The rise of ISIS

first_imgThe Sunni extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has waged a violent campaign in recent months, capturing large areas of territory in both countries. In June, the group declared itself a new Islamist caliphate, or formal Islamic state, and proclaimed leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph. Experts worry about what the rise of the Jihadist group will mean for the future of Iraq, for the stability of the region, and for United States security.Political scientist Harith Hasan al-Qarawee studies state-society relations, political transitions, and identity politics in Iraq and the Middle East. The 2014-2015 Robert G. James Scholar at Risk Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, he is working on a book titled “Transnational Sectarianism: State’s Disintegration and Sunni-Shia Divide in the Middle East.”The Gazette recently spoke with al-Qarawee about the rise of ISIS.GAZETTE: Can you describe ISIS in relationship to al-Qaeda?AL-QARAWEE: ISIS is the latest incarnation of a group called Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn, or the organization of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which was formed in 2004. The group, although it declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, was a highly independent body that had organizational and ideological differences from al-Qaeda. The group adopted a very fundamentalist and exclusionary interpretation of Islam, saw itself as the only “victorious sect” in Islam, and considered Shias [Shiites, who constitute 55-60 percent of Iraqis] deviants and legitimate targets of its attacks. The group and its subsequent incarnations were shaped by the nature of conflict in Iraq that took an increasingly sectarian characteristic. Unlike al-Qaeda that prioritized the conflict with the West, ISIS deemed conflict with Shias central to its success because it sought to create a territorial state of its own. If al-Qaeda was an outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan, ISIS is an outcome of conflicts and states’ failures in Iraq and the Levant.GAZETTE: What does the rise of ISIS mean for Iraq? What does it mean for the West? Is ISIS a greater threat to United States security than al-Qaeda?AL-QARAWEE: The rise of ISIS in Iraq means that once again we are facing the failure of [the] post-colonial state in the region. Post-Saddam [Hussein] Iraq, which was supposed to become a model of democracy and inclusivity, ended up as a fragile state strongly weakened by ethnic and sectarian divides. That has something to do with both the pillars on which the current regime was established and the failed policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. However, to understand the roots of problem, we need to examine the unsuccessful processes of nation-building in the region. These processes have failed partly because of the exclusionary politics that characterized the behavior of all regimes that ruled Iraq, including the current one.Now, ISIS’s focus is on building its own state and consolidating its power in the areas it managed to control. Therefore, most of the fighting it has engaged in was against others who are contesting this control, and I expect this will be the case in the near future. However, as a Jihadist organization claiming to represent the true Islamic Khilafat, its project will not stop at the current borders and it will continue seeking to expand its territory, which will lead to a more direct clash with the U.S. and Western interests. As the conflict continues, ISIS might have its own internal disagreements about the future, and I expect two kinds of disputes:First, a dispute with local populations and the more indigenous groups that have their distinct concerns and priorities other than the strict interpretation of Sharia law, and this dispute is already in place in Syria and some parts of Iraq.The second conflict will be within the organization between its Iraqi wing that might prioritize the “sectarian conflict” with Shias and issues related to communal identity, and the global wing that adopts the ideology of jihad and looks beyond Iraq.GAZETTE: Do you think Iraq will split along sectarian lines, Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish? What would that kind of division mean for the United States?AL-QARAWEE: Iraq is already splitting along these lines as the Shia-dominated government loses control over Sunni areas. Apparently, neither the U.S. nor most regional powers benefit from Iraq’s disintegration because it is a formula for the creation of three fragile semi-states. This division will mean long struggles within and between the emerging entities, while regional powers such as Iran and Turkey seek to subordinate some of them. This is already happening, as the Shia groups are increasingly seeking support and protection from Iran, while Kurdistan is increasingly dependent on Turkey. Sunni areas will keep witnessing long fighting between ISIS and other groups, not to mention the fact that they will be impoverished because, unlike the south and Kurdistan, they do not have their own resources. If the U.S. recognizes that an action [is] needed to prevent this scenario, then it needs to engage more proactively and support new arrangements that help sharing and decentralizing power and leading a collective action against ISIS. Iraq needs a new compact that the Iraqi elite alone cannot reach. There is also a need to involve other regional powers in a collective action based on facing ISIS and at the same time a commitment to bridge the sectarian gap in the whole region.GAZETTE: You have said that you think the political transformation that Iraq needs in the near term is unlikely. Why?AL-QARAWEE: For those following Iraq’s news, it is obvious that, one, the current system is broken, and, two, Iraqi politicians drive a slow machine that cannot anticipate developments on the ground. Iraq lacks state-builders, which is exactly what we need today. The current crisis requires competent and confident leaders who have a clear vision and the will to make genuine concessions. Unfortunately, the current debate in Iraq is more about personalities than about institutions, and it has not elaborated any serious solutions for problems the country is facing.GAZETTE: What will the future hold for Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq? Can he form a new government that will be successful? If not, can anyone on the current political scene succeed in doing so?AL-QARAWEE: Here, I have two things to say.First, if Maliki manages to stay in power, things will only get worse. Maliki is a divisive figure in a time that requires more unity … who lacks any strategic vision for the country and has already shown authoritarian tendencies. His policies are more about his own survival than about building a state and broadening the legitimacy of his government. He belongs to a political culture that views state-building through traditional exclusionary tools such as centralization, consolidating personal power, and patronage.Second, while Maliki is a problem, he is not the only problem. Iraq suffers two chronic problems that need to be addressed.One, sectarianism has become entrenched within the system, and therefore made it difficult for any political actor to gain influence and build constituency without resorting to identity politics. We need to change the paradigm of Iraq from a country of ethnicities and sects into one based on citizenship politics. This can happen by changing the electoral law and make major amendments to the constitution.Two, Iraq depends highly on oil resources that represent about 95 percent of its governmental budget. Rentier states (which rely strongly on natural resources to thrive) tend to empower the elite and weaken civil society, which is what had happened in Iraq under the Saddam regime and is being repeated today. While it is idealistic to talk about the diversification of Iraq’s economy in the foreseeable future, there is a need to make major changes in the way oil wealth is managed. Decentralization will help prevent the accumulation of revenues in the hands of those who control the central government. But then we need to develop that further to make sure it will not create authoritarian elites in the regions.GAZETTE: Can Maliki, or someone else, form a coalition government that includes the Sunnis, making them less likely to turn to ISIS?AL-QARAWEE: The problem here is multifaceted. It is not impossible for any prime minister to give executive positions in his cabinet for Sunni politicians; in fact, this was the case under Maliki’s two terms. The problem is the belief that only by gaining executive positions, a community can feel included. This formula of distributing governmental positions among conflicting parties actually led to creating ineffective governments that lack unity and turn state’s institutions into fiefdoms of conflicting parties. This is exactly what made Maliki popular among Iraqi Shias, because his program focused on forming a majority government rather than apportioning cabinet positions among political parties. Iraq needs decentralization rather than building a grand central government. In addition, Sunni political elites are facing today an existential crisis after ISIS has driven most of its members outside their constituencies. So, assuming that ISIS will be forced out of the cities it is controlling now, there will be a need to recognize who are the genuine representatives of Sunni communities. I think a change within the Sunni political spectrum is inevitable.GAZETTE: What does the rise of ISIS mean for women in Syria and Iraq?AL-QARAWEE: More strict measures and marginalization. These groups consider women objects and deny them any existence as social actors. It is important to recognize that Islamic fundamentalism is a powerful ideology in these societies and it has “indoctrinated” many women to accept their lower social status. As the groups consolidate their control in these areas, they follow a very strict version of Sharia law, while trying to strengthen their cultural hegemony through tools of socialization. Today, the situation of women in the Arab world, and areas of conflict in particular, is clear evidence of the failure in the traditional approaches of modernization and development. In sociological terms, ISIS is the outcome of this failure, and its ideology represents a regression from any previous achievements. This is important to highlight in order to clarify that military means only cannot secure victory against ISIS and its like.last_img read more

I must make it count, says Bramble

first_imgTHERE’S an old saying that a cricketer is not complete until he succeeds at the international level. So for Guyana wicketkeeper/batsman Anthony Bramble’s maiden international call-up is a life-time opportunity and he must make count.The 28-year-old is the lone new face to the 14-member squad released by the selectors on Monday, to play the first two matches in the MyTeam11 Twenty20 International Series, co-sponsored by Skoda, at the Broward County Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida on August 3 and 4 with the third scheduled for the Guyana National Stadium on August 6.“It’s an opportunity; I must make it count – an opportunity which will now allow my career to further flourish. It was a great feeling when I got a call from (interim) chairman of selectors (Robert Haynes). The time has come now and I need to be ready,” he told Chronicle Sport.Bramble has given firm proof of his batting and keeping ability in the West Indies Championship for reigning five-time champions Guyana Jaguars, who also reached the final of last year’s West Indies Super50 Cup.He captained West Indies ‘B’ to the final of the Global T20 Tournament last year in Canada and was recently picked up in the CPL draft for the first time in three years and will play for his home-based Guyana Amazon Warriors.“We have been following his performances in regional competitions over the years and it cannot be forgotten that he led the West Indies ‘B’ Team to the GT20 in Canada, and that team did well to reach the Final,” said Haynes on his selection.“We figured that though Nicholas Pooran will be the first-choice wicketkeeper, we needed to have someone to deputise in case something unexpected happens and Bramble is the perfect choice.“He is young and has a lot of ambition, and we saw his character come out in the way he batted whenever Guyana Jaguars were in problems in the West Indies Championship and Super50 Cup, so we know he is capable of getting the job done.”In 12 T20 matches, the right-hander has a strike rate of 107.69 and has taken nine catches and effected one stumping.last_img read more

LETTERKENNY HOSPITAL CRISIS: ANGER DEEPENS OVER MINISTER’S CLAIMS

first_imgANGER is deepening over claims that Letterkenny General Hospital’s emergency department is performing well.Under-staffed and clearly not fit for purpose, a local TD has questioned the government’s commitment to open the new medical block on the site within the next six months.But today hospital manager Sean Murphy told the Shaun Doherty Show on Highland Radio that as far as he was concerned there was no guarantee it would be opened this year – next mind by the summer. Mr Murphy told the programme: “I cannot seriously guarantee that it will open this year.“Every effort that the hospital can make, by the clinical team and the management team, to get this unit open will be made.”No wonder then that Donegal North East Sinn Féin TD, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn ‘cautiously welcomed’ a Government commitment to open the new medical block at Letterkenny General Hospital within six months.The new medical block incorporates an Accident and Emergency Department with 19 bays, an acute assessment unit with 11 bays and three 24 bed wards covering three floors. Deputy Mac Lochlainn said: “Both myself and Deputy Pearse Doherty have vigorously pursued the completion of this vital new medical block with the HSE and in the Dáil. Following the overcrowding in the existing Accident and Emergency Department, we decided to again bring this issue to the fore in the Dáil.“Yesterday evening, under our “topical issues” debate, the Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch confirmed that the block will be open within six months. While this is welcome, Sinn Féin is determined to see it open before then”“Next Wednesday 25th, a Sinn Féin delegation of myself, Mayor of Letterkenny, Cllr Gerry McMonagle, and Cllr Mick Quinn will meet with the Regional Director of HSE West, John Hennessy and the HSE Regional Manager, John Hayes in Dublin. We will again demand that the HSE provides the necessary financial and personnel resources to the Management of Letterkenny General Hospital to ensure that this new block is opened as soon as possible”“Unfortunately, the opening of the new block is only the start of a long fight ahead to defend the existing services and specialities at Letterkenny General Hospital. It is clear from last year’s 8 million euro overspend that our local Hospital, which is officially one of the most efficient in the state, has been systematically underfunded”Our previous story on this issue is here: https://www.donegaldaily.com/2012/01/17/you-couldnt-make-it-up-letterkenny-ae-not-overcrowded-says-government/And judging by the comments (some from staff whose identities we have protected) the Government isn’t telling the whole yarn.LEAVE YOU COMMENTS BELOW:LETTERKENNY HOSPITAL CRISIS: ANGER DEEPENS OVER MINISTER’S CLAIMS was last modified: January 18th, 2012 by BrendaShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Tags:ANGER is deepening over claims that Letterkenny General Hospital’s emergency department is performing well.last_img read more

How Bambi Gave Rise to Moby Dick

first_imgThe title of this entry, in Kipling Just-So Story format, is only slightly modified from an article from The Guardian, titled, “How Bambi evolved into Moby-Dick.”  This is not a joke; check on the link and see.    The article is about the latest fossil claimed to be ancestral to whales.  Hans Thewissen (Northeastern Ohio College of Medicine) has spent many years trying to trace an evolutionary path to whales from artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates, a group of mammals including deer, cattle, sheep, goats, giraffes, pigs, and camels).  This was the subject of a chapter in the PBS Evolution series, “Great Transformations,” in 2001 (see review on ReviewEvolution.com).  Thewissen’s latest candidate missing link is a raccoon-size deer-like fossil animal found in Kashmir; the discovery and analysis was published in Nature.1  The Guardian was ebullient in its certainty that this is the link:The landmark finding represents a long-sought ‘missing link’ in the 10m-year [10 million year] journey that saw ancient land mammals evolve into modern cetaceans, a group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.”    Scientists have long known that whales are mammals whose ancient ancestors walked on land, but only in the past 15 years have they unearthed fossils that shed light on the creatures’ dramatic evolutionary history.  The latest discovery, named Indohyus, is the first whale ancestor known to have lived on land.On what basis did Thewissen and his team think this fossil had anything to do with whales?  The teeth are “similar to those of aquatic animals,” and the bones suggest a heavy stance like that of hippos.  The bones around the inner ear look similar to those of cetaceans, the article claims.  That’s about all the data this article mentioned, yet the certainty that this represents the missing link continued:The evolutionary path of the whale is one of the most extraordinary on record.  In less than 10m years, the whale’s ancestors completely transformed as they shifted from a four-legged life on land to a life in the ocean.    The first whales, Pakicetidae, emerged around 50m years ago and resembled land mammals rather than the giant marine creatures of today.  These evolved into large, powerful coastal whales, or Ambulocetidae, that had big feet and strong tails.  Later, whales lost their hind limbs and hair and developed powerful tail fins and flippers.One difficulty is that this fossil “overturns a previous assumption that the ancestors of whales were already carnivores before they left land for a life beneath the waves.”  Being a herbivore, what was it doing in the water?  Thewissen thinks it was acting like the modern mouse deer of Africa, which escapes from eagles by diving under the water for up to four minutes.    To reinforce the missing-link message of Indohyus, the article stuck it to the creationists:Fred Spoor, an anthropologist at University College London, said the significance of the latest find was comparable to Archaeopteryx, the first fossils to show a clear transition between dinosaurs and birds.  “For years cetaceans were used by creationists to support their views because for a long time the most primitive whales known had bodies that looked like modern whales, so there seemed to be this enormous gap in evolution.  But since the early 1990s, there’s been a rapid succession of fossils from India and Pakistan that beautifully fill that gap,” he said.    “The tables are turned now because we have fossils that show that dramatic transition step by step.  Cetaceans are almost the only group that has made such a rapid change from a land environment to an aquatic one.  “Unlike sealions and seals, which still spend some time on land, cetaceans are completely committed to the water now, and it had an enormous effect on their physiology.  They had to change everything.”This last sentence, they had to change everything, makes it sound as if the whales directed their mutations with the goal of becoming aquatic – that is most certainly not what the evolutionists mean.  Such language, however, blurs the way the Darwinian mechanism is supposed to work.  Individual members of Indohyus or cetaceans could not possibly know or care what was happening to them.  Evolution works on the genes in large populations over a long, drawn-out process involving mutations selection pressures without any goal in mind – certainly not in the minds of any individual animals.  No amount of individual striving gets passed on to the offspring – that would be Lamarckism.    The article ends with the “more work to do” theme, but includes more purpose-driven language on the part of the whales:Thewissen’s group will next study Indohyus further to learn more about its diet and habitat.  One critical change that occurred when whales took to the water involved its sense of balance and orientation.  In land mammals, this is governed by a vestibulary system in the inner ear, but whales had to adapt to moving in three dimensions, driving the evolution of a more complex system.    “This fossil completes the picture in terms of the whales’ evolution, but what’s next is to look at these other evolutionary adaptations,” said Thewissen.So the frame of the puzzle is done, and now it’s just a matter of filling in the middle.  Is that what the original paper said?  In the journals, scientists tend to be more reserved in their announcements than in the popular press.  It’s interesting that for a discovery this “dramatic” there was no review article accompanying the paper.    The abstract says that Indohyus was a “sister group” to the whales.  This means it was not on the path to whalehood, but both had a common ancestor.  Claims that whale evolution is “documented” and “strongly supported” continue in the paper, but the opening paragraph leads one to suspect that a single fossil species like Indohyus cannot be expected to solve all the problems:Phylogenetic analyses of molecular data on extant animals strongly support the notion that hippopotamids are the closest relatives of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).  In spite of this, it is unlikely that the two groups are closely related when extant and extinct artiodactyls are analysed, for the simple reason that cetaceans originated about 50 million years (Myr) ago in south Asia, whereas the family Hippopotamidae is only 15 Myr old, and the first hippopotamids to be recorded in Asia are only 6 Myr old.  However, analyses of fossil clades have not resolved the issue of cetacean relations.  Proposed sister groups ranged from the entire artiodactyl order, to the extinct early ungulates mesonychians, to an anthracotheroid clade (which included hippopotamids), to weakly supporting hippopotamids (to the exclusion of anthracotheres.Indohyus is an Eocene artiodactyl in a group Raoellidae, which previously had no linkage to the whale line.  Thewissen et al are therefore making a radical new hypothesis.  “This has profound implications for the character transformations near the origin of cetaceans and the cladistic definition of Cetacea, and identifies the habitat in which whales originated,” they say.  “Taken together, our findings lead us to propose a new hypothesis for the origin of whales.”    New hypotheses, however, tend to create as many problems as they solve, because old assumptions get discarded.  Evolutionists have already been claiming for years that the whale evolution story is strongly supported with other fossils.  How can a specimen from a small, extinct deer-like animal wedge its way into an existing story?  It becomes necessary to juggle things around:To investigate the importance of raoellids in cetacean phylogeny, we excluded raoellids from our initial phylogenetic analysis of artiodactyls plus cetaceans.  Our data set differed from previous analyses by the addition of several archaic anthracotheres, and some corrected scores for pakicetid cetaceans.  This analysis found stronger support for hippopotamid�cetacean sister-group relations than the previous analysis, consistent with molecular studies.  However, the base of the artiodactyl cladogram is poorly resolved (see Supplementary Information for details on phylogenetic runs).This is how phylogenetic analysis is really done.  Assumptions are made, and some earlier associations get tossed by the wayside in an effort to achieve a desired amount of “consistency.”  So Thewissen and team changed the recipe and got some new flavors:In a second cladistic analysis (Fig. 2), we added the raoellids Khirtharia and Indohyus as well as several archaic ungulate groups (condylarths) and found that raoellids and cetaceans are sister groups and that they are the basal node in the Cetacea/Artiodactyla clade, consistent with some previous analyses that used different character sets.  Our analysis is the first to show that raoellids are the sister group to cetaceans, resolving the biogeographic conundrum and closing the temporal gap between cetaceans and their sister.  Relations between most artiodactyl families higher in the tree are poorly resolved, and our data lack implications for the relations between these families.  Our analysis strongly argues that raoellids and cetaceans are more closely related to each other than either is to hippopotamids.This is a human line of argument – not a single, clear, uncontroversial picture emerging inescapably from the data.  Everything is inference: trying to find a pathway through scattered data points, after first assuming a pathway exists.  The reader should not picture a straight line from Indohyus to Blue Whale.  The human researchers are picking their way through a data forest with a goal in mind.  The forest is not leading them on a single yellow brick road.    Indohyus, for instance, has a thickening around its middle ear that was thought diagnostic of cetaceans.  What does this mean?  The paper presents two possibilities: either Indohyus was similar to whales, or this trait can no longer be thought characteristic of whales.  As with Tiktaalik, the data present mosaics of traits that require human judgment about what goes with what clade, and which clades are closer or farther apart.    In the paper, the team considered various groupings, but made decisions based on their own preferences: e.g., regarding one alternative tree, they said, “We do not prefer this classification because it causes instability by significantly altering the traditional content of both Artiodactyla and Cetacea.”  The team sought the most “parsimonious” tree of descent – but parsimony is a human value, not a whale value.  Not even all humans will agree what constitutes parsimony.    The team acknowledged that cetaceans and raoellids possess some synapomorphies (derived traits shared by terminal groups), but then said, “None of these features characterize all modern and extinct cetaceans; the dental characters, for instance, cannot be scored in toothless mysticetes.  In addition, all of these characters are found in some mammals unrelated to cetaceans.”  There are multiple ways to interpret the data, therefore.  The synapomorphies might indicate relationship – or, they could overthrow assumptions about which traits are diagnostic of which clades.  Clearly, this team did not attach any significance to the similarities that didn’t fit a deer-to-whale lineage.  “We attach particular importance to two character complexes that characterize basal cetaceans,” they said, but that assumes what needs to be proved (circular reasoning).    The team attached great importance to the teeth.  But Indohyus, they said, was a herbivore, and whales are carnivores; how much about relationship can be inferred from teeth of groups with very different dietary habits and behaviors?  What kind of tree would have resulted had they attached particular importance to other traits?  One can imagine other evolutionary paleontologists having their own assumptions, preferences, methodologies, and arriving at very different conclusions.     Other traits were mentioned that do not help the story of whale evolution.  The team noticed that the leg bones showed osteoporosis, which they interpreted as meaning that Indohyus was stable in the water – but not a swimmer: “We interpret the limb osteosclerosis of Indohyus to be related to bottom walking and not to slow swimming, because the limbs are gracile and not modified into paddles.”  Other mammals, however, like beaver and otters and sea lions, show more modifications for aquatic lifestyle than this creature, and no one lumps them into a whale phylogeny.  So even if the oxygen or carbon isotopic ratios in the tooth enamel show a probability the creature lived a good part of its time in the water, how much can this tell us about its evolutionary path?  As a matter of fact, the team decided the diet of Indohyus was significantly different than whale diet.    So here is the long and short about this creature:Indohyus was a small, stocky artiodactyl, roughly the size of the raccoon Procyon lotor (Fig. 5).  It was not an adept swimmer; instead it waded in shallow water, with its heavy bones providing ballast to keep its feet anchored.  Indohyus may have fed on land, although a specialized aquatic diet is also possible.Whales do not use their bones as ballast to stay anchored to the bottom.  They do not eat vegetables.  They do not walk on four feet.  By what kind of convoluted reasoning can a raccoon-size deer be considered ancestral to dolphins and blue whales?    Even if it spent more time in water than the modern mouse deer, many mammals are accustomed to water: moose, bears, water buffalo, and of course otter and beaver – why are they not in the race to become whale ancestor?  The researchers even admitted that “The great evolutionary change that occurred at the origin of cetaceans is thus not the adoption of an aquatic lifestyle.”  They pinned all their inference on diet: “Here we propose that dietary change was the event that defined cetacean origins,” they said – but that is a radically new proposal from what they said before, because Indohyus eats plants, and whales don’t.  By all measures, it seems this new creature is even further removed from whale ancestry than the last candidate.    Their ending paragraph summarized the just-so story of how Bambi evolved into Moby Dick:Our working hypothesis for the origin of whales is that raoellid ancestors, although herbivores or omnivores on land, took to fresh water in times of danger.  Aquatic habits were increased in Indohyus (as suggested by osteosclerosis and oxygen isotopes), although it did not necessarily have an aquatic diet (as suggested by carbon isotopes).  Cetaceans originated from an Indohyus-like ancestor and switched to a diet of aquatic prey.  Significant changes in the morphology of the teeth, the oral skeleton and the sense organs made cetaceans different from their ancestors and unique among mammals.This is, as they themselves said, only a “working hypothesis” at best.  Compare that with the triumphal announcements in the The Register quoted at the beginning of this entry: “The tables are turned now [against the creationists] because we have fossils that show that dramatic transition step by step.”Update 12/26/2007: Science Now reported on the Thewissen claim, but ended with an alternative: “Another analysis, in press at Cladistics, suggests that an extinct group of carnivorous mammals, called mesonychids, were more closely related to cetaceans.”  Mesonychids looked less like Bambi and more like the Big Bad Wolf.  The only similarity seems to be that they were equidistant from Moby Dick.1.  Thewissen, Cooper, Clementz, Bajpai and Tiwari, “Whales originated from aquatic artiodactyls in the Eocene epoch of India,” Nature 450, 1190-1194 (20 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06343.Will evolutionists actually tell lies to push their beliefs?  Yes—you saw it right here.  Fred Spoor told you that Archaeopteryx represents a clear transition between dinosaurs and birds, when he knows full well it appeared too late in his own evolutionary timeline to be a missing link (10/24/2005).  The big lie in the Nature article, and in the popular press, was to portray this fossil discovery as a great victory for evolution, and a step-by-step sequence showing the whole ancestry.  It is no more victory than picking up a spent lottery ticket on the dusty ground and thinking it is a missing link to riches.    Philosophers of science could have some good banter about the logic of discovery – whether they discovered something true to nature in the data, or imposed their own experiences and preferences on the data.  Clearly, this team decided to pick and choose a few traits from a fossil they preferred over other problematical ones, and from these to weave a whale of a just-so story with which to dupe the public and shoot the creationists.  Well, their shot only hurt as much as a blast of bad breath in the face, that’s all.  You know what to expect from National Geographic, and you got it: “Whales Evolved from Tiny Deerlike Mammals, Study Says.”  The bigger the whopper, the better; have it your way, NG (10/24/2004).  Not to be left behind in the Whopper Olympics, the BBC News trumpeted, “Whale ‘missing link’ discovered.”    This is the mess of things that Charlie Darwin left in his wake when he allowed the magicians and storytellers into the once noble halls of science (12/22/2003 commentary).  It’s time to clear house and clean up.  Send the whole lot of them back to school to learn some history and philosophy and ethics, and make them sign a commitment to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  That would solve most of the problems in the contentious creation-evolution debate.    Bambi to Moby Dick—incredible.  PhD scientists actually believe that?  They want that taught in the schools?  We need a new word that means to laugh and cry at the same time, because this whale of a tale deserves a whopping blubberfest.  Maybe the word howl will do.  Perhaps this is why the humpback whales are howling.(Visited 47 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Biological Big Bang: Another Explosion at the Dawn of Life

first_imgEugene Koonin and two friends from the NIH went tree-hunting.  They examined almost 7,000 genomes of prokaryotes.  They found trees all right – a whole forest of them.  They even found 102 NUTs (nearly universal trees) in the forest.  Unfortunately, it’s not what they wanted to find: a single universal tree of life that Darwin’s theory requires.  They had to seriously consider the question: was there a biological big bang?    Publishing in an open-access article in the Journal of Biology,1 they began with the founding father’s vision: “The tree of life is, probably, the single dominating metaphor that permeates the discourse of evolutionary biology, from the famous single illustration in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to 21st-century textbooks.”  Alas, that 150-year-old icon must be dismantled.  In their conclusion, they said, “the original tree of life concept is obsolete: it would not even be a ‘tree of one percent’.”    What happened?  It appears that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has scrambled the genes in prokaryotes so much that any trace of common ancestry has been lost.  This means that Darwin’s metaphor lacks empirical evidence.  A fair-minded scientist would have to consider the possibility of a biological big bang (BBB), in which all the diversity in prokaryotes arose explosively.  And that’s what they did.  They evaluated their evidence with the BBB model and a slower type of explosion, called compressed cladogenesis (CC).2  Whichever was better, it was not very tree-like.  The strong tree-of-life image is unsupportable in the data.  They asked, “However, is there any hope of salvaging the tree of life as a statistical central trend?”  Searching diligently, they thought they found some things that “suggest a positive answer to this crucial question.”The message from this analysis is twofold.  On the one hand, we detected high levels of inconsistency among the trees comprising the forest of life, most probably due to extensive HGT, a conclusion that is supported by more direct observations of numerous probable transfers of genes between archaea and bacteria.  On the other hand, we detected a distinct signal of a consensus topology that was particularly strong in the NUTs.  Although the NUTs showed a substantial amount of apparent HGT, the transfer events seemed to be distributed randomly and did not obscure the vertical signal.  Moreover, the topology of the NUTs was quite similar to those of numerous other trees in the forest, so although the NUTs certainly cannot represent the forest completely, this set of largely consistent, nearly universal trees is a reasonable candidate for representing a central trend.  However, the opposite side of the coin is that the consistency between the trees in the forest is high at shallow depths of the trees and abruptly drops, almost down to the level of random trees, at greater phylogenetic depths that correspond to the radiation of archaeal and bacterial phyla.  This observation casts doubt on the existence of a central trend in the forest of life and suggests the possibility that the early phases of evolution might have been non-tree-like (a Biological Big Bang).  To address this problem directly, we simulated evolution under the CC model and under the BBB model, and found that the CC scenario better approximates the observed dependence between tree inconsistency and phylogenetic depth.  Thus, a consistent phylogenetic signal seems to be discernible throughout the evolution of archaea and bacteria but, under the CC model, the prospect of unequivocally resolving the relationships between the major archaeal and bacterial clades is bleak.Keeping some hope alive in the bleakness, therefore, they thought they could discern a weak central phylogenetic (evolutionary) trend in their data.  But it was, at best, only a composite of “nearly universal” trees that was obscured by a thicket of cross branches.  The same data seem to fit just as well with the big bang or compressed cladogenesis models (see footnote 2 for explanation).  The short message is, “A central trend that most probably represents vertical inheritance is discernible throughout the evolution of archaea and bacteria, although compressed cladogenesis complicates unambiguous resolution of the relationships between the major archaeal and bacterial clades.”    This paper is the latest in a series of “bleak” findings by Koonin about the missing tree of life (see “Mystery of Intron Evolution,” 09/03/2003; “Introns Stump Evolutionary Theorists,” 03/09/2006, “What Are Human Genes Doing in a Sea Anemone?”, 07/08/2007; “Will Darwinism End in a Big Bang?”, 10/08/2007).1.  Puigbo, Wolf and Koonin, “Search for a ‘Tree of Life’ in the thicket of the phylogenetic forest,” Journal of Biology, 2009, 8:59doi:10.1186/jbiol159.2.  “More specifically, we considered two models of early evolution at the level of archaeal and bacterial phyla: a compressed cladogenesis (CC) model, whereby there is a tree structure even at the deepest levels but the internal branches are extremely short; and a Biological Big Bang (BBB) model under which the early phase of evolution involved horizontal gene exchange so intensive that there is no signal of vertical inheritance in principle.”  But even with CC, a tree without branches is not really an evolutionary tree; it is a lineage.The Darwinists are in the throes of withdrawal.  The thought of not having a tree to comfort them is too much to endure.  Their tree at the Cambrian exploded, and now they are hearing a big bang at the origin of the most primitive forms of life.  Darwin hates those explosions.  They ruin his whole day.    Get a load of this line from the paper.  It is almost unsurpassed as an example of euphemism covering up a crisis: “The results of this analysis do not rule out the BBB model as the generative mechanism underlying the divergence of archaea and bacteria….”  Did you catch that?  That is hilarious!  A big bang as a generative mechanism?  What are they saying?  Generative – Genesis – they’re talking about creation, folks!  The prokaryotes just burst onto the scene.  Explosions are generally not considered to be creative mechanisms, you realize.  They just hid their little “problem” inside a big bang, hoping the concussion would distract you from what they just admitted.  A big bang as a generative mechanism?  Ha!  However that happened, it was definitely NOT a Darwinian process.  It sounds like creation.  There is no possible, conceivable way that Darwin can account for the sudden appearance of prokaryotes and bacteria, with all their molecular machines, systems, networks, genetic codes and complexity.  Why don’t they just admit it?  Why don’t they follow the evidence where it leads?  Why this craving to smoke the Darwin dope and push it on the youth? (DOPE = Darwin-Only Public Education).  They said the DOPE is still in 21st century textbooks.  Come clean!  Break the habit.  Clean up your act.    Darwinism’s only tenuous grasp on science is empirical evidence.  Admittedly, Darwin was a good storyteller.  He was a genteel guy with a lot of friends.  But who cares if his book makes a nice story or one long argument?  Science wants data.  The empirical evidence has been slipping from his disciples’ grasp since the Origin hit the bookshelves.  It sent his disciples on many a wild goose chase, looking for missing links that were trumpeted only to be falsified later (like Piltdown Man), Precambrian transitional forms that never appeared, pangenesis that was challenged by Mendelian discrete alleles, and promissory notes they kept delaying to pay.  They kept distracting us with little finch beaks and peppered moths to make us believe they had everything explained.  Their grip on empirical evidence was nearly lost when the genetic code was discovered.  Now this: no tree of life!  A biological big bang.  Face it, Darwinists: it’s over.  The tree was a myth.  It’s obsolete.  Stop trying to imagine a tree in the thicket.  It’s not even “a tree of one percent.”  Five percent is the usual scientific minimum threshold for statistical significance; this is way below that.  The data do not “suggest” an imaginary tree that might be used to “salvage” the icon.  If there’s anything “suggested” by the empirical evidence, it is a loud, clear call of design.    Stop the doubletalk and the moonwalk.  “Compressed cladogenesis” (another euphemism for “hurry-up origin of groups”) is not going to save the theory now.  They tried that with the Cambrian explosion, too, remember?  They tried to stretch it out a few more million years, from 2 minutes on a 24-hour clock to 4 minutes.  It’s not going to work.  Give it up.  Let’s all pitch in, clean up the mess and move on.  There’s work to do.  Systems biology has some gold to mine (07/21/2009) and we can at least learn some things that might improve our living standards from the intelligent designs in biology (07/11/2009, 06/25/2005, 10/29/2005).(Visited 22 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Backers of New Carbon Rule See Many Benefits

first_imgMarket-based regulatory structureThe regional initiative brought together Republican and Democratic governors from nine states: Maryland, New York, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.RGGI set limits on carbon emissions in the region and required power plants with a capacity of at least 25 megawatts to buy pollution permits for the amount of carbon they vented into the atmosphere. Proceeds from the sale of permits are used by individual states to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.At the time, Bryk writes, “polluter lobbyists came up from Washington and told us it would be the end of western civilization as we know it. They literally said that.”But the effect has been just the opposite: carbon pollution in the region has declined by nearly 30%, and the area also has seen electricity rates drop by an average of 8%, economic development benefits of $2.4 billion, and cleaner air. “And the entire RGGI region as a whole is well on its way to meeting the new federal standards,” she says.California, she adds, has a similar program and is seeing similar benefits.Since 2009, she says, carbon emissions in RGGI states have dropped 2.7 times faster than in the rest of the country, while RGGI economies have increased 2.5 times faster.“Interestingly, the companies that actually own the power plants in question are rolling up their sleeves to figure out how to reduce pollution in the smartest and most efficient way possible,” Bryk says. “Even major electric utility companies like American Electric Power and Southern Company — not traditionally at the forefront of clean energy investment — say they want to shape the new standards, not prevent EPA from moving forward.” New carbon pollution limits for existing power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency have lobbyists warning of economic disaster, but a five-year-old alliance of nine Eastern states has already shown it could provide a major environmental and economic boost.That’s the gist of a post by Dale Bryk at Switchboard, a website for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). She compares public reaction to the new EPA rules with that of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).Bryk, deputy director of programs at the NRDC, said the EPA’s June announcement was followed by howls of protest from critics, including a full-page ad in USA Today suggesting that new regulations could close a quarter of the nation’s power plants.But, she writes, the RGGI experience suggests they’re wrong.“NRDC’s own analysis shows power plant standards done right can deliver huge economic benefits, as states shift more of their energy dollars to clean resources like energy efficiency, wind and solar power, putting hundreds of thousands of building contractors, plumbers and electricians to work helping our homes and businesses reduce their energy bills with better lighting, high efficiency heating and cooling systems, advanced windows and insulation,” Bryk wrote. Government sees many benefits, tooThe EPA said the clean power plan will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030, and reduce soot and smog-producing pollution by more than 25%. That’s the equivalent of taking two thirds of all the cars and trucks in the country off the road.Among the positive effects of the plan, the EPA says, is the avoidance of as many as 6,600 premature deaths and up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, as well as billions in economic benefits. Electric rates should go down by 8% in 2030.According to The New York Times, the EPA pegged the direct cost of the program at between $7.3 billion and $8.8 billion, but said it would lead to benefits of as much as $93 billion.Critics said the new rules would lead to higher costs for electricity. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said it was a “dagger in the heart of the American middle class,” according to Fox News, and the Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus cited U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the regulations would kill 224,000 jobs.States have until 2016 to work out the specifics of how they will meet the targets. Opponents in Congress say they’ll try to block it.last_img read more

Toronto Passive: Removable Basement Floors

first_imgWalls, Roof, and an ElevatorDesigning a High-Performance Home A basic decision early in the design of a superinsulated building is the strategic choice of interior and exterior insulation placement and thermal mass. This a strategic decision because it has far-reaching implications and ripple effects.Think of the building as a shell on all sides, including the parts in the ground. If we are designing an airtight envelope without thermal bridging, then we want to avoid having some of the insulation inside, and some on the outside. It can be done, but this frequently leads to thermal bridges and air-sealing problems.For example, if we have insulation under the footings (outside the structure of the shell), but then we want to have insulation inside the basement walls, how do we to connect the insulation under the footings to the insulation inside the basement? Making this more difficult, insulation materials are generally weak and soft, while structural materials are hard and conduct heat. Editor’s Note: Lyndon Than is a professional engineer and Certified Passive House Consultant who took a year off from work to design and build a home with his wife Phi in North York, a district of Toronto, Ontario. A list of Lyndon’s previous blogs at GBA appears below. For more, you can follow his blog, Passive House Toronto. All About BasementsFixing a Wet Basement Joe Lstiburek Discusses Basement Insulation and Vapor RetardersHow to Insulate a Foundation Flooring can be removed for accessOur basement floors are installed over our interior insulation (15 inches of Roxul, rated at approximately R-54), which is located just above the concrete slab. As posted earlier, the flooring is removable and is a common material — regular construction 2×12 lumber. That means we can remove and replace pieces, but we also can remove the flooring to look underneath.The insulation consists of an R-32 batt under the 2×6 floor joists, plus R-22 batts in the spaces between the floor joists. Below the batts is landscape fabric that is held off the concrete by pressure-treated lattice and blocks. This assembly keeps the insulation away from the concrete while providing an unimpeded drainage path for any water that does get into the basement. Nothing in the assembly will retain water.We were able to get the pressure-treated lattice super cheap — it was culled material, an entire load for $50 — and the landscape fabric was about $8 for 150 square feet.We’re currently pretty happy with these floors, and the system feels very solid to walk on, as if the floors were resting directly on concrete. It turns out the wood has shrunk a little in the two months since we installed it, but only the pieces that were wetter. Some planks did not shrink at all.Some astute observers have commented that the floors will allow moist interior air to go into the spaces below. What will happen to this moist air when it reaches the cold concrete some 17 inches below? Well, we have Tyvek under the floor boards in one area to prevent this bulk movement of air, but most of the floor is left without any kind of air barrier.Since the flooring is removable, we can make a correction if this turns out to be an issue, but I have a feeling the issue is fairly minor for a couple of reasons. If we think of regular basements, many have no insulation under the concrete slabs, and they are perhaps a bit damp on muggy, hot summer days. In Toronto’s climate, this problem is short-lived. In our case, there is a floor assembly blocking the bulk movement of air to some degree, and in addition, the space beneath our floors may be warm for much of the summer due to our under-floor (sub-slab) heat storage strategy. This raises the temperature of the basement concrete slab right when the chances of hot moist air condensing on it may be highest, which should reduce that whole issue quite a bit. To simplify the design and construction greatly, and improve the effectiveness of the insulation system, work to have all the insulation either outside the shell, or inside the structural shell. Cross-overs are to be avoided. In our case, we decided to place all the insulation inside the shell, and forego the benefits of thermal mass. I believe thermal mass benefits are less well proven than insulation benefits, and that “thermal” mass can be achieved without “mass” (for example by the use of water — a very thermally massive material without much mass that can be moved around). BLOGS BY LYNDON THAN RELATED ARTICLES Hedging our betsHowever, just in case there is a problem we placed some sensors at the bottom of the floor insulation in three locations. The photo at left shows a small pump with tubing, a water level sensor, and a temperature/humidity sensor in the background.In the event water pools on low areas of the basement slab, a small pump will carry it to the sump.The sensors are inexpensive — about $5 each. The pump is from Princess Auto and was about $20. We had some problems with our basement floor pour. There was not enough slope in some areas, and during the big Toronto flood in July 2013, we noticed a little water in three locations on the floor. We marked these spots and placed these little pumps to transfer any water that does collect there to the sump pit.Later, as the systems become live, we will be able to report the fluctuations in temperature and humidity at the bottom of our basement floor assemblies. We will also probably place sub-slab soil temperature sensors as well, one day…We screwed the 2×12 pine to the joists, burying the screw heads 1/8 inch so we could sand the floor and get a somewhat finished surface later. The main reason for using this kind of floor was low cost. We were able to purchase the material at a 25% discount from regular contractor pricing, about $1.25 a square foot. Air sealing is not required at this floor. This was determined from previous airtightness test on the building, so we know we are already down to Passive House levels of airtightness.last_img read more

2 upcoming personal finance webinars

first_imgThe Personal Finance group will be presenting a two-part webinar series in March on investments and mutual funds. Speaker Dr. Barbara O’Neill will discuss the basics of investing on Monday, March 4 at 11 a.m. ET. She will continue with part 2 on Thursday, March 14 at 11 a.m., ET and this session will focus on the management of mutual funds.Part 1, Investing for Your Future: Basic Concepts and Investment Products will cover: a discussion on finding ways to discover money to invest; an explanation of how to calculate net worth; review of compound interest using “The Rule of 72;” discussion of the risk-reward relationship and risk tolerance; an explanation of basic investment terminology; explanation of the characteristics of stocks and bonds; discussion of common investment frauds and scams; a review of state and federal investor protection resources.Part 2, Investing for Your Future: Mutual Funds and Tax-Deferred Investments will cover: a discussion of the characteristics and types of mutual funds; mutual fund fees and other screening factors; characteristics of annuities and exchange-traded funds (EFTs); a review of sources of investment information; a discussion of benefits and types of tax-deferred investing; a discussion of how to invest with small dollar amounts.These sessions will be hosted by the Department of Defense. Please review these instructions for connecting to the webinar prior to the event. This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on February 20, 2013.last_img read more

Johnston pledges to release public report on expenses incurred since retirement

first_imgOTTAWA – Former governor general David Johnston will present a report in the next few weeks detailing the expenses he’s incurred since leaving Rideau Hall, he said Tuesday, in contrast to the confidentiality covering similar expenses for his predecessor Adrienne Clarkson.Johnston, who did not comment directly on Clarkson’s spending, said on Parliament Hill on Tuesday that public responsibilities continue after a governor general leaves the job and the Canadian government has chosen a decision made to cover some of the costs related directly to those duties.But he welcomed public scrutiny of his spending.“It is very important for the public to take an interest in that to be sure the money is well spent,” Johnston told reporters, noting work can be done to make the process more open. “In my own case, we have just finished the first year since I stepped down and we will present a report.”Johnston, who was governor general from October 2010 until October 2017, called the office of the governor general an important democratic institution when asked about the headlines Clarkson’s spending have garnered.Clarkson, who left Rideau Hall in early 2005, has billed taxpayers for more than $1 million in expenses since leaving the job, according to public-accounts documents. When a former governor general submits bills of more than $100,000 in a year, his or her name is specifically included in an annual report to Parliament. Clarkson has passed that threshold nine times in 12 years, including in the most recent fiscal year.Exactly what the payments cover is not disclosed.Clarkson defended the spending in a Globe and Mail essay published last week, saying the financial support she has received is in keeping with what’s been extended to her predecessors and successors.“Postgovernor-generalship, I have continued to participate in public life in an active and meaningful way,” Clarkson wrote. “I believe in public service. I always have. It has been the joy of my life. Playing golf was not an option.”Clarkson also wrote that she fulfilled 182 commitments last year, many of them public.“All of this came to me at the request of Canadians,” she said. “I try to do as much as I can.”The federal government created the expenses program in 1979 to acknowledge that the life of a former governor-general would continue to be lived in public service, she added.“As with my predecessors, it was understood that I would be reimbursed, with proper justification and receipts, for administrative and research salaries, office space and furniture, professional services, travel and accommodation, when appropriate,” she said. The expense payments are in addition to their pensions.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Wednesday that Canada’s governors general deserve continued financial support upon leaving office but they need to be more transparent and accountable for expenses.“These are people who’ve stepped up and offered tremendous service to this country but Canadians expect a certain level of transparency and accountability, and we’re going to make sure we’re moving forward in a thoughtful way,” he said.—Follow @kkirkup on Twitterlast_img read more