Blonde hair evolved independently in Solomon islands

Indigenous people of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific have some of the darkest skin pigmentation outside of Africa. But unlike most other tropical populations, they also have a high prevalence of blonde hair. Up to 10 per cent of the population is fair haired, the highest proportion outside of Europe. Until now, this odd trait had generally been attributed to the introduction of blonde genes by European explorers and traders in preceding centuries. “We originally thought, well that must be a Captain Cook allele,” says Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University.

Yet a closer look revealed that the genetics behind blonde hair in Brussels are distinct from those leading to flaxen locks in the South Pacific.

Bustamante, Sean Myles and colleagues at Stanford discovered this after analysing saliva samples from 43 blondes and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders. A genome-wide scan pointed to a single strong difference between the groups at a gene called TYRP1. Further analysis revealed that a single-letter change in the gene accounted for 46 per cent of the population’s hair colour variation, with the blonde allele being recessive to the dark hair allele. The blonde mutation wasn’t found in any of the 900 other individuals sampled from outside the South Pacific…

Before this, everybody would have thought, blonde hair evolved once in humans,” says Bustamante. “This tells us we can’t really assume that even these common mutations are common across different human populations. Non-European populations are critical to study to find mutations that may be underlying the vast phenotypic variation of humans.”

Bravo. Interesting work – and knowing more about how we have evolved as a species always adds to our understanding of life.

Take your dog to the park – swap poop for wi-fi


Devices accept pet poop – then activate free wifi for a set time

Getting people to clean up after their dogs in public places is never easy – just take a look at how many “land mines” are dotted around your nearest park. One internet company in Mexico however, has hit on a clever incentive to encourage people to scoop up after their pet. Dog walkers in Mexico City are now finding pet waste disposal bins showing up in some parks that activate a free wireless network for a set amount of time depending on the size of the “deposit.”

The internet company, Terra, partnered with advertising agency, DDB Mexico, to get the devices installed in ten different parks around Mexico City and named the service “Poo Wi-Fi.” These special bins are pretty straightforward: a dog owner drops a baggy of waste inside, the waste is weighed, and a timer is then activated with a number of minutes based on the weight received. More weight means more minutes. While the timer counts down, anyone in the park can enjoy free wireless connectivity. There are even hostesses nearby throughout the day with plastic bags on hand for any pet owner that needs one.

Besides promoting its own brand, Terra hopes this could encourage dog owners to be more mindful of their pet’s messes. The bins don’t have any way of sensing what’s actually put in them, so really any garbage could be dropped inside for Wi-Fi minutes, but the company just sees that as a way to tidy up the parks even more. Exchanging Wi-Fi for feces might be a bizarre concept, but if it motivates people to keep their public spaces cleaner, it could prove to be a good method in the long run.

You could extend this to public crappers!

Arizona border vigilante shooting ends with 5 dead

GILBERT, Arizona — The police confirmed Thursday that a former Marine and aspiring politician who led a vigilante border militia group was among five people shot to death on Wednesday in what apparently was a murder-suicide at a home in this suburban Phoenix town.

The leader, Jason Todd Ready, who was called J. T., was known as a gun-carrying, camouflage-clad extremist who preached violence to stop immigrants and drug smugglers from crossing the Arizona desert into the United States from Mexico.

“I firmly believe in having a minefield across the border,” he once said…

The bodies of Mr. Ready, 39, and another man, Jim Franklin Hiott, 24, were found just outside the home’s front door. The bodies of Mr. Ready’s girlfriend, Lisa Lynn Mederos, 47; her daughter, Amber Mederos, 23; and her 15-month-old granddaughter, Lily Lynn Mederos, were inside.

Inside the house, the police recovered two handguns, a shotgun and six projectile grenades, which Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix, said are strictly for military use. Officers also found two 55-gallon drums containing an unknown chemical. Sergeant Balafas said federal agents were investigating the origin of the weapons and the nature of the chemical, as well as why they were there…

To Harry Hughes, regional director of the National Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, Mr. Ready was “a patriot” — “a sincere and compassionate man,” he said in a telephone interview. Mr. Ready had been a member of the movement, Mr. Hughes said, but resigned two years ago to found the U.S. Border Guard, an armed group that conducted expeditions in the Arizona desert to search for migrants and drug smugglers…

“J. T. Ready has a long history of thuggish and violent behavior,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an interview. “He really typified the ugly racism and violent attitude of a lot of people that we see in the nativist movement.”

In recent years, Mr. Ready tried his hand at politics; in 2007, he was photographed at a rally against illegal immigration with Russell Pearce, a former State Senate president and the architect of Arizona’s contested immigration law, known as S.B. 1070.

Anyone surprised? If you take a good look around you will find nutballs like this on the fringe of political movements that cater to anarchy. Doesn’t matter if they’re Left or Right – though the right-wing gets to claim most of the types who like to pretend they’re defending the white nation from an non-white threat.

There isn’t anything positive to learn from this other than guns in the hands of someone who believes in political violence are just as likely to lead to personal violence and death. That won’t mean anything to the NRA, the Tea Party or any other nativist paranoids.

Colin Powell should have paid attention to the smell – instead of the words from George W. Bush


Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Colin Powell says his erroneous address to the United Nations about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction provides a lesson to business leaders on the importance of staying skeptical and following their intuition.

“Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation,” the former U.S. secretary of state writes in a new book of leadership parables that draws frequently on his Iraq war experience. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

Powell, 75, laments that no intelligence officials had the “courage” to warn that he was given false information that Iraq had such weapons during preparations for his February 2003 speech before the U.S. invasion the following month. Regrets are sprinkled through “It Worked For Me,” along with lessons gleaned from a career that carried him from foxholes in Vietnam to senior positions at the Pentagon and the State Department…

“So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?” Powell writes. “Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence.”

Powell, who has quarreled over policy for years with former Vice President Dick Cheney, writes that Cheney had his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, make the case for Iraq having weapons of mass destruction “as a lawyer’s brief and not as an intelligence estimate.”

Because Libby’s material was “unusable,” Powell writes, he enlisted the help of the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare for his UN speech. Powell didn’t know that “much of the evidence was wrong,” he says.

While Powell returns to Iraq repeatedly in the book, he advises leaders to “try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.”

Bush wanted to keep lower-level officials and workers in Iraq who had the education, skills and training needed to run the nation even though he wanted the U.S. to dissolve the ruling Baath party after Saddam Hussein’s fall, Powell writes.

“The plan that the president had approved was not implemented,” Powell says. Instead, he writes, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, eliminated all the officials and institutions “we should have been building on, and left thousands of the most highly skilled people in the country jobless and angry — prime recruits for insurgency.”

Powell says that violated the leadership lesson that has become known as his “Pottery Barn Rule.”

“If you break it, you own it,” Powell said in cautioning Bush about the consequences of invading Iraq and its aftermath.

Nowadays, the Republican Party is so accustomed to telling a “lie du jour” that this advice will mean nothing. They will continue backwards, making it up as they proceed on their strategy of blocking any programs offered by Barack Obama – even if they are identical to proposals they have previously offered themselves.

Witness Obamacare identical to Romneycare. Any number of tax proposals previously offered by Congressional Republicans. They even vote against bills they sponsor – if they can make it appear to be a defeat or an impediment to the White House.

The smell gets worse!

Canada unveils the new polymer $20 bill

Canada’s $20 banknote is a favourite of counterfeiters. But beginning this November, the Bank of Canada will begin circulating a new polymer $20 bill that it says will be harder to duplicate. The banknote’s design was unveiled in Ottawa Wednesday morning.

In a press release, the Bank of Canada said the main reason it is issuing the new $20 bill “is to stay ahead of counterfeiting threats.”

The front of the bill has a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth and the back has an image of the Vimy Memorial in France. The $20 bill accounts for over half of all Canadian banknotes in circulation, according to the Bank of Canada…

New $100 polymer banknotes went into circulation in November and then $50 polymer notes began circulating in March. New $5 and $10 banknotes should be out in 2013.

While the critical advantage of polymer over paper currency is that they are expected to be more secure, they are also supposed to last 2.5 times longer than the paper banknotes…

In 2004, the Bank of Canada introduced new security features to the Canadian Journey series of banknotes. The holographic stripe as well as a ghost image watermark, security thread, see-through number, raised ink and fluorescence made the currency harder to copy…

The polymer notes are part of a strategy the Bank of Canada adopted to respond to the increase in counterfeiting. The bank also put more effort into helping retailers recognize counterfeits, as well as into working with police…

Both the Bank of Canada and the RCMP stress the importance for people to quickly become familiar with the new notes, because periods of currency transition are often an opportune time for counterfeiters.

Training people running checkout cash registers has to be the single most important way to catch counterfeit currency. Unfortunately, that’s often one of those lowest common denominator jobs.

Of course, here in the GOUSA, we still haven’t figured out what to do about pennies.

5,000-year-old red blood cells discovered in the Iceman mummy

His DNA has been decoded; samples from his stomach and intestines have allowed us to reconstruct his very last meal. The circumstances of his violent death appear to have been explained. However, what had, at least thus far, eluded the scientists, was identifying any traces of blood in Ötzi, the 5,000 year old glacier mummy.

Examination of his aorta had yielded no results. Yet recently, a team of scientists from Italy and Germany, using nanotechnology, succeeded in locating red blood cells in Ötzi’s wounds, thereby discovering the oldest traces of blood to have been found anywhere in the world.

Up to now there had been uncertainty about how long blood could survive – let alone what human blood cells from the Chalcolithic period, the Copper Stone Age, might look like.” This is how Albert Zink, Head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy, Bozen-Bolzano (EURAC) explains the starting point for the investigations which he undertook with Marek Janko and Robert Stark, materials scientists…Darmstadt Technical University.

Even in modern forensic medicine it has so far been almost impossible to determine how long a trace of blood had been present at a crime scene. Scientists Zink, Janko and Stark are convinced that the nanotechnological methods which they tested out on Ötzi’s blood to analyse the microstructure of blood cells and minute blood clots might possibly lead to a break-through in this area.

The team of scientists used an atomic force microscope to investigate thin tissue sections from the wound where the arrow entered Ötzi’s back and from the laceration on his right hand…the images derived from this process corresponded to present-day samples of human blood.

Whilst examining the wound at the point where the arrow entered the body, the team of scientists also identified fibrin, a protein involved in the clotting of blood. “Because fibrin is present in fresh wounds and then degrades, the theory that Ötzi died some days after he had been injured by the arrow, as had once been mooted, can no longer be upheld,” explains Albert Zink.

I think we lost something in the translation to English. But, the information gathered adds to our knowledge in a half-dozen disciplines.