Category: History

DNA yields secrets of early humans


Universal Human

DNA analysis of a 45,000-year-old human has helped scientists pinpoint when our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals…The genome sequence from a thigh bone found in Siberia shows the first episode of mixing occurred between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.

The male hunter is one of the earliest modern humans discovered in Eurasia.

The study in Nature journal also supports the finding that our species emerged from Africa some 60,000 years ago, before spreading around the world…

The work of Prof Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, is rewriting the story of humanity. Prof Paabo and his colleagues have pioneered methods to extract DNA from ancient human remains and read its genetic code.

From this sequence, the scientist has been able to decipher an increasingly detailed story of modern humans as they spread across the globe.

“The amazing thing is that we have a good genome of a 45,000-year-old person who was close to the ancestor of all present-day humans outside Africa…”

Prof Paabo has analysed DNA from part of a leg bone of a man that lived in Western Siberia around 45,000 years ago. This is a key moment at the cross roads of the world, when modern humans were on the cusp of an expansion into Europe and Asia.

The key finding was that the man had large, unshuffled chunks of DNA from a now extinct species of human, Neanderthals, who evolved outside of Africa.

“Our analysis shows that modern humans had already interbred with Neanderthals then, and we can determine when that first happened much more precisely than we could before…”

Prof Paabo’s 45,000-year-old man seems to have lived at a point that was both geographically, and in time, a crossroads for humanity…”This does seem to mark a watershed where modern humans were pushing the boundaries further and further in their dispersal out of Africa,” according to Prof Chris Stringer.

Prof Paabo also compared the DNA of the man living 45,000 years ago with those living today. He found that the man was genetically midway between Europeans and Asians – indicating he lived close to the time before our species separated into different racial groups.

Fascinating stuff. I’ve had DNA tests that determined the coarser texture of how my ancestors spread from their African genesis into the steppes of Central Asia. Eventually ending up traveling west to the Scottish Highlands and, then, sweeping back east to the Danube before retreating to stay in Scotland.

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How far back do you want your “Heritage” fruits and veggies to go?

Fruits and vegetables have changed a lot since the onset of agriculture 10,000 years ago, as generation after generation of farmers artificially bred crops to select for more desirable traits like size and taste.

But that change can be hard to visualize. So James Kennedy, a chemistry teacher in Australia, created some terrific infographics to show just how drastic the evolution has been. This one, for instance, shows how corn has changed in the last 9,000 years — from a wild grass in the early Americas known as teosinte to the plump ears of corn we know today…

Mind you, not all attempts at selective breeding turn out so well. As Sarah Yager recently wrote at The Atlantic, apple-growers in the United States during the 20th century tried to breed Red Delicious apples to be as bright and shiny as possible and stay on shelves for as long as possible without noticeable bruising. The result? “As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh.” Nowadays, as storage and transport have become more advanced, tastier apple varieties like the Honeycrisp or Gala are surpassing the Red Delicious.

The article gives watermelon and peaches the same treatment and ends with links to FDA definitions that range from selective breeding to the difference between cisgenesis and transgenesis. I’ll launch into that some other time – once again – trying to explain to the Vegan Left that science doesn’t define DNA as good or evil.

Thanks, Mike

A traditional hero – and a hero’s welcome

House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers was lauded by members of Parliament Wednesday for his reported role in stopping an assailant who killed a Canadian Forces member in Ottawa.

Vickers, 58, a native of Miramichi, N.B., was reportedly in the House of Commons when a gunman entered sometime after 9:52 a.m…Two sources told The Canadian Press that Vickers shot the assailant inside the Hall of Honour, the main entrance to the Centre Block beneath the Peace Tower…

Vickers became the sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons eight years ago after a varied career in security that included protecting foreign dignitaries and members of the Royal Family.

He spent 29 years with the RCMP and rose to the rank of chief superintendent, often serving as the face of the national police force in New Brunswick. Before his appointment as sergeant-of-arms, Vickers was director of security operations for the House of Commons.

A copper’s copper. He doesn’t need to celebrate doing his job. He just goes ahead and does it.

Alaskan same-sex couples line up for marriage licenses


Click to enlargeAnchorage Daily News/Getty Images

Gay couples began applying for marriage licenses in Anchorage on Monday, 15 years after Alaska helped touch off a national debate with a ban on same-sex unions…

Ann Marie Garber and her partner, Koy Field, were among the first gay couples seeking a license to wed in Alaska. “I had no idea this would happen in my lifetime,” she said.

They decided to apply immediately after the ban was overturned by a federal judge Sunday.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess ruled that ban violated both due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. His ruling came over the objection of gay marriage opponents, including Alaska Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, who has promised to appeal, saying blah, blah, blah, blah.

The ruling in favor of five couples who sued the state in May overturns a constitutional amendment approved by Alaska voters in 1998, defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman.

It bars enforcement of any state law that keeps gay couples from marrying or refuses to recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere…

The landscape has changed very quickly for gay marriage in the U.S. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. The Oct. 6 move effectively legalized gay marriage in about 30 states and triggered a flurry of rulings and confusion in lower courts across the nation, including the Alaska decision.

The lead plaintiff in the Alaska lawsuit was Matthew Hamby, who helped other couples through the application process Monday before completing his own.

He and his husband, Christopher Shelden, plan to renew vows they made in their 2008 marriage in Banff, Alberta, Canada. They haven’t set a date yet, but the $60 licenses are good for three months.

Congratulations from the lower 48 to all the happy couples.

Any other Alaskan whose bigotry and hatred has their knickers bunched — take it and work it, chump!

Lindsay and Edward together in Moscow

The mystery of the whereabouts of Edward Snowden’s long-time girlfriend is solved in a documentary that premiered in New York on Friday night: she has been living with the national security whistleblower in Russia since July.

The surprise revelation in the documentary, filmed by Laura Poitras, upends the widespread assumption that Snowden had deserted Lindsay Mills and that she, in a fit of pique, fled Hawaii where they had been living to stay with her parents in mainland US.

Since Snowden, a former NSA contractor, outed himself last year as being behind the biggest leak in US intelligence history, Mills has remained silent, giving no interviews or any hints of her feelings on the subject of her boyfriend or his actions.

The two-hour long documentary, Citizenfour, shows Mills living in Russia with Snowden…

Citizenfour offers a fly-on-the wall account of Snowden. Poitras filmed him at the Mira hotel in Hong Kong last year during interviews with journalists that resulted in a series of stories in the Guardian about the extent of surveillance by the US and British intelligence agencies as well as the internet and telecom companies. The revelations started a worldwide debate about the balance between surveillance and privacy.

Poitras captures the tension in his room at the Mira – where then-Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and I interviewed him – and in his final minutes at the hotel before he fled after being tipped off that hordes of media were about to arrive. She also filmed at the Guardian in London ahead of publication of one of the most explosive of the stories arising from Snowden’s revelations, and in Moscow, where Snowden is now in exile.

Snowden has been reluctant to talk about his personal life, preferring the media focus to be on wider debate about surveillance rather than him. But Poitras’s portrayal is both personal and sympathetic.

In his first comment about the documentary, which Poitras had shown to him in advance, Snowden told the Guardian: “I hope people won’t see this as a story about heroism. It’s actually a story about what ordinary people can do in extraordinary circumstances.”

I wish more Americans had the courage of Edward Snowden. I’ve known a few, folks who became left-wing activists on behalf of civil rights, peace and national liberation BITD. Two in particular who worked for military intelligence, who left the military and returned to the United States to become active in very different ways. Like Snowden, revulsion at the lies and deceit of our government, our “leaders” patronizing attitude towards the American people, lies in support of an imperial foreign policy – turned them into activists against political corruption.

And Lindsay Mills – I know nothing more than what little I read in newspapers like the GUARDIAN. Most of what appears here in the States, from the TIMES to TV talking heads, you can presume to be crap, lies and more crap. Mostly motivated by dedication and subservience to the Washington establishment. I accept her private life with Edward Snowden as her own.

I accept their life together as a reflection of the proto-existential dicho, “what is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil”. Snowden, for love of his country and its Constitution. Mills, for love of her man.

Civil Rights continue to grow – Republicans continue to fail


Marriage freedom selfies, a new day in Idaho, NevadaJIM URQUHART/REUTERS

Legal momentum for extending U.S. marriage rights to same-sex couples accelerated on Tuesday as a federal appeals court struck down bans on gay matrimony in Idaho and Nevada a day after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand similar rulings for five other states.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the bans in Idaho and Nevada violated the constitution and cannot be enforced, adding to a growing list of states where same-sex unions are now legal.

The 9th Circuit move puts the United States on track for legal gay marriage in 35 states, as rulings by the court are binding on all states in its region including three others that do not permit gay marriage, Arizona, Montana and Alaska…

Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, whose state withdrew its opposition to gay marriage earlier this year, said he respected the ruling, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada welcomed it warmly…

By contrast, Idaho Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said blah, blah, blah…

County clerks’ offices in big cities in Idaho and Nevada said they were reviewing the ruling and waiting for formal direction before issuing licenses.

Diana Alba, clerk of Nevada’s Clark County, said her office had been preparing for weeks, including changing the forms for marriage licenses so they use gender-neutral pronouns, employing “party one” and “party two” instead of “bride” and “groom.”

When we get the green light, we’re ready,” Alba said…

Click the link above to read the complete article. It finishes with a state-by-state update on further challenges to the last few states dragging their feet. Still afraid to enter the 21st Century.

Republican commitment to Christian sharia law illustrates what a dead end that party has become. They haven’t a conservative viewpoint to offer. They only whine “NO”, beat their holier-than-thou bosoms and hope there are enough old white folks left to keep them in office – picking plums off the tree of corporate lobbyists.

In this occasional land of the free, there are plenty of old white folks like me who were willing to stand up for our Black brothers and sisters in the 1950’s. We’re still here and perfectly able to smack Democrats on the butt to get them to join up with progressive women, minorities, young people. Speak out, march to the polls and shove foot-dragging bigots out of the way.

It may not be quick enough to satisfy this short time each of us has to tread on this Earth – but, the need for freedom shall prevail.

UPDATE: Idaho governor apparently whined loud and hard enough to nudge Justice Kennedy into ordering a temporary stay of the order allowing same-sex marriages. Shouldn’t be long before the appellate court can review the plea. Sanity will return.

Right-wing school board provokes the civil disobedience they consider unAmerican

This week some families in Arvada, Colo., are bringing one of nation’s founding principles, civil disobedience, back into vogue by supporting their kids in a district-wide student walkout in protest of a new school board curriculum policy that could keep teachers from sharing much of our nation’s history of acts of civil disobedience.

According to The New York Times reporting from Arvada, “A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that ‘encourage or condone civil disorder.’”

In response, hundreds of students, teachers and parents from high schools across the Jefferson County school district, the second largest in Colorado walked out of school, the Times reported. “Sympathetic parents brought poster board, magic markers and bottles of water,” according to the Times…

It’s worth a look at what our nation would miss if the Arvada school board did get a chance to remove from the curriculum all events that inspired, what they describe as today’s “educational materials that encourage or condone civil disorder.”

First to go might be the Boston Tea Party (the original one, not today’s national conservative political movement of the same name) leading to the War for Independence…

However, since The Tea Party was also an act of “free enterprise” it might make the cut. If the Tea Party was kept, the school board might instead choose to remove all the anti-war movements involving acts of civil disobedience.

In that case, they could stop teaching the works of Henry David Thoreau, who famously went to jail for refusing to participate in the US war against Mexico in 1849…

Since “civil disorder” is how women got the vote, the board could zap away all references to the US Women’s Suffrage movement which lasted from 1848 to 1920, a time during which thousands of women marched in the streets and were arrested to gain the right to vote.

And one of the most important historical movements in recent history, the civil rights movement, most notably represented by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wouldn’t have a chance, because it was all about sit-ins and protests that chipped away at segregation.

Nothing new about conservatives burning books – or in the style of groups endorsed by the Koch Brothers [the Arvada School Board], preventing students from access to books and thoughts that encourage independence.

They want tidy obedient little minds to roll out of employee production units – instead of anyone with the potential to fight for human progress and free thought.

There were lots of obedient little minds in Nazi Germany. They were considered Good Germans by the Reichsführer.

Thanks, Mike

India is first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit

India became the first Asian nation to reach the Red Planet when its indigenously made unmanned spacecraft entered the orbit of Mars on Wednesday — and the first nation in the world to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt.

The spacecraft called “Mangalyaan,” or “Mars-craft” in Hindi, which was launched last November, slowed down just enough to reach orbit early Wednesday, securing India a place in the elite global space club of Martian explorers…

The official Twitter account of NASA’s Curiosity Rover — which has been on the Martian surface since Aug. 6, 2012 — tweeted, “Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.”

To which MOM’s Twitter account replied, “Howdy @MarsCuriosity ? Keep in touch. I’ll be around…”

Over the next six months, India’s Mangalyaan will study the mineral composition on Mars and also look for the presence of methane, a chemical key to life on Earth.

India has launched 75 satellites since 1975, and its space program has over the years worked on collecting weather data, predicting natural disasters, feeding television and radio stations and also teaching children in remote villages without schools.

“We have seen the report and congratulate India on the Mars satellite entering the orbit successfully,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing…This is pride of India and Pride of Asia and also is a landmark progress in humankind’s exploration of outer space. So we congratulate India on that,” she said.

Questions of economics and priorities will be asked – properly – but, congratulations are in order more than anything else. Another standard of modern society achieved by an Asian nation.

An old-timey sci-fi geek like me has to be thrilled.

Thanks, Mike