Thursday, November 27, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction
Nonfiction book by Beth Shapiro
Publication Date: April 4, 2015

Princeton University Press:
Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In How to Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in "ancient DNA" research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used — today — to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research — as well as those of fellow experts such as Svante Paabo, George Church, and Craig Venter — Shapiro considers de-extinction's practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal? 
Using DNA collected from remains as a genetic blueprint, scientists aim to engineer extinct traits — traits that evolved by natural selection over thousands of years — into living organisms. But rather than viewing de-extinction as a way to restore one particular species, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. For example, elephants with genes modified to express mammoth traits could expand into the Arctic, re-establishing lost productivity to the tundra ecosystem. 
Looking at the very real and compelling science behind an idea once seen as science fiction, How to Clone a Mammoth demonstrates how de-extinction will redefine conservation's future.


France 24 has a report about a jewelry heist in Paris.


Italian law enforcement authorities, with the support of Europol, have arrested 53 individuals suspected of being part of an infamous organized crime group responsible for distributing counterfeit money on a worldwide scale. 
Arrests were made today in the Italian cities of Naples, Caserta, Genoa, Turin, Palermo and Avellino, with charges including possessing, handling and distributing counterfeit money. 
The operation has dealt a serious blow to the criminal group acting in the Naples region, a well-established organisation suspected to be involved in counterfeit money production and distribution worldwide. 
Following an extensive investigation beginning in 2012, supported by Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Carabinieri were able to piece together the methods by which the criminal group gained complete control of the international counterfeit euro market. They distributed significant quantities in Italy and all over the world through their dense network. France, Spain, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria were the countries most affected.

United Kingdom

BBC News:

Rock Art

Griffith University, Australia: "Latest research on the oldest surviving rock art of Southeast Asia shows that the region's first people, hunter-gatherers who arrived over 50,000 years ago, brought with them a rich art practice."


The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs
Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
Nonfiction book by Pat Shipman
Available February 9, 2015

Harvard University Press:
With their large brains, sturdy physique, sophisticated tools, and hunting skills, Neanderthals are the closest known relatives to humans. Approximately 200,000 years ago, as modern humans began to radiate out from their evolutionary birthplace in Africa, Neanderthals were already thriving in Europe — descendants of a much earlier migration of the African genus Homo. But when modern humans eventually made their way to Europe 45,000 years ago, Neanderthals suddenly vanished. Ever since the first Neanderthal bones were identified in 1856, scientists have been vexed by the question, why did modern humans survive while their evolutionary cousins went extinct? 
The Invaders musters compelling evidence to show that the major factor in the Neanderthals' demise was direct competition with newly arriving humans. Drawing on insights from the field of invasion biology, which predicts that the species ecologically closest to the invasive predator will face the greatest competition, Pat Shipman traces the devastating impact of a growing human population: reduction of Neanderthals' geographic range, isolation into small groups, and loss of genetic diversity. 
But modern humans were not the only invaders who competed with Neanderthals for big game. Shipman reveals fascinating confirmation of humans' partnership with the first domesticated wolf-dogs soon after Neanderthals first began to disappear. This alliance between two predator species, she hypothesizes, made possible an unprecedented degree of success in hunting large Ice Age mammals — a distinct and ultimately decisive advantage for humans over Neanderthals at a time when climate change made both groups vulnerable.


Survival International:
A group of Baka "Pygmies" and their neighbors in southeast Cameroon have sent an impassioned plea to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), urging the conservation giant to stop funding anti-poaching squads that are responsible for a long history of persecution against the Baka. 
One letter by a village elder reads, "When WWF started its work here in Ndongo we welcomed it, but the promises that were made and the things we were told have never materialized. We are subjected to your law enforcement work — and where are the promises you made? 
"Sir, before you finance your work we want you to come meet the people on the ground [to see] its negative impacts." 
Another letter urges WWF to stop giving money to the anti-poaching squads.  
When much of their land was turned into "protected areas" and safari hunting zones, the Baka, who hunt to feed their families, were promised they would still be able to use their ancestral lands. 
But now the Baka are forced to stay in roadside villages and fear going into the forest which has provided them with most of what they needed for generations. Anti-poaching squads routinely arrest, beat and torture Baka and their neighbors in the name of "conservation" and many Baka say that friends and relatives have died as a result of the beatings. 
Despite having known about these abuses for at least 13 years, WWF has taken no effective action and has repeatedly claimed that it has not been presented with enough evidence. 
Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, "National parks have, since their invention, been responsible for the eviction, and sometimes destruction, of tribal peoples. It is not sufficient for organizations like the WWF merely to have 'policies' to protect tribal peoples — they have actually to adhere to them. If WWF cannot ensure the funds it gives to anti-poaching squads are not harming people, it must stop that part of its program. For conservation of the Baka's forests to really work, WWF must help protect the tribe's land rights and respect their own methods of conservation."


The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World
of the Makahs
Nonfiction book by Joshua L. Reid
Publication Date: May 26, 2015

Yale University Press:
For the Makahs, a tribal nation at the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States, a deep relationship with the sea is the locus of personal and group identity. Unlike most other indigenous tribes whose lives are tied to lands, the Makah people have long placed marine space at the center of their culture, finding in their own waters the physical and spiritual resources to support themselves. This book is the first to explore the history and identity of the Makahs from the arrival of maritime fur traders in the eighteenth century through the intervening centuries and to the present day. 
Joshua L. Reid discovers that the "People of the Cape" were far more involved in shaping the maritime economy of the Pacific Northwest than has been understood. He examines Makah attitudes toward borders and boundaries, their efforts to exercise control over their waters and resources as Europeans and Americans arrived, and their embrace of modern opportunities and technology to maintain autonomy and resist assimilation. The author also addresses current environmental debates relating to the tribe's customary whaling and fishing rights and illuminates the efforts of the Makahs to regain control over marine space, preserve their marine-oriented identity, and articulate a traditional future.

U.S. State Dept.

Travel Warning:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Bill Chappell, NPR: "After a stray dog in Ecuador met a team of Swedish adventure athletes, he grew so attached to the squad that he ran for miles and swam along to keep up with them. Now Arthur the dog is world-famous — and it all started with a meatball."


 Farangis Najibullah and Ahmad Fitrat, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
An Afghan mother has described how her son's killing at the hands of the Taliban spurred her to fight off the insurgents in a gun battle that left more than two dozen militants dead.  
Rezagul says she grabbed a gun and hand grenades to help police fend off a Taliban assault after her son, a 27-year-old police officer, was killed by militants who raided a security checkpoint in western Farah Province on November 17. 
"I was so enraged that I took a gun and started firing at them, and I kept throwing hand grenades," Rezagul told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "I was hitting anyone who was coming at us. They were firing and firing at us, we were firing back." 
Rezagul, who goes by one name, estimates that she alone "must have killed some 10 Taliban" in the fighting in Farah's Bala Buluk district.

U.S. State Dept.

Travel Warnings:


The Captain and "The Cannibal": An Epic Story
of Exploration, Kidnapping, and the Broadway Stage
Nonfiction book by James Fairhead
Publication Date: February 24, 2015

Yale University Press:
Sailing the uncharted waters of the Pacific in 1830, Captain Benjamin Morrell of Connecticut became the first outsider to encounter the inhabitants of a small island off New Guinea. The contact quickly turned violent, fatal cannons were fired, and Morrell abducted young Dako, a hostage so shocked by the white complexions of his kidnappers that he believed he had been captured by the dead. This gripping book unveils for the first time the strange odyssey the two men shared in ensuing years. The account is uniquely told, as much from the captive's perspective as from the American's. 
Upon returning to New York, Morrell exhibited Dako as a "cannibal" in wildly popular shows performed on Broadway and along the East Coast. The proceeds helped fund a return voyage to the South Pacific — the captain hoping to establish trade with Dako's assistance, and Dako seizing his only chance to return home to his unmapped island. Supported by rich, newly found archives, this wide-ranging volume traces the voyage to its extraordinary ends and en route decrypts Morrell's ambiguous character, the mythic qualities of Dako's life, and the two men's infusion into American literature — Dako inspired Melville's Queequeg, for example. The encounters confound indigenous peoples and Americans alike as both puzzle over what it is to be truly human and alive.


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
Animals of northern China, beware: Putin's tigers are on the loose.  
A month after Chinese authorities linked an attack on a henhouse to a Siberian tiger released into the wild by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a second big cat is the main suspect in a series of goat deaths. 
The official Xinhua news agency said on November 25 that tiger experts believe Ustin, one of three tigers Putin released into the wild in May, killed at least two goats in China's northeast. 
Three goats remain missing. 
After an animal attacked chickens in a village near the border in October, Xinhua reported that forestry officials said tracks left in the area belonged to a Siberian tiger. 
They said it was most likely Kuzya, another tiger released into the wild by Putin.

Monday, November 24, 2014


A reader writes: "Employees of popular news websites should spend more time proofreading and checking facts. The articles at many of those wobsites have too damm many errers."

In the old days some daily newspapers had the same problem. One of my favorite errors was a headline in a morning edition of a California newspaper in the 1970s. The headline should have said, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Unfortunately, the newspaper failed to put a space between the word pen and the word is. Another amusing error appeared in a newspaper wire story about U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey at a picnic in Minnesota. Humphrey sponsored the event during the Vietnam War. The story said, "At the picnic Humphrey served barbecued children and strawberry shortcake."

U.S. State of Georgia

U.S. Justice Department: "Continental Automotive Electronics LLC and Continental Automotive Korea Ltd. both have agreed to plead guilty and to pay a single criminal fine of $4 million for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids of instrument panel clusters installed in vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced today."


Xinhua: "Police in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have arrested 31 suspects allegedly involved in women trafficking, saving 14 victims including 11 from Myanmar."

Hong Kong

Voice of America:
A Hong Kong court has ruled that a British banker accused of killing two Indonesian women is fit to stand trial after he underwent a psychiatric examination. 
The judge also adjourned the pre-trial hearing in Rurik Jutting's case until July 6 to give prosecutors more time to examine evidence. 
Jutting, who had worked for Bank of America in Hong Kong, was arrested earlier this month after police found the bodies of two women in his apartment. One was stuffed into a suitcase on his balcony. 
Jutting has yet to enter a plea. He will remain in custody until his next hearing in July.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


BBC News:


Boko Haram militants killed dozens of traders near a fishing village on Lake Chad.


In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland
and the Transformation of Rural China
Nonfiction book by Michael Meyer
Publication Date: February 17, 2015

Bloomsbury Publishing:
In the tradition of In Patagonia and Great Plains, Michael Meyer's In Manchuria is a scintillating combination of memoir, contemporary reporting, and historical research, presenting a unique profile of China's legendary northeast territory. For three years, Meyer rented a home in the rice-farming community of Wasteland, hometown to his wife's family, and their personal saga mirrors the tremendous change most of rural China is undergoing, in the form of a privately held rice company that has built new roads, introduced organic farming, and constructed high-rise apartments into which farmers can move in exchange for their land rights. Once a commune, Wasteland is now a company town, a phenomenon happening across China that Meyer documents for the first time; indeed, not since Pearl Buck wrote The Good Earth has anyone brought rural China to life as Meyer has here. 
Amplifying the story of family and Wasteland, Meyer takes us on a journey across Manchuria's past, a history that explains much about contemporary China — from the fall of the last emperor to Japanese occupation and Communist victory. Through vivid local characters, Meyer illuminates the remnants of the imperial Willow Palisade, Russian and Japanese colonial cities and railways, and the POW camp into which a young American sergeant parachuted to free survivors of the Bataan Death March. In Manchuria is a rich and original chronicle of contemporary China and its people.