The counting continues, and the lawsuits are being filed as we speak. We've been up all night watching the results come in and after that horrible start, things are looking better this morning, although there's no sense of relief yet. Our nerves aren't even frayed any more. They're a broken, smoking mess that's dragged itself over to a dark corner and is now weeping quietly to itself, twitching at the slightest shadow. It wasn't ever supposed to be this close.  

A few things already seem clear. Firstly, American pollsters have officially joined economists and epidemiologists in the category of professions that will tell you tomorrow why the things they predicted yesterday didn't happen today. Something is seriously wrong there - despite blowing hundreds of millions of dollars, they appear to have screwed this one up even more badly than they did in 2016, and with almost exactly the same kinds of mistakes too. They're going to have to completely re-invent the practice of their craft in the next two years to remain relevant.

Secondly, after all those months of hand-wringing, it looks like democracy in the United States is alive and well. Institutions matter, yes, but so do culture and tradition, and after hundreds of years the practice of democracy is inseparable from the idea of what it means to be American in the first place. Voting was overwhelmingly orderly and calm, the counting process has been smooth and secure, and the country witnessed astonishing levels if turnout. Remember that if Biden does win, he'll receive more votes nationally than any presidential candidate in US history. That's something to keep in mind when the recriminations start flying.

In the meantime, the world continues to turn. It might feel like there's only one story at the moment but of course that's not true. We're pressing send because we thought you might like to drag yourself away from those results for a bit. There's been some great news in the past week on clean energy, girls' education and the end of whaling in Iceland, an amazing breakthrough in the physics of black holes, and a wonderful discovery by a lone biologist about the medicinal properties of a common roadside weed.

Go check them out, and don't worry. They'll still be counting when you get back.


Good news


Another one bites the coal dust. The Philippines, the third largest ASEAN economy, has announced it will no longer accept proposals to construct new coal power plants. This caps off a brutal October for the global fossil fuels industry, after dozens of financial institutions announced exits last month not just from coal, but oil and gas too. IEEFA

Since Donald Trump took office, the clean energy sector in the United States has employed nearly three times as many people as the fossil fuels industry, and between 2016 and 2019, renewables added more than double the jobs that fossil fuels did. Sometimes, a simple piece of data paints a clearer picture than a thousand opinion pieces. #MAGA. Morning Consult

UNESCO says that since 1995, the proportion of girls receiving primary and secondary education has increased from 73% to 89%. In actual numbers, that's an extra 180 million girls in school compared to a generation ago (and three times more women are also now enrolled in universities). Reminder - educating girls and empowering women is the single most effective way to combat climate change.

The number of people suiciding in Japan has plummeted in recent years, falling each year for the last decade. Last year there were 20,169 cases, the lowest number since 1978 when the government first started keeping records, and at least 10,000 fewer deaths per annum than during the early naughts. Japan Subculture

For the second year in a row, Iceland, one of three remaining whaling nations, says it will not be hunting any whales, thanks to changing public opinion and falling consumption of whale meat. Announcements by the country’s two whaling companies suggest this may be the permanent end of the annual hunt. NatGeo

Centuries of colonialism, followed by decades of mismanagement, have almost destroyed the caribou herds of British Columbia. In 2011, First Nations people took matters into their own hands, suing the government and starting their own conservation programs. Slowly but surely, it's working. Numbers are increasing, and the government is now providing funding and protecting land. Civil Eats

women fixing fence
Starr Gauthier, a member of the Saulteau First Nation, checks the outer electric fence around a caribou maternity pen designed to keep predators away. "These efforts show what we can do as human beings to take responsibility rather than just taking and extracting. We need to think about more than just ourselves.”

Indistinguishable from magic

Archeologists in northern Guatemala have uncovered an incredible, 2,100 year old water filtration system in the lost Mayan city of Tikal. Built from crystalline quartz and zeolite - the same minerals used in modern systems - it created a 'molecular sieve' that removed harmful microbes and heavy metals, and remained in use until 1100 AD. Smithsonian

The most famous paradox in physics, first posed by Stephen Hawking fifty years ago, has been solved. In a landmark series of calculations, physicists have proved that black holes can shed information - if you jumped into one, you wouldn't be gone for good. This means that space-time is not the root level of reality, but an emergent structure from something deeper. Quanta

Australia has a hidden glow. Scientists are looking at platypuses (platypi? platypodes?) in a whole new light, after discovering they have bioluminescent fur. Glowing fur has now been observed in mammals on three different continents, suggesting it may be a far more common trait than previously thought. Science Alert

Augmented reality is quietly getting more powerful, and more user-friendly. There's now an app that lets your phone grab real world objects and instantly place them into desktop programs like Photoshop. That's a neat twist that makes the real world digital, instead of projecting digital images onto the world. The Verge

Ar demo in action

A lone biologist who spent years studying the medicinal properties of a roadside weed has proven all her doubters wrong, after discovering that Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as thale cress, stops breast cancer without damaging healthy cells. “The plant is very much like the Cinderella of the medicinal plant world — no one thought it was so special, but it has shown its true colors." Brunel

Elon Musk eat your heart out. Researchers from Melbourne have successfully concluded the first human trials of the Stentrode, a brain-machine interface implanted in the jugular vein rather than via open brain surgery. It enabled two people with a disability to send texts and emails using only thought, with a click accuracy of 93% and typing speeds of 20 characters a minute. The Engineer

Dark Forest

In case you haven't noticed yet, psychedelics are coming to Western medicine, and inevitably, the forces of commercialization aren't far behind. If we're going to avoid the wrongs of the past, says Carolyn Gregoire, we need to make sure the rights of indigenous peoples are respected, and that the new business models are grounded in reciprocity and inclusion. Neo.Life

Reminder. We're living through a pandemic. Here's a beautiful, heart-breaking reminder from a writer and ICU nurse in New York City. "We’ve figured out how to moisturize the straps of our N95’s so they don’t burst; how to protect the bony prominences of our faces with Mepilex foam; but none of us, so far as I can tell, has figured out how to sleep." Believer

A compilation of all of the nerdiest things that brought the geeks at Tor.com joy in 2020. +1 from us for The Last Airbender and Murderbot, and an unsolicited extra in the form of Gideon the Ninth, by far the most fun we had during lockdown. Queer emo teenagers do swordplay and cut-throat politics while solving necromantic mysteries in a haunted castle space castle. Trust us.

For years, we've been trying, without success, to find a good 'new tab' extension for our browser. The to-do lists just make us anxious, and the motivational quotes are annoying. And then we came across Earth View. Every time you open a new tab, there's a beautiful, striking image of our planet from space (who knew Mongolia looked so amazing).

Remember that pattern recognition we spoke about a few editions ago? Here's a great example of it in action, as Carlota Perez explains in three minutes where we are within the larger global cycle of technological revolutions. While the digital revolution is ending in economic chaos and social unrest, if history rhymes, we should also expect emergence of something new and better. The Other School


That's it for this edition, hope you're doing okay out there. We'll be glued to our screens for the next eight hours watching those results come in from Georgia and Pennsylvania. If you're feeling nervous and need some company, hit reply and let us know. There are real humans on the other end and we're here with you.

Love,

FC HQ

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