Mexican singer Lila Downs, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

Mexican Singer Lila Downs in Conversation & Performance on Democracy Now!

29 June 2017

One of Mexico’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters, Lila Downs recently stopped by the Democracy Now! studio to perform four new songs and talk about her music, Donald Trump and much more. The Grammy-winning artist has just released her 10th album titled Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo. The album is dedicated to strong women everywhere.

New parrot species discovery in Mexico

The male of the new Amazona species. Photo credit: Tony Silva

From ScienceDaily:

Blue-winged Amazon: A new parrot species from the Yucatán Peninsula

The newly identified Blue-winged Amazon parrot has a loud, short call and evolved from the White-fronted parrot quite recently, about 120,000 years ago

June 27, 2017

In 2014, during a visit to a remote part of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, ornithologist Dr. Miguel A. Gómez Garza came across parrots with a completely different colour pattern from other known species.

A study published today in the open-access journal PeerJ names these birds as a new species based on its distinctive shape, colour pattern, call and behaviour. The paper compares and contrasts the distinguishing features of this species with many other parrots.

The new parrot (Amazona gomezgarzai), referred to as the Blue-winged Amazon because of its primarily blue covert feathers, is characterized by its unique green crown that contrast to blue in other Amazon parrots. This new parrot occupies a similar area in the Yucatán Peninsula as the Yucatán Amazon (A. xantholora) and the White-fronted Amazon (A. albifrons nana) but it does not hybridize with them.

A very distinctive feature of the new taxon is its call, which is loud, sharp, short, repetitive and monotonous; one particular vocalization is more reminiscent of an Accipiter than of any known parrot. The duration of syllables is much longer than in other Amazon parrot species. In flight, the call is a loud, short, sharp and repetitive yak-yak-yak. While perched, the call is mellow and prolonged.

This species lives in small flocks of less than 12 individuals. Pairs and their offspring have a tendency to remain together and are discernible in groups. Like all members of the genus Amazona, this parrot is a herbivore. Its diet consists of seeds, fruits, flowers and leaves obtained in the tree canopy.

The analysis of mitochondrial DNA genes indicates that the blue-winged Amazon has emerged quite recently, or about 120,000 years ago, from within the A. albifrons population. During this time, the taxon differentiated sufficiently to be clearly recognizable as a new species.

There is no conservation program currently in effect to preserve this parrot but its small range and rarity should make its conservation a priority.

Fossil otter discovery in Mexico

This video says about itself:

28 February 2017

Researchers have uncovered the remains of a giant otter in China that when alive would have been comparable to the size of a wolf.

The fossils belong to a new species of ancient otter, known as Siamogale melilutra, that lived in freshwater lakes around 6 million years ago.

From the University at Buffalo in the USA:

Ancient otter tooth found in Mexico suggests mammals migrated across America

June 14, 2017

Summary: An ancient otter tooth recently discovered in Mexico suggests certain mammals migrated across America during the Miocene geologic epoch, roughly 23 million to 5.3 million years ago. The new hypothesized route questions other theories such as migrations above Canada and through Panama, and has implications for a much larger biologic event — the Great American Biotic Interchange, when land bridges were formed and animals dispersed to and from North America and South America.

Late in the afternoon on a hot March day in central Mexico, a paleontologist uncovered a jaw bone and called over to Jack Tseng.

Tseng, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, was on the dig researching intercontinental immigration of fossil mammals.

“I thought it was a badger,” Tseng said, “but a colleague on the site had just finished a study of otters, and he said it was sea otter-like. But what would a sea otter be doing in central Mexico?”

Turns out the otter, from about 6 million years ago, may have been part of an immigration event from Florida to California. Based on the discovery, Tseng and his colleagues have written a paper to be published June 13 in the journal Biology Letters. They propose a new east-west passage for the otter, and potentially other mammals, along the northern edge of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, which runs across the country at the latitude of Mexico City.

“This is an entirely new idea that no one else has proposed,” Tseng said. “We think it’s very likely other animals utilized this route.”

The right tooth

Like many breakthroughs, this one came from a fortunate tiny detail. The jawbone held several teeth.

“One tooth was a lower first molar, the most diagnostic tooth in a carnivore,” Tseng said. “If we are lucky enough to find a fossil molar tooth that is complete, there is a lot of useful information.”

The tooth was almost identical to a tooth from another Enhydritherium terraenovae (an ancient sea otter) fossil found in Florida. Similar finds had only been made along the coasts, in Florida and California, but paleontologists did not know how the animals got across the continent. One hypothesis was that they moved up and around through northern Canada, an 8,000 kilometer trip. Another was they made it down to Panama and crossed over to the west.

The possibility of an east-west migratory route in Mexico in the Miocene geologic epoch (roughly 23 million to 5.3 million years ago) has implications for a much larger biologic event — the Great American Biotic Interchange, when land bridges were formed and animals dispersed to and from North America and South America. It shows that the region’s fossil sites could have recorded details of this biological interchange of historic proportions.

But why don’t we know more about this already?

“Compared to the U.S., Mexico is a blank slate in terms of paleontology,” Tseng said. The region is difficult to work in because of the topography and flora, like cactus. So not many long-term field projects exist there.

“This is the beginning of the study,” Tseng said. “Now that we have this evidence of these animals moving through Mexico, we can now look for evidence of other animals doing the same.”

Expanding ranges

Adolfo Pacheco-Castro, a PhD student at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Centro de Geociencias, and an author of the study, found the jawbone at the dig site in the Juchipila Basin, about 535 miles southeast of Laredo, Texas. The bone was taken to the university in Mexico, cleaned off and studied.

“We compared it to the original tooth from Florida, based on the cusps and the size, it couldn’t be anything else,” Tseng said. The fossils in Florida are older than those in California, so researchers speculate that immigrations went east to west.

But why did they travel at all?

“Animals tend to expand their range when and where there is opportunity,” Tseng said. “As in when there is a geographic connection to suitable habitats. So as populations expand their range, they can move across a continent, or even between continents.”

The Miocene-Pliocene transitional period was a time of disturbance, Tseng said. The plains of America would have been like Africa, with many large mammals. But the first ice age was approaching.

Many large mammals perished in the ice age from environmental and anthropogenic causes, but relatives of the smaller Enhydritherium — about the size of a small to medium dog — survived into modern times and still live around central Mexico today.

New area of study

Tseng said he expects some people will not agree with the new interpretation of an east-west corridor through Mexico for other mammals. But more research may confirm it.

“We are aware it is a single discovery,” he said. “It essentially opens up a can of worms. We are throwing a different factor in. We now have a connection between Florida and California, and it’s not in a straight line.”

Tagging whale sharks in Mexico

This video says about itself:

Tagging the Largest Shark on Earth #OurBluePlanet – BBC Earth

24 May 2017

The size of a school bus but in many ways a mystery, whale sharks continue to fascinate. Join a team of international scientists at a renowned marine sanctuary in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico and discover how we’re trying to better understand these remarkable creatures.

Mexican art and revolution, exhibition

This video from the USA says about itself:

21 October 2016

Paint the Revolution at the Philadelphia Museum of Art explores the political and social unrest in Mexico over four decades from 1910-1950 during several presidents and its uprising. Featured masterpieces by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, and Rufino Tamayo are beautifully displayed alongside mixed media installations.

By Gary Alvernia:

Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910–1950—a significant exhibition

28 April 2017

Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910–1950 presented at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia October 25, 2016 to January 8, 2017 and currently at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City until May 7, 2017.

The product of a major collaboration between the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMoA) and Mexico’s Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), “Paint the Revolution” was the first exhibit in nearly seven decades to present an extensive selection of 20th century Mexican art in the United States.

Encompassing the start of the Mexican Revolution through to just after the end of World War II, the exhibition includes and prominently displays the works of the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera (1886–1957), Jose Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1977), along with Rivera’s wife and artistic collaborator, Frida Kahlo (1907–1954). It also features a number of lesser-known muralists and painters, as well as photographers Tina Modotti (1896–1942) and Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1902–2002).

PMoA’s aim in staging “Paint the Revolution,” it said, was to provide “a deep look at the forces that shaped modern art in Mexico, the progress of which was closely watched around the world.” The exhibit reveals the changes that occurred in Mexican artwork, in style and format but also content, during this period. Though primarily depicting the artistic impact of the Mexican Revolution (c. 1910–1921), other crucial historical events—the two World Wars, Great Depression, industrialization of Mexico and the Russian Revolution—are also considered.

PMoA made great efforts to bring together a number of previously unseen and otherwise inaccessible artworks. One noteworthy element involved the use of large-screen panels and projectors to digitally render in high resolution some of the enormous frescoes by Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, which could not be moved physically from their current locations.

“Paint the Revolution” is arranged in a chronological and categorical format with various pieces placed according to different themes—the Mexican Revolution, Urbanization, Mexican Culture, etc.—and then presented sequentially by date of completion, allowing the audience to see the evolution of Mexican artwork over the time period in question.

From the outset, the exhibit explains how a number of Mexican artists, at the turn of the 20th century, began to look to their own country for inspiration and strove to create a national aesthetic style, which they referred to as Mexicanidad. While many trained in Europe, these artists eschewed classical subject matter and increasingly took an interest in the culture and daily lives of peasants and workers. Initially taking the form of romantic portrayals of rural life and landscapes, artistic work became increasingly realistic, with an emphasis on urban life, industrialization and political struggle, under the impact of the politically charged climate during and after the Mexican Revolution.

Taking place from 1910–1921, the revolution was a period of struggle and armed insurrection by the country’s peasantry and working class against the big landowners, represented by the anti-democratic regime of Porfirio Diaz. Suffering under brutally exploitative conditions, driven by the Mexican elite’s subservience to foreign investment from the United States and Europe, the impoverished and increasingly landless peasants formed great armies under the leadership of Francisco “Pancho” Villa, and Emiliano Zapata, while the workers launched massive general strikes that crippled Mexico’s economy (for a full description see here).

Despite overthrowing Diaz and the enormous levels of determination and self-sacrifice shown by the masses, the lack of revolutionary leadership resulted in defeat. The liberal bourgeoisie, initially allied with Villa and Zapata, betrayed the masses, and led by Alvaro Obregon, brutally crushed the rebellions. The result was the murder of hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants and the preservation of bourgeois rule.

For substantial layers of the Mexican intelligentsia the conflict served to heighten their political sensitivity and consciousness. Lacking much of the idyllic romanticism of the pre-revolutionary era, paintings like Hanged and Disembodied Men (1915), by Francisco Goitia, which depicts long-decayed corpses hung on trees, effectively conveyed the nature of war. In a simple but effective manner, Goitia, who became a “cultural attaché” to Villa’s army and witnessed its eventual defeat, exposes the human toll of war and the indifference of such catastrophes to the fate of its victims, a true accounting of warfare.
Hanged and Disembodied Men, by Francisco Goita (1915)

World War I and revolutionary aspirations generated by the 1917 Russian Revolution and establishment of the first workers’ state also contributed greatly to this artistic development. After Alvaro Obregon became Mexican president following the revolution, he announced a program of state-sponsored murals, providing a platform for the increasingly combative and politicized artistic community. Championed by Jose Vasconcelos, Obregon’s secretary for education, the internationally influential Mexican mural movement found its genesis in this program. The exhibition, however, does not refer to Vasconcelos, an active participant in the Mexican Revolution and one strongly affected by the concepts that inspired Mexicanidad.

While intended mainly to foster a sense of national identity, murals were seen by many artists as an opportunity to communicate directly with the working class and raise their revolutionary consciousness, a goal undoubtedly inspired by the October Revolution and the development of art in the Soviet Union in the years immediately following its creation. Indeed, many Mexican artists would visit the USSR and become members of the Mexican Communist Party. Diego Rivera … , in particular, developed a close friendship and collaboration with Leon Trotsky, co-leader of the Bolshevik Party. Their political relationship is not alluded to in the exhibit.

Liberation of the Peon, by Diego Rivera (1931)

The radicalization of Mexican artists led to the creation of powerful and engaging works that expressed the faith of the artistic community in the revolution of the masses. One moving example is expressed in Rivera’s fresco Liberation of the Peon (1931) which depicts the freeing of a tortured and badly beaten indentured laborer (who were often indigenous peoples) on a plantation by revolutionary soldiers.

An additional impact of the October Revolution was that it encouraged Mexican artists to adopt an international outlook. Unsurprisingly many directed a critical eye towards the imperialist oppressors of Mexico, particularly the United States. The museum presents the paintings of Rivera, Kahlo and Orozco, all of whom came away from their visits to the US with critical and insightful views of America in the Great Depression.

My Dress Hangs There by Frida Kahlo (1933)

Kahlo was scathing in her criticism of American society, an attitude seen in her work My Dress Hangs There which mocked the superficiality of American capitalism and its narrow obsession with possessions and self-promotion (demonstrated by the placing of the indoor toilet and a bronze trophy on equal pedestals).

Orozco’s The Epic of American Civilization effectively condenses millennia of human settlement in the New World into one enormous 24-panel panoramic mural, which was presented digitally at the exhibit. Considering the broad subject at hand, this reviewer was struck both by the sweeping ambition of the project and the range of emotion and feeling embodied in each panel. Defiance, hope, and despair emanate from the piece, and the immense scope driving Mexican modernism expresses itself with a power rarely reached in artwork. It is impossible to miss the connection between political outlook and artistic criticism here.

A section of The Epic of American Civilization (1932-34) by Jose Clemente Orozco

The presentation to American audiences of some of the great works of art created in early 20th century Mexico is a commendable undertaking. The PMoA exhibit emphasized the politically critical and in some cases anti-capitalist nature of the art works and artists themselves, drawing a connection between the content of the art and historical events of that era. Efforts were also made to highlight the contributions that Mexican artists made to artistic and cultural developments internationally.

A number of tour guides commented that some of the works acted as a counter to the xenophobic campaign directed against Mexicans by the US government and media. Additionally, in listening to the conversations between various audience members, one could hear many discussing the oppositional nature of the artwork and the present situation in the United States, particularly in regards to the rise of Donald Trump. Others commented that the situation leading to the Mexican Revolution paralleled the enormous wealth inequalities and repression facing American workers today. While these sentiments reflect an important strength of “Paint the Revolution” which bring to wider attention a number of politically charged and relevant artworks, the show has its weaknesses.

The exhibit attempts to reveal the relationship between historical events and the development of socially conscious artwork, but there is a lack of analysis of that very history. The political activities and trajectories of the artists, so crucial to understanding their work, are only given a cursory review. We are told that Mexico produced artists with an anti-capitalist outlook, but nothing further. The Mexican Revolution is described as a conflict by the impoverished masses against the rich but with little detail provided about the event itself or the class forces involved. While an artistic exhibit will necessarily be limited in how much history and politics it can present, these omissions weaken the context of the material presented.

Rivera working on the Man at the Crossroads mural in the Rockefeller Center

Birdwatching Big Day, 13 May

This 12 April 2017 video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA says about itself:

Big Day – Chris Wood

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes about it:

Support the Sapsuckers’ birding marathon for conservation

On May 13, 2017, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding Dream Team, the Sapsuckers, will reach for an audacious goal: finding 300 bird species in just 24 hours – and raising $475,000. Can they do it?!

This year, for Big Day, they will be heading to the Yucatán Peninsula, one of the world’s most stunning and important areas for birds.

In order to cover the phenomenal bird diversity there, they will be dividing into three teams for the first time ever: Team Belize, Team Guatemala, and Team Mexico. All three teams will be joining forces in a quest to find the most bird species and raise $475,000 for conservation.

Will you help Team Belize, Team Guatemala, and Team Mexico by pledging for every bird species they find?

After Big Day, we’ll share with you the results of Team Sapsucker’s efforts and ask you to fulfill your pledged gift. For example, if you pledge $0.25 today and Team Sapsucker meets their goal of finding 300 bird species, you will receive an email to fulfill your pledge of $75.

Our thanks for your support:

For gifts and pledges over $100 you’ll receive a coffee mug featuring the Cedar Waxwing by Ann-Kathrin Wirth, a Bartels Science Illustration Intern.

If you prefer to make a donation now rather than pledge per species please click here.

Report on that day: here.

Ancient Mexican palace discovery

This video about archaeology in Mexico is called Palenque (New Documentary 2014).

From Science News:

Palace remains in Mexico point to ancient rise of centralized power

Ruler ruled, lived in, maybe even performed ritual sacrifices in 2,300-year-old structure

By Bruce Bower

3:10pm, March 27, 2017

Remnants of a royal palace in southern Mexico, dating to between around 2,300 and 2,100 years ago, come from what must have been one of the Americas’ earliest large, centralized governments, researchers say.

Excavations completed in 2014 at El Palenque uncovered a palace with separate areas where a ruler conducted affairs of state and lived with his family, say archaeologists Elsa Redmond and Charles Spencer, both of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Only a ruler of a bureaucratic state could have directed construction of this all-purpose seat of power, the investigators conclude the week of March 27 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The royal palace, the oldest such structure in the Valley of Oaxaca, covered as many as 2,790 square meters, roughly half the floor area of the White House. A central staircase connected to an inner courtyard that probably served as a place for the ruler and his advisors to reach decisions, hold feasts and — based on human skull fragments found there — perform ritual sacrifices, the scientists suggest. A system of paved surfaces, drains and other features for collecting rainwater runs throughout the palace, a sign that the entire royal structure was built according to a design, the researchers say.

El Palenque’s palace contains no tombs. Its ancient ruler was probably buried off-site, at a ritually significant location, Redmond and Spencer say.