duminică, 23 ianuarie 2011

This should really mess with Creationists’ heads.

Seems not only has our species been around for 100,000 ears (a little longer than creationists think) and evolved from early primates, we are also cousins to...hobbits!

"Basically, the wrist evidence tells us that modern humans and Neanderthals share an evolutionary grandparent that the hobbits do not, but all three share an evolutionary great-grandparent. If you think of modern humans and Neanderthals as being first cousins, then the hobbit is more like a second cousin to both," Tocheri said.

There was debate if these little humanoids were actually deformed homosapiens, however, new studies show this is not the case.

Now, a study of the bones in the creature's left wrist lends weight to the human ancestor theory, according to a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Some truth behind the myths?

It is unknown whether the hobbit intermingled with modern humans. The researchers found hobbit and pygmy stegodon remains only below a 12,000-year-old volcanic ash layer. Modern human remains were found only above the layer.

Still, rumors, myths, and legends of tiny creatures have swirled around the isolated island for centuries. It's certainly possible that they interacted with modern humans, according to the researchers.

"Looked at from a regional perspective, we definitely have modern humans in Australia from at least 40,000 years ago, and in Borneo from at least 43,000 years ago," Roberts said. "So there was temporal overlap between the hobbits and ourselves from at least 40,000 years ago until at least 18,000 years ago—more than 20,000 years minimum. What was the nature of their interaction? We have absolutely no idea.."
What did they look like?

Well, not quite so cute as Bilbo -"Physically, they were about the size of a three-year old Homo sapiens [modern human] child, but with a braincase only one-third as large," said Richard Roberts, a geochronologist at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and one on the co-authors of the research paper. "They had slightly longer arms than us. More conspicuously, they had hard, thicker eyebrow ridges than us, a sharply sloping forehead, and no chin."
"While they don't look like modern humans, some of their behaviors were surprisingly human," said Brown, the study co-author.

"The hobbit was nobody's fool," Roberts said. "They survived alongside us [Homo sapiens] for at least 30,000 years, and we're not known for being very amiable eco-companions. And the hobbits were managing some extraordinary things—manufacturing sophisticated stone tools, hunting pygmy elephants, and crossing at least two water barriers to reach Flores from mainland Asia—with a brain only one-third the size of ours.

"Given that Homo floresiensis is the smallest human species ever discovered, they out-punch every known human intellectually, pound for pound."

A few more relatives

1 HOMO HABILIS ~ NICKNAME: Handyman LIVED: 2.4 to 1.6 million years ago
2 HOMO SAPIEN ~ NICKNAME: Human LIVED: 200,000 years ago to present
3 HOMO FLORESIENSIS ~ NICKNAME: Hobbit LIVED: 95,000 to 13,000 years ago
4 HOMO ERECTUS ~ NICKNAME: Erectus LIVED: 1.8 million years to 100,000 years ago
5 PARANTHROPUS BOISEI ~ NICKNAME: Nutcracker man LIVED: 2.3 to 1.4 million years
6 HOMO HEIDELBERGENSIS ~ NICKNAME: Goliath LIVED: 700,000 to 300,000 years
7 HOMO NEANDERTHALENSIS ~ NICKNAME: Neanderthal LIVED: 250,000 to 30,000 years ago

One Kinglet to ruin us all

Liberal Paul Szabo brought up a question of privilege in the House, January 29th. If it made the news, it’s been pretty low key. Not an exciting topic to many. Some may not think it is worth even mentioning. It is, however, an extremely serious matter not only because of what was done, but because of what it shows of Harper’s contempt for the electorate.

Szabo began his charge by reminding the house of what bloggers have come to call “the pod people,” specifically the case of the Steve Harper government designating its own drone “to serve the role of a quasi-member of Parliament instead of the elected member” - Nathan Cullen, NDP.

Mr. Paul Szabo: It raised an interesting issue because on January 11, 2008, during our break period, a constituent came to my office. I was there. The constituent asked about the serious issue of the policy of the government related to the importation of goods from countries such as China where there has been some problem in terms of health and safety.

We immediately contacted Service Canada to find out if it had the documentation on this issue that is very prevalent. It told us that we had to talk to Health Canada product safety. My staff did contact Health Canada product safety and they were advised by Health Canada product safety that it would have to get back to them on that matter because there was some process to go through.

A phone call was received back from a different number totally. I have the name and phone number of the individual and I have personally talked to the person subsequently. The question that was posed to my staff and subsequently to me was: “Is your member of Parliament a member of the opposition?” The Health Canada product safety representative was asking, with regard to my query, whether or not the member was a member of the opposition.

When I learned of this communication from my staff, I immediately contacted this person. I had an extensive conversation with the individual. I was told that there was a requirement for Health Canada product safety to fill out an MP response form which it receives from Ottawa. It must fill it out including quotations and extracts from the conversation with the member of Parliament or the member of Parliament's staff.

Any individual could call Health Canada on their own, ask the same question, and get a response without being re-routed and having to provide information on a form that is used for who knows what. So why ask this of opposition MPs? Szabo has some ideas:

This matter goes to Ottawa so that Ottawa, wherever this little black hole may be in this government, it appears decides what can be told to a member of Parliament. It also wants to know specific details, I was told, to monitor our activities, so that it could be prepared should the matter ever come up in question period.

There are several things that cause concern, here. First, a federal department which is supposed to be non-partisan and is not funded by the governing party is being used to collect information on opposition members. Second, the governing party is using what should be a non-partisan department as a front to filter and edit information given to opposition members. And third, as Szabo points out, it interferes with opposition members’ ability to do their job as elected MPs. He quotes the House of Commons Procedure and Practice.

It should go without saying that a Member of Parliament needs to perform his functions effectively and that anything tending to cause confusion as to a Member's identity creates the possibility of an impediment to the fulfilment of that Member's functions. Any action which impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege. There are ample citations and precedents that bear this out.

...and from Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament:

Each House also claims the right to punish as contempts actions which, while not breaches of any specific privilege, obstruct or impede it in the performance of its functions, or are offences against its authority or dignity, such as disobedience to its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its members or its officers--

In this particular regard, I do not consider this to be a partisan matter when we asked about matters such as product safety and we were making a legitimate inquiry. However, I was also told specifically by this person that if a constituent had called directly he or she would have been given the answer immediately, but if members of Parliament who are in opposition ask the question, we have to be sanitized in terms of what can be said to us.

Mr. Derek Lee (Lib.) explains how this affects members’ ability to perform their functions:

I am suggesting that in that context, the procedure adopted by the department, whether it intended it to be this or not, constitutes an obstruction in the routine work of MPs in the way we normally pursue our work in this place. Not only does it create an obstruction and a delay, but it also offers the perception of obstruction. If the constituent were told of this procedure, he or she would say, “I do not need the MP; I am actually better off to do it myself. If I use an MP, it gets diverted and I do not get my answer”.

Libby Davies points out how such actions deny the equality of all MPs.

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Here we have another incident where clearly the principle that all members of the House are equal, which is a founding principle of our democracy in the House of Commons, is being undermined by what has taken place.

I do want to say that I believe very strongly that public servants in the civil service act in a very honourable way. When our office deals with various departments, whether it is Service Canada or whatever it might be, we find a level of professionalism and we find that individual public servants want to do their jobs in the best way possible and to carry out their role and recognize our role. I want to be very clear that this is not any sort of negativity in terms of the public service. This is a political direction that has come through from the government and it is trying to make a differentiation between those who are government members and those who are opposition members.

She also mentions that the public service is not the guilty party in these partisan actions. That is an important point, one often overlooked by the public because the role of the public service in respect to Parliament is not well understood. The incredibly ethically and honesty challenged Tony Clement, however, counts on such ignorance as he places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the nameless, faceless, but always incompetent and corrupt public servants (in their view).

Clement: On the question of privilege the member for Mississauga South raised, I have the blues with me. Apparently in a conversation with a staff member of Health Canada's product safety branch he was asked the question, “Is your member of Parliament a member of the opposition?”

I want to assure members of the House that this is not standard operating procedure at Health Canada. I was not aware of this until the hon. member raised this issue. We will certainly make it clear to members of the public service and staff members that this is not a relevant or appropriate question to ask.

Remember, now. The request had to go to Ottawa where someone from Ottawa returned the call and asked specific questions then filled out a form. Are we to believe that some public servant got it in their head to suddenly set up such a procedure, set up a secret colleague in Ottawa, well, in some empty office, I guess, and have this co-conspirator call the opposition member for information, then fill out a form and...and..well, do what with it, exactly? And the really tricky part - keep the Health Minister in the dark the whole time.

Let me explain why it is impossible that this was done without Clement knowing. Anyone familiar with the public service and federal departments knows that while most have an elected Minister in charge of the department, that department absolutely cannot be run as a branch of the elected government. Writers are not allowed to insert partisan statements in their products. Departmental sites must - MUST - remain free of partisan content. The reasons for this are crucial to a democratic system. If any ruling party controlled the public service, they could control a significant amount of the information that reaches the public and present only what favours their political goals. They would also be in a situation to pressure public servants to act according to those political goals rather than in the interest of public service.

Public servants are very aware of this policy. They would not take it upon themselves to suddenly act in a partisan fashion. It is not in their best interest, and it is highly unethical. Another reason Clement cannot be believed in his outrageous, ridiculous lie that a public servant implemented this procedure without his knowledge is the chain of command in the public service when it comes to changing policies and procedures. Departments have sections that review policy and policy changes. They make recommendations which cannot be implemented until approved by the Deputy Minister - you know, that person appointed by the ruling party? The Deputy Minister rarely signs off on anything significant without the approval of the Minister in charge of the Department - in this case, the man you can trust to be untrustworthy - Tony Clement.

Considering Clement’s recent blame-the-public-servant act, blaming and firing Keen, this latest was no surprise. He then went on to vaguely blame a whole lot more people for a lot of tenuous, unrelated things:

Sometimes in the House, Mr. Speaker, things get a bit confused. Sometimes we have people who cross floors. Sometimes we have people in the opposition who think they are in government. Sometimes we have people in government who still think they are in the opposition. However, in this case I think it is pretty clear that this kind of question is not necessary. I do take it very seriously and certainly will find an appropriate response for the hon. member.

So what? Clement apologized, promised - promised it won’t happen again because, you know, he’s such an honest guy and works for an even more honest guy. What’s the big deal, then?

Ms. Libby Davies (NDP): Mr. Speaker, very briefly on the same point, we appreciate the fact that the Minister of Health has come in to talk about his department, but I think the original question of privilege raised by the member for Mississauga South raises the question about where else it might be happening. Apparently there was a form in existence. I am hoping that the minister as a member of the cabinet will look not only at his own department but at others as well, because I think we need to know and be assured that this is not happening in other departments.

Oh, come on, Libby. What are the chances of another, unrelated public servant spontaneously getting the idea to do the same thing in another department, and similarly entice some secret person to assist them?

Mr. Derek Lee (Lib.): I personally attempted to get information from a different government department. It was the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I contacted the person and asked the question. The person said, “I am afraid I cannot give you the answer. I have got to give it to the minister's office”. I spoke a little while longer and finally the person in the department said okay, and gave me the answer. I was able to finesse the answer. The civil servant was good enough to give me this very routine answer to a question, but apparently the department was under instructions to refer the matter elsewhere within the department.

...I would suggest that the motion include an order requiring the delivery from the department of the forms that are being used to deal with this procedure inside the department.

Yes, that form should be tabled, or I should say those forms, and the public should be told about them in detail.

This practice is just one of many where Harper is attempting to control the public service and use it as an extension to his own party. We have these cases, the famous pod people, several instances of partisan statements turning up on departmental websites, and if there is still any doubt, click this link to the Government of Canada website. You’ll think you mistakenly linked to the Steve Harper Party site.

The Bloc adds their concern about the CONs undermining of democracy:

Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ): The Bloc Québécois has no reason to disbelieve what (Szabo) told us; the facts he shared seem to show that the machinery of government now distinguishes between elected members who are Conservatives and in power, and opposition members.

In this case, it is quite clear that Health Canada's procedure discriminates against the member. In my opinion, for the past several months, if not the past several years, the government has been taking steps to impede the work of opposition members, and this can be seen in all sorts of situations.

Yesterday, a point of privilege was raised about the fact that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had not informed the House that Canada had stopped transferring Afghan prisoners to the Afghan authorities on November 5, I believe, even though this House had been told the opposite.

...I would like to draw my colleagues' attention to the aerospace announcement made by the senator and Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He was present along with all the candidates for the island of Laval, even though there is no Conservative member in that area. The message was that if people voted for the right party next time, these ridings and the people in them would reap the benefits. I find this very damaging to democracy.

...Recently, a Conservative member was in Rivière-du-Loup along with our friend from Repentigny. Some seniors were protesting the Conservative government's failure to keep its promise to make retroactive guaranteed income supplement payments. The Conservative member implied that if the seniors voted for the right party next time, they could expect to receive the retroactive payments they are entitled to, which the Conservatives had promised.

In my opinion, this sort of behaviour is widespread. That is why the Bloc Québécois members take the events reported by the member for Mississauga South extremely seriously. We would like you to rule on this point of privilege, Mr. Speaker. With this attitude—in this case, we are talking about Health Canada, but there are other cases as well—the government and the whole government bureaucracy are truly impeding the work of opposition members, who form an essential part of democracy, even Canadian democracy.

The Steve Harper Government of a Rapidly Eroding Canada has to go. Through these “little” under the radar moves, Harper is gnawing away at our democracy. Little instances, at times, but added together, they are devastating.

How to be a whole lot much more famouser than small dead animals and Kate McMillan

Dead animals, large and small - how SDA outdid the Big Guys in number of hits. Once.

Well, anyone wanting to out do SDA can use several tactics:

-post free porn
-write something really offensive
-write something really dumb

See, it’s kind of like asking yourself what kind of fish are out there, and what will they go for when deciding on bait. After all, to bloggers who are going for the big numbers and the money above all else, quality and truth don’t matter.

This is why papers like The Enquirer emerged. In fact, if you want to boost visits to your blog, you could by an Enquirer, skim through the articles, and there you are! Free advice on flexible truth in writing!

The post that caused so many to link to SDA had to do with the neo-cons jumping all over a report that challenges some popular theories on climate change. It has a poorly executed, hazy pic of of a dino lying in the sand with a caption - "Not Waiting For The Asteroid." The comments consist of the usual incestuous discourse of Flat Earthers, climate change deniers, and creationists mocking those who are foolish enough to believe the thousands of reports that challenge the one McMillan alludes to. You know, those of us who actually studied evolution, genetics, physics, climatology, and those of us who read in-depth on these issues, analyse and compare reports, and apply logic rather than the teachings of a religious text.

K. Mc’s was not a brilliant post, or a well researched piece. It simply offered a bad picture, a handful of right-wing comments making fun of people who actually understand evolution and believe in it, and a link to a report by a scientist.
Somehow, based on the crappy picture and the lack of any content in the post generated by K. Mc, I suspect what people were looking for was the link to the report.

The right bait, guys. The right bait.

Why does this incident bother me so much? Oh, I’m sure those patting each other (and themselves) on the back for drawing in so many visits to their blogs are saying "jealousy! 900ft J is jealous ‘cause hardly anyone goes there and we have 6,958.2 friends, just like on Facebook!"
No, I am happy to say it isn’t that. What bothers me is that because blogs are becoming more influential on the Net, they threaten to undermine responsible and relatively unbiased journalism. They also feed a disturbing appetite in people for quick news bites, allowing other people to do the thinking and analysis for them. They also tend to cover popular stories and topics, allowing other equally important (but less exciting) issues to slide into the "outer-sphere."

This incident concerns me because the concept of quality is being linked to the number of hits, where blogs are concerned. And this is simply not true. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" outsold "The Piano" in theatres, but it is not a better movie. Harry Potter novels outsold Raymond Carver’s books, but they are not better. More fun for some people in both cases, perhaps, but certainly not better as books and movies are rated.

As blogs become more influential, people will look for the "best" blogs, and it would do society a great disfavour if the best blogs were decided by who gets the most hits.

Cold War, the next generation?

Some of us are old enough to remember the Cold War. It is not easy to describe to those too young to remember and those who were not yet born what it was like to live under the shadow of possible nuclear war. It is possible they may experience such a world at risk for themselves, if tensions between Russia and the US escalate.

Russia orders long-range bomber patrols
Aug. 17 2007, Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the military to resume regular long-range flights of strategic bombers, a show of Russia's resurgent military power which comes amid a chill in relations with the United States. Speaking Friday after Russian and Chinese forces completed major war games exercises for the first time on Russian turf, Putin said a halt in long-range bomber flights after the Soviet collapse had affected Russia's security because other countries had continued such missions. That was seen as an oblique reference to the United States.
The co-operation between Russia and China completing war games exercises adds cause for concern. China, already facing shortages and severe environmental problems is striving for rapid development which will increase their need for resources in a world where we are finally beginning to understand that resources are limited, going fast, and coveted by all countries. Backed by Russia, they will not be content to stall their growth if they have an opportunity to expand beyond their present borders.

"We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union,'' said the spokesman, Sean McCormack. "It's a different era. If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision.'' The Russian-Chinese war games, which took place near the Ural Mountain city of Chelyabinsk, coincided with Russian air force manoeuvres involving strategic bombers which ranged far over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. Soviet bombers routinely flew such missions to areas from which nuclear-tipped cruise missiles could be launched at the United States, but stopped in the post-Soviet economic meltdown.
Trivializing the actions of the Russians by mocking the state of their military is foolish. Clearly, they are serious about increasing military presence in specific areas of the world, as their renewed training indicates. If, as Putin states, this is at least partially in reaction to US missile defence plans, then this may indicate a fight for territory and resources. Neither the US nor Russia would easily give up resources in light of global resources concerns. No country invests that much time and money for show, nor do they run training flights to such specific, distant targets. These are planned training missions that appear to be directed by scenarios with specific goals in mind. Again, the Arctic, subject to much interest lately by several countries eager to claim sovereignty, is mentioned in the context of the Russian training missions.

The announcement comes amid a growing chill in the U.S.-Russian relations, strained over Washington's criticism of Russia's democracy record, Moscow's strong criticism of U.S. missile defence plans and differences over global crises.

"This is a significant change of posture of Russian strategic forces,'' Alexander Pikayev, a senior military analyst with the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations, told The Associated Press. "It's a response to the relocation of NATO forces closer to Russia's western border.''
This is how cold wars begin, both sides wanting an advantage, neither side willing to be the first to back down. What is even more frightening is that this time, the stakes are much higher as the needs of countries are greater in a world with less to give.