Film on Idi Amin of Uganda


Idi AminFrom London daily The Morning Star:

The Last King of Scotland

(Thursday 11 January 2007)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

POWERFUL: Forest Whitaker takes over the screen and proceedings as the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

JEFF SAWTELL sees the mighty Forest Whitaker thunder into life as bloody dictator Idi Amin.

AS the Scottish nationalists stand poised to take power at Holyrood after 300 years of the UK union, it seems somewhat ironic that this week sees the release of a film called The Last King Of Scotland.

Ironic? Because, although it features the fortunes of a Scotsman and is directed by Kevin Macdonald, it happens to be about another anti-colonial cousin, General Idi Amin Dada.

You remember him – the former British soldier whom the 1971 Tory government deemed suitable to install as the dictator of Uganda to save it from the clutches of “communist” Dr Milton Obote.

In fact, Obote wasn’t a communist.

He had simply voiced socialist sentiments, which, given Britain’s track record in its former colonies, is like signing your own death warrant.

As the British Foreign Office said, Amin was “a splendid type and a good footballer.”

Their film spokesman is more specific. “He has a firm hand, something the Africans understand.”

Film and society: here.

How early humans migrated from Africa to Europe


Early migration of Homo sapiens, view of early 2000sFrom New Scientist:

New signposts on the path of early human migration

* 19:00 11 January 2007
* NewScientist.com news service
* Jeff Hecht

An old South African skull and an ancient settlement along the Don River in Russia lend crucial support to the idea that modern humans spread from Africa across Eurasia only 50,000 years ago.

African fossils show that modern humans had evolved by 195,000 years ago.

Yet the only evidence of modern humans outside of Asia for the next 150,000 years is a couple of sites about 100,000 years old in Israel, which appear to have been abandoned as the Ice Age grew more severe.

It had been a mystery what our ancestors were doing before the first evidence of their presence in Australia 45,000 to 50,000 years ago, and about 35,000 years ago in Europe.

Genetic studies suggest that modern humans did not emerge from Africa until about 50,000 years ago, but that late date has been controversial.

Now, two new studies support the genetic evidence, says Ted Goebel at the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University, US.

Originally found in a dry riverbed in 1952, the South African skull was unsuitable for radiocarbon dating.

One of the new studies has dated the sediment encased inside the skull to 36,000 years ago, and says the skull resembles the first modern humans who lived in Europe at about the same time.

Citing that resemblance, the team led by Frederick Grine of Stony Brook University in New York concludes that the South African fossil and its European contemporaries shared a recent common ancestor, and that modern humans had therefore arrived in Europe not long before. (Science, vol 315, p 226).

Artifact clues

The Paleolithic site in Russia is between 42,000 and 45,000 years old, predating early human finds in central and eastern Europe.

The only human fossils are teeth that cannot be identified by species, but the artifacts – including possible art and shells imported from more than 500 kilometres away – look like they were made by early modern humans, argue Mikhail Anikovich of the Institute of the History of Material Culture in St. Petersburg, Russia, and colleagues (Science vol 315, p 223).

The location suggests that modern humans may have arrived from further east in Eurasia than in the classic depiction, in which Cro-Magnon man passed through Turkey into Europe, says Goebel.

Much more remains to be learned about modern human migration, but Goebel says the crucial sites will probably be in “places like Iran or Afghanistan, where European and US archaeologists haven’t been able to work for decades.”

Out of Africa migration of Homo sapiens and climate changes in Africa: here.

World’s oldest figurative sculpture? Here.

Early homo sapiens in China: here.

Early humans had sex for fun: here.

Neanderthal-sapiens relationships theory: here.

Neanderthals in Siberia: here.

Neanderthal DNA: here.

Neanderthal-human interbreeding? See here.

Neanderthals probably froze to death in the last ice age because rapid climate change caught them by surprise without the tools needed to make warm clothes, says an Australian researcher: here.

Neanderthals hunted marine mammals: here.

World first: birth of rhinoceros on webcam


Black rhino SitaFrom the BBC:

‘World first’ rhino birth on web

The birth of a rhino is to be captured on a BBC-run webcam in what zookeepers believe will be a world first.

Sita, a one-tonne black rhino, is due to give birth this month at Paignton Zoo, in Devon, where cameras are being trained on her paddock 24 hours a day.

The zoo said there was no existing footage of a black rhino being born in a zoo anywhere in the world.

The birth, the zoo’s first rhino calf, is part of its on-going endangered species programme.

The baby rhino was born 5 March; update here.

World’s biggest flowers are related to rubber trees


This is a Dutch video about Rafflesia speciosa.

From the BBC:

Family found for gigantic flowers

By Rebecca Morelle

Science reporter, BBC News

The 200-year-old mystery of where one of the world’s largest flowers sit in the botanical family tree has finally been solved by scientists.

To their surprise, the plants, which have a one-metre-wide, blood-red, rotten-flesh stinking flower, belong to a family of plants bearing tiny blooms.

The Rafflesiaceae were tricky to place because of their unusual features, the team reports in the journal Science.

Such traits include the fact that they are rootless, leafless and stemless.

Their giant blooms, which weigh up to 7kg (15lb) and in appearance and fragrance mimic rotting meat, attract carrion flies that pollinate them.

And the strange plants, which can be found growing on the jungle floor in southeast Asia, are also parasitic.

Eschewing the process of photosynthesis, the Rafflesiaceae bed down in the tissue of the tropical grape vine, feasting upon the nutrients it provides.

Dramatic growth

The botanists used DNA analysis to delve into the ancestry of the Rafflesiaceae, revealing that the plants belong to the Euphorbiaceae family.

Plants in this family, which include the rubber tree, castor oil plant and the cassava shrub, are typified by small blossoms, the researchers comment.

Invasive quagga mussels in the Great Lakes, USA


Zebra mussel, and quagga mussel on the right

From the Star Tribune in the USA:

Invasive quagga mussels found in Duluth harbor

This exotic mussel has been spreading through the Great Lakes, competing with other species and fish for food — and winning.

By Tom Meersman, Star Tribune

Last update: January 10, 2007

Aquatic critters in the Duluth-Superior harbor may face some crowding in the near future: Federal officials confirmed Wednesday that they have found an invasive species called the quagga mussel for the first time in Lake Superior.

The prolific mussel has disrupted the ecosystem of other waters by competing with native species and small fish for food — and winning.

The quagga mussel resembles another invader, the zebra mussel, which has spread rapidly in North America over the past two decades and cost billions of dollars.

Quagga mussels were named in parallel to the quagga, a zebra species with less stripes than other species.