Anti-Colonial Agitator

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The ESRI has raised its forecast for Irish GDP growth in 2004 from 3.5% to 4.6%. The think tank has also increased its predicted growth in GNP from 3.3% to 4.3%. The ESRI expects to see a further improvement in 2005, with GDP expanding by 5.2%, up from a previously forecast of 4.5%, and with GNP growing by 4.5%. It expects unemployment to fall from 4.5% to 4.3% in 2005.

Children who watch a lot of television produce less melatonin, - the "sleep hormone" that has been linked to the timing of puberty. Scientists found that when youngsters were deprived of their TV sets, computers and video games, their melatonin production increased by an average of 30%.

Monkeys and apes who are good at deceiving their peers also have the biggest brains relative to their body size. The finding backs the "Machiavellian intelligence" theory, which suggests that the benefits of complex social skills fuelled the evolution of large primate brains. Of all the terrestrial mammals, primates have by far the largest brains relative to their body size, with humans having the largest of all. The enlargement is almost exclusively in the neocortex, which makes up more than 80% of the mass of the human brain. Large brains, despite being energetically costly, benefited primates because they conferred complex cognitive skills. But which skills were the priority - was it clever food-finding strategies that were most valuable or complex social skills? Earlier studies have hinted that social abilities were the key. And now Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp, psychologists at St Andrews University in the UK, have found more direct evidence for this after studying records of primates deceiving each other for personal gain. Deception amongst primates is well documented. Sometimes a female gorilla will mate with a male surreptitiously to avoid a beating from a more dominant male. Or monkeys might feign disinterest in tasty food so that others do not come and steal it. Byrne has himself observed a young baboon dodging a reprimand from its mother by suddenly standing to attention and scanning the horizon, conning the entire troop into panicking about a possible rival group nearby. Now Byrne and Corp have studied a catalogue of observations of deceptive behaviors in wild primates from many researchers over several years up till 1990. They found that the frequency of deception in a species is directly proportional to the average volume of the animal's neocortex. Bush babies and lemurs, which have a relatively small neocortex, were among the least sneaky. The most tactically deceptive primates included macaques and the great apes - gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans - which also have the largest neocortex. That is consistent with the idea that natural selection favored larger brains for sophisticated social interactions, among them tactical deception. However, it is still not clear whether primates are ever aware of being deceptive. They may have no concept of dishonesty, knowing simply from experience that these behaviors get the result they want.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Is the SDLP at a crossroads or the end of the track?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Genetic fingerprints indicate that wild African asses were the ancestors of domestic donkeys, making donkeys the only important domestic animal known to come from Africa. Animal domestication was a key development in human culture. Meat animals came first, with cattle, sheep, goats and pigs initially domesticated between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago. Animals useful for carrying loads and people, such as horses, donkeys and camels, came in a later wave about 5000 years ago, which enhanced trade and mobility. Donkeys were particularly important, being smaller, more durable and easier to handle and feed than horses. The oldest remains date from 5000 to 6000 years ago in Egypt, and slightly later in Mesopotamia and Iran. However, the point of their original domestication had been unknown. Mitochondrial DNA comparisons have revealed two distinct populations of domestic donkeys. One is clearly derived from the Nubian subspecies of wild ass, Equus asinus africanus. The second is close to the Somalian wild ass, Equus asinus somaliensis, but does not fall within the wild range. The research suggests that donkeys were most probably domesticated twice, once from each of the two existing African wild asses, which diverged hundreds of thousands of years ago. Genetic studies of other livestock species also show they were domesticated more than once. Donkey populations are unusual in having the same genetic mix around the world, a trait found in horses, but not in cattle, sheep, goats or pigs.

DNA tests on an endangered variety of Indian wolf suggest it might be the most ancient representative of the animals anywhere in the world. Analysis of genetic material from one of the wolves shows that its lineage stems back around 800,000 years. Currently, these Himalayan wolves are regarded as belonging to the species Canis lupus, with other grey wolves. But scientists think they may be genetically different enough from other groups to comprise a separate species.

Humans made their first tentative steps towards farming 23,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. Stone Age people in Israel collected the seeds of wild grasses some 10,000 years earlier than previously recognized. These grasses included wild emmer wheat and barley, which were forerunners of the varieties grown in modern times. The evidence comes from a collection of 90,000 prehistoric plant remains dug up at Ohalo in the north of Israel. The Ohalo site was submerged in prehistoric times and left undisturbed until recent excavations. This low-oxygen environment beautifully preserved the charred plant remains deposited there in Stone Age times. Most of the evidence points to the Near East as the cradle of farming. Indeed, the principal plant foods eaten by the people at Ohalo appear to have been grasses, including the wild cereals emmer wheat and barley. Grass remains also included a huge amount of small-grained wild grasses at Ohalo such as brome, foxtail and alkali grass. However, these small-grained wild grasses were to disappear from the human diet by about 13,000 ago. Anthropologists think farming may have started when hunter-gatherer groups in South-West Asia were put under pressure by expanding human populations and a reduction in hunting territories. This forced them to rely less heavily on hunting large hoofed animals like gazelle, fallow deer and wild cattle and broaden their diets to include small mammals, birds, fish and small grass seeds; the latter regarded as an essential first step towards agriculture.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Archaeologists say that remains found near Stonehenge are almost certainly those of the ancient people who helped to build the monument. Tests on teeth found in a 4,300-year-old grave at Boscombe Down suggest that the prehistoric workmen were Welsh. It was already known that bluestone from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire were used in building Stonehenge - called Côr y Cewri which means Choir of Giants. The grave was unusual as it contained the remains of seven people - three children, a teenager and three men. Archaeologists are calling them "the Boscombe bowmen" because of the flint arrowheads in their graves.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Irish bar owners in a Portuguese resort have been warned by police of threats against them by the British National Front. The threats follow recent disturbances in the town of Albufeira involving English fans who are in the country for the Euro 2004 football tournament. The police visited three Irish owned bars warning staff of the danger from English racists. So far one English fan has been sentenced to a two year jail term for his part in the disturbances in which up to 200 supporters clashed with police.

Tom Griffin and Brian Feeney on the rise of Sinn Fein as a political force in Irish politics on both sides of the border.

Monday, June 14, 2004

MI5 has caused outrage after one of its spies stated publicly that the IRA fought a just cause and won a successful campaign in the north of Ireland. The controversy centers on a briefing given by an MI5 officer, a former Royal Navy commander, at a maritime security conference on Orkney. Details have been provided by Mark Hirst, the former head of communications at Orkney Islands Council, who attended the seminar. The conference was held by the British Department of Transport (DoT) in Kirkwall. Delegates included representatives from the council, port authorities, ferry services, energy firms, the tourist board and police. Hirst says the MI5 officer said that the IRA was the biggest threat to British national security. But the officer then said that the IRA had fought a just cause. This conclusion was based on the fact that there had been legitimate grievances among, and discrimination against, the indigenous Irish nationalist community and that this had sustained the IRA through the length of the campaign.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Irish economy has now moved beyond its soft landing and an impressive rebound in activity is underway, according to Goodbody Stockbrokers. In a new report, the brokers hiked their GNP growth forecast to 4.8% in both 2004 and 2005. In their March Review, they forecast that GNP would increase by 3.9% and 4.3% respectively.

Widespread unease over the country's direction and doubts about President Bush's policies on Iraq and the economy helped propel Sen. John F. Kerry to a solid lead among voters nationwide, according to a new opinion poll. Kerry led Bush by 51% to 44% nationally in a two-way matchup, and by 48% to 42% in a three-way race, with independent Ralph Nader drawing 4%. Lifting Kerry is a powerful tailwind of dissatisfaction with the nation's course and Bush's answers for challenges at home and abroad with nearly three-fifths believing that the nation is on the wrong track. Also, 56% said that America needs to move in a new direction because Bush's policies have not improved the country. Just 39% say that America is better off because of his agenda.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Irish economy will grow by 6.0% in GDP terms and 5.5% in GNP terms in 2004, according to the latest quarterly outlook from the Bank of Ireland. These strong growth rates compare to GDP expansion of 1.4% and GNP growth of 3.3% in 2003. Inflation is forecast to fall to an average 2.3% compared to 3.5% in 2003. The report forecast that unemployment would average 4.4% in 2004, down from 4.7% in 2003.

Scientists have used DNA from rats to trace migration patterns of the ancestors of modern Polynesians. People are thought to have arrived in Polynesia, comprising the Pacific islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, by boat some 3,000 years ago. Rat data suggests that the journey was more complex than the popular "Express Train" theory, which proposes a rapid dispersal of people from South Asia. Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith and Judith Robins from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, analyzed variation in the DNA of the Pacific rat (Rattus exulans). The genetic material was extracted from cell structures called mitochondria rather than the nucleus. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) changes at a steady rate over time, so the scientists were also able to use it to track changes in the rat population over time. They found clear geographic patterns of rat DNA across Oceania. Rats appear in a region known as Near Oceania, which comprises the island of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville, after 3,500 years ago. They apparently hitched a ride on boats used by ancient seafarers known as the Lapita, a people regarded by many researchers as ancestors of modern-day Polynesians. The rat mtDNA types fell into three haplogroups, or types: I, II and III. Haplogroup I is found primarily in South-East Asia. Haplogroup II was found in South-East Asia and a region known as Near Oceania. Haplogroup III is only found in an area known as remote Oceania, comprising the islands of Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa. The researchers claim this result allows them to reject two well-known theories for the colonization of Polynesia, including the Express Train To Polynesia (ETP) theory and the Bismarck Archipelago Indigenous Inhabitants (BAII) theory. These two theories are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The ETP theory focuses on a rapid dispersal from Taiwan to Polynesia. The BAII proposes that there was no migration into Near Oceania, and that the Lapita culture arose from indigenous people in the area. Matisoo-Smith and Robins argue that the truth was somewhere in-between. The absence of Haplogroup III rats from Near Oceania seems to preclude a progressive expansion from that area into Remote Oceania where Haplogroup III rats are common. Instead, the researchers claim, the seafarers who brought Haplogroup III rats to Remote Oceania did not come from nearby New Guinea or the Solomon Islands but from close to the Asian mainland, completely by-passing Near Oceania.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

A report by economists at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has said that Ireland's GDP should grow by 3.5% in 2004, in contrast to the rest of the eurozone, which can expect growth of 1.5% at best. GDP growth for Ireland for 2005 is expected to pick up to around 4.5% in a recovery supported by more robust consumer spending growth as real incomes are boosted by employment gains and low inflation. The report adds that Irish exports are also expected to accelerate in line with an anticipated international recovery, which should also feed through into higher business investment. The PWC report said that Spain is likely to remain the best performer of the larger eurozone economies with growth of about 3% in 2004 and 3.25% in 2005 while GDP growth will be in the region of 4.5% in the US and around 3% in Britain. The fastest growing eurozone economy in 2004 is expected to be Greece, with growth of 4.25%, thanks to the Athens Olympics. But the report warns that the Greek economy will then slow significantly in 2005.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Abu Ghraib and the north of Ireland.

Does sleeping help us to learn?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Sex and the modern Japanese.

The British colonial view of power-sharing.