Today’s “Planet Earth Report” –Untold Story Pentagon’s UFO Program, Bitcoin’s Mysterious Inventor, “Wormwood” -A CIA Coverup?

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December 18, 2017: Today's links to headline stories from around the world on the threats, opportunities, and dangers facing our fragile planet –along with an occasional dash of humor, popular culture, and an intriguing conspiracy theory or two.

"The Inside Story of the Pentagon's Secret UFO Program" (New York Times Podcast)

 

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Luis Elizondo, who led the Pentagon's secret UFO program until October 2017 and Helene Cooper, who covers the Pentagon for the New York Times discuss for the first time why Elizondo resigned in protest from the shadowy program.

LISTEN HERE 

Trump Drops Climate Change from U.S. National Security Strategy

 

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President to outline new approach in unprecedented White House speech. The Trump administration will drop climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president is due to unveil on Monday. Instead, Trump’s NSS paper will emphasis the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world.

That stance represents a sharp change from the Obama administration’s NSS, which placed climate change as one of the main dangers facing the nation and made building international consensus on containing global warming a national security priority.

White House officials said on Sunday the Trump NSS was the culmination of 11 months of collaboration between all the leading security, foreign policy and economic agencies of government. The exclusion of climate change as a national security threat appears however to conflict with views previously expressed by the defense secretary, James Mattis.

“Climate change is not identified as a national security threat but climate and the importance of the environment and environmental stewardship are discussed,” a senior administration official said. Another official said Trump’s remarks when he announced he was taking the US out of the Paris climate accord “would be the guidepost for the language in the NSS on climate”.

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Wormwood: Obsession, Lies, and a CIA Coverup

 

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Errol Morris’s latest documentary is a rambling investigation into the death of a government scientist. Wormwood, which arrived on Netflix and in some movie theaters Friday, is a mind-boggling story involving LSD-spiked Cointreau, allegations of biological warfare against the U.S. government, Project MKUltra, mind control orchestrated by an allergist and a magician, and a son’s obsessive quest to find out why his father plummeted to his death from a 13th-floor Manhattan hotel room. So why is it frequently so stultifying and so claustrophobic? How can such a riveting real-life tale of CIA malfeasance be so turgid in execution, to the point where the camera spends 90-plus seconds in one episode simply watching an actor in military uniform mix a drink?

 

 

Wormwood has been widely heralded as groundbreaking work from the visionary documentarian behind The Thin Blue Line and the Interrotron interview method. Released as a six-part series on Netflix, and as a 240-minute long film in theaters, it combines interviews and archival footage with staged dramatic reenactment of events before and after the 1953 death of Frank Olson—a military scientist whose supposed “suicide” was complicated when the Rockefeller Report of 1975 revealed that he’d been secretly dosed with LSD. Morris has gathered an estimable cast of actors to play real-life characters, including Peter Sarsgaard as Frank and Molly Parker as his wife (Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson has what amounts to a baffling cameo as a sinister man with no name and no dialogue).

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A Century After Arthur C. Clarke's Birth, Science Fiction is Still Following his Lead

 
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At some point, most science fiction readers come across the “Big Three” authors from its so-called Golden Age: Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. Over the course of his lifetime, Clarke witnessed the birth of the space age, and helped push science fiction from a nascent literary movement into a modern vision for humanity’s future with grounded, realistic stories that drew on science and technology—themes that are more relevant than ever today, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

 

 

 

When Clarke began writing science fiction in the late 1930s, the genre was on the cusp of a major transformation. Up to that point, science fiction stories appeared in cheap pulp magazines, and were often sensational tales featuring murderous robots, outlandish planets, and swashbuckling adventure. As Clarke entered the field, the trend of scientific realism was on the rise, pushed along by editors like John W. Campbell, who ran the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Clarke, whose writing was grounded in a firm sense reality, found himself at home in this burgeoning movement. His vision for the future set the mold for his many literary heirs, including Alastair Reynolds, James S.A. Corey, and Allen M. Steele.

His longer works, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, Fountains of Paradise, and Childhood’s End, begin with simple, straightforward events—like the discovery of an alien monolith, the arrival of an extrasolar object, or the arrival of an alien spacecraft—and lead characters on remarkable, transformative journeys.

Clarke infused those journeys with plausible technology and recognizable settings, but also explored profound, transcendental notions about our place in the universe. He coined the frequently-quoted saying “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” His work often suggested that humanity is just one minuscule part of the cosmos—that there’s so much we still don’t know that could change the way we perceive the world forever.

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Bitcoin’s Mysterious Inventor is Now One of the World’s 50 Richest People

 

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Bitcoin was a whisker away from hitting $20,000 over the weekend, hitting a high of $19,771 yesterday, according to the CoinDesk price index. At that price, bitcoin’s anonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, would have been worth $19.4 billion, or the 44th richest person in the world, according to the Forbes rich list.

Satoshi Nakamoto’s net worth would be derived from the 980,000 bitcoins he, she, or they are estimated to own. These coins are likely to have been obtained from mining the nine-year-old cryptocurrency early on. The funds have stayed untouched for years.

Bitcoin’s inventor would be behind Swedish clothing brand scion Stefan Persson (son of H&M founder Erling Persson), Apple founder Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Trailing Nakamoto are billionaire Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (who called bitcoin “Enron in the making“) and Theo Albrecht, Jr., an heir to the German discount retailing empire Aldi.

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Records from Ancient China Reveal Link Between Epidemics and Climate Change

 
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Scientists are worried about the effects of long-term warming on human health and infectious disease, but a new study finds a link between epidemics and a cold climate.

By analyzing Chinese records throughout nearly 2,000 years of history—from between A.D. 1 and 1911—researchers have found that climate-driven disturbances like floods, droughts and locust outbreaks were associated with disease epidemics. The findings, published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, particularly suggest that climate-related agricultural failures may have led to famines and declines in human health and nutrition, which made communities more susceptible to infection.

Interestingly, the study suggests that long periods of cold, dry weather were the primary facilitators of epidemics in the past. The records suggest that cold periods in ancient and pre-modern China were associated with an increase in the frequency of droughts, as well as attacks of locusts.

As a result, the scientists write, "climate cooling could have resulted in collapsed agricultural production and reduced health conditions due to famine, thereby increasing the prevalence of human epidemic events."

The new research underscores the idea that climatic changes may affect human health in a variety of ways. Present-day concerns about climate change and infection often focus on the potential of higher temperatures to facilitate the spread of disease vectors, like mosquitoes. Indeed, scientists are already finding links between climate change and vector-borne diseases like malaria or dengue fever. But the new research suggests that climate-driven failures in agriculture may have had equally significant effects on human health and susceptibility to disease in the past.

It's also not the first time ancient climate cooling events have been linked to an increase in infectious disease. Some studies—such as one examining years during the Renaissance, published in PNAS in 2011, and another covering a period in the Middle Ages, published in Nature Geoscience last year—have suggested that periods of cooling in Europe have also been associated with both social upheaval and disease outbreaks.

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"Trump Excluded" –Twitter starts Enforcing New Policies on Violence, Abuse, and Hateful Conduct

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Twitter says it will now begin enforcing the new rules it announced last month to combat abuse and hateful conduct, including threats of violence and physical harm. The new rules expand policies to abusive or threatening content in usernames and profiles, and to accounts affiliated with hate groups both on and off platform.

Under Twitter’s policies, specific threats of violence, death, or disease to an individual or a group of people was already considered a violation. The new rules will apply to accounts including those that affiliate themselves with organizations that “use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.” Twitter says it will require tweets that glorify violence or the perpetrators of a violent act to be removed, and will permanently suspend accounts that repeatedly violate this rule.

There is one notable exception: the policy changes don’t apply to military or government entities. That would seemingly give President Trump carte blanche to continue his threats against “the little rocket man,” and to continue promoting violent xenophobic videos favored by far-right extremists, even when they’ve been disproven as fake news.

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