The Disappearance of the Forty-Three


PHOTOGRAPH BY OMAR TORRES/AFP/GETTY

Every morning, the newspapers in Mexico City announce how many days it has been since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in Iguala, Guerrero. On Friday, the number—twenty-eight days—was accompanied by an announcement that the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, had finally resigned after weeks of outrage over the violence and lawlessness that marked his tenure.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

The journalists John Gibler (the author of the book “To Die in Mexico”) and Marcela Turati (who has been reporting on the disappearance in the weekly magazine Proceso and elsewhere) have provided the most complete reports of what happened in Iguala on the night of September 26th. “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than twenty, and rounded up and detained forty-three students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours,” Gibler wrote to me in an e-mail. “At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The forty-three students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’ ” On September 27th*, the body of another student turned up. His eyes were torn out and the facial skin was ripped away from his skull: the signature of a Mexican organized-crime assassination.

The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, tend to come from poor, indigenous campesino families. They are often the brightest kids from their communities. According to Gibler, six hundred people applied to the class that included the students who disappeared, and only a hundred and forty were accepted. To become a teacher is seen as a step up from the life of a peasant farmer, but also as a way for those chosen to be socially useful in their impoverished communities. When Gibler and Turati went to visit the Ayotzinapa School in early October, only twenty-two students were left. In addition to the forty-three missing classmates, many others had been taken home by frightened parents.

RTFA. Please.

Well written, detailed, the sort of work rarely matched by TV talking heads. And, of course, both the conservative and not-quite-so-conservative American Press is tame as ever on the topic. Even where it’s fashionable to recall we are a nation of immigrants, the specter of Fox News seems to haunt our nation’s editors.

Thanks, Mike

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Pic of the Day


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

I was wandering through the week’s best news photos from Reuters and I have to admit it took a second and third look before I realized this wasn’t a photo of ISIS goons beating and kidnapping a young Syrian or Iraqi – it was Israeli police goons beating and kidnapping a young Palestinian.

The only difference is in the details AFAIC.

Linguistic Family Tree


Click to enlarge

When linguists talk about the historical relationship between languages, they use a tree metaphor. An ancient source (say, Indo-European) has various branches (e.g., Romance, Germanic), which themselves have branches (West Germanic, North Germanic), which feed into specific languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian).

Lessons on language families are often illustrated with a simple tree diagram that has all the information but lacks imagination. There’s no reason linguistics has to be so visually uninspiring. Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent, a story set in a lushly imagined post-apocalyptic Nordic world, has drawn the antidote to the boring linguistic tree diagram.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Century-old Antarctic expedition notebook recovered from snow and ice

Hidden in ice for more than 100 years, the photography notebook of a British explorer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica has been found.

The book belonged to George Murray Levick, a surgeon, zoologist and photographer on Scott’s 1910-1913 voyage. Levick might be best remembered for his observations of Cape Adare’s Adélie penguins (and his scandalized descriptions of the birds’ “depraved” sex lives). The newly discovered book also shows he kept fastidious notes, scrawled in pencil, about the photographs he took at Cape Adare.

Levick’s “Wellcome Photographic Exposure Record and Dairy 1910” had been left behind at Captain Scott’s last expedition base at Cape Evans. Conservationists discovered the notebook outside the hut during last year’s summer melt…

The book has notes detailing the date, subjects and exposure details from his photographs. In his notes, Levick refers to a self-portrait he took while shaving in a hut at Cape Adare and shots he took of his fellow crewmembers as they set up theodolites (instruments for surveying) and fish traps and sat in kayaks.

One hundred years of damage from ice and water dissolved the notebook’s binding. The pages were separated and digitized before the book was put back together again with new binding and sent back to Antarctica, where the Antarctic Heritage Trust maintains 11,000 artifacts at Cape Evans…

Cripes, I love finds like this.

I did some work for a spell with a small team that searched old abandoned homes. Brought out amazing artifacts and diaries from the 18th and 19th centuries. Often, we’d only find a roof lying on the ground with a collapsed dwelling underneath. Propping up a corner, we’d – very carefully – crawl in and mine what we could.

Hinode satellite recorded X-ray footage of solar eclipse


Click to enlarge

On October 23rd, while North America was witnessing a partial eclipse of the sun, the Hinode spacecraft observed a “ring of fire” or annular eclipse from its location hundreds of miles above the North Pole. This image was taken by the X-ray Telescope – the XRT.

The Hinode spacecraft was in the right place at the right time to catch the solar eclipse. What’s more, because of its vantage point Hinode witnessed a “ring of fire” or annular eclipse…

…The XRT was developed and built by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Hinode’s X-ray Telescope is the highest resolution solar X-ray telescope ever flown.

The XRT collects X-rays emitted from the sun’s corona — the hot, tenuous outer layer that extends from the sun’s visible surface into the inner solar system. Gas in the solar corona reaches temperatures of millions of degrees. The energy source that heats the corona is a puzzle. The sun’s surface is only 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while the corona is more than 100 times hotter.

Science is so beautiful. But, then, the quest for truth always is.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Park Service ready to prosecute graffiti creep


A gathering of her peers

Feds chase criminal case against artist who marred rocks in parks

She calls it art, blah, blah, blah..

The National Park Service calls it criminal.

The agency on Thursday announced it was investigating 21-year-old Casey Nocket’s recent cross-country jaunt during which she allegedly painted faces and sketches on rock formations in as many as 10 national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

The agency, which did not name Nocket, said its investigation spans the nation’s most iconic Western parks. Investigators said the woman’s vandalism was found in Yosemite and Death Valley national parks in California, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and Zion and Canyonlands parks in Utah. National Parks Traveler on Thursday posted a photo of Nocket’s trademark scribble inside Rocky Mountain National park.

The Park Service was awaiting confirmation of vandalism in Grand Canyon, Sequoia Kings, Joshua Tree and Bryce national parks.

Park officials said in a statement it takes seriously the issue of vandalism, which can be a felony when committed in a national park…

An online petition at whitehouse.gov had collected more than 2,220 signatures Thursday afternoon, urging authorities to pursue “the most serious charges” and pleading “please don’t allow her to receive a slap.”

I have no sympathy for the Let’s Pretend-to-be-Artists who feel the need to display their crap smears on someone’s home or property, a public place they choose because no one cares to come and look at their pitiful attempts at self-agrandizement.

I have no interest in confronting her graffiti when I set out to be part of nature apart from urbanscapes. As a matter of princple, I don’t need to see her mediocrity on subway walls either. I see no justification for defacing the world around us. I’ll take it as it has grown in life and art, commerce and toil, on its own terms. Play therapy for a middle-class neurotic doesn’t qualify.

Thanks, Mike

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport launches fleet of electric taxis

Traveling by jet airplane may not be the greenest mode of transportation, but if you’re landing at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, at least you’ll be able to get into town under pure electric power.

The Dutch airport has inaugurated a new fleet of 167 Tesla Model S taxis, giving it the largest fleet of all-electric taxis of any airport in the world. The cabs will be operated by two taxi companies – BBF Schipholtaxi and BIOS-groep – who will shuttle passengers to and from the airport with zero emissions.

“This represents a crucial step in our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and become one of the world’s three most sustainable airports,” said Schiphol Group CEO Jos Nijhuis. Last year, the airport authority brokered a deal to buy Europe’s largest fleet of electric buses to shuttle passengers to, from and between terminals as well. So whatever you may be planning to burn while in Amsterdam, at least it doesn’t have to be fossil fuels.

Just don’t smoke the seeds!

Oh – and by the way, what kind of taxis are at your local airport? In my neck of the prairie, they look like leftover Ford Crown Vics bought secondhand from the State Police.

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.