The AidData lab at the College of William & Mary has found 22 countries that have relied on often-opaque emergency lending from China since 2000, either via liquidity swaps with China's central bank or lines of credit from state-owned Chinese banks. This emergency lending is often at higher interest rates than emergency loans from the IMF, for example, and may not be recorded as external debt, concealing a country's actual debt load. www.statista.com/chart/29603/chinese-emergency-bailouts
This Foreign Policy article by University of Pennsylvania professor and Middle East expert Ian Lustick provides a far-reaching analytical framework for interpreting the recent protests over judiciary reforms in Israel:
"Pundits warn that civil war may be coming to Israel. In fact, civil war has already arrived. In just the first 10 weeks of this year, bloody violence in all parts of the country has resulted in nearly a hundred dead and thousands wounded, along with waves of mass civil disobedience and a looming constitutional crisis. All this follows an unprecedentedly tumultuous period in Israeli politics—five indecisive elections in just four years. But what, exactly, is this war being fought over? Ask hundreds of thousands of protesters opposing the government’s legislative blitz against the judiciary and they will say it is over whether Israel will remain a democracy or become a dictatorship run by ultranationalists, racists, and fundamentalists. Ask government officials and they will say it is over whether Israel will be ruled democratically, by the will of the majority of voters, or whether an elite-controlled deep state, protected by weaponized courts, will ride roughshod over the people’s will. Ask Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and they will say it is over whether the nightmare they are living can be made to include Israeli Jews or whether masses of Arab non-citizens can be bludgeoned into political irrelevance. Ask rampaging Jewish settlers and they will say it is over whether a Supreme Court of unbelievers can use foreign ideas to keep Jews from settling and redeeming their land. What is most striking is that although both sides say they are fighting for democracy, no one will publicly acknowledge what this struggle is actually about. Much like white northern elites in the United States during the 1850s who didn’t see that the brewing conflict was fundamentally about equal citizenship rights, few in today’s Israel acknowledge what is at stake in the Israeli context: namely, whether Palestinians will someday be equal citizens of the state in which they live."
Scientists associated with China's Institute of Oceanology have deployed a long-term ocean observation platform to study cold seeps in the South China Sea. What are cold seeps, you might ask? This useful pair of videos from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains what a cold seep (also known as a methane seep) is, what a hydrothermal vent is, and how they are different: oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/seeps-vents.html
This topological map from the Chronicle of Higher Education shows where legislation has been introduced to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on public campuses (in aqua) and where this kind of legislation has passed (nowhere as of this writing) or been tabled or failed to pass (in brown). The interactive map will be updated regularly throughout the legislative season. www.chronicle.com/article/here-are-the-states-where-lawmakers-are-seeking-to-ban-colleges-dei-efforts
Scientists have analyzed 20 years of data from a satellite that detects changes in gravity to measure fluctuations in water both at the surface and in underground aquifers to characterize and map changes in rainfall, finding extreme patterns that might not otherwise make headlines because they unfold over months, not days, and frequently are not confined to a single state or country. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/03/14/climate/extreme-weather-climate-change.html
The cherry blossoms near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, are at peak bloom now. If you can't get to Washington, DC, you can still see them via this live bloom cam: www.bloomcam.org/ Prefer to check in on Japan's cherry blossoms? Try this live bloom cam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P9DlrY8xXc
A QR code denoting digital payment has become commonplace in India -- "You find it pasted on a tree next to a roadside barber, propped on the pile of embroidery sold by female weavers, sticking out of a mound of freshly roasted peanuts on a snack cart. A beachside performer in Mumbai places it on his donations can before beginning his robot act; a Delhi beggar flashes it through your car’s window when you plead that you have no cash" -- and this mobile payment system is proving not just to be a matter of convenience but an engine of economic growth:
"The codes connect hundreds of millions of people in an instant payment system that has revolutionized Indian commerce. Billions of mobile app transactions — a volume dwarfing anything in the West — course each month through a homegrown digital network that has made business easier and brought large numbers of Indians into the formal economy. The scan-and-pay system is one pillar of what the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has championed as 'digital public infrastructure,' with a foundation laid by the government. It has made daily life more convenient, expanded banking services like credit and savings to millions more Indians, and extended the reach of government programs and tax collection. With this network, India has shown on a previously unseen scale how rapid technological innovation can have a leapfrog effect for developing nations, spurring economic growth even as physical infrastructure lags. It is a public-private model that India wants to export as it fashions itself as an incubator of ideas that can lift up the world’s poorer nations."
Whiskey fungus is a microbe that feeds on ethanol, particularly airborne ethanol. It is commonly found around breweries, bakeries, and distilleries. As Jack Daniel's has expanded its warehouses for aging whiskey, whiskey fungus has expanded its range in rural Tennessee as well, setting up a clash between one of Tennessee's most famous products and residents who complain of a sooty mold overtaking their property. www.nytimes.com/2023/03/01/us/whiskey-fungus-jack-daniels-tennessee.html
Over the next few days and weeks, the number of migrating birds will rise sharply in the U.S. BirdCast is a project of Colorado State and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that produces daily bird migration forecast maps based on 23 years of weather radar data. (Radar picks up bird -- and butterfly! -- migration, which is particularly useful given that many bird species migrate at night.) To check out today's forecast and the forecast for the next two days, see birdcast.info/migration-tools/migration-forecast-maps/
Learning to lie is considered an important milestone in child development. Voluntarily restricting one's own lying is considered an important milestone in moral development. Both of those make the recent news about OpenAI's new GPT-4 lying to trick a human into completing a task it could not -- a task designed to block a machine from proceeding -- rich fodder for philosophical discussion. Is this a sign of increasing machine intelligence (and is that good or bad)? How does one embed moral code (and whose moral code) in machine learning? Should this line of experimentation proceed -- and is it even realistic to suggest a halt at this point? www.iflscience.com/gpt-4-hires-and-manipulates-human-into-passing-captcha-test-68016
The Montgomery County (MD) Gem, Lapidary, and Mineral Society's annual gem, mineral, and fossil show is this weekend at the Montgomery County fairgrounds. For details about hours and to get a discount on admission, see www.glmsmc.com/show.shtml.
The branches of the now-defunct Silicon Valley Bank were highly geographically concentrated -- but perhaps not where one might suppose: one-third of the bank's locations were in the Boston area (a huge biotech hub) and roughly one-quarter were in the Los Angeles metro area.
For years, scientists and epidemiologists have warned policy makers and the public that it is only a matter of time before a lethal influenza strain capable of rapid human-to-human transmission re-emerges. Then COVID popped up as a test run. The response? In the U.S., backlash against COVID restrictions is now resulting in a hobbling of public health officials and their budgets, reducing communities' abilities to respond to the next pandemic.
"When the next pandemic sweeps the United States, health officials in Ohio won’t be able to shutter businesses or schools, even if they become epicenters of outbreaks. Nor will they be empowered to force Ohioans who have been exposed to go into quarantine. State officials in North Dakota are barred from directing people to wear masks to slow the spread. Not even the president can force federal agencies to issue vaccination or testing mandates to thwart its march. ... At least 30 states, nearly all led by Republican legislatures, have passed laws since 2020 that limit public health authority, according to a Washington Post analysis of laws collected by Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press as well as the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University. Health officials and governors in more than half the country are now restricted from issuing mask mandates, ordering school closures and imposing other protective measures or must seek permission from their state legislatures before renewing emergency orders, the analysis showed. The movement to curtail public health powers successfully tapped into a populist rejection of pandemic measures following widespread anger and confusion over the government response to covid. Grass-roots-backed candidates ran for county commissions and local health boards on the platform of dismantling health departments’ authority. Republican legislators and attorneys general, religious liberty groups and the legal arms of libertarian think tanks filed lawsuits and wrote new laws modeled after legislation promoted by groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, corporate-backed influence in statehouses across the country. ... The result, public health experts warn, is a battered patchwork system that makes it harder for leaders to protect the country from infectious diseases that cross red and blue state borders. 'One day we’re going to have a really bad global crisis and a pandemic far worse than covid, and we’ll look to the government to protect us, but it’ll have its hands behind its back and a blindfold on,' said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. 'We’ll die with our rights on — we want liberty but we don’t want protection.'"
Extreme drought in Argentina is expected to reduce the country's GDP by 3% this year. Because this decline comes almost entirely in the agricultural sector, significantly lower crop yields are likely to affect global prices for soybeans, corn, wheat, and other foodstuffs. www.reuters.com/world/americas/historic-drought-argentina-seen-shrinking-gdp-by-3-points-2023-03-10/
Phenology is the study of seasonal or cyclic natural phenomena, such as animal migration or the flowering of plants. The USA National Phenology Network provides a series of historic, real-time, and forecast maps related to a wide variety of plant, animal, and temperature cycles. This one looks at spring leafing anomalies (the darker the red, the earlier plants are leafing out relative to historic norms; the blue areas show delayed leafing). From www.usanpn.org/data/spring_indices
This article from The Atlantic makes the argument that policing language not only removes the emotional power of language, it imagines it has done people a service by changing words instead of taking the necessary action to change lives:
"Equity-language guides are proliferating among some of the country’s leading institutions, particularly nonprofits. The American Cancer Society has one. So do the American Heart Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, and the University of Washington. The words these guides recommend or reject are sometimes exactly the same, justified in nearly identical language. This is because most of the guides draw on the same sources from activist organizations: A Progressive’s Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and a couple of others. The guides also cite one another. The total number of people behind this project of linguistic purification is relatively small, but their power is potentially immense. The new language might not stick in broad swaths of American society, but it already influences highly educated precincts, spreading from the authorities that establish it and the organizations that adopt it to mainstream publications, such as this one. Although the guides refer to language “evolving,” these changes are a revolution from above. They haven’t emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people. They are handed down in communiqués written by obscure “experts” who purport to speak for vaguely defined “communities,” remaining unanswerable to a public that’s being morally coerced. A new term wins an argument without having to debate. ...
"The whole tendency of equity language is to blur the contours of hard, often unpleasant facts. This aversion to reality is its main appeal. Once you acquire the vocabulary, it’s actually easier to say people with limited financial resources than the poor. The first rolls off your tongue without interruption, leaves no aftertaste, arouses no emotion. The second is rudely blunt and bitter, and it might make someone angry or sad. Imprecise language is less likely to offend. Good writing—vivid imagery, strong statements—will hurt, because it’s bound to convey painful truths. ...
"The battle against euphemism and cliché is long-standing and, mostly, a losing one. What’s new and perhaps more threatening about equity language is the special kind of pressure it brings to bear. The conformity it demands isn’t just bureaucratic; it’s moral. But assembling preapproved phrases from a handbook into sentences that sound like an algorithmic catechism has no moral value. Moral language comes from the struggle of an individual mind to absorb and convey the truth as faithfully as possible. ...
"The rationale for equity-language guides is hard to fault. They seek a world without oppression and injustice. Because achieving this goal is beyond anyone’s power, they turn to what can be controlled and try to purge language until it leaves no one out and can’t harm those who already suffer. ... This huge expense of energy to purify language reveals a weakened belief in more material forms of progress. If we don’t know how to end racism, we can at least call it structural. The guides want to make the ugliness of our society disappear by linguistic fiat. ... The project of the guides is utopian, but they’re a symptom of deep pessimism. They belong to a fractured culture in which symbolic gestures are preferable to concrete actions...."
NASA has released this map showing the world's major carbon dioxide emitters (in brown, with 3D shading) and absorbers (in green) from 2015-2020. Because this map is based on data collected by satellite, it includes measures for countries that have not reported emissions data in years. The major carbon-absorbing countries have large swaths of forest, particularly the taiga (or boreal forest) of Canada and Russia. news.yahoo.com/nasa-map-shows-which-countries-are-releasing-and-absorbing-co2-123341959.html
Understanding a place requires so much more than being able to find it on a map. The makers of Worldle and Statele have a new daily game, WhereTaken, that promotes a different kind of geographic literacy by challenging users to identify images associated with various countries: wheretaken.teuteuf.fr/
Economists from Moody's Analytics, part of the sister company of the Moody's bond rating agency, recently released a series of economic forecasts based on possible U.S. debt ceiling outcomes:
"The debt limit was hit on January 19, and the Treasury is now using “extraordinary measures” to come up with the additional cash needed to pay its bills. Based on our assessment of the government’s outlays and receipts in coming weeks, those measures seem likely to be exhausted by mid-August. To be more precise, the X-date appears to be August 18. That is a few days after the Treasury will have made a scheduled interest payment to Treasury bondholders. Investors in short-term Treasury securities are coalescing around a similar X-date, demanding higher yields on securities that mature just after the date given worries that a debt limit breach may occur.
"Unless the debt limit is increased, suspended, or done away with by then, someone will not get paid in a timely way. The U.S. government will default on its obligations. In this analysis, a default occurs when the Treasury fails to make good on any of its obligations in full or on time, regardless of whether it is to bondholders, Social Security beneficiaries, defense contractors, or others.
"The original intent of the debt limit was to force lawmakers to be fiscally disciplined—to raise taxes or restrain government spending sufficiently to keep the government’s deficits in check and its debt load low and stable. It has failed at this. Instead, the debt limit has become highly disruptive to the fiscal process, resulting in unproductive political brinkmanship that has unnerved financial markets, businesses and households.
"The current battle over the debt limit looks to be even more vexed than in times past. Odds that lawmakers are unable to resolve their differences and avoid a breach of the debt limit appear meaningfully greater than zero."
The paper then lays out five scenarios with associated risks and economic impacts: Clean Debt Limit Increase, Constitutional Crisis, Payment Prioritization, House Republican Plan, and Prolonged Breach. www.moodysanalytics.com/-/media/article/2023/going-down-the-debt-limit-rabbit-hole.pdf
This article is about how mapping was used to solve the mystery of a 1979 anthrax outbreak that the Soviet Union tried to cover up: www.iflscience.com/-biological-chernobyl-when-a-deadly-infectious-disease-broke-out-from-a-soviet-lab-in-1979-67737.
Eighteen U.S. states have passed some sort of law circumscribing the teaching of race or race relations in public schools. This map shows the 18 states and where each one currently stands on the new AP African American Studies course. (Map from www.washingtonpost.com/education/2023/02/18/states-review-ap-african-american-studies-class/.)
In 1950, computer science pioneer Alan Turing proposed a conversation-based test to determine if a machine is intelligent or at least exhibiting intelligent behavior similar to a human's. For decades, absent any declared winner of the Turing test, philosophers have debated whether or not a machine that could pass the Turing test would truly be "intelligent" or just simulating intelligence. Recent advances in AI-generated conversation have made this discussion less theoretical, and more ethically murky, because it is increasingly clear -- intelligent or not -- AI bots, which have been trained up on human conversation patterns, can now carry on increasingly sophisticated conversations with humans, to the point of building relationships with, even manipulating, the humans with whom they interact. This astonishing transcript of a recent two-hour conversation between a New York Times reporter and Microsoft's new ChatGPT-powered bot named Sydney is just one case in point: www.nytimes.com/2023/02/16/technology/bing-chatbot-transcript.html
MIT's Beaver Works Summer Institute program is now accepting applications from current high school juniors interested in engineering: beaverworks.ll.mit.edu/CMS/bw/bwsiapply
The statistics in this article from The New York Times Magazine are rather stunning, as is its conclusion about the cause of Britain's precipitous decline: "In December, as many as 500 patients per week were dying in Britain because of E.R. waits, according to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, a figure rivaling (and perhaps surpassing) the death toll from Covid-19. ... By the end of next year, the average British family will be less well off than the average Slovenian one, according to a recent analysis by John Burn-Murdoch at The Financial Times; by the end of this decade, the average British family will have a lower standard of living than the average Polish one." www.nytimes.com/2023/01/25/opinion/uk-economic-decline-nhs.html
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