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Geometry and politics

November 15, 2018

There is a straightforward reason that North Ireland has been the stumbling block to Brexit. If the UK is to have its own customs arrangement independent of the EU’s, then North Ireland gets a new customs border, either the land border between it and Ireland, or at the Irish sea, between it and the rest of the UK. That is almost a geometrical certainty, all the political entities concerned having exclusive territories that are the finite union of compact, connected subsets of the surface of the sphere. And customs areas likewise.

If Dominic Raab thinks that May’s plan is “a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom,” wait until he sees the consequences of a hard Brexit. It took some people a year to learn geometry. They still are not fully accepting that Brexit means that North Ireland has to choose between sticking with the Queen and sticking with the rest of Ireland. Which will they want more? Let’s hope they can resolve that question peacefully.

Theresa May didn’t want to face that geometric fact, and spent a year pretending there was some political route around it. You cannot wish away the math.

Update: David Frum points out Trump’s role in this mess.

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Sex and science and promiscuity

November 14, 2018

Most bad-mouthing of the millennials is no more than the trite complaints made about every new generation by those from generations past, especially by those who simply haven’t adapted to new times. But I worry a bit when I read that young adults are not having sex. Come, my millennial friends, what is wrong with fuck?

Betsy Mason writes a cute summary on the fuzziness in how scientists label animals promiscuous. Those my age learned the rule as undergrads: someone is promiscuous when they are having more sex than you. Like those uninhibited bonobos shown. Shown for the sake of my millennial friends who perhaps need example.

I would be more worried about millennials allegedly falling behind on that if I were more confident of that data. I’m a bit leery that scientists are much better at measuring the sex lives of people than they are of birds. What they likely are seeing, if anything, is just a shift in pattern of the sort that often occurs with this kind of social data. It always looks dire when it first shows up in the young, from all sorts of extrapolations for their entire future, not yet known and measured, and amplified from failing to see other changes in pattern that might make that one seem less worrisome. Despite the ribbing of my millennial friends, I am not yet panicked that they have given up on sex.

Maybe scientists will be more free to explore sticky topics if they could publish academic papers under pseudonym? Some academics are proposing a new, peer-reviewed journal for that. I suspect they will find that the social inhibitions it will skirt are not necessarily the political ones they expect. Still, it is a good idea. It will be interesting to see the results.

Are perjury traps real?

November 13, 2018

There is a technical notion of a perjury trap, in which a prosecutor calls a grand jury witness not suspected of other crime, with the expectation that they will commit perjury, in an abuse of process. Even that notion is questionable:

There are no federal cases granting a motion to dismiss because of a perjury trap.

The misusage now is the notion that a clever attorney can trick someone into making an intentional and material lie. Which is nonsense. Normal people have no trouble simply telling the truth, even under intense and adversarial questioning. Hillary Clinton was not worried about a perjury trap when she testified about Benghazi before Congress for eleven hours.

Those who worry about so-called perjury traps are those who cannot stop themselves from lying, those who have large crimes to conceal, and their supporters. The “trap” there is simply having to testify under oath while criminally and deceitfully inclined.

Hold your breath

November 12, 2018

Metabolism is central to any animal’s lifestyle and range of behavior. The Bajau, the sea nomads of southeast Asia, carry a genetic adaptation that gives them a larger spleen, enabling their breathtakingly long dives. There are at least three different adaptations in populations living at high altitudes, the Tibetans having larger lungs, the Andeans higher concentrations of hemoglobin, and Ethiopian highlanders having their own mutations related to blood (cite). That isn’t surprising, when we observe the wide range of metabolic paths of vertebrates.

The Bajau are unlikely to continue their traditional ways too much longer. And in the Amazon, tribes living from nature more directly face increased risk to their home and ways, given Bolsonaro’s alliance with the mining and logging companies in Brazil.

Around the world

November 8, 2018

Vietnam is experiencing a wave of economic growth. I wonder what they teach American school children today about the Vietnam War? “We lost, and the domino theory that justified it was proved wrong.”

Poland is struggling in its democratic endeavor. The populist party PiS unfortunately retains power. EU President Tusk, himself a former Polish prime minister, cautions that if Poland slips out the EU’s back door, there won’t be as many tears shed as over the UK’s exit.

It’s all too easy to imagine a variety of future paths for the EU.

Photo shows the Hereford mappa mundi.

I love NYC

November 7, 2018

So, too, does a wayward Mandarin duck.

Go! Vote!

November 6, 2018

Joshua Holland points out the very real uncertainty of what will happen today. As does Nate Silver. Polls and models are like point spreads before a football game: informative, but far from determinative.

Go. Vote.

The world is watching.

Go. Vote.

Especially if you are young: go, vote. Then text your friends and make sure they do the same. Never has the youth vote mattered so much.