Wattled jacana cleanses feathers in Brazil


This 2 March 2019 video is about a wattled jacana cleansing its feathers in Brazil.

I saw these birds in Suriname.

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Donald Trump’s American conservatism, or American fascism?


This 26 February 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Conservative Panelist Boo’d at CPAC for ASKlNG, “Why Did We lNVlTE These NAZlS?

The GOP [United States Republican party] inexplicably invited TWO French “politicians”, Maréchal-Le Pen and her aunt Marine Le Pen

leader of the National Front; now called National Rally

-both of whom are self-professed nazis, to their annual CPAC Convention. The lady who called them out needed SECURlTY to escort her from the venue. It’s becoming harder to believe that the Republicans AREN’T the NEW NAZl Party given that Trump spoke up for them several times after Charlottesville (where they obviously felt empowered to march); he also repeatedly FAlLED to DEN0UNCE them, and N0W They are invited to CPAC! At WHICH point is it 0K to call them what they are?

By Niles Niemuth in the USA:

Trump White House leads fascistic attack on socialism at Conservative Political Action Conference

2 March 2019

This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of far-right warmongers, political cretins and Republican sycophants sponsored by the American Conservative Union, has assumed an openly fascistic character. The three-day event, being held in National Harbor, Maryland, has adopted as its dominant theme the call for a crusade against socialism first proclaimed by President Donald Trump last month in his State of the Union Address and expanded upon before an audience of far-right supporters in Miami.

Among the speakers who have thus far given the White House stamp of approval at this year’s gathering are Vice President Mike Pence, aide Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s chief trade adviser Peter Navarro, chief White House economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Trump is scheduled to address the conference today for the third consecutive year as president.

The event opened Thursday with a five-and-a-half-minute video collage presenting the Democratic Party as a looming socialist threat from which only Trump and his supporters can save America. Prominent Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, are depicted as racist and anti-Semitic

What a smear, considering Donald Trump’s inspiration for anti-Semitic violence and the CPAC inviting French anti-Semitic politicians.

socialists who are seeking to open the southern border so they can provide free health care to illegal immigrant gang members.

The video concludes with footage of President Trump at a political rally declaring that “America will never be a socialist country.”

The video set the tone for the entire affair, which reflects both the ruling financial-corporate oligarchy’s fear of the growth of the class struggle and popular support for socialism, and its determination to mobilize the most reactionary and backward social forces behind the establishment of authoritarian rule in defense of capitalism. It is highly significant that Trump is now openly raising what has always been the central focus of fascism—the war on socialism—and that the socialist threat is being defined primarily as domestic, rather than foreign.

According to those addressing the CPAC conference, socialism is any social program or regulation that might impinge on the profits of the rich, ranging from the progressive social reforms won by the working class in the course of the 20th century, including Social Security and Medicare … The aim of this anti-socialist hysteria is to complete the social counterrevolution that has been underway for the past four decades and crush the resistance of the working class.

In his speech, Pence made clear that this fascistic attack on socialism will be the centerpiece of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. This line of attack is aimed at putting the Democrats on the defensive, compelling them to deny any attachment to “socialism”, while mobilizing far-right and fascistic elements in support of Trump’s reelection. But what is involved is more than an electoral tactic. Trump and his advisers, and the financial oligarchs for whom they speak, are seeking to create the basis for a fascist movement, whether through the Republican Party or outside of it.

Running throughout the event is an undertone of violence and incitement against the real or perceived enemies of “God and Country.” One panel discussion being held today bears the title, “Left for Dead: Are There No Limits to the Progressive War on Humanity?”

Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump advisor who once declared his support for a neo-fascist paramilitary outfit in Hungary, led the way on Thursday, using his speech, ostensibly dealing with the threat of Russia, to declare that the biggest threat to the United States is “socialism here in America.” He cited a recent poll by the right-wing Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which found that a majority of young people in the US would prefer to live under socialism or communism than under capitalism.

Gorka declared that those Democrats promoting the Green New Deal “want to take away your pickup truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers.” He added, “This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.” He said his audience was on the “front lines of the war against communism coming back to America under the guise of ‘democratic socialism.’”

Right-wing radio host Glenn Beck launched a full-throated defense of the staggering levels of social inequality created by capitalism against the prospect of equality under socialism. “Socialism aims to make mankind what we are not and can never be,” Beck warned. “It works to create a state of being that does not exist in the natural world and it does it the only way it can, the only way it does, equally poor, equally enslaved and all equally dead.” He went on to attack democracy, saying, “Slavery by majority vote is still slavery.”

Taking up these themes, Vice President Pence extolled the virtues of “freedom” versus socialism, warning that the Democrats would bring the dire social and economic conditions that prevail in Venezuela to the United States. Amid chants of “USA! USA!” from the audience, he proclaimed, “The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment that America ceases to be America. And as the president said 24 days ago, so we must say with one voice, ‘America will never be a socialist country.’”

Kudlow, a multi-millionaire former banker who took in $4 million a year as a media pundit on CNBC, urged his listeners to use the upcoming election to “put socialism on trial” and “convict” it.

Trump and his far-right base have been emboldened by the Democratic Party and the media, which have made no criticisms or warnings about his declaration of war against socialism. …  Campaigning for president in New Hampshire last month, Kamala Harris announced, “I am not a democratic socialist.”

The Trump presidency: From the Manhattan underworld to the White House: here.

Author DeAnna Lorraine slammed the “soy scouts” at a CPAC event after the organization decided last year to open their ranks to girls.

CONSERVATIVE ICON SHREDS TRUMP ‘CULT’ The Republican Party for decades was the party of conservative ideas, but longtime conservative commentator George F. Will said the GOP has abandoned those tenets to support Trump. “It’s become a cult because of an absence of ideas,” he said. [HuffPost]

Swiss Triassic fossil fish, new study


Fossil Fish Eosemionotus diskosomus. Credit: A. López-Arbarello

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Paleontology: Diversification after mass extinction

March 1, 2019

A team led by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich paleontologist Adriana López-Arbarello has identified three hitherto unknown fossil fish species in the Swiss Alps, which provide new insights into the diversification of the genus Eosemionotus.

Monte San Giorgio in the Swiss canton of Ticino is one of the most important known sources of marine fossils from the Middle Triassic Period (around 240 million years ago). The new and exquisitely preserved fossil fish specimens, which Dr. Adriana López-Arbarello (a member of the Institute of Paleontology and Geobiology and of the Geobiocenter at LMU) has been studying in collaboration with colleagues based in Switzerland were also discovered in these dolomites and limestones. As the researchers now report in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica, the specimens represent three previously unknown species of Eosemionotus, a genus of ray-finned fishes. “The largest episode of mass extinction in the history of the Earth took place about 250 million years ago,” as López-Arbarello explains. “Our finds now provide further evidence that after this catastrophic event, the biosphere recovered relatively fast and went through a period of rapid diversification and the emergence of numerous new species during the Middle Triassic.”

The first member of the genus Eosemionotus was discovered in the vicinity of Berlin in 1906, and was named E. vogeli. Almost a century later, in 2004, a second species was described from Monte San Giorgio as E. ceresiensis. Detailed anatomical studies of new material from this locality, carried out by López-Arbarello, have now enabled the recognition of three further species that can be assigned to same genus — E. diskosomus, E. sceltrichensis and E. minutus. All five species are small in size, but they can be clearly distinguished from each other on the basis of the relative proportions of their bodies, the position of the fins, the morphology of the skull, and the disposition of teeth and scales. “These differences indicate that each species was adapted to different ecological niches,” López-Arbarello concludes.

These findings provide new insights into the evolution of the genus. “Our phylogenetic analyses demonstrate that Eosemionotus is the oldest known member of an extinct family within the Order Semionotiformes. Although the Semionotiformes were a species-rich and highly diversified clade during the Mesozoic Era, the order died out in the Cretaceous. Only a few members of its sister group have survived down to the present day, and this ancient lineage is now represented by a single family, the gars,” says López-Arbarello.

Stop war between nuclear armed India, Pakistan!


This Associated Press video from South Korea says about itself:

Protest in Seoul against Indian PM’s peace award

(22 Feb 2019) A human rights activist on Friday protested against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi receiving a peace award in Seoul. Na Hyun-phil attempted to enter the Seoul Peace Award ceremony at a hotel in central Seoul, but was deterred by the police.

In an interview, Na said Modi does not deserve the peace award as he is responsible for a massacre of Muslims during his time as a state governor.

By Keith Jones:

India and Pakistan tobogganing toward a catastrophic war

2 March 2019

India and Pakistan, South Asia’s rival nuclear-armed states, are teetering on the brink of a full-scale military conflict. Early Tuesday morning, Indian warplanes attacked Pakistan for the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. Striking deep inside Pakistan, they destroyed what New Delhi claims was the principal “terror base” of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist group involved in the separatist insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir.

After a brief period of confusion, as it assessed the damage and strategic implications of the Indian attack, Islamabad vowed a strong military response. Pakistan, it declared, would not allow India to “normalize” illegal US or Israeli-style attacks inside Pakistan, whether mounted in the name of retaliation for, or preemptive strikes against, Kashmiri insurgent attacks.

The next day, Indian and Pakistani war planes engaged in a dogfight over the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, after Islamabad launched what New Delhi claims was an unsuccessful strike on Indian military installations. Both sides are claiming to have shot down at least one enemy plane in Wednesday’s encounter, with Islamabad presenting a captured Indian pilot as proof of its claim.

The US, China, Russia and other world powers are now publicly scrambling to avert the eruption of all-out war—a war they concede could quickly spiral into a catastrophic nuclear exchange, even were it to be “confined” to the subcontinent. Yet even as they counsel restraint and make offers of mediation, the great powers—themselves locked in, to use the Pentagon’s term, “a new era of strategic competition”—are trying to use the South Asian war crisis to advance their own geostrategic interests.

Washington, in particular, has used the standoff to further its efforts to diplomatically and militarily encircle China. It publicly greenlighted India’s attack on Pakistan as “self-defense”, and is using the current crisis to underscore the strength of the Indo-US “global strategic partnership”.

Adding to the explosiveness of the situation are the interconnected socio-economic and political crises buffeting the two states, headed respectively by Narendra Modi and his Hindu supremacist BJP and the Islamic populist Imran Khan.

Elected Pakistan’s Prime Minister just seven months ago on promises of jobs, development, and increased social spending, Khan has seen his popularity plummet as his government implements IMF-demanded austerity. Modi and his BJP are shamelessly using the war crisis to muster votes for India’s multi-stage April-May general election. The BJP is accusing the opposition of imperiling “national unity”, for not ceasing all criticism of the government and for not trumpeting its claims that the “strongman” Modi has thrown off the shackles of “strategic restraint” in India’s relations with Pakistan.

With the full support of the military, the corporate media, and virtually the entire opposition, the Modi government has rejected Khan’s offer of talks. New Delhi is insisting, as it has for years, that there will be no high-level interactions, let alone “peace negotiations”, between India and Pakistan until Islamabad demonstratively capitulates to New Delhi’s demands by cutting off all logistical support from Pakistan for the Kashmir insurgency.

A nuclear catastrophe in the making?

No one should underestimate the danger of what would be the first-ever war between nuclear-armed states. Since the 2001-2002 war crisis, which saw a million Indian troops deployed on the Pakistan border for nine months, both countries have developed hair-trigger strategies, with a dynamic impelling rapid escalation. In response to India’s Cold Start strategy, which calls for the rapid mobilization of Indian forces for a multi-front invasion of Pakistan, Islamabad has deployed tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. India has, in return, signaled that any use by Pakistan of tactical nuclear weapons will break the “strategic threshold,” freeing India from its “no first use” nuclear-weapon pledge, and be met with strategic nuclear retaliation.

All this would play out in a relatively small, densely populated area. The center of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city with a population in excess of 11 million, lies little more than 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from the Indian border. The distance from New Delhi to Islamabad is significantly less than that between Berlin and Paris or New York and Detroit and would be travelled by a nuclear-armed missile in a matter of minutes.

A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would not only kill tens of millions in South Asia. A 2008 simulation conducted by scientists who in the 1980s alerted the world to the threat of “nuclear winter” determined that the detonation of a hundred Hiroshima-scale nuclear weapons in an Indo-Pakistani war would, due to the destruction of large cities, inject so much smoke and ash into the upper atmosphere as to trigger a global agricultural collapse. This, they predicted, would lead to a billion deaths in the months that followed South Asia’s “limited” nuclear war.

Whatever the immediate outcome of the latest war crisis—and events could easily spin out of control in the next days or weeks—it exemplifies how the breakdown of the postwar geopolitical order and the resulting surge in imperialist antagonisms and inter-state rivalry are inflaming all the unresolved conflicts and problems of the Twentieth Century: a century in which capitalism survived the challenge of socialist revolution, but only by dragging humanity through two world wars, fascism, and countless other horrors.

Partition and the historic failure of the national bourgeoisie

The Indo-Pakistan conflict is rooted in the 1947 communal partition of the subcontinent into an expressly Muslim Pakistan and a predominantly Hindu India—a crime perpetrated by South Asia’s departing British overlords and the political representatives of the rival factions of the native bourgeoisie, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League.

Partition defied historical, cultural and economic logic and unleashed a firestorm of communal violence in which two million people were killed and another 18 million fled India to Pakistan or vice versa. But it served the cynical interests of the rival ruling elites of India and Pakistan, by bringing a bloody end to the mass anti-imperialist upsurge that had convulsed South Asia during the preceding three decades; and by giving them, as part of the independence-partition deal with London, control of the British-colonial capitalist state machine with which to meet the threat from an increasingly combative working class.

Unable to find any progressive solution to the problems of the masses, the Indian and Pakistani bourgeois have for the past seven decades used their strategic rivalry and communally-laced nationalist appeals as a mechanism for diverting social anger in reactionary directions.

The open wound that is Kashmir is testimony to their common bankruptcy. The Indian bourgeoisie has subjected the population of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian’s only Muslim majority state, to three decades of military occupation and expresses consternation at the continued mass popular disaffection with Indian rule there, even as it celebrates a party and prime minster implicated in anti-Muslim pogroms.

As for Pakistan’s venal ruling elite, it has run roughshod over the rights of the Kashmiris over whom it rules, and has manipulated the opposition in Jammu and Kashmir to bring forward the most reactionary Islamist elements.

For a working-class led movement against war and imperialism

Over the past two decades, the nature of the Indo-Pakistani conflict has been transformed. It has become enmeshed evermore inextricably with the US-China confrontation, giving it a massive new explosive charge, and raising the threat that an Indo-Pakistani conflict could draw in the world’s great powers.

Since the beginning of the current century, Washington, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, has aggressively courted India, showering it with strategic favours, including access to advanced civilian nuclear fuel and technology and advanced US weaponry, with the aim of harnessing New Delhi to its strategic agenda.

The importance that US war-planners attach to South Asia and the Indian Ocean—the waterway that is the conduit for the oil and other resources that fuel China’s economy, as well as its exports to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East—is underscored by the recent renaming of the US Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command.

Under Modi, as attested by India’s opening of its bases to US warplanes and ships and its increasing bilateral, trilateral, and quadrilateral strategic cooperation with the US, and its principal regional allies (Japan and Australia), India has been transformed into a veritable “frontline state” in the US military-strategic offensive against China.

Islamabad, during the Cold War Washington’s principal South Asian ally, has warned in increasingly shrill tones that US actions have shattered the “balance of power” in the region and emboldened India, but to no avail.

Consequently, Pakistan has dramatically strengthened its longstanding military-strategic partnership with China, which similarly fears the burgeoning Indo-US alliance.

Even as the US seeks to cool the current Indo-Pakistani tensions, on the calculation an all-out South Asian war would at this point cut across its global objectives, it does so within the framework of its drive for world hegemony including ultimately subjugating China. As part of this drive, Washington has made clear that it is determined to thwart China’s efforts to make Pakistan an anchor of its One Belt, One Road Initiative, and in particular to use the China Pakistan Economic Corridor to counteract US plans to economically blockade China by seizing Indian Ocean and South China Sea “chokepoints.”

The workers and toilers of India and Pakistan must join forces in opposition to the criminal war preparations of the ruling elite.

In South Asia, as around the world, the struggle against war is inseparable from the struggle against capitalism—against the rival nationally-based capitalist cliques whose rapacious struggle for markets, profits and strategic advantage finds ultimate expression in the drive for the repartition of the world; and against the outmoded, and in the case of South Asia, communally-infused nation-state system, in which capitalism is historically rooted.

In opposition to the bourgeoisie’s program of war, austerity, and communal reaction, workers and socialist-minded youth in South Asia should fight for the building of a working-class led movement against war and imperialism, as part of a global antiwar movement.

India and Pakistan issue fresh war threats: here.

War tensions between India and Pakistan continue to escalate, posing the danger of an all-out military conflict involving nuclear weapons. At least six civilians and two Pakistani soldiers were killed on Friday and Saturday as a result of cross-border shelling from both sides along the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the two parts of Kashmir ruled by India and Pakistan. Indian and Pakistani troops have attacked each other’s military posts and villages: here.

Cross-border shelling across the Line of Control (LOC) that separates Indian- and Pakistan-held Kashmir has reportedly declined over the past 48 hours. However, tensions between South Asia’s rival nuclear-armed powers remain extremely high, leaving the region teetering on the brink of a catastrophic war. Both sides continue to exchange bellicose threats and to accuse each other of preparing further military strikes, including “terrorist” attacks and covert operations: here.

Reports underscore how close India and Pakistan came to all-out war in late February: here.

Carnivorous mammals and humans in Africa


This video says about itself:

Travel video I made after my trip to Kenya this summer 2017. This is the Masai Mara National Park, a beautiful animal reserve: the most famous one in Kenya.

Shot with a Sony a58, Canon 70D and some action cameras.

From Michigan State University in the USA:

More humans always mean fewer African carnivores, right? Nope

March 1, 2019

African carnivores face numerous threats from humans. So, it’s a fair assumption that the presence of more humans automatically equates to decreases across the board for carnivores.

New research led by Michigan State University and published in the current issue of Ecological Applications, however, shows that’s not always the case. The truth is some species decrease while others increase, which reveals how varying conservation and management policies can impact carnivores.

Matthew Farr, MSU quantitative ecologist and lead author of the study, sought to evaluate how a community of carnivores in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve were influenced by human disturbance and differential management. The Kenyan reserve is divided into two sections by the Mara River. On the western side, known as the Mara Triangle, stricter enforcement policies result in low levels of human disturbance, which work to keep the area relatively pristine. A subsection of the eastern side, known as the Talek region, however, experiences many human incursions, from cattle herders to throngs of tourists. The stark differences are captured by Google Earth, which shows multiple trails carved into the Talek region where cattle commute to graze.

Lions have responded negatively to the increased human activity, and sightings have decreased in the Talek region”, Farr said. “On the other hand, hyenas are thriving in disturbed Talek. We were interested in understanding how other species may be responding to these anthropogenic changes and how the carnivore community as a whole is faring.”

Farr teamed up with MSU scientists Elise Zipkin, Kay Holekamp, Gary Roloff and David Green (now at Oregon State University), to examine how human disturbance influences the carnivore community. The team observed nine other carnivores, including banded mongooses, bat-eared foxes, black-backed jackals, cheetahs, slender mongooses, leopards, caracals, servals and side-striped jackals, in addition to lions and hyenas.

“Analyzing data for a full community is tricky,” Zipkin said. “Many carnivore species are rare and difficult to detect, but we wanted to use all the information we had to get a full picture of the effects of human disturbance.”

Using records from all observations, the team created a model, linking abundance data for each species. The shared information across the carnivore community helped inform the model for the rarer animals, where data are sparse. It was this model, in fact, that confirmed the discrepancies between individual species’ responses to human disturbance.

“Our model indicated that passive enforcement of wildlife regulations and policies in the Talek region is having adverse effects on many of the carnivores,” Farr said. “Specifically, bat-eared foxes, leopards, lions and servals are suffering when compared to the active-enforcement approach within the Mara Triangle.”

However, the model also showed that carnivores don’t react uniformly to blanket conservation policy. Hyenas and black-backed jackals are thriving in the Talek region in the face of high human disturbance.

“By taking a community-wide approach rather than focusing on a single species, we avoided overlooking important intra-community variability that showed some carnivores benefiting from lax management.” Farr said. “However, even if some species increase in response to anthropogenic disturbance, that may not necessarily be a good thing as there might be other unintended consequences to the ecosystem.”

Land managers now have important information on how management practices can differentially affect carnivores. The results from this research will help drive conservation efforts in the Talek region, which are already improving due to changes in management. The number of cattle grazing has been drastically reduced, and the lions are starting to return to the region.

No more blackface in Brussels, Belgium


A noiraud in Brussels, Belgium

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

No more blackface make-up for Brussels ‘noirauds’ [‘darkies’]

A Brussels tradition to collect money for charities in blackface is going to change. From now on the ‘noirauds’ will take to the streets in the colours of the Belgian flag.

Since 1876, the city’s celebrities have been collecting money every year in blackface. They supposedly represent ‘African noblemen’, because the conquest of Africa at that time [by Belgian King Leopold II] appealed to the imagination.

Recently the tradition came under fire, just like Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands. In 2015 there was even an international fuss when [Foreign Affairs] Minister Didier Reynders took part in the custom.

Many critics made a connection with the colonial past of Belgium and pointed to the atrocities in Congo. The minister did not see the problem …

Evolution

The noirauds organization sees it differently nowadays. “The mission is jeopardized by the fuss about our appearance, which is why we want to evolve”, says a spokesperson. “A new look fits the spirit of the times.”

The next collection campaign of the ‘noirauds’ will be held from 14 to 17 March. Then the new colours will also be seen for the first time.