Earlier this week, Indonesian president Joko Widodo announced that the government has selected a spot for the country's new capital. (Indonesia's long-time capital of Jakarta, on the island of Java, is both massively crowded and sinking, as discussed in earlier blog posts.) As this map shows, the new capital is to be built 800 miles away on the eastern coast of the island of Borneo, in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan. Construction at a location between the cities of Samarinda and Balikpapan is supposed to start in 2020 with initial occupancy in 2024. media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/afp.com/9a2d1a72c9fc2dc9273b4c094cd093ec9b42634c.jpg
The National Geographic Society in Washington, DC, is hosting five different live student programs this fall, featuring conservation biologists, photojournalists, and a neuroscientist sharing with students their explorations into subjects as diverse as the manatees of Belize and the secrets of the primate brain. Admission is only $5 per student per program, but reservations must be made in advance. For all the details, see www.nationalgeographic.org/events/browse/?category=Student%20Matinee
Brazil has experienced 80% more wildfires thus far in 2019 than in the same period in 2018, and the traditional wildfire season is just beginning. Global Forest Watch collates NASA satellite data to create near-real time maps of fires around the world. This map shows the location of fire alerts from a recent week. (Although fires in Brazil have gotten all the press, the Global Forest Watch map also shows extensive forest fires across central Africa.) fires.globalforestwatch.org/map
After 200 years of ballooning human populations, birth rates have fallen significantly in much of the world, with absolute population declines on the horizon for some countries. Although this may be good news on some fronts, as this book review from Foreign Affairs suggests, the economic impact of these demographic shifts should not be underestimated.
"Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage. 'Rapid population acceleration and deceleration send shockwaves around the world wherever they occur and have shaped history in ways that are rarely appreciated,' the demographer Paul Morland writes in The Human Tide, his new history of demographics. ...
"Governments worldwide have evolved to meet the challenge of managing more people, not fewer and not older. Capitalism as a system is particularly vulnerable to a world of less population expansion; a significant portion of the economic growth that has driven capitalism over the past several centuries may have been simply a derivative of more people and younger people consuming more stuff. If the world ahead has fewer people, will there be any real economic growth? We are not only unprepared to answer that question; we are not even starting to ask it. ... Capitalism is, essentially, a system that maximizes more—more output, more goods, and more services. That makes sense, given that it evolved coincidentally with a population surge. ... If global population stops expanding and then contracts, capitalism—a system implicitly predicated on ever-burgeoning numbers of people—will likely not be able to thrive in its current form. ... As growth grinds to a halt, people may well start demanding a new and different economic system. Add in the effects of automation and artificial intelligence, which are already making millions of jobs redundant, and the result is likely a future in which capitalism is increasingly passé."
You probably never thought there was much point to memorizing state nicknames, did you? Fair enough. But if you aren't absolutely sure of a state's nickname, you probably shouldn't use it. Mark Sanford, who is mounting a Republican primary challenge to Pres. Trump, was heading to Iowa recently and asked those with insight on "the Buckeye State" for help. The problem is that Iowa is the Hawkeye State; Ohio is the Buckeye State. You can use this site to check or brush up on your state nicknames: statesymbolsusa.org/categories/nickname
This topological map of the U.S. shows the wealthiest person in each state (assembled by HowMuch.net based on data from Forbes): howmuch.net/articles/the-richest-person-in-every-state-2019
Can Socrates be the Marie Kondo of your ethical life? This article from Philosophy Now (UK) says yes.
"Let me present to you the ultimate life-coaching team: Marie Kondo and Socrates. Marie Kondo, the modern Japanese consultant devoted to uncluttering our households; Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher devoted to uncluttering our minds. ... Kondo’s ‘KonMari’ method ... and Socrates’ ‘Elenchus’ method, presented in Plato’s dialogues starring him, work in similar ways, although Kondo is much more popular with her clients. (Eventually, the Athenians got so sick of Socrates’ attempts at tidying up their minds that they executed him.) ... Focus on one category; for example, clothes: get all your clothes together and take stock. ... But which items should [you] get rid of? Marie Kondo’s advice: pick something you feel strongly about – something you definitely do (or do not) want to keep, and move on from there. Go through each item one by one and ask yourself: does this item make me happy? If not, get rid of it. Only keep things that ‘spark joy’. When you’re done, store your clothes in such a way that you can remember where they are and access them more easily in the future (fold them nicely and store them in designated boxes). Now let’s tidy up ... according to Socrates’ Elenchus method. Focus on one question; for example, ‘What is morality?’ Next, get all your beliefs about morality out into the open. Once [you have] taken stock of [your] beliefs, [you realize] that some of them are incompatible. ... So [you have] to get rid of some beliefs. But which ones? Socrates’ advice: pick a belief you feel very strongly about – one you can defend best – and hold on to that. Then go through each belief one by one and ask yourself: why do I hold this belief? Only hold on to beliefs you can defend. When you’re done, store your beliefs in such a way that you can access them more easily in the future. You can do this by, for example, connecting each belief with an explanation or reason for why you hold it, and so build a network of beliefs. ...
"Kondo’s KonMari method and the Socratic Elenchus both inspire self-reflection. During the process of uncluttering, you are encouraged to envision your future self. Which items/beliefs do you want to bring into your future life? Who do you want to be? Their methods help us to become a better version of ourselves and to build a home – physical or intellectual – that makes us and the people around us happy."
This series of maps, from The Economist (UK), show "deaths due to conflict" in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. In 2018, Afghanistan experienced more deaths due to conflict than Syria. Moreover, "A majority of Afghans now live in areas controlled or contested by the Taliban." (Because these maps end with the most recent full-year data, they do not include 2019 casualties, including the massive death toll from last weekend's bombing of a wedding by the Islamic State.) www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2019/08/15/violence-in-afghanistan-last-year-was-worse-than-in-syria
Entrance to all U.S. national parks is free this Sunday (8/25) to celebrate the "birthday" of the National Park Service. Other free-entrance days this fall: Saturday, September 28 (National Public Lands Day) and Monday, November 11 (Veterans Day). www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks.htm
Greenland, which is administered by Denmark, has been in the news lately. Greenland is the world's biggest island. This map shows the world's 10 biggest islands: www.statista.com/chart/19047/total-area-of-the-worlds-largest-islands/ It should be noted, though, that because of the mapping projection used, the size of Greenland and the other Arctic islands is greatly magnified. (My "Hands-On Geography" students sometimes ask, "Why is Greenland an island and Australia isn't?" There is no excellent answer to this question. You will find things like this www.worldislandinfo.com/CONTISLAND.html online, but Australia was named a continent prior to a scientific understanding of tectonic plates and the flora and fauna are not truly unique in that there are striking similarities to species in Indonesia and the Philippines east of the Wallace Line. In other words, geographers lucked into some scientific support for their classification of Australia, and not Greenland, as a continent rather than an island.)
It is not clear that concerns about climate change have gotten to the point that governments are seriously considering geoengineering -- who would make the decision to use it? -- but the science has been advancing. This article provides a quick summary of one kind of potential geoengineering: seeding the upper atmosphere with sulfur.
"Changing our behaviour towards the environment is increasingly being seen as a necessity, but making large-scale alterations to our lifestyles is taking time. ... While a solid, long-term fix is being developed, potentially radical methods are increasingly being considered. Solar geoengineering (SG) requires using fleets of aircraft to inject tonnes of sulphur into the stratosphere – between six and 30 miles into the sky. Despite sounding unorthodox, it’s a technique that has been on the minds of climate scientists for a while. A team of researchers from Harvard University, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has started to take the initiative and have published their findings in Nature Climate Change. ... The thinking is that by injecting sulphur into the atmosphere, it will form a reflective layer, dimming the sun’s rays and cooling the planet’s temperature. This belief isn’t entirely abstract. In 1991, following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, 17 megatons of sulphur dioxide entered the stratosphere. This cooled the Earth’s average temperature by 0.5°C. ... Approximately two years after the Pinatubo eruption, the effects wore off. ...
"Dimming the sun’s rays has been shown to impact plant life, plants that currently offset some 25 per cent of humanity’s CO2. It would also put food supplies under strain. Further, as solar geoengineering doesn’t negate CO2 emissions, the process of oceanic acidification continues. The oceans absorb one-third of our CO2, which raises its acidity levels. Over the last 200 years, the acidity of the oceans has increased by 26 per cent. This leads to the breakdown of calcium carbonate, which destroys corals and damages shell-based life. Also endangered by oceanic acidification are the water-based, microscopic organisms known as phytoplankton. Although tiny in size, these organisms account for half of the amount of oxygen we breathe. They also produce the chemical dimethylsulphide, a crucial part of the nuclei of water vapour, allowing it to form into raindrops. With less phytoplankton there would be less dimethylsulphide, which means less rain and more drought."
Human activity has played a major role in reshaping the planet's biogeography, in part because humans intentionally and unintentionally move species from one location to another. The term "rat spill" refers to the accidental introduction of rats via shipping: rats stowaway on ships, scamper down mooring lines in a new port of call, and can even swim for at least 200 yards and sometimes up to two kilometers. "Between 40 and 60 percent of all recorded bird and reptile extinctions since 1600 have been attributed to rats, with Norway, black, and Pacific rats the most destructive species. These losses warp ecosystems. Without seabirds and shorebirds to control intertidal invertebrates, for instance, populations can surge and decimate seaweed. Deprived of ocean nutrients found in seabird poop, island grassland can turn to tundra. Rats may have even contributed to the fall of civilization on Easter Island, devouring the environment out from underneath its human inhabitants." This article from Hakai Magazine (Canada) documents the extraordinary efforts wildlife biologists and local peoples are making to protect native fauna and keep Alaska's islands rat free. www.hakaimagazine.com/features/the-rat-spill
Still planning a trip to the ocean this summer? This maps looks at 2019 shark attacks in the U.S. New Smyrna Beach, Florida, has seen the most shark attacks -- mostly by relatively small sharks and in large part because of the underwater coastal geography that creates an abundance of nutrients and baitfish in murky water for sharks in the same place that it creates large waves for human recreation. people.com/human-interest/2019-us-shark-attacks-map/
Does a robot need to understand *why* it is performing a particular task? According to a recent article from the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics at the University of Birmingham (UK), the answer is yes: "Robots need to know the reason why they are doing a job if they are to effectively and safely work alongside people in the near future. In simple terms, this means machines need to understand motive the way humans do, and not just perform tasks blindly, without context." From handing a screwdriver to a coworker to handing a glass of water to a nursing home resident, "What is obvious to humans has to be programmed into a machine and this requires a profoundly different approach. The traditional metrics used by researchers, over the past twenty years, to assess robotic manipulation, are not sufficient. In the most practical sense, robots need a new philosophy to get a grip." techxplore.com/news/2019-08-robots-philosophy.html
For those accustomed to looking at some variant of the standard Mercator projection map (with the equator in the middle, the Americas to the left and Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia to the right), this "vertical world map" from China will look radically different, with an emphasis on the Arctic and Asia. bigthink.com/strange-maps/future-world-map
Washington, DC's fabulous Newseum, which highlights the importance of a free press, media reporting, and the First Amendment throughout U.S. history, has sold its building and is expected to close at the end of this year. But from now through Labor Day, up to four kids get free admission with a paid adult admission. (Buy your adult ticket online to get 15% off.) www.newseum.org/2019/05/08/kids-visit-free-during-newseums-summer-fun-deal/
When Hong Kong’s airport was closed due to protests earlier this week, this was not a trivial event: as this geo-graphic shows, Hong Kong’s international airport is one of the world’s 10 busiest, as measured by passenger traffic.
This recent article from Foreign Policy looks at how extremist organizations of all stripes recruit online and the role of online forums, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms in far-right radicalization in particular: foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/04/online-racism-4chan-8chan-shootings-elpaso-dayton-texas-ohio
Students in my “Hands-On Geography” class have often noticed the small Juan de Fuca tectonic plate that sits off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. It has long been known that the Juan de Fuca plate is subducting (or sliding beneath) the North American plate to the east. However, scientists now believe that the Juan de Fuca plate is splitting as it does so, which may contribute to unusual seismic activity and volcanism near the surface in the years to come.
This map looks at states' current treatment of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines: www.statista.com/chart/18924/states-without-a-ban-on-assault-rifles-and-large-capacity-magazines/
This epistemological thought experiment, known as the Sleeping Beauty Problem, is from “1000-Word Philosophy,” a growing online collection of short essays created to make philosophical arguments accessible to the general public.
“Imagine that Beauty takes part in an experiment: on Sunday night, she is put to sleep. Then, the experimenters flip a fair coin. If the coin lands heads, Beauty is awakened on Monday, then is put back to sleep until the experiment ends on Wednesday. If the coin lands tails, Beauty is awakened on both Monday and Tuesday; however, after her Monday waking, Beauty is given a memory drug that makes her forget her Monday waking when she wakes up on Tuesday. This case sets up what’s called the ‘Sleeping Beauty Problem.’ Its question is: What degree of belief, or credence, should Beauty assign to the claim 'The coin landed heads' (call this H) when she awakens? .. Answers to the question of what Beauty’s credence in 'The coin landed heads' (H) ought to be are typically divided into two camps:
This amusing world map was posted by a Reddit user :-). i.redd.it/wt5oe5z23pe31.jpg
Summer is a time when math learning tends to dribble out of our heads. This 15-question (British pub) math quiz serves to tickle the neurons or provide talking points for new math exploration. (The quiz assumes some knowledge of geometry and probability.) www.joe.co.uk/quiz/gcse-maths-quiz-75841
Earlier this week, India announced plans to eliminate political autonomy for the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir. Since Indian/Pakistani independence in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought four wars, in large part over control of Muslim-majority Kashmir. (The substate of Jammu is Hindu-majority.) This week, India's ruling party announced plans to eliminate the autonomy Jammu & Kashmir has exercised since independence and carve out a Buddhist-majority state (actually, union territory) of Ladakh (part of which is contested by China) and make the rest of Jammu & Kashmir a separate union territory subject to Indian law. This map provides more detail of the proposed change in political geography: i2.wp.com/images.mapsofindia.com/my-india/2019/08/union-territory-of-jammu-and-kashmir.jpg
U.S. state and local governments are facing a looming pension crisis. This is not only a critical problem for the U.S., but the underlying demographics suggest similar problems on the horizon in most other developed countries around the world.
"Nearly all the 14 million people who work full time for state and local governments are eligible for traditional pensions, which guarantee a fixed lifetime income for those who have worked for those governments for a certain number of years. To pay for those retirement benefits, governments are supposed to contribute money to their pension funds each year — enough to cover the benefits earned by their employees during that year. But governments have underfunded those pensions by at least $1.28 trillion — and probably much, much more. Current state and local government employees and retirees will almost certainly get their pensions. Public pension benefits are backed by strong legal guarantees and have to be paid even if governments haven’t saved enough money. But the state and local governments face an enormous problem: Now they are contributing more and more toward pensions each year, both to pay for the more generous benefits and to make up for the accumulated shortfalls. ... Most local governments are not responding by increasing revenue — e.g., raising fees or taxes. Instead, they typically try to make ends meet by cutting local government staffing. ... And governments are cutting an array of municipal and county workers, including police, firefighters, and sanitation employees. ... Out of the public eye, public-sector pension expenditures are quietly and persistently eating into local government budgets. As a result, local government workforces in many places are shrinking. This doesn’t just mean fewer government jobs to go around. It means that all those who rely on local government services are in danger of losing those supports. Many Americans take for granted that their local governments will provide public services like police protection, fire protection, street sweeping and refuse collection. But it may well become harder for local governments to carry out those basic functions — because of rising pension costs." www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/05/silent-pension-crisis-is-eating-away-local-government-services-heres-what-you-need-know
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