Dinosaur age Triassic tuatara relative discovery

This 5 February 2018 video from Britain says about itself:

New small reptile species that lived 205 million years ago discovered in a quarry in South Wales

Fossils discovered in a quarry in South Wales have been identified as a new small species of reptile that lived 205 million years ago. The species has been called Clevosaurus cambrica, the second part is Latin and refers to the fact that it comes from Wales.

They belong to a new species of Clevosaurus (Gloucester lizard), named in 1939 after Clevum, the Latin name of Gloucester.

The new species, Clevosaurus cambrica lived side by side with a small dinosaur, Pantydraco, and a crocodile-like animal, Terrestrisuchus.

We compared it with other examples of Clevosaurus from places around Bristol and South Gloucestershire, but our new beast is quite different in the arrangement of its teeth. In the Late Triassic period, the foothills of south Wales and southwest England formed an archipelago that was inhabited by small dinosaurs and relatives of the tuatara, a reptilian ‘living fossil’ from New Zealand. The limestone quarries of the region have many caves or fissures that contain sediments filled with bones of small species of reptiles that collapsed at the feet of dinosaurs.

Now, another relative of these reptiles, found far from Wales.

From Midwestern University in the USA:

In the shadow of the dinosaurs

A new sphenodontian from Brazil is the oldest record of the group in Gondwana

August 14, 2019

Research published this Wednesday (August 14th) in Scientific Reports describes Clevosaurus hadroprodon, a new reptile species from Rio Grande do Sul state in southern Brazil. Its fossils remains — jaws and associated skull bones — were collected from Triassic rocks (c. 237-228 million-years old) making it the oldest known fossil of its kind in Gondwana, the southern supercontinent that would eventually become Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India, and South America.

Clevosaurus hadroprodon was a small animal, similar in size with common house geckos. It belongs to the Sphenodontia, a group of lepidosaurs (which also includes snakes, lizards and amphisbaenians), that was very diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic era (the “Age of Dinosaurs”), but today has only one remaining living species in New Zealand. Clevosaurus hadroprodon is the oldest member of the Clevosauridae, a group of small sphenodonts that were the first globally distributed lepidosaurs with fossils from the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic of North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

The dentition of Clevosaurus hadroprodon is an unexpected mix of primitive and derived teeth. It is the oldest occurrence of the typical fully acrodont dentition (teeth fused to the top of the jaw bones) of sphenodontians, but most of its teeth are relatively simple and blade-like, which differs from other, only slightly younger Clevosaurus species that possess well-developed medial-posteromedial (side-to-side) expansions of the teeth for complex grinding. “However, Clevosaurus hadroprodon also possess a large, blunt, tusk-like tooth in the first tooth position of the both premaxilla (upper jaw) and of dentary (lower jaw). This feature is typically observed only in later sphenodontian lineages” says Annie Schmaltz Hsiou, Associate Professor at the University of São Paulo and head of the study. The name “hadroprodon” is Greek for “larger first tooth” in reference to these tusk-like teeth.

“Clevosaurus hadroprodon is an important discovery because it combines a relatively primitive sphenodontian-type tooth row with the presence of massive tusk-like teeth that were possibly not for feeding, but rather used for mate competition or defense. If correct, this means that non-feeding dental specializations predated changes in the sphenodontian dentition related to feeding strategies. This is a very exciting discovery.” says co-author Randall Nydam, Professor at Midwestern University (US).

In addition to its unique dentition, the authors stress that Clevosaurus hadroprodon also adds to the growing evidence that the early diversification of sphenodontians occurred in the widely separated regions of Gondwana destined to become South American and India. This illustrates the importance of the role of the Gondwanan lepidosaur fauna in our growing understanding of the earliest stages of sphenodontian evolution and the global biogeographic distribution of lepidosaurs.

19th-century United States literature and politics, interview

United States historian Brenda Wineapple (Credit: Elena Seibert)

By David Walsh in the USA:

An interview with historian Brenda Wineapple, author of books on Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson

“Writing is a solitary and private act … I’m going to say what I think is true”

13 August 2019

Historian Brenda Wineapple has authored a number of intriguing books about 19th-century American writers and social processes in particular.

We first encountered her work in the process of writing about Wild Nights with Emily, director Madeleine Olnek’s film about American poet Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). Olnek’s work concentrates almost exclusively on Dickinson’s relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert Dickinson, depicting an overpowering sexual relationship that is largely (or perhaps entirely) the product of Olnek’s imagination.

We suggested that Wild Nights with Emily was “a largely degrading work that obliterates or trivializes history, demeaning not only Dickinson, but also, in passing, the remarkable abolitionist and literary figure Thomas Wentworth Higginson.”

Olnek, for reasons of her own, chooses to transform Higginson into a self-important, condescending, repressive cartoon male, who simply doesn’t “get” Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson in 1846 or 1847

Wineapple’s White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (2008), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, arrived as both an antidote and a breath of fresh air. The book deals meticulously and honestly with the contradictions and peculiarities of the mid-19th century period, the milieus to which Dickinson and Higginson belonged, and their personalities and trajectories. It pays tribute to Higginson’s remarkable activities and concerns, including his support for abolitionist John Brown, while noting at the same time, that he was a “man of limits, to be sure,” who “was gifted enough to sense what lay beyond him,” i.e., the full significance and originality of Dickinson’s poetry.

White Heat

The honesty and objectivity of Wineapple’s approach in White Heat finds expression as well in The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation (2019). Coincidentally, the WSWS reviewed the book in June, only a few weeks after the comment on Wild Nights with Emily appeared.

The Impeachers treats the effort in 1868 to remove President Andrew Johnson, who had assumed office upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, because of Johnson’s anti-democratic and illegal efforts to defend the remnants of the slavocracy and defy the attempt by Congress to reorganize the rebel states to protect the former slaves.

Analysis of Johnson’s impeachment, as Eric London explained in his review of Wineapple’s book, “has long been dominated by apologists for the slavocracy who claim that the trial was led by vindictive radicals to punish Johnson for seeking ‘compromise’ with the former rebels. … Wineapple takes aim at the notion that the impeachment of Johnson was merely an example of ‘hyper-partisanship.’ She has written a book that cuts through the lies of the Lost Cause and Dunning School of historians.”

Wineapple has also written Hawthorne: A Life (2003), a major biography of the great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, responsible for The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Marble Faun (1860).

She is the author as well of Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner (1989); Sister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein (1996); and Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (2013). Wineapple edited The Selected Poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier (2004) for the Library of America and the anthology, Nineteenth-Century American Writers on Writing (2010).

In addition, Whitman Speaks, her selection of the poet’s observations about writing, literature, America and what it means to be a maverick was published last spring in celebration of the bicentennial of Whitman’s birth.

Wineapple’s numerous honors include a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, two National Endowment Fellowships in the Humanities, and most recently an NEH Public Scholars Award. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians and regularly contributes to publications such as the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books.

Born in Boston and a graduate of Brandeis University, Wineapple teaches at the New School and Columbia University in New York City.

We spoke recently on the phone about a number of issues raised in her books. Eric London contributed the questions about The Impeachers.

* * * * *

David Walsh: This all began with a foolish movie, Wild Nights with Emily, which I suppose I do have to thank, in fact, for directing me toward Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson and toward your remarkable book, White Heat.

I’m not going to put you on the spot about the film, but I hope the article indicated its unconvincing … character. In general, it seems to me contemporary artists have a much weakened “historical sense”, the ability to imagine social conditions and relationships different than their own.

Brenda Wineapple: Well, yes, if you actually looked more deeply into the past you wouldn’t have to foist contemporary views onto it. You could tease out perspectives; you could indicate how the past flows into and resonates today rather than superimpose contemporary attitudes and ideas on it. To do that suggests a lack of historical imagination, as you say, which is a problem.

DW: Emily Dickinson comes across as a brilliant figure, an almost terrifying figure. I say this half-jokingly, but when Higginson says, “I am glad not to live near her”, you wonder a little if she secluded herself in Amherst, Massachusetts not to be protected from other people, but to protect them from her.

BW: I really do feel that Higginson’s comment has been misread. It’s not that he couldn’t handle her, but rather that Dickinson was one of those people who was really exhausting; she took everything out of you because she was on fire, so it must have been enervating just to keep up with her. “She drained my nerve-power”, as he said. Her astonishing inventiveness, her quickness, her vision permeate not just the poetry but her letters, which are simply astonishing. So imagine what she must have been like in person.

And don’t forget that Higginson was a very unusual figure, given the times during which they both lived. Of course he wasn’t perfect, and he certainly wasn’t the genius Dickinson was, but that’s not the point. He was a committed abolitionist—and activist—during one of the most tumultuous and dangerous decades in American history.

DW: Your book does a great deal to resurrect or restore both figures, Higginson in particular. Dickinson is probably not in need of it, anyway.

BW: It seemed fascinating to me that you had these two characters, two individuals, not simply alive at the same moment but who formed a friendship that was important to both of them and lasted almost twenty-five years, right to the end of Dickinson’s life.

DW: Did you set out to do this, resurrect Higginson, or was this a need you discovered in the course of your research?

BW: I came to this book with a set of questions. I’ve always admired Dickinson and I had the conventional view of Higginson: he bowdlerized her, he ruined her poetry, he didn’t get her. But then I wondered why she was friends with him. And then I thought, if we admire her, which we do, if we think she was so perceptive, so brilliant in so many ways, then why don’t we look more carefully at her choice of friends? Because she chose so few. So she must have seen something in him that we didn’t see. So I began with those kinds of questions. So I didn’t set out to resurrect or restore him but to discover what we could learn about this man that would respect her choice.

Of course I knew something about Higginson because he was adjacent, so to speak, to the book I did on Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was of the same world, although Hawthorne would not have had anything do with him because of their different politics. And I’d done a little edition of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poetry, and Whittier was himself a committed abolitionist, so he and Higginson sort of overlapped historically and therefore I’d heard of him apart from Emily Dickinson.

DW: When Dickinson wrote to Higginson: you saved my life, how do you take that? She wasn’t just flattering him.

BW: I don’t think so. Of course, she could be very coquettish, to use a 19th-century word. She wasn’t lying. She was hyperbolic though. I think she meant that he gave her something that no one else was really able to.

DW: What do you think that was?

BW: It’s hard to know. Dickinson constantly wanted him to come to visit her in Amherst. Even though she knew he didn’t entirely understand her poetry, she must have respected him. And he was some sort of representative as well of the outside world, while she penetrated the interior world, “where the meanings are”, as she once wrote. And then to use a trite word, Higginson represented a kind of “otherness” that she must have perceived she shared with him. Neither of them, in their very different ways, represented the status quo.

But it is very difficult to know precisely. We don’t have a lot of his letters to her. We have enough, but not that many. So perhaps he provided a kind of empathy that had nothing to do with his in-depth understanding of the poetry. But he appreciated it—and her. He knew she was a genuine maverick, and she knew he knew.

Plus, let’s not forget Higginson was an unusual guy. He was so enamored of [Henry David] Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers [1849] when he received a galley that he took a train up to Concord to see Thoreau. Who does that?

DW: The relationship of artists to social life and to great events like the Civil War is very complex. Higginson’s relationship to the Civil War, of course, is quite clear. The cases of [Ralph Waldo] Emerson and Thoreau too are pretty clear-cut, Walt Whitman as well perhaps. The relationship of Dickinson, Hawthorne, Herman Melville to big events is more oblique. But I don’t think Dickinson was removed from her period of history. And I can’t help but think that was part of her interest in Higginson.

BW: Absolutely. She knew who he was. He was writing about slave revolts, writing very radical pieces in the Atlantic. Her family received the Atlantic. She read his pieces. These writers were very connected to what was going on historically. To suggest that Dickinson had no consciousness of the Civil War is just silly. Her father had been in Congress. He was bringing that home all the time. I don’t know how you could not be conscious of that.

Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Charles Osgood, 1841 (Peabody Essex Museum)

Hawthorne is another case. He was a close personal friend of Franklin Pierce, the future president, who is a horror from our point of view. Hawthorne really loved the guy, and dedicated a book to him. Emerson was so disgusted that he tore out the dedication in his copy of the book. We don’t know enough about Melville because many of his papers are gone. In his book of poems, Battle-Pieces [1866], Melville has an afterword in which he speaks, to put it simply, about forgiving the South. He was also a lifelong Democrat. Whitman was too.
Herman Melville, 1860

DW: In terms of Dickinson—during what other period could a poet, a supposedly dainty poet, have written the line, “My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—”?

BW: She’s thinking about guns!

DW: An incredible line, which you suggest may have been inspired by Higginson’s essay about the Nat Turner slave revolt.

American literature reached a new height in the pre-revolutionary decade of the 1850s. Have you thought about what it was and how it was that artists were working with such intensity and urgency in the period before and perhaps during the Civil War? In any case, something was sending off powerful impulses.

BW: I definitely think so. Dickinson wasn’t active, so to speak, in any conventional sense. But you could say she was in some way seeing Higginson’s activity as an extension of herself.

DW: Exactly. He was in some way her representative in that other, more public world. She was such a powerful personality that I think she was hoping—and I don’t mean this in a negative way—she could will him, direct him in some way. And probably she did!

BW: He did have to resist her somewhat. As we said, her magnetic force was huge. But it’s interesting that after he wrote the essay, “Letter to a Young Contributor,” in the Atlantic magazine [in April 1862], he received a huge number of letters; Dickinson wasn’t the only person reaching out to him. But she was the only one he really responded to.

Hawthorne - A Life

DW: Nathaniel Hawthorne is another remarkable figure. Politically, he certainly isn’t attractive. A Democrat and no friend of the abolitionists. But a brilliant writer. The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables are milestones.

BW: He was a brilliant writer. Someone said, “Hawthorne can see in the dark.” He really could. But, to go back to the issue of lacking a historical sense, we also have this almost childish wish to make the writers that we think of as remarkable, as in the case of Hawthorne, conform to whatever our historical, political, social principles happen to be. And he doesn’t.

DW: Art and social life have a very complicated relationship.

BW: Hawthorne was most comfortable being by himself, writing, and yet his friends were people involved in politics and, in many cases, Southern-sympathizing politics: John O’Sullivan, to an extent Horatio Bridge, and of course Franklin Pierce. These were dear friends.

DW: Coming out of that history of Puritanism and severity in Salem, and then reflecting on it so intensely and self-critically, it’s not so odd that he was tortured. It would be odd if he weren’t.

BW: I’m from New England too. You can’t get out of there without being tortured.

DW: They’re very different, but both Dickinson and Hawthorne have this profound attachment to the past, they’re immersed and embedded in the past, to a certain extent, but something in the future is also pulling them very strongly.

BW: I think that’s absolutely true. This pull—of the past and of the future—creates a tremendous conflict for them but also, perhaps, a rewarding and enriching one.

DW: You have these very lovely sentences: “Had Hawthorne squeezed refractory emotions into channels much too narrow? No: those channels helped to create emotion by harnessing what they unleashed.” Could you perhaps explain them a little?

BW: I think it’s precisely what we’re talking about. With Hawthorne, there was a terrible conflict, a sense that he was almost destroyed by what made him great. He was able to use it, up to a point, but again it was also so depleting in many ways and he had to channel it into a form that was almost 18th century in style that then recreated this emotion for the reader.

DW: You also point to the utopian, visionary element in Hawthorne, passages where he sounds downright revolutionary. There’s this in The House of the Seven Gables that struck me: “[Holgrave] had that sense, or inward prophecy … that we are not doomed to creep on forever in the old bad way, but that, this very now, there are the harbingers abroad of a golden era, to be accomplished in his own lifetime. It seemed to Holgrave … that in this age, more than ever before, the moss-grown and rotten Past is to be torn down, and lifeless institutions to be thrust out of the way, and their dead corpses buried, and everything to begin anew.”

This quasi-revolutionary vision of tearing down the past, thrusting institutions out of the way and so forth is immediately followed by a wretched argument for gradualism and fatalism:

“His [Holgrave’s] error lay in supposing that this age, more than any past or future one, is destined to see the tattered garments of Antiquity exchanged for a new suit, instead of gradually renewing themselves by patchwork; in applying his own little life-span as the measure of an interminable achievement; and, more than all, in fancying that it mattered anything to the great end in view whether he himself should contend for it or against it. … He would still have faith in man’s brightening destiny, and perhaps love him all the better, as he should recognize his helplessness in his own behalf; and the haughty faith, with which he began life, would be well bartered for a far humbler one at its close, in discerning that man’s best directed effort accomplishes a kind of dream, while God is the sole worker of realities.”

BW: It’s interesting, because it’s exactly what Hester Prynne feels in the thirteenth chapter of The Scarlet Letter, “Another View of Hester”, which I write about.

Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter

Hester essentially thinks, everything needs to be torn down and the relationship between men and woman has to start all over again to be effective, just and fair both to women and to men. It’s an enormously radical vision. And she’s part of Hawthorne since he created her. But then, to a certain extent, he punishes her, precisely for having that vision. In the same way, he sends Holgrave off to this pointless future, marrying Phoebe and living happily ever after—which I don’t believe Holgrave does.

That is, Hawthorne was attracted, almost violently, to this vision of a new world, which by the way was very much in the air. Bronson Alcott and others were talking about or planning or trying actually to live this new world. But then Hawthorne condemns it in his novel The Blithedale Romance [1852], which was about the Brook Farm experiment.

DW: The honest artist is not simply the sum-total of his social and political views. You write: “Of all writers, female or male, in nineteenth-century America, Hawthorne created a woman, Hester Prynne, who still stands, statuesque, the heroine par excellence impaled by courage, conservatism, consensus: take your pick. Yet there she is.”

BW: It’s kind of astonishing.

DW: We don’t remember or value Hawthorne because of his seedy dealings with the Democratic Party, with Pierce, we remember him because of that, because of Hester Prynne and the others he created—or discovered.

BW: That’s his real, objective contribution to us. The irony is that he made this contribution, this statuesque and strong woman, almost against his will. He wants to create her, and then doesn’t quite want to. But the truth is that nobody in American fiction is quite like her.

The Impeachers

DW: I also have a few questions about The Impeachers. Can you tell us a little more about the political program of Senator Ben Wade from Ohio and his career following the failed effort to remove President Andrew Johnson in 1868?

BW: Wade, of course, was singled out by Karl Marx because he was the radical of radicals, who then more or less disappeared from our consciousness. Other radicals such as Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens disappeared to a certain extent too, but not entirely. But in the late 1860s, and certainly beyond, an emerging conservatism erased Ben Wade. And don’t forget that by 1868 he had lost his Senate seat.

Wade was born, I believe, in 1800, so he was 68 by this time, which was considered rather old then. In 1868, he went back to Ohio, because his term in the Senate was at an end. But Wade had been a tremendous force in Congress—and even one of the reasons that an impeached Andrew Johnson was acquitted. People were afraid of Wade. Given Lincoln’s assassination, if Johnson, his replacement, had been convicted in the Senate, Wade, as president pro tempore of the Senate, would have become president for the remainder of Johnson’s term.

With the failure of the impeachment of Johnson, it not only became clear Wade was not going to be president, but neither did he really have a shot at being vice president on the Grant ticket, which he probably would have had if impeachment had succeeded. At that point, he no longer had a political career or a political future.

Benjamin F. Wade

Wade scandalized many people. He was so radical that he actually thought women should have the vote. Hah! In my book I mention that one of the “terrible” rumors circulating was that if Wade were in the White House, he might put Susan B. Anthony in his cabinet. That horrified certain people.

DW: How did the impeachment process and its fallout change the political character of the two parties, if it did?

BW: It definitely changed the character of the Republican Party. The group of moderate Republicans, who initially supported impeachment but who then backed away from it, became the core of what was called the Liberal Republican Party, formally organized in 1872.

The Liberal Republican Party, as opposed to the Radical Republicans, was the forerunner of today’s Republican Party. They were an elite group who believed they were the best men in the country, and the government should only be run by the best men. They considered that they knew best. They hated Ulysses S. Grant, whom they regarded as both a radical—and an embarrassment. They were much more content with Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House, which promised the end of Reconstruction.

These Liberal Republicans were the basis for the free-market Republican Party that we know today. For not until later did the Democratic Party become the modern Democratic Party. The Democrats of the 1850s and ’60s … it’s almost unthinkable what they represented, which for many of them was a continuation of slavery or the perpetuation of its noxious legacy. Yet Andrew Johnson was toxic to them; they weren’t going to nominate him in 1868, for sure. But they nominated two candidates, one of whom was a non-entity, Horatio Seymour, governor of New York, and then the other, for vice president, one of the most outspoken and violent white supremacists of his era, Francis Blair of Missouri. Blair’s rhetoric out-Johnsoned Johnson. They went down to defeat, fortunately. Grant won.

Andrew Johnson

The Democrats didn’t reconstitute themselves for years. Or perhaps they never did entirely, because it was always the southern Democratic wing that was very much in power in the party up until the middle of the 20th century.

DW: In our review, the WSWS emphasized the significance of the emergence of the working class as a political force and its impact on American politics during this period. Were the personalities in your book aware of this?

BW: Many of them didn’t live that long. In many cases, they didn’t outlive this immediate era, the era of the Civil War. Obviously, to someone like Thaddeus Stevens and Ben Wade, the relationship between capital and labor, if you want to use those terms, had to change once you no longer had slavery. Because wage slavery had been an issue from the 1850s up until the war; in fact the exploitation of wage laborers was a Democratic Party argument against the Republicans: you can’t talk about slavery as exploitation; we treat the slaves well, but it’s factory workers who are exploited. So the radicals were aware of the labor question but not so much in terms of what was to occur in the cities or with the rise of the railroads, in particular, especially after the war, which really changed everything. They didn’t foresee all that and what it would mean for the country. And, as I said, many of them didn’t live long enough to address these issues.

But they were conscious of them, especially as they would affect the South after the war. That’s why someone like Thaddeus Stevens wanted to confiscate the planters’ land and redistribute it—redistribute the wealth—to those who had actually labored on it. Still, many old-time abolitionists, who had been around a long time, may have found it difficult to adopt a new outlook when conditions changed—and labor was no longer “free”.

Take someone like Higginson, who was lost for a time. He eventually pulled himself together toward the end of the century, but he didn’t really understand the problems represented by strikes and labor. Far from it. He only became outspoken again when the issue of Jim Crow became dominant in the 1890s. He certainly spoke out against the racism of, say, William Jennings Bryan. And he was a definite anti-imperialist.

DW: Not to beat around the bush, although I already have, one of the things that struck me about White Heat was its honesty, whether I agreed with every idea and assessment or not. You write about men and women without cant or jargon. …

BW: Frankly I have no idea. I don’t see the world that way. It’s an odd thing—when you sit down at the desk, especially after having written several books—the more experience you have, you realize that no matter what you do, somebody’s not going to approve of it, not approve of you. Writing then is a solitary and private act—and then you just say, damn it, I’m going to say what I think is true.

DW: The problem is, most people don’t operate that way.

BW: I can’t speak for them. I just have to be honest with myself. Because I feel that if I don’t say what I really think, and I’m criticized or it doesn’t work, then I’ll know it was my own fault. When I finish something, I feel that, well, perhaps this or that reader won’t like it, but I’ll stand by it. Perhaps in five years I won’t feel that way, I’ll decide I was wrong, but now I believe it. That’s how I manage to sleep at night.

And then there’s this: when I’m confronted, let’s say, by a poem of Dickinson’s, and I am overwhelmed, I think, what the hell, I may not understand it perfectly, does anyone entirely? Isn’t that in part what makes it great?—it speaks to so very many of us in a language that’s almost impossible to translate. That makes me feel better and allows me to go ahead and say what I get out of it.

Of course I enjoy what I do. To a certain extent, I feel free when I’m writing, or I try to feel free. In a social situation, you can’t always say what you think. But when it’s just you and the piece of paper, that’s different … and perhaps even more challenging.

Giant Paleocene penguin discovery in New Zealand

Reconstruction of newly discovered Crossvallia waiparensis penguin, next to human to show size, picture by Canterbury Museum

From the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand:

Monster penguin find in Waipara, New Zealand

August 14, 2019

A new species of giant penguin — about 1.6 metres tall — has been identified from fossils found in Waipara, North Canterbury.

The discovery of Crossvallia waiparensis, a monster penguin from the Paleocene Epoch (between 66 and 56 million years ago), adds to the list of gigantic, but extinct, New Zealand fauna. These include the world’s largest parrot, a giant eagle, giant burrowing bat, the moa and other giant penguins.

C. waiparensis is one of the world’s oldest known penguin species and also one of the largest — taller even than today’s 1.2 metre Emperor Penguin — and weighing up to 70 to 80 kg.

A team comprising Canterbury Museum curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri, and Dr Gerald Mayr of Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, analysed the bones and concluded they belonged to a previously unknown penguin species.

In a paper published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, the team concluded that the closest known relative of C. waiparensis is a fellow Paleocene species Crossvallia unienwillia, which was identified from a fossilised partial skeleton found in the Cross Valley in Antarctica in 2000.

Canterbury Museum Senior Curator Natural History Dr Paul Scofield says finding closely related birds in New Zealand and Antarctica shows our close connection to the icy continent.

“When the Crossvallia species were alive, New Zealand and Antarctica were very different from today — Antarctica was covered in forest and both had much warmer climates,” he says.

The leg bones of both Crossvallia penguins suggest their feet played a greater role in swimming than those of modern penguins, or that they hadn’t yet adapted to standing upright like modern penguins.

C. waiparensis is the fifth ancient penguin species described from fossils uncovered at the Waipara Greensand site.

Dr Gerald Mayr says the Waipara Greensand is arguably the world’s most significant site for penguin fossils from the Paleocene Epoch. “The fossils discovered there have made our understanding of penguin evolution a whole lot clearer,” he says. “There’s more to come, too — more fossils which we think represent new species are still awaiting description.”

Dr Vanesa De Pietri, Canterbury Museum Research Curator Natural History, says discovering a second giant penguin from the Paleocene Epoch is further evidence that early penguins were huge. “It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained a giant size very early in their evolution,” she says.

The fossils of several giant species, including C. waiparensis, will be displayed in a new exhibition about prehistoric New Zealand at Canterbury Museum later this year.

This research was partly supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

German Luftwaffe general becomes neo-fascist election candidate

This 7 July 2019 video says about itself:

The German bombing of Rotterdam, also known as the Rotterdam Blitz, was the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe on 14 May 1940, during the German invasion of the Netherlands in World War II. The objective was to support the German troops fighting in the city, break Dutch resistance and force the Dutch to surrender. Even though preceding negotiations resulted in a ceasefire, the bombardment took place nonetheless … and destroyed almost the entire historic city centre, killing nearly 900 people and making 85,000 others homeless.

By Christopher Lehmann in Germany:

Three-star general stands for far-right Alternative for Germany in mayoral election

14 August 2019

On Tuesday evening, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) selected 64-year-old Joachim Wundrak, with 98 percent of the vote, as its candidate for the Hannover mayoral election on October 27. The former three-star general is the highest-ranking military figure to openly support the AfD.

Wundrak was one of 10 Luftwaffe (air force) lieutenant-generals until September of last year. This is the second highest rank in the Bundeswehr (armed forces) in peacetime. He was only outranked by Inspector General Eberhard Zorn, a four-star general. Wundrak was recently commander of the Air Operations Centre and the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in the cities of Kalkar and Uedem, in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Wundrak’s work enabled him to develop a close international network. Among others duties, he commanded the Joint Force Air Component Headquarters. This headquarters plans and leads the use of the air forces of several nations, e.g., in the context of the NATO Response Force or the European Battle Group.

The Air Operations Centre, last commanded by Wundrak, currently directs the deployment of the Luftwaffe in Estonia, where German Eurofighter jets are operating together with NATO partners at the Russian border. From August 8, 2008 to March 31, 2009, he served as chief of staff of Operation Althea, formally the European Union Force Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR), on assignment abroad in Sarajevo. In Kabul, Afghanistan, he served as deputy chief of staff for air in the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command from February 21, 2011 to December 7, 2011.

According to representatives of the Bundeswehr, Wundrak enjoys an extraordinary reputation both within Germany and abroad. He “has made a significant contribution to the further development of the use of air forces in the transatlantic alliance.” He was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit, the highest and only merit award of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Last September, Wundrak retired after 44 years in the Bundeswehr in a large-scale farewell ceremony. At that time, he was keeping his AfD membership secret. Immediately after the military tattoo, a martial event in which soldiers held a torchlight parade in their combat helmets in the market square of Kalkar in the evening, Wundrak announced that he had been a member of the AfD since January. “The AFD is the only party that still values the sovereignty of Germany,” he said.

When younger, he explained, he had been close to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The right-wing SPD hardliner Helmut Schmidt had been his “political hero.” However, because the policies of the SPD became far too “left-wing” for him, he had joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 2008. The general stressed that he had resigned from the CDU before the 2014 refugee crisis. Referring to his good contacts in the Federal Police, many of whom share his opinions, he said that the crisis had been foreseeable and he had not really felt “at home” in the CDU.

Three-star general Wundrak is the highest-ranking military figure in the AfD so far, but by no means the only one. The AfD is teeming with former and active officers and members of other sections of the state security apparatus among its officials and parliamentarians.

Retired Colonel Georg Pazderski is deputy federal chairman of the right-wing extremist party and leader of its Berlin state association. He greeted Wundrak with the words, “I am happy about every comrade who finds his way to us and gets involved. General Wundrak is a great asset for our party.”

Uwe Junge, a retired lieutenant colonel, also welcomed Wundrak, tweeting, “Those who want to serve their country, are right with us! Welcome aboard, general!” Junge heads the state association and the AfD parliamentary faction in Rhineland-Palatinate. On Twitter, he commented on the appointment of the new defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer with the words, “When will we finally see the rebellion of the generals?”

The AfD state association in North Rhine-Westphalia could also soon be led by a former Bundeswehr officer. Retired Colonel Rüdiger Lucassen is presently under discussion for the office. Lucassen is currently the AfD co-chair on the Defence Committee of the German Bundestag (parliament) and defence policy spokesman for its parliamentary group. His comrade and party colleague Jan Nolte, who maintains close links with the far-right camp, is also a member of the defence committee.

According to the Вild newspaper, the AfD estimates that at least 2,100 of its 35,000 members are professional soldiers. In addition, the party said there were currently 11 former professional soldiers representing the far-right party in the Bundestag. On the one hand, the high proportion of active and former soldiers in the top echelons of the AfD shows the great influence the party has on the Bundeswehr, in which there are large right-wing extremist networks. On the other hand, it expresses the turn by the ruling elites and the military towards the AfD.

The Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (Socialist Equality Party) has stated: “Like the rise of the Nazis, the AfD is not an industrial accident. Under conditions of the deepest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, wars all around the world and growing conflicts between the major powers, the extreme right is being deliberately encouraged by the ruling class in order to push through its policy of militarism, stepping up the powers of the state at home and abroad, and social cuts against the opposition of the population.”

The ruling class in Germany, including major parts of the Bundeswehr, is well aware that it can only suppress the massive opposition to militarism, war preparations and great power politics with the help of the right-wing extremists.

Germany: Ex-intelligence chief [Maassen] campaigns for Christian Democrats and far-right AfD: here.

How marine sponges feed, unusually

This 2017 video is called Mycale grandis marine sponge pumping fluorescein dye (normal speed).

From the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

Unique dietary strategy of a tropical marine sponge

August 14, 2019

Research conducted at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) on a marine sponge in Kāneʻohe Bay, Oahu revealed a unique feeding strategy, wherein the sponge animal acquires important components of its diet from symbiotic bacteria living within the sponge.

Coral reefs are one of Hawaiʻi’s most important natural resources and support fisheries and the state’s economy. Marine sponges are important components of coral reef ecosystems, but in Hawaiʻi, the Indo-Australian sponge Mycale grandis is an invasive alien species that was only first documented in the islands in the late 1990s. M. grandis is now found in and near major harbors of the Main Hawaiian Islands as well as within Kāneʻohe Bay.

Alien and invasive species are one of the threats to endemic and native species, which are vulnerable due to their evolution in the remote archipelago. M. grandis competes with coral for space on the reef, but unlike coral, which build hard rocky substrate with their skeletons, M. grandis is a soft, non-reef building animal and does not provide the same habitat for other reef organisms.

In a study led by Dr. Joy Leilei Shih for her doctoral research at UH Mānoa, the diet of M. grandis sponges collected from Kāneʻohe Bay was elucidated by using a new application of a technique that relies on naturally occurring stable isotopes to understand the origin of specific compounds in the tissues of plants and animals. In this case, the team tested where amino acids, the building blocks of proteins in tissues, in the sponge came from. Did they originate from food caught and filtered from seawater or were they supplied to the sponge from the microbes living within the sponge itself?

When one organism consumes another, elemental properties in the prey are conserved and leave behind a unique chemical pattern with the predator. By assessing the chemical difference between predator and prey tissues, Shih and colleagues found the diet of sponges did not originate from photosynthesizing microbes (such as seen in corals) and M. grandis feeding did not follow general patterns of other multicellular animals. Instead, the isotopic patterns of the sponge and its symbiotic microbes were not different from one another, indicating the sponge obtains nutrition through the uptake of amino acids originating from their symbiotic microbes.

“While we knew that the symbionts of sponges play an important role in their diet, the mechanism by which it occurred was unknown,” said Shih. “The only way to produce the observed amino acid isotopic pattern, or fingerprint, if you will, is through the direct transfer of amino acids from their symbiotic bacteria.”

“The patterns we detected in M. grandis and its symbionts are very interesting, as they suggest sponges may be actively capturing materials in seawater to support the needs of their microbial community, which in turn supply the sponge with essential tissue building blocks,” said Dr. Chris Wall, a postdoctoral researcher at UH Mānoa and a co-author on the study.

“The symbiosis we see between the sponge and its microbial community is remarkable,” said Shih. “We know that sponges rely on their symbionts for a variety of purposes including chemical defense, metabolite removal, and now we have insight into this well-tuned and efficient feeding strategy and the major role these microbial symbionts play in sponge nutrition. The intimate relationship between sponges and their symbionts developed over their long evolutionary history. Sponges are the oldest multi-cellular animal on earth. That’s why they are so well-adapted and resilient.”

Marine sponges in Hawaiʻi are not well studied. A study by the Smithsonian Institution-organized MarineGEO Hawaiʻi program in 2017 identified 150 previously unseen sponge species in Hawaiʻi, roughly one third of which are new species. Previously, only about 10 sponge species were known to exist in Kāneʻohe Bay. The researchers’ new approach to investigating sponge feeding strategies can be applied to future research on other marine sponges in Hawai’i and elsewhere. Sponges play an important role in the nutrient dynamics of coral reefs, and in the future, sponges may rise to dominate coral reefs as corals decline from direct pressure from human activity and climate change. This work provides new insights into the biology of sponges and shows the importance of marine microbes to the diet of an invasive sponge.

Despite efforts over multiple decades, there are still no cell lines for marine invertebrates. For the first time, scientists have developed a breakthrough in marine invertebrate (sponge) cell culture, demonstrating exceptionally fast cell division and the ability to subculture the cells. This groundbreaking discovery forms the basis for developing marine invertebrate cell models to better understand early animal evolution, determine the role of secondary metabolites, predict the impact of climate change to coral reef community ecology and develop novel medicines: here.

Hondurans protest against far-right president

This 14 August 2019 video says about itself:

Protests In Honduras Intensify as President Is Implicated in Drug Trafficking

Adrienne Pine and Jesse Freeston discuss Hondurans‘ demand that President Juan Orlando Hernandez resign and the repressive, violent police response to protesters stop.

Great blue heron in Georgia, USA

This video from Georgia in the USA says about itself:

Great Blue Heron Perches In Saltmarshes Of Savannah – Aug. 14, 2019

The Savannah Osprey cam spotted this long-necked heron perched in the salty marshlands surrounding the nest. Great Blue Herons are tall, patient birds that hunt in both fresh and saltwater habitats, where they stalk fish, small mammals, and just about anything else that might fit down their gullet.

Dodgy facial recognition in North Carolina, USA

This 26 July 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

How police manipulate facial recognition

Police across the country are using facial recognition to check IDs and find suspects — but are they using it the right way? A new study from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology suggests even good algorithms can be put to bad uses, particularly once police start getting creative with the images.

Read more here.

FACIAL RECOGNITION FALSELY IDS LAWMAKERS AS CRIMINALS The ACLU’s Northern California branch released its findings from running photos of all 120 California state legislators against a database of 25,000 publicly available mugshots using common facial recognition software. The software identified 26 state legislators ― more than one in five ― as criminals. And a disproportionate number of those lawmakers were people of color.  [HuffPost]

The New York Times published a lengthy profile on Sunday of a company called Clearview AI that has developed a breakthrough facial recognition app reportedly being used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies across the US: here.

The Far-Right Helped Create The World’s Most Powerful Facial Recognition Technology. Clearview AI, which has alarmed privacy experts, hired several far-right employees, a HuffPost investigation found. Read Luke O’Brien’s in-depth feature looking at the origins of the company.

A METROPOLITAN Police scheme to snoop on Londoners using live facial-recognition (LFR) technology is “dangerous” and a “threat to human rights,” privacy campaigners warned today. Warnings flooded in after the Met announced it would begin deploying the technology, which has failed multiple trials, across the capital’s streets and claimed the measure would help fight serious crime: here.

Internal documents leaked to The Intercept show that the European Union (EU) is creating the legislative framework for implementing an international facial recognition database that will likely be integrated with a similar system already in place in the US: here.

Refugees betrayed, from Hitler till today

This video says about itself:

Voyage of the Damned (1976)

This movie is based on the 1974 book about the voyage of the SS St. Louis in 1939. Over 900 Jews were on board hoping to find sanctuary in Cuba.

By Bill Van Auken:

”Voyage of the Damned:” Hundreds of refugees stranded in the Mediterranean

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the infamous voyage of the German cruise liner the MS St. Louis from Hamburg to the Americas with 937 passengers aboard, nearly all of them German-Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.

Even though the Cuban government had sold them visas, when they entered Havana’s harbor on May 27, 1939, the authorities stopped the refugees from disembarking. After waiting for a week in the vain hope that Cuban officials would reverse their decision, the St. Louis sailed to the coast of Florida hoping that the United States would offer refuge. However, the Democratic administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt also turned away the refugees. Attempts to enter Canada and the Dominican Republic were similarly rebuffed.

Left with no option but to return to Europe, the St. Louis docked at the Belgian port of Antwerp on June 17. Within less than a year, Belgium would be occupied by the German Wehrmacht. By the end of the Second World War, 256 of the St. Louis passengers would be murdered in the Holocaust.

Chronicled in the book Voyage of the Damned as well as a film by the same name, the fate of the St. Louis was a symbol and harbinger of the unprecedented barbarism, including Hitler’s “Final Solution”, that would engulf humanity in the course of a global war that claimed the lives of some 85 million people.

It was undoubtedly the tragic and criminal saga of the St. Louis that Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionary and founder of the Fourth International, had in mind when he wrote in a May 1940 manifesto on “The Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution”:

“The world of decaying capitalism is overcrowded. The question of admitting a hundred extra refugees becomes a major problem for such a world power as the United States. In an era of aviation, telegraph, telephone, radio, and television, travel from country to country is paralyzed by passports and visas. The period of the wasting away of foreign trade and the decline of domestic trade is at the same time the period of the monstrous intensification of chauvinism and especially of anti-Semitism. … Amid the vast expanses of land and the marvels of technology, which has also conquered the skies for man as well as the earth, the bourgeoisie has managed to convert our planet into a foul prison.”

These words retain all of their burning actuality under conditions in which “Voyages of the Damned” are being repeated on a daily basis in the central Mediterranean, a watery grave for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, some 14,000 of them over the last three years alone.

The plight of two rescue vessels stranded off the coast of Europe, the Ocean Viking and the Open Arms, recalls nothing so much as the St. Louis, with the continent’s governments refusing to admit the more than 500 refugees aboard the ships.

A boat carrying refugees in the Mediterranean [Photo: UNHCR/L.Boldrini]

The migrants, most of them from Africa, were rescued off the coast of Libya from which they had fled, some them literally plucked out of the water. The 151 passengers—including 31minors—of the Open Arms, a vessel operated by a Spanish rescue group, have been at sea for nearly two weeks off the coast of Italy. They have been denied entry by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has imposed fines of up to €1 million along with imprisonment for captains entering Italian waters with refugees, together with the confiscation of their ships.

Salvini, who is in the midst of a campaign to form a new, openly fascist government in Italy, has railed against the rescue ships, touting his policy of “absolute prohibition” against their landing and seeking to use the plight of the stranded refugees to whip up anti-immigrant chauvinism in advance of an election.

The Ocean Viking, which has 356 refugees rescued at sea—nearly a third of them minors—crammed into a space meant for 200, has been denied refueling in Malta as well as entry to Italy. The passengers are enduring conditions of suffocating heat and humidity and facing the threat of huge sea swells forecast for Wednesday.

The fascistic rants of Salvini are only the most blatant expression of a policy that has been put in place throughout Europe to bar the entry of refugees. A minister of the social democratic government of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Spain rejected an appeal from the captain of the Open Arms to admit the 31 minors aboard the ship as refugees, asserting that the captain had no “juridical standing” or parental authority to make such a request. He further charged that those aboard the Open Arms rescuing refugees were “compromising the reputation of Spain.”

The immigration minister of Norway, whose flag is flown by the Ocean Viking, said that the refugees should be “transported back to Africa” in order to avoid any “extension of the refugee route”.

The European Commission, which issued a call to European Union (EU) member states to coordinate a solution to the plight of the stranded refugees and show solidarity, reported that not a single government had responded. Every European government, with Germany and France in the lead, has collaborated in erecting a “Fortress Europe” with barbed wire and machine guns defending the EU’s borders and a ruthless campaign to end the rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

A key part of this vicious anti-refugee campaign has been contracted out to Libyan militias, which have been recruited and trained as a coast guard dedicated to hunting down refugees trying to reach Europe. They run concentration camps in Libya where those fleeing for their lives from other parts of Africa and the Middle East are subjected to torture, rape, summary execution and being sold into slavery. A civil war that has devastated the country since the 2011 US-NATO war destroyed its government and infrastructure has further placed migrants’ lives at risk. The bombing of a detention center last month killed some 50 refugees.

The campaign against refugees in Europe is mirrored across the Atlantic, where the Trump administration has added to its mass incarceration of children, its turning away of refugees on the Mexican border and its round-up of undocumented workers in factory raids, the imposition of new regulations aimed at barring legal immigration by those without financial resources. Immigrants already in the US are to be targeted for deportation for the “crime” of using social services such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies.

Asked by a reporter Tuesday whether the poem of Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” still applied, Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, responded with his own amended version: “Give me your tired and your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” While hardly poetry, the meaning is clear enough: working class immigrants and refugees need not apply.

TRUMPER: LADY LIBERTY ABOUT ‘PEOPLE FROM EUROPE’ Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration’s acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, reinforced his controversial interpretation of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty ― this time giving it a racist twist. [HuffPost]

The Bill Van Auken article continues:

The war against refugees and the scapegoating of immigrants for deteriorating living standards, unemployment and the destruction of social services under capitalism is a global phenomenon. It is employed by governments and ruling oligarchies the world over as a means of dividing the working class and cultivating neo-fascist elements that can be used to counter the growing wave of social struggles and strikes by the working class in country after country.

These policies are rooted not merely in the criminal and twisted mind of a Donald Trump or the fascistic ideology of a Matteo Salvini, but rather in the crisis of the capitalist system and the irreconcilable contradiction between the global integration of production and the capitalist nation-state system. The sealing of borders with razor wire barricades, the building of concentration camps for refugees and the whipping up of xenophobic and fascist forces echo the darkest days of the 1930s, just as the ships stranded in the Mediterranean recall the fate of the St. Louis.

The turn toward these methods is a sign not of strength, but of weakness and deepening crisis, as capitalist governments in the US, Europe and internationally face mounting opposition from working people that threatens revolutionary social and political explosions.

There are powerful sentiments of solidarity and support for refugees and immigrants within the working class that must be mobilized and armed with a socialist and internationalist program, including the right of all workers to live and work in whatever country they choose with full citizenship rights.

Britain: 3,000+ refugees have been on hunger strike in detention centres since 2015: here.