Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 17, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! and Other Assorted Links

1. At 3 Quarks Daily, Liam Heneghan has some thoughts on the absence of snakes in Ireland — among other critters:

Snakes, however, are not the only species that can be found in Britain or continental Europe while being entirely absent from Ireland. Moles, several species of bats, many bird species, including the Tawny Owl, several titmouse species, and woodpeckers, innumerable insects species, many plants, and so on, might be added to the roster of St Patrick bio-vandalism. Of course, biogeographers have long known that the impoverished nature of the Irish biota is attributable to a number of factors unrelated to St Patrick.

Firstly, Ireland is a relatively small island with an area of 84,421 km² compared to Great Britain which is almost three times the size (229,848 km²). The European land area is considerable larger still being over one hundred times that of Ireland’s (at 10.18 million km²). Now, one of ecology’s more robust laws posits a relationship between area and species diversity. The more land, the more species. A consideration of the relatively restricted latitudinal range of Ireland in comparison to Europe intuitively suggests why Ireland must have fewer species. For example, since Ireland does not have a considerable southern stretch it has no Mediterranean zone, though it does have an enigmatic “Lusitanian flora” found disjunctly in Ireland and in North Spain and Portugal. …

Secondly, the present day biota of Ireland was assembled largely after the the glaciers of the Last Ice Age retreated. Although there may be some relicts of those formerly icy time, for example the Irish Arctic char, an apparently delicious trout-like fish, which is found in some Irish upland lakes, most Irish wildlife migrated there over the past several thousands of years.

Important to understanding these post-glacial migratory patterns is knowledge of the timing of the closing of putative land-bridges connecting Ireland and Great Britain, and Great Britain and the European mainland. Ireland was separated from a source of biotic colonists early in its post-glacial history, whereas Britain retained these connections until some time later. Naturally, species that flap, float or swim could make their way over to Ireland in their own sweet time. But snakes and other creeping things were quite simply out of luck.

Interesting throughout. Please do read the whole thing.

Some other links:

2. “When you order kangaroo tail, you get a heap of meat” — Steve Saideman shares some impressions of Australia from a recent trip.

3. Tyler Cowen: “Crimea through a game theory lens.”

4. William Spaniel: “Ukraine Was a Nuclear Power. Just Like Nebraska Is.”

5. Mark Kleiman: “Both sides agree that it would be rude to compare what Putin just did in the Crimea to what Hitler did in the Sudetenland: not actully false, you see, just impolite. And since people who are impolite to Col. Putin have way of encountering dioxin or polonium-210, I suppose they are right to urge caution.”

6. Regarding Godwin’s Law: “By pretending the Nazis were so evil that NO comparison to them, however apt, is reasonable, we essentially say that Nazism was some sort of fluke that could never happen again…and that, sadly, is completely untrue.”

7. Scott Lemieux has some thoughts on electoral reforms in the US (“Instant Runoff Yay, PR Nay”):

I certainly support instant runoff voting or a similar procedure that would prevent irrational results in multy-party races. This isn’t usually a major problem in American politics because of Duverger’s law (which is actually merely a strong tendency), but it’s a potential problem it’s worth correcting for. Remember that there’s no reason to believe that instant runoff would produce better results from a normative standpoint — a popular vote with instant runoff almost certainly gives us President Al Gore, but it also almost certainly gives us President Stephen Douglas — but there’s no reason to have an electoral system open to producing such irrational results.

Also: “I also don’t agree that more parties would benefit politics by “getting more ideas” injected into the political system. The decentralized American system generates a surfeit of political ideas for great to awful. The problem isn’t the production of ideas. The problem is getting them implemented by sclerotic American political institutions, particularly if they’re unfavorable to powerful interests. PR would, if anything, exacerbate this problem rather addressing it.”

8. A website identifying which Democrats progressives should primary (using primary as a transitive verb, not as a noun — which is fine). Each Democrat in Congress receives a grade (which, I gather, incorporates the risk of a state or district changing parties): “Good Democrat” — “Should be more Progressive” — “Could Be Primaried” — “Should Be Primaried” — “Must Be Primaried.” (Map features appear to work in Chrome but not in Firefox at the moment.) (H/T: Erik Loomis.)

9. Xavier Marquez: “The Varieties of Electoral Experience” (mainly discussing “elections” in North Korea and the Soviet Union).

10. The House of the Tennessee General Assembly has passed a resolution expressing regret for the 1830 Indian Removal Act (which was, in fact, an Act of Congress, not the Tennessee legislature — although plenty of Tennessee politicians supported it, not least including Tennessean Andrew Jackson).

For some reason (perhaps it is that today is another popular saint’s day), I am reminded of lines from the Epilogue of George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan:

CHARLES. The sentence on you is broken, annihilated, annulled: null, non-existent, without value or effect.

JOAN. I was burned, all the same. Can they unburn me?

CHARLES. If they could, they would think twice before they did it.

11. Tony Benn, the British Labour politician, has passed away. Here is a Guardian obituary. (H/T: Harry Brighouse.)

It was largely for Benn’s benefit (and thanks to his advocacy) that Parliament passed the Peerage Act 1963, which allowed Benn and other hereditary heirs to disclaim their peerages. (Tony Benn had been a Member of the House of Commons when his father died in 1960, and by inheriting the Viscounty of Stansgate the younger Benn immediately lost his seat in the Commons.)

12. “Ranking the New Doctor Who Companions.” I disagree rather strongly with this ranking, but cannot at this time go into a detailed rebuttal or explanation of my own ranking. Clara Oswald is my favorite of the modern companions — even though I preferred David Tennant to Matt Smith as the Doctor (as all right-thinking people do), and Clara is never paired with Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. After Clara, my next favorite companion is almost certainly Rose Tyler, probably followed by Amy Pond and then by Rory Williams. I can’t say I ever really warmed to Donna Noble. (Does River Song really count as a companion in Doctor Who terminology?)

13. House of Geekery: “13 Terrible X-Men We Won’t See in the Movies.”

14. This xkcd comic got me thinking about which countries have the most time zones. Fortunately, of course, Wikipedia has a list covering that inquiry.

I was shocked to see that France — France! — has the most time zones of any country (12), ahead of the United States (11). (The juvenile in me wants to annex Clipperton Island or sponsor an independence movement for New Caledonia just to knock France down a peg in the time-zone-possessing rankings.)

Russia, of course, has the most territorially contiguous time zones (8). Kamchatka is eight hours ahead of Moscow. Russia has one other time zone (for a total of 9), but the Kaliningrad Oblast (one hour behind Moscow) is not contiguous to the rest of Russia. (At least, not at the moment — maybe next week Putin will decide to annex Lithuania and northern Belarus — to protect the Russian citizens living there, to be sure.)

Canada has 6 time zones.

Small overseas island possessions mean that several countries have multiple time zones: the UK (9), Denmark (5), New Zealand (5).

Portugal and Spain each have a second time zone for their Atlantic archipelagos (the Azores and the Canaries, respectively). Ecuador has a separate time zone for the Galapagos Islands, and Chile has a separate time zone for Easter Island.

As best I can tell, the smallest country with at least 2 contiguous time zones is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which is not a small country, just the smallest fitting this criterion). Mongolia and Kazakhstan both have 2 time zones.

China has only 1 time zone, even though the Sun may rise in Beijing four hours before sunrise in parts of western Sinkiang and Tibet.

Anyway, I learned that one interesting consequence of the Arab Spring is that Libya changed its time zone. Cool.

Image Credit: Photo by Michael Righi, March 2006, and used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. Source: Flickr.


  1. HAHAHA!!! I LOVE this dog!!!

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