Here's something kind of scary for Halloween: this geo-graphic from Statista ranks the world's 150 largest cities by the number of surveillance cameras per 1000 residents: www.statista.com/chart/19256/the-most-surveilled-cities-in-the-worldhttps://www.statista.com/chart/19256/the-most-surveilled-cities-in-the-world
November is National Novel Writing Month! NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write a 50,000-word novel in a month, providing writers with resources and community. For young writers, NaNoWriMo has a special Young Writers Program. Participating in NaNoWriMo is free. nanowrimo.org/
As the U.S. continues to negotiate an end to its military presence in Afghanistan, it is publicly working with the Afghan military while also, according to a recent New York Times report, providing military support to the Taliban, mostly in the latter's internecine battle against the Islamic State in Afghanistan. This map from Long War Journal is updated regularly to show province-by-province control of Afghanistan (from www.longwarjournal.org/mapping-taliban-control-in-afghanistan)
In this piece from Foreign Policy, Eric Bjornlund draws on more than 30 years of experience monitoring elections in 22 countries around the world and argues that the U.S. is now exhibiting many of the signs consistent with fragile or underdeveloped democracies:
"In genuine, established democracies, political competitors generally do not attack the rules or the fairness of the process, accuse the opposing candidate or the election authorities of cheating, intimidate voters, or threaten them with violence. In less than fully democratic countries, on the other hand, complaints about fraud and fairness are routine, and violence—or the threat of it—is often involved. This tends to undermine public confidence in the elections and in democracy itself. In the struggling democracies and autocracies where I have observed elections, much of the argument is about the integrity of the rules and process. Losing candidates routinely attack the fairness of the electoral process, whether or not they have a basis for their attacks. In fact, you can tell that a country is not (or not yet) a successful democracy when the losers of its elections blame fraud for their loss and attack the legitimacy of the process."
In addition to the undermining of electoral credibility, Bjornlund compares U.S. voter intimidation, disenfranchisement tactics, and the encouragement of social chaos prior to voting to what he has observed in weakly democratic countries from Bangladesh and Venezuela to Myanmar and Egypt.
Today, Alaska's glaciers, the melting of which has already fueled about 30% of global sea level rise, are all that remains of the Cordilleran ice sheet that once covered the northwestern quadrant of North American down into what is today Idaho and Washington. Researchers are now finding, to their surprise, that temperature changes in the North Pacific, rather than the Atlantic, are perhaps a better leading indicator of global climate changes as diverse as a weakening of Asian monsoons, melting in Antarctica, and a drop in salinity in the Atlantic. www.sciencenews.org/article/north-pacific-ice-sheets-climate-change
This map -- produced by Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and based on each state's "status as a swing state, education levels, age, political polarization, left or right leaning news viewership, and trust in news drawn from social media" -- shows each state's vulnerability to electoral misinformation (from foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/20/the-case-against-big-techs-election-strategies)
Have you ever had a thought you struggled to express? Or not known for sure what you thought about something until you managed to put it into words? The philosophy of language considers, among other things, the interplay between thought and language. This interesting piece from philosopher Eli Alshanestsky explores this idea:
"The thoughts we struggle to articulate might be as momentous as a transformative moral epiphany or as ordinary as an insight into a movie or the hurtful behaviour of a friend. ... They might be thoughts that we long had but never articulated or instantaneous insights in which something entirely new and unfamiliar suddenly comes to mind. In many cases, we articulate these thoughts in order to get clear on what they are; we wouldn’t bother making the effort if they were clear to us already. ... The point of searching for words, in the hard cases, is to clarify what we’re thinking; and the clarity that we’re after seems to consist in the knowledge that we’re thinking some specific thought. At the same time, our choices of words make sense to us, and so it seems that we must make them for a reason. But it is hard to see how we could have a reason to accept or reject any words if we don’t already know which thought we’re trying to express. ... And even if we serendipitously stumble on the right formulation – eg, in the mouth of a friend or on an internet discussion forum – how will we know that it captures what we had in mind? To try to resolve the paradox, one might point out that language functions not only as a medium for expressing thoughts but also as a means for developing them. ... Arriving at an understanding of this process is not just an intellectual exercise but a practical pursuit of trying to uncover the foundation of how we come to know the world and ourselves."
Halloween is in a week, but there won't be much trick-or-treating in many parts of the country this year because of concerns about COVID-19 transmission. This map, based on candy industry sales data, shows the most popular kind of Halloween candy, by state, last year: www.candyindustry.com/ext/resources/eNews/2019/HalloweenCandyMap.jpg
National Geographic's Explorer Classroom is back, with free live video talks with National Geographic scientists, photojournalists, and more on Mondays at 11 ET (target: pre-K-2nd grade), Thursdays at 10 ET and again at 2 ET (target: 3rd-8th grade), and a variety of offerings after school (at 4 ET) and in Spanish and ASL. www.nationalgeographic.org/education/student-experiences/explorer-classroom
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on the first documented trans-Atlantic journey by a mini-sub carrying narcotics -- in this case, 3 tonnes of cocaine worth $100 million -- from South America to Europe. (There likely have been previous journeys not thwarted by first bad weather and then authorities.) This map, from The Wall Street Journal, shows the sub's route, as re-created by Spanish police. (from www.wsj.com/articles/inside-the-first-narco-submarine-caught-after-crossing-the-atlantic-11603033200)
Mike Lee, the senior U.S. senator from Utah, tweeted recently, "Democracy isn't the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity are." (He meant "prosperity," obviously.) It's not clear if most Americans would agree with Lee, but Arab youth would. The results of the 2020 Arab Youth Survey were released recently and found, among other things, more Arab youth (ages 18-24) would prefer to live in the UAE, a monarchy, than anywhere else; China and Russia are both seen as much stronger allies of Arab youth than the U.S. is (73% and 71% vs. 56%); and Arab youth want good governance and economic opportunity but are not interested in any particular political "-ism." For more details, see www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/10/arab-youth-future-gulf-us-gaining-ground-russia-china-allies.html or www.arabyouthsurvey.com/pdf/downloadwhitepaper/AYS%202020-WP_ENG_0510_Single-Final.pdf
A new addition to a series of petroglyphs created between 1500 and 2500 years ago and known collectively as the Nazca Lines was recently discovered in the Nazca Desert near the Pacific coast south of Lima, Peru. A giant cat, similar to those depicted in Paracas textiles from 2200 years ago, joins a spider, hummingbird, and dozens of other images. www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-54593295
This Reddit map shows which U.S. presidents, post-independence, acquired which chunks of the current United States.
Farm-raising octopus sits at the intersection of moral philosophy ("what is the right thing to do?") and the philosophy of mind ("what is intelligence? what is consciousness? how do we know others actually have it? does intelligence imply rights?"). Octopus dream, solve complicated puzzles (including leaving their enclosures on the sly, munching the critters in a nearby tank, and returning to their own!), and are known to lose the will to live in captivity. Is it appropriate to eat them? Is it appropriate to raise them en masse in captivity so they can be eaten? Scientists are making strides in being able to add the finicky but tasty octopus to the commercial aquaculture menu. But should they? www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/is-it-possible-to-farm-octopus/
Gold prices have risen 25% since the beginning of the year. This map shows the world's major gold-producing regions, by tonnes mined. www.statista.com/chart/23053/gold-mines-by-tonnes-produced-annually
This 25-question quiz focuses on language geography: given a map, can you name the language spoken in the highlighted region? (Alumni of my "Your Future World: Human Geography 2050" class should be able to get perhaps not all but most of these.) www.sporcle.com/games/the_underground/maps_too_small_for_klingon
After they hatch and make their way to the ocean, male sea turtles may never return to shore, leaving scientists with a paucity of information about where they *do* go. Now researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, have succeeded in tracking four rescued and rehabilitated male loggerhead turtles after they were released back into the Gulf of Mexico. It turns out the four males were not world travelers, tending to gravitate towards the waters off Naples, Florida, where, perhaps not coincidentally, female loggerheads are known to be found before and during nesting season.
This article from Foreign Policy argues that the lingering impact of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the prospect of multi-nation meddling in the 2020 election has undermined U.S. democracy by raising questions about the legitimacy of the vote, regardless of any impact on actual votes or electoral outcomes.
"'[I]t’s not about that election or the other, that candidate or the other,' Marko Mihkelson, a member of parliament for Estonia’s liberal Reform Party, said in August. Mihkelson is no stranger to foreign meddling in elections. Ever since Estonia gained independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has needled it with disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks. Most of the time, Mihkelson argued, interference isn’t really meant to sway the vote toward one side or the other. In an interview with PBS, Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, concurred. In a discussion about Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), which posted misleading content to social media ahead of that year’s vote, he noted that '90 percent of their content had nothing to do with any candidate. It was really about driving division in American society.' ... The IRA is at it again ahead of this year’s poll. It has created fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and has set up a website intended for a left-leaning U.S. audience that subtly sows doubts about Biden’s record. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Russia is also trying to discredit voting by mail. And U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien alleged in August that 'China, like Russia, like Iran—they’ve engaged in cyberattacks and phishing and that sort of thing with respect to our election infrastructure.' ... But whether the United States’ rivals actually do hack the country’s election infrastructure this year is almost beside the point. What matters is people’s belief that interference campaigns are working. A February poll by the Economist and YouGov showed that a majority of Americans don’t think their country can defend itself against foreign election interference. Whatever the outcome in November, then, there’s reason to believe that supporters of the losing side may believe that foreign powers sabotaged the vote and will insist on the result’s invalidity. In that sense, it doesn’t matter whether China, Russia, or any other country in fact manages to sway the ballot. What matters is whether voters believe they did. ... [S]ince liberal democracy’s very foundation is the majority’s conviction that their voices count, eroding that trust constitutes the biggest bang for a rival’s buck."
In August, the Dallas Housing Authority "was tasked with distributing $4 million to income-eligible renters before Dec. 31 as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. To meet the deadline and ensure the funds would reach the neediest families, DHA staffers customized an existing software program from Zoho Corp. to automate tasks and map the most economically vulnerable neighborhoods in the city." www.wsj.com/articles/dallas-agency-brings-coding-in-house-to-target-covid-19-aid-11601631000
This interactive series of maps from Pew Research Center looks at the ethno-demographics of the American electorate, by state and over time: www.pewresearch.org/2020/09/23/the-changing-racial-and-ethnic-composition-of-the-u-s-electorate/
Looking for a pandemic project? I can give two thumbs up to watching all four seasons, 53 episodes, of NBC's recently concluded philosophy comedy series "The Good Place." Although moral philosophy gets the most attention, other branches of philosophy are woven in as well. I found it to be an entertaining, accessible philosophy conversation-starter for teens and up. www.nbc.com/the-good-place
October 14 is National Fossil Day. You can use this interactive map from data mapping engineer Ian Webster to see what the earth looked like 20 million to 750 million years ago and what kinds of dinosaur fossils can be found near your town (or any other). dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth#260
Is it art? Is it science? It's both! You can see the winning videos and honorable mentions from this year's Nikon Small World micro video photography contest here:
(Archives of previous years' winners also available at the Small World website.)
Escalating fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been in the news this week as the two countries battle, again, over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The end of World War I saw both the emergence of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Treaties of the 1920s ceded Ottoman territory in the Caucasus Mountains to the Soviet Union. This territory became, in part, the Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Soviet leader Josef Stalin chose to make the (Armenian, Christian) enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh part of the (Turkic, Muslim) Soviet republic of Azerbaijan but gave it limited self-government as an "autonomous oblast." In the waning days of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh saw an opportunity to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. Azerbaijan, first as a Soviet republic and a few years later as an independent country, did not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh's demands to secede, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh have been frozen in conflict, with occasional bursts of fighting, ever since. Nagorno-Karabakh's territorial claims vary, but this map shows the borders as inherited from the Soviet Union: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b4/Location_Nagorno-Karabakh2.png/375px-Location_Nagorno-Karabakh2.png
This Foreign Policy review of Indian historian Pankaj Mishra's new collection of essays, Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire, makes the argument that, seen from the global south, the building ineptitude of the U.S. and the UK is a feature, not a bug, of a system of excess power that is finally turning inward:
"If you can make bad decisions without paying the costs, you will probably make them repeatedly. Privilege has blinded the country’s cosseted elite, indulging its delusions by protecting it from their consequences. The reckless disregard for reality is nothing new, in this theory. It has plagued U.S. leadership for decades, though the costs have usually been paid by other countries. The difference now is that the chickens are returning to roost. ... If there is one event that undergirds Mishra’s worldview, it’s World War I. The century preceding it had been an exceptionally calm one in European history—a 'hundred years’ peace,' the economic historian Karl Polanyi called it, during which leading countries fought each other only rarely and briefly. With peace came prosperity, and by 1914, John Maynard Keynes remarked, even the middle classes possessed 'conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages.' Europe appeared the height of civilization and Britain the apex. Or, at least, that’s how it looked from London. From Beijing, Léopoldville, and Calcutta, the view was different. Europe’s hundred years’ peace had been a century of invasion, subjugation, and outright slaughter in the world beyond Europe. Mishra mentions, among other atrocities, Belgium’s extractive rubber regime in the Congo, the hundreds of thousands killed in the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, and the massacres of the Herero people in German South West Africa (tantamount to genocide, Germany has since admitted). All this, he implies, was the price of those “conveniences, comforts, and amenities” that middle-class Westerners blithely enjoyed. When World War I broke out, its ferocity took Europeans aback. Displaying a sort of 'imperial insouciance,' they had largely ignored the capacity of their own governments for mindless brutality. But nothing about the war was surprising to those in the colonized world, Mishra argues. Africans and Asians knew European boasts of civilization to be hollow. World War I was merely the 'extreme, lawless and often gratuitous violence of modern imperialism' boomeranging back on its perpetrators.
"The pattern of World War I is the one to fear today, Mishra warns. ... Mishra excoriates the liberal thinkers of the Anglophone world for what he takes to be their narcissism—'their own mind-numbing simplicities about democracy, its enemies, friends, the free world and all that sort of thing.' The deficiencies of such smug doctrines have been readily apparent in the global south for decades, Mishra believes. There, the United States pursued freedom and democracy by backing despots, meddling in elections, opposing wealth redistribution, and enforcing austerity. ... [H]e notes how frequently the advocates of liberalism have papered over racism. Talk of freedom and rights, Mishra notices, usually comes with a tacit addendum: but only for some. ... Woodrow Wilson spoke for self-determination but launched a 19-year military occupation of Haiti. You can trace a chain of hypocrisy from Thomas Jefferson keeping his own children enslaved to George W. Bush’s disastrous so-called liberation of Iraq. One time and perhaps it’s an accident; 17 times and it starts to look like a pattern. Whenever the full extension of liberal freedoms threatens the privileges of the powerful, liberal leaders have sought to restrict those freedoms because they have never truly been comfortable with the consequences of substantive equality. ... [L]iberals have adopted a 'blinkered history,' screening out the inequalities, violence, and racism endemic to their preferred system. ... Obsessed with procedural justice but largely unbothered by economic inequalities, liberals nodded politely as 'kleptocratic oligarchies' took root in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, Mishra writes. And now, on cue, the oligarchs have seized the Oval Office. ... Perching atop the commanding heights doesn’t give you a better view; it gives you a worse one, because benefiting from a stark inequality tends to rob you of perspective. Without any intellectual ventilation, without taking seriously the warnings of those with other vantages, you’ll end up where we are, with 'blond bullies' presiding over Washington and London and a baffled elite unable to do anything about it."
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