What does it mean to be human? What are your thoughts about good and evil, about empathy, or about the Anthropocene? New Philosopher magazine (Australia) is sponsoring a writing contest on these topics. Entries are not limited to traditional philosophical discourse but can be any nonfiction or fiction format (1500-word limit). The top prize is $1,000 and publication in New Philosopher. The deadline for submission is May 31. Entrants have to be subscribers to New Philosopher. www.newphilosopher.com/articles/prize/
This map shows the world's landlocked countries. Several of these countries, including Ethiopia, the world's most populous landlocked country, became landlocked as the result of border changes (typically following from war or collapse of empire) that left them without access to the sea. worldpopulationreview.com/countries/landlocked-countries/
"The construction of the Aswan High Dam has caused silt to build up in what lake?"* "Which city is in southern Nevada and saw its population grow by more than 80% in the 1990s?"* Today is the day for all of the state-level competitions for the National Geographic Society geography bee. You can try your hand at bee-style questions every day: www.nationalgeographic.org/education/student-experiences/geobee/study/quiz/
*Lake Nasser and Las Vegas
This mesmerizing geo-graphic from the Financial Times (UK) tracks the rise and fall of the world's 10 most populous cities from 1500 to 2018. Have the sound turned on for the narration. next-media-api.ft.com/renditions/15530111823550/1920x1080.mp4
The world seems to have lost interest in Syria. This article from Foreign Policy takes a closer look at what's going on in Syria right now:
"The war that has ravaged Syria over the last half-decade is coming to an end. The caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State organization ... now consists of a few ravaged square meters in Baghouz, in Syria’s Lower Euphrates River Valley, that are on the verge of falling to Kurdish forces. The mainly Sunni Arab rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime, meanwhile, is already over. What remains of it is now the military component of a Turkish project to turn a corner of northwest Syria into a Turkish client entity. In place of the old wars, however, three new ones have started. They are taking place in the three de facto independent areas whose boundaries are becoming apparent as the smoke from the previous battle clears: the regime-controlled area, guaranteed by Russia; the area east of the Euphrates River controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are primarily composed of Kurdish fighters protected by the United States and Western air power; and finally the area controlled by the Turks and their Sunni Islamist allies in Idlib province. The regime area consists of about 60 percent of the territory of the country, the SDF has around 30 percent, and the Turkish-Sunni Islamist area is around 10 percent. Each of these areas is now hosting a civil war of its own, supported by neighboring enclaves."
This article from The Houston Chronicle looks at how the geography of barbecue evolved. "In the beginning, Texas barbecue was rural. From the mid- to late-1800s, small towns grew up along trade routes, especially the rapidly expanding network of railroads. In towns such as Taylor, railroads exported the agricultural bounty of the region, mainly cotton in the early days and, later, cattle. At the same time, Czech and German immigrants landing in Galveston made their way west along the San Felipe Trail, settling among the prosperous farms and ranches of Central Texas. They brought with them the butchery and cooking skills of their homeland, and many opened meat markets to take advantage of the area’s plentiful cattle. Every Saturday or Sunday, the freshly butchered meat of the week before — now facing spoilage in the era before refrigeration — was cooked in brick fire pits and sold to locals and itinerant workers as a weekend lunch or supper special. The story of Texas barbecue was established. By the early 1900s, as the state’s population migrated to rapidly growing urban areas, barbecue followed. By 1913, a Houston city directory listed 15 barbecue stands. Ten of these were owned by African-Americans, reflecting the migration of former slaves from rural to urban areas after the Emancipation Proclamation, bringing with them the open-pit cooking methods of the southern United States. Indeed, African-American-owned barbecue restaurants became associated with urban areas, with celebrated smoked-meat purveyors becoming entrenched in cities including Houston, Chicago and Kansas City, Mo." www.houstonchronicle.com/entertainment/restaurants-bars/bbq/article/The-shifting-geography-of-barbecue-in-Texas-13656406.php
Some maps show economic output by state. Others show state debt. To get a more nuanced look at the states' economic positions, this geo-graphic compares states' output to their debt. howmuch.net/articles/comparing-spending-and-gross-state-product-in-each-state
Will interacting with Alexa or Siri make our kids ruder? Will bots designed to maximize return make us likely to behave less generously? Will we tell our digital assistants things we will not tell our friends and partners? This article from The Atlantic suggests the answers may depend, in part, on how the artificial intelligence we will be interacting with has been designed.
"Radical innovations have previously transformed the way humans live together, of course. The advent of cities sometime between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago meant a less nomadic existence and a higher population density. We adapted both individually and collectively (for instance, we may have evolved resistance to infections made more likely by these new circumstances). More recently, the invention of technologies including the printing press, the telephone, and the internet revolutionized how we store and communicate information. As consequential as these innovations were, however, they did not change the fundamental aspects of human behavior that comprise what I call the “social suite”: a crucial set of capacities we have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, including love, friendship, cooperation, and teaching. The basic contours of these traits remain remarkably consistent throughout the world, regardless of whether a population is urban or rural, and whether or not it uses modern technology. But adding artificial intelligence to our midst could be much more disruptive. Especially as machines are made to look and act like us and to insinuate themselves deeply into our lives, they may change how loving or friendly or kind we are—not just in our direct interactions with the machines in question, but in our interactions with one another. Consider some experiments from my lab at Yale, where my colleagues and I have been exploring how such effects might play out."
One of the things students in my "Hands-On Geography" classes learn is that what we call countries is very often not the same as what those countries call themselves. The country we call "Germany," for example, calls itself "Deutschland." This map looks at what other European countries call Germany:
We used to play games regularly as part of our "school" day: Quiddler, Set, Labyrinth, Clue, 10 Days in Africa, Yahtzee, Battleship, Blokus, Mastermind, Concentration... Games allow kids to practice logic, strategy, vocabulary, math, spatial relations, memory, and critical thinking skills and even build content knowledge. This article might be of interest to anyone looking to add a game or two to the family collection: bigthink.com/personal-growth/best-board-games-for-children Please add your favorite educational games in the comment section.
Population growth, climate change, and outdated policy are exacerbating water problems around the world, especially in those areas dependent on aquifers. This map, from The Economist (UK), shows (in mauve) where water stresses are likely to be especially acute by 2040: www.economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/800-width/images/print-edition/20190302_SRM930_2.png
Approximately 165,000 active duty U.S. military personnel serve outside the U.S. and its territories. This geo-graphic shows where U.S. military personnel are stationed and where those numbers are growing and shrinking. (Note: Guam is a U.S. territory, and service members stationed in Guam would not be included in the 165,000 deployed overseas.) www.statista.com/chart/17355/us-military-overseas/
Heavy snowpack and early spring rains in parts of the Midwest are causing major flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. This past weekend, for example, the Missouri River bested the U.S. Air Force: "Between Saturday night and early Sunday, the 55th Wing [stationed at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, NE] called off a 30-hour, round-the-clock sandbagging effort because the floodwaters were rising too fast. 'It was a lost cause. We gave up,' said Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake, a 55th Wing spokeswoman. By Sunday morning, one-third of the base was underwater, she said. ... Offutt officials could not predict when normal flight operations would resume. ... 'If we’re at a somewhat operational level in 30 days, that’ll be a win,' said Gary Kaufman, Offutt’s airfield manager." The high water is soon to enter the state of Missouri, which is crossed by the Missouri River before emptying into the Mississippi north of St. Louis. (Quote about Offutt AFB from www.omaha.com/news/military/it-s-just-heartbreaking-air-force-gives-up-fight-to/article_631f9b34-5271-50e8-b5eb-19f488daaf32.html)
Vegetation is the cornerstone of biogeography. This slideshow looks at changes in US forests since 1620: www.slideshare.net/WorldResources/virgin-forests-southern-usa
What gives life meaning? For some philosophers (and writers, as students in my online comparative science fiction class discovered this week), it is mortality itself. This article, co-published by The New York Times and New Philosopher magazine (Australia) elaborates on this point:
"Consider this fact of modern life: Nearly all of the technological products that we buy and use are designed with planned obsolescence in mind. They are built specifically to fail after a relatively short period — one year, two, maybe five. If you doubt that, think about how often you have to replace your smartphone. Gadgets are designed to die.. ... In her new book, 'Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer,' Barbara Ehrenreich writes: 'You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible measure to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.' I was taken by Ms. Ehrenreich’s formulation, this notion that our experience of life, though unique to us, is just part of a broader continuum. Our time here is but a blip, and when we leave, the great world continues to spin. As such, the appreciation of our own lives has much to do with the ever-increasing awareness of its relative brevity. It is this — an awareness and acceptance of our own mortality — that makes us human. And it is the impetus, I’d argue, for living our lives to the fullest. ... It is rare for us to give much thought to the challenges we would face if there were no end to our time on earth. Would the condition of our bodies affect the condition of our minds? Would everyone live forever, or just those with the means to afford it? Could you opt out of eternal life? Would inequality dissolve, or would it become even more of an intractable problem? Would we still gain the empathy, wisdom and insight that can come with age? Technological breakthroughs can be life-changing. But I believe that our humanity — our humanness — is inextricably intertwined with the fact of our mortality. And no scientific fountain of youth can ever cause that to change."
Good to know if you're traveling: where can you drink the tap water? cdn.24.co.za/files/Cms/General/d/6898/42bee9b6787f4bfa8db28aa945856013.jpg
NYC's American Museum of Natural History has assembled an excellent collection of kid-friendly learning resources on its OLogy site. Users can search by subject area (e.g., anthropology, microbiology, zoology) or flip over the "OLogy Card of the Day" to learn about something unexpected. www.amnh.org/explore/ology
Selling arms is big business. How big? This geo-graphic shows the world's biggest arms exporters and importers. Some may be surprising. howmuch.net/articles/worlds-biggest-military-weapons-exporters-and-importers
"Atmospheric rivers" have been in the news lately as the cause of major precipitation events along the Pacific coast of the U.S. this winter. This article from National Geographic explains atmospheric rivers: "They transport huge volumes of water around the world, carrying it along as vapor and cloud droplets. In an average atmospheric river, about 25 times as much water flows through the air high overhead as through the Mississippi River—and on any given day, about three or four are either developing or flowing through the sky in each hemisphere. 'In a way, they're actually the biggest rivers on earth,' says Marty Ralph, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who been studying the phenomena for years. 'They're just in the air instead of on the ground.' All in all, more than 90 percent of the water that gets moved around Earth's midlatitudes—its midsection, where most of the world's population lives—gets transported via these sinuous sky streams. ... California gets somewhere between 25 to 50 percent of all its annual precipitation from atmospheric rivers." www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/atmospheric-river-flood-rain-california-explainer
At least 10% (and in one case more than a quarter) of voters in eight states (in dark green) cast their ballots for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the presidential election of 2016. In the four states shown in red, by contrast, more than 96% of voters hewed to the two-party line. brilliantmaps.com/not-hillary-trump/#more-3964
At Harvard University "Embedded EthiCS — an interdisciplinary initiative between the Computer Science and Philosophy departments — has expanded to a dozen courses in the Computer Science department this semester and will extend to other disciplines in the near future. Pioneered by Computer Science Professor Barbara J. Grosz and Philosophy Professor Alison J. Simmons, the initiative pairs Computer Science faculty members with Philosophy graduate students to collaboratively design modules and assignments that address relevant ethical issues within Computer Science curricula. ... The idea behind the Embedded EthiCS initiative arose three years ago after students in Grosz’s course, CS 108: 'Intelligent Systems: Design and Ethical Challenges,' pushed for an increased emphasis on ethical reasoning within discussions surrounding technology, according to Grosz and Simmons. ... 'Not only are today’s students going to be designing technology in the future, but some of them are going to go into government and be working on regulation,' Simmons said. 'They need to understand how [ethical issues] crop up, and they need to be able to identify them.' Simmons said rather than serve as an afterthought or a 'one-off course,' ethical reasoning should be taught concurrently with computer science to enable students to think critically and communicate about ethical challenges associated with technology. ... 'You need to think not just about how to write clean code and elegant code and efficient code, but also about whether what the system is intended to do is ethical and whether the system might have side effects that raise some ethical concerns and, if so, how to either design around them or decide you shouldn't put certain capabilities in,' Grosz said." www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/2/22/embedded-ethiCS-expands/
This map, from an Australian site affiliated with Quantas Airways, pairs regions of Australia with other areas of the world, based on climate. (To see the analogues for cooler, rainier Tasmania, click on the link.) awol.junkee.com/this-fascinating-map-shows-us-australias-climate-twins
Can you identify a country based on three images from that country? You can test your skills with this 38-question quiz: play.howstuffworks.com/quiz/97-people-cant-identify-the-country-three-images-can-you
The former Yugoslavian state of Macedonia recently became the latest country to change its name: it has agreed to become North Macedonia to resolve a dispute with Greece over the name "Macedonia." This map highlights countries that have changed their names since 1975. preview.redd.it/etaev2n8uli21.jpg?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=5ff80625b73bb95084be5a0f57b6848024fb28d8
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