…rule of three

could go either way...

…happy new year, folks…& here’s hoping lucy doesn’t have a point


…but…all things are relative?

a constant gush of despairing news can be paralyzing. So here’s my effort to remedy our cognitive biases. Until the pandemic, I wrote an annual column arguing that the previous year was the best in human history. I can’t do that this year.

…so…if better = happy…that’s surely not a high bar we need to clear, right?

Solar power capacity around the world is on track to roughly triple over the next five years and overtake coal as the leading source of power globally. Technical improvements are constant — such as M.I.T. researchers’ developing a way to produce thin and flexible solar panels that can turn almost any outdoor surface into a power source.
The upshot is that we are in the midst of a revolution of renewables that may soon leave us far better off. If things go right, we’ll be able to enjoy cheaper, more reliable and more portable power than ever before. Truly cheap energy, whether from solar or fusion, could be transformational: For example, it could run desalination plants to provide the fresh water that we’re running out of.
Health tech has likewise made immense gains. Scientists are making significant progress on vaccines for malaria, reflecting what may be a new golden age for vaccine development. Immunotherapy is making progress against cancer (among other feats, it is keeping one of my friends alive). A new gene editing technique may be able to cure sickle cell anemia; Bill Gates argues in his annual letter that the same approach may eventually offer a cure for H.I.V./AIDS as well.

…spoiler alert…a lot of what I left out from that piece doesn’t lend itself to optimistic contemplation

Max Roser of the indispensable website Our World in Data puts the situation exactly right: “The world is awful. The world is much better. The world can be much better. All three statements are true at the same time.”


…I mean…max does have a point…they’re not exactly complementary statements…but they aren’t necessarily incompatible…& it’s not particularly difficult to find supporting evidence for any of them…but as trinities go…it feels like we could do better…& it probably has something to do with how we count?

Australian researchers have set off on their most ambitious polar expedition in two decades, aiming to drill down into million-year-old ice to learn about climate change.
Scientists hope to ultimately drill down about 2.8km to retrieve cores from ice that is more than 1m years old.

Little Dome C, the site of the ice core, is 3,230 metres above sea level.

Researchers will analyse air bubbles trapped in the cores to help inform what scientists understand about the climate system’s stability over the past 1m years.

The mission should also help scientists make predictions about the future and shed light on why the ice age cycle changed from 41,000 years to 100,000 years about 1m years ago.


…or what we’re looking at

In July, the $10bn James Webb space telescope sent back the highest resolution images ever seen of distant galaxies as they were billions of years ago, promising astronomers a glimpse into the dawn of creation.

The stunning clear color pictures of the unseen universe were hailed by the Nasa chief, Bill Nelson, as a new era in astronomy, showcasing Webb’s ability to peer back 13.5bn years, close to the big bang. “We are going back almost to the beginning,” he said.

In November, Webb found two more galaxies, one that may have formed just 350m years after the big bang.


…not that we’ve necessarily been contemplating the infinite splendor of the heavens

Memes, for better or for worse, were there for all the highs and lows of 2022. Sometimes they made us cringe. Other times they helped us cope with the chaotic year of news. But most of the time, they kept “very online” people entertained.


…there is…as you may well know…a database of the things…in case you feel like you missed out…or need something akin to a translation…or an explanation

…still & all


…some things do tend to focus the mind

but nothing measured up to the horror I felt as I registered the meaning of a T-shirt featuring the image of a noose and these words: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

Over the weeks and months ahead, as I started to write what I hoped were well-reasoned Post columns about Trump’s relationship with the media, I felt an irrational anger coming at me like an unending blast from an industrial-strength hose. Trump hadn’t invented this anger, of course, but he certainly emboldened it — and used it for his own purposes. On social media, in phone messages, in emails I received, the sheer hatred from Trump supporters shocked and even frightened me. One, unsigned but from a “lifetime member of the NRA,” asserted that people like me wouldn’t be around much longer.
Now, six years later, we journalists know a lot more about covering Trump and his supporters. We’ve come a long way, but certainly made plenty of mistakes. Too many times, we acted as his stenographers or megaphones. Too often, we failed to refer to his many falsehoods as lies. It took too long to stop believing that, whenever he calmed down for a moment, he was becoming “presidential.” And it took too long to moderate our instinct to give equal weight to both sides, even when one side was using misinformation for political gain.
Clearly, the empirical common ground I depended upon — and believed in — was eroding. Dealing with that growing reality over the next few years would change me as a journalist and even as a person. Some principles and beliefs, I found, were more important than appearing to get along with everyone or responding to criticism by offering to compromise or change course. Journalists have to stand, unwaveringly, for the truth — and if that meant being attacked by zealots who wanted to call such a position evidence of bias, I could live with that. For me, it would soon become a matter of simple integrity to acknowledge that some of the old-school rules and practices didn’t work anymore.

From this new vantage point, it seemed self-evident that the mainstream press was too often going easy on Trump. Well into his presidency, journalists didn’t want to use the word “lie” for Trump’s constant barrage of falsehoods. To lie, editors reasoned, means to intend to be untruthful. Since journalists couldn’t be inside politicians’ heads, how were we supposed to know if — by this definition — they were really lying? The logic eventually became strained, given that Trump blithely repeated the same rank mistruths over and over.
In every way, Trump was a deeply abnormal candidate, but the news media couldn’t seem to communicate that effectively or even grasp the problem. Instead, his every unhinged, middle-of-the-night tweet was covered like legitimate news. To be fair, the media was applying a standard that had made sense up until that moment: When a major presidential candidate says something provocative or worse, it’s newsworthy. The problem is that we were applying this old standard to a candidate who was exploiting it for his own purposes — while seeking to undermine democracy itself.
In making these judgments, we have to relentlessly explain ourselves to our readers, viewers and listeners. Although it didn’t involve Trump, a good example of this came over the summer when the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland decided against covering a rally for U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance featuring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis because of the absurdly restrictive rules the campaign had tried to impose, including a prohibition against interviewing attendees who weren’t approved by rally organizers. Instead, the Plain Dealer published white space, with a note to readers written by editor Chris Quinn headlined, “We reject the free speech-trampling rules set by J.D. Vance and Ron DeSantis for covering their rally.” Quinn was blunt: “Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime.”
Perhaps the most important thing journalists can do as they cover the campaign ahead is to provide thoughtful framing and context. They shouldn’t just repeat what’s being said, but help explain what it means. This is especially important in headlines and news alerts, which are about as far as many news consumers get.[…]

All of these suggestions go against the grain of traditional politics coverage. Undoubtedly, this approach will draw accusations of bias from the right; undoubtedly, journalists and news leaders will be put on the defensive. They’ll need to get over that. The stakes are enormously high. Doing things the same old way isn’t remotely appropriate. By now, that’s something we all should have learned.


…it’s new year’s…there’s a whole slew of unpleasant-to-read stuff about things even more unpleasant in reality that I’d most likely have filled this space with most days…but…I was under the weather before the new year began & misery may love company but if at all possible I’d prefer to think I wasn’t stepping all over anybody’s happy new year…so…ummm…how about them aliens?

It would be a transformative event for humankind, one the world’s nations are surely prepared for. Or are they? “Look at the mess we made when Covid hit. We’d be like headless chickens,” says Dr John Elliott, a computational linguist at the University of St Andrews. “We cannot afford to be ill-prepared, scientifically, socially, and politically rudderless, for an event that could happen at any time and which we cannot afford to mismanage.”

This frank assessment of Earth’s unreadiness for contact with life elsewhere underpins the creation of the Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) post-detection hub at St Andrews.

Over the next month or two, Elliott aims to bring together a core team of international researchers and affiliates. They will take on the job of getting ready: to analyse mysterious signals, or even artefacts, and work out every aspect of how we should respond.

“Up to now, the focus has been on the search for signals, but all along there’s been a need to know, what are we going to do with it? What next?” says Elliott. “We need strategies and scenarios in place to understand what we need to do and how to do it. It’s like the Scouts’ motto: be prepared.”
Seti researchers already have some guidelines on how to behave if they detect a “technosignature” – an interstellar message from an advanced civilisation. A 2010 declaration from the International Academy of Astronautics urges those who detect mysterious signals to rule out prosaic non-alien sources first – such as a microwave oven down the corridor. If there is consensus that the signal is legit, researchers should inform the public and the secretary general of the UN.

But there is little guidance on what to do next. How should the message be studied? Should it be released in full before it has been deciphered? Would governments allow that? Should humanity respond? If so, who decides what we send back?

…then again…some people seem to have read the three body problem books

The prospect of sending any response has drawn criticism from some quarters. Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge cosmologist, warned in 2016 that humanity’s first contact with an advanced civilisation could mirror what happened when Native Americans encountered Christopher Columbus, which “didn’t turn out so well”.

…& like a lot of things that seem like maybe they don’t top the list of immediate concerns…maybe the problem with not giving them more thought is more by way of the people who might be while the rest of us aren’t

Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist and professor of science communication at the University of Westminster, said the new hub at St Andrews is “an important step in raising awareness at how ill-prepared we currently are” for detecting a signal from an alien civilisation.

But he added that any intelligent aliens were likely to be hundreds if not thousands of light years away, meaning communication time would be on the scale of many centuries. “Even if we were to receive a signal tomorrow, we would have plenty of breathing space to assemble an international team of diverse experts to attempt to decipher the meaning of the message, and carefully consider how the Earth should respond, and even if we should.

“The bigger concern is to establish some form of international agreement to prevent capable individuals or private corporations from responding independently — before a consensus has formed on whether it is safe to respond at all, and what we would want to say as one planet,” he said.


…given who currently gets to throw expensive objects into orbit that last bit seems less speculative than I’d like…but…optimism turns up in some unlikely places

Otto, known as Fredi, and a small team of researchers are the world’s only rapid reaction force of climate scientists. They target extreme weather across the world almost as it happens, reach out to local people on the ground, and carry out deep, rigorous statistical analysis, which is transforming our understanding of how human-caused global heating is affecting the planet and our lives.

Until now, scientists have had to be equivocal about whether a single weather event is linked to global heating. Otto’s work makes the connection between the string of disasters the world is suffering and global heating, much clearer. Her work was recognised internationally in 2021 when she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.
The journey from the creation of the World Weather Attribution unit to its current iteration, began with a paper Otto and Oldenborgh wrote on a heatwave in Russia in 2010. It was a classical academic paper, peer reviewed and published long after the event.
Otto says she tries to avoid being engulfed by the overwhelming nature of climate crisis impacts.

“I am an optimistic person. It makes me want to do more to make an impact, to get the message across, so that the changes that we need will happen.”


…still…I can’t help but think the outlook depends at least a little on which rule of three you think is the rule…because we’ve had considerably more than the minimum three repetitions of all manner of motifs…so that might make it hard to settle on one as the point…but…in terms of years…they say bad things come in threes…& you could argue that 2020, 2021 & 2022 were…not good things…so we’d be due…but they also say third time lucky…so…let’s hope that zero doesn’t count…because some things maybe shouldn’t be recycled?



  1. “The bigger concern is to establish some form of international agreement to prevent capable individuals or private corporations from responding independently — before a consensus has formed on whether it is safe to respond at all, and what we would want to say as one planet,” he said.

    If Amazon replied first…

    Alien response

    “How much for Prime?”

    If El No Kums or Trump replied first…

    Alien Response

  2. Aliens are already interfering in our elections:



    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appears to be eying a run for the presidency in 2024, cruised to reelection this month with the backing of a Rolodex of wealthy GOP donors — topped by an aerospace mogul who says that UFOs are real and that space aliens are here on Earth, “right under people’s noses.”

  3. Margaret Sullivan’s piece is a good start, and I give her credit for going past the usual micro-criticisms of this or that article, and talking about broader management issues:

    Media people — not just reporters but their editors and top leaders of newsrooms — also need to take a hard, critical look at the types of stories that constitute traditional campaign coverage. That coverage has historically leaned on such things as live footage of speeches, rallies and debates; on “horse race” articles based on polls or conventional wisdom; and on blowing up small conflicts (campaign staff in disarray!) into major stories. These modes of coverage can have the effect of normalizing a candidate who should not be normalized. They also often constitute a distraction at a time when huge swaths of one party are essentially running against democratic practices.

    Reporters by and large choose the specifics of stories, but it’s editors and execs who establish the tone and framework. Which reporters get hired by management, which ones get assigned to which stories by editors has as much to do with what ends up before readers as the choices of reporters. Which people get to pitch stories and give their spin and which ones get excluded is driven by management and execs as much as reporters, if not more.

    Political reporting in the US is largely broken because the people in charge are broken. They have a large set of quasi-religious views about America completely ungrounded in reality, and they are overwhelmingly incurious and just not very smart. And once they’ve set the rules for coverage, via personnel decisions, story assignments, and budgets, it becomes hard for reality to leak through.

  4. Happy New Year DeadSplinters! 🥳 🥂 🍾

    My realistic wish for all of you is that 2023 be slightly better than last year. Be it from a few more ups, a few less downs, or a more prolonged neutral state, you all deserve it and so much more.

    Sending love out to our community,


  5. Wishing each and all of the Deadsplinterati a better year, and, dare I say, a happier, more benevolent year by your measure of attainment. I am better for knowing you.

  6. Thirding the “Thanks for making this a lovely little corner of the Interwebs, and for being such an AWESOME bunch of folks, y’all!!!

    May 2023 be kind & generous to all of you, and may it be an Excellent year for you all, too!

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