For those looking to understand the historical context of Russian president Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, there are two new books that may be of particular interest:
What is a "dunkelflaute" and why does it matter? Without access to Russian gas, European consumers are at the mercy of Mother Nature: specifically, a particularly cold winter this year will spell trouble for energy supplies for the next 12 months and possibly beyond. A dunkelflaute is a German word that refers to cloudy, cold, windless weather -- the kind that increases heating demands while shutting down solar and wind production. The UK, for example, experienced a multi-day dunkelflaute earlier this month, with snow falling in London and wind energy dropping from 20% of the UK's electricity mix to 4%. qz.com/can-europe-survive-the-dreaded-dunkelflaute-1849886529
New York City recently updated its map of every tree on public land in the city: tree-map.nycgovparks.org/tree-map
Working on behalf of a free press and the public's right to know is often a dangerous job. War zones figure into this map showing where the most journalists were killed in 2022, but Mexico continues to be the most dangerous place to be a journalist: cdn.statcdn.com/Infographic/images/normal/1181.jpeg
The Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank specializing in issues related to the greater Middle East, presents its recommendations for the top 10 books published in the last year related to the Middle East: www.mei.edu/blog/10-books-expand-your-knowledge-middle-east
Nearly 11 billion snow crabs have disappeared from the northern Pacific and Arctic. Yes, climate change almost certainly played a role, but is the more complex truth that we counted wrong and ate them? nautil.us/where-have-all-the-snow-crabs-gone-248247
Synthetic opioids, of which fentanyl is the most prominent, have become the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45. This series of maps shows the growing rate of fentanyl deaths, by county, in the U.S. (Maps from www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2022/fentanyl-poisoning-colorado/.)
Which countries have the largest share of their populations living abroad? It turns out island nations -- nearly one out of three Polynesians is living outside of their home country, for example -- and, not surprisingly, countries with stagnant economies and/or conflict are high on the list. This geo-graphic from Statista looks at the top 8 countries (min. population size 750,000) and a sampling of others: www.statista.com/chart/4237/the-countries-with-the-most-people-living-overseas
Practice your knowledge of U.S. geography with the daily Statele quiz: statele.teuteuf.fr/
The Cook Islands are a self-governing group of islands in the South Pacific (shown in red on this map). Formerly considered part of New Zealand, the islands have been in "free association" with New Zealand since 1965 and conduct their own foreign and defense policy. In September, the Biden administration recognized the Cook Islands as sovereign states, renewing the islands' quest to be the newest member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. tinyurl.com/ywp3hwsm
Students in some of my geography classes learn about one of our most unusual biomes, a tepui. Found almost exclusively in Venezuela -- Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, cascades down a tepui -- these distinctive tabletop mountains host a range of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. This article highlights the use of satellite imagery to document the extent of illegal gold mining destroying a tepui in Venezuela's Yapacana National Park considered sacred to the indigenous people and home to several critically endangered species. www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/12/06/venezuela-yapacana-gold-mining/
Hurricanes have become costlier in the U.S., not just because of the storms themselves but because of an increasing number of expensive structures built in their paths. A case in point: these maps compare housing density on Florida's southern Gulf coast in 1980 and in 2020. (Map from www.nytimes.com/2022/12/02/briefing/why-hurricanes-cost-more.html. The article includes similar maps for the Houston metro area.)
One of the questions philosophers, and more recently neuroscientists, have been struggling with for ages is what does it mean to have free will and do we have it? This short video interview with a neuroscientist makes the interesting argument that our conscious selves may not have free will but our unconscious minds might: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wha-BQTu3_4
Negotiations over a "cap" on the price paid for Russian oil has been in the news recently. This geo-graphic from Al Jazeera highlights Russia's role in global oil markets: bucket.mlcdn.com/a/2764/2764870/images/e37fb5d7fa9398245e8017714bc383775d23a256.png
Have a fledgling engineer? Or curious yourself? The EngineerGuy website has loads of free videos explaining the engineering behind everyday items: engineerguy.com/videos.htm
A large high-pressure zone over Greenland is expected to create a phenomenon known as the "Greenland block," so named because it blocks the usual path of the Northern Hemisphere's jet stream, later this month. A Greenland block redirects the jet stream southward, often creating colder (and often wetter) conditions on the East Coast of the U.S. Most of the Washington, DC area's biggest snowstorms, including the 2009 "Snowpocalypse" storm that dumped about two feet of snow in 24 hours, resulted from a Greenland block. www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2022/11/29/greenland-block-snow-dc-midatlantic/
In September, a European human rights organization published a report identifying dozens of informal "police stations" operated by the Chinese government in major cities around the world, monitoring Chinese nationals and their relatives abroad. The director of the FBI recently testified before Congress about the FBI's investigation into these "police stations" on U.S. soil: www.reuters.com/world/us/fbi-director-very-concerned-by-chinese-police-stations-us-2022-11-17
According to an analysis by Good Jobs First, a not-for-profit that tracks agreements between Amazon and state and local governments, Amazon has received more than $5 billion in government subsidies. This data visualization, published in Quartz, shows which states have been most generous to Amazon (from https://qz.com/emails/daily-brief/1849825382/chinese-protests-ripple-effect).
Ethics aside, what, if anything, does philosophy have to do with the collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX? This opinion piece ties Silicon Valley's favorite philanthropic philosophy, "effective altruism," to Sam Bankman-Fried's approach to FTX:
"Effective altruists claim they strive to use reason and evidence to do the most good possible for the most people. Influenced by utilitarian ethics, they’re fond of crunching numbers to determine sometimes counterintuitive ideas for maximizing a philanthropic act’s effects by focusing on “expected value,” which they believe can be calculated by multiplying the value of an outcome by the probability of it occurring.SBF belonged to the “longtermist” sect of effective altruism, which focuses on events that could pose a long-term existential threat to humanity, like pandemics or the rise of runaway artificial intelligence. The reasoning for this focus is that more people will exist in the future than exist today, and thus the potential to do more good for more people is greater. He also adopted one of the movement’s signature strategies for effecting social change called “earning to give,” in which generating high income is more important than what kind of job one takes, because it enables people to give away more money for philanthropy. As a college student, SBF had lunch with William MacAskill, the most prominent intellectual advocate for effective altruism in the world, and then reportedly went into finance, and then crypto, based on the idea that it would allow him to donate more money. ...
"In online conversation with the reporter, SBF referred to his bids in the past to appear regulator-friendly as 'just PR,' and he disavowed some of his previous statements about ethics. There’s some ambiguity in this part and other parts of SBF’s exchange with the reporter, but broadly speaking, one can interpret the meaning of his responses in two ways. The first possibility is that he’s confessing that his entire set of ethical commitments — including effective altruism — is a ruse. ... The second possibility is that he’s saying that he’s extremely committed to effective altruism, and that he would be willing to do anything — including unsavory things — in order to get to what he saw as the greatest good. ... Remarkably, both scenarios are plausible — and damning. ... While these two scenarios reflect different outlooks on the world, both expose something alarming about effective altruism. It is a belief system that bad faith actors can hijack with tremendous ease and one that can lead true believers to horrifying ends-justify-the-means extremist logic. The core reason that effective altruism is a natural vehicle for bad behavior is that its cardinal demands do not require adherents to shun systems of exploitation or to change them; instead, it incentivizes turbo-charging them. ... The value proposition of this community is to think of morality through the prism of investment, using expected value calculations and cost-effectiveness criteria to funnel as much money as possible toward the endpoint of perceived good causes. It's an outlook that breeds a bizarre blend of elitism, insularity and apathy to root causes of problems. This is a movement that encourages quant-focused intellectual snobbery and a distaste for people who are skeptical of suspending moral intuition and considerations of the real world. ... This is a movement in which promising young people are talked out of pursuing government jobs and talked into lucrative private sector jobs because of the importance of 'earning to give.'"
Nuclear power is generated in 32 countries. This geo-graphic from Statista shows the number of nuclear power plants in a sampling of these countries along with the average age of the plants: www.statista.com/chart/28805/mean-age-of-nuclear-reactor-fleets-in-selected-countries
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