Security is generally recognized as a good. But is all security equal in this regard? In this article from Philosophy Now (UK), professor of philosophy Seán Moran raises concerns about the growth of private security forces:
"Security workers of all stripes are a common sight on the streets in this region of the world [Karachi]. Neighbouring India has over seven million private security guards. In industrialised countries, private security personnel are also becoming more numerous than ‘proper’ policemen and women. For instance, in Britain there are now more than twice as many private security operatives as there are police officers (Benjamin Koeppen, PhD thesis, 2019). Similarly, in the United States there are over a million private security guards, comfortably outnumbering the police. Security, in its broad sense, is a public good. According to philosophers in the tradition of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the first duty of a nation state is to protect its citizens from harm, providing defence forces and police services to tackle external and internal threats. ... But private security does not generally conduce to the public good. A shop’s security is there first and foremost to protect the stock, staff and premises, rather than to safeguard the general public. ... In spite of this, the sector is growing. Private security guards patrol buildings, city streets and shopping malls (which themselves have an ambiguous public-yet-private status). They operate prisons and refugee centres, and even undertake secret operations in conflict zones. ... This is not a welcome development. Philip Zimbardo’s ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ of 1971 showed that even decent, intelligent people can become sadists when put in uniform and granted power over others. If security guards are given weapons and a sense of authority, some of them will behave badly. ...
"One fascinating philosophical analysis of security involves the notions of ‘immunity’ and ‘autoimmunity’. Paradoxically, when there is too much emphasis on achieving immunity from threats to the self, the defences activated can damage the thing they are supposed to protect. Here the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) uses the metaphor of autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the host organism’s own tissues. Another French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007), points out that the nastiest pathogens emerge in the most sterile places: the highly resistant hospital superbug Clostridium difficile, for instance. Analogously, the presence of large numbers of armed security guards (especially together with gun-toting private citizens) raises the chances of injury to the very people who are trying so hard to achieve immunity from attack."
This geo-graphic compares health care expenditures to life expectancy for 32 countries in the Americas: howmuch.net/articles/the-state-of-worlds-health
Test your knowledge of African geography! Take this quiz to identify all 54 countries in Africa: www.sporcle.com/games/Chenchilla/africa-find
As students in my "Your Future World" class come to learn, it is not always easy to determine how to refer properly to the leader of another country, for example, by surname. This map, assembled by a Reddit user, looks at naming traditions across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/c14fha/naming_traditions_across_the_world/
One podcast that I have added to my rotation and would recommend to anyone interested in national security issues is "Intelligence Matters" hosted by a former acting director of the CIA: www.cbsnews.com/news/intelligence-matters-a-cbs-news-original-national-security-podcast/
Rjukan, a town in south-central Norway surrounded by steep mountains, enjoyed little sunlight for much of the year. Until 2013. In 2013, the town installed Solspeilet (literally, "the sun mirror"), which is "a computer-controlled array of three giant mirrors that direct sunlight down from the mountaintop. Located 1,476 feet above the town, the mirrors are programmed to move with the sun, readjusting every 10 seconds to keep a constant beam of light reflecting down upon Rjukan." www.atlasobscura.com/places/giant-sun-mirrors-of-rjukan
The series of U.S. maps in this article attempts to tease apart who is moving from where they were born ("the mobile"), who is remaining where they were born because they lack the means to leave ("the stuck"), and who is remaining where they were born by preference ("the rooted"). www.citylab.com/life/2019/03/mobile-stuck-us-geography-map-where-americans-moving/584083/
I thought this cartoon would appeal to those who enjoy contemplating moral philosophy's (in)famous trolley problem as well as the mathematically inclined among you: i.redd.it/eetyap9cl4h21.jpg
In 1969, National Geographic published a ground-breaking map of the moon. Now, nearly 50 years since the first landing on the moon, National Geographic has published a new map incorporating the last 50 years' worth of data on lunar geography: www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2019/07/new-phase-of-exploration/
Looking for a summer philosophy project? New Philosopher magazine (Australia) is sponsoring a contest exploring the themes of balance and equality. The contest is open to all ages. Entries can be fiction or non-fiction (not to exceed 1,500 words) and must be submitted by Aug. 31. www.newphilosopher.com/articles/prize/
Chemistry is apparently easier and more profitable than botany: synthetic drugs (e.g., fentanyl, spice/K2, meth) are rapidly replacing illegal plant-based drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin, marijuana) in large segments of the U.S. market. Many of these drugs, or their precursor chemicals, are imported from China. This map, from Bloomberg, highlights synthetic drug manufacturing companies in China. assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/isrFsenU2i6o/v6/-1x-1.png from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-05-22/deadly-chinese-fentanyl-is-creating-a-new-era-of-drug-kingpins
Cyberattacks are a significant and growing problem for individuals, businesses, and governments. Test how much you know about cybersecurity issues with this quiz from The Wall Street Journal: www.wsj.com/articles/see-how-much-you-really-know-about-cybersecurity-11559672037
Greenland lost an estimated 2 billion tons of ice in just one day last week. Although the ice sheets of Antarctica account for roughly 90% of the world's ice, Greenland's ice sheets account for much of the remaining 10%. "The Arctic's melt season is a natural event that takes place every year, starting in June and ending in August, with peak rates occurring in July. However, the scale of ice loss taking place right now is extraordinary. Experts have already made comparisons to 2012, which saw record-breaking ice loss when almost all of Greenland's ice sheet was exposed to melt for the first time in documented history. This year, ice melt began even earlier than 2012 and three weeks earlier than average." www.iflscience.com/environment/greenland-lost-more-than-2-billion-tons-of-ice-in-just-one-day-last-week
Plant, animal, and microbial species expand and contract their ranges based on a variety of physical geographic factors, including temperature. This series of maps from The New York Times looks at anticipated changes in the U.S. range of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease most common in tropical climates. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/10/climate/dengue-mosquito-spread-map.html
As my "Philosophically Speaking" students learn, contemporary philosophers often work with physicists, neuroscientists, linguists, anthropologists, computer scientists, and others at the cutting edge of physical and social science. This interesting piece from The Wall Street Journal reports on a recent book merging philosophy and evolutionary biology:
"Where does consciousness come from? When and how did it evolve? The one person I’m sure is conscious is myself, of course, and I’m willing to believe that my fellow human beings, and familiar animals like cats and dogs, are conscious too. But what about bumblebees and worms? ... [Recently] a number of biologists and philosophers have argued that consciousness was born from a specific event in our evolutionary history: the Cambrian explosion. ...
"For around 100 million years, from about 635 to 542 million years ago, the first large multicellular organisms emerged on Earth. Biologists call this period the Ediacaran Garden—a time when, around the globe, a rich variety of strange creatures spent their lives attached to the ocean floor, where they fed, reproduced and died without doing very much in between. ... Then, quite suddenly by geological standards, most of these creatures disappeared. Between 530 and 520 million years ago, they were replaced by a remarkable proliferation of animals who lived quite differently. These animals started to move, to have brains and eyes, to seek out prey and avoid predators. ... They could learn about the world around them. These creatures developed the first simple brains, as well as new sensors like eyes and new tools like limbs and claws. And they began to have some simple feelings: the desire of the predator as it pursues its prey, the fear of the prey as it eludes the predator. ...
"Profs. Ginsburg and Jablonka argue that these new abilities went along with 'minimal consciousness,' the ability to experience the world and have a simple perspective on it. Other kinds of consciousness—imagination and reflection, self-consciousness and long-term planning—evolved later, and perhaps some are uniquely human. Philosophers of consciousness talk about the idea that being me or you, or a cat or a bat, is 'like' something—that is, it’s a subjective experience. ... But to be a [creature from the Cambrian] extending its claw, that was indeed 'like' something—something not so different from what it is like to be me."
Much of the eastern and central U.S. has been struggling through an excessively wet spring, to the point that many farmers still have not been able to plant their crops. It is easy to forget that this experience is not the norm, though. This map looks at precipitation patterns globally over the last two years. The areas in dark red -- which include most of Australia and Western Europe, much of northern South America, parts of India, Canada, and the western U.S., and much of southern Africa, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa -- have experienced significantly below-average precipitation through the two years ending in May. You can play with the parameters of the data to see where drought is evident or imminent: spei.csic.es/map/maps.html
Most varietals of hydrangea are in full bloom right now. You may have heard that the color of some species of hydrangea depends on soil pH. It does, but it's a little more complicated than that. This video, from Scientific American, explains the interaction between soil chemistry and bloom color in French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla). youtu.be/QEIzo1vzGiE
This map, created by a Reddit user, shows Canada divided into four equal areas by population. (The red region at the western end of Lake Ontario is sometimes referred to as the Golden Horseshoe.)
As policymakers around the world debate alternatives to fossil fuels to combat climate change, should nuclear energy be part of the discussion? Or not? This article argues that the increased intensity of natural disasters that may accompany climate change -- flooding, forest fires, coastal storms, and more -- make nuclear reactors an unwise alternative: "scientific evidence and recent catastrophes call into question whether nuclear power could function safely in our warming world. Wild weather, fires, rising sea levels, earthquakes and warming water temperatures all increase the risk of nuclear accidents, while the lack of safe, long-term storage for radioactive waste remains a persistent danger. ... Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the author of Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (2019), believes the technology is no longer a viable method for dealing with climate change: ‘It is dangerous, costly and unreliable, and abandoning it will not bring on a climate crisis.’" aeon.co/ideas/nuclear-power-is-not-the-answer-in-a-time-of-climate-change
One of the topics some of my "Hands-On Geography" students study is the biogeography of animal migration. A few days ago, an unusual animal migration befuddled meteorologists in San Diego when National Weather Service radar picked up an 80-mile-wide...something...in a relatively cloudless sky. The something turned out to be a bloom of migrating ladybugs. www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ladybugs-on-radar-20190604-story.html
Most Americans seem to think nuclear waste is stored "out West, somewhere." Not true. This map produced by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service and based on data provided by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows nuclear waste disposal sites in the U.S. (From fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/IF11201.pdf.)
The most recent issue of New Philosopher magazine (Australia) explores "balance," a topic students in my "Philosophically Speaking" class examine when we look at a particular branch of Eastern philosophy. This thought-provoking article by Australian philosopher Patrick Stokes considers what balance means in the context of journalism:
"In March 2018, a man named Mike Hughes climbed into a homemade, steam-powered rocket, and launched himself 700 metres above the Mojave Desert floor. ...Like most of us, Mike is entranced by the idea of going into space. Unlike most of us, he wants to do so (at horrendous risk to his life) because he believes the world is flat, and wants to see for himself. 'Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a frisbee? I believe it is. Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.' Modern flat-earthers have been around for more than two centuries, but in the internet age two interesting shifts seem to have occurred. Firstly, Flat Earth belief has become more prominent, if still decidedly fringe. Becoming a flat-earther is the ultimate act of epistemic rebellion: what better way to declare yourself a free-thinking individualist than to deny a fact everyone else agrees on? Secondly, the term ‘flat-earther’ itself has become a sort of shorthand for someone who believes something so outrageous that nobody is obliged to take their views seriously. A ‘flat-earther’ is not simply someone who believes something ridiculous; they’re someone whose views are so far beyond the pale we don’t need to listen to them at all. Perhaps that’s why we never see flat-earthers interviewed on TV shows about space travel or geography for the sake of ‘balance’. ... On plenty of other topics, however, we get very uncomfortable indeed if the media doesn’t seek out comment from a range of voices. ...
"We look to the media not simply to tell us how things are, but to represent uncertainty fairly too. If all questions of fact and value had clear and unambiguous answers, the media would simply be a conduit for information. But that’s not the world we live in. Our epistemic limitations and the reality of moral and political disagreement means the media also has a role to play as a venue for controversies to play out. If there’s disagreement, we want to hear all sides of that disagreement so we can make up our own minds. ...
"But balance-as-neutrality has serious limits. To see why, ask yourself why we don’t have flat-earthers on TV to provide ‘balance’ in stories about space travel. The answer might seem obvious: if flat earth belief is ridiculous (and it is), then we don’t need to treat it as if it might be true. Balance always operates against a background of decisions, implicit or overt, about whose voices need to be considered and which claims are serious ones. ... So perhaps, surprisingly, ‘balance’ comes into play in a context of largely-settled consensus about which views don’t warrant airtime. It’s simply not possible to include every voice. ...
"The problem is that very often the controversy in question is over whether there even is a controversy to begin with. Some people think the world is flat: does that mean the shape of the world is a controversial topic? If you think the mere fact of disagreement means there’s a controversy there, then pretty much any topic you care to mention will turn out to be controversial if you look hard enough. But in a more substantial sense, there’s no real controversy here at all. The scientific journals aren’t full of heated arguments over the shape of the planet. The university geography departments aren’t divided into warring camps of flattists and spherists. ... But think about certain other scientific ‘controversies’ where competing arguments do get media time, such as climate change, or the safety and efficacy of vaccination. On the one side you have the overwhelming weight of expert opinion; on the other side amateur, bad-faith pseudoscience. In the substantial sense there aren’t even ‘two sides’ here after all.
"Yet that’s not what we see; we just see two talking heads, offering competing views. The very fact both ‘heads’ were invited to speak suggests someone, somewhere has decided they are worth listening to. In other words, the very format implicitly drags every viewpoint to the same level and treats them as serious candidates for being true. That’s fine, you might reply: sapere aude! [from Immanuel Kant's “dare to know.”] Smart and savvy viewers will see the bad arguments or shoddy claims for what they are, right? Except there’s some evidence that precisely the opposite happens. The message that actually sticks with viewers is not 'the bad or pseudoscientific arguments are nonsense', but rather that 'there’s a real controversy here'.
"There’s a name for this levelling phenomenon: false balance. ... False balance occurs when we let in views that haven’t earned their place, or treat non-credible views as deserving the same seat at the table."
Much was made of the gains by right-wing nationalist/populist parties in the recent European Parliament elections (which went from a total of 78 seats in the 751-person body to 112). Comparatively less was said about the liberal parties' gains: the Green Party and the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe expanded their representation in the European Parliament from 52 and 68 seats, respectively, to 69 and 105. This pair of maps, from BBC News (UK), shows where the Greens and ALDE drew votes. ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/2AB4/production/_107123901_13_map_party_strength_by_country_alde_green_2019-05-27-nc.png (Here are the maps for the right-wing nationalist and populist voters: ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/03A4/production/_107123900_13_map_party_strength_by_country_enf_efd_2019-05-27-nc.png)
Enjoy quality theater for young people -- music, dance, puppetry, drama -- this summer at Wolf Trap's Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods. This summer's schedule is available at
A cartogram is a map that has been weighted for a particular variable. In this case, the variable is the number of times Donald Trump mentioned the country in a tweet since being elected U.S. president (through May 2019). worldmapper.org/maps/politics-trumptweets-2016to2019/
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