This article from Geographical (UK) reviews an interesting assortment of new books, ranging from a book on Isaac Newton after he left Cambridge to a book on the cultural and economic history of the Volga to a book titled How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope You Never Need. All are available in the U.S. geographical.co.uk/reviews/books/item/3974-geographical-books-to-get-you-through-the-lockdown-this-february
The Muslim holiday of Ramadan is celebrated, in part, by fasting between sunrise and sunset. This year, Ramadan falls in April and May, making the sunrise-to-sunset period longer -- in some cases, substantially longer -- in northern locations. This geo-graphic shows the current fasting time in a sampling of world cities. www.statista.com/chart/17874/ramadan-daily-fasting-hours-selected-cities
A recent assessment by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund finds that the combination of debt, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change may push a growing number of countries to the brink -- and, with them, the global economy if action is not taken.
"Take Belize, Fiji and Mozambique. Vastly different countries, they are among dozens of nations at the crossroads of two mounting global crises that are drawing the attention of international financial institutions: climate change and debt. ... One of the countries at the crossroads of the climate and debt crises is Belize, a middle-income country on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Its foreign debt had been steadily rising for the last few years. It was also feeling some of the most acute effects of climate change: sea level rise, bleached corals, coastal erosion. The pandemic dried up tourism, a mainstay of its economy. Then, after two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, hit neighboring Guatemala, floods swept away farms and roads downstream in Belize. Today, the debt that Belize owes its foreign creditors is equal to 85 percent of its entire national economy. The private credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has downgraded its creditworthiness, making it tougher to get loans on the private market. The International Monetary Fund calls its debt levels 'unsustainable.' ... Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are important lenders, but so are rich countries, as well as private banks and bondholders. The global financial system would face a huge problem if countries faced with shrinking economies defaulted on their debts. ...
"And then there’s Mozambique. The sixth-poorest country in the world. It was already sinking under huge debts, including secret loans that the government had not disclosed, when, in 2019, came back-to-back cyclones. They killed 1,000 people and left physical damages costing more than $870 million. Mozambique took on more loans to cope. Then came the pandemic. The I.M.F. says the country is in debt distress. Six countries on the continent are in debt distress, and many more have seen their credit ratings downgraded by private ratings agencies. In March, finance ministers from across Africa said that many of their countries had spent a sizable chunk of their budgets already to deal with extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and some countries were spending a tenth of their budgets on climate adaptation efforts. 'Our fiscal buffers are now truly depleted,' they wrote. In developing countries, the share of government revenues that go into paying foreign debts nearly tripled to 17.4 percent between 2011 and 2020, an analysis by Eurodad, a debt relief advocacy group found."
Earlier this month, the Dorset coast of southwest England saw what was probably the most significant rockfall of the last 60 years, with an estimated 4000 metric tons of cliffside giving way between Eype Beach and Seatown. The rockfall is particularly significant because this area is part of England's "Jurassic Coast," originally made famous by pioneering paleontologist Mary Anning and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will likely make the spot a magnet for fossil hunters when the area is deemed safe. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9467211/Biggest-rockfall-60-years-sees-4-000-ton-chunk-430ft-high-cliff-collapse.html
How much house will half a million dollars buy you? This topological map from HowMuch.net shows the average square footage $500K will buy you by state: howmuch.net/articles/how-many-sqft-you-can-buy-500k
I'll be out exploring a corner of the world for the next week and do not expect to be posting to my blog or Facebook page much, if at all, during that time. If you find you miss my daily posts, please tell a friend or two about my blog/Facebook page :-).
When considering issues of identity, many of us identify with our minds over our bodies. Should we? What are the implications of our mind-centric bias for issues ranging from our views on death to projects like Elon Musk's Neuralink to the biochemistry of bonding and stress relief to our views of the "other" to our use of social media to animal rights? aeon.co/essays/to-be-fully-human-we-must-also-be-fully-embodied-animal
In advance of Earth Day, this geo-graphic looks at the 20 global cities with the worst air pollution, as measured by particulate matter. Although the Chinese city of Hotan, on the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, tops the list, 18 of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia. www.statista.com/chart/17239/average-level-of-particulate-matter-pollution
It's not too late to catch the last six "At Home Anthro Live" events of the year. These free 30-minute programs from the Penn Museum are designed to introduce elementary and middle school students to anthropology, archaeology, and world cultures. Tuesdays 1:00-1:30 ET, advance registration required: www.penn.museum/events/kids-family/at-home-anthropology-live
The map GIF in this article from The New York Times shows the spread of the so-called UK COVID variant across western Europe from Nov. 2 to March 22. The accompanying graphics also show the spread of the so-called South African and Brazil variants in the same European countries. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/04/09/world/europe/europe-coronavirus-variants.html
China will be the first major country to launch a blockchain-based national currency. The digital yuan "is expected to give China’s government vast new tools to monitor both its economy and its people. By design, the digital yuan will negate one of bitcoin’s major draws: anonymity for the user. Beijing is also positioning the digital yuan for international use and designing it to be untethered to the global financial system, where the U.S. dollar has been king since World War II. ... The dollar far outstrips all other currencies for use in international foreign-exchange trades, at 88% in the latest rankings from the Bank for International Settlements. The yuan was used in just 4%. ... Even limited international usage could soften the bite of U.S. sanctions, which increasingly are used against Chinese companies or individuals. Josh Lipsky, a former International Monetary Fund staffer now at the Atlantic Council think tank, said, 'Anything that threatens the dollar is a national-security issue. This threatens the dollar over the long term.' In tests in recent months, more than 100,000 people in China have downloaded a mobile-phone app from the central bank enabling them to spend small government handouts of digital cash with merchants, including Chinese outlets of Starbucks and McDonald’s. ... China has indicated the digital yuan will circulate alongside bills and coins for some time. Bankers and other analysts say Beijing aims to digitize all of its money eventually. Beijing hasn’t addressed that. ... The money itself is programmable. Beijing has tested expiration dates to encourage users to spend it quickly, for times when the economy needs a jump-start. ... What about volatility? Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are famous for that. But the People’s Bank of China will strictly control the digital yuan to ensure there aren’t valuation differences between it and the paper bills and coins. ... When bitcoin launched in 2009, most nations’ policy makers largely played down its significance. China paid attention. Always hypervigilant to threats, the leadership feared that a cryptocurrency could undermine government power if people began using it in earnest. ... The digital yuan could give those the U.S. seeks to penalize a way to exchange money without U.S. knowledge. Exchanges wouldn’t need to use SWIFT, the messaging network that is used in money transfers between commercial banks and that can be monitored by the U.S. government. ... More than 60 countries are at some stage of studying or developing a digital currency, according to research group CBDC Tracker. Digital currencies hold some of their biggest potential for the 1.7 billion people globally who the World Bank says lack a bank account. ... Asked during a recent Senate appearance whether the dollar could be digitized to help the U.S. defend its supremacy, the Fed’s Mr. [Jerome] Powell said researching that question is a 'very high-priority project.'"
If you have noticed bananas crept up in price this year, it's for the same reason the majority of families and unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border are from Honduras and Guatemala: Eta and Iota, the back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes that devastated swaths of Central America last November. The destruction stunned even disaster relief veterans. This recent article from The New York Times looks at this unfortunate collision of physical geography and human geography. www.nytimes.com/2021/04/06/world/americas/migration-honduras-central-america.html
With infrastructure in the news, this geo-graphic looks at structurally deficient bridges, specifically, by state. Iowa has the most structurally deficient bridges, but West Virginia has a higher proportion of structurally deficient bridges. It is worth noting the concluding statistic: "There are 171.5 million daily crossings on over 45,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges." www.statista.com/chart/12737/thousands-of-american-bridges-are-falling-apart
The pithy comment on scientific ethics from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum's character) in Jurassic Park -- "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should" -- seems to be echoed by Australia-based ethicist Kobi Leins in this article from Science News on the creation of self-organizing xenobots, living machines derived from frog cells: “Scientists like to make things, and don’t necessarily think about what the repercussions are."
"Using blobs of skin cells from frog embryos, scientists have grown creatures unlike anything else on Earth, a new study reports. ... Separated from their usual spots in a growing frog embryo, the cells organized themselves into balls and grew. About three days later, the clusters, called xenobots, began to swim. ... Xenobots have no nerve cells and no brains. Yet xenobots — each about half a millimeter wide — can swim through very thin tubes and traverse curvy mazes. When put into an arena littered with small particles of iron oxide, the xenobots can sweep the debris into piles. Xenobots can even heal themselves; after being cut, the bots zipper themselves back into their spherical shapes. ... The small xenobots are fascinating in their own rights, [Tufts biologist Michael Levin] says, but they raise bigger questions, and bigger possibilities. 'It’s finding a whole galaxy of weird new things.'"
This article in Geographical (UK) by geography journalist Tim Marshall provides a good overview of the history of Western Sahara and possible consequences of last December's decision by the U.S. government to recognize Morocco's claims to Western Sahara. geographical.co.uk/geopolitics/hotspot/item/3978-geopolitical-hotspot-western-sahara
The World History Association invites K-12 students to submit essays of approximately 1000 words addressing the question, "In what way has the study of world history affected my understanding of the world in which I live?" Submissions are due by May 1. For more, see www.thewha.org/awards/student-essay-competition/
Fifty years ago, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped roughly 2 million tons of ordnance on Cambodia. Many of the bombs that fell in soft soil didn't explode, leaving a legacy of unexploded ordnance that affects patterns of agriculture in Cambodia to this day. www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/03/20/american-bombing-50-years-ago-still-shapes-cambodian-agriculture
Should an American tech firm expose hackers exploiting a cybersecurity flaw when those hackers are an active Western counterterrorism operation?
"Google runs some of the most venerated cybersecurity operations on the planet: its Project Zero team, for example, finds powerful undiscovered security vulnerabilities, while its Threat Analysis Group directly counters hacking backed by governments, including North Korea, China, and Russia. And those two teams caught an unexpectedly big fish recently: an “expert” hacking group exploiting 11 powerful vulnerabilities to compromise devices running iOS, Android, and Windows. But MIT Technology Review has learned that the hackers in question were actually Western government operatives actively conducting a counterterrorism operation. The company’s decision to stop and publicize the attack caused internal division at Google and raised questions inside the intelligence communities of the United States and its allies. ... The exploits, which went back to early 2020 and used never-before-seen techniques, were “watering hole” attacks that used infected websites to deliver malware to visitors. They caught the attention of cybersecurity experts thanks to their scale, sophistication, and speed. ... In response to this incident, some Google employees have argued that counterterrorism missions ought to be out of bounds of public disclosure; others believe the company was entirely within its rights, and that the announcement serves to protect users and make the internet more secure. ... But the conclusion within Google was that who was hacking and why is never as important as the security flaws themselves. ... The justification was that even if a Western government was the one exploiting those vulnerabilities today, it will eventually be used by others, and so the right choice is always to fix the flaw today. ... But while protecting customers from attack is important, some argue that counterterrorism operations are different, with potentially life-and-death consequences that go beyond day-to-day internet security."
Because warmer air can hold more moisture, humidity is expected to rise along with global temperatures. A recent study published in Nature Geoscience suggests that the combination could push human life in the tropics to the breaking point. "Humans’ ability to regulate their body heat is dependent upon the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air. We have a core body temperature that stays relatively stable at 37C (98.6F), while our skin is cooler to allow heat to flow away from the inner body. But should the wet-bulb temperature – a measure of air temperature and humidity – pass 35C, high skin temperature means the body is unable to cool itself, with potentially deadly consequences. ... The research team looked at various historical data and simulations to determine how wet-bulb temperature extremes will change as the planet continues to heat up, discovering that these extremes in the tropics increase at around the same rate as the tropical mean temperature. ... This has potentially dire implications for a huge swathe of humanity. Around 40% of the world’s population currently lives in tropical countries, with this proportion set to expand to half of the global population by 2050 due to the large proportion of young people in region. The Princeton research was centered on latitudes found between 20 degrees north, a line that cuts through Mexico, Libya and India, to 20 degrees south, which goes through Brazil, Madagascar and the northern reaches of Australia. ... '“Theoretically no human can tolerate a wet bulb temperature of above 35C, no matter how much water they have to drink,' [Boise State climate risk expert Mojtaba Sadegh] added."
A recent report by Bloomberg Businessweek finds that more than 90% of the 2,600 U.S. counties studied charged owners of the least expensive homes relatively more in residential property taxes than the owners of the most expensive homes, based on the ratio of assessed value to market value. In some areas (shown in red on this map) the owners in the bottom decile of property values paid more than twice what the owners in the top decile of property values paid when adjusted for market value. (Map from www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-03-09/racial-inequality-broken-property-tax-system-blocks-black-wealth-building.)
Ranging from "Are humans obligated to better themselves?" to "Would you want to know you are going to die beforehand or die suddenly without warning?" this collection of 225 questions is an interesting sampling of philosophical conversation starters. (Regrettably, there is no further discussion of these ideas beyond the posing of the questions to place them in their philosophical context.) parade.com/1185047/marynliles/philosophical-questions/
Trade, including the transit of oil from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe, via the Suez Canal has resumed. This map shows important potential chokepoints, including the Suez Canal, in the global oil trade: cdn.statcdn.com/Infographic/images/normal/18109.jpeg
How much of this week's news did you notice? Every Friday Slate posts a short quiz about the week's news. slate.com/news-and-politics/the-slate-quiz
Reuters (UK) has created a series of interactive maps and graphs tracking COVID vaccine rollout in 80 countries around the world (and all 50 U.S. states): graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access/
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