This geo-graphic, which looks at witchcraft trials and executions in Europe from 1300-1850, caught my attention because the students in my online modern drama class just finished discussing The Crucible. www.statista.com/chart/19801/people-tried-and-executed-in-witch-trials-in-europe/ As the accompanying article notes, though, trials and executions for witchcraft continue around the world, just not in Europe any more. For those interested in learning more about Europe's witch hunts, this podcast from the University of Texas's "15 Minute History" series is short and worthwhile: 15minutehistory.org/podcast/episode-55-witch-hunting-in-early-modern-europe/ Happy Halloween!
My "10 Weeks in Asia" class recently studied Indonesia and discovered that clearing land for palm oil plantations is a major reason for loss of rainforest in Indonesia, particularly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, as well as for smoke that occasionally blankets Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere in southeast Asia. But students also discovered that the issue is complex and that saying "no" to palm oil is perhaps not as productive as saying "yes" to sustainably sourced palm oil. For those who may be looking for sustainably sourced candy for Halloween, Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo has put together a list of options: www.zoo.org/palmoil
Interested in finding sustainable palm oil products other than candy? There's an app for that, courtesy of Colorado Spring's Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: look for the "Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping" app for Android or iOS. Just scan a product's UPC to find out if it uses sustainably sourced palm oil or not.
Atlas Obscura looks at 12 "ghost islands" around the world, islands that were once inhabited, some supporting large populations, but have been abandoned. Each has an interesting story to tell. www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-incredible-ruins-of-12-abandoned-islands
This map, from CityLab, reflects the findings of a new report by a scholar at the Brookings Institution: over the last two years, the number of immigrants living in states and metropolitan areas Donald Trump won in 2016 has increased (shown in shades of blue), whereas the number of immigrants living in states and metropolitan areas Hillary Clinton won in 2016 has declined (shown in red). cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/2019/10/Map/339f4c2cf.png For more detail about the report's findings, see www.citylab.com/life/2019/10/immigration-where-from-red-blue-state-population-growth-data/599884/
In this article on transhumanism, the use of science and technology to enhance the human body and/or mind, the author discusses the virtue of challenge, why we seek it out, and how enhancements may or may not change human challenge in the future.
"I began taking martial arts seriously, particularly Brazilian jiu-jitsu, right around the time I started to take philosophy seriously. The two were my first genuine tools of self-exploration, and though I don’t see them as necessarily connected, it’s been interesting to me to use the martial arts spirit as a kind of lens to explore or test philosophical ideas. ... [M]artial arts usually involve the learning of moral standards alongside the acquisition of physical skills. Although these moral codes may not be articulated in the same way from one martial art to the next, some underlying values of ‘the martial way’ appear more consistently than others. ... The ability to overcome difficulties and opponents is a core aim of nearly every system of martial arts. Crucially, the obstacles to overcome include our own limitations. Self-surpassing in physical and mental training is a hallmark of all martial arts. ...
"Transhumanism is a philosophical movement that promotes the benefits of using science to enhance the human body and mind, often seeing this as the next stage in human evolution. This can include mechanical implants and cybernetics aimed at increasing the strength and agility of our bodies; medical and genetic enhancements aimed at producing longer, healthier lives (eventually, it is hoped, to include virtual immortality); and enhancements to our brains to improve our mental capabilities. One of the most common criticisms of transhumanist thinking – a response I believe many martial artists might have – is that it’s a shortcut, or a lazy person’s way to grow, or it represents a hope or wish to make life easier for those who are weak of will. From scientists to philosophers and beyond, I find that conversations on transhumanism contain the criticism that it’s looking for gain without work. ...
"Consider this analogy. When cars were invented, many scoffed that those who purchased them must either be too lazy to look after a horse, or too proud to actually put in real work to get from point A to point B. However, I don’t believe that cars have made people lazier. In fact, they might be seen as a step forward in human potential, permitting us to do more in more places, and divert our limited physical and mental resources to tasks other than fixing wagon wheels and horseshoes. ... The reasonableness of this proposition is supported by the fact that we might already be on this path. In a great number of ways our kinds and amount of challenges are indeed already augmented. At one point, we were no longer challenged by foraging for food from shrubs, and instead became challenged by agriculture and tending to animals. At a different point, most people became free of the challenge of farming directly, and instead civilisations divided their labor amongst different groups to handle government, military concerns, education, and the like. ... Undoubtedly, each overcoming of one kind of challenge was met by the resistance of some who believed that this transition would make us softer, would make us less fulfilled or weaker by easing our living. But very few people now would argue that the life of the Middle Ages was better than the relatively advanced lives we live today. Fewer still would argue that we should return to hunting and gathering. From my experience, people mostly aim not to revive some ideal past state of balanced hardship and ease, but instead have an instinct to preserve what they’re used to, and resist whatever changes are taking place."
This map of Australia divides the population half: the area shown in red and the area shown in gray have equal numbers of people (roughly 11 million in each).
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is sponsoring an essay contest for 5th-12th graders based on an observation by U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson during his term as a judge at the Nuremberg trials. How do students interpret Jackson's meaning and what relevance does it have for the 21st century? The museum is accepting only 500 submissions in each age group (5th-8th and 9th-12th). For more information, see www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/school-programs/essay-contest
The island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia was in the news this week. For most people, though, Yap's exact whereabouts were a bit of a head-scratcher. This map shows Yap to be in the Pacific at the far western end of the Federated States of Micronesia, east of the Philippines and southwest of the U.S. territory of Guam. www.visityap.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/whereisyap.jpg
How is technology changing international rivalries and foreign and domestic propaganda? Reuters (UK) is reporting a false-flag cyber operation in which the Russian security service hacked Iranian cybersystems in order to attack third-party governments and organizations while posed as Iran: "Russian hackers piggy-backed on an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries while masquerading as attackers from the Islamic Republic, British and U.S. officials said on Monday. The Russian group, known as "Turla" and accused by Estonian and Czech authorities of operating on behalf of Russia's FSB security service, has used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack in to organizations in at least 20 different countries over the last 18 months, British security officials said." mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1X00AK
For those of you in the Washington, DC, metro area here is a bonus event on this issue: George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs is hosting a program tomorrow afternoon (1-2 pm) on computational propaganda. "Human cognition is a complex system, and AI tools are very good at decoding complex systems. Interactions on social media, browsing the Internet, and even grocery shopping provide thousands of data points from which technologists can build psychological profiles on nearly every citizen. When provided rich databases of information about us, machines will know our personalities, wants, needs, annoyances, and fears better than we know them ourselves. Over the next few years, AI systems used for computational propaganda will gain enhanced ability to influence people, tailoring persuasive, distracting, or intimidating messaging toward individuals based on their unique personalities and backgrounds, a form of highly personalized propaganda." Reservations are required: www.evite.com/event/03DENPJYNI7BV4ZDQEPJ6HLDTHQXME
Although changes in rainfall patterns in sub-Saharan Africa may still be devastating to farmers, recent research suggests that aquifer levels may be at less risk than supposed. "[I]n much of sub-Saharan Africa, groundwater is a vital resource. It is often the only source of clean drinking water in rural areas and its use is also increasing in cities. ... A group of 32 researchers, led by UCL [University College London] and Cardiff University, sought to test this across nine countries in Africa, including Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa. The research involved analysing long-term records of groundwater levels and rainfall and, in a rare moment of good news, demonstrated that groundwater levels may be more resilient to climate change than previously thought, particularly in the driest areas. The key reason is that in dry areas most groundwater recharge takes place when water leaks out of temporary streams and ponds – a process which only happens after heavy rainfall. Climate change is expected to lead to fewer rainfall events in the region, but their intensity will increase. This in turn will increase leakage. As a result, the researchers predict that groundwater levels will remain resilient, even if the overall volume of rain decreases." geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/3383-ground-water
This map, based on Google search data (as opposed to sales or consumption), shows the most popular Halloween candy by state:
High school students interested in philosophy of language, logic, linguistics, and code-breaking should check out the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad. Registration for this year's competition has begun. Even if you are not interested in or eligible for the competition, the practice problems themselves are worth a look: nacloweb.org/practice.php
It was announced recently that the U.S. is blacklisting certain Chinese high-tech companies for the Chinese government's mistreatment of China's Muslim minorities. This Reddit map looks at ethnic distributions across China. The two major Muslim minorities are the Uighurs (spelled various ways), a Turkic-speaking people more closely related to the other Turkic-speakers of Central Asia, concentrated in Xinjiang province in the far northwest of China and the Hui, a Chinese-speaking Muslim minority concentrated in Ningxia province south of Mongolia. i.redd.it/o72uxf3i02i31.jpg
You can practice your world geography AND raise funds for UNICEF by taking this very short quiz: donate.unicefusa.org/page/content/children-on-the-move (Note: you will have to enter an email address to see your score. Your score appears onscreen immediately; the email address is probably collected for fundraising purposes.)
Ethiopia's prime minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this week, in large part for his efforts to normalize relations with Eritrea. This map, from 1979, helps explain the geopolitical context of the Ethiopia-Eritrea relationship: when Eritrea became independent of Ethiopia in 1991 after 30 years of fighting, Ethiopia, once a major Red Sea power, was left landlocked. Working together to improve the Eritrean ports shown on this map as Aseb (in the south) and Mits'iwa (in the north) has been a major item on Abiy Ahmed's agenda. Prior to Eritrean independence, Aseb handled two-thirds of Ethiopia's trade and Mits'iwa was home to the Ethiopian navy. legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/africa/ethiopia.gif
The decision by Pacific Gas & Electric to cut electricity in specific fire-prone parts of Northern California last week brought to mind this article from The Wall Street Journal, which is hardly an alarmist publication when it comes to climate change, earlier this year: "PG&E: The First Climate-Change Bankruptcy, Probably Not the Last"
"PG&E Corp.’s bankruptcy could mark a business milestone: the first major corporate casualty of climate change. Few people expect it will be the last. California’s largest utility was overwhelmed by rapid climatic changes as a prolonged drought dried out much of the state and decimated forests, dramatically increasing the risk of fire. On Monday, PG&E said it planned to file for Chapter 11 protection by month’s end, citing an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and 750 lawsuits from wildfires potentially caused by its power lines. The company’s fall has been fast and steep. In October, its market value was $25 billion. This week, it was removed from the S&P 500 as its value tumbled below $4 billion and its shares fell to their lowest level since at least 1972.
"The PG&E bankruptcy could be a wake-up call for corporations, forcing them to expand how they think about climate-related risks, management consultants and other experts said. Previously, companies mainly worried over risks from new governmental regulations related to climate change, said Christophe Brognaux, a managing director at Boston Consulting Group. The PG&E case makes clear that companies also have to worry about sudden, and potentially unexpected, impacts to their core assets and liabilities, he added. 'Physical risks have only recently manifested themselves. This is a fairly new development,' said Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia University’s business school who teaches a course on climate and finance. 'If you are not already considering extreme weather and other climatic events as one of many risk factors affecting business today, you are not doing your job.'
"J. Bennett Johnston, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Louisiana who has served on Chevron Corp. ’s board of directors, said the potential for climate change to damage company assets and cause a mushrooming of liabilities is an emerging enterprise risk. 'The business community, by and large, has gotten the message,' he said. 'You have to be pretty stupid not to see we’re in the midst of a climate crisis and it’s getting worse.'"
One branch of forensic cartography uses an understanding of historical geography to date maps (and artifacts found with maps). This flowchart, while partly humorous, contains much good information to help you date older maps: xkcd.com/1688/large/
According to data collected from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 2019 marked the first time in over a century that one political party, be it Republican (in red on this map) or Democrat (in blue on this map), controlled both houses of the state legislature in every state save one. images.centerdigitaled.com/images/GOV01_44_Legislatures.jpg
This article from the online journal Aeon (UK) makes the argument that key elements of our consciousness are just an illusion.
"When you attend to the apple, the red quality you experience seems to be a feature of the apple, which causes the reactions in you. (You believe the apple is red because it looks red.) Similarly, the sound seems to be in the air, the taste in the wine, the pain in your toe, and so on. But it is generally agreed that this can’t be right. For science tells us that objects don’t have such qualitative properties, just complex physical ones of the sort described by physics and chemistry. The atoms that make up the skin of the apple aren’t red. ... It seems, then, that the qualities of colour, sound, pain and so on exist only in our minds, as properties of our experiences. Philosophers refer to these subjective qualities of experience as ‘qualia’ or ‘phenomenal properties’, and they say that creatures whose experiences have them are phenomenally conscious. It is phenomenal consciousness that I believe is illusory. For science finds nothing qualitative in our brains, any more than in the world outside. The atoms in your brain aren’t coloured and they don’t compose a colourful inner image. (And even if they did, there is no inner eye to see it.) Nor do they have any other qualitative properties. There are no inner sounds, smells, tastes and pains, and no inner observer to experience them if there were. ...
"Think of watching a movie. What your eyes are actually witnessing is a series of still images rapidly succeeding each other. But your visual system represents these images as a single fluid moving image. The motion is an illusion. Similarly, illusionists argue, your introspective system misrepresents complex patterns of brain activity as simple phenomenal properties. The phenomenality is an illusion. ...
"Think about it from an engineering perspective. If you were building an autonomous robot, you would begin by equipping it with sensors for significant features of the external world and critical states of its own body, so that it could perform tasks, get the resources it needs, and protect itself from harm. Only later might you think of adding introspective systems so that it could monitor its own sensory processes and exercise sophisticated kinds of self-control. It would be surprising if evolution hadn’t taken the same path with us."
This map shows regional control of territory within Syria prior to this week's offensive by Turkish forces into the Kurdish-held region in the northeastern part of the country.
The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program is accepting applications from current high school students who would be interested in spending a (fully funded) academic year studying and living with a host family in a country with a significant Muslim population. Options range from Bulgaria and Tunisia to Ghana and Malaysia. The deadline to apply is Dec. 3. Details available at: exchanges.state.gov/us/program/kennedy-lugar-youth-exchange-study-yes-abroad
Interested in hosting an international Muslim student instead? The YES program is looking for U.S. host families too: www.yesprograms.org/
Students in my "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" class have to manage a complex (if imaginary) economy that evolves, based on their prior decisions, over the course of the simulation. This map looks at industry -- which includes manufacturing, resource extraction, construction, and electricity generation -- as a proportion of national GDP around the world. (Last Thursday, I ran a companion map showing services as a proportion of national GDP.) howmuch.net/articles/role-industry-around-the-world
The recent fires in the Amazon rainforest, which is sometimes nicknamed the world's lungs because of its oversized role in global oxygen production, has given more attention to the idea that ecocide, like genocide, should be listed as a crime against humanity and prosecuted as such. This article from The New York Times looks at the history of the ecocide movement.
"There is no international crime today that can be used to neatly hold world leaders or corporate chief executives criminally responsible in peacetime for ecological catastrophes that result in the type of mass displacements and population wipeouts more commonly associated with war crimes. But environmentalists say the world should treat ecocide as a crime against humanity — like genocide — now that the imminent and long-term threats posed by a warming planet are coming into sharper focus. ... The first prominent call to outlaw ecocide was made in 1972 by Prime Minister Olof Palme of Sweden, who hosted the United Nations’ first major summit on the environment. In his keynote address at the conference, Mr. Palme argued that the world urgently needed a unified approach to safeguard the environment. “The air we breathe is not the property of any one nation, we share it,” he said. “The big oceans are not divided by national frontiers; they are our common property.” ... During the 1980s and 1990s, diplomats considered including ecocide as a grave crime as they debated the authorities of the International Criminal Court, which was primarily established to prosecute war crimes. But when the court’s founding document, known as the Rome Statute, went into force in 2002, language that would have criminalized large-scale environmental destruction had been stripped out at the insistence of major oil producing nations. ...
"Facing a cascade of international pressure and a boycott of some Brazilian exports, [Brazilian president Jair] Bolsonaro last month ordered a military operation to put out fires in the Amazon. But the government’s overriding message has been that the world’s angst about the Amazon is an unwelcome and unwarranted intrusion on Brazil’s sovereignty. ...
"In the best of cases, campaigners to outlaw ecocide say it would take a few years to muster the support they need to amend Rome Statute. But merely raising the profile of the debate over penalizing ecocide could go a long way toward shaping the risk assessment of corporations and world leaders who until now have regarded environmental disasters mainly as public relations nightmares."
The need for both water supplies and renewable sources of electricity is leading to a profusion of dam-building projects around the world. The potential gains are not without losses, though. This article from Geographical (UK) looks at the ancient Turkish city of Hasankeyf and its imminent inundation when the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River is completed. geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/3417-hasankeyf
This year has seen an unusually high number of cases of eastern equine encephalitis, a mosquito-borne virus that kills about one-third of the patients diagnosed with it. This map from Science News shows states that have had confirmed cases of eastern equine encephalitis over the last decade, with roughly 30% of these cases occurring just in the first nine months of 2019. Scientists are unsure if 2019 is an anomaly or suggestive of a spread of the virus and its vectors, but early springs and late frosts extended the mosquito breeding season and the period of possible disease transmission. www.sciencenews.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/092719_sb_triple-e_inline2-map_680_desktop_rev.png
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