Anti-Colonial Agitator

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Iraq has become a battleground for al-Qaeda with appalling consequences for the Iraqi people. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons has said that the failure to establish law and order has created a vacuum into which militias and criminals have poured.

A team of brain scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have made a groundbreaking discovery into the biological basis for autism, a mysterious brain disorder that impairs verbal and non-verbal communications and social interactions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, the researchers have found numerous abnormalities in the activity of brains of people with normal IQs who have autism. The new findings indicate a deficiency in the coordination among brain areas. The results converge with previous findings of white matter abnormalities in autism. (White matter consists of the "cables" that connect the various parts of the brain to each other). The new findings led the researchers to propose a new theory of the basis of autism, called underconnectivity theory, which holds that autism is a system-wide brain disorder that limits the coordination and integration among brain areas. This theory helps explain a paradox of autism: Some people with autism have normal or even superior skills in some areas, while many other types of thinking are disordered.

A study of twins suggests that a gene key to eye development plays a crucial role in people becoming short-sighted. Researchers from St. Thomas' Hospital in London said that faulty versions of the PAX6 gene could make people more susceptible to the condition. But they said sitting too close to the TV or playing too many computer games could exacerbate someone's risk. Previous research looking at whether the causes of short-sightedness (myopia) were genetic or environmental had found inherited factors accounted for 89%, and the environment 11%.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

At least three Garda (Irish police) officers in the scandal-hit force in Donegal were secret agents for British military intelligence. Garda Special Branch detectives have launched a secret probe into finding the to date un-named moles who supplied intelligence on IRA suspects directly to the shadowy British Army outfit, the Force Research Unit. The officers were paid for their work for the British side - but always claimed they carried out the work to help defeat the Provisional IRA at a time when it was claimed that some Garda officers weren't doing all they could to stop the IRA. It is understood that a secret team of Branch detectives have now been tasked with finding those moles. The probe comes after the Morris Tribunal slammed two senior Garda officers for faking arms finds in order to boost their careers in the 1990s. Detective Garda Noel McMahon is to be asked to resign by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy. He and Superintendent Kevin Lennon had been suspended during the inquiry by Justice Morris into allegations of corruption and now face being booted off the force.

Brian Feeney on the Parades issue.

Critics mock Kelly's actions in Ardoyne.

General human intelligence appears to be based on the volume of gray matter tissue in certain regions of the brain, UC Irvine College of Medicine researchers have found in the most comprehensive structural brain-scan study of intelligence to date. The study also discovered that because these regions related to intelligence are located throughout the brain, a single "intelligence center", such as the frontal lobe, is unlikely. Dr. Richard Haier, professor of psychology in the Department of Pediatrics and long-time human intelligence researcher, and colleagues at UCI and the University of New Mexico used MRI to obtain structural images of the brain in 47 normal adults who also took standard intelligence quotient tests. The researchers used a technique called voxel-based morphometry to determine gray matter volume throughout the brain which they correlated to IQ scores. Previous research had shown that larger brains are weakly related to higher IQ, but this study is the first to demonstrate that gray matter in specific regions in the brain is more related to IQ than is overall size. Multiple brain areas are related to IQ, the UCI and UNM researchers have found, and various combinations of these areas can similarly account for IQ scores. Therefore, it is likely that a person’s mental strengths and weaknesses depend in large part on the individual pattern of gray matter across his or her brain. While gray matter amounts are vital to intelligence levels, the researchers were surprised to find that only about 6 percent of all the gray matter in the brain appears related to IQ. The research does not address why some people have more gray matter in some brain areas than other people, although previous research has shown that the regional distribution of gray matter in humans is highly heritable. Haier and his colleagues are currently evaluating the MRI data to see if there are gender differences in IQ patterns.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A majority of British voters believe that Tony Blair lied over Iraq despite the Butler Report conclusions, according to a new poll. And opposition to the war has climbed to its highest level yet, the ICM survey showed. The Butler report said that although intelligence was flawed, Tony Blair and his colleagues acted in good faith. But 55% of those asked in the days after he presented his findings said that Blair lied, while 37% said that he told the truth. Opposition to the invasion has jumped 13 points with 56% now saying that the war was not justified.

The Friends First Quarterly Economic Outlook has said that while the Irish economy and tax revenues grow, politics is the biggest risk factor in future growth. The economic platform pursued over the past seven years has been instrumental to the success of the Irish economy and it should not be forsaken for short-term populist reasons, Jim Power, Chief Economist, Friends First, warned at the launch of the report. The report predicted that Irish GDP is set to grow by 4.9% and GNP should increase by 4% in 2004.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Ireland and poverty: how the UN got it so badly wrong.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

DNA from a 2,000-year-old burial site in Mongolia has revealed new information about the Xiongnu, a nomadic tribe that once reigned in Central Asia. Researchers in France studied DNA from more than 62 skeletons to reconstruct the history and social organization of a long-forgotten culture. The researchers found that interbreeding between Europeans and Asians occurred much earlier than previously thought. They also found DNA sequences similar to those in present-day Turks, supporting the idea that some of the Turkish people originated in Mongolia. The research also provides glimpses into the Xiongnu culture. Elaborate burials were reserved for the elite members of society, who were often buried with sacrificial animals and humans at the time of burial. And relatives were often buried next to each other. The necropolis, or burial site, was discovered in 1943 by a joint Mongolian-Russian expedition in a region known as the Egyin Gol Valley of Mongolia. Skeletons in the site were well preserved because of the dry, cold climate. The researchers estimated that the site was used from the 3rd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. The researchers were able to figure out how various skeletons may have been related by analyzing three different types of DNA. They used mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, Y-chromosome DNA, which is passed from father to son, and autosomal DNA (that is, everything but the X and Y chromosomes), which is inherited from both mother and father. Most scientists had previously thought that people from Asia mixed with Europeans sometime after the 13th century, when Ghengis Khan conquered most of Asia and parts of the Persian Empire. However, Keyser-Tracqui and her coworkers detected DNA sequences from Europeans in the Xiongnu skeletons. Skeletons from the most recent graves also contained DNA sequences similar to those in people from present-day Turkey. This supports other studies indicating that Turkish tribes originated at least in part in Mongolia at the end of the Xiongnu period.

Ireland is listed in tenth position and Britain in twelfth in a United Nations development index, which ranks nations according to income, life expectancy and education levels. For the fourth year in a row, Norway tops the table followed by Sweden and Australia. Of the top 20 nations, only Australia, Japan at ninth, and New Zealand at 18th, were outside Europe or North America. The United States was ranked eighth, a fall of one place from 2003.

Anne Cadwallader and Brian Feeney on violence in the Ardoyne.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Irish Central Bank has upgraded its growth forecasts for the Irish economy in 2004 to 4.25% in GNP and 4.75% in GDP terms. In its Annual Report, the Central Bank offered a more optimistic assessment of the economy's prospects than in its spring bulletin, where it forecast GNP growth of 3.25% and GDP growth of 3.75%.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The recommendations put forth by the organizers of the annual Caesarea Conference on the economy are "fundamentally mistaken, and reflect an anti-growth stance," charged Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce. The conference, organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, will take place in Jerusalem. In advance of the conference, an IDI panel headed by Professor Joseph Zeira of Hebrew University issued a position paper arguing that the government should use the recent surge in tax revenues to pare down its debt, as the Bank of Israel has advocated, rather than using it to cut taxes, as the Finance Ministry has proposed. Lynn, however, argued that promoting growth must be the country's number-one economic goal, and this, first and foremost, requires encouraging both local and foreign investment. He said that cutting taxes would free up money for investment or consumption, thereby fueling growth. While the Zeira panel also recognized the importance of increasing investment, it argued that the only way to significantly boost investment over the long term was to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Lynn noted that, according to data compiled by the FICC, purchasing power parity in Israel is very low in comparison to Europe: $19,700 per capita, compared to $33,100 in Ireland, $29,600 in Austria, and $27,500 in England. One area where Lynn agreed with the Zeira panel was on the need to invest in education, as this is the key to bringing people into the workforce in the modern era.

The OECD said that Irish job growth is expected to be amongst the highest in Europe. The organization's latest annual employment outlook said that Ireland could boost job numbers by 1.4% in 2004 and by 1.6% during 2005, well ahead of most OECD countries and faster than any other European state.

A loyalist mob including members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) blocked a road in north Belfast in an apparent show of force ahead of the annual Twelfth of July celebrations. The blockade took place during rush hour and prevented cars and buses from entering the mainly indigenous Irish area of Ligoniel. The incident is believed to be linked to the Parades Commission's decision to ban loyalist "hangers on" from marching past the nearby indigenous Irish enclave of Ardoyne following Orange Order marches to mark the Twelfth of July.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Tony Blair has admitted for the first time that weapons of mass destruction may never be found in Iraq, but he refused to apologize for the invasion and would not admit that the absence of stockpiles undermined his case for war. His remarks, in front of the liaison committee of select committee chairmen, come ahead of the Butler inquiry report into the flawed intelligence prior to the war. They follow a similar admission by the former chief British political representative in Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Senior citizens played an important role in the dramatic spread of human civilization some 30,000 years ago according to a study of the human fossil record. Rachel Caspari at the University of Michigan and Sang-Hee Lee at the University of California at Riverside studied dental fossils belonging to early humans and pre-human species dating back 3 million years. They judged the age of specimens by examining wear to teeth and classified "old" as twice the age of sexual maturity - roughly 30 years. The fossils examined included Australopithecines, who lived up to three million years ago, Homo erectus, a more human-like ancestor that emerged 1 million years ago, as well as Neanderthals and early modern humans, which co-existed some 50,000 years ago. Caspari and Lee found a five-fold increase in the number of individuals surviving into old age in the Early Upper Paleolithic period - around 30,000 years ago. This coincides with an explosive population growth of modern humans and the spread of archaeological artifacts that suggest the development of more complex social organization. Anthropologists have long suspected that older people may have played an important role in the development of early human societies by providing extra care for children, helping to accumulate useful information and strengthening kinship bonds. The so-called "grandmother hypothesis", based on studies of African hunter-gatherer groups, suggests that infertile women are vital for successful child-rearing despite being unable to produce children themselves.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Irish economy grew at an annual rate of just over 6% in the first three months of 2004. Growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) was 6.1%. Gross national product (GNP) rose by 5.1% which was the strongest rate of growth in three years. In 2003, GDP growth was 3.7% while GNP growth was 2.8%.