Sunday, April 26, 2015

evolution in four dimensions...,


evolution-institute |  One of the most mind-expanding books that you’ll ever read is Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb. They remind us that evolution is about variation, selection, and heredity, not genes. Genes provide one mechanism of heredity but there are others, including epigenetic mechanisms, forms of social learning found in many species, and forms of symbolic thought that are distinctively human. They provide a concise history of why evolutionary theory became so gene-centric during the 20th Century and how it needs to be expanded to include the other three dimensions.

Eva Jablonka is a Professor at the Cohn Institute for the History of Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University in Israel. I talked with her by Skype on November 6 2014. Our conversation provides a panoramic tour of evolutionary theory based on heredity, not just genes.

DSW: Welcome, Eva. I’m so pleased to be talking with you.

EJ: Hello, David.

DSW: I want to talk to you about the definition of evolution and the need for it to go beyond genetic evolution. This is the topic of your great book, Evolution in Four Dimensions, which I have adopted as the first text for almost all of my courses. That’s how much I think of it. Let’s begin by discussing your background. What is your training that enables you to write such a book?

EJ: I am a geneticist. I did a PhD in genetics and molecular biology; in fact, on DNA methylation and chromatin structure. Before that, I did a Masters thesis in microbiology. At the same time, I was deeply interested in philosophy of biology. While I was doing a PhD in genetics, I was also writing papers for philosophy of biology journals. I thought that I should combine the two because theoretical biology and evolutionary biology need a very strong conceptual basis. I ended up being in some kind of twilight zone between the two things. For me it was a productive combination.

DSW: Great! Everyone knows that Darwin knew nothing about genes. For him, evolution was about variation, selection and heredity, a resemblance between parents and offspring. Nevertheless, nowadays, whenever you say the word “evolution,” most people hear “genes.” That’s true for a professional evolutionist, as much as for the lay public. How is it that the study of evolution became gene-centric?

EJ: It is related to the strong focus on heredity that is apparent already in the second 19th century, when many  theories of heredity were developed. Once evolution became an accepted theory it was clear that one has to think very seriously about heredity. In order to have cumulative evolution, heredity is necessary.  Darwin himself had a theory of heredity, which was, in fact, one of the most Lamarckian theories of heredity around at the time!  The point is, however, that he needed a theory of heredity to consolidate his theory of evolution, and he  did develop one.

The other reason heredity became focal was because  of the Industrial Revolution. The population was growing and there was an urgent need to feed people so improvements in agriculture became pertinent. It was clear that breeding and selection were of great importance, and selection must be based on heritable variation. The study of heritable variation was  therefore  important from a practical point of view.

watch this wattle-herding assclown claim epigenetic complexity that mainstream biology is only now discovering...,



whyevolutionistrue |  Here’s Discovery Institute Fellow Paul Nelson—who lives in Chicago and sometimes creeps me out by depositing Intelligent Design propaganda in my departmental mailbox—using a novel (but stupid) argument for Intelligent Design, aka God’s Handiwork. It’s based on embryology and teleology. Have a look at this 9.5-minute video on nematode development, which distorts the cool developmental biology of the worm (work that garnered a Nobel Prize) to make it seem like evidence for Design.

All the biology is accurate up to 4:58, although a bit repetitive, but that’s where Nelson begins to slip off the rails and argue that development can’t be explained by evolution because embryology looks like it has foresight—ergo Jebus. As he says, “The case for design could not be made more explicit.” But the argument for “design” isn’t even very sophisticated, and can be refuted with only an elementary knowledge of evolution.

I’ll leave it to the readers to educate each other on this one—it’s an exercise in using what you’ve learned about how evolution works to address creationist distortions . Do post below the reason why Nelson’s argument is fatally flawed. And watch the movie first. It’s a slick production, full of sophistry.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

what has atrazine done to you deuterostems?


atrazinelovers |  Atrazine is an herbicide (weed-killer) primarily used on corn. Atrazine is the most common chemical contaminant of ground and surface water in the United States. It is a potent endocrine disruptor with ill effects in wildlife, laboratory animals and humans. Atrazine chemically castrates and feminizes wildlife and reduces immune function in both wildlife and laboratory rodents. Atrazine induces breast and prostate cancer, retards mammary development, and induces abortion in laboratory rodents. Studies in human populations and cell and tissue studies suggest that atrazine poses similar threats to humans. The peer-reviewed scientific studies to support these statements are summarized and can be viewed as you navigate this website.

Atrazine has been denied regulatory approval by the European Union and is, thus, banned, in Europe, even in Switzerland, the home of the manufacturer. Despite the environmental and public health risks, atrazine continues to be used in the US, for economic reasons. Atrazine may only increase corn yield by as little as 1.2 % (and not at all according to some studies. The agri-giant Syngenta, however, has a very powerful lobby and spent $250,000 lobbying in Minnesota alone in 2005 to keep atrazine on the market there.

With as little as 1.2 % increase in corn, a crop that we consume less than 2% of, in a world where 20% of the population will die of starvation, it is incumbent upon us to become involved in the regulatory process regarding atrazine. We (the public) must play an active role in this regulatory decision.

hellified consequences of people-centric leadership...,


NewYorker |  In 2010, Hayes told the EcoRisk panel in an e-mail, “I have just initiated what will be the most extraordinary academic event in this battle!” He had another paper coming out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which described how male tadpoles exposed to atrazine grew up to be functional females with impaired fertility. He advised the company that it would want to get its P.R. campaign up to speed. “It’s nice to know that in this economy I can keep so many people employed,” he wrote. He quoted both Tupac Shakur and the South African king Shaka Zulu: “Never leave an enemy behind or it will rise again to fly at your throat.”

Syngenta’s head of global product safety wrote a letter to the editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and to the president of the National Academy of Sciences, expressing concern that a “publication with so many obvious weaknesses could achieve publication in such a reputable scientific journal.” A month later, Syngenta filed an ethics complaint with the chancellor of Berkeley, claiming that Hayes’s e-mails violated the university’s Standards of Ethical Conduct, particularly Respect for Others. Syngenta posted more than eighty of Hayes’s e-mails on its Web site and enclosed a few in its letter to the chancellor. In one, with the subject line “Are y’all ready for it,” Hayes wrote, “Ya fulla my j*z right now!” In another, he told the Syngenta scientists that he’d had a drink after a conference with their “republican buddies,” who wanted to know about a figure he had used in his paper. “As long as you followin me around, I know I’m da sh*t,” he wrote. “By the way, yo boy left his pre-written questions at the table!”

Berkeley declined to take disciplinary action against Hayes. The university’s lawyer reminded Syngenta in a letter that “all parties have an equal responsibility to act professionally.” David Wake said that he read many of the e-mails and found them “quite hilarious.” “He’s treating them like street punks, and they view themselves as captains of industry,” he said. “When he gets tapped, he goes right back at them.”

Michelle Boone, a professor of aquatic ecology at Miami University, who served on the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel, said, “We all follow the Tyrone Hayes drama, and some people will say, ‘He should just do the science.’ But the science doesn’t speak for itself. Industry has unlimited resources and bully power. Tyrone is the only one calling them out on what they’re doing.” However, she added, “I do think some people feel he has lost his objectivity.”

Keith Solomon, a professor emeritus at the University of Guelph, Ontario, who has received funding from Syngenta and served on the EcoRisk panel, noted that academics who refuse industry money are not immune from biases; they’re under pressure to produce papers, in order to get tenure and promotions. “If I do an experiment, look at the data every which way, and find nothing, it will not be easy to publish,” he said. “Journals want excitement. They want bad things to happen.”

Hayes, who had gained more than fifty pounds since becoming tenured, wore bright scarves draped over his suit and silver earrings from Tibet. At the end of his lectures, he broke into rhyme: “I see a ruse / intentionally constructed to confuse the news / well, I’ve taken it upon myself to defuse the clues / so that you can choose / and to demonstrate the objectivity of the methods I use.” At some of his lectures, Hayes warned that the consequences of atrazine use were disproportionately felt by people of color. “If you’re black or Hispanic, you’re more likely to live or work in areas where you’re exposed to crap,” he said. He explained that “on the one side I’m trying to play by the ivory-tower rules, and on the other side people are playing by a different set of rules.” Syngenta was speaking directly to the public, whereas scientists were publishing their research in “magazines that you can’t buy in Barnes and Noble.”  Fist tap Rohan.

Friday, April 24, 2015

homo sapiens crafting an exit strategy from pan-troglodytic deuterostems...,


BusinessInsider |  A group of Chinese scientists just reported that they modified the genome of human embryos, something that has never been done in the history of the world, according to a report in Nature News.

A recent biotech discovery — one that has been called the biggest biotech discovery of the century — showed how scientists might be able to modify a human genome when that genome was still just in an embryo.

This could change not only the genetic material of a person, but could also change the DNA they pass on, removing "bad" genetic codes (and potentially adding "good" ones) and taking an active hand in evolution.

Concerned scientists published an argument that no one should edit the human genome in this way until we better understood the consequences after a report uncovered rumors that Chinese scientists were already working on using this technology. 

But this new paper, published April 18 in the journal Protein and Cell by a Chinese group led by gene-function researcher Junjiu Huang of Sun Yat-sen University, shows that work has already been done, and Nature News spoke to a Chinese source that said at least four different groups are "pursuing gene editing in human embryos."




scientists discover LEM


telegraph |  A protein which ‘turbo-charges’ the immune system so that it can fight off any cancer or virus has been discovered by scientists. 

In a breakthrough described as a ‘game-changer’ for cancer treatment, researchers at Imperial College found a previously unknown molecule which boosts the body’s ability to fight off chronic illnesses.
Scientists at Imperial College London, who led the study, are now developing a gene therapy based on the protein and hope to begin human trials in three years.
“This is exciting because we have found a completely different way to use the immune system to fight cancer,” said Professor Philip Ashton-Rickardt, from the Section of Immunobiology in the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the study.


“It could be a game-changer for treating a number of different cancers and viruses.

“This is a completely unknown protein. Nobody had ever seen it before or was even aware that it existed. It looks and acts like no other protein.”

The protein – named lymphocyte expansion molecule, or LEM, promotes the spread of cancer killing ‘T cells’ by generating large amounts of energy.

Normally when the immune system detects cancer it goes into overdrive trying to fight the disease, flooding the body with T cells. But it quickly runs out of steam.

inflammatory bowel and ulcerative colitis caused by identified microbe-host interaction


bmj.com |  Objectives Dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota is associated with Crohn's disease (CD). Functional evidence for a causal role of bacteria in the development of chronic small intestinal inflammation is lacking. Similar to human pathology, TNFdeltaARE mice develop a tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-driven CD-like transmural inflammation with predominant ileal involvement. 

Design Heterozygous TNFdeltaARE mice and wildtype (WT) littermates were housed under conventional (CONV), specific pathogen-free (SPF) and germ-free (GF) conditions. Microbial communities were analysed by high-throughput 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. Metaproteomes were measured using LC-MS. Temporal and spatial resolution of disease development was followed after antibiotic treatment and transfer of microbial communities into GF mice. Granulocyte infiltration and Paneth cell function was assessed by immunofluorescence and gene expression analysis. 

Results GF-TNFdeltaARE mice were free of inflammation in the gut and antibiotic treatment of CONV-TNFdeltaARE mice attenuated ileitis but not colitis, demonstrating that disease severity and location are microbiota-dependent. SPF-TNFdeltaARE mice developed distinct ileitis-phenotypes associated with gradual loss of antimicrobial defence. 16S analysis and metaproteomics revealed specific compositional and functional alterations of bacterial communities in inflamed mice. Transplantation of disease-associated but not healthy microbiota transmitted CD-like ileitis to GF-TNFdeltaARE recipients and triggered loss of lysozyme and cryptdin-2 expression. Monoassociation of GF-TNFdeltaARE mice with the human CD-related Escherichia coli LF82 did not induce ileitis. 

Conclusions We provide clear experimental evidence for the causal role of gut bacterial dysbiosis in the development of chronic ileal inflammation with subsequent failure of Paneth cell function.

Butt then we told you this five years ago....,

viral proteins regulate human embryonic development


phys.org |  A fertilized human egg may seem like the ultimate blank slate. But within days of fertilization, the growing mass of cells activates not only human genes but also viral DNA lingering in the human genome from ancient infections.

Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that the early human produce , and even become crowded with what appear to be assembled viral particles. These viral proteins could manipulate some of the earliest steps in , affecting gene expression and even possibly protecting the cells from further viral infection.

The finding raises questions as to who, or what, is really pulling the strings during human embryogenesis.

"It's both fascinating and a little creepy," said Joanna Wysocka, PhD, associate professor of developmental biology and of chemical and systems biology. "We've discovered that a specific class of viruses that invaded the human genome during recent evolution becomes reactivated in the early development of the human embryo, leading to the presence of viral-like particles and proteins in the ."

A paper describing the findings was published online April 20 in Nature. Wysocka is the senior author, and graduate student Edward Grow is the lead author.

Viral particles in the embryo
Retroviruses are a class of virus that insert their DNA into the genome of the host cell for later reactivation. In this stealth mode, the virus bides its time, taking advantage of cellular DNA replication to spread to each of an infected cell's progeny every time the cell divides. HIV is one well-known example of a retrovirus that infects humans.

When a retrovirus infects a germ cell, which makes sperm and eggs, or infects a very early-stage embryo before the germ cells have arisen, the viral DNA is passed along to future generations. Over evolutionary time, however, these viral genomes often become mutated and inactivated. About 8 percent of the is made up of left behind during past infections. One retrovirus, HERVK, however, infected humans repeatedly until relatively recently—within about 200,000 years. Much of HERVK's genome is still snuggled, intact, in each of our cells.

Most of these sequences are inactive in mature cells, but recent research has shown that they can spring to life in tumor cells or in human embryonic stem cells. A study published in February in Cell Stem Cell by researchers from Singapore's Genome Institute showed that sequences from a primate virus called HERVH are also activated in early human development.

Now the Stanford researchers have shown for the first time that viral proteins are abundantly present in the developing human embryo and assemble into what appear to be viral particles in electron microscopy images. By following up with additional studies in human embryonic cells grown in vitro, scientists showed that these viral proteins affect gene expression in the developing embryo and may protect the cells from infection by other viruses.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

open thread thursday: where every worldview is a hammer and every comment a nail...,


robin hood: why ayn rand got it wrong


lrc |  For sixty years I have been captivated by the heroic stories of Robin Hood. The Adventures of Robin Hood was my favorite movie as a kid, Errol Flynn my favorite actor. Adventures of Robin Hood, by Eleanor Graham Vance, was my favorite book as a kindergartener. I still have it in my library.

Over the past several days I have once again been reliving my corrupted youth by watching on DVD the 143 episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Richard Greene. Above is Outlaw Money, one of my favorites with many themes LRC enthusiasts will relish.

The television series was produced in England by Sapphire Films. Sapphire Films was founded by producer Hannah Weinstein allegedly with funds provided by the Hollywood branch of the Communist Party USA. The ingenious Weinstein hired many blacklisted Hollywood writers to write scripts for The Adventures of Robin Hood. She and her conspiratorial cohorts devised a sophisticated covert procedure to keep their identities secret and protected. All this elaborate ruse would seem to vindicate Ayn Rand’s crusading war against these Hollywood Reds and the destructive Robin Hood myth fostered in the series they created. The novelist/philosopher was perhaps the fiercest enemy of these Hollywood Communists and of Robin Hood. She famously testified as a “friendly witness” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities concerning Communist infiltration and propaganda in Hollywood. In one of the most memorable passages of her novel Atlas Shrugged she has one of her major characters, Ragnar Danneskjold, condemn Robin Hood in the harshest and most vindictive manner.

But Rand got it wrong. In the TV series which aired contemporaneously to the publication of her novel, Robin and his band are not the proto-Marxist proletarian plunderers of the productive rich and despoilers of private property but are actually defenders of justice in property titles, the rule of law, and the non-aggression principle. Virtually every episode is replete with imaginative tales of rebellious Saxon peasants battling against Norman tyranny and taxation by the Sheriff of Nottingham and his minions acting as the corrupt arms of the State.

I recommend all Randroids not paralyzed from the neck up “objectively” read Robin Hood: People’s Outlaw and Forest Hero: A Graphic Guide, by the scholar and masterful left-wing propagandist Paul Buhle. It is a delightful, unrepentant, and informative exploration of the Robin Hood legend and why the tales of his exploits have remained popular for centuries.

hello??!! facebook IS evil...

(speaking of: red shirt commodores → The Commodores → Lionel Richie → Hello → Facebook)

betanews | It's easily forgotten with the number of apps available, but mobile phones are primarily designed for making calls on the move -- whodda thunk it? When you receive a call you'll usually see the number of the caller, but this may not be helpful in identifying them before you decide whether to pick up. Facebook's answer to this problem is Hello.
This new app comes from the Facebook Messenger team and aims to tell you more about the person getting in touch with you even if you don’t have their number saved in your address book. Currently available for Android, the dialer app also allows for the blocking of calls from individuals.
The app integrates with Facebook, so you can use it to search for people and businesses. To allay privacy fears, Facebook points out that Hello only has access to information which has been made publicly available on the social network -- perhaps serving as a timely reminder to check your privacy settings(...)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

darpa outlines its vision for the future


DoDlive.mil |  DARPA released its Breakthrough Technologies for National Security, a biennial report summarizing the Agency’s historical mission, current and evolving focus areas and recent transitions of DARPA-developed technologies to the military Services and other sectors, last month. The report’s release coincided with testimony by DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar before the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, at a hearing entitled “Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Science and Technology Programs: Laying the Groundwork to Maintain Technological Superiority.” The full report is available for download online.
 
Breakthrough Technologies for National Security affirms that America is in a strong strategic position today, in large part because of its longstanding technological dominance. But it also notes that a number of challenges threaten that status, including the global spread of ever more powerful and less expensive technologies and the emergence of disruptive non-nation-state actors in addition to ongoing threats from peer adversaries.
“DARPA’s mission and philosophy have held steady for decades, but the world around DARPA has changed dramatically,” the report says. “Those changes include some remarkable and even astonishing scientific and technological advances that, if wisely and purposefully harnessed, have the potential not only to ensure ongoing U.S. military superiority and security but also to catalyze societal and economic advances. At the same time, the world is experiencing some deeply disturbing technical, economic and geopolitical shifts that pose potential threats to U.S. preeminence and stability.”
Those dueling trends of simmering menace and unprecedented opportunity deeply inform DARPA’s most recent determination of its strategic priorities for the next several years, the report says.

The report identifies the phenomenon of increasing pace as a central challenge and opportunity—from the need for ever-faster radio-frequency and information-processing systems that work on the scale of nanoseconds, to the need to speed up the development time of major military systems, whose timescales today extend to decades.

“In these areas and others,” the report says, “DARPA will pursue the strategic imperative of pace in part by continuing to be a bold, risk-tolerant investor in high-impact technologies, so the Nation can be the first to develop and adopt the novel capabilities made possible by such work.”
DARPA is focusing its strategic investments in four main areas:
  • Rethink Complex Military Systems: To help enable faster development and integration of breakthrough military capabilities in today’s rapidly shifting landscape, DARPA is working to make weapons systems more modular and easily upgraded and improved; assure superiority in the air, maritime, ground, space and cyber domains; improve position, navigation and timing (PNT) without depending on the satellite-based Global Positioning System; and augment defenses against terrorism.
  • Master the Information Explosion: DARPA is developing novel approaches to deriving insights from massive datasets, with powerful big-data tools. The Agency is also developing technologies to ensure that the data and systems with which critical decisions are made are trustworthy, such as automated cyber defense capabilities and methods to create fundamentally more secure systems. And DARPA is addressing the growing need to ensure privacy at various levels of need without losing the national security value that comes from appropriate access to networked data.
  • Harness Biology as Technology: To leverage recent breakthroughs in neuroscience, immunology, genetics and related fields, DARPA in 2014 created its Biological Technologies Office, which has enabled a new level of momentum for the Agency’s portfolio of innovative, bio-based programs. DARPA’s work in this area includes programs to accelerate progress in synthetic biology, outpace the spread of infectious diseases and master new neurotechnologies.
  • Expand the Technological Frontier: DARPA’s core work has always involved overcoming seemingly insurmountable physics and engineering barriers and, once showing those daunting problems to be tractable after all, applying new capabilities made possible by these breakthroughs directly to national security needs. Maintaining momentum in this essential specialty, DARPA is working to achieve new capabilities by applying deep mathematics; inventing new chemistries, processes and materials; and harnessing quantum physics.
Breakthrough Technologies for National Security includes two sections highlighting examples of DARPA technologies that have transitioned to the military or other organizations in support of national interests. One section focuses on technology transitions from recent programs to the Services. A second section, entitled “Success Stories,” looks at the long-term impacts of certain DARPA programs over a period of decades—a reminder that the benefits of DARPA research often extend for many years after initial applications get operationalized, sometimes in unexpected ways.

A theme common to all these examples is that many individuals and organizations—public and private—have been involved in each success. That reflects the importance not only of DARPA’s seminal investments but also of the Nation’s vibrant technology ecosystem, which builds on the Agency’s work and applies DARPA’s advances to the task of ensuring national security.

“DARPA focuses heavily on building collaborative communities of expertise in institutions across the country,” the report notes. “This approach helps the Nation by encouraging work at the boundaries and intersections of disciplines, while making the Agency itself an enormously supportive, interactive and satisfying place to work.”

Story and information provided by DARPA

house republicans strip protections for people living in mobile homes


thinkprogress |  The House will vote Tuesday to repeal consumer protections for low-income borrowers in rural America who have seen the promise of affordable housing turned into a financial sinkhole by a mobile home industry that makes pre-manufactured houses far more expensive to buy than they need to be.

The bill is part of the GOP majority’s campaign to chisel away at specific pieces of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul that became law in 2010 but which left many details to be filled in later by regulators. In this case, it was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that did that filling. After long study of both publicly-available data and proprietary information from the industry itself, the CFPB began enforcing new consumer protections for people who borrow money for a manufactured home.

When Rep. Stephen Fincher’s bill to roll back those regulations passes on Tuesday, the rules will have been in force for barely 15 months.

The mobile home financing market is an esoteric landscape for a battle between consumer advocates, regulators, and politicians. Compared to the American Dream trappings that come with traditional homeownership, families in mobile homes don’t have much cultural cache.

“Lots of people deride these homes for their quality, which is unfair these days, or deride the people who live in them as white trash, which is horrifying,” said Doug Ryan, director of the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s Affordable Homeownership Initiatives. That stigma makes it easy to sell Fincher’s deregulatory package for mobile home financing, Ryan said. The public and many lawmakers “say, ‘Who cares how they get financed? They’re bad stuff anyway, and if that’s all you can afford you probably deserve this.’”

Just 6 percent of Americans who live in a house live in one of these pre-fab ones, but they are a vital low-cost housing option in rural communities, where they make up 14 percent of occupied housing. The all-in cost of living for the average manufactured home dweller is a full third below the average for traditional “site-built” homes. There are twelve states where the units make up over a tenth of the market, mostly in the South and West. In South Carolina, 17 percent of all occupied housing is manufactured.

The manufactured home population is whiter, poorer, less educated, and older than the traditional homeowner. The median income of a pre-fab household is just half that of the median family in a site-built house. Many mobile home families are still paying a larger share of their income for housing despite the significant savings in raw dollar terms. That’s a perverse outcome for what should, on paper, be one of the most affordable ways to put a dignified roof overhead. And it’s being driven by the extremely high price that the industry charges for credit.

Fincher’s bill will strip important borrower protections for thousands of families living in pre-fab homes, including prohibitions on predatory loan features and legal recourse for borrowers who get behind on very expensive loans.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

rule of law's slow, cold, vicious violence...,


Guardian |  There are many things about Palestine that are not easily seen from a distance. The beauty of the land, for instance, is not at all obvious. Scripture and travellers’ reports describe a harsh terrain of stone and rocks, a place in which it is difficult to find water or to shelter from the sun. Why would anyone want this land? But then you visit and you understand the attenuated intensity of what you see. You get the sense that there are no wasted gestures, that this is an economical landscape, and that there is great beauty in this economy. The sky is full of clouds that are like flecks of white paint. The olive trees, the leaves of which have silvered undersides, are like an apparition. And even the stones and rocks speak of history, of deep time, and of the consolation that comes with all old places. This is a land of tombs, mountains and mysterious valleys. All this one can only really see at close range.

Another thing one sees, obscured by distance but vivid up close, is that the Israeli oppression of Palestinian people is not necessarily – or at least not always – as crude as western media can make it seem. It is in fact extremely refined, and involves a dizzying assemblage of laws and bylaws, contracts, ancient documents, force, amendments, customs, religion, conventions and sudden irrational moves, all mixed together and imposed with the greatest care.

The impression this insistence on legality confers, from the Israeli side, is of an infinitely patient due process that will eventually pacify the enemy and guarantee security. The reality, from the Palestinian side, is of a suffocating viciousness. The fate of Palestinian Arabs since the nakba has been to be scattered and oppressed by different means: in the West Bank, in Gaza, inside the 1948 borders, in Jerusalem, in refugee camps abroad, in Jordan, in the distant diaspora. In all these places, Palestinians experience restrictions on their freedom and on their movement. To be Palestinian is to be hemmed in. Much of this is done by brute military force from the Israeli Defence Forces – killing for which no later accounting is possible – or on an individual basis in the secret chambers of the Shin Bet. But a lot of it is done according to Israeli law, argued in and approved by Israeli courts, and technically legal, even when the laws in question are bad laws and in clear contravention of international standards and conventions.

The reality is that, as a Palestinian Arab, in order to defend yourself against the persecution you face, not only do you have to be an expert in Israeli law, you also have to be a Jewish Israeli and have the force of the Israeli state as your guarantor. You have to be what you are not, what it is not possible for you to be, in order not to be slowly strangled by the laws arrayed against you. In Israel, there is no pretence that the opposing parties in these cases are equal before the law; or, rather, such a pretence exists, but no one on either side takes it seriously. This has certainly been the reality for the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah whose homes, built mostly in 1956, inhabited by three or four generations of people, are being taken from them by legal means.

what a 1.5 million mentholated americanized negroe shortage means in practice


NYTimes |  In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South — from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo. — hundreds of thousands more are missing.

They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to an Upshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.

African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.

Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.

“The numbers are staggering,” said Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas.
And what is the city with at least 10,000 black residents that has the single largest proportion of missing black men? Ferguson, Mo., where a fatal police shooting last year led to nationwide protests and a Justice Department investigation that found widespread discrimination against black residents. Ferguson has 60 men for every 100 black women in the age group, Stephen Bronars, an economist, has noted.

what a lake mead water shortage will mean in practice

Lake Mead Water Level
inkstain |  There is a clear possibility of a shortage declaration on Lake Mead in August, which would force a reduction in Lower Colorado River water deliveries, primarily to Arizona, in 2016. Nevada and Mexico would also see small shortages. Neither California, nor the states of the Upper Basin (New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming) will see any curtailments.

This is a big deal, but it is almost entirely an Arizona big deal. Arizona currently has the slack in its system to absorb the reductions, including possibly deeper cuts if Mead continues to drop, without major disruptions. The Phoenix and Tucson metro areas are not going to dry up and blow away.
Longer details below:

Built in the 1930s in a canyon on the Arizona-Nevada border, Hoover Dam impounds Colorado River water in Lake Mead. It protects valleys along the lower river from flooding, and stores water during wet years for use during dry years in Nevada, Arizona, California, in the United States, and Baja and Sonora in Mexico. From the beginning, California has taken its share of water through an aqueduct that carries water to Los Angeles, and a second that carries farm water to the Imperial Valley. A significant share of the river’s water also supplies farms and communities in Arizona along the river itself, from Parker south to Yuma. But for the first three-plus decades of the dam’s existence, Arizona had no way to get the river’s water to its major population centers in the state’s central desert valleys.

In 1968, in return for political support from California to win federal funding for the Central Arizona Project, Arizona cut a deal: California would not block the project, which would use federal money to build a canal to carry 1.6 million acre feet of water per year up from the Colorado River and into Phoenix and Tucson. In return, Arizona would agree to subordinate its priority for the 1.6 maf water to California’s. (This Reg Manning Arizona Republic cartoon suggests some hard feelings about all this.)

That means that if the river is short, essentially all the cuts come to Arizona’s share of the Colorado River’s water. This is important point number one:
  • It takes many more years of shortage before California loses a drop.
Southern California – mostly farmers in the Imperial Valley but also urban/suburban LA and San Diego, won’t lose any water. They’ve got enough to worry about right now with their own drought. Drought in the Colorado River Basin won’t add to their problems.
Important point number two:
  • Arizona’s major on-river agricultural water users, primarily the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the farmers of the Yuma area, also would not lose a drop under a shortage. Their rights are older, and not crimped by the 1968 California bargain.
But what does “shortage” actually mean, and who gets to decide when the river has a shortage and deliveries are to be curtailed?

The legal authority rests with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, but back in 2005-07 the federal government and states decided the rules for making the decision were too squishy, so they came up with a really crisp definition: when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s August version of its monthly planning document known as the “24-month study” shows that Lake Mead is expected to drop below a surface elevation of 1,075 feet above sea level, a shortage shall be declared.

Monday, April 20, 2015

compulsory community labour? non-negotiable doesn't end well

Before "Greening"
After "Greening"
BBC | In the pink-streaked twilight, a river of humanity is flowing across Tigray's dusty Hawzien plain. This cracked and desiccated landscape, in Ethiopia's far north, occupies a dark corner of the global collective memory. Thirty years ago, not far from here, the BBC's Michael Buerk first alerted us to a biblical famine he described as "the closest thing to hell on earth".
Then Bob Geldof wrote Do They Know It's Christmas? - a curious question to ask of perhaps the world's most devoutly Christian people - and thereafter the name Tigray became synonymous with refugees, Western aid and misery. The Tigrayan people were depicted as exemplars of passive suffering, dependent on the goodwill of the rest of the planet just to get through the day without dying.
But here, outside the village of Abr'ha Weatsbaha, I'm seeing a different version. From all directions, streams of people are trickling into that human river. You hear them before you see them - some chatting excitedly, others singing hymns - as they converge on a viciously steep valley at the edge of the plain. They were summoned before dawn by horns, an Old Testament echo calling every able-bodied man and woman over 18 years of age to report for the first of 20 days of compulsory community labour. Their job, quite simply, is to tame the desert.

"This is how the Axumite kings got stuff done 2,000 years ago," says my guide Zablon Beyene. "With the same tools, too."
By 10 in the morning, some 3,000 people have turned up. Using picks, shovels, iron bars and their bare hands, they will turn these treacherous slopes into neat staircases of rock-walled terraces that will trap the annual rains, forcing the water to percolate into the soil rather than running off in devastating, ground-ripping flash floods.
"Sisters are doing it for themselves," says Kidane, a pick-wielding Amazon whose arched eyebrow suggests I might want to put down my camera and do some actual work. Brothers, too: from strapping, sweat-shiny youths to Ephraim, a legless old man who clearly ignored the bit about being able-bodied and sits on his stumps, rolling rocks downhill to the terrace builders.
Overseeing this extraordinary effort is 58-year-old Aba Hawi, Abr'ha Weatsbaha's community leader. Short, pot-bellied and bearded, he darts from one side of the valley to the other, barking orders into his mobile phone, slapping backs and showing the youngsters the proper way to split half-ton boulders. Rumour has it that Aba Hawi once took up arms to fight for Tigrayan independence, but these days he prefers to describe himself as "just a farmer".

the anthrax coverup exposed


PCR |  Update: Both Senator Leahy and Senator Daschle were in positions capable of blocking
the neo-Nazi PATRIOT Act. Both senators had negotiated with the Bush regime changes in the act that made it less tyrannical. However, the changes were not in the final draft of the act sent to Congress. Consequently, Leahy and Daschle were resisting the rush to passage. I have often wondered if Leahy and Daschle understood the anthrax letters to be Washington’s warning: “Get out of the way of Tyranny or we will kill you.”

Graeme MacQueen’s 2014 book, The 2001 Anthrax Deception: The Case for a Domestic Conspiracy, has been vindicated by the head of the FBI’s Anthrax Investigation. 

Four and one-half months ago I posted a review of MacQueen’s book. http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/12/02/2001-anthrax-deception-case-domestic-conspiracy/ The hired government apologists, the despicable presstitute media, and the usual gullible patriots greeted the book with screams of “conspiracy theory.” In fact, MacQueen’s book was a carefully researched project that established that there indeed was a conspiracy–a conspiracy inside the government.
MacQueen’s conclusion stands vindicated by Richard Lambert, the agent in charge of the FBI anthrax investigation who has turned whistleblower. http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2015/04/head-fbis-anthrax-investigation-calls-b-s.html

It was obvious to any person familiar with the techniques that governments use to erode liberty by destroying the protection given to citizens by law that the purpose of the anthrax letters, especially the letters to senators Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle, was to raise the fear level in order to guarantee the passage of the tyrannical PATRIOT Act. 

The PATRIOT Act was a decisive blow against American liberty. The act has served to negate the US Constitution in the 21st century and to endow the federal government with unaccountable and tyrannical powers.

municipal, county, state, and feds all engage in intentional personnel mismanagement...,


SacBee |  A new state audit concludes that California state departments illegally pad their budgets with millions of tax dollars earmarked for employee salaries by manipulating their payroll to make it appear they have more employees than they do.

The report released Friday on the Department of Finance’s website did not include an estimate of how much money departments hoard by breaking the law, but it confirms a 2014 Sacramento Bee investigation that concluded tens of millions of tax dollars earmarked to pay workers is hoarded and funneled to other purposes.

By law, departments are supposed to forfeit money for a position that goes unfilled for six months, returning it to its source fund for reallocation. But as The Bee’s report and the new state audit found, departments deceptively move employees between jobs ahead of the six-month deadline. They accomplish the phony transfers by altering the identifying job numbers to make it appear that a position was filled with a transferred employee, thus avoiding a cut to their budgets.

The unspent salary can then be used for other operating costs, such as paying off leave balances, covering office rent, purchasing new equipment or funding employee raises. The Bee found instances of employees “transferring” between positions in as little as two days. In one instance, a Department of Food and Agriculture worker moved 14 times through nine positions in one fiscal year. Her title and workplace never changed, but the serial numbers the state used to identify her position changed repeatedly.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/the-public-eye/article18239552.html#storylink=cpy

big thinker says seattle has too much water



Yahoo! Tech | William Shatner. Wow. He’s 84 years old, looks 65, and juggles a schedule that would exhaust a team of 10. Book projects, TV projects, tech projects, horse-riding projects, charity projects. And his willingness to embrace the tech world is impressive; he’s got YouTube channels, he’s conducted Kickstarter projects, and he has a huge Twitter presence: more than 2 million followers. (He’s tweeted 30,000 times so far — and yes, it’s really him.)
The hour he spent with me in a Yahoo Tech Mix interview wasn’t even enough to scratch the surface.
We’ll post more of that interview shortly, but this bit couldn’t wait: “You’re gonna get a scoop here,” Shatner told me. This is it.
“California’s in the midst of a 4-year-old drought,” he said. “They tell us there’s a year’s supply of water left. If it doesn’t rain next year, what do 20 million people in the breadbasket of the world do? In a place that’s the fifth-largest GDP — if California were a country, it’d be fifth in line — we’re about to be arid! What do you do about it?”
Here’s the plan: 
“So I’m starting a Kickstarter campaign. I want $30 billion … to build a pipeline like the Alaska pipeline. Say, from Seattle — a place where there’s a lot of water. There’s too much water. How bad would it be to get a large, 4-foot pipeline, keep it aboveground — because if it leaks, you’re irrigating!”