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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Snow falling on Mars

That is what the NASA robot Phoenix has detected: large water-ice crystals falling from Martian clouds. It is not clear if these reached the ground or vaporized while falling.

The snow was detected with the LIDAR instrument (top) falling from Martian clouds (bottom)

Through its mission Phoenix has detected permafrost in the ground, growing humidity as the Martian summer advanced and the increased frost as it was left behind. It is expected that the module will not survive the Martian winter as temperatures will drop brutally to at least -120ºC and sunlight will not be enough to feed its batteries anyhow.

Source: BBC.

Solar energy: new efficiency record

Scientists at the US National Renewable Energies Laboratory have developed a new typeof photovoltaic cell able to convert 40.8% of solar input. This way they have beaten their own record. Instead of using germanium as main catalyst, they now use gallium-iridium alloys that additionally decrease the size and weight of the resulting cell a lot.

In addition to other recent advances (see other posts in the category solar energy) this could brutally boost the ability of humankind for gathering energy directly from the Sun. I am each day more convinced that solar energy is the only realistic solution for the global energy crisis. Of course that there are many resistences, beginning by energy oygopolisic companies, but in the mid-run it is the only promising cost-effective and enviroment-friendly possibility. It can also empower local communities and individuals regarding energy production.

Black Monday (again).

The plumetting of stock markets and, in general, of economic markers of all types, continues. While in Europe, the various authorities (UK, Germany, BENELUX, European Comission) have been fast in reacting: nationalizing any bank that could cause any trouble before it does, right across the ocean in Washington D.C., they cannot reach to any effective agreement: some talk of such measures being "socialism" (they are not: socialism would be to nationalize the reposessed homes for the good of the people) and seem panicked about the idea of getting even moe indebted (sorry guys: if you want to live above your possibilities, debt is the only possible option - it is incompatible with a strong dollar though).

And it seems that at least till elections, that are not just presidential but also congressional (what explains maybe the restlesness of so many politicians), and maybe till the very investiture of the next President and Congress in January, we are going to watch a headless USA that is unable to face economical disaster with some determination. I'm not judging here if the proposed measures are better or worse, enough or too little... just that the inability to do something, whatever, by the World's 1st power (as of today) makes everybody extremely nervous - and with good reason.

Shares therefore fell yesterday some 2.4% in Europe (before the failure to pass legislation in Washignon became known but after nationalization efforts this side of the ocean were widely known) and 7% in New York, in what has been claimed to be the worst single-day fall in many decades. Asian markets also fell some 3% and I expect European markets to fall today as well, moreso on light of new oil price rises.

Nevertheless there are some that are still buying and expanding, like the Bank of Santander, of the Spanish magnate E. Botín (surname meaning "bounty" if you wish to make a word-play) was buying the still valuable assets of nationalized British bank B&B. But guess you have to be a true shark to get any profits amidst all this chaos.

But whatever the case with the ailing economy and stock markets... what was yesterday in the mouth of nearly every journalist on TV was that the lack of leadership the USA is showing, as well as the most pernitious effects that Reaganomics (mad deregulation) have caused in its economy are causing many leaders around the World to question the leader position of the North American republic and the goodness of its ultra-liberal recipes. Even in such a pro-Atlantist media as the BBC, commenters were suggesting that, unless the new US President changes things a lot, the very role of the USA as first global power is seriously compromised. Comparisons with the fall of the Soviet bloc were not absent either.

Will keep commenting. This crisis is far from over.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Algerian Army sets fires in Kabylia, killing ten.

According to
Kabylia Info, soldiers from the Algerian army were earlier this month surprised setting fire to the woods in the Berber region of Kabylia (Algeria). They alleged they were doing it in anti-terrorist operations.

The fires caused the deaths of ten people, mostly children, and the outrage of the already discontent Kabylian people, who rioted against them.

The rich to blame for global warming

at SINC (in Spanish). Originally from the magazine Enviroment and Urbanization - author: David Satterthwaite, from the International Insitute for Enviroment and Developement.

Cities are not guilty of 80% of greenhouse gas emisions, just of 40%. The rest is divided between agriculture and deforestation (30%) and industry, rural affluent homes and electric centrals. The article ponders who are the consumers that demand so much electricity and products and it seems most of them are also a few wealthy people with wasteful lifestyles.

So, yeah, ecology and socialism go hand by hand. Let's sharpen the guillotine again... and get rid of two problems at once.

Link to the same article (plus some extra quotes and links) at Science Daily (for English-only readers, just found it).

'Market strategist' agrees with me

On September 22 and 24, I posted on the financial crisis and related news (links:
1st post, 2nd post). Now I read in Asia Times Online an article by John Browne, dated Sept. 27, who I find surprisingly in agreement with my own meditations.

Like I did, Browne, described as market strategist, whatever that means (an economist specialized in stock markets, I guess) ponders the further indebting and potentially inflationary effects of Paulson's "bail out" and, like I did too, he believes that it is a clear case of "too little, too late".

No, I dont think he is plagiarizing my ideas. He has also other stuff that is different enough (for instance I did not considered that the $700 billion means actually 1 trillion and is probably just the beginning of a series of similar operations) and it would be really odd that a reader of this blog writes in a Hong Kong magazine I happen to read now and then. What I think is that his opinion, so strikingly similar to mine, suggests that I was onto something.

Of course, to be two to agree doesn't mean to be two to be right... but it's pretty much suggestive - specially when it is not the official opinion.

By the way, if any reader is thinking in investing, Browne suggests gold. And I must admit, I do agree with him.

And another article at the same online magazine, by Chan Akya, is also interesting to read in this regard, specially because it considers the actual figures of indebtment that the USA has incurred into with the latest interventions. Paulson's trillion is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Operation against Basque nationalists in the North

Commanded by French super-judge, Laurence Le Vert, French military police developed yesterday a major operation of search and capture of Basque acivists in the Northern Basque Country.

The police operation was centered at the see of Batasuna in Baiona (the party is legal in France) that was searched all day long but it also included arrests of many activists all around the Northern Basque Country: Xabi Larralde, Giulano Cavaterra, Frederic Karrikart and Gwenaëlle Morvan in Baiona, Patricia Martinon and Einaut Elosegi in Aiherra, Haritza Galarraga in Senpere, Maide Duhalde and François Lefort in Lekuine, Jokin Etxebarria in Urruina, Aurore Martin in Anhauze, Antton Etxebarri in Bunuze, Jon Irazola in Lekorne, Jean-Claude Aguerre in Jutsi. Two other people: Jon Goio and Zigor Goieaskoetxea, who are under a European arrest order, issued by Spain, could not be found in their domiciles.

The search of the offices of the Basque party in Baiona lasted all day long, time while the Cordeliers street was closed to the public. In the evening there was a protest demonstration, gathering some 250 people. Banners with the texts "Repression is not the way!" and "Batasuna resist!" were visible in many places of Baiona, both in the streets and at private homes. Other protests happened all through the Northern Basque Country.

The legal pretexts for this intervention appear to be two distinct issues: one one side the "Kalaka case" and the investigation of the attacks against a hotel at Bidarraitz, that would be the alleged background for the arrest of seven people, and on the other the case on the financing of the independentist movement, that (we must not forget) it is still legal in France, in spite of many bank accounts having been blocked judicially in relation to it.

Two images of the arrests

Batasuna denounced that this operation is in practice a covert illegalization of the nationalist party also in the North. Labor unions such as the Union of Patriotic Workers (LAB) and other human rights watchdog Askatasuna (freedom) and the youth movement Segi (go on) also denounced the agression against the Basque nationalist movement, denouncing the connivence between Spain and France.

But the reactions were not limited to Basque nationalists: the social-democrat Frantxua Maitia (regional councilor) declaredto be most surprised and sustained that Batasuna is a legal party that operates open and publicly. The Green Party also protested against the police intervention and said that it is an attack against freedom of political activity, warning to Paris that violence only brings more violence. But the major of Baiona, Jean Grennet, eluded to make any comments.

Simultaneously, the interior ministers of the two states controlling the Basque Country, M. Alliot-Marie and A. Rubalcaba, had a meeting, after which Alliot-Marie declined to comment if France ispreparing to illegalize Batasuna saying that such decision is not only competence of her ministry.

Images of the protests


Update (Sep 26):

Four of the arrested (Elosegi, Morvan, Etxebarria and Cavaterra) have been set free. Another person under arrest warrant, Mirentxu Lako (companion of Jean-Claude Aguerre), is still free because she was about to give birth, something that happened yesterday. This leaves the number of arrested people at 10, according to Askatasuna. The place of arrest is not clear, being rumored that they are in the prisions of Baiona and Pau, and the charges are not clear either. The search of the Batasuna see continued yesterday.

Dozens of people demonstrated again in several locations of the Northern Basque Country. Batasuna has called for a national demonstration at Baiona tomorrow Saturday at 16:00.

Batsuna also offered a press conference saying that France fears the growth of Basque nationalism in the North, directly confronted with the centralist Jacobine ideals of the French Republic, and that is the reason why it is trying to destroy this political structure and project.

Source: Gara.

In a separate article, Iñaki Altuna claims that the reason for this attack is the growing influence of Batasuna in the North, which, in coalition with Abertzaleen Batasuna (Patriots' Union), achieved historical success in the last elections, threatening the bipartisan monopoly of Northern Basque politics by the major French parties and demanding not anymore a mere departament but a true regional autonomy and the right of self determination for the North.

Update (Sep 27):

Yesterday nearly all arrested were set free. Only Jean-Claude Larralde remained in custody tonight. The search of the offices of Batasuna also appears to be over, after three days.

The legal pretexts are also somewhat more clear: there are three different causes being used here: the "Kalaka case", an alleged network of financing of the Nationalist Left, the attacks against the hotels at Bidarraitz, and specialy a preliminary investigation regarding the financing of the Communist Party of the Basque Lands.

None of the causes seem solid, as evidenced by all arrested being set free but they could easily cause the illegalization of Batasuna, that in the North has status of association, not political party, and could therefore be banned by a mere administrative decission. It is strongly speculated that this is after all the true goal of judge Le Vert.

Source: Gara.

Turkey: trial for standing against military service

I know well that total resistence to the military, and particularly conscription, is a virus (a benefic one though) that is not going to stop at the borders of EU. And the cultural relationship of Turkey with the rest of Europe is way too strong to change that, as it's probably the case of Russia, though it may take some more time in this latter case because of their grandeur dreams.

The case is anyhow that a famous Turkish singer, Bulent Ersoy, has been brought to court for suggesting that the Kurdish conflict needs a solution and that, would she have a son, she would not send him to war.

She is being accused under article 318 that forbids dissuading people from miltary service. But she is standing defiant: even if they hang me, I will keep talking.

She could face more than four years in prision if convicted.

The transexual singer stood defiant.
Some people deployed banners in her support.

I still recall when a Turkish resister to the army visited us maybe some 20 years ago (this issue is not new at all) , his main worry was legal matters: his organization was about to be declared illegal and, to my incrdulity, he said that, if illegalized they would not be able to work anymore because the full wight of repression would fall upon them. I was flippant as our own organizaton had never bothered to get legalized at all (better outside the law) but guess circumstances are somewhat different. I am not sure of their current situation but I bet it is most delicate. I'll see what can I find on war resisters in Turkey.

In any case, the attitude of Bulent Ersoy is most brave and an example for people, not just in Turkey, but around the World.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Earth-like planets orbiting binary stars found... destroyed

As exciting and frustrating as it sounds: the first evidence of planets oribiting a double stellar system and one of the few so far on the very difficult to detect terrestrial planets happens to be a terrible collision of two of these planets.

From Science Daily: Two Planets Suffer Violent Collision.

The US astronomers had been studying a dust ring around one of the stars in this binary system, thinking it might be the signature of a young solar system in formation. But they now think that the dust ring has actually been caused by a brutal crash of two Earth-like rocky planets, after finding that the stars are actually too old to represent a young forming stellar system.

Artist rendering of the collision

The closest similar incident ever happening in our vicinity was possibly the collision that created the Moon, but that happened when the Solar system and Earth itself were very young. Currently the odds of something similar happening here are nimious.

I wonder if the fact that these ill-fated objects are part of a binary star system may have increased the odds of such outcome, maybe because of the gravitational unstability caused by the other star...

Patents: a patent abuse and a patent failure

the BBC is echoing the voices that are rising, every day more loudly, against the patent system as we know it.

According to the various scientists pooled by the BBC the current patent system that allows to patent nearly everything, at every stage of developement and even discoveries that are not any invention, is not favoring anymore scientific research, much less the developement of innovative solutions. The case seems clear for genetics (including genomics), where has been created a "fortress" of patentsaround newly discovered genes, closing off avenues of research for their competitors... and for humankind as a whole, specially because it hinders basic research at universities.

European citizens cannot enjoy the benefits of cancer screening for instance because the public health services find its price way too expensive. Genetically modified rice rich in vitamin A that was intended to be freely distributed in countries where this nutrional problem is endemic, find themselves legally unable to do it because of the intricate network of related genetic patents that have to be negotiated. It has taken years just to figure out how many [related] patents there are and who owns them, complains its developer Prof. Gold.

Pat Mooney of ETC Group, protests that the patenting system is not working, it is more a barrier than an incentive. He says that innovation in pharmacology has dropped to nearly null levels, while in nanotechnology the too broad patents have cut off whole areas of research.

But in Spanish too, the voices arising against the current patent system (nearly no one wants to fully scrap off patents, just radically reform the system) are many. There have been several articles recently at Rebelión on this issue.

For example, L.P. Vargas writes an interesting article on the history and modern reform of the patent system. He mentions that, as of late, not just what the human ingenuity has created can be patented but also what someone has merely discovered, for example: the genome. This is not waht the original patent system was created for, it is a most new developement, dated just to 1994: the TRIPS agreement reached at the WTO.

He finds in this treaty two goals: to create informational monopolies (such as could be the one of Microsoft, for instance) to accumulate new wealth, earlier freely available, into private hands and specially those of the multinational corporations.

Still in 1983, for instance, the law of patents of Costa Rica said that medicines would only enjoy exclusive patent for a year. Listening to the corporative speakers, who always complain that they need to make money from research, one wonders how even existed pharmaceutic corporations at all before the agreement of 1994.

Another author, D. Standeford, follows a conference by J. Stiglitz and J. Sulston (founders the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation) , who have strongly criticised the current intellectual property system, because it actually hinders innovation, instead of promoting it. In the words of Stiglitz (nobel laureate of Economics in 2001) : the current mess of patents by which any person who developes a succesful software program is used for alleged breach of patent shows that the current system of does not allow to promote innovation.

Another problem is that there are little social benefits with this system and he also mentions the cancer screening system, sold for so much that most people in the USA cannot afford it, in spite of the system itself being extremely cheap to produce and use.

Sulston (nobel laureate of Medicine in 2002) claims that science can be largely motivated by mere curiosity and need but that this needs of a great level of opennes and trust among the agents. He complains that the increased privatization of science and research, so welcomed by corporations and some governments, is only causing it to exclude those research areas that are not considered profitable (like finding a cure for malaria).

Another byproduct of the current draconian patent laws is that falsification of medicines has become very profitable. If medicines would be sold only reasonably above production costs, then the falsifiers would have no margin where to operate, but at the current absurd prices demanded, medicine falsifiers have found a huge market with high profits to make.

Sulston suggests to return to the old practice of separation of research and developement from production. He finds that the hybridation of both only causes corruption in the system. He concludes that the very success of humankind will depend on who owns sience.

Who and whith what purpose controls production is what some Marxists, like Toni Negri, have suggested to be the real battlefield of class war in this Toyotist new phase of Capitalism.

I said before that nearly no one is asking to totally supress the patent system but there are some voices that certainly have arisen in favor of mere expropiation of intellectual property for the sake of humanity and common sense.

This is the case of F. Pena, who demands the expropiation of all food patents with the clear objective of making a healthier humankind now, following the equally humanitarian path of medicines, where too expensive patents have already been legally breached with the same humanitarian goal.

In Negri-style words: if this intellectual property is nothing but the collective production (often not even production, just deduction) of the workers of the world (Humankind by another name) , how can we tolerate that it falls in the greedy hands of the corporative masters, who will use it only for their profit? It is nothing but knowledge (and nothing less than it) what Capital has targeted as the latest frontier of its accumulation process. But, unlike it happened in earlier accumulations, this one is not working altogether: it doesn't help to produce (research) more but less.

In the beginning of this 21st century, when huge problems like global ecology and loss of demand cramp the Capitalist system, it doesn't appear like this system can afford to destroy research that can save the system itself (at least in theory), yet, quite suicidally, the Capital is cutting the grass of free research under its own feet, hampering further developement and delaying much necesary solutions to its problems.

Would I be Paulson, I would certainly think in saving the economy by allowing more and better resarch, instead of giving prizes to the worst bankers of the planet. But all these people have only one master, and certainly this is not the public. I can just imagine that this serious problem will hang around for a while, until, in the midst of other convulsions, one country after another decide to denounce the TRIPS agreement and allow research to return to some normality.

Unveiled plan to depose Hamas rule in Gaza

has published (in Spanish) the first person account (author Khalid Amayreh) of a highest level meeting between Israel and Fatah armed forces, where it was agreed that Mahmmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) plans to continue ruling the West Bank after January 2009 (when his term expires) and that they will launch with Israeli support a major attack against Gaza that same month.

Link to article in English (MS Word document).

Alba Rico on the Crisis: demagoguery and realism

The sometimes genial Spanish philosopher Santiago Alba Rico, creator of the unforgettable TV character Bruja Avería (
Breakdown Witch) and her slogan: "viva el Mal, viva el Capital!" (long live Evil, long live Capital!), writes now on The Crisis and the billion people affected by famine.

Breakdown Witch: long live Evil, long live Capital!

He says that confronted with the dilemma of spending billions in saving the banks or the many people suferng famine, the realistic option is to choose the first one, while the second one is demagogic. The reason is that the World is hostage of the banks and corporations and would we not rescue them, they would take revenge. That is not likely to be the case with the billion global citizens suffering famine: they have virtually no power.

For a captive Humankind, he says, it is realistic only to accept the blackmail and side out truth, compassion, sensitivity, solidarity. A system that, when things go well, kills by hunger one billion people and, when things go bad, can kill all the rest, is not just a morally but also economically failed.

Capitalism just does not work, he adds.

There is something beautiful and gratifying in the fact that six powerful states have coordinated efforts to save the global economy: that is called "planification". In the time of Marx, Capitalism was "only an exception in some areas of the planet" and, if it has come to cover all the planetary surface, it has been only because of a permanent state intervention, to an uninterrupted state planning that combined and combines the land expropiation, armed intervetions, protectionist measures, state coups and international agreements. Never in history an economical experiment has enjoyed so powerful means nor so favorable conditions to show its superiority. In the last 60 years, the organized minority that manages global capitalism has bee supported, at an unprecedented scale, by a large array of international institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO, G-8, etc.) that have acted freely and aplicated against all obstacles policies of liberalization and privatization of the global economy. After 200 years of free existence, supported, defended, lifted by all the powers of Earth have brought us here: one billion human beings are suffering famine and, if we do not rush now to protect the culpirits, the rest may end up buried with the poorest ones after having killed each other.

It seems therefore that planifying to save banks and insurance companies is useless. And planifying to save lifes? That is something we havenot tried yet. (...)

Cuba is the only country in the World where, even after a hurricane that has destroyed 15% of all homes, the realistic thing to do is to save lives and the demagogy to rob from a brother. (...)

Link to the same article in English (thanks Joan Vecord).

China, autocracy, corruption and poisonous milk

The public health scandal in China of
adulteration of dairy products with poisonous melamin exposes, I understand, which is the major problem of the Chinese regime: lack of transparency, which is just a byproduct of lack of democracy and civil rights.

China is not a socialist country, not anymore. It is merely another capitalist country under a merely symbolic red banner. The fact that affected children, their families actually, have to pay for their health care highlights how much burgueoise is modern P.R. China. Healthcare has always been public in any other socialist country, as well as in many capitalist ones, as it is a basic guarantee of citizen equality. But healthcare is not the only indicator: private business have become more and more powerful, unionization is restricted and state-controlled and there is an ongoing internal colonialism draining rural China.

In any case, they have a major problem: corruption. Ok, corruption can be found anywhere but when there is transparency and the media has enough freedom and diversity to expose it, it becomes quite limited. Additionally autocratic governments reduce the faith of the people in them, even in good times, and make cheating legitimate.

I have got now and then into some discussions on the different moral values of Chinese and Westerners, on how different can be the concepts of "guilt" and "shame" and so on. But I do not believe there are real moral differences or that these are important: there are cheaters and corrupt people everywhere, the real problem is that the public interest is against them and therefore they have much more problems if they can be exposed and if their political support can suffer from any corruption scandal like this one. That's why capitalist countries have tended (not always but often enough) to create republican regimes with guarantist schemes, such as human rights, independent judiciary, regular elections and things like that. These elements just add to public confidence and somehow guarantee that the worst abuses are less likely to happen. In fact I would dare to say that these have been central elements in the overall success of Capitalism worldwide, specially in its historical confrontation with the "Socialist camp" in the Cold War. The autocratic regimes of the USSR and the like could not prevent nor tackle corruption because there was no internal opposition, no semblance of free press and no independent judiciary. Eventually the corrupt and stagnated Soviet bloc had to collapse.

China has adressed in all this time only the issues of economical competitivity: it has become largely a capitalist country, able to challenge somewhat the hegemony of the USA that way. But it has failed to adress the other major issue, or at least it has not adressed it with enough determination. Without any control other than the also corrupt bureaucracy, in the long run corruption had to become a major problem and make the contradictions show up.

I guess that this outraging scandal may shatter somewhat the fundaments of the CCP regime. I don't know how far this patent crack will damage the system itself but it has definitively damaged public credibility a lot. If this doesn't make the system change quite drastically, there will be others, no doubt, and they will eventually cause the fall of the one-party system. Excuting a handful of corrupt officials, as has happened before, may sound like an exemplary measure but it will not correct corruption, specially if state censorship keeps being used to hide the problem. And this will be the case unless things change radically because if anyone has enough power to bury such a major public health scandal, that person will be almost unavoidably bribed and put at the service of the corrupt interests.

Personally I think that it is unavoidable that, as China becomes more and more burgueoise, it will find itself in the need to organize a burgueoise political system. Moreso if it has great power ambitions.

I don't dare to forecast timelines but change seems unavoidable one way or another.

On and around with the crisis

The news on the most threatening financial crisis pile up. On one side
the US Congress seems reluctant to pay the bill to rescue troubled financial institutions while ignoring the plea of mortgaged homeowners and placing the burden on taxpayers' shoulders (who are the voters in the end - and there are major elections a few weeks ahead), on the other the FBI is investigating as many as 20 financial companies of the USA for possible fraud, including the four that made he headlines in recent days.

Doubts mount up and, after the "miraculous" climb up of last friday, stock markets look again rather gloomy.

On the bail out scheme, it's been argued that is paying bankers for making major mistakes, that it will give them double the money these institutions are actually worth (if not more) and that it is just a patch that ignores the real problems of an economy that is much more merely speculative than actually productive.

The scheme is similar to that used by Japan in 2006 in the face of a similar kind of financial nightmare but both Japan and the USA are heavily indebted states already (they have not used the good times to clean up their accounts). Japan has by now a public dept that is 180% its GDP (that is enormous, specially considering it's the second largest nominal GDP of the world). The US public debt, when considering all welfare debt (for some reason accounted separately), is some 59.1 trillion USD, what makes up some 430% of the GDP. US taxpayers therefore owe the total national production of four years and three months. Certainly 700 billion doesn't look that much in comparison but it is still a major share of the official public debt. In order to avoid the complications caused by this huge debt, the USA is letting the dollar plummet (as its debt is in US dollars) but this also has important side effects, specially regarding credibility and willingness by third parties (most US debt is foreign owned, with Japan, China and the UK holding half of it) to support it. In practical terms, the USA is in quasi-bankrupticy and I suspect it is only a matter of time until this bakrupticy becomes an official fact, specially in the midst of his financial credibility crisis.

A bankrupticy will not directly destroy US might but, as history teaches (think in Imperial Spain for instance, also heavily indebted to pay for wars all around the world), it will severly harm it.

In any case, with the economic pump of easy credit destroyed, the economy appears unlikely to recover (in fact I foresee a most deep and lasting crisis of major consequences, maybe like nothing seen before, at least in the last two centuries or so). The liberal (capitalist) economy is based in consume (aka demand) and, if the demand plummets, largely because of lack of easy credit, producers (offer) will not find much business to profit from, will not hire workers, much less increase their wages, reducing the demand even more. This is what Marx thought as the major contradiction of Capital: it is a machine of productivity growth but it needs of ever growing demand, while at the same time of ever diminishing salaries. Only pseudo-socialist schemes that guarantee that (some) workers keep some purchasing power have so far been able to keep the demand high but the now unleashed forces of pure global capitalism are just looking for ever-diminishing costs and the result is that demand cannot be sustained.

This has major implications for the lifestyles of the people specially in the developed world, who will have to live with much less, but it has even more dramatic consequences for the whole economic machinery. The bail-out won't recover easy credit: sub-prime credit was just the logical next step of a system that needed more and more buyers, who demanded more and more. It was not a sustainable approach but certainly capitalism is seldom sustainable, and never in the long run. This option is now out of the table and will be for long, and therefore demand is not likely to grow at all. Without demand, without growing demand, businness will succumb.

How to recover it? No idea: last time (1930s) it was only a major war, a huge public debt and major state involvement in the economy, that was able to get things straight. Nowadays, global wars are not any reasonable option, not at all and minor wars like Iraq an Afghanistan appear to only be able to drain even more the suffering state coffers.

Just some incomplete thoughts certainly but the situation looks extremely gloomy however one looks at it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Venusian winds: megahurricanes to total calm

Found at
Eusko Blog, originally from Basque Research.

Researchers led by A. Sánchez-Lavega (UPV-EHU, doi:10.1029/2008GL033817) have been measuring the winds of Venus in the context of the Venus Express ESA mission to this planet. They have found that the winds decrease from ultra-fast hurricanes at the outer atmosphere (370 km/h) to somewhat less violent ones (180 km/h) at the median layers and even to total calm at the poles, where they form a vortex.

The ultra-fast winds of the higher Venusian atmosphere actually create what is called the superrotation of Venus: that gaseous part of the planet spins a lot faster (4 earthly days) than the planet itself (that takes 243 earthly days to make a Venusian day - and not 224, as the press release confusely mentions, which is the Venusian year actually). But what this research highlights is that the atmospheric superrotation is not uniform: that there are variations, still ill-understood.

ultraviolet view of Venusian cloud structure

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reaganomics is dead. 'Humbling', says Paulson.

The irrational faith, already proven wrong once and again through history, in pure liberal Smithist economics and the corresponding
invisible hand, resurrected by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, is now being dumped hastily without further ceremonies.

The heirs of Reagan themselves are doing that. Henry Paulson, US Treasure Secretary, declared that it is a humbling experience to see such fragility in capital markets and ask how we ever get here.

Paulson made those declarations after supporting, with the full blessing of George Bush Jr. but the negative reaction of John McCain, the quasi-socialist measures to spend public money in saving the broken financial system.

It must really be a most humbling experience for those who have for so long advocated that "free markets" can regulate themselves and have scrapped most of the Keynesian safeguards estabilished in the 1930s after the Big Crash of 1929. It was already known that "free market" cannot work safely without proper and continuous state surveillance (after all not even property can be guaranteed without it) but irrational faith, briefly supported but some good results, overcame common sense. The bubble nature of this liberal illusion was well known (people cannot buy more than they earn, the prices of basic commodities such as houses cannot grow beyond what people can pay in a lifetime of hard work) and, as was easy to foresee, it burst.

Now it's time to clean the debris and see if the crumbling building can be restored somehow. But I suspect it is another example of "too little, too late", that the very heart of US-centered economical system is deadly injured and that we are witnessing a major collapse (if not THE collapse) of Western civilization.

After all, after five centuries of wild expansionism, there's nowhere else to go, planetary ecology is critically damaged and everybody else is trying to imitate the Western "success" model, making everything a lot more expensive and unsustainable. There is a fundamental fallacy in the Capitalist model: that consumerism means growth. Certainly as we consume more and more, accountable "production" also does, but a lot of non-accounted destruction also happens too. The very model of work-produce-consume (Kerouac's description) without further considerations is not viable anymore (it never was but Earth and the working class paid for it) . A radical redefinition of economy is urgently needed but the stakes are still in saving the broken Capitalsit system and the interests attached to it. It will not work, not anymore. It is late even for Keynesianism.

The future will take care of its own problems, said Keynes... but the future is now.

Israel kills nonviolent protester at Jerusalem

Maryam Ayyad, 57, died after "falling downstairs" while trying to block Israeli troops who tried to arrest students at her building. While the official statement evades all Israeli responsability, it seems obvious that she was murdered by them without further consideration, as usual.

Source: Al Jazeera.

Stonehenge re-dated

BBC: Dig pinpoints Stonhenge origins.

The bluestone ring of Stonehenge (3I phase, earliest with stone architecture) has been re-dated to c. 2300 BCE, some 300 years later than thought before. The datation is expected to be refined in the near future but so far it ranges from 2400 to 2200 BCE.

Major Indian megalithic monument destroyed

Stone Pages - Archaeonews: Megalithic site in India being destroyed.

Real state developers have all but destroyed an important Iron Age megalithic monument at the village of Vellarpatti, near Madurai (Tamil Nadu). The monument, including cairn circles (stone rings?), menhirs (standing stones) and burial slabs, is dated to 1000-500 BCE and is one of the most important ones in that part of India.

Nevertheless the archaeological and cultural authorities have failed to protect the site and developers have removed most of it to build a road, a modern temple, an industrial area as well as delimiting parcels for further developement.

The site is, at a later date, also associated to the Pandya king Nedunchezhiyan.

Neolithic Iberians failed to rotate crops.

This is what I gather from this news item at
Stone Pages - Archaeonews: Paleolithic Agriculture in Spain was Unsustainable.

Analysis on crop remains at Los Castillejos (Granada), dated between 4000 and 2500 BCE, have shown that the levels of nitrogen dropped dramatically through the occupation, as well as the corresponding yields (c. 30-40% for all parameters) . While the article does not dwell in the possible reasons behind this, it seems to me that failure to rotate cereals and legumes, as done in later periods, may have been the cause. Another possibility I'm considering could be lack of fertilizer, caused by scarcity of cattle.

Other findings are that, while wheat is found in association with cereal-specialist weeds, barley is found instead related to common weeds. This suggests that barley was cultivated in marginal lands with less labouring. The research was lead by Mónica Aguilera from the University of Barcelona.

Paleolithic Americans relied on rabbits, not mammoths

Stone Pages - Archaeonews: Early Paleolindian hunters may have relied on rabbits.

Blood found at eight Clovis culture spear points (Nobles Pond, Stark County) has been analyzed and the results are that half of them had rabbit (or hare) blood on them, while the rest had a variety of large mammals' stains: cervid, bison and bear. These findings were made by Mark Seeman et al. and published at the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cereals gathered as early as 23,000 BP in Syria

Also found at
Science Daily, based on research by the University of Warwick (lead: R. Allabin).

The origins of Mesolithic (properly speaking: the transition between hunter-gathering and agriculture and animal husbandry) have been pushed back by many milennia to c. 23,000 BP, before the last glacial maximum. At least that seems true for Syria, where people started gathering cereals at such early date, at the site of Ohalo II, what implies a very long Mesolithic of some 12,000 years.

The research by Allabin et al. focuses on modelling the actual evoluton of domesticated crops, questioning the single origin paradigm.

"Life bricks" found in interstellar cloud

Science Daily.

Researchers from the Astrophysical Institute of the Canary Islands, led by Susana Iglesias, have detected naphtalene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, in an interstellar cloud some 700 lightyears away from us. This finding suggests that these materials were probably also present at the formation of the Solar System and Earth, facilitating the formation of life.

Haumea, the newest dwarf planet

A few days ago it became known that the KBO known informally as "Santa" had been admitted as new dwarf planet, the fifth one in chronological order (the others are Ceres, Pluto, Eris and Makemake), with the name of
Haumea. Mike Brown, (arguably) its discoverer and certainly its namer, blogged on it and the controversy surrounding the discovery (same as that of Eris). Now he also posts on what makes a dwarf planet.

It was certainly not too clear to me why Haumea is a dwarf planet, being not round but clearly oval. But Brown has now wiped out my doubts: the odd shape is caused only because of its extremely fast spin,
if you stopped it spinning it would become a sphere. Haumea is therefore in hydrostatic equilibrium and that is what makes a dwarf planet apart of any other non-planetary object in the Solar system.

So I also bid my welcome to Haumea, godess of childbirth, fertility and Earth, as new dwarf planet.

Colombia: the reign of terror

Colombia has been recently in the media limelight but the reality of this country, where paramilitary squads, paid by
Chiquita and protected by the government, rule the streets and where the army kills peasants impunely and claims they are rebels, is largely unknown.

Al Jazeera explores today this cruel reality of the US protectorate, where 50% of wealth is owned by 10% of the people and 20% lives on $2 per day or less. They begin with the murder of a union leader, Luis Mayusa, in August, just one of at least 27 murders of this kind in 2008. Then mention how there is fear that the proposed free trade agreement with the USA will cause labor conditions to worsen even more. Finally they adress the strong connections of paramilitary gangs (recently amnestied by the government but which have not ceased to act anyhow) with corporations and the administration.

It is little wonder that there is such a strong guerrilla going on, certainly. Colombia is a terror state and has been that way for many decades. When you buy Chiquita fruit, think that you are financing the murder of innocent people in the streets of Colombia.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pyrenean Y-DNA

Take a look at
Dienekes' Anthropology Blog: 'Y chromosomes from the Pyrenees'. Based on López-Parra et al. 2008 (behind a paywall).

Most interesting is this map of haplogroup frequencies, showing that R1b1b2a2c (M153, light blue) is most common among Basques but very rare among other populations (it has also been detected in minimal ammounts in Spain and among Latin Americans), while R1b1b2a2d (M167, dark blue) , while also found among Basques, is much more common among other Pyrenean populations, notably Aranese (c. 50%), being found among other Iberians at small apportions too.
This R1b subclade (M167) is known (from other studies) to have been found at rates of 12% among Catalans, 5% among the French (no known data on Gascons, of whom Aranese are a subpopulation), 2% among other Iberians and occasional occurrences in other European locations. I am seriously intrigued about R-M167 frequency among Gascons and Occitans, because the very high apportion among Aranese people and the relatively high presence on all-France samples (as well as NW Iberians) strongly suggests it is rather prevalent through all the prehistoric Franco-Cantabrian region.

Other results refer to haplogroup I. The clade is somewhat common though the Pyrenees and I2a2 (M26, most frequent in Sardinia) appears particularly significative in two locations: "Jacetania" (medieval Aragon county) and Cerdanya (in old Catalonia), with less important presence in other localities and in the rest of Iberia. I(xI2a2) is also somewhat important but it is not clear if it may be I2a1 ("Balcanic"), I2b ("NW mainland European") or I1 ("Scandinavian"). My guess is that, as it mostly associated to I2a2, it will be mostly I2a1 but the matter is not fully clear. Western Basques appear low in both I clades but they are relevant among High Navarrese (Cinco Villas).

The other detached piece of cake is described generically as Neolithic haplogroups. Considering that R1a (very rare anyhow) is assimilated in the R+I cake share as supposedly non-Neolithic, I understand it means haplogroups G, J and E. These ake a significative fraction of the Iberian cake (like 30%) but are less important among Pyrenean peoples (except Alt Urgell). Anyhow, again the study fails to make a distinction between the three haplogroups, that surely had different origins: J arriving from the Eastern Mediterranean, E almost exclusively from North Africa (and surely the most important "Neolithic clade" in Iberia) and G being still an unsolved mystery (though an Eastern Med Neolithic source is likely).

Narcotraffic centered in the USA and US protectorates

article at Rebelión by P. Siris (in Spanish). The author, based on figures of the UN office on Drugs and Crime, notices that USA is by large the greatest consumer of cocaine (45% of the world total) and also a major producer of illegal drugs like marihuana (20% of the world's total, using more land than for maize).

Even more significatively, Siris notices that the number of drug seizures in the North American country has dropped massively in the last decade and now only ammounts to 24% of the world's total, very low considering the huge relevance of the USA as drugs' consumer.
Furthermore, the vast majority of world's cocaine production (60%) happens in Colombia, a US protectorate (and certainly not in jungle areas controlled by the guerrilla), while almost all global opiate production is in Afghanistan (96%) , another US occupied country.

Nevertheless, the USA dares to patronize countries like Bolivia, Venezuela and Myanmar (Bolivia and Myanmar are secondary producers of coca and opium respectively, Venezuela is not any major producer of anything) on this issue, while ignoring the Colombia, Peru (second global producer of coca and cocaine) and Afghanistan, as well as other major hubs of drug trafficking like Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, the European Union and the very United States.

Siris argues that
the USA is not just the largest drug consumer of the world but that it also controls the production of most of these substances and is the benefitiary of the benefit in the narcotraffic business.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yet another Basque party is banned

As expected, the trial against the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (
EHAK by its Basque acronym) , has ended with their ban, the party that right now holds the key to who forms government in the Western Basque Country with its 9 seats. The details of the sentence are not clear yet but guess they do not seem to matter anyhow, considering what has been argued to illegalize other political groups in the last days (see my previous posts: 1, 2).

Source: Gara.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

10 years of jail for speaking out

Whoever dares to say that Spain is a democracy is absolutely wrong. And the increasing ammount of jail sentences for ideological "crimes"
(crimethink in Orwell's premonitory nightmare) is a good example of it. Kafka's works will also soon probably become compulsory reading for all wannabee lawyers, so they know in advance what the law is worth.

21 activists of the Basque rights watchdog Comitees for Amnesty and its successor Askatasuna (freedom) have been sentenced by the Spanish Neoinquistion (Supreme Court) to 8 to 10 years of jail for crimes such as denouncing torture, criticising judicial rulings or demanding the repatriation of Basque prisioners. The ruling admits that the struggle of these organizations has never been violent but it argues, based just on ad hoc police reports, that they are subservient of ETA because they share "the same project, the one promoted in political terms by the Nationalist Left, in which armed action is done in defense of the rights of the Basque Country", that they also aim "to depose Spain in the Basque Country". For that shared ideology they are officially described as "terrorist organization", even if they have always acted within the law.

One can just wonder how many new jails they will have to build if they want to apply the law to the many Basque citizens who also share that project and who also denounce tortures and other abuses daily.

image of the process

Source: Gara (in Spanish).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ethnically speaking, who rules Spain?

It is a very interesting question to make. After all, it is a country divided along ethnic lines that one could well argue that never finished its unification process, where the periphery, particularly Basques and Catalans, often feel opressed by an ethnic Castilian/Spanish rule.

But in theory all Spanish citizens are equal. And that has been largely the case since 1715, when the new Bourbon monarch supressed the self-rule of the realms of the Crown of Aragon, after the War of Spanish Succession. While it is often argued by Spanish historians that Spain was founded in the late 15th century, the reality is that it was only formed as a unitarian state (with the Basque exception) with this first Bourbon monarch, Philp V, more than 200 years later, after the other European posessions of the crown were lost (mostly to Austria).

I have been checking the origins (place of birth and/or where the family was estabilished) of all Prime Ministers (and the few non-monarchical chiefs of state) of Spain since this Philip V, founder of Spain as we know it (and also first to estabilish the charge of Secretary of State, that would later become Prime Minister - or "President of the Goverment", as the office is nowadays officially known in Spain). Skipping the interim ones and those who ruled less for than a full month (most of which are hard to find out about their origins, as they are widely unknown) , they make a total of 115, of which 95 can be safely known their origins and these were within modern Spain.

But before jumping to conclussions, let's define (admittedly with some arbitrariety) which are the ethnicities of Spain. I avoided to use the 15 (and two colonial bits of Morocco) modern Autonomous communities as such. It could have been a criteria but really many of those communities are just but capricious subdivisions of Castile with little or no distinct personality. Instead, I followed a more historical approach:

Above you can see the Iberian peninsula (then known as Spain) as it used to be in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Then (and later on with the Habsburg dynasty) Castile was a unitarian kingdom, divided in provinces (in some cases called "kingdoms" because of historical reasons but with no autonomy) but Aragon was instead a federative crown formed (in Iberia) of four realms: Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Mallorca (Balearic Islands). Additionally (we will ignore Portugal here) there was Navarre and the three western Basque provinces that, even if annexed to Castile, were almost totally autonomous.

The Spanish constitution of 1978 recognizes four "historical nationalities": Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia and Andalusia. The first two had autonomy historically but the latter two did not: Galicia is the "Portuguese speaking" (ok, ok, "Galician-speaking" but it's the same) part of the kingdom of Castile and, well, Andalusia... they have a strong accent and once were Muslims. In fact there was some controversy on wether Andalusia was a "nationality" but I will admit that they have their peculairities. So excepting Galicia and Andalusia, as well as the Basque Country, I will consider all the historical Kingdom of Castile (or Castile and Leon) as a single ethnical unity: Castile. I will also consider apart the Canary Islands because they are, in my opinion, more of a historical nationality than Andalusia and, as colonial posession, they definitively deserve a place apart.

I will also consider separate ethnicities here the four realms of the crown of Aragon (now each a separate autonomous community) and the Basque Country (Navarre included).

Comparing with the official administrative division active for the last few decades, then I will consider the following ethnicities:

- Galician: Galicia
- Andalusian: Andalusia
- Catalan: Catalonia
- Aragonese: Aragon
- Valencian: Valencian Community
- Balear: Balearic Islands
- Basque: A.C. of the Basque Country and F.C. of Navarre
- Castilian: Asturias, Cantabria, Castile-Leon, La Rioja, Madrid, Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and Murcia

I know it's arguable but it's also quite reasonable.

So where are the 115 historical Spanish prime ministers from? Voilá:

- 47 Castilian
- 26 Andalusian
- 7 Galicians
- 4 Valencians
- 3 Basque
- 3 Catalans
- 2 Aragonese
- 2 Balearic
- 1 Canarian
- 6 from other European origins (mostly in the 18th century: 2 Italians, 2 French, 1 English and 1 Irish)
- 6 from former colonies (mostly in the 19th century: 2 from Argentina, 2 from Cuba, 1 from Mexico and 1 from the Philippines)
- 8 I could not locate their origins with certainty

So there are 20 PMs that are useless for our purpose (foreigners, creole Spaniards or of unknown origin). But we can still consider the remaining 95.

The first element that strikes is that 73 prime ministers (76.8% of all) are either Castilian or Andalusian, while only three are Catalans (and two of them were presidents of the First Republic). There are only three Basques too but Basques are quite less in number than Catalans. Without even getting into figures yet, I know that Catalonia can be compared with Andalusia by population, and the Basque Country with Galicia. And it is quite striking that the Andalusian PMs are almost nine times the Catalan ones.

But let's compare data: population vs. number of Prime Ministers. We can get a discrimination ratio (positive or negative) from those figures.

- Castile (as defined above) has 14.9 million people, 33.5% of the Spanish total, but it has 49.5% of the historical rulers. It has an excess (possitive discrimination ratio) of +48%.
- Andalusia has 7.84 million inhabitants, 17.9% of Spanish citizens... but it had 27.4% of the prime ministers. It has a discrimination ratio of +53%.
- Catalonia has 7.00 million people, 15.9% of Spain's total but only 3.16% of the historical rulers. Its discrimination ratio is -80%. Would it not have been for the failed First Republic, it would have been much worse.
- Valencia has 4.69 million people, 10.6% of the total but only 4.21% of historical PMs. Its discrimination ratio is -60%.
- Galicia has 2.76 million people, 6.3% of the total and 7.37% of historical rulers. Its discrimination ratio is +17%.
- The Southern Basque Country has 2.72 million people, 6.2% of Spain, but only 3.16% of the historical rulers. Its discrimination ratio is of -49%.
- The Canary Islands have 1.97 million people, 4.5% of Spain, but only 1.05% of the historical rulers (one). Their discrimination ratio is almost as bad as that of Catalonia: -77%.
- Aragon has 1.27 million people, 2.9% of Spaniards, and had 2.11% of rulers. Its discrimination ratio is -28%.
- The Balearic Islands have 980,000 inhabitants, 2.2% of Spanish citizens, and had 2.11% of PMs. Its discrimination ratio is nearly null (in spite of being Catalan speakers): -4%.

From these figures we can see that there are the following categories:

1. Most favored ethnicities: Andalusians and Castilians
2. Almost neutrally treated ethnicities: Galicians, Balears and Aragonese
3. Clearly discriminated ethnicities: Catalans, Canarians, Valencians and Basques

Maybe Catalans and Basques have the biggest share of economic power (as from the gross internal product of these countries) but when it comes to political power, they are among the most discriminated against ethnicities of Spain, together with Valencians (largely Catalan-speakers) and Canarians (the first and last overseas colony). Castilians (Andalusians included) rule the country clearly.

Raw data and maps from Wikipedia (English and Spanish language versions).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Basque Nationalist Action illegalized, like under Franco's boot

Less than 24 hours (probably a few seconds, I can imagine) took the Supreme Court (special political tribunal) to ban the historical party Basque Nationalist Action (EAE-ANV). The sentence considers it "successor" of (already illegal) Batasuna (Union), no matter it was founded in 1930, sixty years before Batsuna was created and almost forty before its antecessor Herri Batasuna (People's Union) coalition was formed (with EAE as member, by the way). The party had only been illegal before under the Fascist dictatorship of general Franco.

EAE-ANV flag

One can imagine the judges, gathering in the morning, without any hurry, to sign a sentence that had been written before the very beginning of the trial, while having breakfast. There is no evidence of any criminal behaviour but who cares? They are there to serve the interests of Spain (the state, not the people) and the consensus between the post-fascists and the social-democrats. That's what they are paid for.

One thing someone commented on TV is that this practice of illegalizing parties is extremely rare in the context of the European Union. The only cases I can think of are in West Germany, where the Communist Party was decared illegal in the 50s in the context of the Cold War (and some neonazi parties have also been banned - but not all). None of them represented such a wide sector of society in any case, to find a truly comparable case one has to look at Turkey or other cases of authoritarian parlamentarism, always beyond the borders of EU.

Source: EITB.
See also my previous post.

Historical Basque party facing illegalization

Basque Nationalist Action (EAE-ANV) political party created in 1930 and fully legal again (after the Fascist parenthesis) since 1977 is now facing possible illegalization at the Spanish Supreme Court, together with the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK) that holds significative representation in the Basque Autonomous Parliament.

EAE was already partly forbidden from running in the last municipal elections, what left many Basque towns, including the capital cities, devoid of legitimate governments.

In the closing session of the trial, the accusation dropped several charges, admitting they were not realistic (rather typical hysterical, I'd say). Meanwhile the defense argued that the activities that have founded the charges are not proven, are not severe, are not basis for illegalization, have not been repeated or are supported by the right to ideological freedom.

Most of the charges are based on the alleged relationship with the already illegalized party Batasuna, as well as other illegal organizations such as Segi (youth organization) and Askatasuna (civil rights association), the latter not yet forbidden.

The accusation was based on claims like the bill of a press conference by EAE being paid by members of Batasuna (yet the fact is that these were two separate press conferences) or the opposition by this party to the controvrsial high speed train (which is opposed by a large array of organizations and people).

A major accusation element is the political support given to Batasuna, on the grounds that the law forbids parties that complement or support politically the activity of terrorist organizations. To this the defense argues that Batasuna, while illegal, has never been declared terrorist organization and this is also the case with the other organizations that have signed manifests along with EAE.

Nevertheless it is very possible that the historical Basque party, the first one fusing nationalism and socialism, and an important actor in the Civil War, not just in the Basque Country but also in Spanish lands (EAE did not surrender to the Fascists, as did the conservative EAJ-PNV upon the loss of Bilbao), may be declared illegal anyhow on any pretext. If so, the next elections, will see (again) many Basque citizens unable to vote an will make the Basque institutions even more illegitimate.

Source: Gara.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cuba needs 10 billion dollars to rebuild

While the first news of the effects of the most devastating hurricane Ike in Texas are still arriving, the ones on Cuba become more clear. While deaths were mostly prevented again (only four casualties have been reported) the material destruction has been widespread.

The first official estimates speak of ten billion (ten thousand million) dollars being needed to rebuild the homes, electricity, roads and other infrastructure of the island.
According to Cubainformación, 515,000 homes were harmed, 91,000 of them totally destroyed. These are provisional estimates, as there are still many areas flooded. As the work brigades begin their task, together with the armed forces, the directives are to recover every single nail from the destroyed homes, what highlights the extreme need the socialist country is in after Ike and other storms.

A non-comprehensive list of solidarity accounts in Europe and Latin America can be found
here (in Spanish). Many ask to make donations in euros or any currency that is not US dollars, because of the blockade by Washington.

There is some mediatic confusion on wether and why Cuba rejected the US offer of "help". While the usual media have been unclear about it.
The Cuban authorities rejected it because it included, first of all, a Yankee surveyance team. Cuba declares it has all the human resources needed and what it needs now is material help only. It may be worth recalling that the USA rejected similar offers by Cuba and other countries on the wake of Katrina, accepting nevertheless all monetary donations.

La Habana asks instead for the suspension of the blockade, a petition partly echoed by presidential candidate Barack Obama but rejected by Condoleeza Rice, and declares extremely suspicious the intentions of Washington's offer. The European Union has also been extremely greedy, offering a miserable two millon euros donation. Meanwhile, Brazil is already giving food aid to both Cuba and Haiti.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Middle Paleolithic remains found at Basque cave

The research at Arlanpe cave (Lemoa, Biscay, Basque Country) has unveiled important findings from the early Middle Paleolithic period, remains dated to 300-150,000 BP.

Other remains found at this little known cave are from the late Solutrean (c. 17,000 BP) and as recent as the Roman period. Animal remains are also relevant findings, among which has special importance those of brown bear (Ursus arctos) because their genetic analysis have shown that they are more related to Eastern European bear than to the Alpine and Balcanic population.

Sources (all in Spanish):
- Harpea Kultur Elkartea: Arlanpe Project (with images of the lithic assamblages found)
- Gara

Most senior Saudi judge calls for killing 'immoral broadcasters'

In another surrealistic 'fatwa' epysode, the most senior judge of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Al-Luhaydan, declared in a radio interview that killing the owners of 'immoral' satellite TVs is legitimate. In response to an audience question he said:

It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil cannot be stopped by other penalties.

So far he has not been dismissed nor it seems it will be the case unless some international uproar forces the fat and corrupt Saudi monarch to act.

Fanaticism is a major problem and should be solved somehow. In my opinion only an "Albanian solution" is possible. Enver Hoxa might be whatever you want but made Albania agnostic and secular.

Even if you do not agree with my sympathies for the Maoist solution to fanaticism, you will surely agree that supporting fundamentalism regimes like Saudi Arabia is stupid and suicidal.


Update: Just read the Al Jazeera version of the same news.

Azzam Tamimi, the director of the Islamic Institute of Political Thought, told Al Jazeera: "You cannot just license the killing of people in this way.

"If I were in his place, I would criticise the people who licensed the channels in the first place and these are the rulers of his own country."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Agriculture reached the ancient Basque Country some 5,500 years ago

Found at
Mathilda's Anthropology Blog, a frequently renewed anthropological and archaeological blog that is very worth checking regularly, specially because it often adresses a range of issues that other blogs do not (specially worth mentioning her interest in North Africa, seldom found elsewhere).

Wheat grains found in the site of El Mirón (Ramales, Cantabria) have been dated to c. 5,550 BP, as a team lead by Leonor Peña-Chocarro reports at the Journal of Archaeological Science. This confirms the earliest possible dates managed for the arrival of Neolithic to the Northern Atlantic Iberian Peninsula, probably imported from the upper Ebro or middle Garonne Epicardial groups, of somewhat earlier dates.

You may wonder why I consider this town of modern province of Cantabria to be part of the "ancient Basque Country". Well, the fact is that ancient Cantabrians (as known historically as well as archaeologically) dwelt farther east, in western Cantabria, eastern Asturias and nearby areas of Castile-Leon. The eastern Cantabrian area fell until Castilian conquest in the 10th century CE in the Basque area - though one could well argue that historical Cantabrians were once Basques as well. Whatever the case, the village of Ramales, renamed "Ramales de la Victoria" by the Fascists in 1937, is just at the modern border with Biscay (Western Basque Country) and cannot be detached of Basque Prehistory and ancient and medieval history.

It's maybe worth mentioning that farmer in Basque is nekazari, literally 'hard work' (neka(-tu) = to get tired, nekez = hardly, with effort), what seems to suggest that early Basques saw it as a somewhat undesirable way of life. There is no such negative connotation for sepherdry instead, sepherd being artzain (from ardi = sheep + zain(-du) = to care, keep or guard). Sepherdry also expanded among Basques in the 4th milennium BCE and the earliest known sites out of the Ebro banks are known in Santimamiñe cave (Biscay), that holds the best continuous archaeological record in the area (from Chatelperronian to the Iron Age).

Pottery instead is older, with findings at Zatoia (Pyrenean Navarre) dated to the early 6th milennium BCE, in what seems a subneolithic context (hunter-gatherers with pottery).

Ekain 'neocave' inaugurated

Western Basque and Gipuzkoan authorities inaugurated yesterday the replica of Ekain cave, at Zestoa (Gipuzkoa).

The artificial cave, named Ekainberri ('New Ekain') will allow visitors to enjoy one of the most fascinating Upper Paleolithic sites in Europe, including of course its unique mural art, described by Leroi-Gourham as the most perfect horse composition of Quaternary art.

After the opening of the replica of Santimamiñe last year, Ekain is the second Basque Paleolithic cave to open such neocave for visitors. Both sites, together with less-known Altxerri cave, are nominated to become World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

Ekainberri will be open to the public since tomorrow and the entrance will cost 5 euros (4 for retired people and minors).

Source: Gara.

For further info check this previous post.