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Environmental Scanning through a collection of:


What is a Sign of the Times? Signs of the times are the result of information gathering that looks for inventions, innovations, attitudes and actions. Signs of the times come from many sources, are systematically gathered and have meaning for the future.

What is a Trend? A trend is long-range and persistent; it effects many societal groups, grows slowly and is profound. In contrast, a fad is short-term, "in", effects particular societal groups, spreads quickly and is superficial.

What is a Mega-trend? A mega-trend extends over many generations, and in cases of weather, mega-trends can cover periods prior to human existence. They describe complex interactions with many factors and they often represent the introduction of several new paradigms or worldviews that arise in hunting and gathering, agriculture, and industrial societies.

Trend babies: Here you find general trends or signs of new trends ("trend babies") from the categories social, technical, ecological, economic or political. Trend babies grow from innovations in the above categories that have the potential of going mainstream in the future (for example: just a few years ago, alternative medicine was truly alternative. Now it is big business and very respectable). The choice of trends is naturally influenced by the author's values.

Trend families: Very often, the chosen Signs are members of a trend family. A parent trend (for example, the change from an industrial society to a knowledge-based society) is well documented. The ways in which such sweeping trends play themselves out in various parts of the community represent the "members of that trends family".

Examples: Jobs in the industrial sector have shrunk causing widespread unemployment.


Many countries see small business as a solution to unemployment, driving unprecedented attention to small business in many countries legislatures.

Another example of a trend related to the move from industrial to knowledge society is the privatization of the education industry.

As in all cases in Signs, sustainability is one of the larger branches from which many other twig-sized trends grow. Sustainability is "the property of being sustainable", "using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged". In Signs, I use it to mean sustainable development, "an approach to economic planning that attempts to foster economic growth while preserving the quality of the environment for future generations."

Confirming Trends: When does a "trend baby", gain acceptance as a bona fide trend? When it gets enough confirmation in the various media to show it is an increasingly accepted value, behavior or technology.

Geographical trend growth and "bellwether" geographic sites: There is also an attempt to follow the global spread of trends that have started in the West (for example, Women's rights are a generally accepted topic in the media and on the Internet. Just how and when women's rights develop in various countries can represent global growth of that trend.) Some places seem to lead development in one or a variety of areas and are looked to as the source of new trends. California has long been considered as bellwether for the United States. The Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have been considered bellwether in social innovation.

All trends, to a greater or lesser degree affect our lives, our work and our futures. Our ability to understand that effect can many times make a positive difference in the quality of our lives.


Back to Signs of the Times.


from February 04, 2008
For commentaries on these Signs of the Times see the Blog entitled Signs Commentaries at visionscentret.blogspot.com

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Do it yourself trend

Amatörskådisar nya trenden (The new trend in amateur actors)

This trend comes from Argentina where huge financial problems have inspired cooperative ownership and alternative economic systems. This trend of film-making started in the city of Saladillo, ten years ago. The films are in the extreme low-budget category and young directors begin with the type of cameras one usually finds at home. They use local citizens as their actors. In one case, a favorite amateur has played 18 different rolls. During the ten years film critics and the countries TV-channels have taken increasing notice of these films which are culturally valuable as they share all the different accents in the country.

Film festivals have begun to have a category for this film genre. In the founding city Saladillo, as many as 300 local citizens and their major have participated. The trend is spreading outside the country; Ecuador is interested in locally produced films and offer courses in film creation. After many years of directing films, the young directors improve to professional standard. This process provides a practical education in direction, acting and the other skills needed in movie making.

Source: Miljömagasinet Nr. 2
Author: Marcela Valente/International Press Service
Date: January 11, 2008




Cleaning up after wars (harder than ever, but maybe getting easier)


A new British airship, called Mindseeker is fitted with a radar system originally created for the military which could speed up the process of cleaning up landmines which with current methods could take 100 years. It penetrates the ground and locates mines both on and under the ground.

This new process is precise and will save thousands of lives. Private funds and assistance from the British Defense Evaluation and Research Agency are funding the project. Special programming has been created to convert the results of the radar into 3D computer graphics which make it easy to identify the location, type and depth of each mine. Those who demine are somewhat hesitant to use the new technology as can be expected with anything new. The Mineseeker does not solve all of the problems; mines still have to be blown-up. It is a tool which can save time in the location portion of the operation of removing landmines and cut the losses in life for those working in the field as well as the local citizens. The hope is to have a fleet of airships fitted with the radar system available in two years.

Source: Video from Mineseeker
Date: November, 2007
URL: www.mineseeker.com/video.htm




Transparency on the rise

Transparency Tyranny

While this trend was listed on a trend list from 2007, it remains on an upward swing. Sub-trends are: transparency of views and recommendations; transparency of intentions (to purchase); transparency of price; transparency of inner company workings and transparency of advice .

Most of this transparency is due to the Internet. Blogs, social networks like Face Book, customer comments solicited by companies on their home page and product recommendations are just a few of the Internet examples. Politically, there have been a series of tribunals or meetings to get at the truth of what happened to disappeared, massacred, tortured or killed individuals in Rwanda, South Africa and Argentina among others where official meetings were held with perpetrators, often facilitated by court officials (often) and private citizens.

Source: Trendwatching.com
Date: January, 2007
URL: www.trendwatching.com/trends/transparency.htm



The blurring of “soft” and “logic or facts” in males and females

”Bättre kommunikation kan spara 22 miljarder i byggsektorn” Better communication can save 22 billion in the building industry

Research has confirmed what most people already know, again. Research in September-October of 2007 by The Swedish “Construction Industry Service” states that poor communication is linked to huge financial losses. Misunderstandings about what is to be done and having to tear it out only to do it again are attributed to 13% of all estimated construction costs for the year 2006 or 22,500 million crowns.

Generally speaking communication is considered to be one of the soft issues reserved for women. In the male dominated construction industry, it is clear that more effective communication could greatly raise profits that would be far beyond what the cost of training could possibly engender. This study is a first in validating and opening communication as an issue for the construction industry. The information came from 240 decision makers in the major construction companies, who were interviewed by telephone.

Source: IVA- aktuellt Stockholms Univeristy
Date: December, 2007, Issue number 9




Un-changing roles of men

Pappor blir chefer (Fathers become bosses)

The chance that a man will become a “boss” increases when they have children. The chance that women will become bosses after becoming mothers hasn’t changed.

The study was composed by Stockholms Universities Institute for Social Research.

Source: Stockholms universitet
Date: November 28, 2007
Author: Jean Parr
URL: www.sofi.su.se/pub/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=5848&a=30583 



Questioning the value of profit

“Measuring Civil Society and Volunteering”

Using new and officially sanctioned methods, the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, researchers have been able to mathematically show the “economic scale and importance of civil society and volunteerism” in the United States and around the world. A “Handbook on Non-Profit Institutions in the System of National Accounts” has been created to standardize the statistics for purposes for economic research and policy making. At this time 28 countries have signed up, but only eight (listed below) have actually completed the work necessary to gather and use the statistics.

In volunteering and philanthropy giving of one’s time is double the giving of cash and represent 25% of non-profits contribution to the economy. The civil society accounts for an average of 5% of the Gross Domestic Product in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Japan, and New Zealand and the United States. Actually, the United States and Canada, civil society sector accounts for 7%.
Comparatively speaking, civil society makes up on average 5% of the GDP, utilities 2.4%, construction 5.1% financial intermediation, 5.6% and Transport (including+ storage and communication) 7.0%.

Source: Johns Hopkins University
Date: November 19, 2007
URL: www.jhu.edu/ccss/




Sustainable Transportation step by step

Car sharing


Car sharing is one of those trends growing under the radar for most people, yet it is an international phenomena. You will find it in “600 cities around the world, in 18 nations (marked in black on the map), and on four continents”. More growth was expected after this report as eight more countries were considering projects. The chart shows the even growth of car sharing, where a number of people or families pay membership fees, their own fuel costs and other costs which are far under what it would take to purchase a car, pay for insurance and upkeep themselves. The organization takes care of maintenance.

This option is not for everyone, but for working families living in large cities it is a clear option. Businesses have also started programs so that their employees have access to vehicles during the day, but do not have to provide each individual with a “company” car. Car sharing organizations are co-operatives, companies and not-for-profits. Environmentally friendly cars don’t appear to have broken through yet, but smaller cars are often available. In September of 2007, a CarSharing group in Toronto plans to work with another organization Carbon Zero. When one drives, Carbon Zero helps you calculate the carbon dioxide emissions of that trip (or trips). You purchase an equivalent “offset” which means that your purchase is used to create renewable wind, water or solar energy which would not have been created any other way.

Source: CarSharing.net. Carbon Zero
Authors: Susan A. Shaheen, Ph.D. and Adam P. Cohen
Date: 2006
URL 1: carsharing.net/library/UCD-ITS-RR-06-22.pdf
URL 2: www.carbonzero.ca/learn/whatisanoffset


    Back to Signs of the Times.  
  from November 26, 2007  


Social Hugging

Where Students Can't Hug

In an attempt to keep students free from harassment, and in particular physical harassment, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that schools were responsible for harassment free environments. An unexpected consequence of that was that many schools began to make any form of physical contact with another student against the rules and punishable. In extreme cases hand holding and even high-fives were prohibited. In some schools, children cannot hold hands or braid one another’s hair. These prohibitions were driven by fears of libel suits by parents.

In a recent case, afterschool detention was the punishment for one 13 year old girl who hugged two friends, a public display of affection. Difficulties in interpretation are hardest when children reach puberty and the need to hug a boy or girlfriend is interpreted as the first step to a sexual relation. Of course, there are complaints that children are not taught what appropriate touch is; only that touching is bad. What happens when a child is shunned by her classmates when the word gets out that she has been punished and why? For more thoughts on this case see Signs Commentaries Blog.

Source: Time/CNN
Date: November 13, 2007
URL: www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1683668,00.html




Sustainability in Chemistry

Green chemistry's 'race to innovation'

One of the major problems in trying to be a good “green” consumer has been the chemicals used in making so many products. The first hints that this is about to change to “green chemistry” (designing chemicals to be environmentally benign and commercially viable) have arrived. As in many changes validity is established when there is a professor in a noted university who takes up the subject and does research in it. In this case, the example is professor Paul Anastas, at Yale University's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, but there are others. The concept was announced at a conference where other “green chemistry” argued their case for industry leaders.

Nanotechnology, using molecules to create new or synthetic chemicals and their interactions with other chemicals, has begun to raise fears as to their unknown future reactions. The public’s driver for “Green chemistry” is the desire for environmentally friendly products and producers are driven by more energy-efficient and cost-effective products. Investments are going into water filtration, bioplastics, building materials and biofuels.

Source: New York Times
Date: November 12, 2007
Author: Martin LaMonica
URL: www.nytimes.com/cnet/CNET_2100-13838_3-6217663.html




Energy sustainability

Alternativen som inte räddar oss (The alternative that doesn’t save us)

Much has been written in “Signs” about the development of hydrogen and a hydrogen economy. There are positive sides to hydrogen as a “clean” fuel and as a way to break dependence upon “foreign oil”. A new infrastructure, new automobiles and technologies are needed to make it an actuality. At the present time, platinum is being used in hydrogen cells. This is a rare mineral, less common than gold or silver, has to be mined and processed (environmental damage not reported) and is found largely in Africa.

Any system dependent upon one rather rare mineral which will come to be desired all over the world is destined to have problems. According to those following hydrogen developments, there is still a lot of research left before a hydrogen system can be universal. Others give the impression that the cars are being produced as concepts and much investment is moving the process along. Wind and sun energy will still be needed as the energy source for hydrogen development.

Source: Miljömagasinet Nr. 45
Date: November 9, 2007
Author: Håkan Larsson



Economy and Migration

Eastern European growth is tempting its workers home

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development predicts that individuals from Eastern European countries that have immigrated west will be headed home soon. Poland is the first and major example of economic development and growth and others are predicted to follow.

The act of immigration by so many skilled workers created a scarcity and rising wages, combined with a growing economy is enticing back the same workers. They are eager to return home preferring to work in their native land.

Source: Guardian Unlimited
Date: November 8, 2007
Author: Ashley Seager
URL: www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/nov/08/




Sustainability Food vs. Transportation

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS LOOMS as global warming takes toll

Reports of food shortages, boycotts and rising prices for basic food commodities of wheat, rice, maize and dairy foods are occurring at this time. Riots triggered by food shortages have occurred in West Bengal and Mexico. Any crisis hits the poorest first. Food shortages are threatening the stability of some governments. In richer countries, the problem is exemplified by rising food prices and boycotts.

This dangerous situation is attributed to of a combination of higher oil and higher food prices, increasing world population and extreme weather conditions. Specific policies have exacerbated the problem have been the record breaking price of oil (raising the price of fertilizer), the change in American redirection of grains from use as food to bio-fuel, and increased demand from India and China. The amount of American grain production dedicated last year to ethanol was 20% and another 20% is planned to this year. Since 70% of the total world grain export comes from the USA, many problems have resulted. Feed grain is higher resulting in higher dairy food costs. Other countries like Brazil, India and Africa have jumped upon the bio-fuel production bandwagon speeding up the shortage trend. Other driving trends are declining fish stocks and exhausted and eroded soils.

Source: Guardian Unlimited (The Guardian)
Date: November 3, 2007
Author: John Vidal
URL: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/nov/03/food.climatechange 



Understanding today’s illnesses

ADHD Kids Can Get Better

It is always fun to report good news. A couple of studies looking at ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) find that is not a permanent disorder. It is a developmental lag which all but 1/4 to 1/3 of children catch up within a few years. The others carry it into adulthood.

When comparing the brain scans of normal and ADHD children of the same age they found the most obvious differences in the prefrontal cortex which is related to memory, attention focusing, higher-order motor control and the ability to suppress inappropriate responses and thoughts. Development was faster in the ADHD children’s primary motor cortex exaggerating their need to move all the time.

Source: Time/CNN
Date: November 12, 2007
Author: Krista Mahr
URL: www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1683069,00.html




Media knowledge or miss-knowledge

Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women

Signs reported earlier on the dangerous differences between the numbers of women and men in China. The one-child per family policy twenty years later has resulted in 150 males to 100 females, a disturbing situation from a sociological point of view. The well thought of TV reportage program “60 Minutes” reported on this situation in 2007 attributing it as always to the one-child policy and the traditional preference for male children as providers not only to their families, but as the primary pension providers to their aging parents. Female children were then aborted and killed in huge numbers. Other journalist had written about this and it became accepted knowledge.

In 2005 an argument was made to show that Hepatitis B carriers have offspring gender ratios of about 1.50 boys for each girl, higher than the ratios for Asian countries, with the highest 1.07 found in China, India and Pakastan, even higher than western ratios. In China, in particular, 10 to 15% of the population is infected with Hepatitis B.

Source: 60 minutes, Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women
Author: Leslie Stahl, Emily Oster
Date: April 16, 2006, March 12, 2005
URL 1: www.cbsnews.com/stories/

URL 2: home.uchicago.edu/~eoster/hepb.pdf


    Back to Signs of the Times.  
  from October 04, 2007  


Media In flux

Open Media

Earlier we mentioned prizes given by The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland in the U.S. to encourage diversity in news coverage. It was titled Citizen Media. Another alternative filling the vacuum by the major media is Open Media. It is defined as making it easier to find high-quality video programming that informs, educated and engages the public on the subjects people care deeply about.

Some trends articulated by The Project for Journalism Excellence in 2004. They describe a shrinking audience, money spent on distribution over journalists, lack of synthesis or order in stories, easily manipulated press used by attention seekers and more. Against that background we have Citizen Media, Open Media, the growth of targeting a particular niche and trying to focus on where the news subject fits into the system of which it is a part.

Source 1: Institute for Interactive Journalism (J-Lab)
Source 2: The Open Media Network, from website under “Mission”
Source 3: The Pew Research Center: Journalism.org
Responsible 2: Silicon Valley veteran, Mike Homer  
Date 2: 2006
Date 3: 2007
URL 1: www.j-lab.org/nv2007_release.shtml
URL 2: www.omn.org/about_omn/
URL 3: www.stateofthenewsmedia.org/narrative_overview_eight.asp?media=1




Trends against sustainability

Använd mindre bensin eller kriga mer! (Use less gasoline or fight more wars!)

In 1996 response to California’s environmental regulations to achieve zero emissions, major motor companies came out with an EV or Electric Vehicle. General Motors responded with 1.134 cars were built and 800 were issued under a leasing program. Still other electric cars were produced by many other auto producers. There were none to be purchased, but were leased to citizens who were reluctant to give them up at the end of the mandated period. All the EV’s were then destroyed both the leased cars and those never driven.
This attempt to eliminate the electric car from the competition occurred once before around the 1920’s in the United States (although they also disappeared from European roads as well). One of the complaints was that the new road system required longer-range vehicles (batteries were not as effective as today). The price of crude oil went down to the point that average consumers could afford it and electric starters (1912) did away with the hand crank that made driving oil engines more difficult. Mass production of internal combustion engines by Ford took the price down and electric cars were history.

Why did this occur? The earlier incident appears to have been caused by gasoline becoming cheaper (oil interests), the invention of starters (eliminating the external crank) and other innovations. Although we have reached the peak of oil extraction, the oil cartel still has a lot of potential profit to make on what is left. Other interests pushing against change. Electric cars have few moving parts and electric car dominance would be the end of the parts and repair industries. This involves thousands of jobs and profit loss. EVs cost less and last longer which means less profit for the automobile industry.

Source: Miljömagazinet, Documentary “Who killed the electric car?”
Date: July 27, 2007, June 9, 2006
Author: Volker Bräutigam , Director Chris Paine
Translation: Thomas Daligk
URL: www.miljomagasinet.se/artiklar/070801_elbil.html




Food Security

Vertical Farm

The economic conundrum of feeding 8.6 billion people in 2050 has inspired a creative solution in Vertical Farming. In the next 50 years the number of individuals is expected increase to around 9.2 billion which will require farm land that is about the size of Brazil if all citizens are to be feed. Vertical farming is urban food growth in multiple storied buildings, placed on city lots, using nature’s processes. Vertical farms are intended to offer a varied food supply for the 60% of the people that will be living within cities by the year 2030. Vertical Farming is expected to feed and provide drinking water for 50,000 people a year with a prototype coming I 5 -10 years.

Not only is the acreage for farming disappearing due to the sheer numbers of people on the planet, but the quality of the available farmland is diminishing. In extreme cases desertification is taking place. This vision accepts the prediction that 80% of all individuals will be living in urban areas in 2050. It allows former farmlands to renew themselves naturally and hopefully cleaning and renewing the soil.

Source: Vertical Farm
Date: September 3, 2007
URL: verticalfarm.com/news.php




Recycling for sustainability

SOPOR SOM BISTÅND OCH BROTT (Trash as foreign aid and criminality)

We purchase and throw away more electronic equipment than ever before. Computers and white goods, like many other used products are being sent out of the country to another who is willing to accept it. The European Union’s European environmental Bureau figures that the huge amount of electronic goods is growing three times faster than other categories of scrap. The total volume is thought to be around 40 million tons a year. The Congo and Nigeria are two examples. When the electronic and household electronics arrive, they are dumpt on the ground and burned. The air becomes dangerous to breathe and dangerous chemicals go into the ground and water.

Clever individuals get a hold of the computers, refrigerators, etc, and get them working. The renovated appliances and electronic equipment often enable the start of a small business or improved lifestyle. The program asks whether they are shipping over dangerous environmental wastes or the raw materials for a foreign aid program. This is just one of many instances where recycling fails. Instead of handling them ourselves, the most volatile of wastes are from richer countries are shipped to poorer countries leaving the pollution and problems for them to handle.

Source: P1, Swedish Radio, Konflikt
Date: September 29, 2007
Author: Randi Mossige Norheim
URL: www.sr.se/cgi-bin/P1/program/index.asp?programID=1300




Cross disciplinary approaches

Ecopsychology Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind

“Signs” has taken up other new cross disciplinary fields. Ecopsychology is reported to have been stimulated by an essay by Aldo Leopold titled "The Land Ethic" which looks at how the individual psychologically relates to the environment.

You will notice that the publication date of this book is 1999. Is this a sign of the times or just a one time instance from the past? The date indicated that this is still a new field that is spreading. The Italian web site auraweb takes up the subject of ecopsychology (2005). In 2005, Natalie Dian, in response to growing long-term sick leaves, presented a theory to over 150 people, that the political and value changes in the country of Sweden, between the early part of the 20th century and the present largely contributed to a cognitive dissonance that created stress and a bevy of generalized symptoms and raising sick leave numbers. The University of California in Santa Barbara is offering a course in ecopsychology in the summer of 2008.

Source: EcoTopia
Book: Ecopsychology Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind
Editors: Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner
Reviewer: Don Weiss
Published Date: May 30, 1999
URL: www.ecotopia.org/about/ecopsychology.html
References: www.auraweb.it/articolo_benessere.asp?cid=9&aid=1701




New Measurments

“A time like no other” – Boston Indicators/Hub of Innovation

We have earlier reported that cities, businesses and even the world are beginning to use more inclusive measurements than BNP economic measure. This is an even more complex method based on good examples for municipal living from all over the world. The attempt was to understand the region around Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Foundation established an Indicators Report.

The areas in the Hub are Civic Vitality, Cultural Life and the Arts, Economy, Education, Environment and Energy, Health, Housing, Public Safety, Technology, Transportation. Each subject has a summary, context, key trends, accomplishments and developments, challenges and innovations (local, national, and international). One can check on neighborhoods, youth, social ethnicity, sustainable development and also by geographic areas of the city. A number of indicators based upon research are listed along with a simple explanation of results.

Source: The Boston Indicators Project
Date: October 4, 2007
Author: Seth J. Itzkan
URL: www.tbf.org/indicatorsproject/hubofinnovation/innovation.asp




Unconscious Health Care change

Local doctors are opting out of insurance-based medicine /Extra money buys time with physician

Both American doctors and patients are coming to the same conclusions; that medical insurance companies are not worth the time or the investment. Patients feel they don’t get their medical bills covered in spite of large insurance payments and that the level of care is low. Doctors feel they spend less and less time with patients and have less control over diagnostic procedures.

The result is that doctors and some patients are pulling out of medical insurance plans. One program developing in California is called, among other phrases, concierge care. The patient pays an annual membership fee which they can try to recover from their insurance company. One doctor charges $1,800 per year and has lowered his patients list from 2,800 to 380 and doubled the amount of time spent with each patient. Another manifistation is the doctor who uses a pay as you go system. When a medical emergency comes along they are billed and if they have insurance they have the responsibility of filling out the forms and getting reimbursed. This works well with wealthier patients. The relationship between doctor and pateint is strengthened, more preventative work can be done. New ideas in health care need to start somewhere. Hopefully, they will give inspiration to creative solutions for the 4.9 million California citizens without any insurance and poor in monitary resources.

Source: The Ventura County Star
Author: Tom Kisken
Date: July 23, 2007
URL: www.venturacountystar.com/news/2007/jul/23/209iquot-sortquot209iquot-sortquot209iquot-dont/


    Back to Signs of the Times.  
  from August 21, 2007  


From Corporate to Citizens Journalism


For years now, telephone cameras and video/digital cameras have been used to contribute to major news stories. What about the small, community stories. The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland in the U.S. has decided to encourage diversity in news coverage by awarding grants.

The grants cover a wide range of activities which will produce: monthly community news program with a neighborhood focus for cable access television and video blogs, news and information site for urban residents telling of major real estate development projects that might affect them, local citizen journalists and build a news and information portal, a news and information hotline to supplement available media via web, phone, mobile text messaging and listservs, develop Spanish/English news and interactive narratives explaining climate change, training for embed citizen journalists for local weekly TV program, the best public affairs programming produced by college and independent radio stations, interactive experience to track how residents see climate change affecting a state's economy.

Source: Institute for Interactive Journalism (J-Lab)
Date: April 4, 2007
Press Release
URL: www.j-lab.org/nv2007_release.shtml




Growing understanding of waters importance

Water find 'may end Darfur war'

Using infrared, radar, and other techniques from satellites, researchers discovered an ancient underground lake, or aquifer, the size of North America’s Lake Erie. It lies in Sudan where the Darfur tragedy is taking place. The root of the conflict between Islamite, pastoralist or camel herders and African farmers is based upon water issues, so this discovery could be a partial step in ending the conflict. If over ground the aquifer would be the 10th largest lake in the world.

The original lake was fed by rivers but there is no information that exploratory wells to be dug by Egypt and the United Nations will not lead to an emptying of the aquifer. The same technology found water under Egypt where wells have already been dug and are irrigating 130,000 acres of farmland.

Source: National Public Radio (NPR)
Date: July 20, 2007
Author: John Nielsen




China, the New hegemonic state?

Costa Rica breaks relations with Taiwan

Costa Rica has broken their diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to be able to attract foreign investment from China. Since China doesn’t have relations with lands that recognize Taiwan, their fast passed economic growth appears to be the drawing power.

Central America has, since the China/Taiwanese split, supported Taiwan. The Taiwanese are now concerned that Costa Rica might be the first of many who will shift their recognition to Beijing, particularly worrying are Nicaragua and Panama.

Source:Associated Press on Yahoo!
Date: June 7, 2007
Reporter: Marianela Jimenez
URL: news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070607/




Creating new energy systems

Sverige på efterkälken – och Varför ? (Sweden lags behind - -Why?)

Olof Tengström, head of HydrogenOrganization, which advocates hydrogen fuel development and implementation in Scandinavia and over the world answers the question, about why Sweden is ignoring hydrogen as a fuel source while neighbors Norway, Germany, Denmark all move quickly ahead with hydrogen. Norway is developing Hydrogen Highway with which Sweden has said they are a participant, but no implementation of the concept can be found. In Sweden, much emphasis has been placed upon biofuels as a source of energy for transportation instead.

A 100 year period with a state owned energy company (Vattenfall) is said to be a part of the problem. Two - hundred years without war has not broken up market groups, and provided competition, as it has in other parts of the world. The two large car manufacturers, Volvo and Saab, with over 50,000 employees inspire extreme loyalty (even after they were bought out by American Ford and GM). For some reason, possibly due to owner’s goals for them and government indifference, they have not focused on hydrogen models. This was compounded by many years of the same political party who allowed it’s self to become beguiled by traditional industry and dependent upon their tax income to support social services. Journalists in the automobile industry have a difficult time surviving if they are not loyal to the two major Swedish companies so they tend not to report on alternatives.

Source: Technology Review (MIT), Olof Tengström’s Hydrogenorganization e-mail
Date: February, 2007, August, 2007
Author: Brittany Sauser , Olof Tengström
URL: www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18173/




Fighting Globalization Trend

Living in a world of walls

Walls or security fences, both are names for a growing phenomenon. There are three main motivations for walls between nations. The only one used to keep citizens in is that around North Korea. Prohibiting possible terrorists attack is one motivation. A planned wall or physical barrier in Thailand, on 75 miles of shared border with Malaysia, has such a goal. Observers feel that the trend indicates that the whole border between Thailand and Malaysia will be walled. In India, a wall is being built between Pakistan and India. Pakistan is walling itself in on the border with Afghanistan with a 2,400- kilometer fence. Uzbekistan has built a fence along its border with Tadzjikistan.

Another reason for barrier building is to keep refugees out. Put another way, they are barriers between richer and poorer. A wall is being built by China along its North Korean border and one in Saudi Arabia is in the process on its border with Yemen. Still another migration barrier is the one threatened along the U.S. border with Mexico. Currently, India is building a longer barrier between them and Bangladesh to keep out migrants.
Wall building across the West Bank is to assert boarders as between Israel and Palestine. In a world where the open global market prevails, the closed border is fast becoming the latest political expression.

Source: straingt.com (Vancouver, Canada)
Date: February 15, 2007
Author: Gwynne Dyer
URL: www.straight.com/article-71001/living-in-a-world-of-walls




Renewing schools

Why the power of song is being promoted in schools

Signs of the Times reported earlier on the campaign to improve the school lunches that British school children are offered. The British government has recently appointed a "singing ambassador". The job includes inspiring those who already are proponents of singing in schools. Good examples of music in schools have been promoted and used as motivation for other schools. Having a well known figure as “singing ambassador” keeps the idea alive and well until it has time to fully develop.

Singing has been found to have a positive effect on behavior, improves memory and concentration. Music is non-competitive, involves no losers and is thoroughly enjoyable. Songbooks are being redone to include songs from many traditions and to remove old colonial and hegemonic references. All the music is attuned to the singing voices of children whose voices are not always suitable for songs that adults can sing. Many years ago Signs also reported on massage (mostly hand massage) being used in Swedish schools with good effects. It is difficult to know if this trend only last as long as the British government is still putting ten million pounds behind the effort.

Source: The Independent
Date: June 7, 2007
Author: Hilary Wilce
URL: education.independent.co.uk/schools/article2619395.ece




Niche communities for those who think alike

Birds of a Feather

In retirement there appears to be a trend towards communities of like thinkers in the United States. Themes for these communities so far are: living close to nature, with others of the same religion, sexual orientation or profession (Air line pilots). There is even a group called “neopagan anarchist pansexuals”! They live in cabins or condominiums, houses or near golf courses. Some of the communities provide more planned social life than others.

This trend might have grown from the gated seinor communities from the 70’s and 80’s. They are also called active senior communities as opposed to residences for those who have health problems, are no longer mobile and require nursing care. It is also not surprising that American Baby Boomers, who reportedly have good economic resources, are establishing their own communities. Retired Jewish people have been moving from the North East to the South East parts of the country for around forty years, often to communities developed for just that purpose.

Source: The New York Times
Author: Tim Neville
Date: April 6, 2007
URL: travel.nytimes.com/2007/04/06/travel/escapes/06retire.html


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  from Oktober 08, 2006  


Education integrating learning and brain research

1. Learning how to teach boys
2. Grafton OKs all-boys class for 8th-graders; District might add girls

For those following changes in education theory, it is not news that boys have a harder time learning and get lower grades than girls. They get more negative attention because they are louder and move around more.  Gender learning differences have long been a topic for discussion. A group called the National Association for Single Sex Public Education say that over 200 public schools in the the USA offer single sex classes. A school district in Chicago, USA, plans to prioritize the hiring of more male teachers, monitor grades and test scores long-term, build awareness among parents and teachers. In general they will review the arrangement in classrooms and the teaching techniques used.

One way of building awareness included including parents in a committee with teachers and administrators who looked at grades and test scores from a four year period. In particular they looked at differences between boys and girls and specifically at brain research on the way they process information. In classes where the children were between eleven (fifth grade) and fourteen years (eight grade) old, the girls had higher grades in reading, writing, science and math. The gap between the grades of boys and girls got even larder in the older grades. Boys are found in special education classes to a higher degree and are disciplined more often. This fall all boy classes will be offered to 8th graders in Wisconsin. They will have science, math and literacy from the same teacher. The rest of their courses will be in mixed classes. If enough girls are interested there will be all girl classes as well.

Source: 1.Chicago Tribune, 2. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Date: 1. September 1, 2006, 2. June 15 2006
Author: 1 .Lisa Black, 2. Katharine Goodloe
URL 1 : www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/north/

URL 2 : www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4196/




From centralized to decentralized energy

The Hydrogen Economy

Distributed power generation provides electric power at a site closer to customers on a small-scale bases. Distributed power unit can be connected directly or in close proximity to the consumer while also being linked to larger distribution system. Technologies used in DP systems are a mix of turbine generators, internal combustion engine/generators, microturbines, photovoltaic/solar panels, wind turbines, and fuel cells. DP are used for standby generation (if something happens to the main system), peak shaving capability (adding to a over loaded system during peak hours), baseload generation (primary energy source), or cogeneration (selling unused power to the larger distribution system).

There are a number of groups researching, fighting for law changes, uniting equipment manufactures, energy companies trying to implement Distributed Power. This concept has been building since approx. 1997. Drivers encouraging the Distributed Power trend are:  

Source: 1. The Hydrogen Economy 2. EM&C
Date: 2002, February 27, 2004
Author: 1.Jeremy Rifkin 2. George Zirnhelt, P.E., Power Systems Research, Inc.
URL: www.ecmweb.com/news/electric_future_small_scale/




Cross Disciplinary trend

Psychology & Behavioural Finance

Signs of the Times has been reporting on the cross- disciplinary trend for many years. Behavioral Finance is a “new” area (over 20 years) where research tries to understand emotions and non-rational thought processes in investing and decision-making. The fields of psychology, social psychology can help explain investments, stick market anomalies, market bubbles and crashes. The field has increased in intensity in the last five years.

Some of the research has looked at people’s reaction and behavior in relation to prospective gains and losses. Individuals respond more strongly and take larger risks in the face of prospective losses than they do with prospective gains. Others have looked at the feelings associated with losses due to bad decision making (where sorrow and grief play a role). When investing, people tend to give too much attention to recent experiences. The longer term averages and statistical odds give way to extrapolation of recent experiences. A market upswing or down swing causes more optimism and pessimism than the actual situation justifies.

Source: Harvard Business Review, JP Morgan, Yale School of Management
Date: September 13, 2006
URL 1: harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b01/en/search/

URL 2: www.jpmorganfunds.com/jpmam/index.jsp?p=Research+%26+Forms/

URL 3: www.mba.yale.edu/news_events/CMS/Articles/4450.shtm
URL 4: www.investorhome.com/psych.htm




Environmental education

Two films on global warming playing at the same time

Two films on global warming are playing in the same time in Sweden. They are both documentaries intended to raise public consciousness. One is Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth and the other The Planet, produced by Swedish Television.

Historically, governments don’t like to give bad news to the citizenry. They are afraid of panic and mass demonstrations and that they will be blamed. The reality is that our media is so strong now that it can reach out to many levels of society that traditionally would not have earlier had access. There will still be groups that will not be interested in hearing the message and many who will believe it is a plot of one kind or another. Others will find opportunities in the change and still others will finally feel that the world is beginning to wake up to what they have known all along. The larger middle group will begin to make some changes in their personal lives and in their beliefs.

Source: PA Ståhlberg
Date: September 13, 2006
URL 1: www.climatecrisis.net
URL 2: http://svt.se/svt/jsp/Crosslink.jsp?d=55174&from=program_ao




Political structure of schools changing

Charter Changeover

New Orleans schools are taking advantage of the chaos of Katrina to reinvent their school system. Traditionally schools fall under local school boards in school districts. In an attempt to free schools from old patterns a concept of Charter schools was developed. Charter schools are schools are only responsible to State Education authorities for their results, not their curriculum or methods. Generally speaking Charter schools have done well and have a good reputation. It is this model that is taking root in the renewed New Orleans.

This new school structure is being in established in an environment filled with question marks. Will the students and teachers return? Will more flooding wipe out the new schools? There are many other infrastructure questions. However, the chance to totally redo the worst school system in the country is a huge incentive. Schools in the state of Louisiana have a academically unacceptable level of 8% (which is bad enough), but almost 2/3 of New Orleans public schools were in that category before Katrina. The danger is that as the new Charter schools fill up there will be a huge competition for students. Parents will be able to choose which school they want for their children. If schools don’t get the students, they don’t get funding. The consequences could be better education for the children of New Orleans or a huge amount of pressure on both teachers and students on success over learning.

Source: Governing’s
Date: September 2006 issue
Author: Rob Gurwitt
URL: www.governing.com/articles/9schools.htm




Changing migration patterns

PRB 2006 World Population Data Sheet: International Migration Is Reshaping United States, Global Economy

Migration patterns have typically been from undeveloped countries to OECD (developed) nations. However, a new pattern is emerging. Instead of moving from poor to rich ones, the almost 3 million people who move for economic reasons are moving from less developed countries to “developing” or more developed countries. It is predicted that the pattern will increase. Examples given are movement from Bangladesh to India, from India, Egypt and Yemen to the Persian Gulf States.

The drivers of this pattern are high birth rates coupled with poverty. Developed countries, with low birth rates will benefit this trend. Even developing countries can benefit as birth rates go down for them as well.

Source: Population Reference Bureau
Date: 2006
URL: www.prb.org/Template.cfm?Section=PRB&template=/




Healing brain

Doctors Say Man's Brain Rewired Itself
Vegetative patient 'communicates'

Two articles and an earlier article in Signs of the Times report discoveries having to do with regenerative brain functions hitherto unknown. After a severe brain injury and having lived in a state of minimal consciousness for over 19 years, a man returns slowly to life. His speech function and ability to count are improving while he still can not fully feed himself nor walk. It appears that if the brain cells are still alive, new connections can grow, but there is no guarantee that the connections will lead to function development. Dr.’s caution there is still much to learn.
After an auto accident in 2005, a woman lived in an unresponsive vegetative state with an inability to communicate. She is now recovered and uses a keyboard to communicate. Using FMRI, healthy brain activity was compared to the accident victims and all were asked to perform the same tasks. The brain patterns were the same for both groups. The tasks had to do with picturing home and thinking about different scenarios.

While both cases used different scanning techniques, the theme is that brain cell activity can still be in place and that nerve cell connections can regenerate. Scanning gives us knowledge as to what is happening in the brain of an unconscious, minimally conscious or vegetative person. The doctors in both cases report their findings with cautions, particularly about generalizing as brain activity depends upon the kind of damage. They are also clear that brain cells must be alive in order for newly developed nerve cells to function. Earlier Signs reported that new nerve cells develop in normal brains in adult hood and old age breaking the age old myth that the brain stopped developing in adulthood.

Source 1: Forbes.com
Source 2: BBC News
Date 1: July 3, 2006
Date 2: September 7, 2006
Author 1: Marilynn Marchione
Author 2: BBC News
URL 1: www.forbes.com/entrepreneurs/feeds/ap/2006/07/03/ap2856360.html

URL 2: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5320234.stm


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