An "ice tsunami," sometimes called an "ice shove" or "walking ice," occurs when winds and/or currents force ice out of the water and up a sloping shore. These can result in ice walls up to 40 feet high. In the U.S., ice tsunamis generally happen during the winter, typically in the Great Lakes region. In Siberia, though, ice tsunamis often mark the beginning of summer. This video of an ice tsunami was recorded last June on the Yenisei River, one of Russia's longest rivers and the largest river system running to the Arctic Ocean. www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAb26ebanKE
This map is based on 20 years of data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and assesses the most common kind of weather-related death in the U.S. by region. Extreme heat has been far and away the biggest killer over this time period. https://i.imgur.com/sRbDui1.png (from https://www.considerable.com/life/death/weather-deaths-us)
Can philosophy make you happy? This interview with philosophy professor Catherine Wilson argues that philosophy, including her specialty of Epicureanism, can provide a framework for finding happiness.
"Happiness, considered as a feeling, is episodic, and you get it from being in a certain situation, doing certain things. Does reason tell you what those things are? No: immediate experience does. Further, reason encourages worrying, which doesn’t make you so happy. ... [B]oth philosophy and the arts say essentially: ‘You are not alone. Others have thought and worried about this too.’ They connect you to your species; theoretically and emotionally, and this can give you encouragement and consolation. So no philosophy can tell you anything you don’t already know about how to have happy experiences, but systematic philosophies like Epicureanism or Stoicism or Kantianism offer orientation. Each has a distinctive way of relating what it thinks is the way the world is to what ought to be the way it is and to what you ought to do. ... The Epicureans I study, after assuring you that you are going to be pulverized into atoms at some point like every other object in nature, argue that hedonism tempered by prudence and morality is the way to go in the meantime."
In the 30 years from 1989 through 2018, U.S. GDP more than doubled. But China's GDP, starting from a much lower base, grew by more than 14x during that same time period. This geo-graphic compares GDP growth and a few other economic metrics for various drivers of the global economy. howmuch.net/articles/chinas-economic-growth-perspective
Marginal Revolution University offers free online economics resources, from short videos to entire courses (e.g., macro, micro, econometrics, development econ). mru.org/
Bird eggs come in a huge range of colors, sizes, and patterns. However, researchers have recently found that color is correlated to climate, with darker eggs more prevalent in colder climates. www.sciencenews.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/102519_jl_birdegg_inline1_680_desktop.png (from https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bird-eggs-laid-cold-climates-are-darker-may-keep-eggs-warm)
Public health crises do not recognize holidays. Although Ebola and armed factions in the country's east have generated most of the headlines coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country is also experiencing the world's most devastating measles outbreak. The DRC has had more than 280,000 diagnosed cases of measles this year, resulting in more than 5,600 deaths. (Ebola, by contrast, has killed about 2,200 people in the DRC this year.) This recent piece from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders discusses their work saving lives and bearing witness in the world's hotspots again in 2019: www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/story/telling-it-it-why-we-speak-out
Scientists recently discovered a new biological community living in the world's driest nonpolar desert: a novel collection of lichens, fungi, algae and cyanobacteria has been found "gluing" together tiny pebbles on the surface of Chile's Atacama Desert. The resulting microbial community is believed to subsist on the fog that rolls in regularly from the Pacific; the weathering of these tiny rocks by fungal acids is believed to be the only source of soil creation in the Atacama. Globally, biocrusts, or topical soil communities comprised of algae, cyanobacteria, lichens, fungi or mosses, "cover an estimated 12 percent of the land on Earth" and are particularly prevalent in deserts. www.sciencenews.org/article/new-atacama-desert-soil-fungi-lichen-community-survives-fog-sips
A recent analysis by the Brookings Institution found that just five cities -- Boston, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose/Silicon Valley -- captured 90% of all new "innovation" jobs created in the U.S. from 2005 to 2017. Innovation jobs, be they high tech or biotech, telecom or aerospace, account for only 3% of all jobs but 6% of national GDP. These maps, from an article in The New York Times, show which metro areas have been gaining and losing innovation jobs. www.nytimes.com/2019/12/09/business/economy/innovation-jobs-cities.html
This interesting article by British philosophy lecturer Sally Latham uses emojis to explain emotivism, a concept that goes back to David Hume that argues moral judgments are based on the emotions triggered by a situation and not on the facts of the situation. To an emotivist, applying words like "bad" means no more than one disapproves whereas words like "proper," "good," or "right" means one approves.
"The dictionary definition of an emoji is ‘a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication’. They’re used to add emotional responses to expressions of fact; and yet I would argue that they convey no factual information themselves. Rather, just like moral judgments under the emotivist view, they express emotion and attempt to evoke it in others with the view to influencing action. Interestingly, it has been argued that Ludwig Wittgenstein introduced the concept of the emoji when he argued that pictorial representations can convey more information that language. In a 1938 lecture at Cambridge he claimed: “If I were a good draughtsman, I could convey an innumerable number of expressions by 4 strokes.” It is likely that Wittgenstein was thinking about more flexibility in pictorial representation than our current emojis allow, but that doesn’t affect the argument here.
"Let’s take an example of a text message:
You missed your philosophy class today.
"By adding an emoji we can express either approval or disapproval to this fact:
You missed your philosophy class today. 😁
You missed your philosophy class today. 🙁
You missed your philosophy class today. 😡
"Both the sad face emoji and the angry face emoji are equivalent to ‘you ought not to have’ in moral discourse. There is no factual dispute between the people who added the different emojis. If we say ‘murder is wrong’ or ‘murder is right’, then according to what I would like to call ‘emojivism’ this is no more than:
"My emoji is intended to arouse a similar feeling in you, but there is no truth or falsity to any use of them. ... [I]f we agree on the facts and disagree about moral value then we must abandon attempts to convince each other otherwise. As [20th century British philosopher A.J.] Ayer wrote, 'It is because argument fails us when we come to deal with pure questions of value, as distinct from questions of fact, that we finally resort to mere abuse.' (This is strangely familiar when it comes to social media.) To illustrate using emojivism: we can debate the facts about eating meat – for example, do animals feel pain? Does eating meat provide health benefits? Is it bad for the environment? – but if we agree on all the facts and then end up with:
Eating meat 😁
Eating meat 🙁
then that’s the end of the matter.
"In summary, Ayer’s theory of ethical terms as symbols adding nothing to the content of the facts to which they are attached fits well with the idea of emojis as ethical terms. This leaves us with the somewhat troubling conclusion that ‘wrong’ is no more than 🙁. But I think Ayer would be 🙂 with that."
Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This mesmerizing gif created by a Reddit DataIsBeautiful user shows how the number of hours of daylight changes throughout the year based on latitude.
If your travels will take you to the National Mall Dec. 26-31, there is a free performance at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian of the original play Hear Me Say My Name. The play will be staged at 11:30 am and 1:00 pm each of those six days; tickets are free and available first come-first served. "'I am not your mascot, and I don't live in a tipi. See me for who I am, hear me say my name.' How do American Indian stereotypes, prejudice, and identity shape the discussion of what it means to be a young person in our country today? This original multimedia play, created by Smithsonian Associates Discovery Theater in collaboration with the American Indian Museum, tackles America's assumptions about American Indians and starts a conversation with audiences reclaiming rich history, challenges, hopes, and dreams. After the play, students are invited to explore the exhibition galleries with self-guided materials to learn more." The play is recommended for 5th-12th graders. For more information, see discoverytheater.org/hearmesaymyname/
When the country of Papua New Guinea became independent of Australia in 1975, the islands to the east that had been known as the German Solomon Islands when Germany controlled what is today Papua New Guinea, were incorporated into Papua New Guinea as the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (shown in red on this map). The results of a recent referendum were announced last week: 98% of voters in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville voted to become an independent country, which is not entirely surprising given that the mineral-rich islands have agitated for independence, sometimes violently, for more than 50 years.
The chatter about the need for humanity to become, in the words of Stephen Hawking, "a multi-planetary species" is getting louder. However, this article from the science magazine Nautilus argues that instead of saving humanity, space colonization could accelerate its destruction. "The argument is based on ideas from evolutionary biology and international relations theory... Consider what is likely to happen as humanity hops from Earth to Mars, and from Mars to relatively nearby, potentially habitable exoplanets like Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. Each of these planets has its own unique environments that will drive Darwinian evolution, resulting in the emergence of novel species over time, just as species that migrate to a new island will evolve different traits than their parent species. The same applies to the artificial environments of spacecraft like “O’Neill Cylinders,” which are large cylindrical structures that rotate to produce artificial gravity. Insofar as future beings satisfy the basic conditions of evolution by natural selection—such as differential reproduction, heritability, and variation of traits across the population—then evolutionary pressures will yield new forms of life. But the process of “cyborgization”—that is, of using technology to modify and enhance our bodies and brains—is much more likely to influence the evolutionary trajectories of future populations living on exoplanets or in spacecraft. The result could be beings with completely novel cognitive architectures (or mental abilities), emotional repertoires, physical capabilities, lifespans, and so on. In other words, natural selection and cyborgization as humanity spreads throughout the cosmos will result in species diversification. At the same time, expanding across space will also result in ideological diversification. Space-hopping populations will create their own cultures, languages, governments, political institutions, religions, technologies, rituals, norms, worldviews, and so on. As a result, different species will find it increasingly difficult over time to understand each other’s motivations, intentions, behaviors, decisions, and so on. It could even make communication between species with alien languages almost impossible. ... Thus, as I write in the paper, phylogenetic and ideological diversification will engender a situation in which many species will be “not merely aliens to each other but, more significantly, alienated from each other.” ... [E]xtreme differences like those just listed will undercut trust between species."
Challenging physical geography, including mountains, deserts, and islands, have tended to isolate populations living in those areas. The French postal service is now using drones to deliver packages in part of the French Alps. This article from The Guardian (UK) reports that the French postal subsidiary DPD finds "flying packages by remote control is more reliable, quicker and safer than driving a van up narrow mountain roads in winter when they are often icy or blocked by snow. The delivery by drone, which flies at around 30km/h, takes eight minutes for a round trip, compared with 30 minutes for a vehicle. Launched during a normal postal delivery round from a special launch-and-landing platform that emerges from the side of a vehicle, the drone is guided to a 'secure terminal' near the village where it releases the package to be collected by the customer using a code." www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/dec/02/drones-used-to-deliver-parcels-to-remote-alpine-villages
Over the last decade, the use of robots in the workplace has doubled. But implementation of workplace robotics has not been geographically neutral. "A recent report from The Century Foundation found [manufacturing-heavy] Midwestern states such as Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin saw the sharpest growth in robots being used in the workplace from 2009 to 2017, and these areas now have the highest levels of 'robot intensity' in the country. Robot intensity refers to the number of industrial robots per 1,000 human workers. The higher the number, the more robots there are in the workplace alongside humans." This CNBC interactive map (screenshot below) shows robot intensity (darker red=higher robot intensity) for population centers across the U.S. www.cnbc.com/2019/12/05/map-the-us-cities-where-robots-are-impacting-jobs-the-most.html
This essay, by Yale philosophy of law professor Paul Kahn, explores the contrasting and complementary views of "project" (intentionally designed) and "system" (developing without intentionality) and how this applies to the law, to nature, and to international affairs:
"Toward the end of his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein considers the well-known duck/rabbit illusion. The same image can appear as a duck or as a rabbit. It cannot, however, be seen as both at once; our perception moves back and forth between the two. We cannot decide to see just one. That seeing as will determine a set of expectations and connections – uses – that will sustain different forms of enquiry responsive to different questions and moving in different directions. The image does not change, but the world within which it has meaning changes. The law, for example, is like that duck/rabbit image. ... ‘Project’ imagines law as the product of authors who are free agents capable of acting with intention after some sort of deliberation. For the ‘project’ imagination, legislation is the paradigm of law. Meanwhile, ‘system’ imagines law as a well-ordered whole that develops immanently and spontaneously from within individual transactions. System is a relationship of parts to whole, and of whole to parts. For the systemic imagination, the common law is the paradigm. Judges decide individual cases relying on precedents – that is, relying on prior acts of the same sort that they are pursuing. Out of those countless individual decisions, a system of order emerges. That system has identifiable principles – legal norms – but those principles were not themselves the product of an intentional act. ... In a project, the idea of order precedes the act; in a system, we discover the idea of order only after the act. ...
"Systems have the capacity for maintenance and some ability of repair. An injured organism can heal itself; a market in disequilibrium can return to equilibrium. Of course, some systemic disturbances are beyond these capacities: systems do die. Projects, though, ordinarily have no such capacities of repair. When a watch breaks, we take it to the watchmaker for repair. When legislation fails, we go back to the legislature for a new plan. Today, artificial intelligence is challenging that distinction precisely to the degree that we can teach machines to learn and to respond. This effort to endow a project with systemic qualities is not new. We have seen this intersection before. The US Constitution’s framers thought they were building ‘a machine that would go of itself’, because it was to have some capacities of repair when it lost balance. ...
"The contest between project and system continues. In our deeply polarised political age, these conflicting images provide the organisational forms for much of our ideological combat in the law. The originalists, who dominate the US Supreme Court today, are relying on a picture of project; they are opposed by those who believe in an organic constitutional order of system."
Have a Scottish surname somewhere in your family history? Or maybe a particular Scottish clan was mentioned in a book or movie? This map shows historic holdings of Scotland's clans. www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/e67d0r/map_of_the_scottish_clan_lands/
The British cartography website Brilliant Maps has a new book out just in time for the holidays: Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds: 100 New Ways to See the World. "Which countries don’t have rivers? Which ones have North Korean embassies? Who drives on the 'wrong' side of the road? How many national economies are bigger than California’s? And where can you still find lions in the wild? You’ll learn answers to these questions and many more in Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds. This one-of-a-kind atlas is packed with eye-opening analysis (Which nations have had female leaders?), whimsical insight (Where can’t you find a McDonald’s?), and surprising connections that illuminate the contours of culture, history, and politics. Each of these 100 maps will change the way you see the world—and your place in it." www.amazon.com/Brilliant-Maps-Curious-Minds-World/dp/1615196250
New Zealand was in the news this week when a volcano just off the northern coast of New Zealand's North Island erupted unexpectedly. There are about a dozen volcanoes on or just offshore the North Island, part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire," as students who have taken my "Hands-On Geography" class may be able to predict. This map shows where the Pacific Plate is subducting under the Australian plate just to the east of the North Island, creating the Kermadec Trench and, about 200 miles to the west, a band of volcanoes, including the one that just erupted. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8a/NZ_faults.png/800px-NZ_faults.png
North Korea's nuclear weapons program has been in the news recently as it has resumed testing of its intercontinental ballistic missile systems. However, some security experts are more concerned about North Korea's germ warfare program than its nuclear weapons program. "Germ production is small-scale and far less expensive than creating nuclear arms. Deadly microbes can look like harmless components of vaccine and agricultural work. And living weapons are hard to detect, trace and contain. ... South Korean military white papers have identified at least ten facilities in the North that could be involved in the research and production of more than a dozen biological agents, including those that cause the plague and hemorrhagic fevers. United States intelligence officials have not publicly endorsed those findings. But many experts say the technological hurdles to such advances have collapsed. The North, for instance, has received advanced microbiology training from institutions in Asia and Europe. Bruce Bennett, a defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, said defectors from the North have described witnessing the testing of biological agents on political prisoners. Several North Korean military defectors have tested positive for smallpox antibodies, suggesting they were either exposed to the deadly virus or vaccinated against it, according to a report by Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Smallpox claimed up to a half billion lives before it was declared eradicated. Today, few populations are vaccinated against the defunct virus. Starting three years ago, Amplyfi, a strategic intelligence firm, detected a dramatic increase in North Korean web searches for “antibiotic resistance,” “microbial dark matter,” “cas protein” and similar esoteric terms, hinting at a growing interest in advanced gene and germ research."
Two states -- North Carolina and Oregon -- produce nearly 4/5 of the country's Christmas trees. Perhaps more remarkably, just six counties in the U.S. account for more than half of the country's Christmas trees, with Ashe County, North Carolina (on the Tennessee-Virginia-North Carolina border) leading the way. www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/map-christmas-tree-farms-data-north-carolina-oregon-2018-n946776
Looking for a quiet drive? Or maybe a scenic drive? This interactive map from GeoTab shows the least used stretch of highway in each state and highlights the country's top 10 most scenic stretches of quiet road. www.geotab.com/americas-quietest-routes/
We discriminate all the time. But what is -- and is not -- ethically wrong discrimination? This piece from Philosophy Now (UK) tries to tease apart various aspects of discrimination:
"The concept of discrimination plays roughly the same role in public debate as the concept of terrorism. In just the same way as disliked militants are often condemned as ‘terrorists’, so disliked policies that differentiate among people are often condemned as ‘discrimination’. Those charges have deep rhetorical power. However, both concepts remain woefully unanalyzed. In this article I want to analyze the concept of discrimination: what it is, and what it isn’t.
"Differentiating among people on account of their group membership, disadvantaging some and not others, is not the problem with discrimination. We don’t discriminate against criminals by burdening them with jail. It is when disadvantages are unjustly imposed because of group membership that differentiation between groups is morally objectionable. This is what we call discrimination. Intentionally disadvantaging innocent people merely because of their group membership is the clearest form of discrimination. ... Doing so strikes at the core of how we think people should be treated. Basic respect for persons entails regarding them as individuals with a right to equal consideration, not just judging them according to others with whom they happen to be grouped. So it might seem that disadvantaging someone for that reason is necessarily wrong.
"We sometimes do intentionally disadvantage innocent people based solely on group membership, in cases where it does not seem wrong to do so. Airline pilots must retire at a certain age. You must be at least eighteen to vote. When one can get married, drink alcohol, join the military, or sign contracts, are similarly restricted. Insurance rates are established by group membership, not by individual characteristics. Of course, these are not the sort of groups commonly recognized as being victims of discrimination. But the salient point is that sometimes there are good reasons to sort and burden people merely because of their group membership. So how do we tell when group membership is a good reason to burden someone, and when it isn’t? Take ten year olds. Not all ten year olds lack the maturity, judgment and experience to drive or vote, but the odds are that any individual among them does. It’s a matter of probabilities. Given that we can’t easily test every ten year old, restricting their rights solely on account of their age seems reasonable. So there is a plausible connection in this case between group membership and why a particular burden is imposed. By contrast, if someone’s group membership is irrelevant to why they’re being disadvantaged, that seems a bad reason. If a bus company refuses to hire black people just because they’re black, this is a bad reason because skin color is irrelevant to bus driving. Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and national origin, are all similarly irrelevant to bus driving, too. ...
"The real issue for discriminators is whether the disadvantages they impose on account of group membership are warranted; and that turns on the validity of their beliefs about the target group. But what if the disadvantage is based on statistically verifiable facts? Employers favor non-smokers because they are sick less often than smokers; low income drug addicts are more liable to be petty criminals; skin-heads are more prone to violence; the guy with the rebel flag on his pickup truck is more likely to be a racist; people who drive Priuses are more likely to be political liberals; and so on. With stereotypes which have some basis in the facts, the odds are that any individual in the group will have or lack the trait in question. Most women lack the upper body strength to be firefighters. But some do have it. Most ten-year-olds are not capable of being good drivers. But some are. If we disadvantage someone because of a statistically-correct group norm, but who nevertheless is an exception to the norm, we treat that person unfairly. That person does not deserve the burden we impose, even if others in the group do. However, this is different from imposing burdens on individuals because of false beliefs or incorrect judgments about the group. If we disadvantage someone who is an exception in a stereotype with some basis in fact, it seems to me not discriminatory. It is unfair; and we should try to address unfairness if we can. But not all unfairness counts as discrimination. Discrimination is a particular kind of unfairness, which turns on imposing burdens because of factually misinformed stereotypes."
In many countries around the world, remittances, the money sent home by workers abroad, is a significant contributor to local and national economies. This geo-graphic, based on World Bank data, shows which countries received the most money in remittances in 2018:
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