Year: 2020

Conservatives Say They Hate Moral Relativism. Why Do They Use It To Defend Statues?

Statues are once again in the news — which means, for those of us who work in philosophical ethics, fresh examples of conservative inconsistency on what morality is and how it’s supposed to work. Here’s the inconsistency: The same conservatives who decry moral relativism as a depraved form of ethical thinking are often the first to embrace relativism in defending historical figures and institutions they like. Let’s bring into closer focus the issue of statues. Conservatives view moral relativism — a contemporary position in modern philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history — as morally and intellectually bankrupt. They think adopting this position leads to an unacceptably permissive public ethic, and to a degenerate society. Many of these same folks then turn around and apply the relativist framework in moral apologia for the actions of historical figures they like — e.g., Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, etc. (Or, if “like” is too strong, they are least figures whose monuments conservatives don’t want to see torn down.) How do they use it in defense of these figures? …

Postmodernists Against Free Speech

Those who complain about the current social and intellectual atmosphere in the academy are generally pretty sure of just one thing they’re for and just one thing they’re against: They’re for free speech, and they’re against postmodernism and critical theory. Now, it’s not always clear what is meant by those things, or why they should be natural opponents. But sometimes the inspiration, if not the underlying logic, shines through — as in the case of two recent books by two academics who could quite fairly be called postmodern theorists. One is Ulrich Baer’s What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus. The other is Stanley Fish’s The First: How to Think About Hate Speech, Campus Speech, Religious Speech, Fake News, Post-Truth, and Donald Trump. (That sure is a lot of topics to tell us “how to think” about!) Baer’s What Snowflakes Get Right seems to have been hastily assembled based on a single article (of the same title and in The New York Times’ so-called “philosophy” section, The Stone) that inspired some agent or publisher to tell Baer that a book …

Expanding the Frontier of Verifiable Knowledge in Computer Science

Imagine someone came along and told you that they had an oracle, and that this oracle could reveal the deep secrets of the universe. While you might be intrigued, you’d have a hard time trusting it. You’d want some way to verify that what the oracle told you was true. This is the crux of one of the central problems in computer science. Some problems are too hard to solve in any reasonable amount of time. But their solutions are easy to check. Given that, computer scientists want to know: How complicated can a problem be while still having a solution that can be verified? Turns out, the answer is: Almost unimaginably complicated. In a paper released in April, two computer scientists dramatically increased the number of problems that fall into the hard-to-solve-but-easy-to-verify category. They describe a method that makes it possible to check answers to problems of almost incomprehensible complexity. “It seems insane,” said Thomas Vidick, a computer scientist at the California Institute of Technology who wasn’t involved in the new work. The research …

Explaining : What is the deadly 2020 India-China border dispute about?

What has happened? At least 20 people have died in clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border running along the Ladakh area of Kashmir. It is the first fatal clash since 1975 and the most serious since 1967. Fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol came across Chinese forces on a narrow ridge. During the confrontation an Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell into the river gorge, sources told the Guardian. Hundreds of troops from both sides were called in and fought with rocks and clubs. Several fell to their deaths. Himalayan flashpoint could spiral out of control as India and China face off Read more The Indian Army said there were casualties on both sides, and confirmed three of its soldiers were killed during the clashes, with another 17 later succumbing to injuries. Beijing has refused to confirm any deaths on its side, but accused India of crossing the border twice and “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel”. The editor in chief of state-run the Global Times, …

Galwan Valley confrontation between China and India could spiral out of control as India and China face-off

The forces of two nuclear weapons states have set about each other with clubs and rocks at one of the most forbidding flashpoints in the world, in a bloody incident that highlights the constant dangers posed by expansionist nationalism. India has confirmed that it lost at least 20 of its men in a clash with Chinese soldiers near the disputed mountain border running along the Ladakh area of Kashmir. It is the first fatal confrontation since 1975 and the most serious since 1967, and so can be expected to have a powerful galvanising effect on the populations of both countries, already primed by a constant stream of nationalist rhetoric. There is a long history of such encounters ever since the two nations fought a short war there in 1962. After that conflict a Line of Actual Control (LAC) was declared, but there is no agreed line and limited control, as the events of recent weeks have confirmed. Thus far at least, both Indian and Chinese forces have stuck to an agreement not to carry firearms …

Soldiers fell to their deaths as India and China’s troops fought with rocks in Galwan Valley

The hand-to-hand combat lasted hours, on steep, jagged terrain, with iron bars, rocks and fists. Neither side carried guns. Most of the soldiers killed in the worst fighting between India and China in 60 years lost their footing or were knocked from the narrow Himalayan ridge, plunging to their deaths. India has reacted with shock and caution to the loss of at least 20 soldiers on its disputed border with China, with images of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, burned in Indian cities. In his first public comments on the dispute, prime minister Narendra Modi led a two-minute silence for the killed soldiers and said India would “defend every stone, every inch of its territory.” “I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans [troops] will not be in vain,” said Modi, speaking at a televised meeting of India’s chief ministers. “For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important.” A day after reports of the “violent face-off” in the western Himalayas emerged, Indian news outlets began …

India accuses China of preparing attack on border troops

India has accused Chinese troops of meticulously preparing an attack on its soldiers on the treacherous Himalayan border, claiming they erected a tent on the Indian side, dammed a river, brought in machinery and then lay in wait with stones and batons wrapped in barbed wire. The incident on Monday night, in which 20 Indian soldiers died and 76 were injured, was the worst violence between India and China for 45 years. China has not said whether it sustained any casualties. Ten Indian soldiers who were reportedly captured by Chinese troops during the attack were back in India on Thursday night. China said it had not seized any Indian personnel. Both sides continue to blame the other for the clash. China is now claiming sovereignty over the Galwan valley in Ladakh, where the attack happened, and has accused Indian troops of three times crossing into its territory. “The responsibility entirely lies with Indian side,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs. India accused China of carrying out a “premeditated and …

India cautions China against ‘exaggerated and flawed claims’ in border standoff – June 2020

India on Thursday cautioned China against making “exaggerated and untenable claims” to the Galvan valley area even as both nations tried to end a standoff in the high Himalayan region after their armies engaged in a deadly clash. Twenty Indian troops were killed in the clash on Monday night that was the deadliest conflict between the sides in 45 years. China has not disclosed whether its forces suffered any casualties. Himalayan flashpoint could spiral out of control as India and China face off Read more Responding to China’s claim to the valley, India’s external affairs ministry spokesman, Anurag Srivastava, said both sides had agreed to handle the situation responsibly. “Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding,” he said in a statement. Both sides have accused each other of instigating the clash between their forces in the valley, part of the disputed Ladakh region along the Himalayan frontier. Media reports said senior army officers of the two sides met on Wednesday to defuse the situation, but there was no confirmation from either side. …

Building a Resilient Tomorrow

This book examines ways that communities can reduce, absorb, and recover from climate change impacts. It offers behind-the-scenes stories from the authors’ experiences working at the highest levels of the U.S. government. It also presents real-world analysis of what is and isn’t likely to work in the policymaking realm as well as concrete, actionable policy recommendations. Drawing on international and national examples and stories, the book offers an interdisciplinary narrative covering a range of climate resilience solutions. The book examines systems that can drive resilience including the rules and practices that govern how and where we build, the courts, and the financial system. Turning to the tools that leaders in business and government can deploy to build resilience, it delves into money, climate data and information, and improved approaches to decision-making. The hardest challenges that climate change will hurl at us—emerging threats to human health, increasing economic and social inequality, unprecedented levels of migration, and increased risks to geopolitical stability and national security—present lessons to better prepare for associated risks and to strengthen climate resilience. …

Sleep Deprivation Kills

Inside a series of tubes in a bright, warm room at Harvard Medical School, hundreds of fruit flies are staying up late. It has been days since any of them have slept: The constant vibrations that shake their homes preclude rest, cling as they might to the caps of the tubes for respite. Not too far away in their own tubes live other sleepless flies, animated with the calm persistence of those consigned to eternal day. A genetic tweak to certain neurons in their brains keeps them awake for as long as they live. They do not live long. The shaken flies and the engineered flies both die swiftly — in fact, the engineered ones survive only half as long as well-rested controls. After days of sleeplessness, the flies’ numbers tumble, then crash. The tubes empty out. The lights shine on. We all know that we need sleep to be at our best. But profound sleep loss has more serious and immediate effects: Animals completely deprived of sleep die. Yet scientists have found it oddly …