Grenfell survivors condemn leaking of report to Conservative daily

This 21 May 2018 video from London, England says about itself:

Grenfell Tower inquiry: final phone call of victim Mohamed Neda played by family

The family of one of the people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire played the harrowing audio of his last recorded words on the first day of the long-awaited public inquiry into the disaster.

By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Activists and firefighters condemn leak of Grenfell inquiry report to the [Conservative daily] Telegraph

GRENFELL justice campaigners and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) today condemned the leaking of the inquiry’s first phase report to the Telegraph.

On Monday, the inquiry’s core participants were made to sign non-disclosure agreements before being given 48 hours to read and digest the report ahead of its wider publication and debate in Parliament today.

But the embargo was broken and the report was splashed on the front of today’s Telegraph.

Campaign group Grenfell United said: “A number of bereaved and survivors have not yet had the opportunity to read the inquiry report and it is unacceptable that they should be drip fed the inquiry’s findings through the national media.”

Joe Delaney, who was evacuated from a block of flats adjacent to Grenfell Tower, called for the embargo to be dropped because it “silenced” those affected while media outlets were free to report.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack condemned the “deeply upsetting” leaking of the report to the media.

He also criticised the inquiry for focusing on actions of firefighters and “utterly failing” to scrutinise the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding that was put on the tower a year before the June 2017 fire broke out and killed 72 people.

Mr Wrack described the inquiry as being “completely back to front.”

He added: “The truth is that the fire spread the way it did because it was wrapped in flammable cladding.

“The firefighters turned up after that had happened, after the building had already been turned, in reality, into a death trap.”

In the report, inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick acknowledges that the “principal reason” the flames spread at speed was the ACM cladding with polyethylene cores which acted as a “source of fuel”.

But he says “serious shortcomings” plagued the London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) response and fewer people would have died if firefighters and 999 operators rescinded the “stay-put” strategy sooner.

He praises the bravery of firefighters, but accuses LFB commissioner Dany Cotton of “remarkable insensitivity” after she said she would not have done anything differently.

Mr Wrack said: “The issues behind the Grenfell Tower fire go back 30 years or more and they lie at the heart of central government.

“My frustration with this is that individual firefighters, including senior officers like Dany Cotton, are being subject to a degree of scrutiny which government ministers are avoiding.”

The inquiry’s second phase is due to start in the new year.

Prehistoric humans and climate change

This May 2018 video is called A short video describing the main debated theories around Homo sapiens dispersal across the globe.

From the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia:

The homeland of modern humans

October 28, 2019

Summary: A landmark study pinpoints the birthplace of modern humans in southern Africa and suggests how past climate shifts drove their first migration.

A study has concluded that the earliest ancestors of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) emerged in a southern African ‘homeland’ and thrived there for 70 thousand years.

The breakthrough findings are published in the prestigious journal Nature today.

The authors propose that changes in Africa’s climate triggered the first human explorations, which initiated the development of humans’ genetic, ethnic and cultural diversity.

This study provides a window into the first 100 thousand years of modern humans’ history.

DNA as a time capsule

“It has been clear for some time that anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 200 thousand years ago. What has been long debated is the exact location of this emergence and subsequent dispersal of our earliest ancestors,” says study lead Professor Vanessa Hayes from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney, and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria.

“Mitochondrial DNA acts like a time capsule of our ancestral mothers, accumulating changes slowly over generations. Comparing the complete DNA code, or mitogenome, from different individuals provides information on how closely they are related.”

In their study, Professor Hayes and her colleagues collected blood samples to establish a comprehensive catalogue of modern human’s earliest mitogenomes from the so-called ‘L0’ lineage. “Our work would not have been possible without the generous contributions of local communities and study participants in Namibia and South Africa, which allowed us to uncover rare and new L0 sub-branches,” says study author and public health Professor Riana Bornman from the University of Pretoria.

“We merged 198 new, rare mitogenomes to the current database of modern human’s earliest known population, the L0 lineage. This allowed us to refine the evolutionary tree of our earliest ancestral branches better than ever before,” says first author Dr Eva Chan from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, who led the phylogenetic analyses.

By combining the L0 lineage timeline with the linguistic, cultural and geographic distributions of different sub-lineages, the study authors revealed that 200 thousand years ago, the first Homo sapiens sapiens maternal lineage emerged in a ‘homeland’ south of the Greater Zambezi River Basin region, which includes the entire expanse of northern Botswana into Namibia to the west and Zimbabwe to the east.

A homeland perfect for life to thrive

Investigating existing geological, archeological and fossil evidence, geologist Dr Andy Moore, from Rhodes University, revealed that the homeland region once held Africa’s largest ever lake system, Lake Makgadikgadi.

“Prior to modern human emergence, the lake had begun to drain due to shifts in underlying tectonic plates. This would have created, a vast wetland, which is known to be one of the most productive ecosystems for sustaining life,” says Dr Moore.

Modern humans’ first migrations

The authors’ new evolutionary timelines suggest that the ancient wetland ecosystem provided a stable ecological environment for modern humans’ first ancestors to thrive for 70 thousand years.

“We observed significant genetic divergence in the modern humans’ earliest maternal sub-lineages, that indicates our ancestors migrated out of the homeland between 130 and 110 thousand years ago,” explains Professor Hayes. “The first migrants ventured northeast, followed by a second wave of migrants who travelled southwest. A third population remained in the homeland until today.”

“In contrast to the northeasterly migrants, the southwesterly explorers appear to flourish, experiencing steady population growth,” says Professor Hayes. The authors speculate that the success of this migration was most likely a result of adaptation to marine foraging, which is further supported by extensive archaeological evidence along the southern tip of Africa.

Climate effects

To investigate what may have driven these early human migrations, co-corresponding author Professor Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, analysed climate computer model simulations and geological data, which capture Southern Africa’s climate history of the past 250 thousand years.

“Our simulations suggest that the slow wobble of Earth’s axis changes summer solar radiation in the Southern Hemisphere, leading to periodic shifts in rainfall across southern Africa,” says Professor Timmermann. “These shifts in climate would have opened green, vegetated corridors, first 130 thousand years ago to the northeast, and then around 110 thousand years ago to the southwest, allowing our earliest ancestors to migrate away from the homeland for the first time.”

“These first migrants left behind a homeland population,” remarks Professor Hayes. “Eventually adapting to the drying lands, maternal descendants of the homeland population can be found in the greater Kalahari region today.”

This study uniquely combined the disciplines of genetics, geology and climatic physics to rewrite our earliest human history.

The research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant (DP170103071) and the Institute for Basic Science (IBS-R028-D1). Professor Vanessa Hayes holds the Sydney University Petre Chair of Prostate Cancer Research.

New Ken Loach film on capitalism, interview

This 19 June 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

SORRY WE MISSED YOU – Official Trailer [HD]

From director Ken Loach, writer Paul Laverty and the award-winning team behind I, DANIEL BLAKE, comes SORRY WE MISSED YOU – a powerful exploration of the contemporary world of work, the gig economy and the challenges faced by one family trying to hold it all together.

Directed by: Ken Loach
Written by: Paul Laverty
Starring: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor

By Dan Nolan in Britain:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Interview ‘If you gain control of the narrative, you control the story’

Screenwriter PAUL LAVERTY talks to Dan Nolan about his work on a new film with Ken Loach which takes the ideological brainwashing of the free market to task

“DID you see that article in the Financial Times?” Paul Laverty asks me. “They’re really, really worried. There’s such gross inequalities now, the whole thing is going to collapse.

“And they want a benign, humane capitalism. As if [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos gives one flying fuck. You know, he’s monitoring people’s behaviour — eight seconds to move every single item. Do you think he gives one single toss? No.”

This invective is typical of Laverty, who’s honest, unrestrained and funny in spite of the London press launch we meet at for his latest film with Ken Loach, Sorry We Missed You, which he scripted.

He speaks with a conviction born of leg-work and commitment. Working with Loach and producer Rebecca O’Brien, his screenplay is derived from time spent at delivery depots, white-van cabs and care workers’ rounds.

When I tell him I was once a Deliveroo rider, his response is characteristic: “Did [the film] ring true to you or what?”

Sorry We Missed You, through the intimacy and intricacy of just one single family, tells the story of sweeping and systematic abuse of the working poor in the name of unfettered capital gain.

Ricky and Abby, on the verge of buying a home, are hit sharply by the collapse of Northern Rock and they’re left to sustain rent, bills, a car and two kids through tenuous, false self-employment in couriering and care work.

All of that, Laverty reminds me, was part of a plan. In the 1980s Tory minister Nicholas Ridley, along with Margaret Thatcher — the “radical free marketeers” — plotted to destroy the trade unions, “then destroy the miners, then privatise.”

Here, at its tail-end, this ruthless neoliberal ideology has metastasised. Well-meaning victims now promote it — alienated from other workers and their own families — in a language manufactured by legal and PR experts.

This new lexicon of “onboarding” and “working with” — which opens the film over black title credits — has huge significance, says Laverty. “If you gain control of the narrative, you control the story. You’re no longer an employee. You are an ‘owner-driver-franchisee.’ It’s your business. You’re a ‘warrior of the road.’”

He quotes William Blake, who talked of “mind-forged manacles”, and for Laverty “that’s exactly what it is: ‘There’s great opportunities here and if you screw it up and if you fuck it up, it’s your fault.’”

After I, Daniel Blake’s targeting of the Tory welfare state, in which a man in the street pours scorn on Iain Duncan Smith, no character here is blaming the Tories or Bezos. “Ricky believes in this system,” Laverty stresses. “And he’s not got a fucking chance because it’s going to grind him down.”

This manifests in the film through Maloney, Ricky’s depot boss — the self-declared “patron saint of nasty bastards” — who works and sanctions his self-employed contractors harder than any direct employer.

But Laverty, briefing former copper Ross Brewster for the role, told him that he is not playing the enemy. “In his own mind he’s saying he’s got to win the contract because he knows that black box [the couriers’ bleeping handheld device] is up against everybody else and is absolutely merciless.”

When Abby shouts down Maloney for sanctioning her physically broken husband, the depot boss does not flinch. “This is beyond personality,” Laverty says. “She’s looking at a corporation and it begs the question: ‘How do you get away with it?’”

Sorry We Missed You does not bludgeon viewers with its message. It’s heart-breaking and affecting, but touched with warmth and humour — and curries and football.

The writer saves a certain ire for misreadings of this reality. “This guy, Matt Littlewood, made me laugh — I think he was a Tory adviser at one point — he was asked to watch the film and he goes: ‘Oh, that’s probably the worst day ever. Everything comes together at once.’”

The film is painfully aware of the fate of Don Lane, the DPD courier fined for taking time to treat his eventually fatal diabetes. But its characters live on, despite 15-minute care visits and plastic-bottle toilet breaks.

The likes of Littlewood always say: “Oh yes, that’s the worst-case scenario,” says Laverty. “No. Bullshit. I’d love to put him in a room for 10 hours and give him a plastic bottle and see how he feels — him and Bezos and his executives.”

Laverty is defiant, not resigned. He cites Gramsci: “We’re in an ‘interregnum,’ this kind of period where we don’t really know what’s going to happen. But I think so many people of [the younger] generation are saying this does not work.

“I think what’s hopefully beginning to seep into people’s minds is that the centre of ground is changing.

“And they say: ‘We cannot allow this if we’re going to have our communities screwed, our families screwed, the mental health of our children.’

“And what’s the point of work if you can’t even see your children?”

Sorry We Missed You is in cinemas on Friday November 1.

New fin whale subspecies discovery

This 29 January 2012 video from the USA says about itself:

Fin Whale Watching with the Aquarium of the Pacific off Long Beach, California

The Aquarium of the Pacific has seen a record number of Gray whales, endangered Fin whales, Orcas and Dolphins off the coast of Long Beach on their whale watching excursions this Winter (January 2012). The Aquarium invited MomsLA out for a chance to see what we could see and it was amazing: we saw two giant pods of Dolphins and a pod of endangered Fin Whales. Later that day the Aquarium saw a pod of Orcas and a pod of Gray whales as well.

From NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region in the USA:

Genetics reveal Pacific subspecies of fin whale

New findings highlight diversity of marine mammals

October 28, 2019

e northern Pacific Ocean as a separate subspecies, reflecting a revolution in marine mammal taxonomy as scientists unravel the genetics of enormous animals otherwise too large to fit into laboratories.

“The increasing study of cetacean genetics is revealing new diversity among the world’s whales and dolphins that has not been previously recognized,” said Eric Archer, a geneticist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in La Jolla, California. Archer is the lead author of the identification of the new subspecies of fin whale.

“There’s definitely more diversity out there than has been on the books,” he said. “There has been a wave of progress in cetacean taxonomy.”

Fin whales are the second-largest whale on earth and the fastest whales in the ocean, which made them one of the last whale species hunted to the edge of extinction. Whalers killed about 46,000 fin whales in the North Pacific Ocean from 1947 to 1987. They are also one of the least known large whale species. They mainly roam the open ocean, farther from coastlines where they might be seen and studied more easily.

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Ocean Associates Inc., Cascadia Research Collective, Tethys Research Institute, and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, identified the new subspecies. Their findings were published in an article in the Journal of Mammalogy, naming it Balaenoptera physalus velifera, which means “carrying a sail” in Latin.

“We don’t get a lot of (genetic) material from them,” Archer said. However, advancing technologies allowed Archer and his colleagues to extract the detail they needed from samples at the SWFSC. The center’s Marine Mammal and Turtle Molecular Research Sample Collection is one of the largest collections of marine mammal genetic material in the world. They obtained additional samples from museums and other collections.

Bypassing the Skulls

Traditional taxonomy — the division of biological variation into recognized species and subspecies — involves comparing telltale parts of the skeleton such as the skull. For whales, this may weigh hundreds of pounds. Few institutions can amass a large enough collection to compare different individuals from around the world.

“Fin whales measure 60 to 70 feet long and their skulls are around 15 feet long,” Archer said. “Just housing a couple takes a lot of room.”

Increasingly powerful genetic technologies now allow scientists to compare genes instead of skeletons. They extract DNA from tissue samples the size of a pencil eraser obtained from whales in the field.

“It’s the only realistic way to do this, because you cannot get enough examples to determine the difference through morphology alone,” Archer said. As they have looked more closely at the genetic patterns of whales around the world, scientists have discovered much more complex differences between them.

“Instead of digging through museum storage facilities for skulls to describe species or subspecies, genetic data unlock our ability to describe unique populations of whales across the globe,” said research biologist Barbara Taylor, leader of the SWFSC’s Marine Mammal Genetics Program. “It is a new way of looking at these animals.”

Telltale Differences in the DNA

Comparing the DNA from fin whales in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans showed the scientists that they have been separated for hundreds of thousands of years. They also could assign individual fin whale samples to their ocean of origin using the genetic data. This is further evidence that they are separate and distinct subspecies.

Genetic research by NOAA Fisheries scientists has also revealed new details of other whales, including a new species of Baird’s beaked whale. It may also help determine whether a recently documented type of killer whale off South America represents a new species.

Similar genetic details can also help tailor protections for threatened or endangered whales, because the Endangered Species Act recognizes separate subspecies. That means that managers can target ESA safeguards for those subspecies that need it even when others may have recovered. This could make conservation efforts more efficient and effective.

About 14,000 to 18,000 fin whales in the northern Pacific Ocean will be affected by the new subspecies designation. NOAA Fisheries has documented that their numbers are increasing.

“There are other new species and subspecies that we are learning about thanks to the technology that has made this possible,” Archer said. “It is changing the field.”

Iraqi students demonstrate against austerity, corruption

Iraqi demonstrating girls attacked by police tear gas, photo by Khalid Mohammed/AP

Translated from Dutch daily Leeuwarder Courant, 28 October 2019:

Iraqi security forces have fired tear gas at university students and secondary school pupils in Baghdad. They had taken to the streets to demand the government’s departure. During such anti-government protests, more than two hundred people were killed this month.

Young people demonstrated Monday at several places in the country. “No school and no lessons until the regime collapses”, protesters chanted in Al Diwaniyah, about 180 kilometres south of the capital. “We took to the streets today to claim our rights”, one student said. He complained that after the Iraq war in 2003 the US Americans helped “a bunch of thieves” to power.

Iraq repeatedly had to deal with large-scale protests in recent weeks. Protesters think that the political elite is corrupt and incompetent. Activists said on Sunday that several schools and universities have closed their doors due to the protests. An Iraqi Prime Minister spokesman has threatened “severe penalties” for those who disrupt education.

Young population

The young people seem to ignore the warnings by the authorities. “This is my first day at the demonstrations. I told my mother I was going to school, but instead, I went here”, said a girl near Tahrir Square in the capital. In the holy city of Najaf, dozens of theology students took to the streets.

Iraq has a relatively young population. About 60 per cent of the approximately 40 million Iraqis are under the age of 25. Despite the country’s large oil reserves, there is a high youth unemployment rate of around 25 per cent.

School students chant slogans as they take part in a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, near the Governorate building in Basra, Iraq, October 28, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Essam al-Sudani)

See also here.

IRAQI FORCES OPEN FIRE ON PROTESTERS At least 14 people were killed and 865 wounded overnight after Iraqi security forces opened fire on protesters in the Shiite holy city of Kerbala. [Reuters]

Brown shrike in Belgium, first ever

This 25 October 2019 video from Heist in Belgium says about itself:

NEW FOR BELGIUM: Brown Shrike – Lanius cristatus

The first Brown Shrike for Belgium ever, a spectacular adult male!

Translated from Belgian daily De Standaard today:

The brown shrike was spotted in Heist on Friday, reports Natuurpunt. It is the first time that the bird is seen in Belgium.

On Friday bird watchers discovered a brown shrike in Heist. This brings the number of bird species found in Belgium to 452.

The species is originally from East Asia. In 1985 a specimen was discovered for the first time in Europe, more specifically in Great Britain. Later the bird was also noticed in other European countries, such as Denmark, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

In the Netherlands, the species has been spotted four times, the first time in January 2014, the last two times this month. The species was also seen in France and Sweden, and it was this species’ first time in North America this year.

Other species

It is not the first rare bird species that was detected in Belgium last month. On the coast, for example, an isabelline wheatear, a Pallas’s grasshopper warbler, a red-eyed vireo and a Daurian shrike could already be noticed.

Why such species are seen in Belgium is not entirely clear, but according to Natuurpunt it is not surprising that they are discovered in the coastal area. The North Sea forms a natural barrier that most songbirds do not like to fly over, and in the harbour area there is bright light at night that attracts the birds.

Bezos’ Amazon against lobsters, British workers’ health

This 6 February 2018 British TV video says about itself:

Fury Over Amazon Delivering Live Lobsters | Good Morning Britain

Antony Worrall Thompson and Sara-Jane Crawford join Good Morning Britain to share their opinions on Amazon selling and delivering live lobsters.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Amazon accused of wasting millions on PR while refusing to tackle shocking warehouse safety record

GMB says its ‘investigations prove Amazon is an incredibly dangerous place to work

RETAIL giant Amazon has been accused of wasting millions of pounds on promotional advertising while refusing to tackle a shocking safety record at its warehouses.

The accusation came today from general union GMB, which is campaigning for recognition at Amazon’s 17 warehouses nationwide.

Reports about a catalogue of health and safety problems prompted Amazon to launch a multimillion-pound advertising campaign to improve its public image.

The campaign included inviting customers to visit Amazon’s warehouses for closely guided tours.

Amazon said that “tens of thousands” of customers had taken up the offer.

But Mick Rix, GMB national officer, accused the company of “spending millions to improve its image instead of addressing staff safety concerns.”

“Our investigations prove Amazon is an incredibly dangerous place to work,” he said.

“Hundreds of ambulance call-outs, workers suffering electric shocks, heart attacks and even miscarriages.

“So rather than waste millions on flash advertising campaigns, why don’t Amazon just get round the table with us so we can work together and make sure their staff stay safe and healthy at the end of their shift?”

Amazon says its warehouses provide a “safe and modern environment” for its employees.

The company said reports of safety concerns were “simply wrong and misleading when attempting to portray Amazon as an unsafe workplace.”

But for almost two years the Morning Star has reported on health and safety problems and incidents at Amazon warehouses.

They include: workers having to take empty bottles to work to urinate in because there is no time to go to the toilet; a pregnant woman being forced to stand for 10 hours to keep her working; emergency ambulances being called to Amazon warehouses more than 600 times to treat sick and injured workers over a three-year period; one warehouse at Rugeley in Staffordshire calling out emergency ambulances 115 times to deal with incidents which included electric shocks, bleeding, chest pains, major trauma, and pregnancy and maternity issues.

A similar-sized distribution warehouse nearby had just eight call-outs during the same period.

Last November, Amazon failed to respond to a request from Labour MPs Jack Dromey and Emma Reynolds for a health and safety review and a meeting with GMB in the House of Commons.

The company also ignored a GMB request for a safety audit at the company’s warehouses.

A year ago Amazon warehouses in Rugeley, Swansea, Peterborough, Milton Keynes and Warrington were targeted for protests by the union.

Demonstrations also took place at Amazon warehouses in Spain and Italy, where workers staged 24-hour strikes.

GMB has accused the company of “treating its workers like robots”.

Worldwide Amazon employs more than 125,000 workers, 37,000 of them in Britain.

Research by the Health Foundation reveals that more than one in three UK employees—36 percent or 10 million people—are in low-quality jobs that can adversely affect their health: here.

Southern lesser galago video

This 28 October 2019 video from Botswana says about itself:

The Southern Lesser Galago, also known as a Bushbaby, is perfectly adapted to hunt insects at night. Their tiny bodies are offset by their large, saucer-like eyes, and they will wash their feet and hands in their own urine to make them stickier and help in climbing trees.