I’ve been somewhat out of the loop for the past few days because I’ve had some kind of weird virus that has made it difficult for me to think. If it weren’t August, I’d wonder if it’s the flu. Everything ached. For a couple of days it felt like my skin actually hurt. Anyway I’ve been vegetating in front of the TV watching Criminal Minds reruns and Lifetime movies. I’m feeling better now, although I’m still sleepy all the time.
I’ve been surfing around this morning, and there is quite a bit of interesting news out there. I’ll begin with a fascinating archaeological find. According to a new study reported in Nature, Neanderthals invented tools made of bone that are still used today for leather-working.
Excavations of Neanderthal sites more than 40,000 years old have uncovered a kind of tool that leather workers still use to make hides more lustrous and water resistant. The bone tools, known as lissoirs, had previously been associated only with modern humans. The latest finds indicate that Neanderthals and modern humans might have invented the tools independently.
The first of the lissoir fragments surfaced a decade ago at a rock shelter called Pech-de-l’Azé in the Dordogne region of southwest France. Archaeologist Marie Soressi of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, knew the tool at once, says her colleague Shannon McPherron.
The tools are also known as slickers and burnishers, says McPherron. Soressi contacted luxury-goods manufacturer Hermès in Paris, and found that their high-end leather workers use just such a tool. “She showed them a picture, and they recognized it instantly,” says McPherron. The company’s line includes the wildly popular Birkin handbag, which sells for around US$10,000 and upwards.
McPherron says that a single artefact, however, was not enough for the researchers to draw broad conclusions. “You find one, and there’s always some doubt. You’re worried that it’s not a pattern — that it’s anecdotal behaviour.” But subsequent digs at Pech-de-l’Azé and nearby Abri Peyrony turned up further lissoir fragments, leading the researchers to conclude that Neanderthals made the tools routinely.
The researchers say it’s not clear if these kinds of tools were first invented by Neanderthals or modern humans. It’s even possible that modern humans could have learned how to make and use the bone tools from Neantherthals, although most archaeologists believe that Neanderthals learned the skills from humans. From Live Science:
Neanderthals created artifacts similar to ones made at about the same time by modern humans arriving in Europe, such as body ornaments and small blades. Scientists hotly debated whether such behavior developed before or after contact with modern humans.
“There is a huge debate about how different Neanderthals were from modern humans,” said Shannon McPherron, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Now, McPherron and his colleagues have discovered that Neanderthals created a specialized kind of bone tool previously only seen in modern humans. These tools are about 51,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples of such tools in Europe and predating the known arrival of modern humans.
Yesterday North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a new
voter suppression voter ID law and the ACLU, NAACP, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice immediately filed suit against it. USA Today:
Republicans who backed the legislation said it was meant to prevent voter fraud, which they claim is both rampant and undetected in North Carolina. Independent voting rights groups joined Democrats and libertarians in suggesting the true goal was to suppress voter turnout, especially among blacks, the young, the elderly and the poor.
“It is a trampling on the blood, sweat and tears of the martyrs — black and white — who fought for voting rights in this country,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP. “It puts McCrory on the wrong side of history.” [….]
Barber called the Republican-backed measure one of the worst attempts in the nation at voting reform and said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People considered the package an all-out attack on existing laws long seen as a model of voter participation….
The legislation signed by McCrory and approved last month by state lawmakers requires voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls and shortens early voting by a week, from 17 days to 10. It also ends same-day registration, requiring voters to register, update their address or make any other needed changes at least 25 days ahead of an election. A high school civics program that registers tens of thousands of students to vote each year in advance of their 18th birthdays has been eliminated.
On the same day that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a restrictive voter ID bill into law, Clinton criticized the Supreme Court decision that she believes “stripped out the pre-clearance formula that made [the Voting Rights Act] so effective.”
She noted that Texas, Florida and North Carolina are states whose recent voter legislation has shifted the burden, slamming the North Carolina bill as one that “reads like the greatest hits of voter suppression.”
“In the weeks since the ruling, we’ve seen an unseemly rush by previously covered jurisdictions to enact or enforce laws that will make it harder for millions of our fellow Americans to vote,” Clinton said.
Clinton also went after several provisions of the North Carolina bill that she believes place a greater burden on citizens facing discrimination, including limited voting hours, stricter ID requirements and restricted early voting.
CNN reports that Hillary also plans to discuss national security and transparency in an upcoming speech.
Clinton said her appearance at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association marked the beginning of a speaking series she’ll embark upon that will also include an address on the United States’ national security policies next month in Philadelphia.
Clinton said the September address would focus of issues of “transparency and balance.” The former top diplomat had not yet publicaly addressed the classified National Security Agency surveillance programs that were revealed through leaks at the beginning of the summer.
The move into the political realm marks a new phase in Clinton’s post-State Department life, which was previously occupied by speeches to global women’s organizations and a schedule of paid appearances. She is also writing a diplomacy-focused memoir for release in 2014.
The speeches will likely fuel speculation that Clinton is planning to jump into the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, where she is considered an early favorite.
Well there’s some exciting news! It’s becoming more an more clear that Hillary plans to run for president in 2016.
I’m sure you’ve already heard that James “Whitey” Bulger has been found guilty of murder and racketeering, among other charges. It was always a foregone conclusion. The only surprise is that the jury was only able to find him guilty of 11 murders out of the 19 he was charged with. The New York Times:
BOSTON — James (Whitey) Bulger, the mobster who terrorized South Boston in the 1970s and ‘80s, holding the city in his thrall even after he disappeared, was convicted Monday of a sweeping array of gangland crimes, including 11 murders. He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
The verdict delivers long-delayed justice to Mr. Bulger, 83, who disappeared in the mid-1990s after a corrupt agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation told him he was about to be indicted. He left behind a city that wondered if he would ever be caught — and even if the F.B.I., which had been complicit in many of his crimes and had relied on him as an informer, was really looking for him.
“This was the worst case of corruption in the history of the F.B.I.,” said Michael D. Kendall, a former federal prosecutor who investigated Mr. Bulger’s associates. “It was a multigenerational, systematic alliance with organized crime, where the F.B.I. was actively participating in the murders of government witnesses, or at least allowing them to occur.”
Of course there won’t be any punishment for the FBI except for embarrassment, if that troubles them. And there was only minor punishment for the parade of hit men and other criminals who were given generous deals in exchange for their testimony.
The families of the victims of the 7 murders Bulger was not convicted of were disappointed and angry.
As a clerk read the verdicts in the lengthy and complicated list of charges, Mr. Bulger looked away from the jury and showed no reaction. He was found guilty of 31 of 32 counts of his indictment, the one exception involving an extortion charge. While the jury of eight men and four women convicted him of 11 murders, they found the government had not proved its case against him in seven others, and in one murder case it made no finding, leading to gasps inside the courtroom by relatives of those murder victims and explosive scenes outside the court.
“My father just got murdered again 40 years later in that courtroom,” said the son of William O’Brien, who is also named William….
Perhaps one glimmer of gratification for Mr. Bulger was that the jury reached “no finding” in the death of Debra Davis, one of two women he was accused of strangling. He has long maintained that his personal code of honor did not allow for the killing of women, although the jury did determine that he had killed the other woman, Deborah Hussey. Ms. Davis was the longtime girlfriend of Stephen Flemmi, Mr. Bulger’s former partner in crime who testified against him. Ms. Hussey was the daughter of another of Mr. Flemmi’s longtime girlfriends.
One of the jurors has already talked to local Boston media about how stressful the experience was.
One of the jurors who voted to convict Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger for a string of gangland crimes described how the more than 32 hours of deliberations were “stressful” and involved “all kinds of dissension.”
“Slamming doors,” Scott Hotyckey told CBS station WBZ-TV. “People leaving. Peolpe wanting to get off the jury.” [….]
Hotyckey, juror number 5, said the evidence was overwhelming.
“If you could believe the testimony, and believe what you heard,” Hotyckey said. “I don’t see how you couldn’t find the person guilty.”
But Hotyckey says not all of the jurors believed the testimony they heard – especially from John Martorano, a former hit man who got a plea deal from prosecutors to testify against Bulger.
“There was one juror that constantly said that his testimony was not believable,” Hotyckey recalled. “(He said) over and over again that you couldn’t believe anything (Martorano) said because of the government.”
A study on rats shows that the brain experiences a huge surge of electricity during the moment of death, suggesting that they are experiencing a higher state of consciousness.
It could explain why people claim to see white light or “life flash before their eyes” during near-death experiences.
Dr Jason Braithwaite from the University of Birmingham says that since this surge is happening in rats, it could also happen in humans.
Watch an interview with Braithwaite at the BBC link. More detail on the study:
A study carried out on dying rats found high levels of brainwaves at the point of the animals’ demise.
US researchers said that in humans this could give rise to a heightened state of consciousness.
The lead author of the study, Dr Jimo Borjigin, of the University of Michigan, said: “A lot of people thought that the brain after clinical death was inactive or hypoactive, with less activity than the waking state, and we show that is definitely not the case.
“If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the waking state.”
Much more at the link.
Now it’s your turn. What stories have caught your fancy today? Please share your links in the comment thread.
Today Eric Holder spoke to the annual NAACP convention in Houston, TX, and as he was discussing the Texas voter ID law, which the Justice Department believes is illegal, he “deviated from his prepared remarks,” and said something I have long wanted him to say:
“Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not,” Holder said, referring specifically to the voter ID law passed in Texas. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”
That last line was not part of Holder’s prepared remarks released to the press.
Holder has been very critical of voter ID laws in the past, but this appears to be the first time he’s gone as far as to compare them to the Jim Crow-era effort to purposefully disenfranchise African-Americans.
I wasn’t able to find video of Holder’s speech on Youtube, but you can watch it at the above link to Talking Points Memo.
According to Huffington Post, Holder added:
“I don’t know what will happen as this case moves forward, but I can assure you that the Justice Department’s efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive,” the attorney general said.
Holder said the arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate and that “we will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.”
“I will not allow that to happen,” he added.
In 1962, the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made poll taxes unconstitutional in federal elections. Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi still had the poll tax requirement at that time.
However, it was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) that poll taxes for state elections were declared unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Poll taxes were used in conjunction with literacy tests and other means–including violence–to prevent African Americans from voting beginning with Reconstruction and continuing until the SCOTUS decision in 1966.
I can still recall the days when poll taxes, literacy tests, and other means of disenfranchisement were used in Southern states. Even the secret ballot was originally designed to prevent illiterate voters from getting help to fill out their ballots.
Now the Republican Party, along with enablers like ALEC, are trying to return us to the ugliness of deliberate voter disenfranchisment. Republicans should be ashamed for trying to effectively reinstate poll taxes by forcing people to pay for an ID as a condition of voting. This time, in addition to African Americans, the targets are students, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.
Mitt Romney will be speaking to the NAACP convention tomorrow. Will he address the voter ID issue? I doubt it, but if he had the guts this could be an opportunity for him to pick up some votes. Ben Jealous told the NYT that many African American voters are disappointed in President Obama.
“Romney could do much better than John McCain,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., the 103-year-old group Mr. Romney plans to address Wednesday at its annual convention in Houston….
“If he’s going to pick up more support in the black community,” Mr. Jealous said, “he has to send a message that he’s prepared to lead on issues that we care about.”
Topping the list is a wave of voter identification laws that Democrats say will suppress minority participation in November. “We are living through the greatest wave of legislative assaults on voting rights in more than a century,” Mr. Jealous said Monday in his opening speech at the convention. “In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow.”
Nearly a dozen states have passed strict voter ID laws in the last two years largely with the support of Republican lawmakers, who say that they are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats argue that the laws are really meant to suppress turnout by poor and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic and who disproportionately lack government-issued identification.
It’s highly unlikely that Romney will address the voter ID issue, but stranger things have happened.
In any case, I’m glad that Holder has finally spoken the truth about the motives behind these laws and called them what they are–deliberate attempts to reinstate poll taxes. And this time, it’s not just in the South. We cannot allow the Republicans to get away with this outrage.
It is a lazy Saturday, and here in Banjoville, the humidity and heat is causing thunderstorms to build. I sit here trying to keep my eyes open, and since it is imperative that I stay awake, y’all are going to get a post with some news links that are making headlines.
The author who turned Georgetown University into a horror scene in “The Exorcist” plans to sue the school in church court, charging that his alma mater has strayed so far from church doctrine that it should no longer call itself Catholic.William Peter Blatty, who graduated from Georgetown in 1950, says the “last straw” was the university’s speaking invitation to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Blatty, 85, credits a Georgetown scholarship with fostering his writing career, which includes an Academy Award for “The Exorcist,” a blockbuster based on his best-selling 1971 novel. In the book and movie, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, struggles to save a demon-possessed girl. Now retired, Blatty lives in Bethesda, Md.
“What I owe Georgetown, however, is nothing as compared to what Georgetown owes to its founders and the Christ of faith,” Blatty said in a statement.
That is interesting, what is it with these old white guys who have a problem with a woman’s health issue, but no concerns about the sex abuse that is being covered up by the Vatican.
The author says that Georgetown has violated church teaching for decades by inviting speakers who support abortion rights and refusing to obey instructions the late Pope John Paul II issued in 1990 to church-affiliated colleges and universities.
Georgetown should amend its ways or stop calling itself a Catholic or Jesuit institution, Blatty said.
A media spokesperson for Georgetown did not respond Friday to a request for comment. On its website, the university says, “Catholicism’s rich and diverse intellectual tradition is central to Georgetown’s academic life.”
In response to criticism of the Sebelius speech, Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said this week that the university is “committed to the free exchange of ideas” even if it does not agree with all of them.
Blatty’s “indictment” against Georgetown charges the school with failing to recruit Catholic teachers and students, neglecting to instruct students in Catholic morality and failing to act in accord with church doctrine. He expects the suit to be filed in the Archdiocese of Washington’s court of canon law this fall.
I guess Catholic Morality does not apply to children who are molested by priest.
There has been some arrest today regarding a protest that was being planned for the G8 summit. Mystery over Bridgeport arrests: Molotov cocktails or brewing equipment?
As the NATO summit approached, Chicago police Friday continued to hold several people suspected of making Molotov cocktails but would say nothing about the arrests, adding to a growing mystery over the nature of the investigation.
Police earlier Friday released from custody — without charging — four of the nine people who were swept up in a late-night Wednesday raid of a Bridgeport apartment building. Two more were released Friday night without charges.
According to law enforcement sources and police reports obtained by the Tribune, the arrests were the result of a monthlong investigation into a group suspected of making Molotov cocktails — crude bombs usually created by filling glass bottles with gasoline.
But the National Lawyers Guild criticized the police raid, saying the nine NATO protesters only had beer-making equipment in their possession.
The nine range in age from their 20s to a 66-year-old grandfather with a heart condition. Several are affiliated with the Occupy movement and had arrived in Chicago in recent weeks from California, North Carolina, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Details of the investigation remain murky.
Witnesses described police officers dressed all in black armed with battering rams and guns drawn swarming into the building, conducting warrantless searches and refusing to tell them what was going on.
One resident told the Tribune police taunted him and his roommate, repeatedly calling them communists and using anti-gay slurs.
I will just say that while reading In the Garden of Beast, there are some things going on here in the US that seem to mimic various “laws” that were issued in Germany in 1933…I highly recommend this book, a review from the New York Times can be found here.
In other news…Chinese Rights Activist on Flight to U.S.
Chinese human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng, whose case overshadowed high-level U.S.-China talks earlier this month, left Beijing for the U.S. with his wife and two children, headed for Newark, New Jersey.
That is good to hear.
And lastly, tomorrow morning there will be a solar eclipse for some of you in western US and Asia.
Don’t look directly at it (not to sound like your elementary-school teacher), but plan on checking out a “ring of fire” partial eclipse on Sunday, May 20, if you live on the West Coast of North America.
In this weekend’s annular solar eclipse, the moon will slide in front of the sun and block 94% of its light. Because the moon is near apogee — the point in its orbit when it’s farthest away from Earth — it appears smaller to us and will cover most of the sun, leaving a ring of fiery light blasting the edges. (What, you thought it was a Johnny Cash reference?)
Personally when I think of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, I think of hemorrhoids.
Unfortunately for folks on the East Coast, the sun will have already set by the time the eclipse begins at 5:24 p.m. PDT. Those living in the central U.S. and Canada may miss the full ring-of-fire effect but will still get a partial eclipse. Viewers in Asia will also catch a glimpse in the early-morning hours of May 21. Check out NASA’s viewing map to get an idea of when and where you can get your best view.
Because an annular solar eclipse requires Earth, the moon and the sun to be in a particular alignment, the event is rare; this is the first such eclipse since 1994.
those lucky enough to be in a 185-mile-wide swath from northern California through western Texas will witness the sun transformed into a spectacular ring of fire in a rare event known as an annular eclipse.
The moon will be at nearly the farthest it travels from Earth during its 29.5-day elliptical orbit, so it will not block out the Sun fully, as during a total solar eclipse. Instead, the smaller-seeming moon will superimpose over the sun, eclipsing about 94 percent of its disc. An annular eclipse has not tracked over the U.S. in almost 18 years. “It’s pretty cool to be in a place where this symmetric circle of ordinary sunlight shines around the edge of the moon,” Williams College astronomer Jay Pasachoff says.
Safely viewing such an astronomical arrangement, however, requires caution and preparation. We often glance up at the full-bore sun, but for a very short time; our eyes instinctually look away from its big, bright disc. Yet when much of the sun is eclipsed, we can focus on the scene for hazardously lengthy periods. “Part of the everyday sun is still visible, so you shouldn’t look at it with your eyes unless you have protection,” Pasachoff says. “Just looking through sunglasses is not at all safe.” Staring at the sun unless it is completely eclipsed can cause permanent vision damage or even blindness.
So be sure to read those article, and take the right precautions if you are lucky enough to be in the view area.
This next link was something that is lighting up Memeorandum: NAACP Passes Resolution in Support of Marriage Equality | Press Room | NAACP
Guess this move is in response to the churches coming out against Obama last week.
(Miami, Florida) The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today released a resolution supporting marriage equality. At a meeting of the 103-year old civil rights group’s board of directors, the organization voted to support marriage equality as a continuation of its historic commitment to equal protection under the law.
“The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure the political, social and economic equality of all people,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP. “We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law.”
“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.
The NAACP has addressed civil rights with regard to marriage since Loving v. Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967. In recent years the NAACP has taken public positions against state and federal efforts to ban the rights and privileges for LGBT citizens, including strong opposition to Proposition 8 in California, the Defense of Marriage Act, and most recently, North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which changed the state constitution’s to prohibit same sex marriage.
Below is the text of the resolution passed by the NAACP board of directors:
The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the “political, educational, social and economic equality” of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens. We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all people as protected by the First Amendment.
That is the full statement from the NAACP website.
This as an open thread, I will catch y’all later in the comments.