Continuing protests in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan region are being fueled by choking smog. For several years, Iranian cities have ranked at or near the top of the World Health Organization's list of most polluted cities. The primary contributor? Sand and dust, generated by decades of land use decisions. This article from The Guardian (UK) is a good background piece on the political choices and consequences that have led to the current situation: www.theguardian.com/world/iran-blog/2015/apr/16/iran-khuzestan-environment-wetlands-dust-pollution
"[C]an someone's geographical location play a part in whether they will join a hate group? According to a group of University of Utah geographers whose research was published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers on Friday, the answer is yes. 'Hate is a geographic problem. The ways people hate are based on the cultures, histories, ethnicities and many other factors dependent on place and place perception,' the geographers said in a news release." www.deseretnews.com/article/900010002/geography-of-hate-u-study-examines-hate-groups-based-on-region.html
In honor of Presidents' Day, this map shows the birthplace of all U.S. presidents through Barack Obama. (Donald Trump, like Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, and both Roosevelts, was born in New York.) www.livescience.com/53372-presidential-birth-places.html
How utilitarian are you? Researchers at Oxford University created this test to gauge how likely people were to agree with statements that espouse a "greatest good for the greatest number" approach to ethics. It's only nine questions long; give it a try! blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/test/how-utilitarian-are-you-the-oxford-utilitarianism-scale/
This Reddit map, based on data from the International Federation of Robotics' recent report "Robot Density Rises Globally," considers the use of robots in manufacturing. South Korea leads the pack in the use of robots per human employee, followed by Singapore, Germany, and Japan. For the full report, see ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/robot-density-rises-globally
This caught my eye because my online high school lit class ("Who We Are & What We Dream: Comparative Science Fiction") recently finished its discussion of Frankenstein: Arizona State has teamed up with the National Science Foundation to create Frankenstein200, an online game to teach middle schoolers (and the general public) about bioengineering, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, scientific ethics, and robotics, among other topics. frankenstein200.org/
Pharmaceuticals are big business. This geo-graphic looks at global pharmaceutical exports. Europe supplies nearly 80% of the world's pharmaceutical exports (by dollar value), whereas Africa, with 16% of the world's population, accounts for only 0.2% of the global drug export market. howmuch.net/articles/world-map-of-drug-exports-2016
"As new powers rise and the formerly hegemonic West loses relative power, we are entering the first period in human history in which modern technology will be combined with a chaotic international arena, in which no single actor or group of actors is capable of imposing order." This article looks at the growing military importance of the tiny African country of Djibouti (formerly French Somaliland) and the possible consequences of having so many rival powers operating military bases in close proximity to one another: "Strategically placed at the entrance to the Red Sea, commanding a large percentage of the trade and energy flows between Europe and Asia, Djibouti is home to more foreign bases than any other country." www.politico.eu/blogs/the-coming-wars/2018/01/the-most-valuable-military-real-estate-in-the-world/
This article written by a cartographer (professional map maker) compares Google Maps with Apple Maps and notes that Google Maps now incorporates so much data, much of it collected via satellite -- building data, for example, now includes detail of garages, tool sheds, bay windows, front steps, rooftop fan units... -- that "Google has gathered so much data, in so many areas, that it’s now crunching it together and creating features that Apple can’t make—surrounding Google Maps with a moat of time," insulating it from competition for the foreseeable future. www.justinobeirne.com/google-maps-moat
Between 1950 and 2016, the population of the U.S. more than doubled, growing by roughly 114%. But, as this map shows, that population growth was not spread evenly across the country. In fact, none of the states in gold (and West Virginia, in red) kept pace with national trends in population growth. factsmaps.com/us-states-population-growth-rate-1950-2016/
Often, the most intellectually challenging issues of moral philosophy are not right vs. wrong but right vs. right: how do we balance conflicting interests when rights collide? This article from Philosophy Now (UK) considers free speech vs. protections against hate speech.
"In this era of growing ethno-nationalism and xenophobia in Europe and America, and indeed, worldwide, debates over hate speech are intensifying. Decent people argue that the terrifying rhetoric of extreme right wing groups online and on the streets – and escalating confrontations – demonstrate the necessity of hate speech laws. Supporters of freedom of speech have responded that the non-coercive speech of all should be protected – including the free speech of racists, neo-Nazis, and bigots. In diverse liberal societies, they argue, it is inconsistent for the state, or even powerful social media platforms such as Facebook, to protect some expressions of ideas while banning others merely because some groups object to it. It is also likely, they argue, that hate speech laws or bans can be weaponized against their advocates, such that polemical ideas by minority activists or leftist radicals can also be prohibited when their right-wing or authoritarian enemies turn hate speech prohibitions to their own advantage.
The stalemated debate between these two positions suggests a sort of ‘incommensurability of values’ that Isaiah Berlin once wrote about – between liberty on the one side and human dignity and civic equality on the other. They’re all prized and recognized to have tremendously beneficial consequences when realized in law and in custom. Yet an increase in free speech often involves some diminishing of dignity. Freedom for the swaggering bully takes away equality and dignity for those at the bottom of the playground pecking order. Conversely, enforcing equality and respect for dignity involves some diminishment in liberty. The would-be bully keeps his thoughts and urges to himself, but perhaps so do many others, as the vigilant headmistress casts her shadow over a quieter, seemingly more egalitarian playground.
I want to suggest that a compromise between freedom and dignity over the problem of hate speech might be possible. My approach is inspired by a philosophy called perfectionism. Perfectionists typically hold that there are objective values or goods whose promotion contributes to morally valuable ways of life, nurturing the ‘better angels’ of human nature; and also that objective moral value means some ways of life are more valuable than others. Many (but not all) moral perfectionists think that the state has a role in promoting the better ways of life by passing legislation and distributing resources to enhance different goods or promote different values, in areas such as welfare, education, the arts and sciences, employment, and civic morality. For such perfectionists, laws against hate speech make sense in terms of promoting more mutually-respectful ways of living in diverse societies."
The Economist (UK) produces an annual Democracy Index, which has documented, in part, the retreat of global democracy since 2008. This map is the result of the newest Democracy Index. Click on the link to see country-specific information. www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2018/01/daily-chart-21
The Great Backyard Bird Count starts next Friday and runs through President's Day (Feb. 16-19). This annual biogeography/citizen science project allows you to count birds from any location and report your data. Scientists use the information to track changes in bird populations and ranges. Don't know anything about birds? The site includes resources to get you started. gbbc.birdcount.org/
Obesity is a serious public health problem in the U.S. and around the world. This 45-second video maps obesity rates from 1975 to 2014. www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMqxTuoWqsQ
New Zealand may become the first country to issue special refugee visas for climate change refugees. (The current 1951 definition of a "refugee" requires that a person have a well-founded fear of persecution in his/her home country; "persecution" doesn't apply in the case of people fleeing climate change impacts.) New Zealand's legislature is considering the new visa class to assist populations of neighboring Pacific islands threatened by rising seas. geographical.co.uk/people/the-refugee-crisis/item/2539-changing-climate
One of my geography classes recently explored patterns in apparel manufacturing. Uzbekistan is not a major textile producer, but it is one of the world's top cotton-producing countries. Because Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world that is doubly landlocked -- it is landlocked and all of its neighbors are also landlocked -- most Uzbek cotton, which is one of the country's major exports, goes by rail to ports in other countries (including Ukraine, Latvia, and Iran), much of it bound for textile mills in Bangladesh.
This map of Florida by elevation reveals how much of Florida is less than 10 meters above sea level (in blue), including major coastal cities like Jacksonville and Tampa and all of densely populated south Florida. orig00.deviantart.net/ccef/f/2017/314/7/8/florida_elevation_map_by_atlas_v7x-dbte204.jpg
In 1974, philosopher Robert Nozick introduced his famous "experience machine" thought experiment:
"Imagine you live in a world where you have access to an ‘experience machine’ that generates every imaginable sensation. There are no limits to the experiences you can have, from eating a favourite dish, going on an exotic holiday, having a chat with an old friend or famous person, or happily falling in love. By plugging into this machine, you can experience everything you desire. Such machines could evidently generate immense pleasure for the person plugged in, creating a degree of happiness rarely, if ever, lived in the real world. And since you’re made to forget that you’ve been plugged in, this happiness can be without even realising that the experiences producing it are not of a real world. The only moment when the person is aware of plugging in is when making the choice to connect to the machine. After that, blissful ignorance sets in and the subject forgets it ever happened. Everything from that moment onwards feels as real as it possibly could. The only catch is that you would have to stay plugged in."
This article from Philosophy Now questions Nozick's claim -- and our claims -- that we wouldn't want to plug into the experience machine. philosophynow.org/issues/122/To_Connect_Or_Not_To_Connect
This map compares countries by median age: purple = very low median age (in mid-teens), dark green = very high median age (in mid-forties).
If your student needs an incentive to read and likes Chipotle, your school (home school) can apply to participate in Chipotle's reading rewards program. Applications are due by Feb. 28. www.chipotle.com/reading
This map introduces Africa by climate, comparing regions of the continent to better-known tourist locales around the world.
This article may be of interest to both my (past/present/future) "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" students and my (past/present/future) "Philosophically Speaking" students:
"Philosophy skeptics have a tendency to sniffingly dismiss the field as useless. 'What’s the point?' they ask, shrugging at the greatest ideas in human history. Well, aside from the intellectual pursuit of the truth etc., one point of philosophy is it shapes the world around us: Societal instincts and political ideals are often an expression of theories first put forward in philosophy books. This isn’t just some ancient tendency but an ongoing, modern phenomenon. Global leaders and grassroots ideologues continue to refer to philosophers as the inspiration behind their political outlook. ... For those hoping to make sense of politics in 2018, here are a few of the philosophers worth knowing."
An Iranian tanker on the way to China with a cargo of condensate, a light liquid oil, collided with a freighter earlier this month and, after burning for several days, eventually sank in the East China Sea. This graphic from Reuters (UK) looks at the likely path of the oil leaking from the wreck, based on the currents and other physical geography of the region, and overlays it with fishing grounds and coral reefs. fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/CHINA-SHIPPING-SPILL/010060NC166/index.html
This winter has been unusual in that every state, including Hawaii, Florida, and Louisiana, has recorded snow this year. This map shows snowfall in the contiguous United States from the start of the winter through early January: www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/sites/default/files/scald-image/350_inline_snowmap.gif
Do you know a K-12 student interested in issues surrounding the question of "truth"? (Does it exist? How would we know? What is the difference between knowledge and belief? Are there degrees of truth? Does truth matter?) Questions, a journal that publishes the philosophical work of K-12 students, is soliciting submissions for its upcoming issue on "truth." Entries are due April 30. For more information, see www.plato-philosophy.org/journal-questions/
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