I will be out exploring the next couple of weeks and will not be posting to my blog or Facebook page until June.
Here's an incentive for you or your kids to get outdoors and to develop those digital photography skills: the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is sponsoring a photography contest for photographs taken in Maryland, with a preference given to photos highlighting native species. Submissions are due by Aug. 1 dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/photocontest.aspx (Scroll to the bottom of the website to see last year's winning images.)
Although Russia has been the focus of the world's liberal democracies for the last several months, countering China remains the long-term project. In the wake of a recent security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, The Economist (UK) looked at other countries in Asia, Africa, and Oceania in which China either already has a military base or likely has an interest in establishing a military base: www.economist.com/img/b/640/356/90/sites/default/files/images/print-edition/20220507_CNM979.png (Map from www.economist.com/china/2022/05/05/china-wants-to-increase-its-military-presence-abroad.)
In some ways, the violent re-ordering of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs that flowed from Indian and Pakistani independence in 1947 has overshadowed the violent re-ordering of Jews, Muslims, and Christians that flowed from Israeli independence the following year. Concerned about denialism and "memoricide" of the latter event, the Middle East Institute, a broad-based nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC, has published a new paper based on diplomatic documents in the U.S. archives about what U.S. diplomats knew was happening on the ground in Israel/Palestine in 1948: www.mei.edu/publications/five-things-united-states-knew-about-nakba-it-unfolded
Half way between Tasmania and Antarctica lies one of the only spots in the world where the earth's mantle is actually above sea level. Macquarie Island, considered part of Australia, was created by a collision of two tectonic plates that pushed rock that had been kilometers beneath the seafloor above water. Because of its unique geology, Macquarie Island is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. www.atlasobscura.com/places/macquarie-island
The U.S. is experiencing its worst outbreak of bird flu in seven years, resulting in the culling of nearly 40 million chickens and turkeys. This map, from the digital business journal Quartz, reflects both the spread of bird flu and the geographic concentration of commercial chicken operations. (Map from qz.com/2162831/free-range-chickens-are-facing-global-bird-flu-lockdowns.)
If you're looking for something to add to your podcast line up, "The Philosopher's Zone" from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a 30-minute dive into a different philosophical topic each week: www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/ "The Philosopher's Zone" should be available wherever you get your podcasts.
Historically, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was considered an autonomous subordinate of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2018, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (long considered first among equals in the Eastern Orthodox Church) announced its intention to grant autoencephaly (religious independence) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at some point in the future, causing the Russian Orthodox Church to sever communion with Constantinople. In January 2019, after intense opposition by Russia, which reportedly included involvement of Russian security services operating in Ukraine, various factions of the Ukrainian Orthodox community agreed to unification, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted autoencephaly by Constantinople shortly thereafter. Since then, more than 2,000 Ukrainian parishes have switched from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) to the newly unified and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This map, created by a Reddit user 5 years ago, hints at the complexity of Orthodox Christianity in Europe and the Mediterranean. preview.redd.it/y2s27pd5oobz.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=cd386b0ae22f56b311ce36bfa4000926bf6f70d1
Use your knowledge of geography to rearrange these 12 words into the names of countries:
Reporters Without Borders has released its 2022 assessment of press freedom in 180 countries and territories. Notably, Central and South America saw serious declines in press freedoms over the last year, with Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela all dropping at least 11 (and as many as 39) positions in global rankings. Users can mouse over the map for details or click on the "Analyses 2022" for details: rsf.org/en/index
This recent article by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt about the influence of social media -- described as a "universal solvent, breaking down bonds and weakening institutions everywhere it reached" -- is long but worth a read:
"Historically, civilizations have relied on shared blood, gods, and enemies to counteract the tendency to split apart as they grow. But what is it that holds together large and diverse secular democracies such as the United States and India, or, for that matter, modern Britain and France? Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009. ... But by rewiring everything in a headlong rush for growth—with a naive conception of human psychology, little understanding of the intricacy of institutions, and no concern for external costs imposed on society—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a few other large platforms unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together. ... A mean tweet doesn’t kill anyone; it is an attempt to shame or punish someone publicly while broadcasting one’s own virtue, brilliance, or tribal loyalties. It’s more a dart than a bullet, causing pain but no fatalities. Even so, from 2009 to 2012, Facebook and Twitter passed out roughly 1 billion dart guns globally. We’ve been shooting one another ever since. ... First, the dart guns of social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens. ... Second, the dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority. ... In other words, political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team. In this way, social media makes a political system based on compromise grind to a halt. Finally, by giving everyone a dart gun, social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. ... When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth. ... [Many of America’s key institutions] got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear of getting darted. ... We can never return to the way things were in the pre-digital age. ... And yet American democracy is now operating outside the bounds of sustainability. If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis."
The past two months were the hottest March and April in India in 122 Years, with high temperatures in the Delhi area occasionally exceeding 110°F. At the same time, shortages of coal for the country's power plants have resulted in daily power outages for 2 in 3 Indian households. Power plants in the Indian states of Rajasthan (capital: Jaipur), Maharashtra (capital: Mumbai), West Bengal (capital: Kolkata), and Tamil Nadu (capital: Chennai) have been experiencing the most critical shortages. www.businesstoday.in/latest/story/power-crisis-in-india-these-states-facing-electricity-problems-full-list-332105-2022-05-02
Based on existing laws and the current political landscape, the Center for Reproductive Rights estimates this is what the legal status of abortion would look like in the United States if Roe v. Wade is overturned this summer: cdn.statcdn.com/Infographic/images/normal/26955.jpeg (map from Statista)
When you lose yourself in a book or a piece of music or a work of art, where do you go? This interesting piece from the digital magazine Psyche blends aesthetics and phenomenology to consider this question.
"No wonder, then, that there is a certain sense of wistfulness when it all ends, when the lights come up or the last page is turned, and we find ourselves back where we were, forced to carry on with our daily lives. ... Here we face what I call the paradox of aesthetic immersion: when I’m immersed in artwork, I seem to go somewhere without going anywhere, and I seem to be in two worlds at once, and yet I’m not properly in either. So what kind of ‘travelling’ are we talking about? ... An artwork necessarily requires a physical basis, such as pigments on a canvas, a block of marble, letters on a page, people on the stage – in short, an external object or state of affairs that the perceiver can engage with. However, the work also needs a perceiver to blossom into what [Polish phenomenologist Roman] Ingarden called the aesthetic object, the artwork as experienced: it is the consciousness of the perceiver that turns the letters on a page into an imagined world, sees a landscape in a painted surface, or hears sadness in a melody. ... Indeed, when perceiving an artwork, we often literally overlook the artwork as a physical object; I’m not usually aware of the letters on the page or the pigments on the canvas, as my consciousness glides over them and attends to the depicted or narrated world that opens up in engagement with the artwork. This world is not localisable in physical space. No map can lead me there. The only entry goes through the artwork. Neither is the artwork’s world a mere mental event inside my consciousness, like a phantasm or a memory, because I experience the artwork’s world as something external to my consciousness. ... The dull habituality of everyday life can easily make us forget how rich and varied human experience can be. We usually live through our daily hustle and bustle with a certain automatism that stultifies our ways of relating to the world and ourselves. By altering the basic experiential structures that sustain our sense of the everyday world, immersive artworks can show us that there are more possibilities of thinking, feeling and imagining than we usually realise. Immersion mobilises the mind, and makes its gears run in a new fashion. Though immersive experiences might not teach us anything in terms of ‘X is Y’, we do not necessarily return from immersion unchanged. Many are probably familiar with the way art’s magic can linger after immersion itself has dissipated, and how the world appears, at least for a while, richer, deeper and more enchanting than before. I believe such experiences are vital in leading towards a more curious and nuanced relation to the world. As the German philosopher J G Fichte (1762-1814) put it, aesthetic experiences might not straightforwardly make us wiser or better people, but ‘the unploughed fields of our minds are nevertheless opened up, and if for other reasons we one day decide in freedom to take possession of them, we find half the resistance removed and half the work done.’"
According to a recent investigative report by The Washington Post, "The pattern is clear: First, the forest is razed. Then the cattle are moved in. If the Amazon is to die, it will be beef that kills it. And America will be an accomplice. Cattle ranching, responsible for the great majority of deforestation in the Amazon, is pushing the forest to the edge of what scientists warn could be a vast and irreversible dieback that claims much of the biome." This map, based on satellite data, shows Brazil's portion of the Amazon River basin and where rainforest has been converted, often illegally, to pastureland: www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2022/05/01/PDTN/a9baa492-b47e-4da0-aa3f-c32911150f4c-2022-04-30_23_24_31-pasture-vs-deforestion.png (from the print edition of www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/amazon-beef-deforestation-brazil/).
Things are blooming, buzzing, leafing out, and crawling by. But is that a bluebell or a balloon flower? A black swallowtail or a red-spotted purple? The free Seek app from iNaturalist helps users identify the plants, animals, and fungus they're seeing simply by scanning them with the camera on a smartphone. There's more information about Seek and links to download the app (from Google Play or the App Store) at www.inaturalist.org/pages/seek_app.
The war in Ukraine is bottling up wheat exports and, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the country, damaging winter wheat fields planted last fall and interfering with spring planting. This geo-graphic from Statista highlights the countries most dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat: www.statista.com/chart/27181/least-developed-countries-dependent-on-wheat-from-russia-ukraine
Trying to fill a void in national infectious-disease forecasting in the U.S., the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has launched its new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics "to develop faster, richer evidence to predict trends and guide decision-making during emergencies." www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p0419-forecasting-center.html (The CDC's announcement will probably be greeted with a mixture of relief and skepticism by those who read The Premonition, Michael Lewis's recent nonfiction book about the coronavirus pandemic.)
El Salvador not only made Bitcoin legal tender in September 2021, it is also planning Bitcoin City, a geothermally powered, tax-free city to be funded by Bitcoin-backed bonds at the base of a volcano in the eastern part of the country. According to this recent article from Fortune, Bitcoin City is only one of several initiatives being pitched to Latin American governments by crypto enthusiasts and libertarians advocating for the creation of private, corporate-run city-states to operate outside the legal structure of the nation-state. fortune.com/2022/04/22/crypto-millionaires-building-tax-free-cities-central-america/
Roughly a quarter of all weddings in the U.S. are in the months of May and June. Depending on the state, though, up to 35% of all weddings are second or third (or fourth or fifth) marriages. This map, based on Census data, shows where re-marriage is most and least common in the U.S. compote.slate.com/images/c6f1ae40-6e32-414b-bec7-f3664e3e2ffa.png
As noted in this recent article from The New York Times, "with advances in artificial intelligence and robotics allowing for more profound interactions with the inanimate" the number of people who form deep attachments to artificial "lifeforms" is likely to increase over the coming years. In Japan, thousands of people have entered into unofficial marriages with fictional characters. Are the feelings of these "fictosexuals," as those in the movement call themselves, any less real? Do these relationships serve a social need? And what are the ethical obligations, if any, of the corporate entities that own and promote (and program and update and potentially discontinue) these AI-powered objects of devotion? www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/business/akihiko-kondo-fictional-character-relationships.html
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