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The Stamp that Almost Caused a War
In 1937, Nicaragua and Honduras almost went to war… over a stamp.
War is terrible, but the causes of war are sometimes laughably trivial. Central America seems to have a special knack for silly casus belli. In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras fought a four-day conflict popularly called the Football War, after the contested soccer games that lit the fuse of ongoing animosity between both countries. In 2010, Nicaragua and Costa Rica came within inches of fighting a war caused by Google Maps .
But it gets sillier: in 1937, Nicaragua and Honduras almost came to blows… over a stamp.
In August of that year, the Nicaraguan postal service released a new set of Air Mail stamps, centred on a map of Nicaragua. The map also showed part of Honduras, north of the border, in the same shading as Nicaragua proper. Altough the accepted border between both countries was also shown, the part of Honduras shaded as Nicaragua was labelled Territorio en Litigio (‘Territory in Dispute’).
The Honduran territory in question had indeed once been claimed by Nicaragua, but Honduras thought the matter had been settled in 1906, when an arbitration by Spain’s king Alfonso XIII had awarded it the area.
The roots of the problem lay in the chaotic genesis of the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. Central America’s baby steps after independence from Spain in 1821 were as a united, federal republic. After a few years, it turned out the centrifugal forces were too great, and the former Spanish provinces struck out on their own.
At that time, Honduras and Nicaragua agreed their common border should be determined by the principle of uti possidetis . Not an easy task, as it turned out - the border region had been thinly, and often unsuccessfully settled, making it difficult to ascertain how far the authority of the former Spanish provinces reached.
In 1894, the two neighbours agreed to the only logical course of action: a Mixed Boundary Commission, tasked with demarcating the border from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts. Compounding the difficulties of terrain and climate was the unfortunate coincidence that the (vaguely defined) border region lay across where the Central American isthmus is widest.
In 1900, the Commission produced its findings - establishing a border along straight lines, riverbeds and mountain ranges from the Pacific to a place called Portillo de Teotecacinte. Alas, this was only one third of the eastward distance to the Atlantic. The Commission wasn’t able to unmix its feelings about the remaining two thirds of the border.
Cue king Alfonso XIII of Spain, called in to dispense Solomonic justice  - a logical choice, as the former colonial power was both knowledgeable and disinterested in the conflict. Alfonso ruled on 23 December 1906 - providing Honduras with an early Christmas gift: the Rio Coco  was chosen as the eastern border with Nicaragua, all the way to its estuary at Cabo Gracias a Dios , depriving Nicaragua of a large chunk of disputed territory.
Although Nicaragua at first seemed to accept the Spanish king’s ruling, it later challenged its validity - thus creating an accident in waiting. That accident almost happened in 1937, with the issue of this stamp. Philately is a tried and tested means for countries to vent their irredentist feelings , and Nicaragua contributed its 10 centavos by surreptitiously reawakening its claim to the area north of the Rio Coco.
The Honduran reaction was particularly violent, and unforgiving. When the first airmail letters from Nicaragua bearing the offending stamp reached the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, riots erupted. Honduran police had to make great efforts to prevent an angry mob from storming the Nicaraguan Embassy . As Honduras demanded Nicaragua retract the stamps, both countries started sending troops to the disputed border region. It took mediation by the US, Mexico and Costa Rica for the threat of war to recede.
The conflict returned to its unresolved status quo until, in 1957, under the auspices of the Organization of American States, Honduras and Nicaragua again submitted their dispute to arbitration - this time to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. At the end of 1960, the ICJ reaffirmed Alfonso’s initial award - thus finding in favour of Honduras. Another Mixed Boundary Commission now finished the work of the first one, fixing the 573 miles of land border between both countries.
In the 1970s and especially the 1980s, both countries again teetered on the brink of war, this time over maritime borders - but that’s another story  …
Strange Maps #581
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 See this article of the Borderlines series.
 In full: uti possidetis, ita possideatis. Meaning: ‘As you possess, you shall continue to possess’. A method of settling territorial disputes by agreeing that each party hold on to the possessions currently under its control. Often used to justify conquest. The opposite principle is status quo ante, restoring the border to the ‘status before’ (hostilities).
 Foreign monarchs were often asked to arbitrate in border disputes. In the 1840s, the King of the Netherlands was asked determine the border between Maine and New Brunswick, then in dispute between the United States and Great Britain. See #106.
 At 465 miles, the longest river in Central America. A.k.a. the Segovia, Cape, Yara and Wanki River. For the entire text of Alfonso’s award, see here.
 So named by Columbus in 1502, who upon rounding it left a storm behind. He said: Gracias a Dios que al fin salimos de esas honduras. (‘Thanks to God we’re finally leaving these depths’); in the process not only naming the cape but also the future country.
 Also used in the past by Ecuador to bolster its claims on a large chunk of the Amazon basin. See here.
 The fragility of diplomatic immunity has sadly been proved again in recent days.
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.