Stolen shark ‘Miss Helen’ found again


This video from Texas in the USA says about itself:

Stealing Nemo! – Suspect arrested for SHARK THEFT in San Antonio

31 July 2018

Mandatory Credit: San Antonio Aquarium

One suspect was arrested for shark theft from the San Antonio Aquarium on Monday, after CCTV footage from the robbery was published on social media on July 28, the same day the 16-inch (40-centimetre) shark called ‘Miss Helen’ was stolen.

As seen on the CCTV footage, a man pulls out Miss Helen by her tail, before wrapping her in a blanket, putting her in a child’s stroller, and driving away with what seems like his accomplice in a pick up truck.

Miss Helen was retrieved on Monday, after police stormed the house of a man in the vicinity of the San Antonio Aquarium, who reportedly “maintains an extensive collection of marine life.”

Leon Valley Police Chief Joseph Salvaggio reportedly said that the suspect’s house “looked like almost a mock-up of the San Antonio Aquarium.”

The two perpetrators have confessed.

Miss Helen is a grey horn shark.

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Macron’s employees’ violence scandal continues


This 19 July 2018 South Korean TV video says about itself:

French President Emmanuel Macron is in hot water after one of his aides, dressed as a police officer, was filmed beating a student demonstrator in Paris.

Alexandre Benalla, assistant to the president’s chief of staff, is now under investigation by French prosecutors and could face a slew of charges, including violence by a public official and illegal use of police insignia.

The video was taken during the May Day protests and revealed by the French newspaper Le Monde on Wednesday. In the clip, Benalla can be seen dragging a woman down the street, grabbing her by the neck. He then goes back and drags a man along the floor before hitting him.

By Francis Dubois in France:

Benalla affair destabilises Macron government in France

31 July 2018

For the first time since becoming president a year ago, Emmanuel Macron is confronting a media and parliamentary campaign, triggered by the “Benalla affair”, which is destabilising both him and his ruling party, The Republic on the March (LRM). Last week, the pressure on Macron, who has refused to speak publicly on the affair, reached a new peak.

The affair began on July 19, when Le Monde identified a close collaborator [Deputy Chief of Staff] of the president, Alexandre Benalla, captured on video violently beating demonstrators on May Day in Paris. Violations of normal police procedure have since been tied directly to Macron’s personal security staff and to high-level officials of the Parisian police, notably those tasked with “managing” political demonstrations.

At present, Macron faces a counteroffensive from sections of the police apparatus that have publicly reproached him for improper interference in their operations. The prefect of Paris, speaking before a parliamentary commission established on Friday, denounced the “unacceptable, condemnable outgrowth of unhealthy cronyism.”

Benalla, Fabien Crase—the head of security for LRM—and three top police officials connected to them have been placed under investigation. Benalla was sacked by the Elysée presidential palace on charges of “public violence” the day after Le Monde‘s revelations. Crase was sacked for the same charge.

Macron on Tuesday refused to respond publicly after deputies and leaders of political parties requested that he testify before a parliamentary commission of inquiry. Some raised the possibility of impeaching the president, which has never taken place before in the history of the French Republic.

… The Assembly and the Senate have sought to exploit the scandal to block Macron’s anti-democratic constitutional reform aimed at expanding presidential powers. …

The depositions of Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, the prefect of police and the director of public security were damaging to the presidency. The first two refused to take any responsibility and pointed the finger at Macron, and the third contradicted the declarations from the Elysée that the police had authorised Benalla to attend the demonstration.

One of the most persistent charges against Macron is that the Elysée is building a parallel police force—essentially an illegal militia—independent of the police apparatus that is normally responsible for the president’s security. Another is that, despite knowing about the events in question starting on May 2, neither the interior ministry nor the presidency alerted the public prosecutor, though they are required to do so by law.

Compromising revelations continue to emerge around Benalla. After having been “sanctioned” on May 2, according to the Elysée, he continued his functions as the head of presidential security and was afterward reportedly provided with exorbitant privileges for his role as a “project leader”, including a monthly salary approaching 10,000 euros. …

The more the Benalla affair exposes the illegal violence of the state apparatus targeting the population, the more aggressively the ruling elite rallies around the police forces.

The violence in Paris on May Day began when the police attacked a contingent of 1,200 masked members of the Black Bloc—which is known to be heavily infiltrated by police agents—who had inserted themselves into the demonstration. Large sections of the media and the political establishment denounced the protesters as “hooligans.” …

Macron let it be known that he could order the dissolution of the political organizations that were involved. On Twitter, he declared: “I condemn with absolute firmness the violence which took place and which diverted the protests of May 1. Everything will be done to ensure that the instigators are identified and held to account for their actions.”

Placozoan primitive animals, new species discovery


This 13 June 2018 video says about itself:

Placozoa | Animal Fact Files

On this episode of Animal Fact Files discover the most simple animal.

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Animal taxonomy: Outwardly identical, yet distinct

July 31, 2018

Summary: All placozoans are superficially identical. But comparative genomic data reveals the presence of different genera. This is the first time that a new animal genus has been defined solely by genomics.

Up until quite recently, the animal phylum Placozoa enjoyed a unique position in animal systematics. It was the only phylum to which only a single species had ever been assigned: Trichoplax adhaerens. Now, however, at team led by Professor Gert Wörheide of LMU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and GeoBio-Center has discovered that placozoan specimens collected from coastal waters off Hong Kong clearly differ from T. adhaerens in their genetic make-up. Indeed, the differences between the two are so striking that the Hong Kong population not only represents a new species but also has been assigned to a new genus — even though the two genera are morphologically indistinguishable. The definition of a new species and genus solely on the basis of comparative genomic data constitutes a new departure in the systematic classification of animals. The findings appear in PLOS Biology.

Placozoa are among the simplest known multicellular animals, lacking both muscles and nerve cells. They are only a few millimeters long and their cells are organized into two flat layers. They have been found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. But, regardless of locality of origin, all placozoans have the same gross morphology and same basic cellular architecture. Since conventional approaches to the definition and differentiation of animal species rely on differences in overall body plans and detailed morphology, all placozoan specimens so far collected have been attributed to the species T. adhaerens, which was first described in 1883. “However, genetic data based on short DNA signature sequences that serve to distinguish species from one another had already suggested that placozoans exhibit a great deal of genetic diversity. And that in turn indicates that the phylum actually includes many different species,” says Wörheide.

For this reason, he and his colleagues decided to sequence the genome of a placozoan line derived from specimens collected in Hong Kong. Their signature sequences indicated that this line was distantly related to T. adhaerens, whose genome was published in 2008. “Based on comparative genomic analysis, we then developed a novel method for the description of a new species based exclusively on genomic data”, says Michael Eitel, first author of the new study. The researchers refer to this approach as ‘taxogenomics’, which takes into account factors such as structural differences between chromosomes, differences in the total number of genes, and sequence differences between selected protein-coding genes.

The genetic and genomic data for the placozoans from Hong Kong revealed such large differences between them and T. adhaerens that they were ultimately assigned not only to a new species, but to a new genus, which represents a higher rank in the hierarchy of biological taxonomy. “This is a completely new departure. It is the first time that a new genus has been erected purely on the basis of genomic data”, Wörheide explains. The new species bears the name Hoilungia hongkongensis. This translates as ‘Hong Kong Sea Dragon’ — which refers to the fact that, just like the Dragon King in Chinese mythology, placozoans can readily alter their shapes.

The authors of the new study believe that the placozoans may have undergone a very peculiar mode of evolution, in which speciation has occurred exclusively at the genetic level without notable morphological diversification. “We have some indications that point to the operation of negative selection, so it is possible that the development of morphological novelties may be repressed. But we are still very much at the beginning of the search for an explanation of this unique evolutionary trajectory”, says Eitel.

The authors also suggest that the taxogenomic approach could also be used for detailed studies of the process of speciation in other animal phyla. This holds in particular for animal groups that consist of minuscule individuals, such as nematodes and mites, in which it is often difficult to discriminate between species by optical inspection alone.

Still Grenfell-type flammable cladding all over Britain


This 24 June 2017 video from Britain is called Arconic knowingly supplied flammable panels for use in Grenfell Tower London.

By Margot Miller in Britain:

Hundreds of residential tower blocks still covered in Grenfell-type flammable cladding

31 July 2018

Thirteen months after the Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 72 people, tens of thousands throughout the UK are still residing in tower blocks covered in flammable cladding.

Despite government promises, 297 tower blocks remain wrapped in cladding with an aluminium composite material (ACM). ACM, and the inept manner in which it was attached to the building, was the main factor contributing to the rapacious fire spread at Grenfell Tower, where a small fire breached one flat and within half an hour engulfed the whole building.

The role of the cladding in the fire speed and spread was confirmed at the government inquiry begun September 14 last year. The cladding was chosen because it was cheaper than a non-combustible alternative.

By contrast, another fire, on July 3, on floor 16 of Whitstable House Tower block in North Kensington—adjacent to the charred remains of Grenfell—was easily contained and doused by firefighters. In this instance, the block was not encased in ACM. Whitstable, despite many other problems, had its original fireproof concrete exterior.

In May this year, the Conservative government pledged £400 million to remove ACM from council and housing association blocks. The money is being taken from the Affordable Homes Programme—itself an inadequate government response to the burgeoning UK housing crisis.

Yet only seven tower blocks have had remedial work done. According to Inside Housing, in “August, then communities secretary, Sajid Javid wrote to the sector to say it [the government] expected landlords to meet the cost. Since then it has resolutely refused to budge on providing a penny towards the work.”

The 132 private blocks identified as having ACM are a gross underestimation, said Inside Housing. Many buildings have not been tested. In 74 percent of cases, the government has not been informed of remediation plans. Work has begun on only 23 with only 4 decladded.

Private sector leaseholders are as concerned as public sector tenants. In many cases, their landlords—the freeholders who own the land where the blocks stand (who may or may not be the original developer)—are demanding flat owners or insurers pay remediation costs.

The then-Housing Minister Dominic Raab said “private sector companies should not pass costs onto leaseholders.” At a Westminster meeting, Head of Building Safety Programme Neil O’Connor said the government informed developers by letter that leaseholders should not pay.

Even when developers concur, this does not resolve the legal tangle of who foots the bill.

Developer Galliard Homes, builder of 1,000 ACM-covered homes in Capital Quay in Greenwich, London, has lodged a claim in the high court against insurer NHBC—hoping the court will rule the insurer pays the £25-£40 million remediation bill.

To date, only four developers or insurers have agreed to finance remediation of tower blocks they neglected to make safe in the first place.

Developer Barratt eventually agreed to put right the Citiscape block in Croydon, at a cost of £2 million, despite a tribunal ruling that residents should pay. Last November, Legal and General agreed to cover the cost of recladding a 330-home development in Hounslow. Taylor Wimpey has agreed to pay for safety work at a development in Glasgow Harbour. Developer Mace confirmed it would finance the recladding on its £225 million Greenwich Square project in London.

A property tribunal recently decided in favour of property giant Pemberstone against the residents of private blocks Vallea Court and Cypress Place, in the Green Quarter of Manchester.

The 345 flats were built in 2013 by international conglomerate Lendlease. Lendlease sold the freehold on to Pemberstone, which receives leasehold payments from the flat owners.

The tribunal ordered the residents to pay £3 million for recladding, fire patrols and Pemberstone’s legal fees, through a hike in their annual service charge.

Many residents bought their homes under the government’s help-to-buy scheme. They represented themselves at the tribunal after crowd-funding raised £11,000 for legal advice.

One resident expressed his utter frustration to the BBC’s current affairs programme File on 4. “I purchased my flat from major developer Lendlease with a 10-year warranty”, he said. “Any responsible company would have been rushing to get the cladding off, but they’re all passing the buck, saying it’s not us.”

Residents were also enraged to learn that Manchester’s Labour-led council is considering awarding Lendlease a £190 million contract to refurbish the city’s historic town hall.

Residents whose lives are at risk are growing angry. The WSWS spoke to council tenants in Salford, north west England. In Salford, there are 29 blocks covered with ACM cladding—the highest concentration in the UK.

Labour-run Salford City Council, led by Mayor Paul Dennett … runs nine blocks via management company Pendleton Together. The other 20 blocks with flammable cladding used to be council-run but are now owned by housing associations Salix Homes and City West Housing Trust.

Last August, the council announced it was borrowing £25 million to declad its nine blocks.

To date, most of the council flats are like Spruce Court—with cladding removed from the first three floors but no remedial work done.

Spruce Court with cladding removed on just the first three floors

Eileen, a 55-year-old parent, told WSWS reporters her son lives on floor 16 of Spruce Court. “They’ve gone for the cheapest [cladding]. It all boils down to money. Somebody came round taking photos, just to make us think they’re doing something.”

Student Alanzi from Kuwait said, “In my country we have 50, 60 floors. We can control any fire. We have building technology to make flats safe. I’m living floor 18 [in Salford], it’s very dangerous, there’s no safety.”

Alanzi

Marlene, from Malus Court, complained about the lack of information from the council or freeholders. “They’re not telling us anything,” she said.

Jon Smith, who is 72, has been an active campaigner for the removal of flammable cladding since the Grenfell fire. WSWS reporters spoke with him at his flat on the sixth floor of Thorn Court.

Jon Smith

Jon was in the middle of folding leaflets to organise a fight back that said “it’s now time to stand united…all nine blocks [managed by Pendleton Together] that still have the cladding on.”

Jon explained that “within 30 minutes of putting a leaflet up in the foyer of Spruce Court, the housing officer removed it from the notice board. The council do not want us coming together. We’ve had enough.”

As to the council’s promises to remove the cladding over the next two years, Jon said, “Two years is rubbish,” pointing out the slow pace of the work. “How’s it going to take two years with nine blocks. It’s a disaster! I’m going to sit outside Brotherton House [Pendleton Together] with a petition. We want this [cladding] removed now, the windows replaced and the electrics checked.

“They’ve asked for a war and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Fossil fish and human skeletons


This 24 July 2018 video says about itself:

420 million years ago, some fish were more medieval. They wore armor, sometimes made of big plates, and sometimes made of interlocking scales. But that armor may actually have served a totally different purpose, one that many animals still use today.

From the University of Manchester in England:

160-year-old mystery about the origin of skeletons solved

July 31, 2018

Scientists at The University of Manchester and the University of Bristol have used powerful X-rays to peer inside the skeletons of some of our oldest vertebrate relatives, solving a 160-year-old mystery about the origin of our skeletons.

Living vertebrates have skeletons built from four different tissue types: bone and cartilage (the main tissues that human skeletons are made from), and dentine and enamel (the tissues from which our teeth are constructed). These tissues are unique because they become mineralised as they develop, giving the skeleton strength and rigidity.

Evidence for the early evolution of our skeletons can be found in a group of fossil fishes called heterostracans, which lived over 400 million years ago. These fishes include some of the oldest vertebrates with a mineralised skeleton that have ever been discovered. Exactly what tissue heterostracan skeletons were made from has long puzzled scientists.

Now a team of researchers from the University of Manchester, the University of Bristol and the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland have taken a detailed look inside heterostracan skeletons using Synchrotron Tomography: a special type of CT scanning using very high energy X-rays produced by a particle accelerator. Using this technique, the team have identified this mystery tissue.

Lead researcher Dr Joseph Keating, from Manchester’s School of Earth of Environmental Scientists, explained: “Heterostracan skeletons are made of a really strange tissue called ‘aspidin’. It is crisscrossed by tiny tubes and does not closely resemble any of the tissues found in vertebrates today. For a 160 years, scientists have wondered if aspidin is a transitional stage in the evolution of mineralised tissues.”

The results of this study, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, show that the tiny tubes are voids that originally housed fibre-bundles of collagen, a type of protein found in your skin and bones.

These findings enabled Dr Keating to rule out all but one hypothesis for the tissue’s identity: aspidin is the earliest evidence of bone in the fossil record.

Co-author, Professor Phil Donoghue from the University of Bristol concludes: “These findings change our view on the evolution of the skeleton. Aspidin was once thought to be the precursor of vertebrate mineralised tissues. We show that it is, in fact, a type of bone, and that all these tissues must have evolved millions of years earlier.”

Religious fanatics’ homophobia


This 23 July 2018 video from Israel says about itself:

Tens of Thousands Rally in Tel Aviv for LGBTQ Rights

LGBTQ protestors blocked off the streets of Tel Aviv to protest what they say was a stab in the back by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A massive political demonstration snowballed from a fringe issue: surrogacy. It quickly became a rallying cry for equal rights. Our Ariel Levin-Waldman has the story.

Homophobia by religious right Protestants and religious right Roman Catholics is well-known.

At least in the 1960s, it also existed among secular ‘liberals’. It still exists in Middle East absolute monarchies claiming to base themselves on Islam. It still exists among the Hindu religious right in India. It still exists among the Japanese Shinto religious right. Etc.

It also exists in ultra-religious Judaism. A chief rabbi in Israel recently called for the death penalty for LGBTQ people. And now, Jewish daily The Forward in the USA reports about Israel:

30 July 2018

More than 200 leading rabbis published a letter condemning the idea of surrogacy and adoption for gays, describing homosexuals as “perverts”, The Jerusalem Post reported.

These rabbis, the Jerusalem Post writes, are ‘from the national-religious sector‘.

Save bird paradise in Montenegro


This 12 June 2018 video says about itself:

The construction of a luxury hotel in Montenegro’s Ulcinj Salina threatens the local economy and thousands of birds who depend on this resting and breeding site. Give nature and people a voice, sign this petition to protect Ulcinj Salina: https://savesalina.net. Share widely to #SaveSalina!

The #SaveSalina campaign aims at the protection of Ulcinj Salina in southern Montenegro. The salina is a nearly 15 km² large wetland area, which serves thousands of birds as resting and breeding site. Since 1935 salt was produced in Ulcinj Salina in a nature-friendly way, which benefited both migrating birds and local people.

However, the salt harvest stopped in 2013 and since then initiatives exist to sell Ulcinj Salina and build a luxury hotel resort on the land. Although the Government of Montenegro is aware about the importance of Ulcinj Salina for the local economy and the international bird migration, it did not show any interest in protecting the site and preventing its degradation. In order to give nature and people a voice, the international campaign #SaveSalina was set up. With international pressure we have a strong tool to push the government to act!