For most U.S. households, Dec. 31 is the end of the tax year. A recent report by the Tax Justice Network finds that private offshore tax evasion by individuals costs the U.S government more than $40 billion per year in lost tax revenue. The Tax Justice Network classifies nearly 40% of global bank deposits as "abnormal." This chart shows the top 15 geographic jurisdictions facilitating global tax abuse; the chart is ordered by total value of abnormal deposits, but the next column shows abnormal deposits as a percentage of all deposits, which is also illuminating. (From taxjustice.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/The_State_of_Tax_Justice_2020_ENGLISH.pdf)
Helium is for a lot more than balloons -- it's used in medical equipment, printing computer chips, and rocket fuel, among other things -- and there's a shortage of it. In fact, the American Chemical Society considers helium an "endangered element" and discourages people from buying helium balloons. Helium is a byproduct of natural gas production, but because helium is lighter than air, it naturally escapes unless efforts are made to contain it. With the world's biggest helium factory complex getting ready to open in eastern Siberia, Russia is poised to become a major exporter of helium. www.nytimes.com/2020/12/08/business/energy-environment/russia-helium.html
As 2020 winds down, the world has a new marine sanctuary, the largest in the Atlantic Ocean and the fourth-largest in the world. Centered around the South Atlantic's remote Tristan da Cunha archipelago, the new marine sanctuary "will protect tens of millions of native and migratory birds, rare migratory sharks, whales, seals, golden undersea forests of kelp, and penguins—collectively valued as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—from illegal mining, fishing, and other extractive activities." www.goodnewsnetwork.org/tristan-da-cunha-biggest-marine-protected-area/
Both of these maps show, in essence, the proportion of eligible voters who did not vote (shown in beige) in the 2020 (top) and 2016 (bottom) presidential elections. Comparing the two maps shows (a) in more states a greater proportion of eligible voters showed up to vote in 2020 than in 2016 and (b) Wisconsin is the only state in which more eligible voters turned out to vote than didn't in both election cycles *and* between 2016 and 2020 flipped from one party to the other. (from BrilliantMaps.com) i.redd.it/p0z5srsw7py51.png
The classic philosophical thought experiment of identity, the Ship of Theseus, asks thinkers to consider what constitutes identity over time. This article, from Philosophy Now (UK), expands on this idea.
"In many ways I have different properties now than those I had last week. But if I am different, how then can I be the same? ... [L]et me introduce two key terms, the first of which is concrete particular. A concrete particular is an entity which comes into existence at a certain time, passes out of existence at some later time, and exists at all the times in between. Its career is ‘temporally bounded’. Examples include human beings, animals, plants, chairs, and hamburgers – as opposed, for instance, to abstract ideas, such as 1+1=2. A concrete particular is what we usually mean by a ‘thing’ or ‘object’. The second term is diachronic sameness, which literally means ‘the same thing at two times’. If I say something has diachronic sameness, I am saying that 'an individual existing at one time is the same object as an individual existing at some other time' (Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, Michael J. Loux & Thomas M. Crisp, 2017, p.224). Having diachronic sameness means I can accurately describe myself as being the same concrete particular that I was last year, two minutes ago, or when I started typing this sentence.
"Like the notion of time itself, on the face of things, all this seems to be common sense. All of our pre-philosophical intuitions tell us this story, and it is a widely accepted one. In these terms, one answer to the question of what it means to persist through time is that throughout its career a concrete particular is wholly present at each of the different times at which it exists: that is, for any one time that X exists, all of the parts that X has are present at that time. This is the account given by endurantists. Endurantists maintain a steadfast hold on the notion of diachronic sameness, claiming that at any one time in its career, object X is identical with X at any other time it exists. So expressions like ‘the Jack of today’ and ‘the Jack of yesterday’ are referring to one numerically identical concrete particular whose spatial parts are wholly present at any given time throughout Jack’s existence. The endurantist will claim that an object’s spatial parts are the only genuine parts of it.
"By contrast, the account of persistence through time known as perdurantism claims that along with a thing’s spatial parts, it also has temporal parts. Perdurantists argue that over and above the three dimensions of space, there exists a fourth dimension in which an object’s temporal parts exist; so that Jill yesterday, Jill today, and Jill tomorrow, are different parts of Jill. These expressions do not pick out one numerically single object, rather they refer to numerically different parts of a single thing. Its persistence through time consists in its being an aggregate of different temporal parts present at different times. For the perdurantist, these temporal parts are just as real as spatial parts: temporal parts have properties just like spatial parts – such as the property of ‘being Jill last week’. So, along with having spatial extension – for example, fingers and toes – the perdurantist will claim that a concrete particular also has temporal extension – for example, Jill yesterday, Jill today and Jill tomorrow. There are also temporal parts of temporal parts. An example of this could be that Jack this morning is a temporal part of Jack today."
In the mountains northwest of Tokyo, the town of Fujiwara (marked with a blue dot on this map) set a record earlier this month: nearly 6' of snow in 48 hours. Fujiwara received a total of 7.1' of snow in less than three days, stranding at least 1000 vehicles in a 10-mile backup. The area around Fujiwara is known for its ski resorts and hot springs. www.snowjapan.com/UploadedFiles/MapImages/Resort/Gunma-Ski-Resort-Minakami-Kogen-Fujiwara.png
I can't speak to the accuracy or prevalence of these international Christmas traditions, but they are fun to read about nonetheless (and perhaps will spur dinner conversation and/or a web quest or two): www.ibtimes.com/christmas-trivia-facts-around-world-15-funny-interesting-traditions-other-countries-2217076
A 4.4 magnitude earthquake on the Big Island of Hawaii seems to have jarred Kilauea back into action after a two-year hiatus. The Big Island is comprised of five volcanoes, of which only Mauna Loa and Kilauea are believed to be active. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c6/Location_Hawaii_Volcanoes.svg/330px-Location_Hawaii_Volcanoes.svg.png (For status updates and images, see the USGS Twitter account: twitter.com/USGSVolcanoes)
Santa is not the only one with an interest in the North Pole. This is an excellent look at the geopolitical issues at play in the Arctic, many of which are made more pressing by climate change. foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/13/arctic-competition-resources-governance-critical-minerals-shipping-climate-change-power-map
The world's largest herd of reindeer is found in Siberia, east of the Yenisey River. The Taimyr reindeer herd numbered as many as 1,000,000 individuals in 2000 but is believed to be less than half that size today, due to commercial hunting, poaching, and habitat degradation. This article from National Geographic profiles the Taimyr reindeer: www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/08/poachers-target-largest-reindeer-herd-antler-velvet/
The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center recently added a map, updated daily, showing U.S. intensive care unit capacity by county. Go to coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map and click on the arrow at the bottom right corner of the map; the ICU capacity map is the 7th map. (The darker the color, the closer the county is to maximum ICU capacity.)
Looking for a gift for a philosophically inclined someone? The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained is a well-written, accessible compendium of nearly 3,000 years of philosophy and is available in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook. www.dk.com/us/9780756668617-the-philosophy-book/?Format=Paperback
Earlier this month, the Ocean Renewable Energy Action Coalition released a roadmap to produce 1,400 GW of electricity -- or about 10% of the world's electricity -- via offshore wind farms by 2050. This map shows areas considered particularly well suited to offshore wind farms: 3ohkdk3zdzcq1dul50oqjvvf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2.-This-map-shows-the-vast-potential-Hywind-1024x579.jpg
Know a high school student interested in the law and/or the issue of voter suppression? The Northwestern Undergraduate Law Journal is sponsoring an essay contest for high school students: "We are asking high school students to write an essay responding to our prompt on voter suppression. Essays must answer the topic while incorporating law, an aspect of the legal system, and/or the intersection between the law and another discipline. ... How has voter suppression evolved to influence election outcomes in the 21st century (2000s to present) and how has it endangered American democracy? Analyze your topic through a legal lens, utilizing court cases such as Shelby County v. Holder and other legal documents, opinions, and precedents to formulate your argument." Submissions are due January 11. For more, see www.thenulj.org/hs-contest
Need to travel outside the U.S.? This interactive map shows COVID restrictions based on country of origin and destination. For example, at present, a traveler from the United States can go to Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Turkey, and Serbia with relatively few restrictions. www.skyscanner.com/travel-restrictions
During Latin America's "dirty wars" in the 1970s and '80s, as many as 30,000 Argentinians and 3,400 Chileans disappeared. However, in the last 14 years more than 79,000 Mexicans have disappeared, often victims of narcoterrorism, human trafficking, kidnapping, and state security forces. With new mass graves being exhumed regularly, this article from The Washington Post profiles the search for Mexico's disappeared and the fragile security situation in the United States's most populous neighbor and 2nd-largest trading partner.
Although not obvious from most maps of Japan, Japan extends most of the way to Taiwan because of the Ryukyu Islands, the archipelago that includes Okinawa and stretches nearly 800 miles south of Japan's four main home islands. Archaeological evidence suggests the Ryukyu Islands were settled more than 30,000 years ago, but recent research mapping ocean currents suggests those early settlers would had to have set out for the Ryukyu Islands intentionally because ocean currents would not have carried drifting boats near the islands. www.sciencenews.org/article/ancient-humans-sea-voyage-japan-ryukyu-island-migration
These cartograms show the results of the U.S. presidential election, based on reported counts as of Nov. 27, as weighted by population (first by county and then by state) and by electoral votes. worldmapper.org/us-presidential-election-2020/
The disparate impact of COVID on minority communities in the U.S. has raised tricky questions about the possible role of poverty and discrimination in COVID mortality as well as the possible role of genetics. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the All of Us Research Program, designed to collect medical and genetic information from a million Americans by 2025 in order to help untangle the role of genetics in medical outcomes and speed the development of precision medicine, therapies individualized to a patient's unique biology. Minority communities, many of which have high rates of heart disease and other factors that put them at higher risk for COVID complications, have often been inadequately represented in medical research and would presumably stand to benefit from precision medicine. But not all see it that way. The Navajo Nation, for example, prohibits participation in genetic research, citing religious beliefs, history of abuse by the medical establishment, and the likelihood that their DNA will be mined for the benefit of others. This article from The Washington Post Magazine looks at the ethical issues involved from the perspective of a Navajo geneticist: www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/11/23/many-scientists-believe-that-dna-holds-cure-disease-that-poses-problem-some-native-americans
To coax Morocco into normalizing relations with Israel, the U.S. agreed to recognize Morocco's claim to the disputed region of Western Sahara this week. (Previously, the U.S. had not taken a stand on the issue, in keeping with the UN position that the people of Western Sahara, previously Spanish Sahara, should be allowed to vote on governance of the territory.) Although Western Sahara's land is not of particular interest, being mostly desert without significant mineral resources, the waters off Western Sahara may contain oil and gas deposits and, due to the upwelling of the Canary Current, are one of the world's most productive fisheries, to which Morocco has been selling fishing rights. www.worldatlas.com/upload/b7/4b/b0/western-sahara-map.jpg
At first glance, this xkcd comic looks like a normal map of the contiguous United States. On closer inspection, though, seven states are missing. Can you identify the seven missing states? imgs.xkcd.com/comics/contiguous_41_states_2x.png
This geo-graphic, based on a survey of more than 28,000 people in 14 countries last April, compares people's views, by country, on COVID and climate change as a serious threat: the green bars show the percentage of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "In the long term, climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 is." (The red bars show the percentage of respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed with the same statement.) [from www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2020-04/earth-day-2020-ipsos.pdf]
This article from Foreign Policy looks at the military, economic, environmental, and humanitarian implications of China's vast fishing fleet trawling international -- and other countries' -- waters:
"The Chinese fishing fleet only ventured further afield in 1985, when 13 trawlers were sent to plough northwest Africa’s fish-rich coastal waters. Today, according to a report by the British Overseas Development Institute, China’s blue-water fishing fleet is by far the world’s largest, and includes 12,490 unique vessels that were observed to have been fishing outside China’s internationally recognized EEZ in 2017 and 2018. That’s many times more than previous estimates, and very different from China’s own claim of having only 3,000 ships fishing international or other countries’ waters—but that’s only because China doesn’t recognize the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty’s demarcation of maritime borders. Though China isn’t alone in its destructive fishing practices, it stands apart by virtue of its sheer size and the extent to which it pushes its highly subsidized fleet across the world’s oceans. It’s also the only country whose fishing fleet has a geopolitical mission, taking over weaker countries’ waters and expanding Beijing’s maritime territorial ambitions. One of the malicious consequences of all this is that China’s monster fishing fleet robs poorer nations—from North Korea to the countries of West Africa—of desperately needed protein.
"... But the real force driving this and other human-rights disasters is China’s hunger for seafood. China’s 1.4 billion people not only consume 38 percent of global fish production, but indulge in one of the highest per-capita consumption rates of fish and seafood, both wild and farmed, in the world—37.8 kilograms per person per year, up from only 7 kilograms per person per year in 1985, according to figures provided by China to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. While much has been written about Chinese overfishing, it’s only recently become possible to document its vast extent, thanks to new satellite technologies such as those providing data to Global Fishing Watch. The same tracking technology that is used to prevent vessels from hiding or circumventing sanctions shows that China’s fishing fleet appears engaged, often illegally, in the effort to haul in as much seafood as it can, as fast as it can, in as many places as it can—with little regard for how its practices affect malnourished people or diminish the stocks of their fish. This effort is not simply the sum of individual decisions made by skippers. It is government policy, because most vessels are in effect paid to fish by the Chinese government, which covers the fleet’s main operating expense: fuel. ... Besides its gigantic size and extreme level of subsidies, there is a third characteristic that sets the Chinese fishing fleet apart: its use by Beijing as a tool of expansion. ... China is the only country with a strategic fishing fleet. Of the crew on the vessels operating in the South China Sea, [China analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Greg] Poling said 'either they’re fishers paid to go fish somewhere, and that’s the only reason they do it, or they are officially in the militia, which means they never fish—they just use fishing boats to monitor other fleets, run supplies, or ram other boats.'"
The recent discovery and subsequent disappearance of a metal column in the Utah desert brings to mind this article about other (actual) archaeological mysteries in the United States, including the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, the Blythe Intaglios in California, the Miami Circle in Florida, and the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio. www.atlasobscura.com/articles/american-ancients-ten-united-states-archaeological-mysteries
As students in my geography classes know, the influence of a city extends far beyond the legal boundaries of the city. But the shape of a given metropolitan region is complex, determined less by physical geography or political borders than the by location of other, competing cities. An algorithm studied more than 4 million commutes to arrive at this map of U.S. economic megaregions, most of which are named for an anchor city: assets.atlasobscura.com/article_images/lg/37424/image.jpg
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