Promoting World Affairs

Weekend Round-Up – 08/09/2017

In Weekend Round-Up on September 8, 2017 at 11:51 am

With yet another hurricane waging war on the Caribbean, here’s your round-up for this weekend.

I’ve never been to Australia or New Zealand but I sure met a lot of those people traveling through Europe and other places and they’re crazy. So I wasn’t surprised when I read that a guy in New Zealand sold his car while drunk off his ass just to buy more beer. Forgot he did that and then called the cops when he couldn’t find his car.

A Tinder date went a bit weird when a lady used the bathroom and couldn’t flush her shit down the toilet. Solution? Throw it out the damn window. Problem was she got trapped somehow and the firemen had to come and get her out. She was a good sport though because they started a kickstart campaign to fund the damages and proceeds go to countries where there aren’t any toilets.

When Hurricane Harvey happened we linked a story that alligators could get loose. Well someone put a bunch of sharks in some guy’s basement pool in New York. This is either a funny prank or someone really really hates this guy.

You remember when you were a kid and you pretended to be King Arthur after seeing the movie? Perhaps you went around trying to actually find the sword, pull it out of a stone and become king. Or maybe you saw the movie where he pulls the sword out of a lake and when you were at camp or cub scouts of wherever you happened to be doing at the time to be at a lake you went on a mad, crazy sword hunt? Well this actually happened to a lucky little girl who was actually visiting the lake where King Arthur was reportedly to have actually done this. It wasn’t the actual sword and she didn’t become queen but cool stuff like this never happened for realzz during my childhood.

After two straight weeks of interesting Dutch news, the streak has sadly come to an end. There aren’t any interesting local news to report. It looks like the safe Dutch bubble finally realigned itself to become boring and uninteresting again. I suppose the only interesting thing is that there is an Anouk concert tonight and a lot of people don’t want to go.



Understanding Galaxies Far, Far Away

In Education, Science, The United States on September 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

The 40th anniversary of the Voyager launch was yesterday and the day before that Elon Musk predicted World War III. Because we only post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I thought I would use Wednesday’s post to talk about science, or more specifically science education in the US.

I am a huge huge fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. I listen to all of the StarTalk podcasts, read his books, watched all the Cosmos episodes on Netflix and of course I follow him on Twitter (and his Tweets are great). He was recently on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and the interview was, as usual, fantastic.

Science education hits a sore spot with me. I went to a rural high school and our science program was terrible. Our science teachers were terrible. The science curriculum was terrible. I was fascinated by planets, galaxies, black holes and anything to do with outer space since I was a little kid and my high school and those terrible teachers ruined it all. In fact I was almost tempted to get into contact with some old classmates just to get his name and put it on here for all to see but decided against it. How terrible was it? For example my ‘chemistry’ class was us sitting in a classroom for an hour, looking at formulas. He would do zero teaching, pass out the required examinations, and encouraged those who didn’t ‘get it’ to find someone else who did and just copy off them. He encouraged us to cheat, facilitated it, and we learnt nothing. Oh and he was also the Physics teacher.

And it wasn’t until around 14 years later after reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything that I remembered that I loved science.

Ok rant over.

Neil deGrasse Tyson recently stated that science illiteracy in the U.S. is a serious threat. Of the 40 most advanced countries, the US is actually number 38 when it comes to students graduating with majors in science, or STEM degrees (BUT we’re ahead of the Netherlands!). If you compare education systems around the world and test skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, you’ll see that the US is only slightly above average of the OECD average or even below average when it comes to Math. And though this is using only one test, there are countless others that are used and the results are the same. The US is behind other countries when it comes to STEM education and the trend is not improving.

So why is this happening? Especially when the US is still considered the most innovative country in the world, producing countless numbers of innovative products in Silicon Valley, hosts many of the top engineering schools, and leads the world in scientific research?

There are many reasons for this.

One reason many point to is that STEM has a branding problem. Kids are not excited enough about STEM majors, we still have a culture of calling those who are geeks and nerds and some have argued that schools are not teaching enough science in a creative enough way in elementary school. Students are simply losing interest in STEM when they reach high school and should they hold their interest when they get to college, out of the 40% of declared majors being STEM by college freshman only 16% actually receive a degree in that field.

Another reason is that there is a growing opinion gap between what the public believes to be true and what scientists believe to be true.  Only 1/3 of Americans believe evolution is a myth, and many outspoken leaders in US politics believe that a snowball is proof that climate change isn’t real and vaccines cause autism.

A more telling and perhaps controversial reason is simply the influence that local populations have in dictating curricula in science classes. For example, Florida’s legislature recently approved a bill that would allow residents to question what educators teach students. Idaho removed references to climate change from state’s science standards and in Alabama and Indiana, resolutions were passed to support teachers who include different views on evolution and human cloning. As of May 2017, eleven bills have been proposed that are designed to alter science-education standards in the US.  In short, parents and local communities are trying to influence the curriculum that students have in high school, and it’s not surprising that this is predominate in areas with more conservative and religious demographics.

Look, the US is a big place with a lot of different views on what is fact and what is fiction. The organization of elementary and secondary education has been a topic of debate for a long time and educators, politicians, and the general public generally agree that is has to be improved. The worry for me, as someone currently working in education, is allowing an environment where communities that have little to no academic, practical, or scientific educational experience or knowledge dictate what should and should not be taught on a wide scale. If the US wants to keep its status as dominating in scientific research, education and attracting highly skilled, highly intellectual people and education it needs to fix this problem.

Because I started with Neil deGrasse Tyson I will end with him speaking to Trevor Noah about the benefits of having a cosmic perspective.

Nuke ’em! (But please don’t)

In China, Foreign Policy, North Korea, The United States on September 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Either my hangover was really bad over the weekend or the constant sabre-rattling between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un was really that loud to pierce the inside of my temples and give me a headache.

Donald Trump likes to tweet and he makes it well known how he feels about North Korea and what he would do. He’s used such rhetoric as raining “fire and fury” on North Korea and saying that the US is locked and loaded. Kim Jong Un decided to respond on Sunday by hitting a personal milestone for his country. The most powerful nuclear detonation the nation has achieved so far.

So today we have military drills by South Korea simulating a North Korean attack, Donald Trump criticizing South Korea’s strategy, and a claim by North Korea that they now have the ability to make their nuclear weapon small enough to put it on an ICBM.

Sounds pretty scary right? That’s because it is.

There are two lines of thought, or strategies, in dealing with North Korea.

The first one, which is currently the status quo, is a mix of sanctions, multilateral talks, and negotiations usually led by North Korea’s closest ally, China. This has been going on for a while now and it has pretty much worked because North Korea hasn’t nuked anyone. There have been many starts and stops over the years but it has been pretty stable.

That started to recently change with the continued imprisonment of Americans visiting North Korea, the most recent and disturbing being Otto Warmbier who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labor, fell into a coma shortly thereafter, was finally released to the United States and then died. The family refused an autopsy and there hasn’t been any confirmation on how he died.

The second one, which has been floating around out there for quite some time, is that North Korea is on the verge of collapse and by confronting them and forcing them to respond by holding military drills, missile tests, and ramping up its nuclear program, it will only accelerate the inevitable. Think of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. So it’s not a surprise that you are hearing a lot of hard talk. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, believes that further talks will only make it worse and actually suggested that the only way to solve this thing is for the south to take it over. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis also used the threat of ‘total annihilation’ of North Korea. Or in short, the only solution is to hit it fast and hit it hard. Basically nuke the hell out of them.

So who is right and who is wrong?

The scary thing is that we have no idea. North Korea is secretive and it’s hard to judge what is actually happening. Though sometimes they let us know, albeit unintentionally (I didn’t know Yahoo! sports covered foreign policy). The belief that it is on the verge of collapsing is based on the assumption that its communist based economy is not working and corruption on a massive scale by government officials is jeopardizing any growth that it could possible obtain. And this may not be entirely true.

Also if there were a military option on the table, and President Trump did say that all options are on the table, the strike would have to be very very big. And even then it may not be able to completely eliminate all of Kim’s short-range missiles.

And then there’s China.

Many have stated the only reason North Korea hasn’t collapsed is because of the economic support China provides. At least two-thirds of North Korea’s trade is with China after all. Therefore China has decided to link itself to North Korea and one cannot really discuss one without mentioning the other. China has positioned itself to be a superpower and is also quite sensitive on how it’s perceived in the international relations arena. And Beijing is indeed losing its patience when it comes to North Korea because it does have legitimate concerns on what could happen should North Korea collapse, including the possible tidal wave of refugees to China.

I do agree somewhat that direct confrontation with North Korea would probably accelerate its collapse. But should this be the end goal or is the end goal forcing North Korea to discontinue its nuclear program and stop launching missiles? If it’s the latter then direct nuclear confrontation is probably not the way to go because as mentioned above, it wouldn’t work 100%. Whether President Trump likes it or not he must work with China and China is and remains the key to this situation. After all it’s still North Korea’s most important ally, which makes this whole thing interesting from an international relations perspective especially because it’s still building islands in the Pacific, pissing off South Korea, Japan and the Philippines.

I would personally conclude that China is losing in this situation and it will be forced to change its policy toward North Korea regardless. And nuclear weapons wouldn’t help. More sanctions possibly. But definitely not more angry tweets. So perhaps stop tweeting? I don’t want our inevitable nuclear destruction to be caused by an angry white guy’s offending tweets. Especially since twitter is probably banned in North Korea. Which does bring a bit of irony in this situation.