Apes’ ears and human evolution


This 2014 video says about itself:

Our ears are much more sensitive than most reptiles’, due to the tiniest bones in the human body. But where did these bones come from? Evolutionary biologists Karen Sears and Neil Shubin show us evidence of their connection to the bones of ancient reptilian jaws.

From eLife:

Apes’ inner ears could hide clues to evolutionary history of hominoids

New findings highlight the potential of the inner ear for reconstructing the early branches of our family tree

March 3, 2020

Studying the inner ear of apes and humans could uncover new information on our species’ evolutionary relationships, suggests a new study published today in eLife.

Humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and gibbons all belong to a group known as the hominoids. This ‘superfamily’ also includes the immediate ancestors and close relatives of these species, but in many instances, the evolutionary relationships between these extinct ape species remain controversial. The new findings suggest that looking at the structure (or morphology) of the inner ears across hominoids as a whole could go some way to resolving this.

“Reconstructing the evolutionary history of apes and humans and determining the morphology of the last common ancestor from which they evolved are challenging tasks,” explains lead author Alessandro Urciuoli, a researcher at the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP) in Barcelona, Spain. “While DNA can help evolutionary biologists work out how living species are related to one another, fossils are typically the principal source of information for extinct species, although they must be used with caution.”

The bony cavity that houses the inner ear, which is involved in balance and hearing and is fairly common in the fossil record, has proven useful for tracing the evolution of certain groups of mammals. But until now, no studies have explored whether this structure could provide insights into the evolutionary relatedness among living and extinct hominoids.

To address this, Urciuoli and his team used a 3D imaging technique to capture the complex shapes of the inner ear cavities of 27 species of monkeys and apes, including humans and the extinct ape Oreopithecus and fossil hominin Australopithecus. Their results confirmed that the shape of these structures most closely reflected the evolutionary relationships between the species and not, for example, how the animals moved.

The team next identified features of these bony chambers that were shared among several hominoid groups, and estimated how the inner ears of these groups’ ancestors might have looked. Their findings for Australopithecus were consistent with this species being the most closely related to modern humans than other apes, while those for Oreopithecus supported the view that this was a much older species of ape related in some respects with other apes still alive today.

“Our work provides a testable hypothesis about inner ear evolution in apes and humans that should be subjected to further scrutiny based on the analysis of additional fossils, particularly for great apes that existed during the Miocene,” says senior author David Alba, Director of the ICP. The Miocene period, which extends from about 23 to five million years ago, is when the evolutionary path to hominoids became distinct.

Urciuoli adds that, in years to come, disentangling the kinship relationships between Miocene apes will be essential for improving our understanding of the evolution of hominoids, including humans and our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee and bonobo.

African American author James Baldwin, new biography


James Baldwin, flanked by actors Charlton Heston (left) and Marlon Brando at the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963. Photo US Information Agency, Press and Publications Service

By Tom King:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Seeker of justice in the here and now

TOM KING recommends a new biography of the great black writer and political activist James Baldwin

Living in Fire
by Bill V Mullen
(Pluto Press, £20)

IN TRENTON, New Jersey, in 1942 the 18-year-old James Baldwin walked into a diner and ordered a hamburger and a cup of coffee. “We don’t serve Negroes here”, the waitress replied.

He left, calmly and without a fight, heading straight to an “enormous, glittering and fashionable restaurant” where he “knew not even the intercession of the Virgin” would get him what he asked for.

He went inside, repeated his order, received an identical reply and, lifting a mug full of water from the nearest table, threw it at the waitress. She ducked and it smashed against the mirror behind the bar.

“I could not get over two facts, both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp,” Baldwin would later say of that day. “One was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder.

“I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart.”

Living in Fire, Bill Mullen’s biography of Baldwin — the first in over 10 years — gives a context to understanding the activist and writer against the upheavals of the last decade, as well as his often overlooked radical political commitments.

Baldwin was an angry young man, with much to be angry about. Born in Harlem on August 2, 1924, to Emma Burdis Jones and a father he would never know, he grew up in Depression-era New York in the neighbourhood where unemployment in the 1930s reached 50 per cent.

His mother later married David Baldwin, a factory worker and son of slaves, and they proceeded to have eight more children together. Baldwin, with both parents out working, often looked after them “with one hand and held a book with the other.”

His stepfather left New Orleans in 1919 “to save his life”, Baldwin recalls. “They were hanging niggers from trees… and my father left the South therefore.” It was the “Red Summer” of 1919, when African-Americans in cities such as East St Louis and Chicago were brutally beaten, even killed, by soldiers returning from the first world war, whose jobs they had filled in their absence.

Baldwin Snr was a fundamentalist Pentecostal preacher and, from the age of 14 to 17, Baldwin himself was a young minister and spoke from the pulpit regularly. It was formative in two critical ways, by inspiring a love for the language and poetry of the King James Bible and honing his oratorical skills.

The ubiquity of Harlem’s churches also led Baldwin to sympathise with Marx’s famous observation that religion was “the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.”

This dovetailed perfectly with Baldwin’s experiences of racial oppression: “Religion operates here as complete and exquisite fantasy revenge: white people own the earth and commit all manner of abomination and injustice on it; the bad will be punished and the good rewarded, for God is not sleeping, the judgement is not far off.”

But for Baldwin, this wasn’t good enough. He wanted justice in the here and now.

It was around this time that he came into contact with young teacher Orilla Miller, who recognised Baldwin’s talents immediately. Miller, a member of the US Communist Party, moved to Harlem to work for the Federal Theater Project and she took Baldwin to see his first play, Orson Wells’s production of Macbeth. Set in Haiti with an all-black cast, it’s considered a landmark of anti-racist US theatre.

This, along with the literature he was introduced to by Miller, including Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, lit Baldwin’s imagination and he began to write.

Baldwin’s sexual awakening soon followed his political one, with the loss of his faith and the realisation he was gay precipitating increasing tension with his father. At the age of 17 he moved to Greenwich Village, the New York bohemian quarter famous for its gay bars, including the Stonewall Inn.

There, Baldwin entered what he called “the most exploratory and economically tenuous period” of his life. He worked in precarious jobs such as meatpacking or waitering while working on his semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It On the Mountain.

He became more politically engaged, joining the Young People’s Socialist League around the time of the Harlem riots in 1943, when a white policeman shot a black soldier in the back, igniting a furious response from a community either living in dire poverty at home or dying in huge numbers fighting a war half-way across the globe.

Baldwin persevered as a writer and activist over the next few years. But he was poor, black, gay and left-wing. Apart from his gender, it’s difficult to imagine a less advantageous position in the US at the dawn of the cold war, when it wasn’t just communism that McCarthy sought to eradicate from US life.

He left the US at the age of 24 and would never properly return. He went to Paris where, energised by the culture and radicalism of the Left Bank, he thrived. He wrote Giovanni’s Room, perhaps his most famous novel, as well as the essay collection Notes of a Native Son.

He became more successful throughout the 1960s and engaged in the political struggles of that tumultuous decade. These were anchored for him around the civil rights movement, which he saw as allowing him to both identify with, and properly understand, international suffering.

“No black man in chains in his own country, and watching the many deaths occurring around him every day, believes for a moment that America cares anything at all about the freedom of Asia… every bombed village is my hometown,” he said of the Vietnam war.

And though he hoped the creation of Israel as a home for the dispossessed would prove a model for African-American emancipation, the colonial realities of that endeavour clearly angered him greatly: “The creation of the State of Israel was one of the most cynical achievements — really murderous, merciless, ugliest and cynical on the part of the Western nations,” he declared in 1970.

Though he found a strong political voice in Black Power, Baldwin’s sexuality caused tension within the emerging movement. He was referred to as Martin Luther Queen and Eldridge Cleaver, leader of the Black Panther Party, accused Baldwin “in his real life and fiction of giving himself up to political sodomy from the white man.” …

The Black Panther Party expelled Cleaver, who turned to the right, joining the Moonie cult, the [historically racist] Mormons and the Republican party.

Living at this intersection between masculinity, sexuality and race, Mullin claims, drove Baldwin to a new awareness of women’s oppression. He corresponded with many feminist writers and became great friends with the scholar and poet Nikki Giovanni, with whom he discussed and argued about the gender dynamics of Black Power.

The twin oppressions of racism and homophobia clearly vexed Baldwin greatly. He recalled that he made David, the gay protagonist of Giovanni’s Room, white rather than black because he “could not handle both propositions in the same book.”

But he was unequivocal about what he considered the greater burden: “A black gay person who is a sexual conundrum to society is already, long before the question of sexuality comes into it, menaced and marked because he’s black or she’s black.

“The sexual question comes after the question of color.”

Baldwin, it seems, considered the gay-rights movement a middle-class phenomenon, devoid of the radical commitments that would effect lasting change. As Mullin points out, this is curious, considering the role that queer and trans people of colour, such as Sylvia Rivera and Martha P Johnson, played in the Stonewall riots, which Baldwin never wrote about.

And though the Aids crisis would compel Baldwin as a public figure to speak out against the Reagan administration’s apathy, as well as nursing a partner who would die from it, the epidemic would barely feature in his writing at all.

Towards the end of his life, Baldwin described himself, sadly, as an “ageing, lonely, sexually dubious, politically outrageous, unspeakably erratic freak.”

But he still seemed to enjoy visitors, jokes, laughter and discussion at his home in the south of France. “People invent categories in order to feel safe. White people invented black people to give white people identity,” Baldwin told Giovanni one day. “Straight cats invented faggots so they can sleep with them without becoming faggots themselves.”

Giovanni responds that love is a “tremendous responsibility”, to which Baldwin simply replies: “It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.”

Macaws help South American trees


This 5 March 2020 video says about itself:

Macaws help plant trees across their habitats

Hyacinth and Lear’s macaws are two endangered parrot species in South America. These birds have strong beaks that allow them to crack through nuts. And a recent study found that the birds are able to help plant trees over hundreds of meters.

But researchers say there could be major ecological concerns if conservation efforts don’t preserve the two species.

British Conservatives funded by climate denialist polluters


This October 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Watch the US stall on climate change for 12 years

It was once a bipartisan issue, but now one of America’s major parties [the Republicans] acts like climate science doesn’t exist. This is an updated version of a video we published in 2016.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Tories have taken £1.5m in donations from polluters and climate-denialists

THE Tories have taken £1.5 million in funding from polluting industries and climate-denial funders since the general election, official data has revealed.

Figures published by the Electoral Commission and in the MPs’ register of interests show a string of donations to the party from anti-environment groups in the last three months.

Under-fire Home Secretary Priti Patel is among the Tory politicians who have benefited.

She received £21,000 from backers of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a lobby group which works to mitigate policies against climate change.

Other gifts were given to the Conservative Party as a whole, which received £1.4m in donations from heavy-machinery firm JCB.

London City Airport also contributed to the Tories in the past three months, handing £12,500 to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs.

In total, £1,488,478 has been given to the party since its landslide election victory in December.

Labour MP Dr Alan Whitehead said: “News that the Conservative Party is funded by fossil-fuel interests raises worrying questions about Tory sincerity on net-zero and the green economy.

Businesses rarely hand over money for no reason. The question for the Conservative Party is: what have these companies bought?”

The Greens also hit out over the funding, saying that no major party can be trusted to tackle the climate emergency.

Sian Berry, party co-leader and London mayoral candidate, said: “Money talks, but we cannot have business as usual in this climate emergency.”

PRO-TRUMP CLIMATE DENIAL GROUP FIRES STAFF The Illinois-based Heartland Institute ― an influential climate-denial think tank bankrolled by President Donald Trump’s far-right billionaire donors, has laid off nearly a dozen staffers amid financial troubles, according to three former employees. Heartland captured headlines last month for promoting a German teenager with ties to neo-Nazis as the climate denier’s alternative to acclaimed youth activist Greta Thunberg. [HuffPost]

British thugs abuse coronavirus for anti-Asian racism


This 13 February 2020 video is called Britain’s Chinese community faces racism over coronavirus outbreak.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Teachers warn minorities are being racially abused as coronavirus anxiety spreads

TEACHERS of Chinese and other minority-ethnic origin are being subjected to racist name-calling and intimidation in schools as fears of the coronavirus spread, a union warned today.

The NASUWT teachers’ union said that reports by its members of abuse, prejudice, xenophobia and racism in schools have increased since the outbreak reached Britain.

The union said that there had been a report of groups of pupils playing an “unsavoury” game of tag named after the coronavirus.

In letters to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and his counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, NASUWT warned of pupils and school staff being verbally and physically abused on “grounds that appear to be racially motivated.”

The union is calling on education ministers to extend the coronavirus guidance that has already been issued to schools to address racist incidents related to the outbreak.

NASUWT acting general secretary Chris Keates said: “The NASUWT is extremely concerned at the extent of increased incidence of abuse, prejudice, xenophobia and racism as a result of the coronavirus.

“Misinformation and false reporting about the coronavirus, its causes and how it is spread have fuelled fear and panic and in some cases led to the ostracising of people of East Asian heritage and others perceived to be ‘foreign’ or an ‘immigrant’ within the UK.

“Unfortunately, schools and colleges are not exempt from the associated xenophobic and racialised stereotyping of Chinese and other East Asian people.

“The NASUWT has received reports of increased covert and overt racial attacks perpetrated against some minority-ethnic pupils and NASUWT members linked to coronavirus concerns.”

The warning comes after reports of verbal and physical abuse linked to the outbreak.

Singaporean student Jonathan Mok was set upon by a group of men and a woman as he walked along Oxford Street in central London on February 24.

He said that one of the attackers told him: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.”

And last month, China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said that the Chinese embassy had received reports of racism from universities “and even in some middle schools and primary schools.”

Ms Keates added: “The NASUWT is urging the Department for Education to communicate with schools and provide guidance and support for school leaders.”

The National Education Union also criticised the government’s handling of issues relating to the virus outbreak and said that it had a responsibility to “set a tone.”

THE government’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty now holds that a coronavirus epidemic in Britain is “likely.” And today’s tally of new infections was the country’s highest so far. This makes demands from Labour and trade union leaders for action on sick pay for gig economy workers urgent. Boris Johnson’s concession of statutory sick pay from day one in cases of suspected coronavirus is welcome but fails to recognise the severity of the potential threat: here.