German professor praises drones, poison gas


This 1 April 2015 video from the USA is called Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars • FULL DOCUMENTARY FILM • BRAVE NEW FILMS.

By Johannes Stern in Germany:

German professor Herfried Münkler: Combat drones and poison gas are “humane” weapons

16 April 2015

About two weeks after the German and French governments decided at a joint cabinet meeting to manufacture combat drones in Europe, Humboldt University Professor Herfried Münkler praised such drones as “humane” weapons in a long interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung (FAZ). He drew a historical parallel to poison gas, which was used for the first time in the First World War, describing it also as “humane.”

When the FAZ noted that poison gas is perceived “as especially terrible,” Münkler replied, “There is this striking paradox. Between three or four percent die in poison gas attacks, while the death toll from artillery wounds is around fifty percent, and the rate of mortality from rifle or machine gun fire thirty percent. That means that you could actually say that gas is a rather ‘humane’ weapon, because it has a relatively low death toll.”

Münkler added that in drone attacks the operators “have much more time for observation than the pilot of a fighter bomber,” and “the collateral damage of drone attacks” is “clearly lower than that from fighter bombers.”

It is difficult to say which is more repulsive: Münkler’s trivialization of poison gas attacks in the First World War, or his plea for combat drones today.

This video says about itself:

Deadly Battles of World War I – Ypres the Gas Inferno

7 November 2014

Poison gas killed 80,000 soldiers in World War I. Nearly a million more were victims who suffered its lingering effects. Initially the wind distributed chlorine gas across the battlefields of the western front but an arms race quickly developed until one in three shells contained some form of toxic gas.

It’s not the statistics, however, that make this a successful documentary. A surprising amount of black-and-white footage and interviews with survivors and relatives of key players tell a compelling tale of motivations and consequences. For those who adhere to the maxim that history repeats itself, it’s worth noting that despite an international convention banning chemical weapons, both sides of the Great War deployed poison gases with few reservations. As one interviewee puts it, patriotism defeated morality.

The Johannes Stern article continues:

The hundredth anniversary of the first use of poison gas as a weapon of mass extermination is just under a week away. On April 22, 1915, German troops used chlorine gas in the battle at Ypres.

The Deutsche Welle published an article a year ago that described how a yellowish cloud of 180 tons of chlorine gas wafted out of the German trenches to the enemy lines: “There began the horror. The enveloped soldiers stumbled around, turning red, blind and coughing. Three thousand of them suffocated and an additional seven thousand soldiers, who were badly burned, survived.”

In an escalating gas war, in which more and more effective chemical weapons were put into use, “about 120 thousand tons of 38 types of warfare agents were deployed, about 100 thousand soldiers [died] and 1.2 million men were wounded,” according to a paper published by the Federal Agency of Civic Education.

Science historian Ernst Peter Fischer commented on the first poison gas attack in Ypres in the Deutsche Welle account. “At that moment, science lost its innocence,” he said. Until then, the goal of science consisted of easing the conditions of life of human beings. “Now science provided the conditions for killing human life,” Fischer said.

Fischer cited the example of the Berlin chemist Fritz Haber, who founded and headed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electro-chemistry. Haber placed his entire scientific ability in the service of mass extermination. This proved no hindrance to his career. After the end of the war, the “father of gas warfare” won the Nobel Prize for chemistry and sat on the supervisory board of the chemistry giant I.G. Farben, which later produced the poison gas Zyklon B for the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Haber, who was himself Jewish, emigrated in 1933 and died shortly thereafter.

The use of poison gas, which Münkler praises as a “humane weapon,” was not just a new method for slaughtering millions of soldiers. Its use was then and remains today a war crime. It contravenes the Hague Convention of 1907 and was once again explicitly forbidden in the Geneva Protocol of 1925. In the war in Iraq and as part of the war threats against Syria, imperialist propaganda used the actual or alleged use of poison gas in these countries as sufficient grounds for war.

For this reason, Münkler’s parallel between poison gas and drone warfare is particularly significant. The comparison is apt, not because they are both “humane” methods of war, but because both exemplify the development of new stages in imperialist brutality.

The US-led drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen not only violate international law, but have taken the lives of thousands of innocent victims (Münkle’s “collateral damage”) in recent years. According to research carried out by the London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US military has wiped out between 2.4 and 3.9 thousand people in “targeted killings” in Pakistan alone. These victims of combat drones are not infrequently women, children or innocent participants at birthday parties, weddings or funerals.

Münkler’s justification for warfare with poison gas and combat drones is utterly cynical. He accuses the opponents of gas and drone warfare of clinging to the ideal of a long bygone “heroic” age.

“The criticism of gas warfare and the criticism of drone warfare are connected in that they both have to do with the ethos of the fighter. The astounding thing is that drones are criticized in a post-heroic society, but with the arguments of the heroic society, which demands the struggle of man against man,” explained the professor.

By “post-heroic,” Münkler means that war is no longer fought man to man, but rather that soldiers and civilians of less developed states are slaughtered in cold blood by their adversaries—at the mercy of remote-controlled drones or poison gas, which soldiers cannot defend themselves against.

“We are observing the transformation of war into policing,” he said in the FAZ. “Goals are being pursued in a way that can be understood as making investments in the future of the area of intervention by minimizing losses. Hegel called the weapon ‘the essence of the fighter’—drones are the typical weapon of post-heroic society. There is no ethos or aesthetic of war. There is only effectiveness of battlefield management.”

It requires the intellectual degradation of a German professor to try to use Hegel for the purpose of celebrating combat drones as an “effective” category of weapon above any ethical or moral criticism.

Münkler’s argument is an insult to the intelligence of the vast majority of the population which opposes combat drones, but not because of any longing for a “heroic” age or a preference for fighting wars with the sword “man against man.” Rather, drones are hated because no other weapon is more closely associated with imperialist aggression, war crimes and the suffering of civilian populations.

Münkler also introduces social Darwinist arguments to justify drone warfare. The “post-heroic society” is characterized “by two elements,” he said in the FAZ interview: “A low rate of reproduction in the population. There is no longer a surplus of young men for the battlefield. And the idea of self sacrifice at the ‘altar of the fatherland’ is completely foreign to us.”

Two years ago Münkler had already presented an argument against ethical and moral objections to modern weapons of destruction. At the fourteenth annual foreign policy conference of the Green Party affiliated Heinrich Böll Stiftung, he gave a lecture titled: “New fighting systems and the ethics of war.”

At that time Münkler warned: “Post-heroic societies such as ours should be very careful when they talk about the ethics of war. They are playing with fire, especially when they use ethics to demand more from soldiers than they would demand of themselves.”

He then told the politicians and foreign policy experts in attendance: “The ‘citizen in uniform’ is much closer to war drones than the soldier of a classical army, and he prefers their use to the deployment of light infantry in hostile terrain, with the goal of eliminating an actual or supposed threat in direct contact with the enemy. To express it pointedly: in the criticism of drones, the ethics of a pre-bourgeois society is giving voice to heroic ideas in a nostalgic form. This is a critique that has not been thought out to the end.”

Irrespective of how “thought out to the end” is his own overblown pontification, the stance of the professor is very clear—his standpoint is highly militaristic. In a situation in which neither the population nor the majority of soldiers favors being slaughtered in open warfare on the battlefield, he recommends drones to the ruling elite as a suitable means of achieving the ends of German imperialism through military means.

The fact that Münkler now places poison gas in the same category as drones shows that inhumane and militaristic attitudes are once again running rampant in ruling circles in Berlin 70 years after the end of the Second World War. The report of the Böll Stiftung on the conference two years ago concluded that Münkler’s presentation of “controversial combat drones as a positive new stage in weapons technology from an ethical point of view” was seen as a “minor provocation.”

Since then, Münkler’s “minor provocation” has become a dangerous reality. The Böll Stiftung campaigns for a confrontation with Russia, the German government is acquiring combat drones and Münkler himself is giving a seminar at Humboldt University under the title “Theories of war: new wars, humanitarian interventions, drone wars.” In his new book, Macht in der Mitte (Power in the Middle), Münkler demands that Germany once again “play the difficult role of ‘taskmaster’” in Europe. The German government is working on this too!

Gingko biloba trees and chemistry


This video is called Ginkgo biloba: A Tree that Conquers Time.

From the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis:

Advancement in the chemical analysis and quality control of flavonoid in Ginkgo biloba

14 March 2015

Highlights

• The ginkgo flavonoid related articles (from 2009 to 2014) were reviewed.

• Chemical composition and routine analysis of ginkgo flavonoid were summarized.

• Evaluation criterion of ginkgo flavonoid purification was discussed.

• Direct and indirect quantitative methods of ginkgo flavonoid were compared.

Abstract

Flavonoids are the main active constituents in Ginkgo biloba L., which have been suggested to have broad-spectrum free-radical scavenging activities. This review summarizes the recent advances in the chemical analysis of the flavonoids in G. biloba and its finished products (from 2009 to 2014), including chemical composition, sample preparation, separation, detection and different quality criteria.

More than 70 kinds of flavonoids have been identified in this plant. In this review, various analytical approaches as well as their chromatographic conditions have been described, and their advantages/disadvantages are also compared. Quantitative analyses of Ginkgo flavonoids applied by most pharmacopeias start with an acidic hydrolysis followed by determination of the resulting aglycones using HPLC.

But increasing direct assay of individual flavonol glycosides found that many adulterated products were still qualified by the present tests. To obtain an authentic and applicable analytical approach for quality evaluation of Ginkgo and its finished products, related suggestions and opinions in the recent publications are mainly discussed in this review. This discussion on chemical analyses of Ginkgo flavonoids will also be found as a significant guide for widely varied natural flavonoids.

This video from Harvard University in the USA says about itself:

The Ginkgo’s Secrets

Gingko expert Peter Del Tredici shares highlights about his favorite “living fossil” at the Arnold Arboretum.

Human evolution, alcohol and chemistry


This video is called African Animals Getting Drunk From Ripe Marula Fruit.

By Bob Yirka today:

Study shows pre-human ancestors adapted to metabolize ethanol long before humans learned about fermentation

19 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers in the U.S. has found evidence to support the notion that our pre-human ancestors were able to metabolize ethanol long before our later ancestors learned to take advantage of fermentation—to create alcoholic beverages. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes how they genetically sequenced proteins from modern primates and used what they found to work backwards to discover just how long ago our ancestors have been able to metabolize ethanol.

Humans have been consuming beverages that make them tipsy, drunk and/or sick for a very long time, of that there is little doubt. But why do we have the ability to metabolize ethanol in the first place? That’s what the team set out to answer. They began by sequencing an enzyme called ADH4—it’s what’s responsible for allowing us to metabolize ethanol. Other have it as well, but not all metabolize ethanol as well as we do. By sequencing ADH4 found in a 28 including 17 that were primates, the team was able to create a family tree of sorts based on ethanol metabolizing ability. The team then tested those sequences for their metabolizing ability by synthesizing nine kinds of the ADH4 enzyme. Doing so showed the researchers that most early primates had very little ability to metabolize ethanol for most of their early history.

Then, about 10 million years ago, some of the ancestors of modern humans suddenly were able to do a much better job of it, while others that diverged and led to apes such as orangutans, did not. This discovery led the team to wonder what might have occurred to cause this to come about. They note that other evidence has shown that around this same time, the planet cooled slightly, making life a little more difficult for our tree dwelling ancestors. They suggest they began climbing down out of the trees to eat the fruit that fell, which gave them a food advantage and a reason for developing the ability to metabolize —otherwise they would have become too drunk from eating the fermenting fruit to defend themselves or live otherwise normal lives. If true, the theory would also offer a major clue as to why our became terrestrial.

Explore further: Study unlocks secret of how fruit flies choose fruit with just the right amount of ethanol

More information: Hominids adapted to metabolize ethanol long before human-directed fermentation, PNAS, Matthew A. Carrigan, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404167111

Abstract

Paleogenetics is an emerging field that resurrects ancestral proteins from now-extinct organisms to test, in the laboratory, models of protein function based on natural history and Darwinian evolution. Here, we resurrect digestive alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH4) from our primate ancestors to explore the history of primate–ethanol interactions. The evolving catalytic properties of these resurrected enzymes show that our ape ancestors gained a digestive dehydrogenase enzyme capable of metabolizing ethanol near the time that they began using the forest floor, about 10 million y ago. The ADH4 enzyme in our more ancient and arboreal ancestors did not efficiently oxidize ethanol. This change suggests that exposure to dietary sources of ethanol increased in hominids during the early stages of our adaptation to a terrestrial lifestyle. Because fruit collected from the forest floor is expected to contain higher concentrations of fermenting yeast and ethanol than similar fruits hanging on trees, this transition may also be the first time our ancestors were exposed to (and adapted to) substantial amounts of dietary ethanol.

Shame-faced crabs of the Pacific


This video from the sea near Samal island in the Philippines is about a shame-faced crab, eating a Terebra maculata mollusk.

From Australian Geographic:

Shame-faced crab has nothing to hide about

November 27, 2014

It may look like its hiding its face out of embarrassment, but this crab has everything to be proud of

by Becky Crew

I DON’T THINK I’ve ever loved another crab as much as I love this crab right now. He’s so embarrassed he can barely even look at us. He’s so ashamed that he has to cover his face with his two humungous front pincers. Don’t feel bad, shame-faced crab, we don’t care what you did; you’re just a crab.

Found at depths of up to 50m below the surface of the Indo-Pacific, these large crabs range as far as Madagascar to west, Japan to the north, and throughout Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia a little closer to home.

Despite their looks and their funny little name, shame-faced crabs (Calappa calappa) are no victims. These highly armoured creatures are like walking tanks, their 15cm-long, burnt-caramel-coloured carapace acting as the perfect cover from predators until they have a chance to bury themselves right into the sand. Watch the video [above], it’s almost a little creepy how it inches deeper and deeper into the ocean floor, until all that’s left is a pair of beady eyes and the upper edges of its jagged pincers, looking just like a monster face peering up at you.

Shame-faced crabs don’t have to worry too much about predators, but keep themselves hidden during the day all the same. At night they turn to hunting, targeting little mollusks such as clams, oysters and sea snails. While hard-shelled prey like these present a challenge to many would-be predators, the shame-faced crab has evolved to deal with them expertly.

Of its two huge, meaty pincers, the right one is perfect for cracking into its prey’s tough outer shell. It’s equipped with a single, specially curved tooth that works with the flat surface of the pincer just like a can-opener to cut into its prey. Then the left pincer, which is longer, smaller, and sharper, takes over to extract the flesh from inside.

Being elegant about how you eat your dinner is nothing to be ashamed about, shame-faced crab. Just because the rest of the ocean is filled with barbaric rubes that wouldn’t know a utensil if it landed on them. Chin up, little man!

Coconut crabs in Hawaii: here.

Organic molecules discovery on comet


This 13 November 2014 video is called Rosetta Comet Landing: Philae send first image of 67P.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Philae lander detects organic molecules on surface of comet

Spacecraft beams back evidence of carbon and hydrogen that could provide clues about origins of life on Earth

Richard Gray

Tuesday 18 November 2014 22.58 GMT

The Philae lander has found organic molecules – which are essential for life – on the surface of the comet where it touched down last week.

The spacecraft managed to beam back evidence of the carbon and hydrogen–containing chemicals shortly before it entered hibernation mode to conserve falling power supplies.

Although scientists are still to reveal what kind of molecules have been found on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the discovery could provide new clues about how the early chemical ingredients that led to life on Earth arrived on the planet.

Many scientists believe they may have been carried here on an asteroid or comet that collided with the Earth during its early history.

The DLR German Aerospace Centre, which built the Cosac instrument, confirmed it had found organic molecules.

It said in a statement: “Cosac was able to ‘sniff’ the atmosphere and detect the first organic molecules after landing. Analysis of the spectra and the identification of the molecules are continuing.”

The compounds were picked up by the instrument, which is designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere, shortly before the lander was powered down.

It is believed that attempts to analyse soil drilled from the comet’s surface with Cosac were not successful.

Philae was able to work for more than 60 hours on the comet, which is more than 500m miles from Earth, before entering hibernation.

“We currently have no information on the quantity and weight of the soil sample,” said Fred Goesmann principal investigator on the Cosac instrument at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

Goesmann said his team were still trying to interpret the results, which will hopefully reveal whether the molecules contain other chemical elements deemed important for life.

Professor John Zarnecki, a space scientist at the Open University who was the deputy principal investigator on another of Philae’s instruments, described the discovery as “fascinating”.

“There has long been indirect evidence of organic molecules on comets as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms have been found in comet dust,” he said.

“It has not been possible to see if these are forming complex compounds before and if this is what has been found then it is a tremendous discovery.”

Organic molecules, which are chemical compounds that contain carbon and hydrogen, form the basic building blocks of all living organisms on Earth.

They can take many forms from simple small molecules like methane gas to complex amino acids that make up proteins.

Philae landed on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko after a 10-year journey through space aboard the Rosetta space probe. Philae’s initial attempt to touch down on the comet’s surface were unsuccessful when it failed to anchor itself properly, causing it to bounce back into space twice before finally coming to rest.

It meant the lander’s final resting place was about half a mile from the initial landing site and left Philae lying at an angle and its solar panels partially obscured.

In a desperate attempt to get as much science from the lander as possible before its meagre battery reserves ran out, scientists deployed a drill to bore down into the comet surface.

It is thought, however, that the drilling was unsuccessful and it failed to make contact with the comet.

But other findings from instruments on the lander, which were beamed back shortly before it powered down into a hibernation mode, suggest that the comet is largely composed of water ice that is covered in a thin layer of dust.

Preliminary results from the Mupus instrument, which deployed a hammer to the comet after Philae’s landing, suggest there is a layer of dust 10-20cm thick on the surface.

Beneath that is very hard water ice, which Mupus data suggests is possibly as hard as sandstone.

“It’s within a very broad spectrum of ice models. It was harder than expected at that location, but it’s still within bounds,” said Professor Mark McCaughrean, senior science adviser to Esa.

“You can’t rule out rock, but if you look at the global story, we know the overall density of the comet is 0.4g/cubic cm. There’s no way the thing’s made of rock.”

At Philae’s final landing spot, the Mupus probe recorded a temperature of –153°C before it was deployed and then once it was deployed the sensors cooled further by 10°C within half an hour.

“If we compare the data with laboratory measurements, we think that the probe encountered a hard surface with strength comparable to that of solid ice,” said Tilman Spohn, principal investigator for Mupus. Scientists hope that as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko moves closer to the sun in the next few months, some light will start to reach Philae’s solar panels again, giving it enough power to come out of hibernation.

This could allow further analysis to take place on the surface.

“Until then we are going to have to make do with the data we have got,” said Zarnecki.

The Philae spacecraft may not be dead quite yet.

Why autumn leaves are colourful


This video is called Why Leaves Change Color: Untamed Science.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

What Makes Autumn’s Leaves So Colorful?

Posted on Monday, October 06, 2014 by eNature

Sometime between now and the middle of November, the trees in North America’s eastern broadleaf forests will reach their full fall glory.

From Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley and beyond, leaf peepers will bring traffic to a standstill on beautiful fall weekends. By the carful and busload, they’ll come to gawk at the beautiful countryside.

But what will they be seeing? How do leaves end up in such spectacular colors?

Hidden Colors

Leaf color arises from various chemicals within trees. It’s the strength as well as the presence or absence of compounds like tannins, xanthophylls, and carotenes that determines fall hues in the scores of tree species found in the East.

Back in the spring and summer, when the millions of trees in these same woodlands were busily growing and producing food, their leaves were chock full of chlorophyll, and it was the chlorophyll that colored the forests varying shades of green. But chlorophyll is a mask, and once trees sense the change in the weather and start to stop chlorophyll production, the mask drops and the other colors of the leaves come to the forefront.

A Color For Every Tree

The fall colors can be so distinctive in some tree species that it’s possible to identify these trees from a distance merely by noting their hues. The brilliant red leaves belong to the Red Maple, American Mountain Ash, and Black Tupelo, plus sumacs, blueberries, and Virginia Creeper in the understory. Richer red foliage is typical of Red Oak, Scarlet Oak, and White Oak. Birches and beeches sparkle with bright yellow foliage, while Witch Hazel and Striped Maple are a less intense yellow, and walnuts, hickories and aspens attain a truly golden glow.

Of course, not all trees settle on a single color. Sugar Maples, for example, blaze in green, yellow, orange, and startling red, and Sassafras comes in various shades of red, orange, yellow, and purple.

If you want to enjoy the fall colors yourself, plan ahead and, if possible, venture out during the week as opposed to on a crowded weekend.

No matter when you go, though, spend a little time outside your car. The trees are even prettier close-up, along a quiet trail or down a less traveled side road.

Have you had time to enjoy Fall’s colors this year?

We always enjoy hearing about your experiences.

New orchid species discoveries on Azores volcano


This shows details of the flowers of Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, a newly recognized and exceptionally rare orchid recently discovered on the Azorean island of São Jorge. Credit: Richard Bateman

From LiveScience:

New Orchid Species Found on ‘Lost World’ Volcano in the Azores

By Douglas Main, Staff Writer

December 10, 2013 07:32am ET

For years, there was only one formally recognized species of orchid on the Azores, a cluster of volcanic islands west of Portugal, though some claimed there were two species. However, a recent, three-year study to describe these Azorean flowers found that three species of orchids exist on the islands, including two that are newly recognized.

One of the new species was found atop a remote volcano and is arguably Europe’s rarest orchid, said Richard Bateman, a botanist at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Researchers were surprised to find the new species atop the volcano, which had “a really ‘Lost World’ feel to it,” he told LiveScience.

The orchids likely originate from a single species that arrived by seed millions of years ago. They soon developed smaller flowers, unlike their ancestors, which had large blooms. The most widespread orchid on the island, the short-spurred butterfly orchid (Platanthera pollostantha), is known for these small flowers, Bateman said. [Photos: The Orchids of Latin America]

Analysis of other orchids found on the islands soon turned up another species, known as the narrow-lipped butterfly orchid (Platanthera micrantha).

But then scientists happened upon an even rarer and more striking orchid, with large flowers, like those of the plants’ ancestors. “In a sense, evolution has reversed itself,” Bateman said. This species, now known as Platanthera azorica or Hochstetter’s butterfly orchid, was originally collected more than 170 years ago, but hadn’t been further studied or recognized as a unique species.

Mónica Moura, a researcher at the University of the Azores, happened upon the flower, and noticed it was different. “I immediately recognized the flowers as being exceptionally large for an Azorean butterfly orchid,” Moura said, according to a release describing the study.

The new species require urgent conservation; the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global environmental organization, currently lumps all of these into a single species, which is incorrect, Bateman said.

The two rare orchids are threatened by invasive species and habitat destruction, Bateman said. Much of the unique dwarf forests that once covered the Azores—and in which the rare orchids are found—have been destroyed by inefficient dairy farming and other development, Bateman added.

Like many other orchids, the two rare orchid species have symbiotic relationships with fungi that allow them to survive. Without a certain type of fungi, the seeds can’t germinate, Bateman said. It’s possible these rare species can only survive in the presence of a single fungal species, which helps them germinate and supplies them with nutrients as adult plants, he said. More widespread species can likely partner with a variety of fungi, he added.