New blogs

Leherensuge was replaced in October 2010 by two new blogs: For what they were... we are and For what we are... they will be. Check them out.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mexico: heading towards a revolution?

Mexico doesn't make it to the headlines too often but it's a most important country: it is the third largest country of America (and the 11th worldwide) and its GNP ranks among the largest in the world (12th or 14th, depending on the system used), being the third or fourth power in America in economical terms, after the USA and Brazil (Canada is lower in one scale but higher in another). Additionally Mexico is a most important neighbour of the still first global power: the USA.

But it is extremely unstable. And the situation has grown worse in the recent years after the controversial ascension to power of the tory Felipe Calderón in elections that way too many consider to have been rigged.

A most interesting critical window to Mexican reality is the bi-weekly magazine Contralínea, self-described as making "research journalism". The current number alone is an excellent, yet often terrifying, outlook to a country that looked about to explode even before the global economic crisis came into the scene.

Just some brief excerpts here:

In the opening article, Narcotraffic, destabilization and lost war, Z. Camacho and Y. Tinoco say: Official informations offer account of the catastrophic failure of war against narcotraffic, the main offer of Calderonism: 10,000 dead (10% of them from the Mexican Army, the Navy or some of the police corps), fall in the erradication levels of marihuana and poppy crops, and inability to improve the levels of decomissioning of drugs traded in Mexico. DEA unhappy with the performance of Sedena in the erradication of psychoactive crops.

Later they mention the opinion of José Luis Sierra, a Washington Post advisor, who says: It seems there is not consistent policy from the state to fight drug traffickung and its causes, the only thing that matters is image. (...) The consequence of using the armed forces in a war that apparently has no end and lacks sense of victory will be the demoralization of the armed forces themselves. Furthermore, the other big cost is that it is being paid with the lives of soldiers themselves, who are given orders to fight against an enemy that is protected by parts of the goverment itself.

One of the main components of the problem is the absurdly high benefits that narcotics yield, precisely because they are illegal. According to Guillermo Garduño: a kilogram of heroin has a market value of USD 32,850; that of cocaine is worth USD 7,280. And the real cost of heroin is 500 dollars and that of cocane 300: the profit level is monstruous and there is absolutely no product that can have such margins. For a peasant, a single poppy harvest is worth 10 good corn ones.

In another article E. Ramírez analyzes the economic situation of Mexico, whose growth has dropped from 4.8% to 2.7% in the last year, while the food prices have been steadily climbing some 8-9% every year since 2005. Overall inflation has also been growing, together with unemployement, while the direct foreign investment (mostly from the USA, followed by EU) has dropped significatively. The author complains that there is no system to provide small credits to the common investor and that overall the government lacks of any consistent economic policy.

This opinion is shared by N. Egremy, who in another article ponders the Mexican foreign policy, that in her opinion, based on that of political analists, works with patches and oscilates between 'deep integration' with the USA and European 'neocolonialism'. She considers that Mexico, once a relevant regional actor has been replaced in the eyes of the USA by the more independent and dynamic Brazil and Argentina. This chaos in foreign policy has caused greater interventionism by the USA but has also allowed for a huge meddling by Spain and Spanish companies, benefitted from the loss of the anticolonialist sense of history that dominated the 'old regime' of the PRI.

Back to the internal context, P. Monroy thinks that the disastrous socio-economic situation is warming up for a massive explossion like the ones that shattered Argentina some years ago. While the 38 richest Mexcian families (including the second richest man of the World, Carlos Slim) concentrate almost 15% of the GDP, the less affluent 10% of the population only controls 1.6% of it. Everybody seems to agree that the tolerance of Mexicans is at the limit. Historian and social researcher C. A. Aguirre is quoted claiming that the country walks, as in the last period of the Porfirian regime, towards a social explossion like the one that happened in 1910. She mentions the many many popular mobilizations hat have affected the country in the latest years and how the guvernamental response has been basically that of militarization and repression. No real solutions are provided though.

Finally it's worth mentioning that the labor union UNT is preparing a massive general strike for September that may cripple the country. The union leaders complain that the working class has lost like 70% of their purchasing power since 1970 and that the goverment is ignoring their plea. Public servants will join the strike because
most of them don't earn enough to subsist and many have to even rely on begging in spite of having a job.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lake confirmed in Titan

Finally clear evidence of liquid deposits on Saturn's moon Titan. Cassini spacecraft has "seen" in infrared a feature of Titan's surface that cannot be but liquid. The Arizona University scientists that studied it became fully convinced of it being liquid because the surface is so smooth that no naturally produced solid could have it.

The lake and what might be a "beach". Only part of the lake is on the day side.

Research journalist jailed in Germany

Jürgen Cain Külbel, a former GDR policeman recycled into research journalist has been sentenced to ten days of jail under weak legal pretexts. VN considers that he has been punished for political reasons, as he has repeatedly denounced the political bias and lack of evidence in the research of the murder of the Lebanese billionaire and politician Rafik Hariri, and more specifically because denouncing that the Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri had financial binds with the perpetrators, and that his main aide is a CIA agent involved in the ongoing wave of kidnappings in Europe.

Full article: A Voltaire Network collaborator jailed in Berlin.

Interview with Külbel on the Hariri process: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri: A Biased Investigation.

Is Sarkozy a CIA agent?

That is what research journalist
Tierry Meyssan claims in an article published at Voltaire Network. Whatever you may conclude, I believe the article is worth a good read, as it explores the ascension of the French President and his involvement in several dark affairs, including some of the obscure chapters of Corsican recent history and his relationship with another dark shadow of French politics: the infamous Charles Pasqua.

Meyssan's article: Operation Sarkozy: how the CIA paced one of its agents at the presidency of the French Republic.

Boy shot dead by Israeli Army in wall protest

Hammad Hossam Mussa (exact age unknow so far) was shot dead by Israeli military gunfire at a protest against the apartheid wall at the village of Ni'lin, West Bank.

The murder happened after the protesters had been dispersed by Israeli anti-riot fire (rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas). The protesters retreated then to the village, where the army shot several rounds of live fire with the result of this boy getting being shot in the chest and dying while he was being carried to hospital.

Image of the last moments of Hamad

Other fifteen people were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets in the inccident.

Source: Al Jazeera.

Freed Basque mayor: 'anything is ok against us'

The mayor of Arrasate (Mondragón) , Ino Galparsoro, was set free on bail two days ago after being arrested on unclear political charges some months ago. She was masively welcomed back in her hometown and has vowed to continue with her work.

We went to the 'Audiencia' [Audiencia Nacional, Spanish special tribunal] not knowing what was going on; in fact my name was not even in the instruction. It is clear that anything is ok against us and that attacking elected politicians was a path they were exploring. We arrived at 10:00 and the police report did not arrive until 11:00. In it they accused me of a couple of things: taking part in press conferences and proposing a bill in the name of Basque Nationalist Action [EAE-ANV, historical Basque left-wing nationalist party]. There was nothing else: that is why they jailed me.

Left-wing Nationalist elects, at a press conference, denounced that Galparsoro has been kidnapped by the state just because of being mayor and belonging to the Nationalist Left. They denounced that it is another example of the state of exception that the Basque people is subject to, that it was not a judicial decision but a political one taken by the Spanish government. They denounced the Spanish nationalist parties PSOE, PP and UPN as the direct responsible ones but also denounced the complicity of the so-called moderate Basque nationalist formations like PNV and Nafarroa Bai. They insisted in the nee to alow the Basque people to decide its own future.

Source: Gara

See also: my post on the arrest of Ino Galparsoro, three months ago.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Damn money, true God...

We live as if we would never have to die and we die as if we had never lived...
... and all is your fault, motherfucker!

From Rebelión.
(Post title from a song of Eskorbuto, the punkiest band ever).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More on the brutal repression in Sidi Ifni

A month ago I posted on how Morocco has been attacking Al Jazeera because of their coverage of the protests and repression in Sidi Ifni.

Image of the protests

Besides the informations of murders and rapes by the Moroccan police, it is clear is that 12 people were arrested and charged, including Brahim Sebaa Ellil, member of the Moroccan Center for Human Rights, who was sentenced to 6 months in prision and a fine of 50,000 dirhams on July 10, and Brahim Bara, Secretary General of ATTAC Morocco, who is still in jail. ATTAC, French acronym of Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens, is an international alterworldist organization that demands that international monetary transactions are taxed in order to curb speculation.

There is an online petition in four languages open to signature demanding the immediate liberation of Brahim Bara.

Source: La Haine (in Spanish).

Also there is the testimony of Maryam, a young woman arrested in the inccidents of Sidi Ifni, that I cannot but translate here:

It was the morning of Saturday June 7th, Maryam got out from her home for shopping. A policeman in the street insults her: "hoe, bitch!" She asks the policeman to moderate his language. Another agent then brings her to the police chief. He commands: "bring her where she gets fucked!" They bring her to the wall of the secondary school Mulay Ben Abdellah. There she watches 15 policemen brutally beating a young man. Then it comes her turn.

A policeman with his face covered beats her buttocks. When she stops yelling because she doesn't even feel the pain anymore, he beats her on the face and body. When she tries to cover her face another agent grabs her so his mate could continue the beating, that continues till she faints. Then a police car brings her to the police station.

At the gate she's brought out of the car through more beatings, they even threaten with breaking her galsses (Maryam is myopic). She cries that she had to sell a sheep to buy them. A policeman keeps her glasses and she's brought into the building.

Once inside humilliations begin: mockery and more mockery, they take off her clothes, they touch every corner of her body. Each time she tries to resist they beat her brutally. A policeman puts his baton between her legs. Up to 10 policemen abuse her sexually. In other rooms groups of women are forced to undress before the policemen with tehir husbands as witnesses. Many women that have gone through the police station have been abused that way, knowing the policemen that most won't say anything because of what implies in their society. In another room young men are forced to sit on bottles. The "good cop" finally appears and ask fogiveness for what they are doing to her.

A chief walks around the naked men and women. A young man asks to talk with the Caid of Agadir, claiming that he had arrived to Sidi Ifni to fullfill a mandate from the Caid and that is car is outside to prove it. The chief, arrogant, says: "We follow orders of King Mohammed VI. Is maybe your Caid more than the King himself?" Maryam remembers perfectly the face of who said that and claims that she would recognize him among thousands.

A policeman throws her to the floor, grabbing her neck with his legs. "If you move, I'll kill you". More beatings, abuses and humilliations.

They put a bandage on her eyes and bring her upstairs to interrogate her. For the first time she's not beaten. They take her data. They ask for her people, if she belongs to any organization, what ideas does she have, what does she think of the situation in Sidi Ifni. Then they bring her downstairs, take off the bandage and set her free.

At the exit a group of policemen surround her, insult her, beat her again. One yells: "The dick of the Makhzen is very long, bitch!" Never in her life Maryam heard so many insults nor so nasty ones.

June 7th will be recorded for long in the memory of the people of Sidi Ifni because of the savage behaviour of the Moroccan polcie forces commanded by General Laanigri, element that secures the continuity of the regime of Hassan II into that of Mohamed VI.

Policemen grabbing a baby from her mother

Mapuche resistents attack logging camp

Some 40 people with their faces hidden behind masks attacked with fire weapons the machines at an illegal logging camp of the company Minico in Mapuche territory. Later they were involved a shooting with police forces in charge of the protection of the camp. The inccident ended, like in previous occasions, without any arrests.

In spite of the growing activism of the Mapuche people for the recovery of their lands and dignity, the pseudo-leftist government of Bachelet has not just ignored their demands but persisted with the same arrogant attitude of aggresion as before, accusing the activists of "terrorism" and applying against them laws issued under the fascist regime of Pinochet.

Source: La Haine (in Spanish).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Around the web (summertime fill in)

Guess it's summertime boredom: lack of news or maybe just lack of interest on my side. But I really hate to leave the blog idle for so many days - while on the other hand I'd hate to post just for the sake of it, without real interest. This post is sort of a compromise because I have been reading some really interesting stuff around, and in some cases discussing it actively. Most has been appearing in the blogroll but not all and it's maybe worth a review anyhow.

Like almost always, Dienekes has remained very active, posting on different anthropological issues. The most controversial was (is) surely that on the sarcastic version of New Scientist on the open letter of several geneticists against abusive racialism in this field. Take a look at the many and sometimes maybe heated comments of this post because there is where the substance really is. I already posted on that but the discussion here was very limited.

Other interesting posts at Dienekes' blog deal with the genetics of Daghestan, of Cuba, of ancient Thracians (haplogroups unknown) and of Transylvanian Saxons. also comments on Caribbean DNA, and ponders if our understanding of biological and cultural evolution can converge somehow.

In relation with this last issue, there is the last and quite original anthropological blog I have discovered: Music000001. It is more of an e-book than a blog, so maybe it's best to begin by the oldest post rather than by the last one, as happens with most blogs. Its author, Victor, thinks he's found musical remains, survivals, that are directly rooted in the OOA migration and ulterior expansion. Even if I am not good at music myself, I admit that I am partly persuaded by his research, though we could not agree on the mechanism underlying the process. It is a very interesting read in any case.

Tim, at Remote Central, comments on the Neolithic green beads found in Palestine and their possible symbolism.

Further back in time, the excellent blog Mundo Neanderthal deals in Spanish with the possibility that aridity and changing climate may have caused or at least helped with the extinction of Neanderthals, nevertheless he also announces that Neanderthal tools have been found in Asturias (northern Spain) and dated as late as 29,000 BP. Martín also reviews the last campaign at the famous site of Atapuerca, with many findings, among which are specially relevant the remains of two Homo antecessor.

In the realm of modern anthropology (or is it biochemistry?), Psychedelic Research shows that magic mushrooms (Psylocibe sp.) are the best trip, beating all competitors, including LSD, in the fields of sacredness, intuitive knowledge, trascendence of time and space, deeply felt positive mood and ineffability. The tiny mushrooms (or more precisely their active component, psylocibine) get at least a 7 in all categories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New excavations at Basque-Roman mines

Oiasso (modern Irun) was the port town of the Vascones and a rather important Roman town of the Atlantic coast. It was not just a harbour but also a major mining station that was in use until the late 20th century. In Roman times the mines of Arditurri produced silver mineral, iron in the Middle Ages and later other minerals. Due to such extended mining activity only a fraction of the early galleries is preserved.

Arkeolan foundation has now begun a new archaeological research in these important mines, campaign that will continue until 2010.

Pickaxe and shipyard rails: the two faces of ancient Oiasso

Habemus planetam!

Dwarf planet actually. The fourth to be classified as such and the first one after the controversial 2006 IAU decission that defined the terms planet and dwarf planet.

The new dwarf planet was known as 2005 FY9 or, more colloquially, Easterbunny. It has been apparently this nickname what brough Mike Brown to choose the new oficial name of Makemake, the link being the Eastern Island, where Makemake used to be the god that created humankind.

In July 19th the IAU made this "upgrade" of the KBO official.

IAU press release: 'Fourth dwarf planet named Makemake'
Mike Brown's Planets (blog): 'What's in a name [2]'

Monday, July 21, 2008

Brutal Israeli attack on unarmed protester filmed

Warning: short-range
"rubber" bullet (steel coated with a thin rubber layer) firing at unarmed, tied and blinfolded detainee in this video. It may obviously hurt your sensibility, as it did with mine.

The detainee, 27, had been holding a protest against the Wall of Shame. The video has been released by Israeli human rights watchdog
B'Tselem, that has been distributing cameras to Palestinians to film the abuses of the Israeli army and settler squads.

Sources: Al Jazeera, B'Tselem.

More tremors at controversial Basque dam

The Itoitz platform has denounced that since July 15, 11 new tremors have happened in the area, one of them reaching the 2.2 degrees in the Richter's scale (according to Strassburg University). Since the reservoir was filled 2234 tremors have happened at or near the site.

Itoitz dam is built not on solid rock but on consolidated clay, what for some means that sooner or later the hills that surround it are bound to collapse and slide into the reservoir, causing a massive surge that may reach as far downstream as Zaragoza. The Navarrese and Spanish authorities have dismissed the claims once and again but the continuous tremors seem to announce the worst.

Older Itoitz related posts at category Itoitz.

Solidari@s con Itoitz (Solidaries with Itotz) blog (Spanish and Basque).

S.O.S Itoitz (Spanish and Basque): map of the tremors, with a clear concentration at the site of the dam.

Poster calling for a national demo.
It reads: "We are still alive and in time. Empty Itoitz!! Do not exapnd Esa!!" (Yesa, another reservoir).

Who reads Leherensuge?

On May 21 I installed, after registering with ClustrMaps, a little piece of code at the bottom of this blog. I was quite curious about how many people could visit Leherensuge and from where. In a few cases (active commenters) I had an idea but I was sure there were other lurkers and "accidental" visitors.

The result is this:

Locations of visitors to this page
(will keep changing)

At the time of posting this (one month of the little map), Leherensuge had 480 individual visits from all the continents. Not any record surely but at least I know I have some readers, certainly many more than I would know just from the comments. And I'm glad about it.

Most of them are from Europe and the USA. The areas that have 10 or more visits (and less than 100) so far are (sorted by continent):

· Bilbao area: it was the first one to reach that size, surely because my many hits (though I know of at least another reader from this city)
· Somewhere in the Low Countries. I have not clear if it's Belgium, Netherlands or both.
· Somewhere around Liechtenstein (Switzerland, Austria, maybe northern Italy)
· London
· Istanbul

North America:
· San Francisco area
· New York area
· Los Angeles area
· Seattle area
· Kansas city? (surprise)

· Somewhere in Southern India - Hyderabad? I believe I know who's this person.

· Northern New Zealand. What's that: Auckland? I know who you are - hehe!

There is also at least one visit (less than 10 in any case) from South America (Recife area) but that's all. Maybe if I wrote a blog in Spanish (I don't speak Portuguese, sorry).

And there have been at least three visitors from Africa too: one from Cape Town, another from Casablanca (or maybe Rabat) and another one from Alexandria.

And there are many other small dots (less than 10 visits) scattered all around. Those include also the only hit from Canada, that came not from Toronto, Quebec, Montreal or Vancouver... but from some place in Nunavut, what is most intriguing. Ok, correcting myself: some visitors are placed at the US-Canadian border and I'm not sure if they could be Canadian too.

Other intriguing (and probably unique) visitors are from remote places like Inner China, Baku, Hokkaido or Mindanao. I appreciate all my visitors but when they arrive from such distant and intriguing places I cannot but wonder who they might be.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

'Race' and genetics: strong warning!

A group of geneticists, mostly from Stanford University, including some famous names like Cavalli-Sforza and Underhill, have published an open letter giving a strong warning on the use and abuse of racial labelling in medical genetics.

The letter consists of ten statements, whose first sentences (headlines) are reproduced here:

Statement 1: We believe that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically organized categories of race and ethnicity

Statement 2: We recognize that individuals of two different geographically defined human populations are more likely to differ at any given site in the genome than are two individuals of the same geographically defined population

Statement 3: We urge those who use genetic information to reconstruct an individual's geographic ancestry to present results within the broader context of an individual's overall ancestry

Statement 4: We recognize that racial and ethnic categories are created and maintained within sociopolitical contexts and have shifted in meaning over time

Statement 5: We caution against making the naive leap to a genetic explanation for group differences in complex traits, especially for human behavioral traits such as IQ scores, tendency towards violence, and degree of athleticism

Statement 6: We encourage all researchers who use racial or ethnic categories to describe how individual samples are assigned category labels, to explain why samples with such labels were included in the study, and to state whether the racial or ethnic categories are research variables

Statement 7: We discourage the use of race as a proxy for biological similarity and support efforts to minimize the use of the categories of race and ethnicity in clinical medicine, maintaining focus on the individual rather than the group

Statement 8: We encourage the funding of interdisciplinary study of human genetic variation that includes a broad range of experts in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences

Statement 9: We urge researchers, those working in media, and others engaged in the translation of research results to collaborate on efforts to avoid overstatement of the contribution of genetic variation to phenotypic variation

Statement 10: We recommend that the teaching of genetics include historical and social scientific information on past uses of science to promote racism as well as the potential impact of future policies; we encourage increased funding for the development of such teaching materials and programs for secondary and undergraduate education

Please read the whole text anyhow, as this is just an excerpt.

As I see it, statement 5 is particularly important, specially upon the hype that racists around the world are placing on the ultra-biased psudoscientific "findings" of people like Richard Lynn, who claims that some ethnic groups of Africa have such a low IQ that the whole ethnicities should be considered retarded - against what any impartial observer can infer. Such "research" is, of course, founded by Nazi groups, akin to the Klu Klux Klan - but some intelligent people is giving credibility to it, what is outraging.

Statements 3 and 7 look particularly related. When I read studies that come up with conclusions that supposedly apply to all "Caucasoids" based on a limited sample of "Utah whites" (of very restricted NW European ancestry and with likely founder efefctes of their own - Mormon colonization and all that) I feel that my intelligence is being insulted. The least they could do is to create a really comprehensive and representative sample of "Caucasoids" around the world or at least in their original homeland of West Eurasia and neighbouring areas, if they really want to reach to any meaningful conclussion.

Overall, it's clear that the hype of a hypersimplified understanding of genetics and the dismissal of other factors underlying genetic expression (epigenetics...) as well as of economic, social and cultural factors is a dangerous reality in some corners. The very fact that most Anglosaxon countries still use (against all Western humanistic values) racial categories in official papers is a clear symptom that racism is far from deceased and that special caution should be displayed when dealing with the geographic/ethnic patterns that may exist.

This letter is probably (and sadly) necesary and I hope it raises a good number of adherents.


Note: Manjunat also posts on it. There are other related posts in my blogroll but they are mostly based on a totally distorted version of the letter published in New Scientist.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Policemen guilty of 2001 Genoa summit abuses

15 of them have been sentenced to penalties that range to a maximum of 5 years of jail for the chief of the prision brigade that was in charge when most of the abuses happened. 30 others have been acquitted.

In that infamous day of the 2001 Genoa G8 summit, anti-riot police massively and indiscriminately arrested activists of all sorts, beating them brutally, causing one dead and comitting other abuses such as focing women to strip in front of male agents.

But judicial severity has been much harsher for activists, some of which have been sentenced (in a separate trial) to 11 years in jail.

There is still another trial under way against 29 policemen accused of abuses in a separate detention center.

(Source: Al Jazeera).

The Comitee Truth and Justice for Genoa asks in regard to this trial: is Italy still a democracy? They think the penalties are way too soft:

What is evidenced and scares is the consideration that have in our country the violations of fundamental rights: a minor crime destined to prescription in tribunals, totally irrelevant for politicians, that in all these years have been unable to pass a law against torture and fire the public servants (in some cases they have even been promoted!) involved in the processes for the Genoa G8 meeting. In Bolzanetto [the jail near Genoa] unacceptable abuses were comitted. Mistreatment to detainees is totally incompatible with democracy. In these years a climate of impunity has been promoted. We ask to the political forces and the Parliament: is Italy still a democracy?

Gravettians belonged to haplogroup H

At least in Italy.
A new paper by D. Caramelli confirms that the 28,000 years old individual known as Paglicci 23 carried the Cambridge Reference Sequence, or, in other words, a common variant of mtDNA haplogroup H.

It is a most important finding, specially as it confirms quite directly the mainstream conceptions about modern Europeans being descendant mostly from Paleolithic ones.

If I don't understand it wrongly, the individual should be one of the earliest belonging to the Gravettian techno-complex (or culture), as Julien Riel-Salvatore mentioned in 2006 that Paglicci Cave has some of the oldest Gravettian remains of Italy dated to c. 28,000 BP (uncalibrated).

Paglicci Cave (Gargano, Apulia, Italy) is a most important archaeological site, that has yielded some 45,000 remains of different types, including mural and portable art. Yet it is at imminent risk of collapse and, as far as I know, the requests of archeologists for funds to prevent this disaster have been ignored.

(Thanks to Dienekes for pointing me to this little jewel).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ice melting sooner than ever in spite of solar low

Solar minimums are statistically cooler periods and it's known that the Little Ice Age was coincident with a particularly long period with almost no solar spots. In this line long-term weather forecasts at the beginning of the year had suggested that the effects of global warming could be slightly delayed or less noticeable for this reason, as the Sun has been without spots for a couple of years now.

But reality is grimmer than expectations: arctic ice is still melting even earlier than ever before (and 2007 was record-breaking) and some Russian scientists are facing emergency evaquation after their ice plate shrank a lot more and a lot earlier than expected.

I bet we will still find some stubborn people who will be denying the reality. But I warn them: normally reality is more stubborn than the most stubborn of persons. That's why pragmatism is such a valued quality.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Radioactive leak at Rhône central

It's at least the third nuclear emergency in the EU in the last months, not to montion the radioactive waste dumped at Naples, sent to Germany as common trash and turned back at the border. In a time when nukes are promoted again as an alternative to generate energy, we are also witnessing once and again the major problems caused by the previous wave of nuclear energy construction: old centrals whose life is extended once and again beyond their schedule, leaks, corrupt managers and authorities that prefer to risk the life and health of citizens before assuming their responsability or risking their business, growing piles of extremely dangerous nuclear trash that has nowhere to go, etc.

Now the leak has affected the rivers at the mid-Rhône basin, near Avignon. The central has been stopped but the leak is not yet under control. People has been asked not to drink tap water nor eat fish captured locally. The company, ASN, has been denounced because of delaying the alert. (More details at BBC).

The other two cases I can recall happened in Slovenia and Catalonia. The slovenian alert was said to be almost routine, implying no dangers, but the one in Spain was hidden from the people for months - and it's still unclear which were (or still are) the dangers.

Solar energy to be 10 times more efficient

Good news for all, I think. One of the main problems of solar energy had been its comparatively high costs. With a new technology that uses dyes to channel the light to photoelectric cells, developed by scientists at the Massachussets Institute of Technology, the power captured becomes 1000% greater and it can also prescind of other costly elements such as mirrors and mobility.

As the light is gathered at the edges of the dyed glass, one possible application is to make electricty generators that would also be normal windows.

More at MIT opens new 'window' on solar energy.

News from outer space

A couple of paradigm-shattering news from outer space in SD today:

1. Very High Energy (VHE) gamma rays seem now to be produced in many spots out there and also able to reach us, providing with another source of astronomical info. So far it was thought that such high energy rays lost their energy fast and were unable to reach us, except from nearby sources. The fact now seems to be, on light of MAGIC telescope research, that this is not the case at all and allows astronomers to watch things so far unknown and review some scientific assumptions - like that of most energetic sources being also the brightest stuff up there, what now seems obvious it's not the case at all, as there are objects that are only emitting in this VHE area of the spectrum. (Original news article).

2. The other finding is that of the a galaxy that has the record of stars being generated in the shortest period. It's known as the "Baby Boom galaxy" and it's creating stars at a rate of one to four thousand per year, many more than the 10 or so the Milky Way produces. It is a Galaxy from the very early universe, some 12.3 billion light-years away. This finding was made thanks to the use of several of the most modern telescopes, like Spitzer and the Very Large Array. (Original news article).

The Baby Boom galaxy

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Moon had water!

Yes, THE Moon, our Moon, not any other moon (natural satellite) over there. So far the mainstream belief was that it was completely dehydrated when the parent object, a planet the size of Mars hit the Earth in a violent collision at the beginning of the their respective histories.

But now a new study claims that volcanic eruptions threw water out some some three billion years ago. It seems that some of the rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo program expeditions have been found to have minimal remains of water (46 parts per million).

Most of this archaic water must have vanished in outer space, as the Moon's gravity is too weak to retain it but there is now speculation that some of it may have remained frozen at polar craters.

More at BBC.

Some good news for Basque Paleolithic art

First, three Basque caves have been nominated to become Wolrd Heritage sites via UNESCO. They will be (almost naturally, I think), Santimamiñe and Ekain, plus a maybe arguable choice: Altxerri. The nomination of these caves is part of larger plan to include many Franco-Cantabrian sites in that list, but this time at least, only those in the Spanish side of the border.

Second, the artificial copy of Ekain, the neocave, will finally open in September. Then we will be again able to watch those beautiful horses, even if in their 21st century version.

Ekain, in western Gipuzkoa, has yielded some remains of the Chatelperronian but its fame comes from the Magdalenian period, including paintings like the ones above. The total list of figures in Ekain is over the hundred items.

Santimamiñe, in mid-eastern Biscay, has instead a very complete record of all the Upper Paleolithic and afterwards until as late as the Iron Age. It has a small hidden paintings room, with bisons surrounding a horse, plus other figures in different places totalling some 50 items. I had the inspiring fortune of visiting this cave when I was a child but nowadays it is closed and has been carefully restored after many decades of being open, suffering in consequence.

Instead, a 3D replica has been opened recently in the hermit on top of the same hill, where one can also appreciate from a privileged view the beautiful landscape these people (and my own ancesors later as well) lived in (of course the coastline is not the same one as in Paleolithic times).

Finally Altxerri, in coastal central Gipuzkoa is a less known cave, as it is closed not just to the public but also quite restricted to researchers, due to its unstability. The dates for this cave are of the late Magdalenian and the dominant figure is the bison.

Location of the five sites of Paleolithic art of the Western Basque Country

Source: Gara and the Basque Government sites linked in-text (specially for the images).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Natural grammar is SOV

At least that's what an article of Science Daily suggests based on some materials of the University of Chicago.

Experiments on numerous native speakers of four different languages (English, Spanish, Turkish and Chinese) were asked to describe verbally and then by signs some sequences and, while the spoken forms varied according to language, the signs always followed the subject-object-verb gramatical structure. When asked to sort images to describe these sequences as in a non-verbal cartoon they also followed the SOV system without exception.

While Turkish language does follow this structure, English, Spanish and Chinese instead follow the SVO system. Example: I write something would be correct English but I something write would be the natural intuitive grammar instead.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Kabylia demands autonomy

Kabylia is maybe the more self-conscious
Berber region of Algeria and one that has suffered much, specially since Algerian independence, though its historical autonomy was supressed initially by the French. Now the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK) is officially calling for autonomy taking the opportunity of a period of relative calm.

The text of the declaration is too long to transcribe here but you can read it either at North of Africa or at Kabylia Info. It is an interesting read as it makes in relatively few lines a good abstract of the long troubled history of this country.

I really hope they get their political and cultural autonomy as soon as possible. It is time of decolonization in Western Europe as in North Africa. Berbers, as Basques, have been around since Prehistory but the cultural and political imperialism of other nations have put both on the verge of survival. It's time to change that. It is time for the rights of the native peoples of the Old World to be finally respected.

Kabyle-speaking area

Nobel laureate denounces corruption of Medicine

Jon Sulston, who won the Nobel Prize of Medicine in 2002, along with two collaborators, for major genetic and cell functioning research,
has denounced that Medicine is falling into a corrupt spiral, priorizing benefits over the health of patients.

Some people would say it is not corrupt because it is not illegal, and that is true; but I consider that advertising a medicine that doesn't make clear any disadvantages of the medicine, or, in fact, the fact that most people don't need this particular medicine - I would cite, for example, anti-depressants which are hugely oversold, especially in America. This is the sort of thing I mean by corruption. It's not legal corruption; it's moral corruption.

Sulston who is trying to create the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, has also criticised how medicines fail to reach the developing world for the same greedy reasons and in other occasions has opposed the patenting of human genetics information.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Praileaitz, Paleolithic art in danger

I have been writting in Archaeo Forums on this issue. Please take a look.

Briefly: the cave of Praileaitz is a very original Paleolithic (probably Magdalenian) site in the Western Basque Country (Deba, Gipuzkoa), where unusual portable art and some abstract mural art has been found. It is believed that some sort of witch or shaman lived there and has been therefore nicknamed "the Shaman's Cave".

Unusual large bead that has been suggested to be an abstract "Venus"

The cave (as well as other caves in the same hill, some of which of archaeological value) are in extreme danger because of the activities of a quarry. The autonomous government has issued a very limited protection decree that only forbids quarry activities in 50 m. around the cave and explossions in 100 m. Enviromentalists, expert prehistorians and other sensible people have asked repeatedly to expand this protection area or even forbid the quarry completely. But, on mere economic grounds, the government has been extremely reluctant to act in this sense.

Cave entrance

The mural art is placed on very delicate geological formations that vibrations could destroy or damage easily. The very enviroment of the cave has already been severely damaged by the activities of the quarry and another prehistoric cave in the same hill was totally destroyed decades ago by it (only an emergency dig was allowed then).

Some of the mural art

Today it has been known that prehistoric art expert Jean Clottes has asked for a protection area of 500 m.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

News from the edge of the Solar System

Not any new planet, not yet. But pretty interesting anyhow.

STEREO, the twin spacecrafts designed to get a 3D view, and the corresponding greater understanding, of the Sun have inccidentally found something very informative not about the Sun itself but about the very far edges of its influence area, the Heliopause.

While looking at the Sun, STEREO detected uncharged atoms arriving from the far reaches beyond it. The researchers of the University of California Berkley studying the phenomenon have concluded they are actually the back tide of the charged particles (ions) that the Solar wind pushes outside. Once they reach the edge of the Solar System, they release this charge to the much colder interstellar medium and then, deprived of the electromagnetic properties that made them flow outwards as part of the Solar wind, fall back into the center of our stellar system.

The presence of these particles had been detected previously by Voyager 2 but its origins and meaning had remained a mystery till now.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What if... Y-DNA K diversified after Toba?

Karafet 2008 dates some haplogroups on the assumption that age(CT)=70,000 BP, following the rapid coastal migration hypothesis.

Largely inspired by Petraglia 2007, who strongly suggests continuity in the Paleolithic of India before and after the Toba ash layer, I dare make a different assumption: age(K)=72,000 BP (after the Toba catastrophe), to see how he corresponding estimates would vary, I must then add 52% to all of Karafet's ages.


CT 106.4 KY
> CF 104.7 KY
> DE 98.8 KY
>> E 79.8 KY

>>>>> E1b1 72.2 KY

>> F 73 KY

>>> IJ 58.5 KY

>>>> I 33.7 KY

>>> K 72 KY (assumed)

>>>> P 51.7 KY

>>>>> R 40.7 KY

>>>>>> R1 28.2 KY


CF would then have diversified in South Asia, right in time for the earliest known blade tools of the subcontinent (c. 103,000 BP)

Not just K but also its immediate ancestor, macro-haplogroup F, would have diversified right after the Toba event, which would have been followed, as per my hypothesis, by a rapid expansion out of South Asia.

P diversified (into the precursors of Q and R) in Central Asia (as it's normally acknowledged) and the date of c. 52,000 BP fits reasonably well with the TL dates for sites in Altai. Probably R remained in the south of Central Asia, while Q went to the NE (Altai?).

R diversified (into the precursors of R1 and R2) c. 41,000 BP (according to this model), and could even have taken part (as pre-R1) in the Aurignacian colonization of Europe. This is a risky assumption but certainly Central Asian, Iranian and Anatolian sites have been claimed as proto-Aurignacian.

The estimate for R1 of c. 28,000 BP fits just too well with Gravettian. If so pre-R1b would have headed west and pre-R1a eastwards. Karafet does not provide age estimates for the succesive nodes in this branch though.

What about I? IJ would seem to have diversified c. 58,000 BP, and that surely happened in West Asia. But I is mostly a European clade, what implies some sort of founder effect. The estimate for the divergence of the I node (into the precursors of I1 and I2) of c. 33,000 BP is no good date: too late to be Aurignacian and too early for Gravettian possibly.

As with IJ, I have no clear what to say about E, just that E1b1 (its main subclade and the most important African haplogroup), if the c. 72,000 BP age is correct, would also seem to have benefitted from whatever niche-opening effects the Toba event had in Africa.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fundamental conceps of Population Genetics. Abracadabra?

No! Basic understanding. Understanding not even of genetics but of probability.

This is the "official" continuation of a discussion TerryT and I have been involved in, lately totally off-topic-ly in this other thread. Terry said:

Abracadabra, bottleneck, drift, founder effect. With such magic words anything becomes possible.


... diversification indicates no bottlenecks, founder effect or drift, very unlikely in a population confined to just one region.

What I mean to prove here is that diversification in typical Paleolithic conditions (very low population density, relatively frequent colonization of new lands, specially in the late MP and early UP of Eurasia), necesarily implies drift and founder effect. Bottlenecks instead are a non-normal extreme event that might or might not have happened.

For that I will call as witness the source of all knowldge: God - err... I mean: Wikipedia.

1. Drift: In population genetics, genetic drift (or more precisely allelic drift) is the evolutionary process of change in the allele frequencies (or gene frequencies) of a population from one generation to the next due to the phenomena of probability in which purely chance events determine which alleles (variants of a gene) within a reproductive population will be carried forward while others disappear.

By definition, genetic drift has no preferred direction, but due to the volatility stochastic processes create in small reproducing populations, there is a tendency within small populations towards homozygosity of a particular allele, such that over time the allele will either disappear or become universal throughout the population.

This eventual outcome of drift, when an allele displaces all others within a population, is normally refered to as fixation. Fixation may also happen because of non-random processes such as selection.

2. Founder effect: In population genetics, the founder effect refers to the loss of genetic variation when a new colony is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population.

Illustration of different possible founder effects from a simplified hypothetical population with two alleles

In addition to founder effects, the new population is often a very small population and so shows increased sensitivity to genetic drift, an increase in inbreeding, and relatively low genetic variation.

I say (and I think most will agree) that these two elements were fundamental in Paleolithic genetics, very specially in the colonization of Eurasia and related lands (Sahul, America). They are no abracadabra: just business as usual.

One could argue that, after Neolithic, the effects of drift have become negligible - and that's certainly the case of modern huge and highly intercommunicated populations. But that was not the case in the Paleolithic, when small bands of hunter-gatherers made up that human reality. Therefore understanding these concepts is essential to understand the formation of Humankind, very specially on light of haploid genetics.

The third concept that Terry likes to mix with the others like if these were the same thing is bottleneck. It is clearly not the same: a bottleneck is a extreme (not normal) phenomenon, where a population is not decimated but almost annihilated.

A population bottleneck (or genetic bottleneck) is an evolutionary event in which a significant percentage of a population or species is killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing, and the population is reduced by 50% or more, often by several orders of magnitude.

This is a very rare happening, though founder effects can appear like population bottlenecks because their effects are similar.

Population bottlenecks have been detected apparently in Eurasians (but not in Africans), slightly sharper among East Asians than among Europeans. This may indicate a real bottleneck (near-extinction) for instance after an event of massive influence like the Toba explosion but it is also possible that the apparent bottlenecks in Eurasians mean just founder effects.


Caveat: I may have misrepresented Terry's views in this post. Please read the comments for his explanations. Most importantly:

As I hope I've made obvious elsewhere I totally accept drift and founder effect (as well as bottlenecks to varying extents) have been important during our evolution. What I am totally uncomfortable with is where they are invoked to explain away inconvenient facts that conflict with particular theories about our evolution.