FC115: Skin Hunger

Plus, the First Troll President, lab-grown chicken, close-up photography, uncanny vulvas, and good news on AIDS treatments, women's rights in the Middle East and turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

FC115: Skin Hunger

Best news ever

Donald Trump has lost the US presidential election, and we're still celebrating. To all our American readers - whew. Over the last four years, millions of people here in Australia and around the world have been following along every step of the way. If it comes as this much of a relief for us, we can only imagine what it feels like for you. The curse has been lifted and even as we speak, he's disappearing into the background, like the McFly family photograph in Back to the Future.

Four years ago in our own, tiny gesture of defiance, we made a decision to never use his name in any of our articles or talks, or let any commentary about him creep into this newsletter. We also tried as hard as possible to avoid rubbernecking the car crash. If you've been following us for a while, you'll probably have noticed. We almost got there (couldn't help ourselves in the last edition) but mostly, we managed to stick to our guns.

Now though, it's no longer necessary. Even as his MAGA sycophants try one last desperate bid to help him remain relevant, the executive branch is slipping from his grasp, the prosecutors are circling and he's being dragged kicking and screaming from the bully pulpit to take up his rightful place as a social media influencer and former reality television star. The lingering effects of his horrible spell are fading by the day.

Some people in our team have opinions...

The First Troll President
How Donald Trump pioneered the never-ending fireside rant, and made sure nobody could ever look away.

(The first, and definitely the last article Future Crunch will ever publish about Donald J. Trump).

Good news

There's been a huge breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. A new antiretroviral administered as an injection six times a year is 89% more effective at preventing HIV in women compared to standard ARVs, which are taken as a daily pill. "This is a major, major advance,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor in the US. “I don’t think we can overemphasize its importance." NYT

What once sounded like a progressive pipe dream — legalize it — is now a reality. Last weekend, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, Mississippi and South Dakota all legalized either recreational or medical marijuana, Washington DC decriminalized psilocybin, and Oregon became the first US state to decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids. Wired

A large new national study has shown that the lives of more than 1.2 million people in the United States were saved following a cancer diagnosis between the year 2000 and 2016, thanks to new treatment options. New drugs commissioned during this period targeting the 15 most common cancer types helped to reduce cancer mortality by 24% per 100,000 people. Eureka Alert

The United Arab Emirates has overhauled some of its strictest Islamic laws to bolster women’s rights. The changes, announced last weekend and effective immediately, include the criminalization of 'honour killings', and tougher penalties for sexual harassment. Umarried couples will now be allowed to live together and suicide and attempted suicide will be decriminalized. The National

More than 130,000 people turned out for Taiwan's LGBTQI+ pride rally this year, marching through the streets of Taipei in a colourful celebration of equality made possible by the island's successful vanquishing of the coronavirus. The parade came a day after two same-sex couples joined a mass wedding hosted by the military for the first time, another gay rights landmark in Asia. SBS

Gay pride parade
People holding rainbow umbrellas participate in Taiwan's Pride Parade. Source: Ceng Shou Yi/Sipa USA

Following litigation by consumer groups and environmentalists, air pollution in more than 40 German cities has plummeted. Between 2018 and 2019 alone, nitrogen dioxide levels fell by an average of 4.2µg/m³. "People are finally breathing cleaner air – legal action works. We see the potential for NO2 to meet legal limits in every German town by 2021." Air Quality News

Voters in Colorado have narrowly approved a ballot initiative that paves the way for gray wolves to be reintroduced back to the state for the first time in more than 80 years. It's the first time a US state has voted to reintroduce an animal to the ecosystem, and there's plenty of space - the Southern Rockies contains millions of acres of suitable habitat. Nat Geo

Record numbers of Olive Ridley sea turtles have hatched in Mexico this year, thanks to reduced human activity during the pandemic and the dedicated efforts of Tortugueros del Desemboque, a conservation group run by the indigenous Comcáac people. Over 2,250 baby turtles were released into the Gulf of California this year, compared to normal numbers of between 500 to 1,000. USA Today

More good news from Seattle. Two more dams have come down on the Pilchuck River, opening more than 60km of habitat to salmon for the first time in more than a century. The project is a collaboration between the City of Snohomish and Tulalip Tribes, and will benefit multiple species of salmon, including threatened chinook salmon, crucial food for resident killer whales. Seattle Times

Indistinguishable from magic

It was only a matter of time before someone tried this, but still. Wow. After three years of intensive research and testing, Peter Salzmann, a German basejumper, just became the first human to strap an electric engine to his wingsuit and fly away at 300km/h, breaking the boundaries of human flight forever. Electrek

basejumper flying with rockets
Truly, indistinguishable from magic. 

Israeli technologists have invented a camera that distinguishes between different colours in the infrared spectrum, making it possible to see gases and substances such as hydrogen, carbon and sodium. The hope is that they'll be able to use it on satellites to monitor pollutants being emitted from a plant, or to see where explosives or uranium are being hidden. Science Daily

A new flu vaccine extracted from native Australian tobacco has been tested in Phase III clinical trials in 23,000 people, and shown to be not only safe, but comparable to current commercial flu vaccines. It's the first time in history that a plant vaccine has been tested in a human clinical trial, sowing the seeds for other plant-based vaccines and therapeutics (see what we did there?). Science Alert

Spanish researchers have shown that dimethyltryptamine (DMT), one of the main components of ayahuasca tea, promotes the formation of new neurons in mice. Their hope is that its ability to modulate brain plasticity will eventually be shown to have therapeutic potential for a wide range of neurogenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. SciTech Daily

A restaurant in Tel Aviv is now serving chicken grown from cells in a bioreactor visible through a glass window in its dining room. The plant has the capacity to produce several hundred kilograms of meat per week, and its avian stem cells possess the ability to multiply indefinitely, eliminating the need to go back to an animal to produce more meat. Fast Company

A team of roboticists from Disney, the University of Illinois and Caltech have taken a big step across the uncanny valley. Their robot has a lifelike gaze and subtle movements that make it seem more human than its predecessors. The goal is to incorporate this technology into the animatronics at Disney's theme parks, giving them the "illusion of life." Youtube

robot looking at a person
Could somebody at least give it some skin? We're going to be seeing this thing in our nightmares for weeks.

Information superhighway

We've come across four great new concepts this week. First, skin hunger, the mental and physical malaise caused by going too long without being touched. Second, involution, the opposite of evolution, used to describe Chinese urbanites turned apathetic by incessant competition. Third, an opsimath, a person who blooms late in life. And finally, zozobra, Mexican philosophers' word for the oh-so modern anxiety of being unable to settle into a single point of view.

Samo Burja says it's time to move on from our romantic memories of the decentralized internet, and start dealing with the fact that it is now a technology of centralization. The big tech companies aren't a bug in the system, but the natural result of its real logic. "The world of bits was always standing on a world of atoms; even if the user could be free, the computer owner never could." Palladium

A perennial favourite here at Future Crunch - sex robots! Diana Fleischman has penetrating insights (sorry) about the 'uncanny vulva' and suggests it might be a good idea to encourage some men to use sexbots, while a visit to a sex doll shop forces Tracy Clark-Flory to re-examine her assumptions about dominance and desire. A double whammy of great sex journalism.

Casey Newton explains how the latest publisher-platform debate about Spotify and Joe Rogan is going to play out totally predictably: first, there will be controversies about other podcasts, then some employees will quit, others will write Medium posts about toxic work culture, then Spotify will say, “We hear you, we’re adopting real community standards, here are the new rules going forward.” Vulture

No doubt you're familiar with wildlife, landscape, or portrait photography competitions, but we're guessing you've never heard of this. Here are the winners from the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition, chosen from more than 6,500 entries from 52 countries. Take a few minutes to marvel at the extraordinary intricacy and beauty of life on Planet Earth. Atlantic

Give a damn

We're headed back to Brazil, this time, to help an organization called
Doutores da Amazonia that provides free medical treatment to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. They're entirely funded by donations and fully volunteer based, meaning nobody is paid to work. Over the last four years, they've improved and saved the lives from more than 30 different indigenous groups, including barely contacted people like the Suruwaha.

During the pandemic the Doutores have been organizing and sending food and medical supplies to a huge number of villages and also traveling to several indigenous territories to provide medical treatment. To help them in their mission, we're sending them US$4,000 to buy a satellite phone, three walkie talkies and a laptop computer and backpack, so they can keep up their work in super remote locations.

Despite facing extremely challenging conditions, and all the risks of the forest, the Doutores are out there doing their thing. We figured this was the least we could do. Thank you as always to all our paying subscribers for making it happen. We'll update you with some photos and videos as soon as that equipment is deployed into the field.

Is it just us or is that the Future Crunch pink on that stethoscope? 


Meet Veena & Virendra Gupta, two grandparents who have set up an outdoor classroom on a sidewalk in New Delhi after hearing stories about children in impoverished communities struggling through shutdown. Schools in India have been closed since March due to the pandemic and although private students have transitioned to digital learning, many students at government-run schools don’t have access to the internet or the devices needed to access ongoing education.

Veena and Virendra wanted to make sure that kids from poor communities didn't get left behind when schools reopen. Rather than worrying, they decided to do something about it - they've been conducting free lessons in maths, science, English and physical education twice a day, three times a week. Dozens of children aged four to fourteen attend the classes (although it’s up for debate whether they come for the learning or the cookies Veena hands out after class).

As the classes keep growing, Veena’s on a mission to recruit more volunteers. “It is not about the money that people can contribute and give, it is about their time,” she says. “They should take out little bit of their time, an hour or so, if not every day, every alternate day, and come and help these children.” AP

Indian grandparents on sidewalk with kids
Former diplomat Virendra Gupta and his singer wife Veena Gupta pose for a photograph with vulnerable children on their sidewalk classroom in New Delhi, India

That's it for this edition, thanks for reading. We hardly ever get that political, so thanks for indulging us. We won't do it again.

See you next week.



Future Crunch logo
A weekly roundup of science, technology and intelligent optimism (not necessarily in that order). If it's your first time, you can subscribe here. If you'd like to become a paying member, you can do that here. If you need to unsubscribe, you'll break our hearts but we understand that it's us, not you (there's a button for that below). We're also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Fix The News.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.