White storks, dragonflies and butterflies


This 2 April 2017 video from the Netherlands is about the Bert Bospad nature trail and Einde Gooi nature reserve.

It starts with two white storks at their nest.

On 30 June 2019, we walked along the Bert Bospad.

A skylark sings.

Reed bunting sound.

Lots of reed warblers singing.

A grey heron. A great egret.

Many black-tailed skimmer dragonflies, some in tandems.

A red admiral butterfly. Painted ladies.

A common tern flies overhead.

A great cormorant.

An oystercatcher.

As we walk back, a chiffchaff sings.

Swifts flying.

A mute swan, coots and great crested grebes swimming.

Narrowleaf plantain flowering.

A big flock of gray lag geese.

A lapwing.

Finally, five white storks flying overhead.

Sri Lankan Saudi, Trump-style ‘war on drugs’


Demonstration against death penalty in Sri Lankan capital Colombo, EPA photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Sri Lanka is going to carry out the death penalty again and employs two executioners

Sri Lanka has appointed two official executioners to carry out the first executions since 43 years. Last February, President Sirisena announced that four convicted drug criminals would be put to death by hanging.

The verdict must be executed by specially trained executioners, but the last one left five years ago without ever executing anyone.

More than 100 candidates responded to the vacancy, in which they asked for people with ‘a strong moral character’. Two US Americans and two women also applied for the position, although foreigners and women were excluded from the procedure in advance.

The two men hired are now in the final phase of their education and must be ready in two weeks. …

By a government measure in 1977, the death penalty was automatically converted to life imprisonment.

Amnesty International says it is “shocked and indignant” and argues that executions for drug-related offenses are illegal.

First ever Dutch long-tailed ducks born


This 2018 video from Alaska is about long-tailed ducks.

As the tweet below here shows, on 27 June 2019 it became known that for the first time ever, long-tailed ducks had nested in the Netherlands. Four ducklings had hatched on an island in the new Marken Wadden nature reserve in the IJsselmeer lake.

A very unusual, southern, site for this mainly Arctic species. The young birds will eat especially mosquitoes, which are plentiful there.

Spanish censorship of research on Franco atrocities


This is a 2012 Spanish video about poets in the prisons of dictator Franco.

By Alejandro López in Spain:

Spain’s University of Alicante censors scholarly articles on fascist repression

27 June 2019

In an unprecedented decision, the University of Alicante (UA) agreed to a request from a fascist lieutenant’s son to censor scholarly articles linking his father to deadly repression at the time of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This sets a dangerous precedent to censor academic research, opening the door to large-scale revision of the history of Spanish fascism.

Last week, the UA provisionally agreed to erase from two digital articles written by Professor Juan Antonio Ríos Carratalá the name of lieutenant Antonio Luis Baena Tocón, who participated in the fascist repression. Baena was secretary in the council of war that condemned to death the famous poet Miguel Hernández. Another article by Ríos Carratalá, “The Diego San José case, the shadow of Miguel Hernández and the humourist judge” was removed from the UA’s Institutional Repository.

The fascist regime led by General Francisco Franco was one of Europe’s most repressive regimes in the 20th century. More than 200,000 men and women were executed during the Civil War, and another 200,000 died in fascist concentration camps. Officially, 114,266 people are still classified as “disappeared”, that is, their bodies were abandoned or buried by paramilitary units of the fascist Falange or by the military. Hundreds of thousands of others fled Spain and remained in exile until the fall of the dictatorship.

Hernández was a poet and playwright associated with the Generation of ’27 movement and the Generation of ’36 movement, and is recognised as one of great Spanish poets. During the Civil War, he campaigned against Franco’s fascist forces, enrolling in the Communist Party-led Fifth Regiment, and joined the First Cavalry Company as a cultural-affairs officer, reading his poetry daily on the radio. He travelled extensively, organising cultural events and reading his poetry at rallies and on the front lines to Republican forces fighting the fascists.

Hernández did not escape Spain after the Republican surrender to Franco in April 1939. He was arrested multiple times after the war for his anti-fascist sympathies. He was eventually sentenced to death as “an extremely dangerous and despicable element to all good Spaniards.” Franco later commuted his sentence to 30 years in prison, to avoid making him an international martyr like Federico Garcia Lorca—the celebrated poet, playwright, and theatre director who was executed by fascist forces at the beginning of the civil war.

The harshness of his incarceration took its toll, however, and Hernández died of tuberculosis in 1942, at the age of 31.

According to Ríos Carratalá, Baena Tocón was a secondary figure in fascist repression, but supported it. Carratalá writes that Baena Tocón, “the person who could have told the specialists in the biography of Miguel Hernández so much, carried out an essential task during the postwar period, under the orders of the investigating judge: purging, emptying and eliminating the collection of republican press deposited in the library of Madrid. His objective was to search for ‘crimes’, whose consequences could be a death sentence.”

Now, however, Antonio Luis Baena Tocón will only be linked with Hernández’s death through his initials in Ríos Carratalá’s articles. The fascist lieutenant’s son complained to El País: “I have found various falsehoods about the way he was and acted … They present him as an executioner, while he was another victim” of Franco.

… Now, amid a broad promotion of Francoism in the Spanish ruling elite, researchers are to be forbidden to identify the authors of its bloody crimes.

Over 40 years later, after decades of increasing war since the 1991 Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union, and a decade of draconian social austerity since the 2008 financial crisis, Spanish capitalism is in a deep crisis. Amid the discrediting of the post-Francoite Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP) duopoly, police brutally cracked down on the 2017 Catalan independence referendum. The ruling elite was then promoting Vox, an explicitly pro-Francoite party linked to the army, granting it air time and allowing it to establish itself in mainstream politics.

As part and parcel of this offensive, the Spanish ruling class is now seeking to suppress the record of its bloody crimes under fascism in order to legitimise the resurgence of Spanish fascism.

The UA’s resolution comes just weeks after Spain’s Supreme Court issued a ruling endorsing Franco’s 1936 fascist coup. Claiming that the removal of Franco’s remains from the “Valley of the Fallen”, a state-run monument, would be “extraordinarily harmful” to the “public interest”, the court referred to Franco as “head of state from 1 October 1936 until his death in November 1975.” This unprecedented ruling implies that the state considers as legitimate Franco’s declaration that he was head of state, based on launching a fascist coup against an elected government.

The UA’s resolution is receiving growing opposition.

Ana Martínez Rus, Professor of Contemporary History at University Complutense of Madrid told eldiario.org: “I’m very angry … [the resolution] questions our profession and is another obstacle to writing about the Franco regime.”

Enumerating everything that the resolution questions, Martinez Rus lists “Freedom of teaching and expression, scientific rigor, historiographical practice, the right to information.” She added that it opens a precedent: “All of us can get involved in a lawsuit, and not only about the civil war, this can be extended to other times, everyone is a descendent from someone and has a surname. They do not want their names to appear as repressors, and we end up not knowing the magnitude. This opens the Pandora’s box, it leaves us helpless.”

Ismael Saz, professor at Valencia University, said the resolution is “academic censorship, one of the worst kind”. He added that “we work with people, not statues, with victims and repressors.”

Saz also linked the case to the Supreme Court’s recent endorsement of Franco, stating that “It comes just 10 days after the Supreme Court’s resolution recognising the dictator since ’36. … Francoism continues to raise blisters because they won a war, lasted a lot, and during the Transition there was no break with it.”

The opposition to the censorship was also visible on Twitter. Hours after El País posted the story, tens of thousands of users repeated the name of Antonio Luis Baena Tocón, the name of the university or Miguel Hernández, making these terms the Trending Topic in Spain in the social network. Many Twitter users stressed that they did not want the name of Antonio Luis Baena Tocón to be forgotten.

The author also recommends:

Spain’s Supreme Court endorses 1936 fascist coup
[17 June 2019]

The Spanish elections and the struggle against authoritarian rule
[27 April 2019]

Dutch queen criticized for Saudi prince meeting


This 20 June 2019 video says about itself:

Khashoggi killing: UN report demands investigation into Saudi Prince Bin Salman | DW News

A new report by UN human rights expert Agnes Callamard looking into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has recommended an investigation into the possible role of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Jamal Khashoggi was killed in October last year at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in Turkey. Now Agnes Callamard says there must be a follow-up criminal investigation into any role Crown Prince bin Salman may have played.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

‘UN rapporteur expresses strong criticism after meeting of [Dutch Queen] Máxima with Saudi crown prince

The UN rapporteur investigating the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has strongly criticized the meeting between Queen Máxima and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. To [Dutch daily] Algemeen Dagblad, UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard accuses the queen of complicity by not discussing the Khashoggi case with the prince.

This tweet is about that meeting at the Osaka G20 summit between Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia and Dutch Queen Máxima, born in Argentina, the daughter of a dictatorship minister.

The sarcastic caption says, translated:

MBS: How did they disappear people in Argentina? Máxima: They were thrown from helicopters. MBS: Oh, we use bone saws.

Queen Máxima spoke to Mohammed bin Salman during the G20 summit in Japan. The two discussed, eg, improving the economic position of women in Saudi Arabia.

Dear Queen Maxima: before the Saudi women activists who made driving cars for women possible can even think of improving their economic position, then first: 1. The crown prince regime’s torturers will have to stop torturing them. 2. They will have to be freed from death row in prison. 3. The threat of them getting the death penalty by beheading for so-called ‘terrorism’ has to stop.

The murder of Khashoggi has not been discussed, the Dutch Government Information Service said earlier. The journalist was killed last year in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Callamard tells the AD that she finds it incomprehensible that Máxima did not raise the issue. “It is one thing to meet this man, it is something else to remain silent. At this point, silence equals complicity.”

Earlier this week a UN report appeared that there is convincing evidence that the prince is involved in the murder of the journalist. Callamard wants an international investigation to be launched into Mohammed bin Salman. She also called on countries to have sanctions against Saudi Arabia and the crown prince.

Callamard is clear about not raising the case. “If you do not speak and do not demand justice, it suggests that you have no scruples. Silence, turning a blind eye, a ‘business as usual approach’ towards the increasingly aggressive tactics of too many autocrats: those are not the characteristics of leadership that we should expect.”

Ministry informed

Máxima was at the Osaka Summit as a special United Nations advocate for inclusive financing. The conversation with the crown prince was primarily intended as preparatory work for the next G20 in Saudi Arabia, next November.

When asked about the story in the AD, Callamard informed Nieuwsuur TV news that people in high positions with moral or political authority should not close their eyes to injustice, abuse of power, war crimes or other matters. “Because of the power and influence they have, they have to use their voice where others cannot.”

“Criticism on the rise”

“The criticism of the meeting of the queen with the crown prince is growing even more with this”, says Royal House reporter Kysia Hekster. “Máxima’s UN job must be neutral, but she has now ended up in political waters. That is detrimental to her position.”

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs says the ministry was aware of the meeting between the queen and the prince. “That is usual with international performances by members of the Royal Family.”

Last October, Minister Hoekstra and Minister Kaag canceled their visits to Saudi Arabia because of the murder of Khashoggi. Dutch King Willem-Alexander called his death “a very serious matter”.

Astonishment in parliament

The House of Representatives was surprised by the meeting yesterday. “Anyone who approved this conversation between Queen Máxima and the Saudi crown prince, doesn’t understand anything about diplomacy and even less about optics,” writes MP Sjoerdsma of [government coalition party] D66.

Socialist Party Member of Parliament Karabulut wonders what the purpose of the conversation was. “Is it really true that she did not talk about the murder of journalist Khashoggi? Incomprehensible”, she writes on Twitter.

On Monday, the Lower House will hold a previously planned consultation on human rights policy. D66, GroenLinks and SP announce that they will discuss Queen Máxima’s conversation with the Saudi crown prince there.

Queen Máxima also had a private talk with Donald Trump. This tweet shows Queen Máxima with Trump, his daughter Ivanka, etc.

According to Saudi media, the crown prince had ‘spoken with the Dutch queen about cooperation between both kingdoms.’

Queen Máxima should be ashamed about this: here.

Platitudes at the G20 can’t mask a world on the brink of war: here.

Dinosaurs extinct, lichens survived


This 25 January 2018 video says about itself:

What’s in a Lichen? How Scientists Got It Wrong for 150 Years | Short Film Showcase

For 150 years, scientists believed lichen were defined by a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and algae. Meet the team of researchers who upended this belief in this short film by Andy Johnson, Talia Yuki Moore, Chris A. Johns, and Kate Furby.

From the Field Museum in the USA:

When the dinosaurs died, lichens thrived

Mass extinction hurt land plants, but DNA shows that some fungus/plant combo organisms rose up

June 28, 2019

Summary: When the asteroid hit, dinosaurs weren’t the only ones that suffered. Clouds of ash blocked the sun and cooled the planet’s temperature, devastating plant life. But fungi, which decompose dead stuff, did well. So what happened to the lichens, which are made of a plant and fungus living together as one organism?

When an asteroid smacked into the Earth 66 million years ago, it triggered mass extinctions all over the planet. The most famous victims were the dinosaurs, but early birds, insects, and other life forms took a hit too. The collision caused clouds of ash to block the sun and cool the planet’s temperature, devastating plant life. But a new study in Scientific Reports shows that while land plants struggled, some kinds of lichens — organisms made of fungi and algae living together — seized the moment and evolved into new forms to take up plants’ role in the ecosystem.

“We thought that lichens would be affected negatively, but in the three groups we looked at, they seized the chance and diversified rapidly,” says Jen-Pang Huang, the paper’s first author, a former postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum now at Academia Sinica in Taipei. “Some lichens grow sophisticated 3D structures like plant leaves, and these ones filled the niches of plants that died out.”

The researchers got interested in studying the effects of the mass extinction on lichens after reading a paper about how the asteroid strike also caused many species of early birds to go extinct. “I read it on the train, and I thought, ‘My god, the poor lichens, they must have suffered too, how can we trace what happened to them?'” says Thorsten Lumbsch, senior author on the study and the Field Museum’s curator of lichenized fungi.

You’ve seen lichens a million times, even if you didn’t realize it. “Lichens are everywhere,” says Huang. “If you go on a walk in the city, the rough spots or gray spots you see on rocks or walls or trees, those are common crust lichens. On the ground, they sometimes look like chewing gum. And if you go into a more pristine forest, you can find orange, yellow, and vivid violet colors — lichens are really pretty.” They’re what scientists call “symbiotic organisms” — they’re made up of two different life forms sharing one body and working together. They’re a partnership between a fungus and an organism that can perform photosynthesis, making energy from sunlight — either a tiny algae plant, or a special kind of blue-green bacterium. Fungi, which include mushrooms and molds, are on their own branch on the tree of life, separate from plants and animals (and actually more closely related to us than to plants). The main role of fungi is to break down decomposing material.

During the mass extinction 66 million years ago, plants suffered since ash from the asteroid blocked out sunlight and lowered temperatures. But the mass extinction seemed to be a good thing for fungi — they don’t rely on sunlight for food and just need lots of dead stuff, and the fossil record shows an increase in fungal spores at this time. Since lichens contain a plant and a fungus, scientists wondered whether they were affected negatively like a plant or positively like a fungus.

“We originally expected lichens to be affected in a negative way, since they contain green things that need light,” says Huang.

To see how lichens were affected by the mass extinction, the scientists had to get creative — there aren’t many fossil lichens from that time frame. But while the researchers didn’t have lichen fossils, they did have lots of modern lichen DNA.

From observing fungi growing in lab settings, scientists know generally how often genetic mutations show up in fungal DNA — how frequently a letter in the DNA sequence accidentally gets switched during the DNA copying process. That’s called the mutation rate. And if you know the mutation rate, if you compare the DNA sequences of two different species, you can generally extrapolate how long ago they must have had a common ancestor with the same DNA.

The researchers fed DNA sequences of three families of lichens into a software program that compared their DNA and figured out what their family tree must look like, including estimates of how long ago it branched into the groups we see today. They bolstered this information with the few lichen fossils they did have, from 100 and 400 million years ago. And the results pointed to a lichen boom after 66 million years ago, at least for some of the leafier lichen families.

“Some groups don’t show a change, so they didn’t suffer or benefit from the changes to the environment,” says Lumbsch, who in addition to his work on lichens is the Vice President of Science and Education at the Field. “Some lichens went extinct, and the leafy macrolichens filled those niches. I was really happy when I saw that not all the lichens suffered.”

The results underline how profoundly the natural world we know today was shaped by this mass extinction. “If you could go back 40 million years, the most prominent groups in vegetation, birds, fungi — they’d be more similar to what you see now than what you’d see 70 million years ago,” says Lumbsch. “Most of what we see around us nowadays in nature originated after the dinosaurs.”

And since this study shows how lichens responded to mass extinction 66 million years ago, it could shed light on how species will respond to the mass extinction the planet is currently undergoing. “Before we lose the world’s biodiversity, we should document it, because we don’t know when we’ll need it,” says Huang. “Lichens are environmental indicators — by simply doing a biodiversity study, we can infer air quality and pollution levels.”

Beyond the potential implications in understanding environmental impacts and mass extinctions, the researchers point to the ways the study deepens our understanding of the world around us.

“For me, it’s fascinating because you would not be able to do this without large molecular datasets. This would have been impossible ten years ago,” says Lumbsch. “It’s another piece to the puzzle to understanding what’s around us in nature.”

“We expect a lot of patterns from studying other organisms, but fungi don’t follow the pattern. Fungi are weird,” says Huang. “They’re really unpredictable, really diverse, really fun.”

This study was contributed to by researchers from the Field Museum, Kasetsart University, Brigham Young University, and Academia Sinica.