Birdwatching in the Arctic, video

This 9 November 2018 video from Alaska says about itself:

Young Birders Event: Expedition Arctic – Andy

A mission to film the rare McKay’s Bunting dropped former Young Birder, Andy Johnson, on St. Matthew island in the Arctic. He was left there for a month and now, for the first time, tells the story of the incredible diversity of bird life he found there.

Climate change may have made the Arctic deadlier for baby shorebirds: here.


Grenfell and other British fire disasters

This 31 October 2018 video says about itself:

The Fires that Foretold Grenfell – Documentary

This 60-minute documentary is the dramatic, haunting story of five fires that foretold the Grenfell disaster, told through the eyes of those directly involved. This vivid and moving film for BBC Two collates the memories of survivors, the bereaved, fire-fighters, safety experts and the politicians linked to five intensely fierce fire disasters that preceded Grenfell.

This telling collection of interviews and archive footage shows the clear warnings that existed and could have predicted a Grenfell-type inferno happening in Britain.

The programme focuses on three factors: the application of flammable material and cladding to buildings, the ‘stay put’ advice given by fire services, the absence of sprinklers – and how they contributed to each of the previous five blazes, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Made over the course of 12 months, the film tells the story of the legislative history of building regulations from 1973 to the present day through five fires. It explores the causes, subsequent investigations and the recommendations that were sent to successive UK governments, ultimately posing the question: if lessons had been learned as a result of tragic repetition of errors over the decades, could Grenfell have been avoided?

The five fires revisited include the Summerland disaster, Douglas, Isle of Man (1973), Knowsley Heights fire, Liverpool (1991), Garnock Court fire, Irvine, N Ayrshire (1999), Harrow Court fire, Stevenage, Herts (2005), and Lakanal House, London (2009).

By Margo Miller in Britain:

The Fires that Foretold Grenfell—Documentary reveals how UK governments ignored lessons of previous fire tragedies

9 November 2018

Documentary directed by filmmaker Jamie Roberts and first shown on BBC Two, now available on BBC iPlayer.

The Fires that Foretold Grenfell, a well-researched, powerful documentary, is essential viewing for anyone seeking to understand the causes of and background to the June 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy. It includes harrowing interviews with survivors of five fires across the UK over a span of 45 years, their families and firefighters.

It demonstrates that the inferno which claimed 72 lives was not an accident, but a social crime. It was the result of the pro-big business policies of successive governments which ignored the lessons of five tragic fires, resulting in many avoidable deaths.

The voiceover explains that “previous disasters show that Grenfell was inevitable” given years of criminal neglect—including the tearing up building safety regulations and the authorities ignoring toothless inquiries—in pursuit of creating a business-friendly environment at the expense of people’s lives.

After each of the documented fires, instead of learning the lessons—don’t wrap buildings in flammable materials, install sprinklers in all high-rise buildings, scrap the stay-put policy in the event of a fire—Labour and Conservative governments callously shelved the recommendations.

Following the Summerland fire in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, which took place on the night of August 2, 1973, eyewitness Tina Brennan tells the camera “nothing like it should have ever happened again in the UK.” Fifty lives were lost in the fire, including 11 children, and 80 people were seriously injured in the blaze that, in intensity and ferocity, was likened to the Blitz.

The Summerland Holiday Park opened in May 1971, promising to be the Isle of Man’s answer to Benidorm. The park was able to cater for 10,000 tourists, with facilities spread over five floors, including a dance area, restaurants, public bars and spaces for holiday games. Despite the size of the building there was only one small entrance. The front of the building and roof were made of a transparent acrylic sheeting, Oroglass, designed to permit a sun tan even if was raining outside.

The fire began when three boys smoking cigarettes accidentally set fire to a disused crazy golf kiosk. The kiosk collapsed against the building’s exterior—made from Galbestos that had limited fire resistance properties. The fire travelled unseen up the wall’s interior, igniting the flammable Oroglass on the roof. A catalogue of mistakes compounded the disaster. Some 3,000 people inside the building were told not to panic and stay put. The fire service was not alerted for 20 minutes, and the first call came from a taxi driver who saw the fire from outside the building. When the fire suddenly ignited in a huge explosion, and molten acrylic sheeting fell on the holiday makers below, pandemonium broke out. Fire doors were locked so people were trampled trying to escape through the front entrance.

Dancer Sally Naden, who worked at Summerland, says she saw a “waterfall of flames… I saw somebody throwing their child over the balcony, hoping somebody would catch it.”

A public inquiry into the fire ran from September 1973 to February 1974. Though there was criticism of the delay in evacuation and use of flammable materials, no one was held to account and the inquiry found the deaths were due to misadventure.

The inquiry, however, found the following:

1. The rapid-fire spread and high fatalities were due to the building being wrapped in highly flammable Oroglass.

2. The advice to stay put hindered the evacuation.

3. Corners were cut when the building was erected, such as omitting sprinklers, which had they been in place, would have meant a much smaller fire.

Firefighter Godfrey Cain, who was at the scene, said, “My view is, in a fire, get out.” In relation to Grenfell, he says, “[T]he mechanism of the fire was very similar to the Summerland fire 40-odd years ago.”

The final report recommended sprinklers in all large buildings and improved safety regulations. In 1975 the House of Commons passed the Summerland amendment stipulating that the external walls of all large buildings must be fire resistant. Had this been acted upon there would have been no Grenfell fire.

The programme deals with four major fires in tower blocks following the Summerland disaster and a pattern emerges. Recommendations on safety are ignored by builders and local and central government, or ditched. After each fire, an inquiry is held to appease public anger, but no one is charged, even though—as is shown in the programme—culpability is evident.

In the 1980s, Knowsley Heights in Huyton, Merseyside was the first tower block to be wrapped in combustible cladding. It was also the first block to go up in flames, in 1991. Fortunately, no one died. The Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher had gutted building regulations, reducing 300 pages to 16. It introduced guidance, known as Approved Document B, that determined what materials could be used in construction, but which did not require cladding to be inflammable.

Firefighter Les Skarrats, who fought the Knowsley Heights blaze, declares, “I despair of a country that wraps residential tower blocks in flammable materials.” That fire also revealed that the cladding used acted as a rainscreen, so water sprayed from the fire brigade’s hoses, “was just hitting the external cladding and bouncing away”

In 1999, a similar fate awaited Garnock Court in Irvine, North Ayrshire. One year before, Garnock Court had been given a facelift—and wrapped with deadly cladding. This time there was one fatality. A firefighter who attended the incident, Ian Murray, tells viewers, “That cladding should have never been on Grenfell Tower, on any building, especially on high rises.” The local Herald screamed out its headlines, “The cladding was to blame.”

A parliamentary select committee inquiry into the blaze made ten recommendations, including a ban on the use of combustible cladding on high rise buildings. John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister in Tony Blair’s 1997-2007 Labour government, received the final report, but it was “kicked into the long grass.” The official verdict from Blair’s government was that Thatcher’s Approved Document B was sufficiently robust.

In 2005, another fire at Harrow Court in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, led to three fatalities, including two firefighters and a woman they were attempting to rescue. There would have been more casualties had the residents not ignored the stay-put policy. The Fire Brigades Union called for a review of this policy, which depended on individual flats being hermetically sealed and protected from the spread of fire for up to an hour while residents awaited rescue. The refurbishment carried out during the cladding compromised compartmentalisation, permitting rapid fire spread, rendering the stay-put policy void.

The Blair Labour government rejected recommendations from the investigation following the fire to install sprinklers and end the stay-put policy.

In 2009, Lakanal House in Camberwell, London, was the scene of the next fire in a tower block encased in combustible cladding. Six people were killed, including dressmaker Catherine Hickman, aged 31. The programme uses actors to re-enact Catherine’s final desperate 40 minutes as a 999 operator reassures her rescue is on the way. She died metres away from firefighters who were beaten back by the flames.

The coroner ruled Lakanal House abided by the building regulations in Approved Document B. The inquest did, however, recommend the retro-fitting of sprinklers in high rise blocks. The report went to Community Secretary Eric Pickles in David Cameron’s Conservative government, who wrote to local authorities merely requesting, but not making compulsory, the retro-fitting of sprinklers. Cash-strapped local authorities ignored the request.

Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, Harriet Harman, was a key figure in Blair’s government. She was Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and its chairman from June 2007 to September 2015—during the Lakanal fire and its aftermath—under leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.

We watch Harman condemn the stay-put policy, declaring, “None of us did enough.” This is duplicitous. Governments, including ones in which Harman was a central figure, took decisions that led to the avoidable deaths at Lakanal and later at Grenfell. Three years before the Lakanal fire, the Blair government updated Approved Document B. The guidance on cladding was changed, so that cladding tested for flammability would be subject to data testing only, which merely simulates the effects of fire on materials.

The Fires that Foretold Grenfell underscores the Socialist Equality Party’s indictment of the powers-that-be for social murder. The fires were the product of the unrestrained operation of the capitalist market, promoted by all the political parties in Westminster.

The Grenfell Fire Forum invites readers to its next meeting to discuss these vital issues on Saturday November 10, at 4 p.m. at the Maxilla Social Club, 2 Maxilla Walk, London W10 6SW (nearest tube Latimer Road).

For further details visit the Grenfell Fire Forum Facebook page.

South American rodents’ ancestry

This 6 November 2018 video says about itself:

When Rodents Rafted Across the Ocean

The best evidence we have suggests that, while Caviomorpha originated in South America, they came from ancestors in Africa, over 40 million years ago. So how did they get there? Thanks to Ceri Thomas for the Josephoartigasia monesi reconstruction.

Racism in Paris Saint-Germain football

This 18 February 2015 video says about itself:

Amateur footage shows Chelsea football fans preventing a black man from boarding a Paris metro train shortly before the Champions League fixture between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. The unidentified passenger attempts to squeeze on to the train, only to be pushed forcefully back on to the platform at the Richelieu-Drouot station. The fans then chant: ‘We’re racist, we’re racist and that’s the way we like it’.

These English Chelsea hooligans included a supporter of the far-right UKIP party.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The French football club Paris Saint-Germain has for years been guilty of racism within their youth academy. That reports the French website Mediapart based on articles in Football Leaks.

PSG wanted to limit the number of dark-skinned players in their youth training. Scouts of the top level club had to indicate the ethnic background of players in their reports.

The number one club in the French competition confirms to the BBC that between 2013 and 2018 the ethnicity of footballers in the academy was filled in on assessment forms. The club is now going to find out how this could have happened and which measures should be taken against whom.

General manager Jean Claude Blanc told BBC radio he was shocked and felt betrayed. It may very well be that the French champion has broken the law with this approach. The club says in a statement that the relevant forms were an initiative of one specific person.

If that statement about only one person is true, then it is probably a really influential person.

Collared aracaris eating bananas in Panama

This video says about itself:

A Banana Bonanza With Collared Aracaris – Nov. 5, 2018

Watch this group of Collared Aracaris go bananas on the Panama Fruit Feeder cam! These frugivores are often spotted in groups traveling between fruiting trees in southern Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Thankfully, the tasty offerings at the fruit feeder tempted these toucans to make a pit stop in front of the camera.

Watch LIVE 24/7 with highlights and viewing resources at

The Panama Fruit Feeder Cam is a collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Canopy Family.

I was privileged to see this species in Costa Rica.

From Afghan war to California mass shooting

This 9 November 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Tennessee Senator Gives Worst Response To Shooting Ever

Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee gave the most tone-deaf response to the recent California shooting. This is the state of our country.

On Rupert Murdoch‘s Fox News, Republican Senator Blackburn reacted to the bloodbath in Thousand Oaks in California, by an Afghan war veteran with PTSD with his legally bought gun. Senator Blackburn said, being a real Donald Trump Republican, that the solution was that more guns should be bought.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Afghanistan war veteran kills 12 at a southern California dance club

9 November 2018

Another horrible mass shooting took place in the US on Wednesday night, the 307th such episode on the 311th day of the year, according to a website that tracks gun violence.

A 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran of the Afghanistan war walked into a country music dance club in Thousand Oaks, California on Wednesday night and opened fire with a handgun, killing 12 people and wounding 25. The attacker, Ian David Long, who lived with his mother in the Newbury Park section of Thousand Oaks, some six miles away, then apparently turned the weapon on himself.

The incident is the deadliest in the US since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in mid-February, in which 17 people were killed and 14 wounded, a tragedy that sparked mass outrage and protest.

Hundreds of college students and others were on hand late Wednesday at the Borderline Bar & Grill, some 40 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, when the gunman entered. The club, located near both California Lutheran University and Pepperdine University, has a College Country Night on Wednesdays, permitting those under the drinking age to enter, with a black X marked on their hands.

By all accounts, Long, armed with a [legally bought] Glock 21, whose magazine had been illegally extended so it could hold more than the standard 10 rounds, carried out his attack with precision and determination.

According to witnesses, the gunman—dressed entirely in black and wearing a black baseball cap, sunglasses and a bandana covering the lower half of his face—first shot a security guard standing outside the club. Tim Dominguez told KABC television in Los Angeles that the intruder “shot the doorman, bouncer … just a young man. Then, he shot the cashier, just a young girl.”

Dominguez’ stepson John Hedge told reporters that the two were preparing to leave the bar when Long entered and threw several smoke grenades, before pointing his handgun and opening fire. Hedge explained to NBC News, “You start hearing pop, pop, pop. It sounded like fireworks or something … My stepdad dove and took cover and yelled at me, ‘John, hit the deck! Hide!’ So I got down. And the gunman started opening fire on the cashiers, the people working the cash register on the front desk.”

Teylor Whittler, who was celebrating her 21st birthday at the club, told Fox News, “As soon as he walked in, he had perfect form. I was born in a military family and I’ve been around guns my entire life so I know a bit about them. He looked like he knew what he was doing. He had practiced, he had been shooting before.”

Whittler also explained, “While I was inside I would say [I heard] … about a good 30 seconds [of gunshots] … He had two [magazines] that I know with him. He changed them within about six seconds, which was really fast.”

Another survivor of the shooting simply said, “He just kept firing.”

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean commented, “It’s a horrific scene in there … There’s blood everywhere.” He described the shooting as “by far, the most horrific thing I’ve seen in my 41 years.” One of the victims was a local police officer.

Long served in the Marines from 2008 to 2013 (i.e., when he was approximately 18 to 23 years old) as a machine gunner. He was deployed to Afghanistan from November 2010 to June 2011. During his time in the Marines, Long was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

According to Buzzfeed, Long belonged to “a special forces internet forum where he wrote sporadically about his experience in the military.” In one post, he wrote that “he had been deployed to Marjah in Afghanistan, where in 2010 thousands of US, British and Afghan troops launched the largest joint offensive in the war. The town in Helmand Province was a Taliban stronghold and site of Operation Moshtarak from February to December 2010, the first attack launched after the Obama administration announced plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Long’s deployment to Afghanistan overlapped for the last month of that operation.”

Operation Moshtarak, also known as the Battle of Marjah, involved some 15,000 US, Afghan, Canadian, British, Danish and Estonian troops. The aim was to drive Taliban forces out of Marjah. The latter withdrew from Marjah before the large number of foreign occupiers, but by 2016 the Taliban was back in control of the area.

Long was later deployed to Okinawa, where he served as a Jungle Warfare Training Center instructor. He left the Marines as a corporal.

Officials suggested that Long was likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Neighbors told the media that the young man was struggling mentally and emotionally.

USA Today reported that Long’s “various interactions with police over the years pointed to a man who needed professional help. None came. Neighbor Richard Berge said everyone on the block was aware when the police came to the Long home earlier this year after an incident.

“Although Berge had never been inside the Long house, he said a neighbor had reported seeing walls that were ‘full of holes’, adding that the neighbor got the impression that Long had kicked the walls in. ‘She [Long’s mother, Colleen] was worried because he wouldn’t get help’, Berge said. ‘I asked her, ‘Can’t he just get help.’ She said, ‘He can’t get help.’” Berge further asserted that Long’s mother “lived in fear”, not for herself, but for her son and for others.

The newspaper reported that neighbors called police “to complain of loud noises earlier this year that sounded like he [Long] was damaging the house, neighbor Tom Hanson told local TV stations KTLA and KTTV. ‘It sounded like he was tearing down the walls of the house’, Hanson said.”

The connection between the eruption of US militarism in every corner of the globe and the epidemic of anti-social violence and mayhem at home could hardly be clearer.

American imperialism recruits young men and women, often “economic conscripts”, to do its dirty work in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and elsewhere, forcing them to commit horrendous crimes and undergo brutal, psyche-destroying experiences. When the Pentagon has done with them, it releases them to their families and into the general public. In too many cases, these veterans are walking time-bombs.

Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University, argued in 2015 that while veterans accounted for 13 percent of the adult population, “more than a third of the adult perpetrators of the 43 worst mass killings since 1984 had been in the United States military.” He added, “It is clear that, in the etiology of mass killings, military service is an important risk factor.”

Gusterson also noted that a recent study in the Annals of Epidemiology had found “that military veterans kill themselves at 1.5 times the rate of their civilian counterparts. … Although more veterans with PTSD take their own lives than kill others, military service is a risk factor for both homicide and suicide.”

The list of mass killers with military backgrounds, according to Gusterson, included George Jo Hennard, who killed 22 in Killeen, Texas in 1991 (US Navy); Michael McDermott, who shot seven people in Wakefield, Massachusetts, in 2000 (also US Navy); Robert Flores, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war, who shot his three nursing professors in Tucson, Arizona, in 2002; Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist who killed 13 at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009; Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who killed six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, had served six years in the US Army; in 2012, Radcliffe Haughton, an ex-Marine, killed three women, including his wife, at a spa in Wisconsin; in 2013, Aaron Alexis, another Navy veteran, killed 12 at the Washington Navy Yard; in 2014, Ivan Lopez-Lopez, an Iraq War veteran, killed three at Fort Hood in Texas; and Timothy McVeigh, whose truck bomb killed 168 in Oklahoma City in 1995, was a Persian Gulf War veteran.

We could add the name of Washington, DC sniper John Allen Muhammad, another Gulf War veteran, who, along with an accomplice, killed 10 people in the so-called “Beltway sniper attacks” in October 2002. More recently, Scott Paul Beierle, who posted racist and sexist videos online and murdered two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida earlier this month, had been in the US Army from 2008 to 2010. The killer in the Parkland, Florida shooting, Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). The list goes on and on.

More generally, the spree of mass killings has its deeper roots in the toxic soil of American capitalism. Gun Violence Archive estimates that the 307 shootings involving four or more victims this year alone have claimed 1,328 lives and injured another 1,251. The website calculates that there have been 49,000 gun violence incidents so far in 2018 in the US, leading to more than 12,000 deaths. Some 45,000 Americans took their own lives in 2016, while drug overdoses killed more than 72,000 in the US in 2017.

No remotely healthy society could generate such appalling statistics. America, as we have previously noted, is a nation at war with itself.

An Associated Press reporter was obliged to point out almost despairingly: “The bloodshed was the latest in what seems to be a never-ending string of mass shootings that are happening with terrifying frequency across the United States.”

No general social state of affairs can fully explain an individual act of madness. Every person guilty of a mass killing like the Thousand Oaks tragedy has his or her specific history and psychosis. But it is possible to enumerate certain of the conditions that have created the atmosphere in which these ghastly events occur with “terrifying frequency”:

  • A quarter century or more of increasingly unrestrained imperialist violence, exercised in many cases against largely defenseless peoples. America’s rulers talk and act like killers, and not only in regard to Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans and Mexican and Central American migrants. The poor and working class in America, when they resist, will also feel the full force of state savagery.
  • Vast and malignant social inequality, which creates at one pole of society a Mount Olympus of oligarch-gods with almost unlimited economic and political power, and, at the other, a mass of people who count for nothing and who are made to feel on a daily basis that they count for nothing.
  • The filthy, corrupt, widely despised political system, to which none of the tens of millions suffering or in need can look for any assistance or relief, or regard with hope. The recent election campaign brought home the reality that both major political parties are the dedicated and declared enemies of the working class and oppressed. It cannot be an accident that the November 6 election has now been bookended, so to speak, by the massacre of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a fascist anti-Semite less than two weeks before Election Day and the mass killing in Thousand Oaks, carried out by a former Marine, two days after it.
  • The general brutalization and debasement of American society, including popular culture and the media. Nowhere on earth is life cheaper than in American films, television and popular music. Over the period of the “war on terror”, a good many film and television writers and directors have turned their attention to glorifying homicidal killers, in or out of uniform, torture and other barbarisms.

The sickness of American society is reaching a terminal state. Only social revolution can cure the disease.

VIGIL FOR THOUSAND OAKS VICTIMS Hundreds crowded the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks to pay their respects at an emotional vigil for 12 people killed in a mass shooting Wednesday night. [HuffPost]

California Bloodbath Survivor ‘Never Thought’ It Could Happen To Him: here.

NRA TO DOCTORS: ‘STAY IN YOUR LANE’ Physicians who treat bullet wounds and deal with gun-related deaths were stunned when the NRA directed “self-important anti-gun” doctors to “stay in your lane.” The Twitter attack just hours before 12 people were killed in a California bar triggered an avalanche of angry responses from physicians, other health care workers and their supporters. [HuffPost]

DOCTORS FIGHT BACK AGAINST NRA The NRA tried to push doctors out of the gun debate. They responded with raw accounts from the front lines of the crisis. [HuffPost]

FOUR DEAD IN HOSPITAL SHOOTING Four people were killed in a shooting at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, including a police officer and two hospital employees. Doctors took to social media in the aftermath to condemn the NRA. [HuffPost]