Although COVID infections seem to again be tailing off in the U.S., they are still raging in countries like Vietnam, which is not only a major U.S. trading partner -- particularly for electronics, furniture, machinery, footwear, and textiles -- but also a key node in global supply chains more broadly. This map shows which industries are focused where in Vietnam: www.vietnam-briefing.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/MapVietnamSourcing.png
In this article for Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard, explains the implications of the recent nuclear-powered submarine deal between the U.S., Australia, and UK.
"First and most obviously, this move is a classic illustration of balance-of-power/balance-of-threat politics at work. Although China was not mentioned anywhere in the announcement, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out this initiative was taken in response to growing perceptions of a rising Chinese threat. ... Equipping Australia with long-range, extremely quiet nuclear-powered submarines will enable Canberra to play a more active role in the region, along with the other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the United States, India, and Japan). Second, ... Beijing has no one to blame but itself. Until recently, Australian opinion was ambivalent about the implications of China’s rise: ... But China’s increasingly belligerent conduct—especially its unwarranted decision to impose a punishing trade embargo in response to an Australian proposal for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus—has triggered a steady hardening of Australian attitudes. ... Third, ... the actions announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to project power at sea and control critical lines of communication. As such, they will impede future Chinese efforts to overawe nearby countries and gradually persuade them to adopt more compliant postures. ... Fourth, the reactions of third parties will be a key issue ... a key issue in regional politics is the degree to which either the United States or China is perceived as the one that is “disturbing the peace” Asian countries are eager to preserve. ...The final issue is the nuclear dimension. ... It is also an indication of greater U.S. (and, to some extent, British) willingness to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies."
Did you know that there are waterfalls underwater?? The largest waterfall in the world is the Denmark Cataract, 2000 feet under the ocean in the Denmark Strait that separates Iceland and Greenland. Cold, dense water flows over the top of an undersea ridge and rapidly sinks two miles to the ocean floor, creating a "downward flow estimated at well over 123 million cubic feet per second," making this the world's largest and highest waterfall by a long shot. (For comparison, Angel Falls is 0.6 miles tall, and average flow over Victoria Falls is 33 thousand cubic feet per second.) oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/largest-waterfall.html
Many of the maps in the news in the U.S. at the moment are redistricting maps, as political parties jostle for position after the 2020 Census. This article from The Washington Post highlights three states and three ways of drawing districts in each, resulting in significantly different political outcomes: www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/redistricting-proposals-oregon-indiana-colorado/ As a bonus: this article from MIT Technology Review looks at how mathematicians are trying to fight gerrymandering with algorithms, including some that even citizens can use: www.technologyreview.com/2021/08/12/1031567/mathematicians-algorithms-stop-gerrymandering.
Facebook and other companies are racing to create the metaverse, an immersive virtual-reality world for users to spend time in. But who is building and watching the metaverse? Kai-Fu Lee is an artificial intelligence engineer who has worked at Google, Apple, Microsoft, and a Chinese venture capital tech firm and is the author of a new book AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future. Lee says that in order for the metaverse to satisfy user wants, "The programmer of the metaverse, the company that builds the metaverse, will actually listen in on every conversation and watch every person. ... That on the one hand can make the experience very exciting because it can see what makes you happy and give you more of that." But it will also raise important ethical questions about privacy and surveillance as well as metaphysical issues about managing our reality. (Quotes from finance.yahoo.com/news/metaverse-raises-scary-question-on-surveillance-of-users-ex-google-exec-says-133907584.html)
Fall in the Northern Hemisphere means seasonal Arctic sea ice is reforming, creating pathways across what, in the summer, would be open water. This map shows the path of a single Arctic fox that walked from Norway (Svalbard) across Greenland to Canada (Ellesmere Island) in 2018. www.researchgate.net/figure/Large-scale-movements-of-a-young-female-Arctic-fox-from-Svalbard-tracked-through-Argos_fig1_334026698
Think you know Africa? Take this quiz from Britannica to find out: www.britannica.com/quiz/geography-of-africa-quiz Be sure to click on "results" afterwards for more information about each answer. (There is one major typo, and one question seems to not match up with the answers.)
Earlier this week, two freight trains operated by the Russian aluminum giant Rusal collided in the west African country of Guinea. The trains were carrying bauxite, the ore that is the primary source of aluminum. Guinea has the world's largest bauxite reserves; a recent coup in Guinea had already sent aluminum prices to their highest level in a decade. This map shows the world's largest known bauxite deposits: www.researchgate.net/profile/Weidong-Sun-5/publication/251702332/figure/fig3/AS:267643634581526@1440822623455/Distribution-of-the-superlarge-bauxite-deposits-in-the-world-After-Bogatyrev-etal.png
The North Sea has long been the source of the UK's oil. More recently, it's been the site of the UK's burgeoning wind farms. Last year, wind accounted for 1/4 of the UK's electricity. But when the wind stops blowing unexpectedly, the power grid is sent into turmoil, which is what happened recently: wind speeds in the normally windy North Sea hit their lowest levels in 20 years, more than doubling electricity prices in the UK and sending ripples through the energy markets of France, the Netherlands, and Germany. This article from the Wall Street Journal looks at what happened and the complexity of energy markets: www.wsj.com/articles/energy-prices-in-europe-hit-records-after-wind-stops-blowing-11631528258
For decades, street vendors in south India have served a snack that botanists have been unable to identify. This article from Atlas Obscura chronicles the search for the plant and its cultural, economic, and biogeographic dimensions. www.atlasobscura.com/articles/indian-street-snack-root
Six U.S. states are now categorized entirely as experiencing drought -- California (most of which is under "extreme" or "exceptional" drought, the two most severe categories), Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah -- with 94% of the West experiencing drought conditions. This article from San Jose, CA's Mercury News includes not just the weekly drought map produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln but also maps that show streamflow and expected precipitation (spoiler alert: not much for the West) as well as discussing the impact on crops, hydropower, drinking water, fishing, bathing, and grazing land. www.mercurynews.com/2021/09/16/the-wests-historic-drought-in-3-maps-3/
Too often discussions seem like a contest to persuade, with people not so much listening to each other as simply waiting until they can speak again. This article from the Boston Review uses Socrates as an example of someone engaging in a kind of discussion: not trying to persuade others of anything, simply getting them to think more rigorously about what they believe and the implications of what they believe.
"Philosophers aren’t the only ones who love wisdom. Everyone, philosopher or not, loves her own wisdom: the wisdom she has or takes herself to have. What distinguishes the philosopher is loving the wisdom she doesn’t have. Philosophy is, therefore, a form of humility: being aware that you lack what is of supreme importance. ... Over and over again, Socrates approaches people who are remarkable for their lack of humility—which is to say, for the fact that they feel confident in their own knowledge of what is just, or pious, or brave, or moderate. ... Socrates seemed to think that the people around him could help him acquire the knowledge he so desperately wanted—even though they were handicapped by the illusion that they already knew it. Indeed, I believe that their ill-grounded confidence was precisely what drew Socrates to them. If you think you know something, you will be ready to speak on the topic in question. You will hold forth, spout theories, make claims—and all this, under Socrates’s relentless questioning, is the way to actually acquire the knowledge you had deluded yourself into thinking you already had."
I have shared this site before, but I think it's worth doing again. Ventusky feeds real-time data into its system to create interactive weather maps showing temperature, precipitation, wind speed, snow cover, and more. In the fall, because the Atlantic hurricane season continues through the end of November, Ventusky allows users to watch potential storm systems develop off West Africa and move across the Atlantic. www.ventusky.com/
For students who can't find a Science Olympiad team or don't have the time to participate in one but are still looking for STEM enrichment, MY SO makes lessons and practice tests available online for free. The September 2021 topic is epidemiology. www.soinc.org/myso
China is experiencing a COVID outbreak in Fujian province (shown in red on this map). Fujian is north of Hong Kong and Shenzen, south of Shanghai, and directly across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan. www.chinafolio.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Fujian.jpg
As banks move into cryptocurrency, are consumers and global financial markets at risk? Regulators are scrambling to try to figure it out.
"BlockFi, a fast-growing financial start-up whose headquarters in Jersey City are across the Hudson River from Wall Street, aspires to be the JPMorgan Chase of cryptocurrency. It offers credit cards, loans and interest-generating accounts. But rather than dealing primarily in dollars, BlockFi operates in the rapidly expanding world of digital currencies, one of a new generation of institutions effectively creating an alternative banking system on the frontiers of technology. 'We are just at the beginning of this story,' said Flori Marquez, 30, a founder of BlockFi, which was created in 2017 and claims to have more than $10 billion in assets, 850 employees and more than 450,000 retail clients who can obtain loans in minutes, without credit checks. But to state and federal regulators and some members of Congress, the entry of crypto into banking is cause for alarm. The technology is disrupting the world of financial services so quickly and unpredictably that regulators are far behind, potentially leaving consumers and financial markets vulnerable.
"In recent months, top officials from the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators have urgently begun what they are calling a 'crypto sprint' to try to catch up with the rapid changes and figure out how to curb the potential dangers from an emerging industry whose short history has been marked as much by high-stakes speculation as by technological advances. In interviews and public statements, federal officials and state authorities are warning that the crypto financial services industry is in some cases vulnerable to hackers and fraud and reliant on risky innovations. Last month, the crypto platform PolyNetwork briefly lost $600 million of its customers’ assets to hackers, much of which was returned only after the site’s founders begged the thieves to relent. ... BlockFi has already been targeted by regulators in five states that have accused it of violating local securities laws. Regulators’ worries reach to even more experimental offerings by outfits like PancakeSwap, whose 'syrup pools' boast that users can earn up to 91 percent annual return on crypto deposits. ... The cryptocurrency banking frontier features a wide range of companies. At one end are those that operate on models similar to those of traditional consumer-oriented banks, like BlockFi or Kraken Bank, which has secured a special charter in Wyoming and hopes by the end of this year to take consumers’ deposits and custody of their cryptocurrency holdings — but without traditional Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance. ... Lawmakers and regulators are worried that consumers are not always fully aware of the potential dangers of the new banklike crypto services and decentralized finance platforms. Crypto deposit accounts are not federally insured and holdings may not be guaranteed if markets go haywire. People who borrow against their crypto could face liquidation of their holdings, sometimes in entirely automated markets that are unregulated."
Whales began as land mammals (their closest living genetic relatives are hippos) and in the Middle Eocene completed their transition to the ocean. One of the world's premier sites for fossils of Eocene proto-whales is in what is today the Sahara Desert, specifically the Wadi al-Hitan ("Valley of the Whales") area near Faiyum in Egypt's Western Desert, southwest of Cairo. In August, an Egyptian team of paleontologists announced the discovery of a new species of proto-whale that lived in Egyptian waters 43 million years ago. www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/08/did-whales-originate-egyptian-waters
In most states, this is an off-year in terms of elections. But not in all states. If you are unsure what changes, if any, to voting laws your state may have passed in 2021, this set of interactive maps from the Associated Press can help. (Information accurate through the end of August.) www.wreg.com/news/interactive-maps-illustrate-election-laws-across-the-us/
Since 2010, the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, known in some circles as philosophy's Nobel, has been awarded annually to a thinker "whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world." The prize comes with a $1 million check. This year's winner is Princeton philosophy professor Peter Singer, who is famous for his work in utilitarianism, animal rights, bioethics, and effective altruism. Singer has said he will be donating half the proceeds to The Life You Can Save, a foundation he created to reduce extreme poverty, and much of the rest to animal rights organizations. www.berggruen.org/prize/
After a rocky summer, bitcoin is again back above $50,000. This map is based on Chainalysis's Global Crypto Adoption Index, which attempts to measure cryptocurrency use by "ordinary people" in 154 countries around the world, adjusting for both population internet use and purchasing power parity. By this metric, Vietnam has by far the highest levels of crypto use. www.cnbc.com/2021/08/18/new-cryptocurrency-bitcoin-user-global-map.html
For me, one of the best parts about back-to-school was being able to order from the Scholastic book flyer again :-). Home schoolers can set up a Scholastic Book Club account too, for their own family, for a co-op, or for any student group. clubs.scholastic.com/
This geo-graphic looks at who was granted asylum in the U.S. in FY2019, by country of origin, and how that mix has been changing. www.statista.com/chart/25619/asylum-grants-in-the-us-by-nationality
Drought and population pressures are combining to strain drinking water supplies in the western U.S. and in dozens of other spots around the globe. This article features a condenser developed at a Swiss university that could, with no electricity and relatively inexpensively, pull water straight from the air: geographical.co.uk/places/wetlands/item/4119-a-new-device-could-allow-communities-to-harvest-water-from-the-air
Recent extreme weather, including both drought and frost, has damaged the current coffee crop in Brazil, which is both the world's largest coffee producer and the world's largest coffee exporter. Because coffee plants only thrive within a fairly narrow geographic band -- determined in large part by temperature, precipitation, and elevation -- scientists are on the hunt for ways to continue to grow coffee as temperatures climb. The dominant species of coffee (Coffee arabica) prefers average temperatures of 18-22◦C. Other species -- and there are apparently more than 120 other species of coffee -- have long been thought to have a worse taste or lower yield. Going back over records from nearly 200 years ago, though, a British botanist has tracked down a species of coffee, native to Sierra Leone, that tastes good and does well at temperatures as high as 26◦, giving growers hope for a new species or a crossbreeding option. www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2021/04/22/how-to-save-coffee-from-global-warming
Happy Labor Day! This topological map shows union membership rates, by state, in 2020. www.statista.com/chart/17146/union-membership-rates-by-us-state
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