Slovenian philosopher Žižek on Syria


This video from England is called National Demonstration No Attack on Syria, Stop the War Coalition, London 31 08 13.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Syria is a pseudo-struggle

The ongoing struggle we see is a false one, lacking the kind of radical-emancipatory opposition clearly perceptible in Egypt

Slavoj Žižek

Friday 6 September 2013 13.42 BST

All that was false in the idea and practice of humanitarian interventions exploded in a condensed form apropos Syria. OK, there is a bad dictator who is (allegedly) using poisonous gas against the population of his own state – but who is opposing his regime? It seems that whatever remained of the democratic-secular resistance is now more or less drowned in the mess of fundamentalist Islamist groups supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with a strong presence of al-Qaida in the shadows.

As to Bashar al-Assad, his Syria at least pretended to be a secular state, so no wonder Christian and other minorities now tend to take his side against the Sunni rebels. In short, we are dealing with an obscure conflict, vaguely resembling the Libyan revolt against Colonel Gaddafi – there are no clear political stakes, no signs of a broad emancipatory-democratic coalition, just a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances overdetermined by the influence of superpowers (US and western Europe on the one sideRussia and China on the other). In such conditions, any direct military intervention means political madness with incalculable risks – say, what if radical Islamists take over after Assad’s fall? So will the US repeat their Afghanistan mistake of arming the future al-Qaida and Taliban cadres?

Žižek book review: here.

100 year old salamander


This video is called Olm (Proteus anguinis). Postoyna Caves, Slovenia.

From Discovery News:

‘Human Fish’ Breaks Lifespan Record

This small, blind salamander can live to be over 100 years old, easily outlasting other amphibians.

By Jennifer Viegas

Tue Jul 20, 2010 07:00 PM ET

THE GIST

* A small cave salamander, “the human fish,” has broken the world’s record for longest-lived amphibian.
* The salamander, which can live to over 100, is endangered, but reaches such advanced ages in zoos and protected environments.
* Future studies on this amphibian might shed light on what promotes longevity in the animal kingdom.

A small cave salamander, nicknamed “the human fish” because of its human-like skin tone, has just broken the world’s record for longest-lived amphibian, according to a new study.

The salamander, also called olm and Proteus, has a maximum lifespan of over 100 years, concludes the new study, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters. That’s nearly double the age of other often-elderly amphibians: the Japanese giant salamander (55 years), the African bullfrog (45 years), the common European toad (40 years) and the mudpuppy (34 years).

“Among amphibians the human fish is clearly the most long-lived species,” lead author Yann Voituron told Discovery News.

Voituron, a professor at Claude Bernard Lyon University, and his team calculated growth rates, generation times and the lifespan of olms living in a cave at Moulis, Saint-Girons, France. Since the 1950s, conservationists have established a breeding program there for the threatened salamanders.

In addition to determining the lifespan of the cave salamanders, the researchers found that this species becomes sexually mature at around age 16 and lays, on average, 35 eggs every 12.5 years.

“What promotes its longevity is probably very low activity, low reproduction, no environmental stress and its peculiar physiology,” Voituron said.

He described “the human fish” as having a snakelike body, up to 16 inches long. It is blind, with eyes regressed and covered by a layer of skin. The human-like skin tone derives from oxygen-rich blood that shows through the salamander’s non-pigmented skin.

It also looks unisex.

“The sexes are very similar in appearance, with males having a somewhat thicker cloaca (posterior opening) than females,” he said.

Scientists have been interested in the lifespan of this salamander for some time, since zookeepers started to notice that olms in exhibits would live to amazingly advanced ages, usually over 70 years.

Analysis of this, and other elderly animals, might shed light on what promotes longevity in general. The olm seems to fit a pattern, where long lives are dependent upon low-stress, stable environments without predators. Beyond that, however, the latest findings have researchers puzzled.

That’s because longevity used to be tied to relatively large animals. The previous age record-holder for amphibians, for example, was the Japanese giant salamander, which is the world’s second largest salamander, growing to nearly 5 feet and weighing over 55 pounds.

See also here. And here.

“Mudpuppy” salamander fails to make Vermont endangered list: here.

Photos: Ten Most Wanted “Extinct” Amphibians: here.

At more than five feet long, the Japanese Giant Salamander is one of the largest amphibians in the world. At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, biologists hope to breed the animals for the first time outside of Japan; video here.

The Japanese Giant Salamander, Andrias japonicus, is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. Growing to a total length of 150cm, this is the second largest amphibian in the world, surpassed only by its close relative the Chinese Giant Salamander, Andrias davidianus. Endemic to Japan, it is found in small to large rivers in clear, cool, oxygenated water: here.

African bullfrog: here.

Fossil water lizard with limbloss discovered


Adriosaurus microbrachis

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Fossil discovery marks earliest record of limbloss in ancient lizard

Ancient lizard offers evolutionary clues

A University of Alberta paleontologist has helped discover the existence of a 95 million-year-old snakelike marine animal, a finding that provides not only the earliest example of limbloss in lizards but the first example of limbloss in an aquatic lizard.

“This was unsuspected,” said Dr. Michael Caldwell, from the U of A’s Faculty of Science.

“It adds to the picture we have of what was happening 100 million years ago. We now know that losing limbs isn’t a new thing and that lizards were doing it much earlier than we originally thought.

On top of that, this lizard is aquatic. All the examples we have in our modern world are terrestrial, so it’s a big deal.”

The evidence offers the earliest record of vestigial limbs—once used in an animal’s evolutionary past but that has lost its original function– in a fossil lizard.

The newly named speciesAdriosaurus microbrachis–is described in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and offers clues to the evolution of terrestrial lizards as they returned to water.

The fossil was originally collected during the 19th Century from a limestone quarry in Slovenia.

It then sat at the Natural History Museum in Trieste, Italy for almost 100 years before Caldwell and a colleague found it in 1996 during a trip to Europe.

He later connected with Alessandro Palci, then a graduate student in Italy whom he helped supervise, and they worked on the fossil together.

The researchers soon realized the lizard’s front limbs were not formed during development.

“There was a moment when I said, ‘I think we stumbled on a new fossil illustrating some portion of the aquatic process of losing limbs,'” said Caldwell.

“There are lots of living lizards that love to lose their forelimbs and then their rearlimbs, but we didn’t know it was being done 100 million years ago and we didn’t know that it was happening among groups of marine lizards.”

The researchers think this snake-like lizard was about 10 to 12 inches long, had a small head perched on an elongated neck, body and tail and relatively large and well-developed rear limbs.

All bones of the forearm, including the hands and digits were not formed during development.

“For some oddball reason the forelimbs were lost before the rear limbs when you would think it would be the opposite,” said Caldwell. “The front limbs would be useful for holding onto dinner or digging a hole but it must be developmentally easier to get rid of the forelimbs.”

The most well known ancient fossil snakes also kept their hind limbs.

Living lizards also show almost every variation in limb reduction from a perfectly formed back limb with no forelimb, or a spike for a forelimb and one or two toes on the rearlimb, to total limblessness.

This degree of variation makes it very difficult to understand the pattern of evolutionary limb loss in these animals.

“This discovery is one more data point that might help us answer some questions and perhaps shed some light on the fin to limb transition, which is a key step in the evolution of land animals,” said Caldwell. “It doesn’t give us all the answers but it’s a start.”

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For more information, please contact:
Dr. Michael Caldwell, Faculty of Science
University of Alberta, (780)492-3458