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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So long, Dr. Hofmann

Albert Hofmann, best known as the discoverer of LSD (d-lysergic acid diethyilamide), has died at the venerable age of 102, apparently of a heart attack. His wife Anita preceded him by few months.

Two years ago his 100th birthday was celebrated at global level with the Basel LSD International Symposium, where he was one of the lecturers and showed to be in great shape.

Hofmann, first sythetized LSD in 1938, but in that occasion it was set aside with just minimal testing. He synthetized again the drug on April 16th 1943, accidentally ingesting a minimal ammount and being therefore the first human ever to experience the drug, even if mildly. Three days, on April 19th, later he decided to test it again on himself, taking 250 micrograms of the substance. That day he really had a good trip, while riding back home on his bycicle and the day has passed to history as Bycicle Day.

In 1958 he sythetized psylocibine and psilocine, the active components of "magic mushrooms" (genus Psylocibe). He also studied olioluqui, finding chemicals related to LSD in it.

Enlightened by his psychodelic experiences, he became a resolute defendant of these substances, specially his "problem child", LSD, the only known drug able to act in such ridiculously tiny ammounts. He was very upset about the demonization and total ilegallization of this substance that he (and many others) considered a blessing, a gate to the other half of reality, a hidden half that the reactionary policial forces of the world want to banish or keep hidden - because they intuitively know how much at risk is their socio-psychological control, the illness they feed on like the rotten parasites they are.

We will miss you, Albert, but over anything we will always be in debt with you for your fascinating discoveries, for your scientifical breach of the doors of perception. People like you are who make Humankind and Life really worth it.


Other obituaries/biographies:
- Hofmann Foundation
- Erowid: Albert Hofmann
- International LSD Symposium 2006: Albert Hofmann

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Marcos book soon to be published.

Corte de Caja
will be the original title (sorry but no idea what may that mean in Mexican Spanish) and takes the form of interview by Mexican journalist Laura Castellanos.

In the advance found at Rebelión, the subcomandante Marcos mentions his admiration for Fidel Castro, whom he compares with historical heroes like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, and Che Guevara, whom he believes was way before his time, that he belonged to a generation not yet fully born. More critical he is with modern left-wing American leaders: he gives the benefit of doubt to Evo Morales, feels plainly disillusionated with Lula and is also relatively critical with Hugo Chávez, of whom he says that has a foot in mediatic politics with aftertaste to "caudillo" and another in the movement that is awakening in Venezuela.

On the Colombian guerrilla FARC he says that they have a huge mediatic campaign against them, trying to link them with drugs trade. On the other Mexican armed group, the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR), he declares to have no contacts with them and that they differ in their strategies: that the EPR is focused in military action, while the Zapatistas are instead dedicated to popular organization.

Regarding the Zapatista movement itself, he says that we are like in 1993 [before the armed uprising of January 1st 1994]. They neither see nor hear us. The disadvantage is that they have already seen and heard us and now just pull us to the side.

But he also believes that the situation of Mexico is of total destruction. That if the elites believe that the people is going to put up with a dictatorship of the party, of the state, they are wrong. No. The country won't stand it.

He also meditates that he was maybe too active in the media early on and that, in contrast, this book may be his last interview.

Marcos with comandante (major) Tacho 1999

The strangely wide influence of a pariah nation.

It's not just Venezuela and the likes who are benefitting of Cuban advances, Europeans also do: yesterday I watched in Euronews how lots of Portuguese are travelling to Cuba to treat their eyes because of the incredible lack of oftalmologists in their country and the low prices they can pay in Cuba, today I read that the Spanish city of Seville is using a Cuban method to alphabetize the important sector (for European standards) of its population that is still illiterate.

Four years in prision for removing Spanish flag.

A young Catalan has been sentenced to four years in prision for the "crime" of removing the Spanish banner from the town hall of Terrasa (source).

It seems an obvious exemplary punishment, that can't be but described as political, in these times of imposition and renewed inquisition. Torturers and rapists often don't get much more, if they get punished at all.

When Justice becomes Injustice, who will impart Justice after all?

French Israel Lobby deposes subprefect

If anybody still doubts of the immense power of the Israel Lobby, in the USA as in Europe and elsewhere, this may make them to think again. Bruno Guigue is a French intellectual (political writer) specialized in the Middle East. He was named sous-préfet (subprefect or vicegovernor) of Saintes in 2007 by a conservative government. In March 13 he published an article critical with the Israel Lobby and its arrogant attitude towards the UN, and also critical of Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories.

In March 18, Luc Rosenzweig, columnist of Libération, attacked this article, acusing Guigue (gratuitously) of antisemitism. Two days later Interior Minister, Michèlle Alliot-Marie, deposed him.

Roszenweig has also been involved in previous outrageous defense of Israeli crimes, when he argued that the murder of 12 year old, Mohammed al Durah, widely denounced in the press worldwide, was actually perpetrated by Palestinians. He's an evident political hitman of the Israel Lobby.

It may sound incredible to some but the real painful fact is the the Israel Lobby, as James Petras has denounced in the context of the USA, is not just a regular lobby but has the very unique power of dictating the policies of most Western countries, at least in regard to the Middle East. This includes censorship and persecution of dissident anti-Israeli opinions (often with gratuitous accusations of "antisemitism") and the framing of wars and colonialist invasions such as that of Iraq.

Source: Bruno Guigue: Ma faute ? Avoir heurté de plein fouet la doxa occidentale (also Spanish language version at Rebelión) and French Wikipedia.

Second Basque armed group threatens widespread action

In the latest decades, with the succesive disappearence (either through surrender or forced supression) of all other Basque armed groups, ETA(m) (lately known just as ETA) became the only militant group operating in the Basque Country. Behind laid the many breakup other ETAs (that one after the other pacted surrender with Spain), the Autonomous Anticapitalist Commandos, that were exterminated manu militari, and Iparraterrak, the group operating in the Northern Basque Country, also suppressed by police means.

But recently, another group rooted again in the French-controlled North has become more and more active, generally targetting turistic, real state and public targets with, so far, bloodless attacks. Their name is Irrintzi, that is the traditional Basque cry of victory or satisfaction. Today it's been known that they have made public threats of spreading their activities to all the Basque Country, also south of the border, so far exclussive area of ETA, if the French government doesn't listen to their claims.

In their communication, Irrintzi, adresses the French Republic and the United Nations with the following threat:

Not being possible to negotiate a solution to the Basque problem on either side of the border, we shall threaten the whole French and Spanish territories with armed action.

They ask the UN and EU to encourage France and Spain to respect their compromises with Human Rights and Democracy. They justify these claims on the grounds that the Northern Basque Country lacks of any sort of institutional recognition and in the situation of the South being one of political and military repression without precedent.

To France they demand a referendum and the creation of a frame of institutional autonomy for the Northern Basque Country.

The communication also claims six attacks since autumn 2007: three failed attacks in Angelu (Anglet), against the hotel Arguia, mansion Prinkipo and golf course of Chiberta, the succesful attack against the police station of Bokale (Bocau), and the failed attacks at Bidaxune (Bidache) against post and turism offices. In this context, Irrintzi also makes specific threats against foreign businessmen.

Source: Le Journal du Pays Basque (in French).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Magdalenian and Inuit harpoons

This post has been largely inspired by A. Steenhuyse, of Anthrosite blog. Some days ago, I posted on his most intriguing mention that some Magdalenian artifacts of Isturitze cave (Low Navarre, Basque Country) were made of whale bones and that these bones were best quality to create tools that would bear impacts.

Then I wondered wether this could mean active whaling, like Inuits used to do with nothing but stone age tools. And this issue got me intrigued enough as to ask Alexandre about its likehood. And while he doesn't have a defined opinion, he has given me a most valuable piece of info that I would have probably never realized on my own: certain inuit harpoons are VERY similar to the magdalenians ones (the composite ones with detachable parts).

Bingo! Sure that there is not yet enough evidence in form of seal or whale remains but if the Isturitze ones have been in a museum for so long without anybody noticing that they were whale bones, it's possible that many others have equally remained unnoticed elsewhere. Also most coastal sites are now underwater anyhow. But the big question is, what could be those Magdalenian harpoons used for if not for seal (and inccidentally whale) hunting? They don't seem ideal for land hunting, for what spears or arrows (and traps) would be more effective, they wouldn't be of much use for fishing, as they knew of fishing hooks since the Solutrean period. What else could be the overabundant Magdalenian detachable harpoons be for?

Certainly the Bay of Biscay could well be full of seals in Ice Age, when it was the northernmost portion of European waters without permanent ice. And whales have been aboundant until historical times.

Magdalenian harpoons.

Early Inuit harpoon

More modern Inuit harpoons, showing the lines.

Something to think about, really.


Update: Magdalenians did eat sea mammals apparently.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The delusion of Principal Components

There's a lot of fuzz in the genetics blogosphere about a new paper by J. Novembre and M. Stephens, titled Interpreting principal component analyses of spatial population genetic variation (Nature, 2008). I have only access to the abstract (sorry: too poor to subscribe to anything) but p-ter at GNXP and G at Popgen ramblings, for instance, have been discussing it. The latter says:

These results do not to say that human populations did not expand out of particular regions, just that PCA maps are not the best tool to judge this.
Often we find the opposite interpretation, beginning by the classical works of Cavalli-Sforza himself. So, please, be very cautious about PCA interpretation: they may not show what it seems on first sight - after all they aren't but complex mathematical abstractions, not the real thing.

Arbitrary arrests and torture: the daily bread.

At least in the Basque Country, though I know it happens in other places too (though most are not in EU, whatever that may mean).

The latest: among the late wave of mostly arbitrary and politically motivated arrests in Gipuzkoa, all have denounced tortures, wether physical or psychological. One of them, Aitor Alberdi, was so depressed by the isolation and police abuse, who shown him repeatedly what looked like an arrest grant against his girlfriend, that he tried to kill himself by the expeditive method of biting his wrists.

Five of the arrested, who eventually got out on bail, denounced publically and before the judges the tortures suffered, but the media covering this issue has been just a fraction of the ones covering the mediatized propagandistic arrests, presented by the authorities as a big hit against urban guerrilla.

Haizea Iriarte told how she was placed in a room beside her boyfriend (still in prision), separated by a single direction glass, so he could see her but she could not see him. Each time she answered something that the cops didn't like, they forced her to strip of one piece of her clothes. At the same time he was also beaten and abused.

Image of the press conference

They have been denied the right to be exmined by a forsenic physician, the right to name their lawyer, the right to declare in their mother tongue...

But I won't say this is annomalous at all. The real problem is that it is way too normal. It happens almost every day, in every corner of the Basque Country under Spanish administration. Then hey sentence people based only on self-inculpatory declarations obtained under torture and police reports that often have nothing to do with reality. Evidence?, what for? Presumption of innocence?, that's in Hollywood films. Human rights?, rights are, apparently, just for the far right criminals. Impartial judges?, don't make me laugh!

There were also protests in Oiartzun

Source: Gara: 'Hospitalizado uno de los últimos detenidos después de autolesionarse tras cinco días de incomunicación".

For further and regularly updated info on tortures and other rights violations in the Basque Coutry, read Torturaren Kontrako Taldea's site (in Spanish).

In the depths of the great-great-...-great-grandmother

A new study, by D.M. Behar et al., on the oldest human maternal lineages (mtDNA) has seen light at the AJHG (subscribers only - but will be open access in six months). As I have only access to the abstract and to the news published here and there, I can only comment so much but certainly it is great that mitochondrial genetics and specially old African ones (at the root of everyting else) are been given due attention.

The abstract is rather cryptic:

Both the tree phylogeny and coalescence calculations suggest that Khoisan matrilineal ancestry diverged from the rest of the human mtDNA pool 90,000-150,000 years before present (ybp) and that at least five additional, currently extant maternal lineages existed during this period in parallel. Furthermore, we estimate that a minimum of 40 other evolutionarily successful lineages flourished in sub-Saharan Africa during the period of modern human dispersal out of Africa approximately 60,000-70,000 ybp. Only much later, at the beginning of the Late Stone Age, about 40,000 ybp, did introgression of additional lineages occur into the Khoisan mtDNA pool. This process was further accelerated during the recent Bantu expansions. Our results suggest that the early settlement of humans in Africa was already matrilineally structured and involved small, separately evolving isolated populations.

But the news are written in a more spectacular style, suggesting that humankind was about to split in two separate species, one in southern and the other in equatorial Africa, due to isolation from each other. But later both groups came into contact again and the unity of the species was re-estabilished.

As far as I can tell this is related to the antiquity of L0, specific of Khoisan peoples of southern Africa.

Update: Science daily has an article with a maybe less dramatic approach to the same paper: Early Human Populations Evolved Separately For 100,000 Years. Here an excerpt:

Recent paleoclimatological data suggests that Eastern Africa went through a series of massive droughts between 135,000-90,000 years ago. It is possible that this climatological shift contributed to the population splits. What is surprising is the length of time the populations were separate - as much as half of our entire history as a species.

The timing of these events coincides with the onset of the Late Stone Age in Africa, a change in material culture that many archaeologists believe heralds the beginning of fully modern human behavior, including abstract thought and complex spoken language.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Zionist silent ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem

There's an interesting article in Al Jazeera explaining how thousands of Palestinians with East Jerusalem ID cards are being dropped in other categories when they can't provide all the complex paperwork the occupants demand. This policy has been going on since 1995 and, together with the physical and legal separation of Jerusalem from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, that causes many people to be cut from their relatives, has the obvious intent of diplacing Palestinians out of Jerusalem.

In spite of such genocidal policies, the actual Jewish population of the Palestinian capital has declined by some 100,000 in the last 25 years

Hypocrisy? Too obvious.

A forsenic research has shown that we, even the best actor/actress among us, can't actually fake emotions totally. There are muscles in the face that can only react to genuine emotions and, to the trained eye, such details can't but be evident. I bet this study is of great use to poker players and the like but it also shows how hypocrisy can be so obvious for some and therefore cause be cause of discomfort, rather than falsehood-induced comfort.

So why trying to pretend, when it's so obvious? Stop being so hypocritical: it's not worth it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


A week ago or so, a Danish cargo vessel was liberated after paying a ransom of, allegedly, 700,000 dollars. Now a Basque fishing ship and its crew is being held for ransom in Somalia too, rumors talk of maybe only 100,000 euros this time. A few days ago an Italian oil tanker barely managed to escape another attack in Bab-el-Mandeb strait. France and the USA are working in a UNSC resolution that would allow to persecute pirates inside territorial waters. Several countries have deployed armed vessels in the area, included Spain - that weeks ago was ignoring the fishermen's plea to do it.

Somalia may have been without a real government for 17 years now but its territorial waters, unlike the arid land, are most strategical, to traders and fishermen alike. The vital shipping artery that goes through the Suez Canal, joining Europe with South and East Asia specially, necesarily goes close to the Somali coast, for an even larger stretch if the destiny port is in Eastern Africa. The best fisheries of the Indian Ocean are also close to its territorial waters.

Piracy is therefore a natural option for the impoversihed but well armed and organized somalian tribal and political militias.

They are not anymore just a handful of men on a boat with some riffles. Now they operate from cammuflaged mother ships that pretend to be fishermen at work. But their cargo are very fast motorboats (that can reach 40 knots) and rocket lauchers, not frozen fish. They are expert seafarers, well armed and equipped, trained by European mercenaries, protected by local militias (who get 50% of the bounty) and operating through Swiss banks, where the ransom is deposited safely, before they release the hostages and their ship.

The captain of the Danish vessel, Colin Darch, explains that the pirate gang that kidnapped them was led by some Omar Hassan, and that he would have wanted armed intervention, like the French did recently against those who had captured a luxury yatch. But that's not the opinion held by the fishermen in Bermeo, the home port of the fishing ship now held by the Somalian buccaneers. For them, first of all is securing the life of the hostages, by paying the ransom, and then they can proceed with armed operations if they wish.

Actually, the declarations of the Somali government of going to intervene militarly is causing worries in Bermeo. Fisherman E. Lauzirika thinks that:

It's very bad news because, besides of announcing that they are going to reduce them by force, they have declared that the pirates are sentenced to death, so these will be ready to do anything.

Opinion that is supported by his colleagues, like Barragán, who says:

Liberate them by force is a very bad idea, because one of these pirates, when faced with his end, dies killing. The good thing is to negotiate: pay whatever must be paid and then take whatever measures needed. But first is to save the lives [of he hostages].

Lauzirika also thinks that:

The pirates have a very complex international network that reaches well beyond Africa. They know when to operate and when to remain quiet. Now, with all this noise and with international intervention, they will be some time without operating.

The wife of one of the kidnapped fishermen with his photo and that of the ship 'Playa de Bakio'.

- BBC: 'Somalia's pirates face battles at sea'.
- Gara: "Sientes miedo porque no sabes ni cuándo ni por donde te van a venir" (in Spanish)


Update (April 27): they have been freed after a payement of $1.2 million. The government doesn't comment on the payement but gestures on future reprisals - when they were totally ignoring the issue until a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vitamin D: bones, brains and skin color

It's been for long known that vitamin D is essential for good bone developement and that its lack causes rickets. Vitamin D can be obtained from some foods (fatty fish and mushrooms specially) but it's mostly generated in the skin photochemically, what requires some absorption of (otherwise dangerous) UV rays from the Sun. Therefore it has been considered for many decades a most important evolutive factor in the developement of low pygmented ("white" or "pale") skin type in West Eurasia and specially Northern Europe, where solar radiation is extremely low due to latitude and cloudiness. The rationale behind East Asians and, specially, Siberian natives not being generally as pale as Northern Europeans is because of their food habits: most often rich in fish (that is one of the main food sources of vitamin D).

Now a new study (see news article) suggests that it is also important for a correct brain developement function, with this vitamin being very active in our brains, and also acting as protection against autoimmune diseases.

In brief: vitamin D seems essential for correct human developement and, while in our original tropical latitudes we had no problem obtaining it directly from the Sun, rather needing protection against excess of UV rays (hence black or dark skin), when we entered the northern latitudes where the solar input is much smaller, we needed other strategies to adapt to this important bological conditionant. A fish-rich diet was one possibility but surely was not available for all. So light skin was a natural evolutionary goal, specially for those living in the darkest places.

There are indications that some of the genetic variants (mutations) involved in light skin among Europeans may have evolved quite recently, maybe as late as the Epipaleolithic, coincident with the colonization of Northern Europe after the ice shield melted out. The evidence is quite compelling anyhow in the sense of Eastern and Western Eurasian pygmentation genes having evolved separate but parallely (i.e. after both branches separated somewhere in southern Eurasia, maybe 50,000 years ago). Still, the genetics of pygmentation is poorly understood by the moment, as there may be dozens of different genes involved. In any case, it seems clear that evolutionary pressures related most specifically with vitamin D processing were central in this differentiation.

Al Qaeda accuses Iran of sowing doubts on 9/11

In absence of Osama (who I believe is dead or retired in some exotic place long ago), the "second in command" of the most feared international terrorist network, Ayman Al Zawahiri (actually the boss right now) has accused Iran of spreading the rumor that Israel (sic) was behind the 9/11 attacks against New York and the Pentagon.

More specifically, he blames Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist party, militia and state-within-the-state, for being the first one to spread such rumors, "obviously" intended to discredit Sunni Islamist "heroism".

Problem, Mr. Al Zawahiri, is that the people like me that began to have serious doubts in the very aftermath of the massacre, as quickly supressed news of the supposed Al Qaeda cells being actually anti-Taliban (who do you believe: the CIA or the most professional German BND?) and of M. Atta being alive (a story his father apparently still sustains), were broadcasted. We also know who was the boss of Osama for so many years: the CIA, and we know that Al Qaeda took months to assimilate the issue and claim authorship.

In brief: there have been many doubts since 9/12. Maybe Hizbullah was among the first ones casting doubt in the Middle East, but certainly the subject was very controversial here in the West much earlier.

Mr. Al Zawahiri, you forget something important: the World is not just the Muslim world. Allah, may be great, but Reality is much greater.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The most brutal Patriarchy... under US protection.

Human Rights Watch has released a report on how the human rights of women (specially) just do not exist in Saudi Arabia. Under the barbaric Saudi laws, Arab women are denied even the most nimious right, always needing the approval of their male guardian (father, husband...) for absolutely everything.

The report emphasizes that Arabian women lack of right to education, right to employement, right to health, equality under the law, freedom of movement, etc.

Of course such a brutal tyranny, probably one of the most backward and despicable of the whole planet (it also ranks highest in executions per capita, for instance), that has financed and promoted Islamic Fundamentalism all around the World, that is ruled autocratically by an aristocratic gang of fat polygamous men, seconded by an SS-like religious police...

... such a fascist regime is supported by the USA in the name of democracy.

I would laugh wouldn't I be about to cry, sincerely.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Postcards from the Land of the Basques

As the song of my youth went: I live in a place that is like any other place, just that one out of eight is a policeman...

Regional police charged against people who protested against the last arrests in Errenteria. A 65 year old man is in hospital after being badly beaten in the police attack. He and another person arrested. Just the typical everyday Basque stamp.

A nicer and at least equally typical Basque postcard is this one:

Hundreds demonstrated again in Pamplona against the military polygon of Bardeak (Las Bardenas) in southern Navarre, used (and abused) by Spanish and the US pilots equally.

Many other protests took place yesterday, for several reasons, just like almost any day - and just like almost any day they went unheeded by the authorities.

Another even more typical postcard is this one:

Now in the news too because of a huge white-collar robbery: 500,000 euros were diverted by the chief accountant to his own pocket. The director of the extravagant turistic attraction (there is a very good museum in Bilbao but it's not that one), J.I. Vidarte, refuses to resign.

This is my country: healthy cooperative daring people in the streets, thieves and lackeys in the halls of power.


And a postcard update for Sunday:

Police charged against a press conference and one (pictured) made two shots. The oficial version is that he was rounded up by a mob in some sort of ambush but the image shows it's not the case at all.

Epipaleolithic remains found offshore of England

The finding, 500 meters offshore of Tynemouth, has recieved the unfortunate name of "Geordie Atlantis" (because it's submerged, I guess) but it is interesting anyhow, as they are the first Epipaleolithic remains found in that area. It is also interesting because, while we know that a lot of modern seabed was exposed and possibly inhabited in Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic times, findings like this one are extremely rare.

Source: Earthdive.

European Paleolithic geography

So where is Isturitz, what is Magdalenian, what the heck are you talking about?

Ok, let's recapitulate:

1. A week ago, I commented on Aurignacian origins. Aurignacian culture is believed to be the first manifestation of Homo sapiens (we and our ancestors) and it's known to have penetrated pretty fast in most of Europe, displacing the former inhabitants, the Neanderthals. I also posted a map by A. Mellars:

Aurignacians began experimenting with rudimentary art and eventually also colonized, even if sparsely, the Mediterranean shores of the Iberian peninsula.

2. Haven't yet posted on it, I think, but the next thing to happen, many thousand years later was the developement or arrival of Gravettian culture. Gravettian technology shows some correlation with Neanderthal-made Chatelperronian but it's also true that similar technologies were in use among West Asians and possibly other peoples. Earlier, when Paleolithic research was concentrated in France, it was thought that Chatelperronian and Gravettian were two phases of the same cuture (Perigordian) but this is not sustained anymore and now it's believed that Gravettian culture evolved in Central-Eastern Europe or even arrived from outside the continent (though there's lack of evidence for this yet). It is likely that the Crô-Magnon type, strictu sensu, is associated with this culture.

Gravettian is also a pan-European culture and replaced Aurignacian everywhere, even if in many places it looks intrusive (older techniques remain). In fact it reached further than Aurignacian, incorportaing Eastern Europe and even penetrating into the Caucasus and Zagros areas (West Asia) and with connections as far east as the Altai. With Gravettian art became something much more common. Some of the most fascinating examples are the venus figurines, like the one of Lespuges:

3. In Western Europe, Gravettian didn't last long alone. A new techno-culture appeared locally, the Solutrean and replaced Gravettian rather fast, specially in the Franco-Cantabrian region. Instead, in Mediterranean Iberia, Gravettian showed to be strong enough and survived in a hybrid form with Solutrean (Iberian Gravetto-Solutrean), that is probably at the origin of North-African Ibero-Maurusian culture later on.

Solutrean was therefore primarily a culture of the Franco-Cantabrian region:

The Franco-Cantabrian region
(red dots are main sites of Paleolithic art, light green are areas that were over sea level in the past, white shows glacial areas).

Gravettian also survived in Italy and Eastern Europe. Central Europe is believed by many to have been too cold to be inhabited, at least densely, in this time, as the Solutrean phase is coincident with the Last Glacial Maximum, some 20,000 years ago. Another area that was affected by this episode was the Zagros region of West Asia, where human inhabitation probably became impossible or very hazardous then.

Solutrean peoples were very advanced for their time, knowing the needle, the fishing hook and maybe even the bow and arrow. They also advanced quite a bit in art expression.

4. After some milennia, Solutrean evolved into Magdalenian locally in the Franco-Cantabrian region. While many sites with transitional industries are known, there are some questions still to answer because the Magdalenian is surprisingly similar to old Aurignacian, even if much more refined. Since c. 13,000 BP, as the greatest cold went away, Magdalenian expanded into Central Europe. It also shows signs of late expansion into Mediterranean Iberia but with a very marked Gravetization anyhow (Parpalloan) and lacking the characteristic bone tools of this industry elsewhere.

Magdalenian is, of course, best known for its magnificient mural art, though these peoples also made potable art, like their predecessors.

Horse from Lascaux cave (Franco-Cantabrian region)

And here is where the Isturitz findings fit in: Magdalenian, Franco-Cantabrian, bone tools... whale bone tools! Makes sense, right?

Where is Isturitz? Quick graphic answer:

Is that better? Hope so.

Another interesting map is this one of European Paleolithic art:

Red: mural art. Green: portable art.
Cyan thick lines: glacial maximum: areas under ice. Blue lines: ancient coastline.

It helps getting an idea of where did humans dwelt in the Upper Paleolithic. Yet the Mediterranean, even if not so dedicated to art as other areas, also had some population density probably.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Basque whaling... much older than thought.

A. Steenhuyse mentions at Anthrosite that it's been discovered that among the many Magdalenian materials of Isturitz cave (Lower Navarre) there's a bunch of whale-bone tools. It is no new finding as such but just a correct identification among old ones.

Apparently whale bones are of better quality for tools subject to impact. It is probable that they don't represent active whaling but rather were collected from beached animals but it still means that the people of Isturitz, some 50-60 km inland, were in contact with the people of the coast. and/or travelled that far to forage themselves. This is pretty obvious, specially for hunter-gatherer peoples, but still...

It's not totally impossible though that there could be active whaling anyhow. If stone-age Inuits did it, why not Basques?

Anyhow, it reminds me of the people that object to the indirect evidence of Basque whaling in the 7th century. They say that a huge shipping of whale oil to a monastery near Paris is not evidence enough of active whaling, while the ones in favor (most historians) say that the monks would not have made such a huge order from such a distant place, would not they know that the providers were reliable.

A curious historical fact is that, seemingly, medieval Basques did not like whale meat and they sold it to the French and Castilians instead. They whaled apparently only because of the blubber - and the money, of course.

New paper on Chimpanzee and Bonobo genetics

J. L. Caswell, Analysis of Chimpanzee History Based on Sequence Genome Allignments. PLOS Genetics, 2008.

No strong surprising conclussions but interesting anyhow, specially for the connections and parallels that can be drawn on us humans. Among the points touched in the discussion are:

  • · That the split between Western and Central chimpanzees involved a much larger effective population than previously thought (around 100,000)
  • · That the chimpanzee-bonobo split should be move backwards in time to at least 1.29 million years ago. And, that if the human-chimp divergence age is actually older (8 million years instead of 7), then this event would be coincident with the formation of the Congo river (1.5-2 Myrs BP), that many people belive is at the origin of bonobo speciation.
  • · That both chimpanzees and bonobos have large fractions of their genome that are closer to humans than each other, what is quite interesting and promising for future studies of human origins.

My personal note: genetic age estimates are always difficult, esotheric and slippery terrain but one pillar for them is the chimpanzee-human divergence estimate. If this one is 1 million years older than normally believed, all human genetic age estimates would need to be some 15% older, assuming all other assumptions are correct.

Evolution in large animals can also be very fast

Researchers from the Uiversity of Massachusets have found that certain lizards, when placed in a new enviroment, have evolved very quickly in adaptation to their new mostly vegetal food sources. In as little as 36 years, the little Podaris sicula lizard, has evolved all sorts of adaptations, unheard of in its original enviroment, to better behave as vegetarian (source: Science Daily)

The lizards are native of the Adriatic island of Pod Kopiste, where they feast basically on insects, but because of these ecological nonseneses of postmodernity, some eneded up in the nearby but different island of Pod Mrcaru, where they found aboundance of vegetarin food. In these 36 years, they have changed their bite and also their digestive tract, becoming quite specialized into vegetarianism, in a way unknown to this species. Vegetarianism also changed their habits, losing interest in defending their territories.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Radioactive emission in Tarragona

It happened in November but has only now been known to the public. The nuclear central Ascó I, near Tarragona (southern Catalonia) had a problem with radioactive emissions to the enviroment last November. Now, after elections, the director and the rariological protection chief of that central have been suspended in what Greenpeace describes as mere scapegoating (source: Gara).

Considering the extreme laxitude that Spanish nuclear industry is treated with, with totally obsolete centrals still at work and consumers paying arbitrarily for the "nuclear moratory" (implemented in the 80s) in our electricity bills, the cessation of two such high profile figures must mean that the problem was very serious, even if we don't know yet the exact dimension of it.

More on the food crisis

Al Jazeera has a couple of interesting articles on the food crisis. One is specifically on Haiti, where last week's food riots triggered the alarms on the crisis somewhat, the other is more focused in India but it deals with some reasons behind the crisis that can be extrapolated to the whole planet, it is a very interesting interview with an Indian ecologist: Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Haiti has seen rice prices double in the last few months. Rice is not a local produce but it became staple food in the Caribbean country when import taxes were lowered after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship: this allowed everybody to buy rice then but destroyed the local agricultural economy, making the poor country even more dependent from the exterior.

Aristide, 'Titid', was again claimed as the legitimate Haitian president in the food riots last week.

India is not yet at the levels of food stress of Haiti, Philippines or Egypt. But it's builiding up, with many people going hungry for hours or days, and the reasons are largely the same: agriculture has become a globalized industry, where benefits are more important than feeding the people. This doesn't happen in the rich developed countries, by the way: in the USA, EU, Japan... agriculture is protected by the state, making sure that local farmers, or at least some of them, get much more than just market price for their produce.

Dr. Shiva says:

There is a huge agrarian crisis but it's not from the beginning of our freedom, it's not a leftover of feudalism. The agrarian crisis is a result of globalisation. The farmers who are committing suicide in India are precisely in those areas where genetically engineered cotton is being grown by Monsanto.

He points out that, at the same time that India and the USA signed a nuclear treaty, they also signed an agricultural one, almost ignored by the media that leaves India exposed to foreign food imports, specially from the USA.

With the price rise, I can see about 70 to 80 per cent of India will be pushed into hunger and starvation.

Asked for a short term solution, Dr. Shiva says:

There is a very short term solution: give up the industrial agriculture using fossil fuels, high cost imports. Give up the forced linking with an international commodity market. Allow farmers to grow and give them a just price.

We can solve the problem tomorrow. I work with 400,000 farmers in India growing organic food. We have doubled yields and doubled output on farms. Nobody is dying of starvation in the villages where there is organic farming.

He warns that, if the government does not adress the problem of having the people fed, riots will increase and can even overthrow governments. After all it's a matter of life or death.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A death and a birth

A death:

Basque author Elías Amezaga has died at the age of 86. He was a prolific author in Spanish language that tried to adress Basque identity and dig in obscure subjects. For a complete list of works, including chronicles of the lifes of Lope de Agirre and Jorge Oteiza, see Basque Wikipedia: Elías Amezaga. Check also his website:

Elías Amezaga

A birth:

Another Spanish-language author, Uruguayan, Eduardo Galeano, has published a new book: La Historia que Duele (The History that Hurts). A long excerpt is available today at Gara newspaper (in Spanish). Some less extense translations of my own are:

World Trade Organization.

It was necessary to choose the god of trade. From the Olympic throne, Zeus studied his family. He didn't need to ponder for long: it had to be Hermes.

Zeus gave him sandals with golden little wings and put him in charge of promotion of mercantile exchange, signature of treaties and the safeguard of free trade. Hermes, who later, in Rome, was known as Mercury, was chosen because he was who lied best of all.

News agencies.

Napoleon was definitively defeated by the English at the battle of Waterloo, south of Brussels.

Marshall Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was honored with the victory, but the real winner was the banker Nathan Rotschild, who did not fire a shoot and was far away from there.

Rotschild was at command of a minuscle troop of carrier pidgeons. The doves, fast and well trained, carried the news to London. He knew before anybody else that Napoleon had been defeated, but he spread the rumor that French victory had been decissive, and deluded the market by selling everything that was British: bonds, shares, money. And in a rush all imitated him, because he always knew what he was doing, and at junk prices they sold all values of the nation they believed defeated. And the Rotschild bought. Bought everything for nothing.

That way England won in the battlefield and was defeatd in the stock market.

Banker Rotschild multiplied his fortune by twenty and became the wealthiest man in the world.

Some years later, at the middle of 19th century, the first press agencies were born: Havas, that is now France Press, Reuters, Associated Press...

All used carrier pidgeons.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

IMF in most serious food crisis warning

Thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will be suffering from malnutrition, with consequences for all their lives.

These are the words of one of the most important global financial leaders: IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington was scheduled to talk about the credit and structural crisis but the food-related problems could not be avoided, specially after several countries already had food riots.

Strauss-Kahn also warned that it's not a humanitarian problem only: the food crisis will fuel conflicts and trade imbalances that can't but eventually affect the rich countries too.

Source: BBC: IMF head gives food crisis warning.

Food Crisis map
Map of Food Crisis (click to expand)

Temporary comment moderation

Sadly, I will have to moderate all comments for some time. There's certain shameless individual (Dinesh Raturi by real name, aka Jhangora, aka Pasota, aka...) who is spamming here all the time (with several identities, including "majuisabiatch") in spite of knowing well he is persona non grata. My apologies to all. Hopefully this temporary measure will be soon lifted, as this guy realizes he's got nothing to do (and hopefully matures a little bit). I can't guarantee anything though.

Please do not let that affect you: I am only going to block this person's rantings because I'm tired of deleting them systematically. All the rest are welcome to post freely, there will just be some minor delay.

For the case the nasty element reads this (and I'm sure he will) let be known that I owe him exactly nothing (maybe the other way around in any case) and that his foolish provoker jester attitude has reached all limits of decency, respect and good taste, while offering absolutely nothing at all. When faced with this, instead of meditate and correct himself, he just looks for how to keep his jester character alive, so desperately that is pathetic. He has a problem, certainly, but it's not my problem.

Tukey's taboos

Interesting BBC article on how difficult is to write openly on certain taboo subjects in hyper-nationalistic Turkey. Specially the Armenian genocide issue, certainly, but not only. Even writing about the Comunist Party of Turkey is taboo there, and certainly dealing critically with the issue of Kurdistan.

Ragip Zarakolu puts it clear:
If you believe you are great, clean, and honest it is hard to face something like 1915. Our society has traumas that we are avoiding.Really, we should see a therapist!

Maoists roll over in Nepal elections

Surprising even for Maoists themselves, they have taken 8 of 10 Katmandu seats and lead in or have already won 82 of 151 constituencies where vote is being counted. Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress may get 28 seats and the Comunist Party (UML) 22. Minor parties would take the remaining 19 MPs, according to Al Jazeera.

I am a little confused because the total constituencies are 240, plus some other 335 seats being elected on proportional grounds and 26 nominated by the cabinet. Why are there only 151 constituencies being counted, what happens with the other 89? And the proportionally allocated seats?

Anyhow, the key of Maoist victory may have been that they have reached out to all ethnicities of Nepal and promised a federal republic.

Naturally neither the USA (who still has them classified as "terrorists"), nor India (that has its own strong Maoist guerrillas controlling many rural areas) nor the Nepali Army see that favorably. Maoist leader Pachendra has therefore made a conciliatory victory speech, promising to be a good neighbour of the two bordering giants: China and India.

Maoist leader Prachendra in a victorius speech

Whoever said that Marxism is dead, should think again.

Ancient Cretans were of Anatolian origin.

New paper (abstract only for non-subscribers) on ancient Greek DNA: R.J. King et al., Differential Y-chromosome Anatolian Influences on the Greek and Cretan Neolithic, Annals of Human Genetics, 2008.


The earliest Neolithic sites of Europe are located in Crete and mainland Greece. A debate persists concerning whether these farmers originated in neighboring Anatolia and the role of maritime colonization. To address these issues 171 samples were collected from areas near three known early Neolithic settlements in Greece together with 193 samples from Crete. An analysis of Y-chromosome haplogroups determined that the samples from the Greek Neolithic sites showed strong affinity to Balkan data, while Crete shows affinity with central/Mediterranean Anatolia. Haplogroup J2b-M12 was frequent in Thessaly and Greek Macedonia while haplogroup J2a-M410 was scarce. Alternatively, Crete, like Anatolia showed a high frequency of J2a-M410 and a low frequency of J2b-M12. This dichotomy parallels archaeobotanical evidence, specifically that while bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is known from Neolithic Anatolia, Crete and southern Italy; it is absent from earliest Neolithic Greece. The expansion time of YSTR variation for haplogroup E3b1a2-V13, in the Peloponnese was consistent with an indigenous Mesolithic presence. In turn, two distinctive haplogroups, J2a1h-M319 and J2a1b1-M92, have demographic properties consistent with Bronze Age expansions in Crete, arguably from NW/W Anatolia and Syro-Palestine, while a later mainland (Mycenaean) contribution to Crete is indicated by relative frequencies of V13.
I have marked in bold type the two more important passages:

1. Ancient continental Greeks (or rather pre-Greeks, Indoeuropeization didn't begin till the late part of the the3rd milennium BCE) were, in full accordance with the archaeological data, related to other Balcanic peoples of the time (Balcanic Neolithic). Instead, more mysterious Cretans (Eteocretans) have an Anatolian origin, connecting them with other pre-Indoeuropean peoples of the area like the Hatti or possibly ancient Troy.

2. Greek E3b1a2, that relates to North and East African (but also West Asian) clades of the same lineage, is not Neolithic but older. That basically excludes its arrival by boat and means it must have gone via West Asia. This raises more incognites than anwers actually but, well, it's possible, that Neolithic population movements in West Asia reshaped the genetical landscape, leaving E clades in a less prominent position, or maybe the high presence of E3b in mainland Greece and nearby areas is due to some founder effect.

What I wonder now is how long it will take since these findings until Linear A is deciphered. The linguistic keys for the Eteocretan language are more apparent now: either Hattic (arguably a NW Caucasian language) or Etruscan-Lemnian (a well documented isolate) could well be relatives of the language of the Minoans. Of course it's a complex matter and I may be adventuring too much here, but so far most attempts seem to have been oriented towards shallow connections with either Indoeuropean (Greek, Hittite) or Semitic languages, what is a fundamental nonsense.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

UN official calls to research the 9/11 conspiration

I recently commented on the promising new appointment to lead the UN comission dealing with Israel behaviour on Palestine, Prof. Richard Falk. Now I read that the same person is calling for an international comission to research the role if US neocons in the 9/11 attacks (read story in NY The Sun), suspicions that many of us have held since about 9/12, when the dust settled and we started pondering how the alleged leader of the plot, M. Atta (supposedly dead in NY attacks), had been talking with his father, why such an serious intelligence agency as the BND had Atta classified as anti-Taliban, how can two skyscrappers collapse so easily and so on and so on and so on.

I think I'm going to like this new UN personality, really. But I also fear that he might get killed like happened to so many honest researchers before him (I'm thinking in Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian right now, for instance).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Aurignacian origins

The developement and arrival of Aurignacian culture to Europe was maybe a definitory moment. Most likely it was carried by the oldest Homo sapiens ever to step in the continent and these are our ancestors, at least our ancestors with the oldest roots here (others may have arrived later on).

Which are the exact origins of this culture seems to have arisen some scholarly disputes and the last word may not have been said yet. But the last years have provided some interesting papers that seem to be largely coincident. I'm mentioning three of them here:

1. M. Otte and J.K. Kozlowski, Constitution of the Aurignacian through Eurasia (2004): This is a brief paper that suggests that the Aurignacian evolves into its finished more characteristic European form as it marches into the West. Its origins could be somewhere in the Middle East or Central Asia, with related sites in Iraq, Iran, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and even remote Altai. The Bacho-Kirian of Bulgaria is a precursor of finished European Aurignacian.

2. J.K. Kozlowski, A dynamic view of Aurignacian technology (2006): A larger and more technical paper. Kozlowski analyzes here the correlations between Bacho-Kirian (Bulgaria), Ahmarian and Emirian (Palestine and Lebanon) and well defined European Aurignacian, as well as transitional cultures (proto-Aurignacian). For him "Mediterranean" proto-Aurignacian is more directly connected to Ahmarian than to Bacho-Kiro but typical Aurignacian is rather a derivation of Bachokirian itself.

... the analysis of production techniques in regions remote from one another (Poland, France) indicates similarity of technology within the Typical Aurignacian. This technology derived from the Initial Upper Palaeolithic, known as the Bachokirian in southeastern Europe.
3. P. Mellars: Archeology and the Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe: Deconstructing the 'Aurignacian' (2006): For Mellars Aurignacian originates in Ahmarian (Near East), being Bachokirian an intermediate step. He also suggests two routes for the penetration of Aurignacian in Europe.

But more interestingly, Mellars reveals that recent studies allow for much more precise calibration of existing radiocarbon dates, pushing the arrival of Aurignacian to Europe back by some 5,000 years. Aurignacian colonists would therefore have arrived to most of Europe, roughly 42-41,000 years BP (calibrated) or, in other terms, some 40-39,000 years BCE.

He also provides a nice map:

Ancient dual monotheism

Dual monotheism:

Basque ancient religion has many genies but only two Gods: Mari and Sugaar (or Maju). They are the divine couple and can well be considered a single dual God. They are the personified Yin and Yang.

What about Urtzi? Urtzi has no mythology. It can well be thought as a mere abstract personification of the Sky, much like Chinese Tian, that eventually absorbed foreign celestial deities like Zeus or Yaveh.

This dual monotheism that pre-dates polytheism is also found in other cultures:

In Daoism: Yin and Yang, fundamental principles of the Universe (not properly gods though, as they are not personified)

Some variants of Hinduism also seem to believe in this male-female dualistic monotheism: some forms of Shaivism, all of Shaktism and the related schools known as Tantra.

Guess that for monofisite religions such as Judaism, Islam and some oriental Christian churches the concept of a dual God is kind of perplexing, but it shouldn't be so for mainstream trinitarian Christianism, withe their triple God. And certainly dual monotheism it's both much more intuitive and self-explanatory than the male-only Trinity and seemingly much older.

From the primordial Chaos sprang both Gaia, the Earth, and Eros, the force of Life. This belief, described by Hesiodos at the beginning of his Theogony, seems to be deeply rooted in Europe and the Mediterranean, dating to at least Neolithic times.

Perpetual creation:

Forget about that fancy Judaic story of creation in six days, forget about any need to introduce intelligent design, not in science classes, but in your personal philosophy. The dual God does not create once but always: perpetual creation is the real thing.

But my holy book says...

Ah, you idol worshipper of words! Do you think that God only manifests in one particular book or act, or is it actually doing every time and in everything.

Your god is false... or rather a very narrow version of the real thing. Evolution definitively works better than any concievable ID and the Gods certainly know better than trying to intervene: they instead participate of the perpetual creation and change. They are the World, including you and I.

The cosmic dance is for real, your petty book is just part, a small part, of it.

Mari and Sugaar are said to meet every Friday and in such celebrated meetings they create the storms, that fertilize the land.

It's not just some distant friday in the far past... it's every week, actually maybe every single day, hour, minute, second and even Plank time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Map of the food crisis

Just made this map of the current food crisis situation based in FAO and media data:

Food Crisis map
Click on thumbnail to expand

- Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO)
- BBC: the cost of food: facts and figures (and other articles)
- Al Jazeera (several articles)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bread and rice revolutions have started.

Hungry masses have attempted to seize the Presidential palace in Haiti (read more). They have failed by the moment but the situation is untenable anyhow.

Ironically, Haiti is occupied by a multinational force since the USA and France decided that they did not want popular (and rather socialist) premier Aristide to stay in power anymore, in 2004. They sold it as a "peackeeping mission" but was the typical colonialist intervention in the line of those of Roosevelt one hundred years before. These forces have done nothing to alleviate the poverty and lack of prospects of the most impoverished country of America and to that it's been added the brutally rising staple food prices everywhere, fuelled by speculation basically.

The rioters, that have been demonstrating and plundering around Haitian cities these last days at the cry of "We are hungry!"

Revolters retreated only under heavy fire from UN troops.

Haiti's wealth is concentrated in some 1% of affluent families while the vast majority of people lives in the most abject poverty. In 1990 the last brutal dictatorship was ousted by a popular revolution that placed fromer priest Bertrand Aristide as new President. The revolution was soon followed by another coup. Aristide returned in 1994 supported by US President Bill Clinton who had vowed to do so in his campaign. But as soon as the conservatives took power in Washington again, they started plotting against him, causing some obscure conflicts with mafious bands that were used as pretext for the joint US-French intervention: they kidnapped Aristide and sent him to Central Africa.

Since then the country has been under an occupation force under the pretext of the UN. The 2006 elections gave massive victory to a former Aristide ally: René Preval. While this helped somewhat to restore political stability after the colonialist coup, the real deep socio-economical problems of the country have been unadressed for these last years and now they seem to come back as surge that may oust not just the President but also the UN force, that has already become a target of the rioters.

Haiti is not the only nation that is suffering major unrest related to food prices but the tension is still building up. In the next months and years, as the deep structural global economic crisis becomes more and more evident everywhere we will see more and more conflicts caused by such matters and many governments toppled by the revolters one way or another, while agricultural lands are seized and companies nationalized in an effort to save something from the market-generated chaos.

As someone I know used to sign with: it has already begun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The hypocrisy curtain around Israel falling down

The soon-to-be UN investigator on Israel behaviour on the occupied territories, Prof. Richard Falk has defended his decission to compare Israel with Nazi Germany. He declared to BBC:

If this kind of situation had existed for instance in the manner in which China was dealing with Tibet or the Sudanese government was dealing with Darfur, I think there would be no reluctance to make that comparison.

With the story of the Holocaust as pretext, Israel has been all the time manipulating the media and the diplomatic circles with one single objective: getting away with their genocide of Palestinians and their forced incorporation of that country. It seems each time is getting harder for the Zionists to get away impunely. Maybe it has to do with the Holocaust becoming more and more "old history", in comparison with the the very patent actuality and painful dramatism of the Palestinian plea, maybe it has to do in Zionism distorting all the international realtions around a petty resourceless strip of land - not sure but the case is that each day less and less people can accept that Israel is miraculously justified to do all kind of atrocities and war crimes because of something that happened, many kilometers away, long ago, in a totally unrelated context.

But beware: the Israel Lobby is still very powerful, specially in the USA and Europe. Won't happen that, because some UN offcer accuses Israel of war crimes, will suddenly the so-called "international community" (aka USA and clique) intervene to save the Palestinians and their own face. But it's a beginning.

The UN comitted an atrocious colonialist injustice when it decided to divide Palestine in 1948 and therefore the UN has some responsability in solving that long lasting insult against Humankind and preventing any more suffering of the native population at the hands of a racist colony that not so long ago was the best friend of "white" South Africa.

The Nazi comparison is certainly not any excess, indeed.

Manjusri on Indian Caste genetics

Manjunat blogs today on Absurdities of Caste Genetics in India, questioning the validity of many assumptions and arbitrary distributions that have been done in genetic studies that have emphasized without due knowledge the importance of castes in Indian society. Interesting: some authors simply don't seem to have a clue on whatever they are talking about, creating outmost confussion.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Slavery in Niger

Recently I commented on how the Nigerien government is attacking the Tuaregs for the sake of uranium explotation and I also mentioned then that it silences and tolerates the practice of slavery.

Now I read that a former slave is suing for the first time the government for failing to apply the 2003 law that was supposed to end with this practice.

The woman, who had among other tasks that of being sex-slave of her master was eventually liberated but, when she married the man of her choice, she was accused of bigamy by her former master and sentenced to six months of prision.

According to local rights group Timidria there are still some 43,000 slaves in Niger. The government tries to minimize the figure.

Amazon Queen

All right, excessive title maybe - but catchy, certainly. It's an inspiring story anyhow.

Al Jazeera reports on the life of Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of Enviroment, in charge of the protection of most of the Amazon rainforest. It's pretty interesting: she was born in a seringueiro family, who extracted rubber from wild trees in regime of semi-slavery, she used to be an illiterate maid who lernt to read and write in just 15 days when she was 17. Inspired by Chico Mendes, the seringueiro enviromentalist and social leader who was murdered by landowners' death squads in 1988, she took up the cause of the Jungle and now she is in charge of its protection.

Her boss, President Luis Inázio Lula da Silva, is also from modest extraction: he was a shoe-shiner before becoming politician.

Marina Silva in her youth

She says:
The Amazon forest lost 17 per cent of its vegetation in the last 400 years but the majority of this deforestation was done in the past 30 or 40 years.

That is why it is necessary to change the course of the process of development that has been happening in the region and take it into a new direction. Reduce the level of deforestation, and make a change in the model of development that has been implemented.

We need to bring a new paradigm where the standing forest is more valuable and viable than cutting the forest for other economic activities. That is possible.

Is Fatah losing control of its own armed branch?

Interesting news:
12 members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed branch of West Bank-ruling Al Fatah, have escaped from prision. They claim that the deal under which they surrendered their weapons and their lifes has been broken by the security forces of Abbas. They also claim to have beaten by prision guards.

The now runaway prisioners surrendered under a deal that involved three months in jail, nevertheless time has passed and they were not just not liberated but also beaten in prision.

With its dubious deals with occupying Israel, post-Arafat Al Fatah seems to be heading to nowhere. They have not only lost the trust of the Palestinian people, that chose Hamas as the only alternative in the last elections, but also they seem to be losing control of their own followers, tired of so much surrender and no payback from the Zionists.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New social and economic observatory for all the Basque Country

Gaindegia is the name of the new entity, that defines itself as an observatory for the social and economic developement in the Basque Country.

Among their findings (read here for an interview in Spanish) are that the Basque Country has a population of more than three million people (larger than many EU member states), a population density higher than EU average, a GNP per capita much higher than EU average or even that of Japan. But these general and economical statistics contrast with the social ones: the general employement rate and the employement rate among women and among older workers are just slightly above the EU average, and very much under the stats of Japan or the USA. The same happens with the unemployement rate. Also, in spite of being a rather rich country, "there are serious obstacles for the just distribution of wealth" and the markers of social protection are pretty bad.

In other words: a Nordic-like buoyant economy with Spanish-like miserable welfare.

Niger and the Tuareg

Tuareg Culture and News blog has an interesting article on the seldom heard of dramatic situation of Niger and specially Tuaregs in this country. What is on the stake for President Tandja (formerly leader of the military junta) is the free explotation of the bountiful uranium mines in the Sahara, displacing the Tuaregs and exhausting their wells, as well as getting an excuse to change the constitution and extend his mandate indefinitely.

France-backed Niger remains one of the most autocratic states in Africa, where slavery still exists and where freedom of speech is virtually unheard of. It is a situation very similar to that of Darfur but it's not almost touched by the media, partly because of Tandja's success in banning free press, specially in the Tuareg territory.

- Wise Uranium: New Uranium mining projects in Niger.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Brave woman!

María Eugenia Sampallo listened yesterday to the guilty veredict to her "parents", the fascist couple that "adopted" her after being retrieved, 30 years ago, from her real mother who was at a detention center and later went "missing" (was murdered and never found), like her father and 30,000 other Argentines under the US-backed military junta regime.

She was the one who brought them to the tribunals after finding out her real origins. She accused them of kidnapping and asked for the maximum penalty, 25 years. But they have only been sentenced to 8 and 7 years in prision for document falsification and occultation of identity. She thinks the sentence is very lenient.

María Eugenia with the photos of her true parents.

There are maybe thousands of people in Argentina and other South American countries in similar situations. Many may not know it, others maybe have adopted their kidnappers as parents after all. This is the first case of its kind brought to the tribunals.

I really wonder what is in María Eugenia's mind and heart. She must have been torn apart by the discovery of her real origins but she must also have never really liked her "adoptive parents" anyhow. No wonder: having fascist parents is certainly a pain in the ass by definition: they don't want you, they want the project they have for you. I bet this experience has weighted in María Eugenia's soul a lot. She surely had her own reasons to detest them anyhow and the reality was probably just the nail on the coffin of a sad, disciplined childhood.

Whatever the case, she's extremely brave to bring her "parents" to court. Emotionally it must be devastating and surely others never had the courage to do the same thing. But I really think I can understand why and I feel I would have done the same in her case. She must feel such a fundamental injustice: deprived of her real parents and "adopted" by their murderers (or their accomplices, who cares?), extracted from a an uncertain potential of hope and love for life and dumped into the madhouse of the fascists.

In a sense she embodies all her generation: a generation deprived of freedom and hope at birth, a generation who grew under the brutal tyranny of the miltary boots, who knew only that and suddenly, like awakening from a lifelong nightmare, they realized they all had been kidnapped and robbed for the interest of a distant Empire.

Salud compañera María Eugenia. Your example is certainly inspiring.

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC

Tory Basque "nationalists" bow to Spain (even more)

Amazing! In 33 years the Spanish flag has not been raised at Bilbao town hall except for few hours in the main day of the local fiestas, causing always demonstrations and riots. Today the mayor Azkuna has bowed to judicial pressure and raised it at every hour every day.

They placed it quite high, as to avoid attacks, I guess.

But this is not the only shameful thing the conservative Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) has done these last hours. It has also accepted to expel their rivals of Basque Nationalist Action (EAE-ANV - socialist, radical) from the last municipal councils it controlled after being partly banned from running into elections last year.

Elected mayors and councilors of EAE-ANV (above) have protested this decission and accused the tories of "servitude and submission to the Spanish Socialist Party and of loyalty towards the Spanish state".

Another related PSOE-PNV curious photo is this one:

From left to right: the Organization Secretary of the Spanish Socialists (the veteran cynic), the speaker of this party in the Spanish Parliament (the apprentice cynic) and the speaker of the Basque tories (the mafious businessman).

- Ordago!

- Sorry, I'm playing chess.

Archaeological dig at Stonehenge followed day by day

As you may know, these days an archaological team is making some research excavation at most famous Stonehenge site, the first one in decades. I just found that the BBC is following it day by day, with brief reports and videos, including a quite funny blessing of the operation by some "druids" - very hippy really.

It's a rare case when one can follow so closely an ongoing archaeological excavation, so I beleive it's worth to take a look:

Friday, April 4, 2008

Clovis not first Americans

It was already quite in doubt but the the finding of human mitochondrial DNA in fossilized faeces of a cave in Oregon, dated to 14,000 years ago, seems to settle the issue definitively. It also suggests that the first Native Americans followed the coastal route as the inner one wasn't available yet.

The mtDNA seems to be associated to people of East and North Asia.

Additionally they found several organic manufactured items: threads, basketry, rope, hides... all extremely rare findings for such an old site.

More in:
- University of Oregon: Researchers, led by UO archaeologist, find pre-Clovis human DNA.
- BBC: Faeces hint at first Americans.
- Science Daily: Pre-Clovis Human DNA found in 14,300-years-old Feces In Oregon Cave is Oldest In New World.

We have broken the Clovis sound barrier
(lead researcher Dennis Jenkins)