How zebra finches sing, new research


This 27 May 2019 video is called Owl Finches~Bathing & Preening~Bird Watching Videos~Backyard Birds Australia.

From PLOS:

Songbirds sing species-specific songs

November 12, 2019

The generation of species-specific singing in songbirds is associated with species-specific patterns of gene activity in brain regions called song nuclei, according to a study published November 12 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Kazuhiro Wada of Hokkaido University in Japan, and colleagues. According to the authors, the findings could be a promising step toward a better understanding of the contribution of multiple genes to the evolution of behaviors.

Learning of most complex motor skills, such as birdsong and human speech, is constrained in a manner that is characteristic of each species, but the mechanisms underlying species-specific learned behaviors remain poorly understood. Songbirds acquire species-specific songs through learning, which is also thought to depend on species-specific patterns of gene activity in song nuclei — brain regions known to be specialized for vocal learning and production.

In the new study, Wada and colleagues made use of two closely related songbird species — the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) and the owl finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii) — and also the hybrid offspring of matings between these two species. This allowed them to examine the relationship between inter-species differences in gene expression and the production of species-specific song patterns.

The researchers compared the songs of birds that had been taught the same species’ song versus those that had only heard the other species’ song; this showed that the song learning was mostly regulated by species-specific genetic differences. They then identified genes whose activity in song nuclei is regulated in a species-specific fashion, either by changes in the genes’ own regulatory regions (“cis-regulation”) or by changes in other proteins that affect a gene’s activity (“trans-regulation”).

They found that trans-regulatory changes were more prevalent than cis-regulatory changes and tended to primarily affect the activity of genes involved in the formation of nerve connections and transmission of information between neurons in one particular song nucleus, “RA” — considered as birds’ counterpart to the mammalian laryngeal motor cortex.

They identified a signaling molecule called BDNF as a mediator of changes in trans-regulated of genes in RA, with a significant correlation between individual variation in the amount of BDNF and species-specific song properties. This was supported by the fact that the use of a drug to over-activate BDNF receptors altered the activity of trans-regulated genes in the RA and disrupted the structures of learned songs in the adult zebra finch.

These results demonstrate functional neurogenetic associations between inter-species differences in gene regulation and species-specific learned behaviors. According to the authors, future research building on these findings could reveal the specific gene regulatory changes that underlie the evolution of species-specific learned behaviors.

“We believe that this isn’t just about bird songs,” the lead author, Kazuhiro Wada said. “Our study is a promising step to understand how the changes in gene regulation could eventually lead to the evolution of species-specific animal behaviors.”

Australian right-wing government oppresses pro-climate demonstrators


This video from Australia says about itself:

Great Barrier Reef ‘gut-wrenching’: Charlie Veron angry with state & federal governments

18/04/2016 “Listen to scientists for a change”, says former AIMS Chief Scientist. Charlie Veron has described the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef as gut-wrenching.

Translated from Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, 30 October 2019, by Maarten van Dun:

Australian politicians are fighting climate protesters

So, a bit like Conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And French right-wing President Macron. And like German authorities.

Sydney – Decent regulation of polluting mega-mines or about the loss of the Great Barrier Reef does not get off the ground in Australia, but at other times the Australian government is suddenly amazingly efficient. The parliament of the state of Queensland passed laws this week to bother climate protesters. The police are given more powers to search protesting citizens and the chains that activists use to chain themselves are now illegal. Even harsher laws with which protesters could be thrown into prison without a pardon in a second arrest did not make it.

Human rights organizations, activists and trade unions reacted with horror, but no longer with disbelief. In conservative Australia they know the tricks of the trade. The change to the law was preceded by a classic Australian political campaign: great indignant words from conservative politicians, a liberal handling of the facts and constant pressure from the right-wing tabloids of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The elderly media magnate retains an iron grip on the social debate.

In Australia, too, the debate on climate change runs along predictable fault lines: politicians and tabloids outline the climate theme as a struggle between hard-working, non-nagging farmers versus long-haired, work-shy, urban criminals who prefers to live on welfare all day long.

Remarkably, it is the same fulminating farmers who are most aware of the effects of climate change. Farmers’ villages in large parts of Australia have been suffering from drought for years. Livestock shrink and harvests fail because there is not enough water to spray the fields. The fire chief of a village in the east decided to only extinguish house fires if there is a danger to human life. He prefers to save the water.

Conservative politicians prefer not to link these problems to climate change. They prefer to regard it as the well-known struggle between the tough Aussie battler and the rugged elements. Anyone who cautiously suggests that something might have to change is committing political suicide.

It leads to ridiculous scenes. During a catastrophic forest fire season, politicians talk mealy-mouthedly, while firefighters tell without hesitation that climate change is the cause. But the political reality in Australia is different: they are working on laws that are not aimed at resolving a crisis, but on fighting protesters who point to the problem.

Police have attacked climate change protestors in Melbourne, Australia, arresting 67 people on Tuesday and Wednesday and hospitalising several others, including a woman who reportedly had both her legs broken in a police horse charge: here.

Australian media protest against government censorship


Australian newspapers' blackened front pages, in protest against government censorship, EPA photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Australian newspapers black out their front pages against censorship

The biggest Australian newspapers today have their front pages painted black, as a joint statement against government censorship and interference. “When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?” was written under the black lines.

The campaign was prompted by raids earlier this year against a journalist of the media company News Corp. and at the headquarters of the public broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). A search was made for leaked government documents.

The journalist had written a story about Australia’s intention to give secret services more powers. The raid on ABC came after a scoop about misconduct by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

A former lawyer who worked for the army has been charged in the latter case. He is said to have leaked the information to ABC. Several journalists may also be prosecuted.

Decrease in press freedom

According to Australian media, the freedom of the press has decreased after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Since then, more than 70 anti-terror laws and measures have been adopted in the country, which politicians abuse according to media.

Eg, the government refuses to share in which care homes abuse is taking place, where the elderly are neglected and how much agricultural land has been sold to foreign corporations.

Prime Minister Morrison said today in response to the campaign that he could give no guarantees that the journalists will go free.

This 20 October 2019 video from Australia says about itself:

Media unites to rally for press freedom: Taking the campaign to front pages and airwaves | ABC News

The nation’s media companies have redacted their front pages to highlight the constraints on media organisations under strict national security legislation.

National mastheads, including The Australian and the Financial Review, ran special covers on Monday morning arguing the media is subject to a regime of intense government secrecy and the threat of criminal charges for journalists doing their job.

The nation’s broadcasters began running campaigns on air during their Sunday prime time line-ups, depicting redacted Freedom of Information requests and arguing the media cannot fulfil its duty in keeping the public informed if its work is being hampered.

The Right To Know coalition, of which the ABC is a member, is behind the campaign, calling for the decriminalisation of public interest journalism, and greater protection for the media and whistleblowers.

It follows the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raiding the Canberra home of News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC’s Sydney headquarters earlier this year.

Read more here.

The threat is a clear application by the government of the “Assange precedent.” The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London last April, and the unveiling in May of 17 US Espionage Act charges against him over lawful publishing activities, has opened the floodgates for an assault on journalists and media freedom around the world: here.

Koolasuchus, big Australian Cretaceous age amphibian


THis 29 September 2019 video says about itself:

Koolasuchus – The Antarctic Amphibian That Ate Dinosaurs

Prehistoric Australia was home to all sorts of strange creatures, including a giant carnivorous amphibian that may have fed on dinosaursKoolasuchus.

Australian chestnut-crowned babblers’ language, new research


This December 2015 video from Australia says about itself:

Fowler’s Gap – Chestnut-crowned babbler research

A short video I made reflecting our day-to-day activities while researching Chestnut-crowned babblers in the UNSW Arid Zone Research Station

From the University of Zurich in Switzerland:

Birds string together meaningless sounds to make ‘words’

September 9, 2019

Summary: A new study sheds light on whether animal vocalizations, like human words, are constructed from smaller building blocks. By analyzing calls of the Australian chestnut-crowned babbler, the researchers have for the first time identified the meaning-generating building blocks of a non-human communication system.

Stringing together meaningless sounds to create meaningful signals is a core feature of human language. Investigating whether animals share this basic combinatorial ability has been complicated by difficulties in identifying whether animal vocalizations are made from smaller, meaningless sounds, or building blocks. New research by scientists at the Universities of Zurich, Exeter, Warwick, Macquarie and New South Wales has addressed this question in the calls of the chestnut-crowned babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps) — a highly social bird from the Australian Outback.

Meaningful calls composed of distinct sounds

Previous research demonstrated that chestnut-crowned babbler calls seemed to be composed of two different sounds “A” and “B” in different arrangements when performing specific behaviors. When flying, the birds produced a flight call “AB”, but when feeding chicks in the nest they emitted “BAB” provisioning calls. In the current study, the authors used playback experiments, previously used to test speech-sound discrimination in human infants, to probe the perception of the sound elements in babblers. “Through systematic comparisons we tested which of the elements babblers perceived as equivalent or different sounds. In doing so, we were able to confirm that the calls could be broken up into two perceptually distinct sounds that are shared across the calls in different arrangements,” explains Sabrina Engesser from the University of Zurich, lead author on the study. “Furthermore, none of the comprising elements carried the meaning of the calls, confirming the elements are meaningless,” she adds.

“This system is reminiscent of the way humans use sounds to form meaningful words,” says co-author Andy Russell from the University of Exeter. The research findings, which are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal a potential early step in the emergence of the elaborate combinatorial sound system characterizing human language.

Understanding the evolution of communication

Last author Simon Townsend from the University of Zurich and the University of Warwick says: “This is the first time that the meaning-generating building blocks of a non-human communication system have been experimentally identified.” He concludes: “Although the building blocks in the babbler system may be of a very simple kind, it might still help us understand how combinatoriality initially evolved in humans.”

These findings raise the exciting possibility that the capacity to generate meaning from meaningless building blocks is widespread in animals. However, the authors caution that there are still considerable differences between such systems and word generation in language. They emphasize that a focus on the acoustic distinctiveness of sounds in meaningful animal vocalizations offers a promising approach to investigate the building blocks of non-human animal communication systems.

Australians stop right-wing goverment’s refugee family deportation


Sri Lankan refugee family thanking supporters in Biloela, Australia (Credit: @HometoBilo)

By Oscar Grenfell in Australia:

Australian government seeks to deport Tamil refugee family to Sri Lanka

30 August 2019

In a major attack on democratic rights, Border Force agents, acting under instruction from the federal Coalition government, bundled a family of Tamil refugees onto a plane late last night to dispatch them to Sri Lanka.

The police-state style operation was only halted in the early hours of the morning after lawyers for the family secured a last-minute federal court injunction, temporarily blocking their deportation. A hearing of the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne today granted a further injunction until 4.00 p.m. next Wednesday. The order, however, reportedly only covers the youngest of the two children, meaning that the threat of the family’s imminent return to Sri Lanka, where they face state persecution, remains.

Lawyers for the family, and their supporters, outlined the brutal actions of immigration authorities in comments to the media.

On Thursday, the husband and wife, Nadesalingam and Priya, were reportedly given two “Notices of Intention to Remove from Australia” for themselves and their daughters, Kopika, who is just four-years-old, and Tharunicaa, who is only two.

In the evening, Border Force agents at the Melbourne detention centre where the family has been held since March 2018 forced them into a van that took them to Tullamarine Airport. The family was then bundled onto a non-commercial flight bound for Sri Lanka.

Priya’s arm was injured when she was forced onto the plane. She was then separated on the flight from her two infant children. They were only taken off the plane when it landed in Darwin to refuel after the injunction was secured last night.

The government’s attack on the family has provoked broad opposition. The attempted deportation was doubtless timed late at night, to prevent protests and other actions.

Despite this, some 50 supporters of the family gathered at the airport within hours of the news that they had been taken from the Melbourne detention centre. Australian Federal Police arrested two women, after they allegedly breached an airport perimeter fence in a desperate bid to block the flight.

This morning, four of the top five Australian hashtags on Twitter were in defence of the family. They included demands that they be allowed to remain in Australia and condemnations of the government.

The hashtag #hometobilo, calling for the family to be returned to the Queensland country town of Biloela, where they were snatched by immigration authorities last year, was the most popular in Australia throughout the morning.

Angela Fredericks, a Biloela resident and campaigner for the family’s freedom, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National this morning: “People in Biloela are in absolute disbelief at the cruelty that occurred last night. The messages I’m getting is people’s disgust at what Australia as a country is doing.”

The government has responded to the outrage by doubling-down on its plans to force the family to Sri Lanka. Speaking on Channel Nine’s “Today” program this morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton callously declared: “I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country.”

The government line is a continuation of its 18-month persecution of the family. On March 5, 2018, at around 5.00 a.m., Border Force officers, police and private Serco guards raided the family’s Biloela home. They dragged the infant children out of bed and gave their parents just 10 minutes to pack before they were taken to an airport and flown to a detention centre in Melbourne, over 1,600 kilometres away.

Residents of the town immediately began a campaign in defence of the family, launching petitions, holding demonstrations and winning mass public support. They noted that Nadesalingam and Priya were highly-respected members of the community, where they had lived and worked for years. The petition they initiated has been signed by more than 200,000 people.

The response was a damning refutation of the claims, incessantly peddled by the political establishment and sections of media, that the bipartisan assault on refugees is supported by workers in rural Australia. The sentiments in Biloela are mirrored in numerous country towns and regional centres, where Australian citizens and immigrants work side by side and confront escalating assaults on their jobs and social conditions.

Despite the widespread support for the family, they have been denied the most basic rights to health care. Last month, four of Tharunicaa’s teeth were surgically removed, and another four were treated, because they had become rotten.

Her mother Priya had complained for months that the two-year-old child was in pain and had been unable to eat solid foods due to her untreated dental conditions. Because of the neglect by the authorities, the baby will spend the next five years without any front teeth, until her adult set begins to grow.

At the same time, a succession of courts refused to uphold the family’s refugee status, claiming that it would be safe for them to return to Sri Lanka.

These assertions are transparently false. Nadesalingam and Priya fled Sri Lanka and came separately to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013. They sought refuge in the wake of the Sri Lankan government’s almost three-decade communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The war concluded in 2009 with the mass murder of Tamil civilians and the imposition of military-rule in the country’s north. Tamil workers and youth continue to be threatened and imprisoned by the police and the security services.

In April the Sri Lankan government imposed a state of emergency that abrogated basic democratic rights following Islamist terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday. These police-state measures are continuing. Amid mounting social tensions, the Colombo political establishment is feverishly seeking to whip-up communal antagonisms.

Other Tamil asylum-seekers who have been returned by Australia to Sri Lanka have faced detention and state persecution, forcing many into hiding. Given the prominence of their case, moreover, Nadesalingam and Priya will inevitably be targeted if they are returned to Sri Lanka. There is every likelihood that the government will make an example of them to intimidate others who are considering applying for asylum. …

What is required is the development of a movement of the entire working class against the reactionary framework of “border protection”, which is used to divide workers along national lines and divert attention from the cause of the deepening social crisis: the capitalist system.

In a deliberately punitive move, immigration authorities transported the family from Darwin, where the flight bound for Sri Lanka had landed, to the offshore Christmas Island detention centre in the Indian Ocean, north of the Australian mainland. The facility was re-opened by the Coalition government earlier this year although there are no other refugees detained there: here.

Australia: Stop the deportation of the Biloela refugee family! Here.

Australian right-wing government wants more internet censorship


This June 2018 video is called Censorship in Australia.

By Oscar Grenfell in Australia:

Australian PM calls for new internet censorship measures at G7

27 August 2019

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison used a trip to the G7 international summit in France over the weekend to aggressively push for an escalation of online censorship, on the pretext of combating “violent” and “extremist” material.

Morrison’s proposals were part of a months-long campaign that his government has waged to exploit the fascist terrorist attack in Christchurch last March to erode online freedom of speech.

While Australia is not a member of the G7, Morrison was invited to attend the summit and took part in a series of sideline meetings, including with US President Donald Trump. Morrison’s performance underscored Australia’s central role as a loyal ally of the US, and an attack dog of its global Five Eyes spying and surveillance network, which has been intimately involved in online censorship.

The centrepiece of Morrison’s intervention was a call for the adoption of an international agreement, that would pressure the major social media companies to report on their response to “extremist” and “terrorist” content on their platforms.

According to the Australian Associated Press, this would establish protocols for the social media corporations to regularly issue public reports on “how many attempts there were to upload violent or extremist content, how many the platform stopped before they went up, how many were posted for more than an hour, how many downloads there were, and how the company dealt with the material that was downloaded.”

As in previous calls from the Australian government for more stringent regulations, the terms “violent” and “extremist” are undefined. They could include exposures of police and state violence, footage or images from demonstrations or virtually any controversial political content.

In the wake of the Christchurch attack, senior government ministers warned against “right-wing and left-wing extremism

Most terrorist violence is right-wing white supremacist violence; though Donald Trump is in denial about that. The anti-fascist ‘left-wing’ has killed exactly 0 (zero) people.

signalling that mounting popular opposition to war, social inequality and authoritarianism is a central target of the censorship drive.

While the reporting regime would be voluntary, Australian government representatives said they anticipated that the social media companies would come under “pressure” to comply. Like other measures floated by the Morrison government, this is aimed at compelling the platforms to more aggressively remove content, lest they come under public attack from the authorities.

Significantly, Morrison’s policy has been backed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which announced prior to the G7 that it would provide an unspecified funding package to facilitate its roll-out.

At a one-on-one meeting with Morrison on Sunday, OECD head Angel Gurria reportedly gushed that the Australian prime minister had played the central role in a global crackdown on the internet since the Christchurch attack.

“But then somebody has to lead the charge, to make this have staying power, to make this stick in a way. And that was your role,” Gurria reportedly told Morrison, adding, “What happened then is that the idea caught fire.”

Morrison’s proposals have met with an enthusiastic response, because they dovetail with an attempt by governments throughout Europe and internationally to create a legislative framework for the suppression of political speech on the internet.

In March, the European parliament voted in favour of a directive which, under the guise of copyright reforms, would enforce the use of so-called upload filters in social media. This is aimed at ensuring that all content uploaded to YouTube and other platforms is scanned in advance by powerful computer censorship programs.

Similar measures have been taken by individual European states. In January 2018, the German Network Enforcement Law came into effect, requiring operators of internet platforms with more than two million users to remove or block access to “obviously illegal content within 24 hours of receiving the complaint.”

Last May, French President Emmanuel Macron called an international meeting, along with the New Zealand government, to call for social media corporations to prevent the sharing of “terrorist and violent extremist content.” Macron’s government has also been implicated in attempts to censor social media associated with mass “Yellow Vests” protests against social inequality and austerity.

In addition to furthering these international efforts, Morrison’s intervention over the weekend was aimed at providing even more draconian measures his government is preparing to implement domestically, with a veneer of global legitimacy.

The Australian prime minister reiterated plans his government first announced in June to allow telecommunication companies and Internet Service Providers to block access to websites that host “harmful” or “extremist” content.

A spokesman for federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend that “the new blocking arrangements would give telcos the legal backing to address fringe websites that wilfully host abhorrent violent material and refuse to engage constructively with government.”

The government has not specified what role it would play in determining which websites are blocked. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, however, signalled that the police and intelligence agencies would be intimately involved, declaring in a statement: “This new protocol will better equip our agencies to rapidly detect and shut down the sharing of dangerous material online, even as a crisis may still be unfolding.”

Dutton’s comments raise the spectre of the government shutting-down political and news websites in the event of civil unrest or the emergence of mass oppositional movements.

In 2009, WikiLeaks published the then federal Labor government’s secret list of blacklisted websites. While Labor ministers had previously claimed that targeted sites shared illicit content, such as child pornography, WikiLeaks revealed that many of the blacklisted domains were law-abiding.

The move to again ban websites follows the bipartisan passage of online censorship laws in April. The legislation makes it an offence for social media platforms not to “expeditiously” remove “abhorrent violent material,” punishable with up to three years’ imprisonment or fines of as much as 10 percent of the platform’s annual turnover. It also compels them to report the sharing of prohibited material to the Australian Federal Police “within a reasonable time,” or face massive fines.

At the time, the New York Times noted that the bill was establishing a new global precedent for online restrictions, declaring: “No established democracies have ever come as close to applying such sweeping restrictions on online communication.”

These attacks on democratic rights are above all directed against growing social anger within the working class against militarism, inequality and authoritarianism.

Governments and the intelligence agencies are deeply fearful that social media via the internet provides the means for these sentiments to coalesce into powerful movements of opposition, by facilitating the organisation of protests, demonstrations and political gatherings. Above all, they are concerned that online platforms enable workers and youth to access genuine alternatives to the lies and government propaganda of the corporate press.

In April 2017, Google, in collaboration with the US intelligence agencies, introduced a new search engine algorithm aimed at reducing traffic to progressive, left-wing and anti-war websites. The World Socialist Web Site was among the hardest hit, with a 74 percent decrease in Google search referrals within months of the policy being implemented. Facebook and other social media platforms have adopted similar measures.