Galápagos lava lizards, new research


This 2018 video says about itself:

Lava Lizards are the most abundant reptile in the Galápagos, and they’re among the many species native only to the region.

Video by David Pickar aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II in San Cristobal Island, Galápagos.

From ScienceDaily:

Realistic robots get under Galápagos lizards’ skin

September 4, 2019

Male lava lizards are sensitive to the timing of their opponents’ responses during contest displays, with quicker responses being perceived as more aggressive, a study in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology suggests.

To avoid injury from male-to-male contests, some animal species display behaviours such as color changes or sequences of movements that showcase body size and fighting ability. In lizards, one of the most recognised behaviours is the bobbing or pushup display.

Dr David Clark at Alma College, US and colleagues investigated whether lizards would react more quickly and strongly to their opponent’s bobbing display, if that display occurred immediately or with a delay following an initial challenge. The authors used remote-controlled realistic lizard robots made from hand-carved wood, high-resolution photos and latex limbs to simulate an opponent’s reaction to a wild lizards’ display.

The authors positioned lizard robots approximately 1-3m from 20 wild Galápagos Lava Lizards (Microlophus bivitattus) found on the island of San Cristóbal. After provoking an initial response by the native lizard, the researchers remotely activated the lizard robot to respond with a pre-set counter movement either immediately, or after a 30-second delay.

Dr David Clark, the corresponding author of the study said: “We had hypothesized that our Lava Lizard subjects would respond differently if the robot responded immediately to their bobbing display than if the response from the robot was delayed. The results suggest that our hypothesis was correct. We found that an immediate response by the robot stimulated the wild lizard to respond more quickly and significantly more often than when the robot’s response was delayed by 30 seconds.”

The authors suggest that the live lizards may have perceived a rapid response from their robotic contestant as more aggressive than a delayed response. This ability to assess their contestant’s level of aggression may help the lizard size up their competitor and may influence their decision to retreat or instigate a contest, helping them avoid disadvantageous injury.

Dr Clark said: “Ours is the first study to use a lizard robot that interacts with wild subjects in real-time. Previous research in this area has used either pre-recorded video playback or robots with movements set on a “loop”. The findings confirm that realistic robotic stimuli can be used to interact with animals, to communicate with them and even manipulate their behaviour. Our results further our understanding of how lava lizards communicate with each other in their natural habitat.”

The authors say that bobbing display communication in lizards could now be explored further by altering display speeds, bobbing height and the distance between the robot and subject.

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Corporate media silence on Roger Waters, Assange


This 21 November 2018 AFP news agency video says about itself:

In Ecuador, rock icon Waters defends Julian Assange

Rock icon Roger Waters, a founding member of the British band Pink Floyd, expresses support for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whom he says “needs to be protected“.

By Oscar Grenfell in Australia:

Media blacks out Roger Waters’ performance in defence of Assange

5 September 2019

On Monday evening, Roger Waters and John Pilger staged a powerful event in defence of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the British Home Office in central London.

Waters delivered a moving rendition of Pink Floyd’s iconic song “Wish You Were Here”, dedicated to Assange, while Pilger issued a scathing denunciation of the British government’s attempts to facilitate his extradition to the US, where the WikiLeaks founder faces life imprisonment for exposing war crimes.

In his first public appearance, Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s brother, outlined the brutal conditions in which his sibling is imprisoned in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison and made an appeal for his freedom.

The event was attended by around 1,000 workers, students and defenders of democratic rights. It was an objectively significant and newsworthy event, bringing together Waters, a famous musician, and Pilger, an acclaimed investigative journalist, in defence of the most prominent political prisoner in the world today.

However, if one judged solely on the basis of coverage in the major corporate publications in Britain, continental Europe, the US and Australia, the event simply did not take place. In an extraordinary act of political censorship, none of the major news outlets even carried a brief report on the rally.

A search of Google News indicates that the number of publications that have covered the event can be counted on two hands. They primarily include the World Socialist Web Site and other alternative and anti-war websites.

The non-corporate British daily The Morning Star of 4 September 2019 has this report: Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters performs outside Home Office. Also, this report in the non-corporate British daily News Line of 5 September 2019.

The censorship is most stark in Britain, where Assange is imprisoned. The Guardian and the [Rupert Murdoch owned] Times have not said a word about the protest, which was within walking distance of their plush London offices. In Europe, France’s Le Monde and Germany’s Der Spiegel, both trumpeted for their supposedly “liberal” editorial inclination, have not said a word.

In the US, the New York Times, the [Rupert Murdoch owned] Wall Street Journal and the [Amazon billionaire boss Jeff Bezos owned] Washington Post have published nothing. …

In Australia, the blackout of the Waters/Pilger protest has extended from “liberal” outlets, such as the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to the Murdoch-owned Australian, Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun. The lack of any reportage in that country is all the more glaring, given that Assange is the most well-known Australian imprisoned abroad and that his plight is the direct outcome of the refusal by successive Labor and Coalition governments to meet their responsibility to defend a persecuted citizen.

There is no innocent explanation for the almost universal media blackout.

The Guardian, for instance, has published four articles this year extensively referencing Waters’ stance on a host of political issues, including his defence of children trapped in Syria; his opposition to the Israeli regime’s persecution of the Palestinians; and condemnations of the right-wing shift in the political life of South America.

In October last year, the publication featured an on-the-spot report of a Waters’ concert in Brazil, which occurred amid the singer’s condemnations of the country’s reactionary government. Apparently, the Guardian was able to dispatch a reporter to Rio de Janeiro to cover a performance by the former Pink Floyd singer, but not to central London, within a stones’ throw of its headquarters.

The blackout of the London protest goes hand-in-hand with the silence in the corporate press on recent statements by Pilger and Gabriel Shipton that the conditions in which Assange is being detained in Britain amount to torture, and warning that his health is deteriorating.

It is also paralleled by the silence on the plight of Chelsea Manning, who is being detained for refusing to give false evidence against Assange before a secret US grand jury.

The media has also said next to nothing about the fact that Manning has now been joined in the holding pen for Trump’s kangaroo court by Jeremy Hammond, an online activist who released documents exposing government and corporate spying to WikiLeaks. Hammond, like Manning, is being pressured to commit perjury so the US government has a pseudo-legal pretext to condemn Assange to prison for the rest of his life.

For years, the New York Times, the Guardian and virtually every other media outlet has slandered and maligned Assange. No ink has been spared to present the WikiLeaks founder as a dubious, and even criminal individual.

Until April, all of these publications presented WikiLeaks’ warnings that Assange faced extradition to the US as a “conspiracy theory”. They instead promoted the Swedish investigation into manufactured sexual allegations against Assange, obscuring the fact that he has never been charged in that country and a “preliminary investigation” has been dropped twice.

The establishment media has also repeatedly accused Assange of being a “Russian agent” because WikiLeaks published in 2016 newsworthy leaked emails which exposed corruption in the Democratic Party and the militarist, pro-big business policies of its presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In August, a US federal court threw out a civil case brought by the Democratic National Committee, rejecting “with prejudice” the false assertion that Assange conspired with Putin and Trump against Clinton and upholding WikiLeaks’ right to publish under the First Amendment. The response of the American press has been to simply not report the ruling.

In other words, the media silence on Monday’s rally is part a broader, conscious political agenda. For coming on nine years, the establishment media has actively sought to assist the US, British and Australian governments and state apparatus retaliate for the exposure of their crimes by doing everything possible to undermine support for Assange and WikiLeaks. …

Monday’s event, and the responses to it, confirm that the movement in defence of Assange, Manning and democratic rights must continue to develop independently of, and in opposition to, the entire political and media establishment.

World-famous fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood visited Julian Assange in Britain’s Belmarsh Prison yesterday. She gave impassioned comments afterwards condemning the persecution of the WikiLeaks founder and calling for his freedom: here.

Actress Pamela Anderson says imprisoned journalist Julian Assange is “depending on all of us to save him,” declaring, he “cannot die in prison!” In an interview with the World Socialist Web Site this week, Anderson explained that Assange, who she has known for years, “created WikiLeaks so that people could find a way to be informed,” and to “end these awful wars and bring us all closer together.” Anderson said that the US government’s attempt to prosecute Assange is a fundamental attack on democratic rights: here.

Squirrels listen to birds for safety


This 2013 video from the USA is called An Eastern Gray Squirrel eating birdseed.

From PLOS:

Squirrels listen in to birds’ conversations as signal of safety

Hearing casual chatter of birds after predator call reassures squirrels to come off high alert

September 4, 2019

Grey squirrels eavesdrop on the chatter between nearby songbirds as a sign of safety. Birds chatter when they feel safe to communicate the absence of danger or share their location. This “chatter” from multiple bird species could therefore be a useful cue to other creatures that there is no imminent threat.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers observed the behavior of 54 wild Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in public parks and residential areas in Ohio in response to threat, which they simulated by playing back a recording of the call of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), a common predator of both squirrels and small birds. They followed the predator’s call with a playback of either multi-species songbird bird chatter or ambient sounds lacking bird calls and monitored the behavior of each squirrel for 3 minutes.

The researchers found that all squirrels showed an increase in predator vigilance behaviors, such as freezing, looking up, or fleeing, after they heard the hawk’s call. However, squirrels that were played bird chatter afterwards performed fewer vigilance behaviors and returned to normal levels of watchfulness more quickly than squirrels that did not hear bird calls after the hawk’s call. This suggests that the squirrels are able to tap into the casual chatter of many bird species as an indicator of safety, allowing them to quickly return to getting on with normal behaviors like foraging rather than remaining on high alert after a threat has passed.

The authors add: “We knew that squirrels eavesdropped on the alarm calls of some bird species, but we were excited to find that they also eavesdrop on non-alarm sounds that indicate the birds feel relatively safe. Perhaps in some circumstances, cues of safety could be as important as cues of danger.”

United Nations condemn Saudi crimes in Yemen


Hospital bombed in Yemen using UK and French missiles

This photo shows a hospital bombed in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition using British and French missiles.

From daily News Line in Britain:

US, UK AND FRANCE CHARGED WITH COMMITTING WAR CRIMES IN YEMEN – says the UN

5th September 2019

THE UNITED States, Britain and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to the Saudi-led coalition which starves civilians as a war tactic, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

UN investigators have compiled a secret list of possible international war crimes suspects, drawn from their latest report into violations during the four-year conflict between a coalition of Arab states and the Houthi movement that controls Yemen’s capital.

The investigators, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2017, said they had ‘identified, where possible, individuals who may be responsible for international crimes’, and had provided the confidential list to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

If confirmed by an independent and competent court, many of the violations identified ‘may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes,’ they said in a statement.

‘The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation,’ said Kamel Jendoubi, who heads the ‘Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts’.

The report accused the anti-Houthi coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of killing civilians in air strikes and deliberately denying them food in a country facing famine. …

The Houthis drove Yemen’s pro-Saudi government out of the capital Sanaa in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Muslim states intervened the following year to restore the ousted government, a conflict that has since killed tens of thousands of people.

The prospect of famine has created what the United Nations describes as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

The UN report’s appendix lists the names of more than 160 ‘main actors’ among Saudi, Emirati and West-recognised Yemeni top brass, although it did not specify whether any of these names also figured in its list of potential suspects.

‘Individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, may have conducted airstrikes in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, and may have used starvation as a method of warfare, acts that may amount to war crimes,’ it said.

‘The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings.’

It found that a Joint Incidents Assessment Team, set up by Saudi Arabia to review alleged coalition violations, had failed to hold anyone accountable for any strike killing civilians, raising ‘concerns as to the impartiality of its investigations’.

The UN panel said it had received allegations that Emirati and affiliated forces have tortured, raped and killed suspected political opponents detained in secret facilities, while Houthi forces had planted land mines.

Last Sunday, airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition hit a prison complex in southwestern Yemen, killing scores of people [Saudi coalition prisoners of war], the Houthi movement and a Red Cross official said on Sunday.

Since 2015, fighting in Yemen has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has sparked what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Both the [Saudi puppet] Yemen government and the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the conflict in 2015 to support the West-recognised government against … Houthi rebels have refused to cooperate with the experts.

But the UN investigators said they had based their findings on more than 600 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as documentary and open-source material.

In their second report, which they are due to present to the Human Rights Council later this month, they detailed how airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, and landmines are terrorising civilians in many parts of the country. …

‘This endemic impunity – for violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict – cannot be tolerated anymore,’ Jendoubi said in the statement.

‘Impartial and independent inquiries must be empowered to hold accountable those who disrespect the rights of the Yemeni people,’ he said.

In their report, the experts ask the Human Rights Council to allow them to continue their work to ensure the rights situation in Yemen remains on the agenda, and also to strengthen their mandate by allowing them to collect and preserve evidence of alleged violations in a bid to combat impunity.

They also called on countries to refrain from providing weapons to the different sides in the conflict.

The experts warned the US, Britain, France, Iran and others that they ‘may be held responsible for providing aid or assistance for the commission of international law violations if the conditions for complicity are fulfilled.’

In its World Report 2019, Human Rights Watch noted: ‘The armed conflict in Yemen has killed and injured thousands of Yemeni civilians since it began.

‘As of November 2018, 6,872 civilians had been killed and 10,768 wounded, the majority by Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

‘The actual civilian casualties are likely much higher. Thousands more have been displaced by the fighting and millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care.’

The rights group added: ‘Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiralling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems.

‘Parties to the conflict have exacerbated what the UN has called the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe, including by unlawfully impeding delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.

‘The armed conflict has taken a terrible toll on the civilian population. The coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian objects in violation of the laws of war, using munitions sold by the United States, United Kingdom, and others, including widely banned cluster munitions. . . .

‘Since 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented about 90 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes, which have hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. Some of these attacks may amount to war crimes. In 2018, the coalition bombed a wedding, killing 22 people, including eight children, and in another strike bombed a bus filled with children, killing at least 26 children.

Human Rights Watch has identified remnants of US-origin munitions at the site of more than two dozen attacks, including the 2018 attacks on the wedding and the bus.

‘The Saudi-led coalition has used at least six types of widely banned cluster munitions produced in Brazil, the US, and the UK. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other Saudi-led coalition states are not party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.’

Human Rights Watch further noted: ‘Coalition member countries have sought to avoid international legal liability by refusing to provide information on their forces’ role in unlawful attacks.

‘By early 2018, meetings of the coalition included representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, Sudan, Egypt, Kuwait, and Morocco, as well as Pakistan, Djibouti, Senegal, Malaysia, and Yemen, according to the Saudi state news agency itself.

The United States has been a party to the conflict and may be complicit in unlawful coalition attacks in which it took part. The US has provided in-air refuelling and other tactical support to coalition forces, but has not provided detailed information on the extent and scope of its engagement. In November, the US said it was ending in-air refuelling to the coalition.

‘The UK has provided training and weaponry to members of the coalition.

‘The US, UK, France, and others have continued to sell munitions and other arms to Saudi Arabia and other coalition states, despite the coalition’s frequent unlawful attacks. A number of US and UK lawmakers have challenged their governments’ continuation of these sales. UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia face ongoing litigation.’