Good news you probably didn't hear about 🌈
Africa is officially free from wild polio. 25 years ago it paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent. Since then, billions of oral vaccines have been provided, preventing 1.8 million cases. It's one of the greatest healthcare success stories of all time. If you get a chance today just pause, and take a little moment to appreciate this extraordinary achievement. BBC
It's election season, so naturally this one didn't make headlines. Since 1965, Gallup has been polling Americans about whether they want immigration levels to decrease, increase, or remain the same. In 2020, for the first time in the poll’s history, more Americans said they wanted to increase immigration than decrease it. Cato
In perhaps one of the most globally consequential yet under-reported stories of the year, China has issued new rules for its distant water fishing fleet. The country's Wildlife Protection Law will now apply at sea, ships will no longer be allowed to 'go dark' or approach marine protected areas, ship captains who break the rules will lose their license for five years and company managers will be banned for three years. Earth.org
A series of studies in the US, the UK and 26 other countries has shown that loneliness during the pandemic has not only leveled out but, in certain cases, improved. People have found ways to maintain social connection, and there's been a renewed appreciation for the importance of relationships. If these trends continue, the social recession many feared could turn out to be a social revolution. Scientific American
Since the 1970s, more than 90,000 km2 of desert in Niger has been regreened, thanks to a technique known as farmer-managed natural regeneration. These huge forests of thorny trees are now productive farmland, yielding over a million more tons of grain than before. A desolate land, once bereft of life and on its way to desertification, has been utterly transformed. Mongabay
Indistinguishable from magic 🐇
A company in California is claiming it's developed 'nano-diamond' batteries, powered by nuclear waste. Their energy density blows everything else out the water, lasting decades without needing a charge. We're watching this one closely - if they figure out a way to turn their proof of concept into a commercial product, all bets are off. New Atlas
Researchers in Wales have used a new X-ray scanning technique to digitally dissect three 2,000 year old mummified animals - a house cat, a kestrel and a cobra. The 3D images have a resolution 100 times greater than a medical CT scan, allowing the remains to be analyzed right down to their smallest bones and teeth. Sci Tech
Chalk another one up to science fiction. An AI technique originally invented to play Atari video games has just been used to defeat one of the world's best F-16 fighter pilots in a simulated aerial dogfight. The algorithm's edge came from its ability to ignore G-force, and its 'superhuman' aiming (and the system is capable of running on a single chip). Wired
Confronted with Japan’s chronic labour shortage, one of the country's largest construction companies is building a giant dam with robots. Remote-controlled cranes will pour concrete into slabs to build the dam up in layers, with humans acting as overseers instead of workers. "By transferring expert techniques to machines, we're able to analyze what was once implicit knowledge." Interesting Engineering
Biologists were curious about how hummingbirds, who make their nests behind waterfalls, pass through the heavy sheets of water. When they used a high speed camera the results surprised everyone. Rather than flying head on the birds lead with one wing while the other remains free to generate thrust, allowing them to pierce the veil in 0.1 seconds. "Nothing in the literature could predict that." Science Alert
Off the beaten track in the Dark Forest 📡
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." So begins one of the most influential books of the 20th century, in which the world would first gaze upon the future in all its awe and horror, and which its author confessed was written in a “blind animal panic". Elizabeth Sandifer goes deep on the birth of cyberpunk, and it's excellent stuff. Eruditorum Press
Mehr Nadeem on the rise of Saudi Arabia's female gamers. "The hall flooded with nearly 3,000 women, some as young as 13 and others in their 50s. It was only when the women walked through the doors into the all-female space that their abayas slipped off to reveal an array of cosplay costumes." Rest of World (doing such great reporting at the moment).
The streaming wars have finally caught up with Hollywood, and it's looking ugly. There's a changing of the guard happening right now and the studio bosses appear to have lost their central place in the American power structure. To be honest it's hard to feel sorry for any of the people in this article. Good riddance. NYT
Just because it's natural, doesn't mean it's good. Smallpox is natural. Vaccines aren't. Gangrene, parasitism, animal rape, baby murder, siblicide, matricide, and cannibalism—all bona fide natural. Evolutionary biologist David P. Barash explores the dark side of evolution, warning us that while it's a wonderful thing to learn about, it's a terrible thing to learn from. Nautilus
Naomi Klein isn't really our cup of tea. She bangs the drums of doom a little too enthusiastically for our liking. However in this article she makes an excellent point: we're ignoring young people during this pandemic, to our detriment. "Young people can do more than go to school or stay home; they can also contribute enormously to the healing of their communities." The Intercept
Human: Kind 🌏
Meet Susan Somali, who runs the Pejaten Animal Shelter in Jakarta. It's home to over 1,400 animals, which Susan and her team rescue from the streets and butcher shops. They have a policy of never turning an animal away - no matter how stretched their resources are they'll always take on new arrivals. At the same time, the 55-year-old mother of two is on the frontline battling COVID-19 as a clinical pathologist. She works in a laboratory that tests samples for the coronavirus and other illnesses.
Susan started the shelter in an upscale Jakarta neighbourhood more than a decade ago. “Whenever I saw an animal in distress I always took them home with me. As a child, I would do that during my commute from school. As a young woman, I would do that during my way home from university and now on my way back from work”. Channel News Asia
Give a damn 💖
A few months ago we sent A$9,000 to the Friendship Bench, a charity in Zimbabwe that trains grandmothers as counsellors. We just got an update:
With your money we brought 25 tablets with which we are starting a pilot with a group of Grandmothers - back to school it seems! We developed an app to help them deliver the Shona language screening tool for depression that we use here and then also for data collection so we can monitor the intervention. The app is on the tablets and we are beyond excited to see if the Grandmothers can grasp the use, we are 99.9% they will, they must have grandchildren who they can get extra lessons from at home.
Once we know they can manage we will buy some more until all our Grandmothers become tech-savvy. They get very happy and become motivated when there are new things to learn. There is still a bit of money left, so once stores open again we will purchase simple smart phones for our supervisors so that they can support the Grandmothers to deliver problem-solving therapy via WhatsApp. This pilot would not have been possible without the donation from Future Crunch."
Jean, Ruth & the tech-savvy Grandmothers
That's it for this edition, thanks for reading.
Remember. Optimism is a choice you make and a skill you develop. The mind is just as malleable as the body. We spend so much time and effort trying to change the external world, other people and our own bodies, while accepting that our minds just are the way they are. We accept the voice in our head as the source of all truth.
But all of it is malleable, and every day is new.
We'll see you next week
Science, technology, intelligent optimism. Subscribe now