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Red Deer Cave People: a new human species?

Posted on March 27th, 2012 in Evolution,Science by Robert Miller

Cave diggings in Southwest China have revealed fossilized remains of what may turn out to be a new human species, now referred to as the Red Deer Cave People. Skulls and other bone fragments have been dated to 14,300 and 11,500 years ago, with features distinct from modern man. This is an unusual finding, because human remains that recent would ordinarily be expected to resemble modern humans. However,  distinctive skull features include thick skulls, prominent orbital protrusions, jutting jaws and very large molar teeth. Their diet was rich in venison, hence the Red Deer Cave People name.
The Guardian features a wonderful lineup of the major human ancestors,beginning with Australopithecus afarensis, ‘the southern ape’, which lived between 3.8 and 2.9 million years ago. The Guardian has one of the best science search features I have ever seen on a newspaper site. You first click on the “News” tab, then the “Science” tab, then the “A-Z” tab at the end of the choices and voila–you have a huge menu before you that covers a broad array of scientific topics; for this particular story click on “anthropology” and you see the many links related to the subject, including the  story on the Red Deer Cave People. The entire Guardian is organized that way. It certainly gets my recommendation as the best way to organize an online news and information organization.

Red Deer Cave People (from The Guardian: possible human ancestor who lived 14,000 to 11, 500 years ago)

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Paul Krugman on ALEC

Posted on March 26th, 2012 in Politics by Robert Miller

In today’s New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman comments on the Florida “Stand Your Ground”  law, that allows a citizen to kill another person without fear of arrest if they argue that they were under attack. This is the law that now shields George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claims self-defense under the Stand Your Ground law and so far, he has not been arrested or charged, though an investigation of this case is now underway. Krugman points out that the law was promoted by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). The bill passed in Florida was germinated by ALEC, as one of their many templates designed to curb our democracy and privatize our public functions. The law was first promoted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and has found fertile ground in many other states, that have either passed or are considering this kind of law for which ALEC provides the I-will-do-it-for-you kit.  Not only does the Florida law prevent criminal prosecution against someone claiming that they had to use lethal force for their own protection, but it also bars civil suit actions against the defendant on the part of family members of the deceased. It is simply a vigilante law, giving individuals the cover that they used to get by putting on white robes and masks–now they can act with impunity as individuals. Whether racial motives were involved in this senseless shooting remains to be established. Although the shooting took place on February 26th, 2012, the progressive arousal of public opinion has created a national focus about the incident and hopefully about the needless law drafted by ALEC and the NRA. I have commented on ALEC most recently in relationship to their promotion of the voter-ID laws that many states are now considering and before that on their strategy for these laws and on history Professor William Cronon’s experience when he revealed the role of ALEC in writing laws in Wisconsin (“McCarthyism in Madison“). With Governor Walker in Wisconsin and its Republican controlled House and Senate, the state has proven to be fertile ground for ALEC’s template laws. Common Cause has identified 22 U.S. Congressional members who received support from ALEC, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor failed to report a contribution from ALEC that he has recently acknowledged.

How Voter-ID laws got started: where will it all end?

Posted on March 13th, 2012 in Politics by Robert Miller

In the politically polarized climate of today, bad state laws come in parallel, descending on us all at once, while good or better state laws germinate in a more serial fashion, vetted through the crucible of experience and politics, sometimes one state at a time and often beginning with California (proposition 23). At least that used to be the case.  Any time you see odious, right-wing movements, like the Voter-ID laws that have sprung up like a new invasive weed, you can safely assume that ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) had something to do with their creation. ALEC is an organization that gets 98% of its resources from corporate lobbying groups: they tailor the same bill for each state and in that way form a kind of national parallel legislative conspiracy–a real one–they attempt to unify the country through rigid, simultaneous right-wing laws that further tip the political scale towards their capitalist, neoliberal objectives. Using ALEC as a resource, right-wing legislators don’t even have to draft bills on their own, because ALEC provides them with a bill template that can presented and passed with little modification. I have written about  ALEC previously, including a brief description of their assault on creating and passing laws to deny voters rights. But the origin of the push for photo-ID as a requirement for voting has an insidious, almost incomprehensible origin–all from the right of course.

Lou Dubose, writing in The Washington Spectator has reported on how Voter-ID laws got started. The origin of this idea came from Mark “Thor” Hearne, a lawyer who had worked for the Bush-Cheney political campaign. Hearne founded the American Center for Voting Rights. This center produced a 72 page report entitled “Vote Fraud, Intimidation & Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election.” The document was submitted to a House committee chaired by Ohio Congressman Bob Ney (who later went to prison over the Jack Abramoff scandal). The report did not include any documented examples of voter fraud, yet it recommended that states should adopt government issued photo-ID at the polls and for any voter seeking to vote by mail or through an absentee ballot. The Center soon closed its doors and Hearne returned to private practice. Hearne’s report had a much longer shelf live than that of his American Center for Voting Rights. Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and Heritage Foundation Fellow Hans von Spakovsky began promoting photo-ID as an essential state protection against the undocumented cases of voter fraud. Republican state party officers began promoting photo-ID laws to defend against voter fraud, without providing evidence that this was a problem.  In 2009 ALEC drafted a model legislative bill that would serve as a template for Republican legislators to bring such bills into legislative reality. By 2011, Republicans in 38 states introduced legislation that would make state-approved photo-ID cards a requirement to vote. Seven states signed such bills into law, including Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. These laws were assembled on the fast track–no state required photo-ID had existed before 2006. In the election of 2012, the states which have implemented photo-ID laws for voting will provide 171 electoral votes, 63 percent of what is needed to win the Presidency. How pervasive is voter fraud? A Loyola Law School professor (Justin Levitt) who works with the Brennan Center for Justice has gathered evidence on polling place voter fraud. As he says “I keep an open door” “I think I’m up to 11 or 12 possible attempts that people have pointed to across the country since 2000. During that time about 400 million ballots have been caste in the general elections. It does not sound like voter fraud at the polls is a major problem, but note that the historic origins of this issue were created by fiction working inside a bubble. Evicence-based legislative action has never been the strength of the modern Republican party. As you can imagine, most of these bills were passed in states where Republicans had control of state houses and the governorship–the trifecta for quickly getting conservative bills passed. The one exception to this general rule was Rhode Island who passed their voter-ID law with a Democratic legislature.

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