Do any of us get our money’s worth?

Here’s what our elected representatives are paid:

MPs are paid $8,300 a month

Members of the National Assembly get a monthly allowance, less social security deductions, of $6,454 a month

Riksdag members have a basic pay of $7,083 a month

Members of the Chamber of Deputies receive $6,732 a month

An MP’s base salary is $9,400 a month

Congressmen are paid $14,577 a month

Complex, multicellular life almost a billion years older than imagined

The discovery in Gabon of more than 250 fossils in an excellent state of conservation has provided proof, for the first time, of the existence of multicellular organisms 2.1 billion years ago. This finding represents a major breakthrough: until now, the first complex life forms (made up of several cells) dated from around 600 million years ago. These new fossils, of various shapes and sizes, imply that the origin of organized life is a lot older than is generally admitted, thus challenging current knowledge on the beginning of life.

These specimens were discovered and studied by an international multidisciplinary team of researchers coordinated by Abderrazak El Albani of the Laboratoire “Hydrogéologie, Argiles, Sols et Altérations”. Their work, due to be published in Nature on 1st July, will feature on the cover of the journal.

The first traces of life appeared in the form of prokaryotic organisms, in other words organisms without a nucleus, around three and a half billion years ago. Another major event in the history of life, the “Cambrian explosion” some 600 million years ago, marked a proliferation in the number of living species. It was accompanied by a sudden rise in oxygen concentration in the atmosphere. What happened between 3.5 billion and 600 million years ago though?

Scientists have very little information about this era, known as the Proterozoic. Yet, it is during this crucial period that life diversified: to the prokaryotes were added the eukaryotes, single or multicelled organisms endowed with a more complex organization and metabolism. These large-sized living beings differ from prokaryotes by the presence of cells possessing a nucleus containing DNA.

While studying the paleo-environment of a fossil-bearing site situated near Franceville in Gabon in 2008, El Albani and his team unexpectedly discovered perfectly preserved fossil remains in the 2.1 billion-year-old sediments. They have collected more than 250 fossils to date, of which one hundred or so have been studied in detail. Their morphology cannot be explained by purely chemical or physical mechanisms.

These specimens, which have various shapes and can reach 10 to 12 centimeters, are too big and too complex to be single-celled prokaryotes or eukaryotes. This establishes that different life forms co-existed at the start of the Proterozoic, as the specimens are well and truly fossilized living material..!

Several research avenues now need to be explored: understanding the history of the Gabonese basin and why the necessary conditions were gathered to enable this organized and complex life to exist; further exploring the site to enhance the collection of fossils; but also comparing the history of the Earth’s oxygenation with the mineralization of clays. The most urgent task, however, remains the protection of this exceptional site.


They already told us to expect pay toilets – but, standing room?

Have your boarding pass ready!

Plans by Ryanair to introduce standing room on its aircraft will not happen for at least two years and may never materialise if the airline fails to meet stringent European safety requirements.

The budget airline’s boss, Michael O’Leary, will talk about his plans to replace 10 rows of seats with a standing area as well as introducing a coin-operated toilet on some planes in an interview on ITV’s How to Beat the Budget Airlines tonight.

However, safety officials at the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa), which regulates safety issues on European airlines, said its rules would have to be ripped up and rewritten in order to allow standing room on Ryanair flights. In Easa’s certification specifications it states: “A seat (or berth for a non-ambulant person) must be provided for each occupant who has reached his or her second birthday.”

“This idea [of Ryanair’s] is unprecedented and unlikely to be certified in the near future,” said a spokesman for Easa. The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates UK but not Irish airlines, added that Easa’s safety requirements were “quite stringent” and include rules on restraint during take-off and landing; restraint during periods of turbulence; the “crashworthiness” of airline seats; the ability of the seating to withstand a certain amount of gravitational force; and evacuation and flammability issues.

Ryanair itself admits both ideas – for standing room and paid-for toilets – were in the “very early stages”.

I’d say very early stages of dementia.

“Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom”

Al-Qaeda has opened a new front in war on the West, launching its own English-language internet newspaper, which features articles such as “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom“.

Its tag-line is “Inspire the Believers” and its first front page features a quotation by the radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki: “May our souls be sacrificed for you”. The magazine claims to be published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose leaders are the most prominent propagandists of any of the group’s branches.

The full magazine is not yet online, but the contents page offers messages from both Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It also advertises a piece by Awlaki entitled: “Shaykh Anwar’s message to the American people and Muslims in the West”.

Other articles include a question-and-answer session with the leader of AQAP, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Basir, and a tantalising piece offering a “detailed yet short, easy-to-read manual on how to make a bomb using ingredients found in a kitchen”.

Awlaki, whose father is a former minister of agriculture in Yemen and who grew up in the United States when his father was studying there, has become the most important tool in al-Qaeda’s outreach to English-speaking Muslims.

His videos have been widely circulated on British campuses, and he was in touch with the American army major who went on a shooting rampage last November in Fort Hood, Texas. He is now believed to be operating under the shelter of members of his powerful Awlaki clan in eastern Yemen with ties to the militant group, and this magazine may be his brainchild, according to analysts.

Does this fall under the “Build-a-better-mousetrap-inventors” school of journalism? Or the Voice-of-America straight-up category of agitprop which is chartered to convince the world how to interpret which empires are good and which are evil?

Canada Day 2010

This is reposted from 2009 – about the institution of a law in Canada that permitted citizenship to more of us historic outlanders, wanderers. It holds true.

Over the last eight years, of course, I thought about this pretty often. My kin up on PEI say they’ll all swear I was born up there. Though my father’s generation all worked hard at swearing they were all born down south of the GWN.

It surely must be nice to be a citizen of a land that doesn’t think it owns the world. April, 2009.

Dispersants disappear in Gulf – less toxic than feared

The dispersant used on the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill appears to be breaking up within weeks and is less toxic than similar products, according to preliminary testing by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Paul Anastas, the agency’s assistant administrator for research and development, told reporters the agency is making no new recommendations until further tests are conducted. But he said there is no sign that dispersants are remaining in the water or settling to the bottom, and that the Corexit 9500 being used by oil company BP is among the least toxic to small fish and mysid shrimp of the eight products tested, Anastas said.

Mysid shrimp are a tiny type of shrimp commonly used in tests of toxins in seawater.

But a New Orleans-based environmental group is expressing qualms about the dispersant and the massive amounts being dumped in the Gulf…

The EPA ordered BP to sharply cut back its use of Corexit in May amid concerns about its safety. It initially tried to force BP to use another dispersant on the spill, but the company said no safer products were available in large enough quantities.

Turns out the company chemists who originally authorized stockpiling Corexit were right. The manufacturers chemists were right. EPA chemists now verify the dispersant was the right item to use – but, my fellow enviros in New Orleans are still stamping their feet.


Concern was justified from the beginning. Blurting about problems with no evidence – is not how sound, science-based questions are asked. Continuing the noise after knowledge and new information contradicts your opinion puts you right up there with faith-based politicians and intelligent design.