Monday, October 27, 2008
That is what J. Basterra, using data from the UN, Tax Justice and ATTAC, denounces at Basque daily Gara today. The never collected tax revenue (250 billion euros yearly) could fully finace the UN project to reduce poverty by half globally for 2015 (goal that, of course, will not be achieved, not even approached). European nations and EU itself, among others, are full accomplices of these financial pirate heavens, some of which are either autonomous colonies of EU states (case of Cayman Islands, for example) or tightly associated with EU (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco).
What this highlights anyhow is how Capitalism itself has gone global and beyond the surveyance and regulator activity of sovereign states and international organizations. These tax heavens are certainly unfair competitors of EU states and companies without transnational status and are damaging European (as well as others') economy. This is something I already read about in the mid-80s: that states can hardly anymore regulate global Capitalism and that, in case of crisis like the one we are suffering now, the separate or even coordinated efforts of these states will hardly serve for anything, as a large fraction of capital (the most central, strategic and elusive fraction of it) is well beyond their reach.
The crisis is probably unmanageable in such circumstances.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
That is what a team from the Geological Survey of Norway thinks: they have found estabilished ancient beaches dating 6-7,000 years ago that they believe would be impossible to form is the Arctic was not largely ice free. They relate this warm epysode to the expansion of early Arctic cultures in North America.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Magdalenian Faces.- Tim at remote central, makes a nice review of the Magdalenian portraits of La Marche and other sites, their history and their striking modernity.
Aurignacian dogs.- Several blogs touch this issue recently: I found it first at Anthropology.net but Dienekes and John Hawks also adress the matter of ancient domestic dogs. It seems that Aurignacian people already had dogs and that these were alredy somewhat different from their wild ancestors (wolves).
In relation with these issues, I'd thank if anybody could provide some nice info on the forgotten issue of Magdalenian domestic (?) horses. Anticipated thanks.
Found at Science Daily: Waste From Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control Weight, Researchers Report.
This new research , led by Dr. M Yansigawa, has found that certain protein generated by gut bacteria makes a big difference on how mice, and presumably humans, process food at the intestines. When present, the protein slows down digestion allowing for a much better absorption of food, while, when absent, digestion goes a lot faster and nutrients are wasted in a much larger ammount.
Obviously absorbing more food has pros and cons, it probably mproves a lot the survival rate when food is scarce but it causes other problems when food is aboundant, specially overweight and obesity. It is common knowledge that there are two exteme types in this aspect: people who can eat all they want and never seem to gain weight, and people who, even when eating little, always tend to be somewhat fatty. It would seem that this bacterial protein is at least one of the reasons in this dychotomy, what may offer in the mid-run new ways of treatment for obesity and also extreme thinness (surely not desirable either).
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The numbers of western chimpanzees (P. troglodytes verus) have plummetted by 90% in less than two decades in Ivory Coast, their main stronghold. Deforestation for cash crops and related expansion of uncontrolled hunting are the culpirits.
In 1989-90 there were some 8-12,000 chimpanzees in Ivory Coast, now there is just none in most areas. Only those living in Taï National Park seem to have survived these two last decades.
This is surely not a totally new idea (my uncle already flirted with it when I was just a kid, possibly inspired by the Marxist concept of property accumulation as mere organized robbery) but that is what Dr. Peter Hayes suggests in his latest work Pirates, Privateers and the Contract Theories of Hobbes and Locke.
Have not read it yet but there is a good review at Science Daily. In it Dr. Hayes is quoted claiming that pirates were backed by financeers, supported by the state as long as they paid taxes (privateering) and even had their own financial paradises in places like Tortuga and Madagascar. Pirates also ruled themselves in a democratic manner, what actually appears as a precedent of human rights... but to the exclussion of all others.
I'd argue that there are other precedents for corporations and democracy, though. The first ones can be traced already in Renaissance Italy, while the latter is found also in pre-Modern times in places like Switzerland and the Basque Country among other places. But still Hayes' idea is food for thought, specially as Capitalism and the now mainstream political theories of social contract appeared rather coincidentally not long after the golden of age of piracy. Piratic apogee was in the 17th century and the modern political and economical theories and praxis got consolidated in the 18th century.
Maybe you have heard of the Valle de los Caídos, the megalomaniatic monument that Spanish dictator Francisco Franco ordered to build to honor the fallen fascists in Cuelgamuros, not too far from Madrid.
It seems now that most of the anonyous remains buried in its crypt are actually anti-fascists, the remains of people executed by the francoists all through Spain during the Civil War. Apparently there was much reluctance to move the remains of the fascists because of emotional reasons so, eventually, in order to fill the crypt somehow, the government ordered the move of hundreds of remains of executed republicans and anarchists from mass burials everywhere.
Now, more than thirty years after the death of the fundamentalist tyrant, the Society of Sciences Aranzadi is finally researching the issue, specifically for those remains that originated in the Basque Country. There are hundreds of Basques in the fascist monument: 146 from Araba, 123 from Navarre, 213 from Biscay and 16 from Gipuzkoa. Those from Araba and Navarre are certain to be all anti-fascists, the other just suspected.
This is not something new: already in 1956, the year of the monument was officially inaugurated, Basque newspapers reported that most of the corpses moved from Araba had bee taken from the cemetery of Villareal, where the gudariak (Basque troops) fallen in the battle of Legutio rested.
The information is in the hands of the Benedictine friars, in charge of the mausoleum. Some sources suggest that there are many more republicans than fascists buried in Cuelgamuros. Not only the case of Villarreal is known, other documents mention the unburial of people that had been executed and buried on the spot at roadsides, "red" priests taken from the cemetery of Hernani, etc. Two thirds of the people buried there are not yet identified.
The construction of the Valle de los Caídos was initiated in 1940, just after the war was over, and was built by slave labour recruited among anti-fascist prisioners. Many died due to the brutal conditions. Besides the thousands of unidentified or ill-identified burials, several fascist leaders, including dictator Franco rest in it. It is a pilgrimage spot for fascists.
The Spanish authorities delayed abnormally the concession of the permit for this research: while normally this kind of studies are authorized within days, in this case they took seven months to consider it. But Basque authorities are also trying to avoid the issue: Lehendakari J.J. Ibarretxe has ignored the requests of support by relatives who think their loved ones are insultingly buried together with their murderers.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The waterway, that was active in the last interglacial period, when some humans crossed the Sahara, at least into Palesine and North Africa, offering an alternative route to the Nile and Arabian coasts for ancient humans reaching out to new lands, specially for North Africa in this case.
More details at BBC Science & Enviroment (could not find the original article at PNAS)
Map showing the now extinct river (blue)
Admittedly not known to me before today but it seems that Paul Krugman, the new Nobel Prize of Economics, was at least honest enough to denounce, already in 2002, the economic bubble as a mere Ponzi scheme (a type of scam, in which apparent profits are actually taken from new investments) and the epydemic of extreme dishonesty that was behind the apparent growth of the last years.
In his discourse he declared that this crisis may well be similar to the one of 1929.
To take a look at his thought check his index of cloumns at the New York Times and the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive (for articles written before his NYT period).
The latest figure is of 40 minor earquakes in or around Itoitz reservoir only since October 1st (two weeks) and 105 tremors in September. This unusual seismology has been going on since the controversial reservoir was partly filled already in 2004 (it was allowed to fill completely only in March this year). The authrities have claimed that the seismic crisis is over but the fact is that earquakes continue to happen every single. Since 2004 none has reached magnitude 3 in the Richter scale but 2 plus are not that rare.
Sources: SOS Itoitz (with full local earthquake historial) and Gara (both in Spanish).
See also previous posts on the same issue.
Monday, October 13, 2008
There's a lot of talk about founder effects for blond hair, blue eyes or lactose tolerance... but what about baldness? Actually that is also largely in the genes: an X chromosome gene was already known and now another alelle in chromosme 20 has been discovered. These two are much more common apparently among Caucasoids (or Western Eurasians) than among other populations, causing that one male out of seven (14%) has severe problems of baldness.
The research paper by J.B. Richards et al. has been published in Nature (behind paywall) and mentioned in Science Daily.
What I wonder is, in the field of population genetics, who were the founders of these dynasties of bald people. They were pretty succesful founding parents certainly, in spite of their aesthetic disadvantage (certainly not any major adaptative problem, specially if you know of hats).
An interesting note is that Magdalenian people already depicted some of them as bald. This is something I had not thought about before but one of the series of Magdalenian portraits from La Marche is clearly missing hair:
Image taken from BBC, found thanks to Tim.
Was he the founding father of bald people?
Was he the founding father of bald people?
Friday, October 10, 2008
BBC: Nature loss 'dwarfs bank crisis'.
Speaking to BBC News on the fringes of the congress, study leader Pavan Sukhdev emphasised that the cost of natural decline dwarfs losses on the financial markets.
"It's not only greater but it's also continuous, it's been happening every year, year after year," he told BBC News.
"So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year."
Sukhudev is an economist working for Deutsche Bank.
This is a major problem of Capitalist economics and accounting: freely available resources, those that are not apropiated or monetized, are just worth nothing for Smithian accountants but the reality is that they are the very fundamentals of all economy and would they be accounted properly, the ecological problem would be measured more properly. If each industry that pollutes is accounted for the damage caused to Nature (public property), they would owe the public loads of money in damages. If each patch of wilderness that is felled and plotted has to pay to the public for the loss, the price of transgenic soy or farmed shrimps would soar in accordance to the public damage caused. So far, nevertheless Nature is heavily undervalued if not just not valued at all.
This is not just a shame but a major structural public problem. The figures mentioned show how much it is worth: much more than all the finacial crisis together. Time to stop the waste.
That is what veteran Jim Brown declared for the Italian state broadcaster RAI (video in English): that a "small" nuclear bomb of 5 kilotons was launched between Basra and the Iranian border.
According to Mr. Brown, founder of the veterans' organization Gulf Watch Intelligent Networking System, the US Military threw a pentration nuclear bomb (that explodes once underground) in that area east of Basra, probably with the intention of sending a strong message to the Iraqi President that they were determined to win the war by all means necessary.
It is the third nuclear weapon used ever in warfare apparently, after those thrown against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII. The Basra bomb was smaller than those used against Japan, which had 16 and 22 kilotons respectively, and certainly much smaller than any intercontinental weapon whose destruction power is measured in megatons.
But still it was the use of a nuclear weapon, with painful consequences for the locals. Consequences that, as Brown denounces, are largely hidden by he widespread use of other radioactive weapons: depleted uranium ammunition. The problem of radioactivity effects in the Basra area has a long a story but it was so far believed it had been caused by depleted uranium ammo, not a full fledged nuclear bomb.
The Pentagon denies the claim.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The latest PLoS Genetics hit is Sex-Biased Evolutionary Forces Shape Genomic Patterns of Human Diversity, by M.F. Hammer et al.
We already knew, or at least believed, that the effective population of males has generally been lower than that of females. It seems obvious considering that in principle any fertile man has the potential to engender thousands of children, provided he finds the sufficient number of mothers, while women can only have a limited number of children each (I think the highest single figure I have ever heard of is something like thirty - and one shivers at the idea of giving birth so many times, plus breastfeeding and rearing all them). Much lower figures are more normal of course but the difference of reproductive potential between sexes remains and can be very high.
But we were not certain on how that worked in reality through the generations. We typically find more mtDNA than Y-DNA diversity but these items may not be fully comparable anyhow. This paper adresses this issue by comparing the diversity at the X chromosome and at autosomal DNA. If the effective population (the people effectively reproducing) would be the same for both genders, we should find that the X-DNA diversity should be 75% of the autosomal one. What Hammer and colleagues have found is that it is not the case that X-DNA diversity is generally higher than under neutral expectations and in some cases even higher than autosomal diversity itself.
That basically means that some men have been more succesful than others and that the average woman as well. Expected indeed, as the difference in biological potential is certainly there.
But the confusion comes with the use of the term polygyny (one man married or otherwise reproducing, like in concubinage, with several women). While the conclusions are more imprecise, the term arises in the abstract: our results point to a systematic difference between the sexes in the variance in reproductive success; namely, the widespread effects of polygyny in human populations. The term is adressed at times confusingly, as normally this means formal poygyny and not mere infidelity. Both Dienekes and Kambiz emphasize the term polygyny suggesting more or less explictly that it has been a formal feature of human societies. True that part of the fault may lie on Hammer's shoulders, quoted at New Scientist saying: I don't know how long monogamy has been with us. It seems it hasn't been around long, evolutionarily.
This is far from clear, I think. Even without formal polygamy, there has always been opportunities for some men to be more succesful than average in this aspect.
The most important and revealing graph in that paper is figure 2, where the six sampled populations are shown with their respective ratios of X-DNA diversity in contrast with a hypothetical neutral 0.75 line. With the possible exception of the San (Bushmen), all clearly exceed the neutral model. When we take the point extimate (ignoring the possible error) they appear like this:
- San (Bushmen): 0.85 (13% over neutral expectation)
- Biaka Pygmies: 0.90 (20% excess)
- Mandenka (West Africans): 0.93 (24% excess)
- Han Chinese: 0.94 (25% excess)
- Melanesians: 1.04 (39% excess)
- Northern Basques: 1.05 (40% excess)
The first interesting thing is that the hunter-gatherer peoples are the ones showing lower deviation from the neutral expectation, i.e. the ones where polygyny has been less important overall. The difference between the San and the Biaka is significative but I wonder if it can reflect Bantu influences among the latter.
Excluding hunter-gatherers, there are two (geografically meaningless) groups: Han and Mandenka appear moderately polygynistic, while Melanesians and Basques appear rather extreme. It would be interesting to contrast these peoples with their culturally akin neighbours, for instance compare Chinese with Japanese, Mongols or Thais... or Basques with other Europeans. But we will have to wait for that, I guess.
Anyhow, it is the "highly polygynistic" group the most intriguing set. Melanesians (at least Papuans, I could not find which ethnicity they are specifically) are known for actually practicing polygyny with normality: they are a highly patriarchal Neolithic society. But Basques are a totally different case: there is no record of such institution ever existing at all and the monogamic (patriarchal maybe but softly so in the European context) household is a national institution. So I have been chewing on the issue for several days now because it really stroke me as very odd.
I cannot know how was Basque society in Prehistory (and that, with the exception of some brief accounts, lasts until the late Middle Ages) but what we know does not point in that institutional polygynistic direction at all. Wilhelm von Humboldt, who visited the country in the early 19th century, reported instead that Basques had then frequent pre-marital relations and that marriage was normally formalized when the girl got pregnant (possibly but not necesarily from the groom, he implied). From Inquisitorial accounts we also know that Basques from both sides of the mountains used to engage on pagan orgiastic celebrations (community sex and drug parties probably with religious meaning) as late as the 16th century. We also know that the status of women was rather high and that they enjoyed nearly as much freedom as men (and were specially important as leaders of the old religion: "witches"). Earlier reports, even if way too limited, do not contradict this picture in any case.
Informal polygamy (both sexes) was frequent among Basques in the past and was socially accepted, in other words. But patrilineal monogamic family was still the basic cell and that is very clear in the central importance of the undivisible household in Basque law.
So I guess that such a high X-DNA excess diversity among Northern Basques, rather than formal polygyny (unattested, quite unlikely to have ever existed in my opinion) what reflects is informal polygamy or promiscuity and the implicit ability of women to choose the father of their children to some extent in this context, moreso if some anticonceptives were known, what is probable considering that witches (sorginak for their Basque name) were primarily herborists.
That way the more desirable men would get some advantage... but not because they wielded particular power over women, as in typical polygyny, but because women would tend to choose them with preference over the rest as the biological fathers, that, as it is well known, is not necesarily the same as the legal father.
The child born inside marriage is son of the husband, Napoleon dixit. Biology shrugs, cheats and laughs last.
Three months later... Natura publishes something behind a paywall (authored by Keinan et al.) that finds exactly the opposite results: that in Africa the X-DNA to A-DNA ratio is c. 0.75, while in Eurasia is c. 0.65, much lower. They scratch their heads wondering what may have caused a loss of female efefctive population, what makes little sense (hey, why no massive polyandry?, it's as logical - or not - as massive polygyny in the previous one).
I don't think I can handle such a variety of contradictory results and make any sense. But, as Manjunat said, the post needed an update.
Found an excerpted version of this article in Spanish at Rebelión and thought: this is interesting. So I followed the link to the source and the English version.
The source site, the Conflicts Forum, is new to me but appears interesting for those who may want to increase their knowledge of the Islam-West conflicts and the possible alleys through them.
Whatever the case, I found the original English-language document: Hamas and al-Qaida: The Prospects for Radicalization in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, by Khalid Amayreh (direct link to the full PDF document: here).
The 16 pages long analysis is unfit for full inclussion here but I strongly recommend my readers to take a look, after all it deals with some of the most crucial conflicts of our times and the similitudes and differences between two of its main Muslim actors: 'moderate' Hamas and murderous Al Qaida, in the particularly intense scenary of Palestine.
Since 2006 (the document is dated Nov. 2007) the relationship between Hamas and Al Qaida, this one self-proclaimed leader of 'true' Islam, has been bad. Al Qaida has strongly criticised Hamas, both for being nationalist and for being moderate, while Hamas has abstained to enter in a direct argument with the bearded guys of the Hindu Kush, so charismatic in some places, but has shown to strongly dislike their methods, doctrine and patronizing attitude and has engaged their ideologues and their armed gangs.
While the presence of Al Qaeda among Palestinians is generally dismissed becauseof the historical milticulturalism and rather 'western' cultural background, it seems it has made some inroads anyhow if only out of despair. And the kidnapping of BBC journalist Allan Johnston (sympathtic to the Palestinian cause and considered a protected guest by Hamas) was among their first acts of aggression. Other cases have been attcking cybercafes, unsegregated school festivals and even an Orthodox Christian church, all them percieved by Hamas as hostile, anti-Palestinian and criminal.
It seems it is that way: Hamas is moderate Islamism, specially if compared to the brutal jihadism of Al Qaida. The Palestinians accept democracy, are willing to dialogue with all, do not impose veil or gender segregation, respect religious minorities and try to avoid attacking civilians indiscriminately (except maybe in Israel). They do not consider armed jihad as a goal, unlike Al Qaida, but as a mean and are smart enough to acknowledge that among the peoples of the world, even among those whose goverments support Israel, there are people who understand and support the Palestinian cause and that are willing to engage in potentially productive multicultural dialogue.
We may not like Islamism, the same we may not like Christian Fundamentalism... but there are different attitudes and stands and it is important to understand these differences. Certainly not everybody who is Muslim or even Islamist is a supporter of Al Qaeda. And one important reason may be the disrespect that the Hindu Kush gang deals with civilians, inducing hatred not just against Muslims but even among Muslims themselves.
Before reading this I already had an opinion of the two fundamentalist organizations: Al Qaida are clearly murderous sectarian criminals (who, in my opinion, may well be working for US imperialism and Zionism) and Hamas is more or less respectful and serious people, even if they are not secularists.
Anyhow, take a look and make up your mind. It is a really interesting read.