Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Map provides first glimpse of post-apocalypse states
Across the land, state-driven pacts, partnerships, councils and task forces replace a coordinated federal response.
- Responding to the corona crisis, U.S. governors are banding together in regional clubs.
- While some states are coordinating with more than one group, other states haven't joined any yet.
- The phenomenon may not be a sign of the impending apocalypse, but it does indicate that something obvious is missing: a coordinated federal response.
A peek behind the curtain
Is it really such a big leap from New Normal to Mad Max?
Image: Massden, CC BY 3.0
What comes after the United States? If you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, you know the answer: successor countries with exotic names, weird flags, and strange customs.
- In "The Hunger Games," there are the twelve districts of Panem – North America reduced due to rising sea levels – which owe tribute to the Capitol, tucked away in the Rocky Mountains.
- "The Handmaid's Tale" is set in the Republic of Gilead, a fundamentalist dystopia that has replaced the United States.
- Stephen King's "The Stand" has good and evil survivors of a global pandemic coalesce around Mother Abagail in Boulder and Randall Flagg in Las Vegas, respectively.
It looks like the current pandemic is providing us with a peek behind the curtain of the post-apocalypse, with individual states banding together to respond to the ongoing crisis.
On April 13, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington announced that they would be coordinating their response to the coronavirus, in particular with regard to protecting senior citizens and other vulnerable groups, procuring protective gear for hospital staff, minimizing the impact of the emergency on living standards and healthcare provision, and rolling back the lockdown if and when appropriate.
On April 27, Nevada and Colorado joined this 'Western State Pact'. Short of joining the pact, Hawaii has announced that it will be coordinating with the group.
Furthermore, Washington state will be coordinating with its Canadian neighbor, the province of British Columbia, about border reopening; and the state has also indicated that Idaho may be invited to join the pact.
Names are important
Councils, partnerships and more.
Image: Alfred Twa, reproduced with kind permission.
Also on April 13, on the other side of the country, New York and other northeastern states inaugurated the Regional Advisory Council. With an appellation this ominously abstract, it is our favorite candidate for post-apocalyptic prominence.
Encompassing New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, the RAC is working on a coordinated reopening plan.
RAC member Massachusetts is shown in two colors, as it is also coordinating its efforts with three other northeastern states: Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Vermont is striped in the same two colors, because it is thinking about joining the RAC.
Unless Maine and Vermont come up with a zippy name for their club, they're going to be swallowed up wholesale by the group headed by President – sorry, Governor – Cuomo.
Because yes, names are important. Take 'Midwest Partnership', for instance: it exudes the level-headed pragmatism for which the region likes to be known. But not everybody's equally pragmatic, it appears: while Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky banded together under the Midwestern banner, four other states were offered a seat at the table but declined, i.e. North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri.
Those four states, plus Nebraska, Kansas, and Arkansas, are working together as the Missouri River States. That doesn't seem like the most solid bloc of the bunch, though. A lot of members are hedging their bets. North Dakota is in a mutual-aid pact with Montana, while Kansas is also coordinating with Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico. On a lower level, Missouri counties along the Mississippi are working with their counterparts on the other bank of the river, in Illinois.
A logical fit
Last one wins or last one loses?
Image: Alfred Twa, reproduced with kind permission.
And Arkansas is one of the 16 states participating in the Higher Education Recovery Task Force. Set up by the Southern Regional Education Board, the HERTF brings together higher education leaders from its member states to address the challenges facing colleges, universities, and students during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.
Out west the situation is complicated by the considerable overlap between the aforementioned coordination effort uniting Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, and another coordination effort that brings together the latter two states, plus Arizona and the Navajo Nation, but not the other states. Why not just merge both and call it Four Corners Plus?
Back east, filling up the rest of the seaboard are two nameless collectives, one bringing together Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and North Carolina; the other prospectively roping in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
A few states are still unsure whether they're playing a last-one-wins or a last-one-loses game. Apart from Idaho, five other states – Alaska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas – are still completely without any association. The latter three seem a logical fit for a club of their own.
An "extraordinary step"
A map of the Untied States of America.
Image: Alfred Twa, reproduced with kind permission.
Several lower-level governments aren't waiting for the states – or the federal government, for that matter – and have started their own thing: a number of counties in Texas, as well as Tennessee's major metro areas, and four counties in southern Florida.
The latter will coordinate the phased re-opening of outdoor spaces, retail, and hotels, under the label 'New Normal Initiative'. Another top-notch post-apocalyptic name. It's not that hard to imagine them battling the Regional Advisory Council for the last of the country's dwindling strategic Twinkie reserve.
A caveat: this map is a few days old, and the situation it describes may have changed in the mean time. And another one: of course, states banding together to respond to a national emergency is not one of the warning signs of the apocalypse. It's an indication that something obvious is lacking: a coordinated federal response.
Or, as Andy Borowitz noted sardonically in The New Yorker: "In order to better coördinate their efforts to combat the coronavirus, the nation's governors are considering the extraordinary step of forming a country."
Strange Maps #1026
Map produced by Alfred Twa, reproduced with kind permission.Check out his twitter here.
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- COVID-19 could lead to an epidemic of clinical depression, and the ... ›
- The sad history of U.S government fighting pandemics - Big Think ›
- The internet's top 12 coronavirus-related questions - Big Think ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.