"The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?" says the mayor of Capetown, South Africa, in a recent National Geographic article on Capetown's water crisis. [As I noted in a different post a few weeks ago, Capetown is expected to have to turn off its public water supplies in two months (more or less, depending on the success of water conservation efforts) because the water level in the city's reservoir is approaching, functionally, zero. The army is on standby to maintain order.] This article from the BBC (UK) looks at 11 other major cities likely to run out of drinking water (Cairo? London? Bangalore? Sao Paulo? Beijing? Istanbul?): www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959
Poland's Białowieża forest is the source of the latest conflict between the E.U. and Poland (a member country since 2004). Białowieża, northeast of Warsaw on Poland's border with Belarus, is Europe's last primeval forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2017, though, Poland has engaged in large-scale logging in old-growth parts of the forest and has ignored EU and UNESCO requests, and court orders, to stop. Poland argues it has increased logging to prevent the spread of the spruce bark beetle. www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-poland-forest/eu-court-adviser-backs-commission-in-forest-dispute-with-poland-idUSKCN1G40W3
This unusual topological map compares the life expectancy in each U.S. state to the national average from 1980 to 2014. Where you can see gold, a state's life expectancy exceeds the national average; where you can see lavender, a state's life expectancy is lower than the national average. The shape of the colored region indicates how closely a state's change in life expectancy paralleled the increase in U.S. life expectancy over this period: Minnesota's life expectancy, for example, has been consistently higher than the national average, whereas South Carolina's has been consistently lower, and Oklahoma has lost ground, while New York has gained ground. espnfivethirtyeight.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/barry-jester-life-expectancy-2.png
Moral/political philosopher John Rawls is best known for his work on "justice" in the 1970s -- work I introduce in my "Philosophically Speaking" class and occasionally in my "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" class -- but Rawls spent the last 20 years of his career considering the problems inherent in a democracy. This article from Philosophy Now (UK) provides a quick summary of Rawls's insightful (and prescient) 1993 work, Political Liberalism, which focuses on the democratically necessary ingredient of "reasonableness":
"Political Liberalism starts with the observation that the cultural environment of modern democracies contains diverse religious and philosophically-based moral doctrines. Rawls argues that this diversity is not surprising, since the protection of personal freedom that democratic societies promote naturally leads over time to increasing diversity in what he calls ‘the background culture’, that is, civil society – the space where we cultivate our personal ideals and goals. Highlighting that the background culture of modern democracies is marked by diversity is nothing new or particularly illuminating. Most of us only have to look around to see that. What is new, which Rawls appreciated with incredible insight, is that this mounting diversity introduces a particular justificatory problem for democracy. The problem can be stated as follows: if the beliefs that we hold are conflicting and irreconcilable, which of them can be used to justify the democratic system itself? Put differently, if I am not willing to endorse a political system based on your beliefs, and you are not willing to accept one based on mine, then how are we going to set any common rules to help us live together? ...
"As Rawls defines the term, an idea or person counts as politically reasonable if they exhibit two main characteristics: 1) They have to respect the principle of democratic justification – meaning that they have to propose terms of social cooperation that others might also endorse; and 2) They have to recognize what Rawls calls ‘the burdens of judgment’ – the fact that other citizens can arrive at different beliefs in their honest search for truth. Putting these two elements together, we can say that a politically reasonable person is one who offers reciprocal terms of cooperation, refraining from using political power to favor their own worldview or repress the views of other reasonable people. ...
"If you and I and others fundamentally disagree in our beliefs, but if we all uphold the requirements of reasonableness – if we respect the need for democratic justification and accept that people will forever have different fundamental beliefs – then there will be enough overlap amongst us to facilitate consensus at a political level. The fact that our thinking is reasonable is what ties us all together despite our fundamental disagreements. Exactly how each religious or secular tradition justifies to itself the need to respect the virtue of reasonableness is not political liberalism’s concern. What matters is that they do so somehow. For a democracy to be stable in the midst of irreconcilable diversity, the doctrines of its citizens need to be reasonable. ...
"Unreasonable citizens reject the idea that their obligations as citizens take precedence over their beliefs. ... Rawls recognized that if citizens fail to uphold reasonableness, the whole edifice of liberal democracy would be in peril. ... There is nothing political liberalism can say to those looking to elevate their own version of morality into the political sphere, other than flagging up the fact that they’re being politically unreasonable. ... Since we have little to say to unreasonable actors other than pointing out their lack of reasonableness – which is unlikely to make them lose much sleep – then the only thing left for political liberalism is 'the practical task of containing them – like war and disease – so that they do not overturn political justice'. By drawing the limits of what can be tolerated as reasonableness, political liberalism licenses the state to eradicate uncooperative fundamentalism within it like a disease."
But, as with all diseases, success in curing the body politic depends on catching the problem in time -- and agreeing to the cure.
This map shows which countries are still lacking a U.S. ambassador (current as of February 22). The majority of these vacancies do not even have an ambassadorial nominee. www.statista.com/chart/12990/these-countries-still-dont-have-a-us-ambassador/
The U.S. Geological Survey has made it easy to see some of the stunning vistas of the national park system from your living room. If you have 3-D glasses, you can opt to take your virtual tour in 3-D too! From caves to seashores to mountains to deserts, this site samples dozens of national parks: 3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/
This map reveals one of the lesser-known stories of African politics: movement towards less authoritarian governments over the last 30 years. ("Anocracy" is a term from political science and human geography that refers to a blend of democracy and authoritarianism.) i.redditmedia.com/kiSNwvnU1px5h9o-A-SgvQYFiueSHbObtlCjfkQQY6o.png?w=1024&s=addac291648a93926051c0a739d6fc59
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.
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