With yet another film in the Jurassic Park franchise released this past summer, the ethics of bringing extinct species back to life continues to capture the popular imagination. But as students in my online science fiction class ("Who We Are & What We Dream: Comparative Science Fiction") come to realize, the bridge between science fiction and actual science can be a short one. Earlier this month, Russia announced a new $5.9 million research center in Siberia to study the genetics of extinct Ice Age species native to Siberia, including woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, cave lions, and extinct species of horse, with the explicit goal of restoring some of these animals to the 21st century. siberiantimes.com/science/others/news/investment-sought-for-59-million-cloning-centre-to-bring-back-mammoths-and-other-extinct-species/
The World Health Organization is warning that factors in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including armed militias, community opposition to the new vaccine, and proximity to neighboring countries like Uganda and Rwanda, could create a "perfect storm" for the spread of Ebola. This map shows the DRC's province of North Kivu (the dark green, population-dense province on the DRC's eastern edge), where health care workers are fighting to control the current Ebola outbreak. www.geo-ref.net/m/congo.png
Buildings represent some of the most distinctive ways humans put their mark on the earth. Test your geographic knowledge: can you identify these 49 international cities from a single image? play.howstuffworks.com/quiz/can-you-name-the-international-city-an-image-learn
This article from The New York Times compares two maps of Afghanistan: one shows the area the U.S. government said the Taliban controlled in May of this year and the other shows the area military analysts say the Taliban controlled at that point in time. October 7 will mark the 17-year-anniversary of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/08/world/asia/us-misleads-on-afghanistan.html
This article from Wired tells the story of the devastating NotPetya cyber attack of June 2017.
"For the past four and a half years, Ukraine has been locked in a grinding, undeclared war with Russia that has killed more than 10,000 Ukrainians and displaced millions more. The conflict has also seen Ukraine become a scorched-earth testing ground for Russian cyberwar tactics. In 2015 and 2016, while the Kremlin-linked hackers known as Fancy Bear were busy breaking into the US Democratic National Committee’s servers, another group of agents known as Sandworm was hacking into dozens of Ukrainian governmental organizations and companies. They penetrated the networks of victims ranging from media outlets to railway firms, detonating logic bombs that destroyed terabytes of data. The attacks followed a sadistic seasonal cadence. In the winters of both years, the saboteurs capped off their destructive sprees by causing widespread power outages—the first confirmed blackouts induced by hackers. But those attacks still weren’t Sandworm’s grand finale. ... The release of NotPetya was an act of cyberwar by almost any definition—one that was likely more explosive than even its creators intended. Within hours of its first appearance, the worm raced beyond Ukraine and out to countless machines around the world, from hospitals in Pennsylvania to a chocolate factory in Tasmania. It crippled multinational companies including Maersk, pharmaceutical giant Merck, FedEx’s European subsidiary TNT Express, French construction company Saint-Gobain, food producer Mondelēz, and manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser. In each case, it inflicted nine-figure costs. It even spread back to Russia, striking the state oil company Rosneft. The result was more than $10 billion in total damages, according to a White House assessment confirmed to WIRED by former Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert, who at the time of the attack was President Trump’s most senior cybersecurity-focused official. Bossert and US intelligence agencies also confirmed in February that Russia’s military—the prime suspect in any cyberwar attack targeting Ukraine—was responsible for launching the malicious code." www.wired.com/story/notpetya-cyberattack-ukraine-russia-code-crashed-the-world/
As students in my "Hands-On Geography" classes know, physical geography includes ocean currents, wind currents, and climate. Scientists studying the interaction between ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions now believe we may see the emergence of Category 6 storms before the end of the century.
"In little more than a day, Hurricane Florence exploded in strength, jumping from a Category 1 to a Category 4 behemoth with 140 mph winds. This process — hurricanes intensifying fast — is both extremely dangerous and poorly understood. But new research says that as the climate continues to warm, storms will do it faster and more often, and in some extreme cases, grow so powerful that they might arguably be labeled 'Category 6.' ... 'The reason there are going to be more major hurricanes is not necessarily there are going to be that many more storms … it’s really the fact that those storms are going to get there faster,” said Kieran Bhatia, lead author of the new research in the Journal of Climate. ... We've already seen the signs, in the past several years, of ultra-intense hurricanes that get that way by explosively intensifying. Last year's Hurricane Maria, for instance, spun up from a mere tropical depression into a Category 5 storm in just over two days."
Make sure you know your geography before you tweet. On Saturday, the Buffalo Bills football team tweeted about their arrival in Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Vikings. Except the spot the Bills labeled was in Wisconsin, not Minnesota. www.sbnation.com/2018/9/22/17890990/bills-vikings-graphic-tweet-wisconsin
Most of what is taught as philosophy on college campuses comes from a Greco-European tradition. (In my high school "Philosophically Speaking" class, I do spend one class period on a particular branch of Eastern philosophy.) This blog post from a philosophy professor in Munich provides resources for learning about Islamic philosophy. blog.apaonline.org/2018/09/03/so-you-want-to-teach-some-islamic-philosophy/
What makes a city "liveable"? According to The Economist (UK), liveability depends on stability, infrastructure, education, culture, environment, and health care. This geo-graphic and map shows the global cities deemed LEAST liveable by this metric. www.statista.com/chart/15062/global-cities-ranked-by-least-liveability/
Looking for a different approach to teaching (or learning) economics? The CORE Project (Curriculum Open-Access Resources in Economics) is upending the way introductory economics is taught with a free online textbook. www.core-econ.org/the-economy/index.html A review in The Economist (UK) notes,
"'The Economy', as the book is economically titled, covers the usual subjects, but in a very different way. It begins with the biggest of big pictures, explaining how capitalism and industrialisation transformed the world, inviting students to contemplate how it arrived at where it is today. Messy complications, from environmental damage to inequality, are placed firmly in the foreground. It explains cost curves, as other introductory texts do, but in the context of the Industrial Revolution, thus exposing students to debates about why industrialisation kicked off when and where it did. Thomas Malthus’s ideas are used to teach students the uses and limitations of economic models, combining technical instruction with a valuable lesson from the history of economic thought. “The Economy” does not dumb down economics; it uses maths readily, keeping students engaged through the topicality of the material. Quite early on, students have lessons in the weirdness in economics—from game theory to power dynamics within firms—that makes the subject fascinating and useful but are skimmed over in most introductory courses."
Syria's army is preparing to attack the last major pocket of rebellion: Idlib Province (in yellow on this map). Idlib, which abuts the Turkish border, is currently home to an estimated 30,000 rebel fighters and 3 million civilians, many of whom were displaced from Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria by earlier fighting. www.npr.org/news/graphics/2018/01/map-syria-governorates-idlib.png
The trade-offs between economic growth and environmental protection are not new. In the case of Chile, the country's economy has long been dependent on mining, traditionally copper but more recently lithium. Chile stands to benefit from soaring global demand for lithium -- the country is home to more than 50% of the world's known reserves of lithium -- but most of Chile's lithium is suspended in water under the Atacama Desert, one of the world's driest places. This article looks at the "water wars" developing in Chile as mining companies compete with indigenous populations for water rights. www.reuters.com/article/us-chile-lithium-water/in-chilean-desert-global-thirst-for-lithium-is-fueling-a-water-war-idUSKCN1LE16T
Iran's Dasht-e Lut (or Lut Desert) holds the record for the hottest surface temperature on Earth: 159° Fahrenheit. It is also considered one of the driest places on Earth. Because of its unusual geological formations, Dasht-e Lut is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Median household income in the U.S. is up slightly to $61,000. This map shows median household income by state: all but the darkest blue states have a median income lower than the national average. www.statista.com/chart/15464/middleclass-household-income-by-state/
Entire industries have grown up advocating that when it comes to a job, we should "do what we love." But should we? This article by St. Olaf College professor of philosophy Gordon Marino considers the virtues of doing a job not because we love it but because we have a duty to others or because we have a natural talent for it.
"My father didn't do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his kids to college. Was he just unenlightened and mistaken to put the well-being of others above his own personal interests? ... You may know the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, a.k.a. Slomo, who quit his medical practice for his true passion -- skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach. But is it ethical for the doctor to put away his stethoscope and lace up his skates? Thinkers as profound as Kant have grappled with this question. In the old days, before the death of God, the faithful believed that their talents were gifts from on high, which they were duty-bound to use in service to others. In his treatise on ethics, “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Kant ponders: Suppose a man “finds in himself a talent which might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than take pains in enlarging his happy natural capacities.” Should he? Kant huffs, no -- one cannot possibly will that letting one’s talents rust for the sake of pleasure should be a universal law of nature. ... The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into 'a mature human being.' This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way."
This geo-graphic looks at land loss in coastal countries between 1961 and 2014. The Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis (southeast of Puerto Rico) lost more than 25% of its territory in this ~50 year period through a combination of natural erosion, rising seas, and hurricanes and other natural disasters. Territorial loss has been calculated using annual World Bank land mass data. www.statista.com/chart/1740/land-area-lost-since-1961/
Want to spend a summer or a school year studying a critical language and living in another country for free?! The NSLI-Y program, funded by the U.S. State Department, provides full scholarships for American high school students who want to study Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, or Turkish in countries where those languages are spoken. Applications for Summer 2019 and the 2019-20 school year are due by Oct. 30, and the selection process is competitive. www.nsliforyouth.org/
Prior to 1917, the Russian empire accounted for roughly 1/7 of the earth's land mass. When it collapsed in the wake of the Russian Revolution, many groups and peoples tried to claim a stake for themselves. This map looks at some of those short-lived "states." www.mapmania.org/static/map/original/weird_short-lived_states_of_the_russian_civil_war_69700.png
If you're in the DC area and interested in Middle East issues, the Arab Center is hosting a free conference on "The Arab World Beyond Conflict" on Sept. 20. arabcenterdc.org/events/the-arab-world-beyond-conflict/
This article from Science News examines some of the reasons sea levels are rising faster, or slower, in some places than in others. Temperature, gravity, land use, the presence or absence of Ice Age glaciers, tectonic shifting, even the earth's spin all factor in. www.sciencenews.org/article/why-sea-level-rise-varies-place-place
This map looks at the U.S. by population density. While there may be no real surprises here, it might be an instructive back-to school exercise to see if you (or your kids) can identify the metropolitan areas that show up as red on the map. www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/9688f9/us_population_per_sq_mile/ or i.redd.it/zzbdivzhhaf11.png
Professor of philosophy Emrys Westacott re-visits the arguments in favor, and against, simple living in The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less is More - More or Less.
"From Socrates to Thoreau, most philosophers, moralists, and religious leaders have seen frugality as a virtue and have associated simple living with wisdom, integrity, and happiness. But why? And are they right? Is a taste for luxury fundamentally misguided? If one has the means to be a spendthrift, is it foolish or reprehensible to be extravagant? In this book, Emrys Westacott examines why, for more than two millennia, so many philosophers and people with a reputation for wisdom have been advocating frugality and simple living as the key to the good life. He also looks at why most people have ignored them, but argues that, in a world facing environmental crisis, it may finally be time to listen to the advocates of a simpler way of life. The Wisdom of Frugality explores what simplicity means, why it's supposed to make us better and happier, and why, despite its benefits, it has always been such a hard sell. The book looks not only at the arguments in favor of living frugally and simply, but also at the case that can be made for luxury and extravagance."
Prefer a 24-minute podcast to reading a book? Westacott is interviewed by The Conversation:
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