Extinct giant dormouse, new research


An artist’s impression of the giant dormouse Leithia melitensis (left) and its nearest living relative the garden dormouse (right). Image credit: James Sadler, University of York

From the University of York in England:

Skull of two million year-old giant dormouse reconstructed

July 9, 2020

A PhD student has produced the first digital reconstruction of the skull of a gigantic dormouse, which roamed the island of Sicily around two million years ago.

In a new study, the student from Hull York Medical School, has digitally pieced together fossilised fragments from five giant dormouse skulls to reconstruct the first known complete skull of the species.

The researchers estimate that the enormous long-extinct rodent was roughly the size of a cat, making it the largest species of dormouse ever identified.

The digitally reconstructed skull is 10 cm long — the length of the entire body and tail of many types of modern dormouse.

PhD student Jesse Hennekam said: “Having only a few fossilised pieces of broken skulls available made it difficult to study this fascinating animal accurately. This new reconstruction gives us a much better understanding of what the giant dormouse may have looked like and how it may have lived.”

The enormous prehistoric dormouse is an example of island gigantism — a biological phenomenon in which the body size of an animal isolated on an island increases dramatically.

The palaeontological record shows that many weird and wonderful creatures once roamed the Italian islands. Alongside the giant dormouse, Sicily was also home to giant swans, giant owls and dwarf elephants.

Jesse’s PhD supervisor, Dr Philip Cox from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York and Hull York Medical School, said: “While island dwarfism is relatively well understood, as with limited resources on an island, animals may need to shrink to survive, the causes of gigantism are less obvious.

“Perhaps, with fewer terrestrial predators, larger animals are able to survive as there is less need for hiding in small spaces, or it could be a case of co-evolution with predatory birds where rodents get bigger to make them less vulnerable to being scooped up in talons.”

Jesse spotted the fossilised fragments of skull during a research visit to the Palermo Museum in Italy, where a segment of rock from the floor of a small cave, discovered during the construction of a motorway in northwest Sicily in the 1970s, was on display.

“I noticed what I thought were fragments of skull from an extinct species embedded in one of the cave floor segments,” Jesse said. “We arranged for the segment to be sent to Basel, Switzerland for microCT scanning and the resulting scans revealed five fragmented skulls of giant dormice present within the rock.”

The reconstruction is likely to play an important role in future research directed at improving understanding of why some small animals evolve larger body sizes on islands, the researchers say.

“The reconstructed skull gives us a better sense of whether the giant dormouse would have looked similar to its normal-sized counterparts or whether its physical appearance would have been influenced by adaptations to a specific environment,” Jesse explains.

“For example, if we look at the largest living rodent — the capybara — we can see that it has expanded in size on a different trajectory to other species in the same family.”

Jesse is also using biomechanical modelling to understand the feeding habits of the giant dormouse.

“At that size, it is possible that it may have had a very different diet to its smaller relatives,” he adds.

Irish religious children’s mass graves scandal


This 9 June 2020 video says about itself:

Ireland’s Mother and Baby Scandal (Part 1) | People and Power

Content warning: Some viewers may find this film distressing

Six years ago, Catherine Corless, a local historian from County Galway in the Republic of Ireland, discovered that hundreds of babies and young children had died in a home for unmarried pregnant women, run by Roman Catholic nuns in her hometown of Tuam.

Further research revealed that many of the babies had died of malnutrition and other forms of neglect. Most of their bodies had been disposed of, officially unrecorded, in an old septic tank buried in the grounds of the home.

Angry survivors and relatives called for an investigation – for the remains to be exhumed, identified and properly buried, for compensation and immediate government action. Concerned families began to ask questions about other homes run by the Church in Ireland and how many other babies had died in equally mysterious circumstances.

In 2015, in response to publicity and pressure in Dail Eireann, the lower house of the Irish Parliament, the government announced it was setting up an official Commission of Investigation. The body was required to provide answers by 2018. Indeed, some modest interim findings have since been released, but two years since its official publication date, the full report has still not seen the light of day.

This June, partially in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the report was again delayed until October 2020.

In its absence, the suspicion, frustration and anger of relatives have mushroomed. And the once shameful secret of a single small rural town is developing into a broader and more profound national scandal; an affair which goes to the heart of the close relationship between successive Irish governments and the Catholic Church.

In two special episodes of People and Power, from filmmakers Callum Macrae, Mark Williams and Al Jazeera correspondent Laurence Lee, we investigate deeply disturbing allegations that both the Irish state and its religious orders were responsible for a systematic decades-long regime of institutional neglect and exploitation involving the death of thousands of children.

Racism and police in the USA


This 9 July 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

The Chase Key: Exclusive report on how US Black man died of dehydration in custody

Exclusive investigation into death of Terrill Thomas, a Black man, who died of “profound dehydration” inside a Milwaukee jail in 2016, exposes how inmates with mental illness fail to get adequate care.

FAR-RIGHT ADOPTS ISIS TACTICS Black Lives Matter protesters nationwide have been the targets of vehicle-ramming assaults, a tactic used by Islamist extremist groups like ISIS, al Qaeda … but now adopted by the far-right. Propaganda and memes on social media encourage the violent tactics. [HuffPost]

Probably, the direct inspiration for that right-wing violence is not groups like ISIS or al Qaeda. Right-wingers in the USA, not just on social media, but on corporate Rupert Murdoch media like Fox News; not just ‘lone wolves‘, but also Republican party professional politicians, have for years propagated cars as weapons against demonstrators. Resulting in the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia. And the Islamophobic murder at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, England. And Islamophobic attacks with cars in France.

Both the murder of Heather Heyer by a nazi driver in Charlottesville, Virginia and the attempted murder by Daniel Wenzek in California were inspired by ‘mainstream’ right-wing campaigns by the Rupert Murdoch empire and others encouraging drivers to violently attack Black Lives Matter and other activists with pro-crime slogans like ‘Black Lives Splatter’.

Black Lives Splatter racist decal from nazi site Daily Stormer

This variation on the United States racist “All Lives Splatter” decal which encourages drivers to wound or kill protesters against police brutality is specifically a call to kill or injure supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is from the nazi Internet site Daily Stormer, one of the organisers of the Charlottesville violent fascist rally. The murderer of Heather Heyer got his inspiration from this.

‘THEY’LL KILL ME’ Transcripts of body camera footage released Wednesday show that George Floyd said more than 20 times that he couldn’t breathe during his fatal arrest May 25. Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer who has been charged in Floyd’s death, tells him, “It takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk.” The accounts add chilling details to the encounter that set off widespread protests against police brutality and racism.  [HuffPost]

SOLE DOJ POLICE PROBE FINDS ALARMING RESULTS The Justice Department has only investigated one police department since President Donald Trump took office. But that one probe — of the narcotics unit in Springfield, Massachusetts — found that officers “repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily” and use “excessive force without accountability.” [HuffPost]

Trump campaign: Jewish billionaires are using their money to try to ‘rig’ election.

COVID-19 update from the USA


This 8 July 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

COVID Projections Predict Dark Future For US

COVID projections predict a dark future for the United States in the coming months. What can you do to protect yourself? John Iadarola and Jayar Jackson break it down on The Damage Report.

Four Florida men face charges after allegedly selling “miracle” bleach cure.

TRUMP RALLY ‘LIKELY’ CAUSED VIRUS SURGE Tulsa, Oklahoma, is experiencing a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases after several large events two weeks ago, including a Trump rally that drew thousands of people. Tulsa’s health department doesn’t publicly identify individual settings where people may have contracted the virus, but its director said the rally and large protests that accompanied it “likely contributed” to the surge. [AP]

TRUMP’S BIG FLORIDA CONVENTION GAMBLE Uprooting the Republican nominating convention from North Carolina and moving it to America’s highest-value swing state may have seemed like a smart move a month ago. But now coronavirus cases are surging in the Sunshine State and the move could backfire if it loses him Florida’s 29 electoral votes. [HuffPost]

This 9 July 2020 video says about itself:

Trump Pressures Governors to Reopen Schools | NowThis

‘They think it’s gonna be good for them politically so they keep the schools closed, no way’ —President Trump says that he will ‘put a lot of pressure’ on governors tp reopen their schools in the fall.

In US news and current events today, President Donald Trump has expressed his intention to pressure governors into school reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire economy, but school reopenings are among the biggest questions faced by America among the larger wave of COVID reopening. Reopening schools without a reopen play is a fool’s errand, because school reopenings are crucial to getting our economy started again, but if a school reopening means that students and faculty are less safe, we need a strong COVID reopening plan to make it work, and that hasn’t been the strong suit of President Donald J. Trump. Much like his behavior throughout the COVID19 pandemic, President Trump plans to leave the problem to governors, while simultaneously making their job more difficult by pressuring them, as he states in this video. There are many questions remaining about COVID recovery and COVID reopening, and none are more urgent than schools.

PENCE SAYS CDC WILL RELAX SCHOOL GUIDELINES Vice President Mike Pence said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will relax guidelines for reopening schools amid the pandemic after Trump complained that the recommendations were too stringent. Trump has framed the continued school closures as a sign of political opposition. But reopening schools safely is complicated and expensive. [HuffPost]

Melania Trump statue set on fire in Slovenia.

AMERICANS CONCERNED ABOUT CORONAVIRUS AGAIN Americans are worried again about the coronavirus pandemic after a drop in concerns from April to June, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds. You can explore the results of the survey here. [HuffPost]

Why walruses have tusks


This 7 July 2020 video says about itself:

How the Walrus Got Its Tusks

The rise and fall of ancient walruses, and how modern ones got their tusks, is a story that spans almost 20 million years. And while there are parts of the story that we’re still trying to figure out, it looks like tusks didn’t have anything to do with how or what these animals ate.

COVID-19 United States news


This 8 July 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

The New New York City? Houston Hospitals Struggle with “Astonishing” Rise in Coronavirus Cases

As COVID-19 cases rise and hospitalizations are soaring, hospitals in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California are running out of ICU beds. On Tuesday, Texas set a grim new record of 10,000 new cases in a single day. “It’s been astonishing,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Dr. Sheri Fink, who has been reporting from Houston’s largest hospital. “They’ve been adding unit after unit after unit just to care for coronavirus patients.”

As hundreds of scientists warn WHO of potential airborne spread. Global COVID-19 pandemic takes a new upward leap. By Benjamin Mateus, 9 July 2020. Airborne transmission would have broad implications for workers who have been forced back to their jobs facing inadequate measures to protect their health and life.

Trump’s back-to-work diktat threatens teachers’ lives. 9 July 2020. On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump demanded that US schools reopen in the fall amid a raging pandemic, threatening the lives of thousands of teachers: here.

As Trump demands full reopening of schools. US coronavirus case count soars past 3 million: here.

Florida orders schools to reopen as COVID-19 cases surge: here.

Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer pushes unsafe reopening of Michigan schools: here.

“A rank-and-file safety committee is exactly what we need”. Toledo Jeep workers demand action after dozens test positive for COVID-19. By Jerry White, 9 July 2020. Anger is reaching a breaking point at Fiat Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly Complex after reports that supervisors, union officials and workers have contracted the disease.

“How many of us have to die to build their Jeep Cherokees?” Detroit FCA workers call on workers at GM, Ford and other companies to set up rank-and-file safety committees: here.

The COVID-19 vaccine and the drive for profit. By Frank Gaglioti, 8 July 2020. As the pandemic rages across the planet, the struggle to develop a vaccine has become an urgent task. But the vaccines will be weaponized for geopolitical purposes, not to provide the treatments equitably on a global scale.

Young dinosaur jawbone discovery in Alaska


This January 2019 video from the Milwaukee Public Museum in the USA says about itself:

MPM Untold – The Dromaeosaur

T.rex has a new friend in the Hell Creek exhibit. Want to meet him? Watch MPM Untold and find out what’s been updated!

From PLOS:

Fossil jawbone from Alaska is a rare case of a juvenile Arctic dromaeosaurid dinosaur

This fossil is a clue to the history of how dinosaurs dispersed between continents, showing some dinosaurs likely nested in the far north

July 8, 2020

A small piece of fossil jawbone from Alaska represents a rare example of juvenile dromaeosaurid dinosaur remains from the Arctic, according to a study published July 8, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza of the Imperial College London, UK, and co-authors Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ronald S. Tykoski, Paul J. McCarthy, Peter P. Flaig, and Dori L. Contreras.

Dromaeosaurids are a group of predatory dinosaurs closely related to birds, whose members include well-known species such as Deinonychus and Velociraptor. These dinosaurs lived all over the world, but their bones are often small and delicate and rarely preserve well in the fossil record, complicating efforts to understand the paths they took as they dispersed between continents.

The Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska preserves the largest collection of polar dinosaur fossils in the world, dating to about 70 million years ago, but the only dromaeosaurid remains found so far have been isolated teeth. The jaw fossil described in this study is a mere 14mm long and preserves only the tip of the lower jaw, but it is the first known non-dental dromaeosaurid fossil from the Arctic. Statistical analysis indicates this bone belongs to a close relative of the North American Saurornitholestes.

North American dromaeosaurids are thought to trace their origins to Asia, and Alaska would have been a key region for the dispersal of their ancestors. This new fossil is a tantalizing clue toward understanding what kinds of dromaeosaurs inhabited this crucial region. Furthermore, the early developmental stage of the bone suggests this individual was still young and was likely born nearby; in contrast to previous suggestions that this part of Alaska was exclusively a migratory pathway for many dinosaurs, this is strong evidence that some dinosaurs were nesting here. The authors suggest that future findings may allow a more complete understanding of these mysterious Arctic dromaeosaurids.

Chiarenza summarizes: “There are places where dinosaur fossils are so common that a scrap of bone, in most cases, cannot really add anything scientifically informative anymore: this is not the case with this Alaskan specimen. Even with such an incomplete jaw fragment, our team was not only able to work out the evolutionary relationships of this dinosaur, but also to picture something more on the biology of these animals, ultimately gaining more information on this Ancient Arctic ecosystem.” Fiorillo adds: “Years ago when dinosaurs were first found in the far north, the idea challenged what we think we know about dinosaurs. For some time afterwards, there was a great debate as to whether or not those Arctic dinosaurs migrated or lived in the north year-round. All of those arguments were somewhat speculative in nature. This study of a predatory dinosaur jaw from a baby provides the first physical proof that at least some dinosaurs not only lived in the far north, but they thrived there. One might even say, our study shows that the ancient north was a great place to raise a family and now we have to figure out why.”

Rape suspect becomes new French Interior Minister


This French TV video says about itself (translated):

Gérald Darmanin, first day under pressure

Barely appointed, already controversial: Gérald Darmanin is a new, already weakened Minister of the Interior. Accused of rape, still under investigation, he attracts the wrath of feminist associations which have multiplied their demonstrations throughout the day. They demand his resignation. A BFMTV document of Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

By Ben Chacko, 8 July 2020:

French Prime Minister defends appointment of Interior Minister facing rape charge

FRANCE’S new Prime Minister, Jean Castex, today defended his appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister despite the latter facing a rape charge.

Mr Castex said the charges against Mr Darmanin weren’t relevant as everybody is innocent until proven guilty.

Feminist organisations led protests in Paris on Tuesday over his appointment and that of new Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, who attacked the #MeToo movement against rape and sexual harassment, complaining that “crazy” women were “crucifying” men on social media, and condemned France’s 2018 ban on street harassment of women as a “joke”.

Like new right-wing Prime Minister Castex, Darmanin is a former acolyte of discredited right-wing ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.