MOGADISHU – The United States this week conducted a second air strike in Somalia, U.S. officials said today
Blair on Somalia: here.
The Iraq War and the Sicilian Campaign
The Rogue Classicist noted an interesting article, by Brent T. Ranalli in The Globalist showing parallels between the modern war in Iraq and the the Athenian-led Sicilian Campaign of the Peloponnesian War in 415 B.C.
In The Iraq War and the Sicilian Campaign, Brent T. Ranalli says that there are 10 important areas of similarities between the two campaigns:
1. Motives as a parallel
3. Inadequate preparation
4. Guerilla warfare
5. Inability to secure borders and supply chains
6. The hearts and minds
7. Taking advantage of a weak enemy
8. Creating foes out of friends
9. Waiting too long
10. Loss of faith
The Sicilian campaign is the one where a large fleet of Athenian and allied ships set sail for Sicily under the command of Alcibiades.
A few days later, Alcibiades was recalled to answer charges of sacrilege.
Bush, Genghis Khan, and Iraq: here.
Bush and the battle of the Somme: here.
Lawmakers call for Bush impeachment: here.
From Yale University in the USA:
Paleontologists discover most primitive primate skeleton
Wed, 2007-01-24 07:36 — BJS
The origins and earliest branches of primate evolution are clearer and more ancient by 10 million years than previous studies estimated, according to a study featured on the cover of the Jan. 23 print edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The paper by researchers at Yale, the University of Winnipeg, Stony Brook University, and led by University of Florida paleontologist Jonathan Bloch reconstructs the base of the primate family tree by comparing skeletal and fossil specimens representing more than 85 modern and extinct species.
The team also discovered two 56-million-year-old fossils, including the most primitive primate skeleton ever described.
In the two-part study, an extensive evaluation of skeletal structures provides evidence that plesiadapiforms, a group of archaic mammals once thought to be more closely related to flying lemurs, are the most primitive primates.
The team analyzed 173 characteristics of modern primates, tree shrews, flying lemurs with plesiadapiform skeletons to determine their evolutionary relationships.
High-resolution CT scanning made fine resolution of inaccessible structures inside the skulls possible. …
Bloch discovered the new plesiadapiform species, Ignacius clarkforkensis and Dryomomys szalayi, just outside Yellowstone National Park in the Bighorn Basin with co-author Doug Boyer, a graduate student in anatomical sciences at Stony Brook.
Previously, based only on skulls and isolated bones, scientists proposed that Ignacius was not an archaic primate, but instead a gliding mammal related to flying lemurs.
However, analysis of a more complete and well-preserved skeleton by Bloch and his team altered this idea.
“These fossil finds from Wyoming show that our earliest primate ancestors were the size of a mouse, ate fruit and lived in the trees,” said study leader Jonathan Bloch, a vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“It is remarkable to think we are still discovering new fossil species in an area studied by paleontologists for over 100 years.”
From Associated Press:
Ancient Spell May Be Oldest Semitic Text
By LAURIE COPANS
JERUSALEM — A magic spell to keep snakes away from the tombs of Egyptian kings, adopted from the Canaanites almost 5,000 years ago, could be the oldest Semitic text yet discovered, experts said Tuesday.
The phrases, interspersed throughout religious texts in Egyptian characters in the underground chambers of a pyramid south of Cairo, stumped Egyptian experts for about a century, until the Semitic connection was found.
In 2002 one of the Egyptologists e-mailed the undeciphered part of the inscription to Richard Steiner, a professor of Semitic languages at Yeshiva University in New York.
Steiner discovered that the phrases are the transcription of a language used by Canaanites at some point in the period from 25th to the 30th centuries B.C.
“This is the oldest connected text that we have in any Semitic language,” Steiner said in a telephone interview while visiting Israel to present his findings in a lecture sponsored by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.
The previous oldest Semitic text dates from the 24th century B.C., Steiner said.
Another expert said it was still unclear whether the Egyptian text is actually the oldest.
“This is highly significant because maybe, according to the researcher, it dates to the third millennium B.C., so it’s the most ancient pre-Canaanite text that we ever met and maybe … it is the most ancient Semitic text ever discovered,” said Moshe Florentine, an expert on ancient Hebrew and a member of the language academy.
Steiner has not submitted his findings to a scientific journal but plans to do so, he said. More study of the fragments will be necessary to determine how these passages fit into the evolution of Semitic languages, Florentine said.
The Egyptians’ use of the magic spell demonstrates the close relations they had at the time with the Canaanites. While Egyptians considered their culture and religion superior to that of their neighbors to the north, they were willing to do anything to protect the mummies of their kings from the poisonous snakes.
Believing that some snakes spoke the Semitic language of the Canaanites, Egyptians included the magic spells in inscriptions on two sides of the sarcophagus in an effort to ward them off.
“Come, come to my house,” reads one section in the Semitic language that is supposed to be the snake’s mother speaking, trying to lure him out of the tomb. In another passage, the snake is addressed as if he is a lover with “Turn aside, O my beloved.”
The Egyptian and Semitic sections are each an integral part of the magic spell and neither can stand alone, Steiner said. For this reason, the Egyptian experts could not fully understand parts of the religious texts until Steiner got involved.
The Semitic language of these texts that have now been deciphered was a very archaic form of the languages later known as Phoenician and Hebrew, Steiner said.
The text includes words that have the same meaning as in Hebrew, like “yad” for hand, “ari” for lion, and “beit” for house, he said.
Unas probably died in 2345 BCE.
Which does not fit in with the “almost 5,000 years” of the Associated Press article.
Archaeology and Biblical accounts: here.
Early Hebrew: here.
Japanese marine park captures rare shark on film
TOKYO – A species of shark rarely seen alive because its natural habitat is 600 meters (2,000 ft) or more under the sea was captured on film by staff at a Japanese marine park this week.
The Awashima Marine Park in Shizuoka, south of Tokyo, was alerted by a fisherman at a nearby port on Sunday that he had spotted an odd-looking eel-like creature with a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth.
Marine park staff caught the 1.6 meter (5 ft) long creature, which they identified as a female frilled shark, sometimes referred to as a “living fossil” because it is a primitive species that has changed little since prehistoric times.
The shark appeared to be in poor condition when park staff moved it to a seawater pool where they filmed it swimming and opening its jaws.
“We believe moving pictures of a live specimen are extremely rare,” said an official at the park.
“They live between 600 and 1,000 meters under the water, which is deeper than humans can go.”
“We think it may have come close to the surface because it was sick, or else it was weakened because it was in shallow waters,” the official said.
The shark died a few hours after being caught.
Frilled sharks, which feed on other sharks and sea creatures, are sometimes caught in the nets of trawlers but are rarely seen alive.
The video is here.
From The Independent in South Africa:
A king penguin was found on a beach near Cape St Francis – possibly only the third one ever to visit South Africa, reported The Witness on Wednesday.
“It’s a freak visit,” said Professor Les Underhill, director of the Avian Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town.
King penguins inhabit the much colder climate of the sub-Antarctic islands and have not evolved for the African heat.
An adult king penguin is about 90cm long and usually weighs between 14kg and 16kg, compared with the African penguin which weighs about 4kg and is 40cm to 50cm long.
Underhill believes the bird’s visit may have something to do with moulting and suspects it came from Marion Island and had lost its way.
Penguins’ attractiveness to humans: here.
By Justin Randell in Sydney, Australia:
The Stop Bush Coalition (SBC) is organising a rally at the Sydney Town Hall for 10am, September 8, to protest US war criminal George Bush’s visit to Sydney during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
The main demands of the protest are still to be finalised.
At its January 15 meeting, the SBC decided to continue the discussion on the SBC mailing list and finalise the demands at the next meeting.
The SBC has launched a website (http://stopbush2007.org), which will be used to help build the September 8 rally and other activities in the lead-up to Bush’s visit.
Any organisation that supports the protests is welcome to join the SBC.
The coalition’s next meeting is on January 29 at the University of Technology, Sydney, in the student union office.
Email stopbush2007 @yahoo.com.au or visit the SBC website for more information.
Update May 2007: here.
Update July 2007: here.
From the University of Florida:
A University of Florida-led study has determined that Titanis walleri, a prehistoric 7-foot-tall flightless “terror bird,” arrived in North America from South America long before a land bridge connected the two continents.
UF paleontologist Bruce MacFadden said his team used an established geochemical technique that analyzes rare earth elements in a new application to revise the ages of terror bird fossils in Texas and Florida, the only places in North America where the species has been found.
Rare earth elements are a group of naturally occurring metallic elements that share similar chemical and physical properties.
“It was previously thought that Titanis immigrated to Texas across the Panamanian land bridge that formed about 3 million years ago connecting North and South America,” said MacFadden, a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF.
“But the rare earth element analysis of a fossil Titanis bone from Texas determines its age to be 5 million years old.
This shows that the bird arrived 2 million years before the land bridge formed, probably across islands that formed what today is the Isthmus of Panama.”
The study will be published Jan. 23 in the online version of the journal Geology and featured in its February print edition.
The terror bird was carnivorous, weighed about 330 pounds, had powerful feet and a head larger than a man’s.
It is known in the fossil record from a single toe bone in Texas, and in Florida by about 40 bone fragments from different skeletal regions.
MacFadden’s team also analyzed six specimens from the Santa Fe River in north Central Florida.
“We found that the Titanis fossils were 2 million years old and not 10,000 years old as had been suggested,” MacFadden said.
“This also shows the last known occurrence of Titanis in the fossil record and reflects its extinction.”
By David Walsh:
79th Academy Award nominations: a disparate group of films
24 January 2007
The Academy Award nominations announced Tuesday morning confirm a recent trend: a growth in the overall seriousness of international filmmaking, in response to events, combined with significant limitations and confusion.
Three hundred seven feature films were eligible to be nominated for best picture this year by the 5,830 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The award ceremony will be held February 25 at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, and will be hosted by comic Ellen DeGeneres.
Leading the pack, Dreamgirls, loosely based on the history of The Supremes of Motown fame, directed by Bill Conlon (Kinsey), received eight nominations, but none in the prestigious best picture, best actor, best actress, best directing or best screenplay categories.
Babel, directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and featuring an international cast, gained seven nominations, including best picture, best supporting actress, best directing and best original screenplay.
The film attempts to treat pressing problems, including America’s “war on terror” and the plight of immigrants in the US.
“In the world of this film, misunderstandings and miscommunications yield human catastrophes—usually exacerbated by those in position of authority,” commented a WSWS reviewer.
Stephen Frears’ The Queen was named in six categories, including best picture, best actress (for Helen Mirren, not a surprise), best directing and best original screenplay.
While understated and occasionally timid, Frears’ work takes a relatively cold-eyed look at the British monarchy and political establishment.
It demonstrates the impact of an archaic, monstrous political set-up on its representatives.
“The Queen’s critical and intelligent attitude toward the institutions of state and their representatives,” wrote the WSWS review, “is welcome.
The lack of respect for the authority figures is healthy. However, this operates within certain definite limits.
The strength and precision of the performances, and their reverberations, may show us more than the filmmakers can articulate explicitly.”
Del Toro’s film treats post-Civil War Spain and opposes the brutal reality and mythology of fascism.
A recent review on the WSWS commented, “It is a film of great hope and optimism, of defending the imagination under difficult circumstances . . . From the period shown in the film [the mid-1940s], many opponents of Franco were forced to go underground.
The film’s determination to defend and even honour their memory, even in small details, is praiseworthy indeed.”
Blood Diamond, directed by Edward Zwick, deals with the pursuit of diamonds and profit in Africa and its impact on human suffering on that continent.
We wrote on the WSWS: “Blood Diamond brings important problems to light. It does so, however, with far too much of a conventional touch.
While the film’s most intriguing scenes are those that deal with Sierra Leone and its political realities . . . the movie’s weakest segments are those seemingly superimposed for their box office value.”
The diamond firms are especially nervous because the Academy Awards ceremony is an event to which many film stars wear borrowed jewels, many worth millions of dollars.
Film history and socialism: here.
By Bill Van Auken:
President George W. Bush’s sixth State of the Union address was delivered Wednesday in an atmosphere of crisis and demoralization gripping not only his own Republican administration, but the entire American political establishment. …
There is a general recognition not only that the American colonial war in Iraq has failed, but that the six years of the Bush administration have produced a colossal decline in the world position of US imperialism.
The “new way forward” spelled out by Bush in his speech less than two weeks ago has provoked mounting fears that the military escalation in Iraq, combined with threats against Iran and Syria, will only deepen the disaster.
Yet the reaction of Congress resembles the paralysis of passengers facing an impending train wreck: They know what is coming but can do nothing to avert it.
At Think Progress blog, there is a video: The Annotated State of the Union:
ThinkProgress conducted a real-time fact-check of this year’s State of the Union address.
Click.TV, a web video technology company, has synchronized our rapid response with the complete video of President Bush’s speech.
You can watch the speech in its entirety, or click on the facts below to jump directly to the claims we’re rebutting.
Bush’s State of the Union parody videos: here.
Comments on Bush’s SOTU speech by Ms Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel price winner: here.