a hot mic that the network stopped a bombshell story on Epstein. A former Navy SEAL, Mike Ritland, was invited by Fox News to discuss the military dog involved in a raid to kill an ISIS leader. During the interview, he blurted out "Epstein didn't kill himself." A GOP congressman, Paul Gosar, has tweeted about the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The first letter of 27 of those tweets spelled out "EPSTEIN DIDNT KILL HIMSELF." Even the Syrian President chimed in. Across the internet, people have begun to post memes questioning Epstein's death, often explicitly stating that his death was not a suicide. Read the article

President Trump actively sought hacked DNC/Clinton emails: Newly released notes from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation detail Trump's direct attempts to get the DNC's and Hillary Clinton's emails. It was found that the source of many of the hacked emails was Russian intelligence. The notes came from interviews with Rick Gates, Trump's former deputy campaign chairman. Gates was found guilty of conspiracy against the United States and making false statements in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. The notes detailed how Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, sought to use his intelligence connections to obstain the emails. Flynn was found guilty of lying to the FBI about contacts with Russian intelligence and the Russian Ambassador to the United States. Investigators wrote that then-candidate Trump said 'get the emails.' Gates also described further attempts Trump and his family members made to get the emails. Read the article

All the king's men (this graphic is also out-of-date: Roger Stone was found guilty on all charges)   

Russian money linked to UK conservative politics: Revelations about Kremlin links to conservative donors are suspected of being blocked by Boris Johnson during the UK election. Read the article

Russia takes U.S. base in Syria: After Trump's hasty retreat from Syria, Putin continues to reign as king of Syria. His forces have now taken control of a U.S. airbase after the retreat. Read the article

Chinese soliders appear on the streets of Hong Kong: After new waves of protests, Chinese PLA soldiers are marching through the streets of Hong Kong in plain clothes. Their stated objective is to clean up debris. Read the article

Facebook's ad data reveals primary source of anti-vaccine ads: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has been shown to be the source ever since Facebook made their ad purchases open as part of a transparency effort. The ads funded by Kennedy are helping to fuel a dangerous and growing movement that is aiding the return of deadly infectious diseases. Read the article

W.H.