Monday, May 31, 2010

Burston on Israel: A Special Place in Hell

Bradley Burston, Haaretz: We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second... Here, in Israel, we have still yet to learn the lesson: We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege...

We explain, time and again, that we are not at war with the people of Gaza. We say it time and again because we ourselves need to believe it, and because, deep down, we do not... We, unable to see ourselves in any clarity, are no longer capable of stopping ourselves.

Rebranding Israel as a state headed for fascism
Bradley Burston, Haaretz: No one knows fascism better than Israelis. They are schooled, drilled in the history, the mechanics, the horrendous potential of fascist regimes. Israelis know fascism when they see it. In others... It would take denial, inertia, selective memory, a sense that things -- bad as they are -- can go on like this indefinitely, for fascism to be able to gain its foothold in a country founded in its very blood trail...

Wrote Boaz Okun, the legal commentator and a retired Israeli judge, 'I'm not speaking of the stupidity of supplying ammunition to those who claim that Israel is fascist... rather, of our fear that we may actually be turning that way.'

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents.
Image source here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bush: Telling the truth, for once

Bush: War Boosts the U.S. Economy
Huffington Post: President George W. Bush argued in 2004 that the best way to grow the U.S. economy was by waging war, according to former Argentine Prime Minister Néstor Kirchner. Kirchner, in a meeting with Bush, suggested that the United States replicate the successful nation-building strategy it implemented at the end of World War II.

'And he stood up from his chair and got angry. He told me, 'A Marshall plan! No! That's a crazy idea from the Democrats. What needs to be done here, and the best way to revitalize the economy is -- the United States has grown based on wars,' he told me. That's what he gold me, Kirchner recounted. Bush added, said Kirchner, that 'all the economic growth that the U.S. had had, had been based on the different wars it had waged.'

The former Argentine leader, whose wife now heads the country, made the comments in an interview with Oliver Stone for his documentary South of the Border. The film is co-written by Tariq Ali, a British intellectual, and Mark Weisbrot of the Washingon, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research...

The charge startled even Oliver Stone. 'War? He said that?' Stone asked Kirchner, who was among a wave of progressive leaders elected in Latin America over the last decade. 'He said that, word for word,' Kirchner assured Stone... If Kirchner is accurately relaying the comments, that would make Bush the highest-ranking public official to state outright that war is and has been good for the American economy.

Robert D. Hare: In my book, Without Conscience, I argued that we live in a 'camouflage society,' a society in which some psychopathic traits -- egocentricity, lack of concern for others, superficiality, style over substance, being 'cool,' manipulativeness, and so forth -- increasingly are tolerated and even valued... Psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of business, politics, law enforcement, government, academia and other social structures. It is the egocentric, cold-blooded and remorseless psychopaths who blend into all aspects of society and have such devastating impacts on people around them.
Image source here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Most Hollywood films don't pass

The Bechdel Test
SlashFilm: Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test? The term/concept comes from a 1985 edition of Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For entitled 'The Rule.' The test points out the systemic problem with a lack of female presence in Hollywood films, and you might be shocked to learn how many popular films don't 'pass' three simple rules:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

In a variant of the test, the two women must have names.

Here's a quick VIDEO that explains everything. Here's a website,, that rates films using the three rules. And here's the original comic strip:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Save the bees: support organic farmers

Beeline to Extinction
Naomi Starkman, San Francisco Chronicle: ...A 'keystone' species -- one that has a disproportionate effect on the environment relative to its biomass -- bees are our key to global food security and a critical part of the food chain. Flowering plants that produce our food depend on insects for pollination. There are other pollinators... but the honeybee is the most effective... Without honeybees, our diet would be mostly meatless, consisting of rice and cereals, and we would have no cotton for textiles. The entire ecosystem and the global food supply potentially rests on their wings.

Experts now believe bees are headed for extinction and are racing to pinpoint the culprit, increasingly blaming pesticide usage... Few organic beekeepers have reported bee losses, suggesting that natural and organic bee keeping methods may be the solution...

Time might be running out for the bees, but there are simple actions we can take to make a difference. First, support organic farmers who don't use pesticides and whose growing methods work in harmony with the natural life of bees... Don't use pesticides in your home garden, especially at mid-day when bees most likely forage for nectar. You can also plant good nectar sources such as red clover, foxglove, bee balm, and other native plants to encourage bees to pollinate your garden. Provide clean water; even a simple bowl of water is beneficial.

Buy local honey; it keeps small, diversified beekeepers in business, and beekeepers keep honeybees thriving. In addition, you can start keeping bees yourself. Backyard and other urban beekeeping can actively help bring back our bees. Finally, you can work to preserve more open cropland and rangeland. Let's use our political voices to support smart land use, the impact of which will not only result in cleaner water, soil, and air, but also just might help save the humble honeybee.
Image source here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Global warming = decline in food quality

Plant study dims silver lining to global warming
LA Times: Some biologists thought rising levels of carbon dioxide might stimulate plant growth, but a UC Davis study finds the greenhouse gas inhibits nitrate absorption. The finding carries significant implications for agriculture worldwide. Nitrates [are] nitrogen-based nutrients pulled from the soil that plants use to make enzymes and other essential proteins. Without those essential proteins, plant health -- and food quality -- may suffer...

Scientists had [also] previously thought that a rise in carbon dioxide levels -- 39% globally since 1800 -- would in the long run boost photosynthesis... But studies before the US Davis report showed that after an initial spike in sugar-making activity, photosynthesis appeared to level off, even if the carbon dioxide rate remained high... Other studies showed that after plants were exposed to excess carbon dioxide, their protein content also dropped...

The findings have significant implications for agriculture, biologists said. They suggest that, as global warming continues and carbon dioxide levels rise, food may become poorer in quality and nutrition, and farmers may have to worry about crops that could be more prone to pest infestation... Farmers will have to figure out how to fertilize their crops without poisoning them...

The study 'has some very important real-world implications,' said Harvard University plant physiologist Noel Michele Holbrook, who was not involved in the study. 'How do we think about the idea of breeding for more productive crops, and what sorts of attitudes for breeding are going to pay off in the long run? We're facing really important challenges in terms of food production and quality of food.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Demilitarizing Canada

Six pillars of a progressive Canadian foreign policy
Yves Engler, Briarpatch:

1. Immediately withdraw Canada from NATO. If there was ever any justification for this alliance 'to combat the Soviet menace,' two decades after the Cold War it no longer exists.

2. Re-evaluate the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Ottawa should begin to evaluate whether its numerous military arrangements with Washington, including NORAD, are necessary. As much as possible, Canada should de-link itself from a U.S. military apparatus responsible for untold human suffering.

3. Drastically reduce the size of the Canadian Armed Forces. Let's start with a 10 per cent reduction in the military budget each year for the next five years. A Rideau Institute study released in 2008 found that 52 per cent of Canadians want a reduction in military expenditures... The truth, unpalatable as it may be to some, is that there is only one nation on earth that could realistically invade Canada and that is the United States...

4. Proclaim that the Canadian Armed Forces will only be used abroad under a UN mandate supported by two-thirds of the 192-member General Assembly, not the Security Council. Numerous surveys show the vast majority of Canadians support real peacekeeping as the primary goal of our military.

5. Support elected governments and truly democratic movements. Support for democratic structures and movements must be real, not a cover for advancing Canada's financial and strategic interests abroad. This means strengthening the capacity of other governments to provide the same sorts of things we expect from our own: education, health care and other public services...

6. Funnel foreign aid to where it's needed most, not where Canadian investments are thickest. Aid should not be tied to buying Canadian commodities or be used as a subsidy to Canadian companies and investors...

Before we send aid to another country we should ask ourselves: is what we are paying for, and the manner in which we are doing it, something that we would want to see in Canada? We cannot allow ourselves to do things in the international arena that would draw a penalty on our home ice.

Subscribe to Briarpatch here.
Image source here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Help stop dirty oil pipeline to BC coast

Learning from the BP oil spill disaster
Stephanie Goodwin, Greenpeace: North America's largest pipeline company, Enbridge, is proposing to build a 1,170km pipeline that would carry dirty oil from the Alberta tar sands to the north coast of British Columbia, where over 200 oil tankers a year would ply through the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. These are the same waters that the B.C. ferry 'Queen of the North' sank in in just a few years ago...

In response to the recent disaster, Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said about bringing oil tankers to B.C.'s north coast: 'But can be promise there will never be an accident? No. Nobody can.'

These northern B.C. waters have never seen a crude oil tanker. If Enbridge is successful in their bid to build the proposed pipelines, the question won't be if a spill happens, it will be when and how big.

Coastal First Nations have declared that oil tankers carrying crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters. Three in four British Columbians want to legally ban crude oil tankers from our inside coastal waters. Keeping crude oil tankers off B.C.'s north coast was a scientific decision made in the public's best interest that has held up for over thirty years. The reasons for keeping crude oil tankers off the north coast have not changed.

Please support First Nations' declaration by telling Enbridge that their pipelines and oil tankers don't belong in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest.

Image source here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Haiti's farmers will destroy Monsanto seeds

Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds
Truthout: 'A new earthquake' is what peasant farmer Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto's seeds, and has called for a march to protest the corporation's presence in Haiti on June 4, World Environment Day...

Jean-Baptiste called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti 'a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds... and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.' Haitian social movements have been vocal in their opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)...

Monsanto's history has long drawn ire from environmentalists, health advocates and small farmers, going back to its production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war... Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half of the world's seeds... Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers of GMOs...

Via Campesina, the world's largest confederation of farmers, with member organizations in more than 60 countries, has called Monsanto one of the 'principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty for all peoples.'... As Monsanto and other multinationals control an ever larger share of land and agriculture, they force small farmers out of their land and jobs...

'Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture,' Jean-Baptiste said... 'We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the country has a right to define its own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth.'
Image: farmer Jonas Deronzil of Verrettes; source here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

CF chaplains at high risk for anxiety, depression

Canadian military chaplains suffering burnout, compassion fatigue at high rates
Canadian Press: Officials in the chaplaincy office link the elevated stress to the prolonged surge in operational tempo, staff shortages and the strain of tending to families of soldiers killed or injured overseas.

Lt.-Col. Sylvain Maurais, director of chaplaincy services, said... 'We are feeling the same stresses as the rest of the Canadian Forces population... 'The level of ministry that we are providing is quite complex. It's not at all what it used to be.'

The survey, conducted under two years ago but only now being acted upon, found that 52 percent of chaplains were at medium to high risk for anxiety or depressive disorders. That puts them at more than double the normal levels for other Forces members and higher than the civilian population...

Much of that is compounded by the ongoing mission in Afghanistan and the difficult tasks that fall to military padres, who serve six to nine month rotations overseas with troops in Kandahar, and are ministers to families at home... Chaplains have been heavily involved in providing care to next of kin after the death of a soldier, and working with troops to prepare mentally for deployments...

The review also stated that padres were dealing with an increase in domestic issues, particularly at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa were they reported growing concerns from family members about returning [CF] members.
Image source here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Charts of the day: The march of global warming

NASA: Easily the hottest April -- and hottest Jan-April -- in temperature record
Climate Progress: The record temperatures we're seeing now are especially impressive because we've been in 'the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.'... The overwhelming majority of recent warming went right where scientists had predicted -- into the oceans... There are no permanent weather stations in the Arctic Ocean, the place on Earth that has been warming fastest... Thus it is almost certainly the case that the planet has warmed up more this decade than NASA says.

The NASA-GISS data show that the past 12 months were the hottest 12-month period on record.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Green forestry deal from sea to sea

'World's biggest' forest protection deal for Canada
BBC News: Timber companies and environment groups have unveiled an agreement aimed at protecting two-thirds of Canada's vast forests from unsustainable logging... The total protected area is about twice the size of Germany, and equals the area of forest lost globally between 1990 and 2005.

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) brings together 21 companies and nine environmental groups... Throughout the protected lands -- which run right across the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts -- companies and environment groups are pledging to work together to implement 'world-leading forest management and harvesting practices.'... Both parties are looking now for backing and re-inforcement from governments... That means the national and provincial authorities, and First Nation governments of indigenous groups, some of which have already indicated their support.

Toronto Star: The forestry companies will stop all logging immediately on 75 million acres... The two sides will then spend three years working out which restrictions to impose on logging in the remaining 95 million acres. In return, as the agreement comes into force, the green groups will end international 'Do not buy' campaigns against Canadian lumber... Tuesday's deal includes forests in seven of Canada's 10 provinces...It covers an area of about 1.4 billion acres, stretching from Newfoundland and Labrador on the Atlantic to the Yukon in the far northwest. Only about 10 percent of the forest is currently protected.

Canadian Press: The area where logging will be stopped is equivalent to 290,000 square kilometres, approaching half the size of Manitoba. John Dunford, manager of forestry and sustainability at Kamloops, B.C.-based Tolko Industries, said market recognition was key to passing the agreement. 'We think we're going to be the preferred supplier for most major customers around the world with this new agreement,' he said... 'This agreement is a light of hope for a battered industry,' said David Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union. 'It is time now to make environmental leadership a value-added advantage for Canadian forest products.'

Financial Post: Having had enough of being blackballed, the Canadian forestry sector is making a bet on green... The industry has agreed to freeze all logging activity on expanses of the boreal forest, in total an area the size of Italy... 'The compromise was extensive,' said James Lopez, chief executive of Tembec Inc... 'We have to realize that not every acre of land and every tree is going to be accessible to process in our mills.'... But the upside of receiving endorsement from environmental groups will outweigh the costs... 'Don't underestimate the negative impact that the campaigns of the environmentalists have had on our companies.'

For a list of the parties of the agreement, both environmental organizations and forestry companies, go here (scroll down).
Image sources here and here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

US in Iraq: 'We were going to war regardless'

Ex-CIA Official Reveals New Details

The Invasion of Iraq
Truthout: ... By August 1, 2002 he was working on top-secret issues related to the administration's Iraq invasion plans. So secret was his new job, Kiriakou wrote in his book, [The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror] that he had to sign six separate 'secrecy agreements.'...

'Okay, here's the deal,' the CIA's unnamed director of Iraq operations told Kiriakou and Grenier. 'We're going to invade Iraq next spring. We're going to overthrow Saddam Hussein. We're going to establish the largest Air Force base in the world and we're going to transfer everybody from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. That way, al-Qaeda won't have that hanging over us, that we're polluting the land of the two holy cities.'

Kiriakou wrote that he and Grenier were stunned.

'We're going to invade Iraq?' Grenier asked the unnamed director of Iraq operations, Kiriakou wrote. Kiriakou added that Grenier had later told him that one of his bosses had briefed him 'on the executive branch's thinking a couple of months earlier,' meaning the war had been in the planning stages for some time, which supports similar claims made by other former Bush administration officials.

'It's a done deal, Bob.' the director said. 'The decision's already been made... the planning's competed, everything's in place.'

Kiriakou wrote that the Iraq director explained to him and Grenier that the ruse the Bush administration cooked up was 'rachet up the pressure on weapons of mass destruction... go to the United Nations toward the end of the year to make it look as if we wanted to ask the UN Secretary [sic] Council to authorize force. We expected Russian, Chinese, and French opposition... and we were prepared to go it alone.'

Kiriakou said he was told the public and Congressional debates surrounding the invasion of Iraq had no bearing on the administration's plans.

'We were going to war regardless of what the legislative branch of what the federal government chose to do,' he wrote. The CIA's role would be one of 'support... not a rerun of Afghanistan where [the agency] was running the show.'

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jim Denevan: Sand art

Jim Denevan makes temporary drawings on sand, earth and ice that are eventually erased by waves and weather.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Israel in Gaza: 'wanton destruction'

Israel's unlawful destruction of property during Operation Cast Lead
War in Context: Israel should investigate the unlawful destruction of civilian property during the 2009 Gaza hostilities and lift the blockade that hinders residents from rebuilding their homes, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released [May 13].

The 116 page report, 'I Lost Everything: Israel's Unlawful Destruction of Property in the Gaza Conflict' documents 12 separate cases during Operation Cast Lead in which Israeli forces extensively destroyed civilian property, including homes, factories, farms, and greenhouses, in areas under their control, without any lawful military purpose. Human Rights Watch's investigations, which relied upon physical evidence, satellite imagery, and multiple witness accounts at each site, found no indication of nearby fighting when the destruction occurred...

Israel's comprehensive blockade of the Gaza Strip, a form of collective punishment against civilians imposed in response to Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June 2007, has prevented significant reconstruction...

The report examines incidents of destruction that suggest violation of the laws-of-war prohibition of wanton destruction -- the term used to describe extensive destruction of civilian property not lawfully justified by military necessity. Such destruction would be a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Conventions on 1949, which is applicable in Gaza. Individuals responsible for committing or ordering such destruction should be prosecuted for war crimes...

Human Rights Watch documented the complete destruction of 189 buildings, including 11 factories, 8 warehouses and 170 residential buildings -- roughly 5 percent of the total property destroyed in Gaza... In the cases investigated... Israeli forces had destroyed virtually every home, factory and orchard within certain areas, indicating an apparent plan of systematic destruction.
Image source here.

Remembering the Nakba

This is a screen shot. To watch the VIDEO, go here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Off-shore oil, anyone?

Gulf Spill May Far Exceed Official Estimates
NPR: The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of official estimates... Findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska.

NYT: BP later acknowledged to Congress that the worst case, if the leak accelerated, would... dump a plume the size of the Exxon Valdez spill into the Gulf every four days.

Dan Froomkin: Nobody really knows where it is, or where it's headed... Some scientists suspect that a lot, if not most, of the oil is lurking below the surface rather than on it, in a gigantic underwater plume the size and trajectory of which remain largely a mystery.



Source of first and third images here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Canadian water 'belongs to Canadians'

Bulk water exports prohibited under new U.S.-Canada border regulations
Vancouver Sun: The bill [tabled in the House of Commons] would 'plug the last remaining gap' in a ban against bulk water removal that is in place for the Great Lakes and other water that straddles the Canada-U.S. border and is covered by provincial law. The bill provides new powers of inspection and enforcement and fines of up to $6 million for corporate violations. The exception is to help forest fire fighting or other disasters in the United States.

'This important legislation makes it clear that we are not in the business of exporting our water, [Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence] Cannon said. 'Canadian water is not a commodity. It is not for sale.'...

'Canada's fresh water is essential to the well-being of our nation,' he said. 'It is our livelihood, our lifeblood, and Canadians want this vital resource safeguarded. Quite simply, it belongs to Canadians and with this bill the government will ensure that it is protected and held in trust for generations of Canadians to come.'...

Environment Canada: Canada has some 20% of the world's total freshwater resources. However, less than half of this water -- about 7% of the global supply -- is renewable. Most of it is fossil water retained in lakes, underground aquifers, and glaciers.

For Canada's 30 million people -- about half a percent of the world's population -- this is still a generous endowment. But more than half of this water drains northward into the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay. As a result, it is unavailable to the 85% of the Canadian population who live along the country's southern border. That means the remaining supply, while still abundant, is heavily used and often overly stressed.
Image sources here and here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

By 2300 we may be 'unable to adapt or survive'

Earth may be too hot for humans by 2300: study

AFP: Climate change could make much of the world too hot for human habitation within just three centuries...

Scientists from Australia's University of New South Wales and Purdue University in the United States found that rising temperatures in some places could mean humans would be unable to adapt or survive.

'It would begin to occur with global-mean warming of about seven degrees Celsius (13 Fahrenheit), calling the habitability of some regions into question,' the researchers said in a paper. 'With 11-12 degrees Celsius warming, such regions would spread to encompass the majority of the human population as currently distributed.'...

Researcher Professor Steven Sherwood said there was no chance of the earth heating up to seven degrees this century, but there was a serious risk that the continued burning of fossil fuels could create the problem by 2300... 'There's not much we can do about climate change over the next two decades but there's still a lot we can do about the longer term changes.'...

'Under realistic scenarios out to 2300, we may be faced with temperature increases of 12 degrees (Celsius) or even more,' Professor Tony McMichael said. 'If this happens, our current worries about sea level rise, occasional heatwaves and bushfires, biodiversity loss and agricultural difficulties will pale into insignificance beside a major threat -- as much as half the currently inhabited globe may simply become too hot for people to live there.'

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gulf of Mexico oil lies under bomb dumps

BP Was Drilling in a Mine Field! Gulf of Mexico Is Major Dumping Ground For Unexploded Bombs

Crooks and Liars: The Gulf of Mexico is the primary disposal site for unexploded military munitions -- over 30 million pounds of bombs, projectiles and chemical ordnance. And because records are spotty and incomplete, we don't know exactly where these dumps are...

From a paper presented at the 2007 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston:
This notice also recognizes ordnance as a manmade hazard that may have an adverse effect of proposed well operations... UXO (unexploded ordnance) dump zones also exist off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts... Current technology for deepwater production is making the possibility of Atlantic and Pacific margin exploration more of a reality. This will only increase the need for UXO awareness and viable solutions to their existence in deepwater.
Image source here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Neanderthals live on

Most People Carry Neanderthal Genes
WSJ: The burly Ice Age hunters known as Neanderthals... survive today in the genes of almost everyone outside Africa, according to an international research team who offer the first molecular evidence that early humans mated and produced children in liaisons with Neanderthals...

The researchers mapped most of the Neanderthal genome [and] found the Neanderthal legacy accounts for up to 4% of the human genome among people in much of the world today...

The Neanderthals, a big-brained and barrel-chested group... roamed Europe, Russia and the Middle East between 400,000 years and 30,000 years ago, overlapping in many areas with the direct ancestors of modern humankind. Their remains were the first human-like fossils ever found...

In research published in Science, the researchers compared the Neanderthal DNA to the genomes drawn from five people from around the world: a San tribesman from South Africa; a Yoruba from West Africa; a Han Chinese; a West European; and a Pacific Islander from Papua, New Guinea... Traces of Neanderthal heredity turned up in all but the two African representatives...

From that pattern, the researchers deduced that prehistoric humans encountered their Neanderthal mates in the Middle East as small human bands first migrated out of their African homeland...

Based on these findings, several anthropologists questioned whether Neanderthals should continue to be considered a separate species. Typically, when different species mate, they don't produce fertile offspring...

The new research is buttressed by an independent, unpublished survey of modern human diversity, involving DNA markers covering 100 population groups world-wide, which also offers evidence of ancient inbreeding between Homo sapiens and earlier archaic human species.

Huffington Post: Todd Disotell, an anthropologist at New York University, suggested that more Africans should be sampled... He noted that the researchers looked at the genomes of a west African and a south African, but not someone from northeast Africa, where he said the mixture would be more likely to have occurred...

[Population geneticist David] Reich noted that while there was a flow of genes from Neanderthals to modern humans, there is no indication of gene movement the other way, from humans to Neanderthals...

While many people think of Neanderthals as very primitive, they had tools for... hunting and sewing, controlled fire, lived in shelters and buried their dead.
Image: Vindija cave in Croatia, source of DNA from remains of three women who lived between 38,000 and 45,000 years ago.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pesticides key in 'terminal decline' of bees

Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter

The Observer: Disturbing evidence that honeybees are in terminal decline has emerged from the United States where, for the fourth year in a row, more than a third of colonies have failed to survive the winter.

The decline of the country's estimated 2.4 million beehives began in 2006, when a phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) led to the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of colonies. Since then more than three million colonies in the US and billions of honeybees worldwide have died and scientists are no nearer to knowing what is causing the catastrophic fall in numbers...

The collapse in the global honeybee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon honeybee pollination...

Potential causes range from parasites... to viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods... US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are a key problem...

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported last week that there was no one single cause, but pointed the finger at the 'irresponsible use' of pesticides that may damage bee health and make them more susceptible to diseases. Bernard Vallat, the OIE's director-general, warned: 'Bees contribute to global food security, and their extinction would represent a terrible biological disaster.'
Image source here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NATO Afghan operation: FAIL

Operation Moshtarak: Lessons Learned
The International Council on Security and Development: NATO's Operation Moshtarak, launched in February in Helmand province, was the first deployment after the beginning of the much-debated surge of 30,000 additional US troops. It was billed as the largest military operation since the invasion of 2001. The planning for the operation emphasised the needs of the Afghan people, and the importance of winning hearts and minds as part of a classic counter-insurgency operation. However, the reality on the ground did not match the rhetoric...

ICOS field research reveals that Operation Moshtarak has contributed to high levels of anger among local Afghans: 61% of those interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces than before the military offensive... Of those interviewed, 95% believe more young Afghans have joined the Taliban in the last year. 78% of the respondents were often or always angry, and 45% of those stated they were angry at the NATO occupation, civilian casualties and night raids...

95% of Afghans interviewed by ICOS said that the operation had led to new flows of internally displaced people. Thousands of displaced Afghans were forced to move to non-existent or overcrowded refugee camps with insufficient food, medical supplies or shelter. Local aid agencies were overwhelmed, and in some areas were not present at all.

Another issue causing friction with the local population is the lack of an effective or realistic counter-narcotics strategy. Poppy crop eradication -- which took place during the operation -- and a new policy of paying farmers to eradicate their crops themselves, undermines the local economy without putting sustainable alternatives in place. Eradicating the poppy crop is opposed by 66% of Afghans interviewed by ICOS.

59% of those interviewed believed the Taliban will return to Marjah after the Operation. Alarmingly, 67% did not support a strong NATO-ISAF presence in their province and 71% stated they wanted the NATO forces to leave.
Image sources here and here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

US has lost control of 'managed chaos'

Kiren Aziz Chaudhry at Informed Comment: Seriality refers to groupings of apparently random events that seek to achieve goals that are actually quite stable. Seriality identifies the underlying thrust of policies that are redeployed repetitively, the surface manifestations of which are neither causal nor coincidental. Synchronicity, in contrast, describes temporal confluences when vivid and meaningful patterns of seriality coalesce... In both serial patterns and synchronic moments, there are winners and losers. The former produces lingering conflicts; the latter fundamentally reshapes the terrain of global power...

Destabilization is easy to arrange. But, for two important reasons, US seriality in Af-Pak is not going to coalesce into the synchronic moment when the shattered and war-torn region finally submits to hosting the pipeline that would deliver energy to the West via the Indian Ocean and overtake the Chinese in Central Asia.

First, public sentiment in the global south has permanently turned a corner. This is not because American rhetoric about democracy and freedom has rung hollow for some time now, or that the neo-liberal economic agenda has been discredited on a global scale. It is because China provides a new pedagogy of capitalist development that is vastly more attractive than the American promise of (largely undelivered) freedoms. The inconvenient truth about freedom delivery was announced... in 2006, when the erstwhile Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board wrote a book with that one memorable sentence: 'The Iraq War,' said Greenspan, 'is largely about oil.'... The world is finding new ways of articulating and deploying power that, by virtue of being plainly and brazenly self interested, are actually attractive. The Chinese do not invest in Africa to promote democracy; everyone knows it; and Africans are thankful for it.

Second, like the grab-and-go model of US international economic transactions, the American geo-strategic strategy of 'managed chaos' is broken beyond repair. This is the strategy by which chaos is first created and then set on a preferred course. The problem for the US is that the American will to manage is not matched by capacity... The nefarious arms of the US military machine are pursuing radically different strategies that are more often than not at odds with each other... The ever more fragmented covert, private and informal combatants in the pay of US taxpayers have no idea what they are doing. Chaos, in other words, has become the internal (dis)organizational idiom of the American military machine. Starting with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the very core of US military command and intelligence agencies incrementally lost control over the activities of ever more mysterious agencies they are supposed to coordinate and oversee.
Image source here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

B.C. First Nations languages 'severely endangered'

B.C. First Nations languages face extinction unless action taken now, report says
Georgia Straight: First Nations languages in British Columbia are hurtling toward 'imminent extinction,' a new report says. But the Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2010 argues that these 'critically endangered' languages can be saved if quick action is taken.

Prepared by the First Peoples' Heritage, Language and Culture Council,... the report notes that, with 32 languages and 59 dialects, B.C. is home to 60 percent of First Nations languages in Canada. 'Based on three variables for measuring language endangerment (speakers, usage and language resources), all of B.C. First Nations languages are severely endangered or nearly extinct,' it states. 'Some are already sleeping.'

According to the report, fluent speakers represent 5.1 percent (5,609) of the B.C. First Nations population. 'Semi-speakers' comprise 8.2 percent (8,948) of the population, while people learning their language constitute 11.1 percent (12,223). Most fluent speakers are over 65 years old. Only 1.5 percent (36) of fluent speakers are under the age of 25.

The report warns that, 'if nothing more is done to save the languages, most of the fluent speakers will be gone in approximately five to six years (by about 2016).'

The Canadian government's assimilation policies and church-run residential schools are largely responsible for the loss of language, the report notes. It says that language loss goes hand in hand with the loss of culture and identity, and is 'directly related to the troubling health issues many First Nations are facing today.'

The report recommends that all of the languages be recorded and documented, and the development of First Nations immersion language programs be promoted. It also says off-reserve First Nations people should be included in language revitalization efforts.
Interactive image source here.