Meet Svante Pääbo. Who is he and why is he interesting? He’s the Neandertal Hunter, and he’s uncovering some fascinating new information on what makes up modern humans – at least those of us of European, Asian and Middle Eastern descent.
That information? Neandertal DNA. Excerpt:
Fired by his early success, Pääbo announced, in 2006, his group would sequence a full Neanderthal genome made of nuclear DNA within two years. In the end, the project was beset by tribulations – contamination, dastardly tricks by rival geneticists, dwindling supplies of Neanderthal bone – and Pääbo was more than a year late in completing the project.
His results provided a shock for both researchers and the public. When he compared his newly created Neanderthal genome with those of modern humans, he found a small but significant overlap in many of them. About 2% of Neanderthal genes could be found in people of European, Asian and far eastern origin. People from Africa had no Neanderthal genes, however. “This was not a technical error of some sort,” Pääbo insists. “Neanderthals had contributed DNA to people living today. It was amazingly cool. Neanderthals were not totally extinct.”
Most scientists, including Pääbo, now account for this result by arguing that modern humans – when they first emerged from Africa – encountered and mated with Neanderthals in the Middle East. Their offspring carried some Neanderthal genes and as modern humans swept through Asia and Europe they carried these genes with them.
Just what that input of Neanderthal DNA has done for Homo sapiens’s evolution is less clear. Pääbo speculates that changes in sperm mobility and alterations in skin cell structure could be involved. In addition, US researchers have recently proposed that Neanderthals passed on gene variants that may have had a beneficial effects in the past but which have now left people prone to type 2 diabetes and Crohn’s disease. “This is work that is going to go on for years,” he adds.
So what’s the upshot of these findings, when we seek to get a little insight into human behavior? That’s simple:
Humans like sex. And sometimes – maybe much of the time – they aren’t too picky about who they have sex with.
The Neandertal were a controversy for many years. Initially the preponderance of opinion was that smarter, more adaptable H. sapiens crowded the Neandertal out of Europe and the Levant. A few enigmatic skeletons seemed to combine modern human and Neandertal features, but none of them were conclusive.
But now we have genetic evidence. If your ancestry is European, Asian or Middle Eastern, you likely have some Neandertal DNA. Interesting stuff.
Oh, and Pääbo’s work also uncovered an entire new species of early human – the enigmatic Denisovans. (To be fair the discovery was made by Russian archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of Novosibirsk, but Pääbo did the genetic analysis that established them as a distinct form.)
It’s a fascinating time to be working in paleoanthropology – or even have it as a particular interest.
A couple of tidbits to accompany some warming totty on this frigid Midwestern Friday; first: Boulder (CO) Considers Banishing People Who “Make Trouble.” Excerpt:
Taking inspiration from Shakespeare, a Boulder city councilman has suggested “banishing” chronic scofflaws creating a nuisance in parks around the city’s municipal buildings.
Councilman Macon Cowles said in an email to his colleagues that the idea came to him while “my mind wandered” and he wondered what The Bard had to say about crime and social misbehavior.
Quoting extensively from Romeo and Juliet, Cowles makes the argument that banishing people from Boulder for the same amount of time they might be incarcerated for minor crimes would not only save taxpayers money, but might be more effective at preventing future crimes.
“It seems a double hit that citizens should have to endure repeated acts of criminal behavior that are peculiarly offenses against the people who live here, and then, adding a financial penalty to the insult that has been afflicted, to pay the high expense of incarceration,” he wrote.
In Colorado, for at least the last 25 years that yr. obdt. has resided in that state, Boulder is commonly referred to as “seven square miles surrounded by reality.” (Also “the People’s Republik of Boulder,” for different reasons.) This is a good example of Boulder’s own particular style of wonderful nuttiness; the city never ceases to amuse.
But there’s a darker side to the Councilman’s thinking. Consider it; Councilman Cowles isn’t terribly worried about solving the problem of society’s chronic misbehaviors; he’s just concerned with exporting them. It’s the NIMBY attitude taken to an illogical extreme.
Now, while we’re on the subject of nutbars: Iran: We’re Ready for ‘Decisive Battle’ with Israel, U.S. Excerpt:
In the latest in a series of warnings against the US, Iran’s chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi warned the Islamic republic’s foes that Iran is prepared for a “decisive battle” if attacked.
“We are ready for the decisive battle with America and the Zionist regime (Israel),” Fars news agency quoted Firouzabadi as saying Wednesday.
“We do not have any hostility toward regional states, but if we are ever attacked from the American bases in the region we will strike that area back,” he said.
Let’s be honest; the only thing decisive about a battle between Iran on the one hand and the United States and Israel on the other would be the decisive speed in which the Iranians get their collective asses handed to them – in thin slices.
Even after two rounds of severe military draw-downs from our Cold War height, the United States still has a unilateral dominance on military power not seen on the planet since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Iran’s leaders are good at making bombastic pronouncements for the benefit of regime loyalists, but they aren’t complete imbeciles – the last thing they’ll do is to engage the U.S. head-on. They will continue in their role as the leading national sponsor of Islamic terror; they will continue developing nuclear weapons, and odds are better than even that they’ll use those nukes, somewhere, one way or another, at a time of their own choosing.
That’s the scenario that we should be preparing for.
Once in a while, we see a little good news: Suicide Bomb Instructor Accidentally Detonates, Kills 21 Students in Iraq. Heh heh heh. Excerpt:
BAGHDAD (AP) — Insurgents accidentally set off their own car bomb Monday at a training camp in an orchard in a Sunni area north of Baghdad, leaving 21 dead and some two dozen arrested, Iraqi officials said.
…A police officer said the militants were attending a lesson on making car bombs and explosive belts when a glitch set off one of the devices.
Army slang for these gomers used to be “not-so-smart bombs.” I guess these assholes were determined to live up to it.
One more; enjoy a Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. ad that was deemed… inappropriate for broadcast.
I’m suddenly hungry.
Let’s look at a few gun stories today – the first, from our own Colorado. GOP Attempts to Repeal Colorado Background Checks Law. Excerpt:
Colorado Republicans revived the most contentious debate of the last legislative session when they tried to repeal gun purchase background checks.
State Sen. George Rivera, the Republican who replaced Democrat Angela Giron when she was recalled from office because of her support of this and other new gun control laws, sponsored the bill.
Most of the testimony revolved around the question of whether or not the new law — which requires background checks not only for gun purchases at retail stores but also in private sales between individuals — will help reduce violent crime. A background check is also required if a gun is loaned to someone for more than 72 hours, such as for hunting, sport shooting or safekeeping.
What’s interesting about that article and the controversy around it is found in this line:
Opponents of the repeal pointed to 104 instances of potential gun buyers failing background checks during attempted private transactions since the law went into effect on July 1. The reasons ranged from previous convictions for homicide to sexual assault.
Ok, then; one hundred and four people have committed a Federal felony, in attempting to illegally purchase a firearm.
Where are the arrests? Where are the convictions? Why did the gang of Mensa dropouts we call the Colorado Legislature pass this law, which obviously nobody intends to enforce?
One of the more idiotic provisions of this piece of legislative stupidity is the requirement to undergo a background check if you borrow a firearm from a neighbor or friend, say for a hunting trip. This provision is utterly unenforceable and will be roundly ignored. Combine this with the total ignoring of people who fail the background checks, and we are left with one question: What the bloody hell was this law meant to actually accomplish?
While we’re on the subject of abject stupidity: School Officials Deeply Troubled Over Guns Appearing ON SIGNS BANNING GUNS. Excerpt:
Nolan stressed that she is very concerned with “safety and security” and concerned that, somehow, someone could wrongly interpret an image of a gun emblazoned with the universal sign for prohibiting something.
She said she would prefer “something more subtle.”
“You can’t look at this (sticker) and not think about Sandy Hook,” the principal added.
Let’s be honest: Principal Nolan is a hypersensitive nitwit.
One more, this one a piece of good news; the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the pro-sportsman SHARE Act. Blind hogs and acorns, as they say. Excerpt:
(The National Shooting Sports Foundation), along with a number of its partners, has been working closely with members of the House to ensure inclusion of a number of legislative priorities in the SHARE Act including provisions that will protect the use of traditional ammunition and fishing tackle by hunters and anglers, provide greater flexibility for states to utilize Pittman-Robertson funds to create and enhance public shooting ranges and facilitate greater access to Federal lands and waters for hunting, recreational fishing and shooting.
Of course, this legislation still has to get through the Senate in one form or another, and be approved by the President, who by all indications is no friend of the shooting sports. But, as mentioned earlier – blind hogs and acorns. We’ll see.
This just in from the always-worth-reading Dr. Victor Davis Hanson: A Beat-up, Exhausted, and Terrified Republican Establishment. Excerpt:
On almost every contemporary issue there is a populist, middle-class argument to be made against elite liberalism. Yet the Republican class in charge seems ossified in its inability to make a counter-argument for the middle class. Never has the liberal agenda been so vulnerable, a logical development when bad ideas have had five years to prove themselves as very bad ideas. When Obama is all done he will have taken high presidential popularity ratings, a supermajority in the Senate, and a large margin in the House and lost them all — if only the Republicans can make an adequate case that they represent the middle class, the Democrats only the very wealthy and the very dependent.
The thing is this: I’m not all that sure that the Republicans really do represent the middle class any more. I’m not sure anyone does. The Democrats sure as hell don’t; they represent an odd coalition ranging from radical environmentalists, the Occupy Wall Street nutbars, and the San Francisco latte socialists to labor-union activists and a few last old Truman blue-collar Democrats. The GOP struggles to gather in what someone a few years back called the “Sam’s Club” Republicans – the small business, entrepreneur folks, the people that drive real economic growth. But they aren’t doing a very good job of that, either.
A big part of the GOP’s problem is their failure to adjust to a generational shift in attitudes. The up-and-coming generation is open to the Republican’s low-tax, small government message, but is resistant to the party’s social wing, which insists on government interference into other aspects of people’s lives.
It’s a pretty problem, and one that neither party seems to be able to wrap their brains around. Whichever one does first – and the GOP seems to hold an edge on the growing libertarian population – will have a majority advantage for some time to come.
This is interesting. Not surprising, but interesting. Popular Anti-Fracking Study Discredited by Colorado Health Department. Relevant excerpts:
“It is difficult to draw conclusions from this study, due to its design and limitations,” Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s chief medical officer, said. “We appreciate continuing research about possible public health implications that may be associated with oil and gas operations in Colorado.
“With regard to this particular study, people should not rush to judgment.”
Why? Because the study didn’t distinguish between active wells and inactive wells. It also did not distinguish between vertical, horizontal, oil or natural gas wells.
“This makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the actual exposure people may have had,” Wolk said.
Further, the researchers never considered outside factors that may have resulted in birth defects, such as drinking or smoking.
“Without considering the effect of these personal risk factors, as well as the role of genetic factors, it is very difficult to draw conclusions from this study,” Wolk said.
The researchers noted in the study that they never bothered to check where the mother lived during conception or the first trimester. This is when most birth defects occur, so not knowing what was going on in the mother’s life at that time is a significant problem in determining whether fracking was to blame.
In other words, shoddy science. A case in point; the study mentioned noted a decrease in birth defect among women who live closer to wells, a seeming contradiction that should have raised some alarms on the study’s methodology. Why?
Because contradictions don’t exist. When a seeming contradiction is found in a study of this nature, one should check their premises; one or more of them will be wrong.
Here’s the crux of this issue; there can be no absolute right or wrong answer in a policy issue of this nature. There can only be tradeoffs. There is a level of mess we will accept in order to increase our energy independence and lower the cost of energy. Worried about our chronically high unemployment rate? Stagnant tax revenues? Runaway Federal debt? Explosion of numbers on welfare? The answer is economic growth, and cheap energy is a supercharger for economic growth.
And no matter what side of any given issue you might take, relying on shoddy, self-contradictory science makes for a shoddy, self-contradictory argument.
Let’s have a reminder of summer, to take our minds off all of this global warming.