Anti-Colonial Agitator

Monday, November 29, 2004

Genes and Ethiopian atheletes:

The long-distance running prowess of Ethiopia’s elite male athletes is partly dictated by their genes.

Researchers have established that such athletes are more likely to have certain variants of four Y chromosome genes compared with other Ethiopians. No one knows what the genes do, or how influential they are, but they are the first to be linked to east Africans’ outstanding ability for endurance events.

Ethiopian and Kenyan athletes have run 37 of the 40 fastest times recorded over 10,000 metres. Alongside dedication and training, there is no doubt that social and geographic factors, such as having to run long distances to school at high altitudes, contribute to their success.

To find out if genes also play a significant role, Yannis Pitsiladis of the International Centre for East African Running Science at the University of Glasgow in the UK and colleagues studied the Y chromosomes of elite athletes, city dwellers and other non-athletes from the Ethiopian region of Arsi, where many runners originate.

Four gene variants were clearly more common among the athletes, and one was less common. No mutation was unique to the athletes, however, suggesting that it is the combination of certain gene types that makes the difference.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Bigotry in Scotland:

RENEWED calls were made yesterday for a clampdown on sectarian violence after a study showed Catholics were twice as likely as Protestants to suffer abuse and a pub packed with Celtic supporters was attacked by scores of football hooligans.

The Crown Office study of prosecutions under new anti-sectarianism legislation found in 63% of cases the victims were Catholics, and 29% were Protestants.

Joseph Devine, the Bishop of Motherwell, one of Scotland's most senior Catholics, blamed sectarian marches organised by the Orange Order for much of the violence and called on the Scottish Executive to introduce tighter regulations.

The attack, on a pub in the Merchant City, Glasgow, oc-curred soon after the weekend Old Firm game. A group of about 60 youths, described as "football casuals" burst into the Locomotiv bar in Bell Street, uprooting tables and chairs and attacking customers.

Many of the customers were women. They had earlier been watching live television coverage of the game at Ibrox, which Rangers won 2-0.

The gang's attack occurred after they were denied entry to O'Neill's bar across the street after stewards hurriedly shut the doors.

Witnesses said the gang were not wearing football colours. One said: "There was no provocation. They seemed to be on the look-out for trouble."

The group fled before police arrived and no arrests were made. There were no injuries.

Police said it had no evidence the attack was sectarian-related. Nineteen arrests were made in and around the game at Ibrox – one for racial breach of the peace.

The Crown Office study showed 450 people have been charged with religious hatred since the crime of religious aggravation was introduced in June last year. Under the law, a person who commits a crime such as assault or breach of the peace can have an element of bigotry added to the charge.

A detailed review of 108 cases found 68 in which Catholics suffered sectarian abuse, compared with 31 where Protestants were targeted. It also revealed 14% of offences were related to football and 15% were linked to sectarian marches.

Most of the offences reviewed took place in Glasgow (54%) and Lanarkshire (22%), but the bigotry was not restricted to the west of Scotland – 10% were in the Lothian and Borders area, and at least one person was charged in every other police force area in Scotland, except Highland.

Bishop Devine said: "That almost two-thirds of such crimes are directed against Catholics who comprise just 17% of the population, is both alarming and saddening."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Obesity linked to dementia in women:

Women who are obese for many years are more likely to suffer brain cell loss linked to dementia, according to new research.

The Swedish team followed 290 women over 24 years and found that women who were obese during this period were much more likely than slim women to show brain atrophy - the abnormal loss of neurons - by the end of the study.

Deborah Gustafson and colleagues at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden measured the body mass index (BMI) of the women between 1968 and 1992. On their final visit the women – then aged between 70 and 84 – also underwent CT scans of their brains.

The researchers found that almost half of the women showed brain cell death in the temporal lobes in 1992 and on average these women had a higher BMI – their height in metres, squared, divided by their weight in kilograms – than those who showed no brain cell loss. Brain shrinkage in this area is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and loss of cognitive function.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Were humans born to run?:

Proponents of the theory say that long-distance running may be an even more significant evolutionary adaptation than bipedal walking, an ability which may have emerged with the appearance of the first hominids some 6 million years ago.

It is true that we cannot keep up with the fastest four-legged mammals. The speediest humans can sprint at barely 10 metres per second for just 15 seconds, whereas horses and greyhounds can gallop twice as fast for many minutes.

Yet anthropologists, in focusing on this lack of short-term speed, have overlooked how well adapted we are for endurance running, according to biologist Dennis Bramble at the University of Utah, and his colleague Dan Lieberman of Harvard University.

"Our legs are full of tendons that are not present in other primates," says Lieberman. "You don’t use your Achilles tendon when you walk," he says, but it is essential for running. Our buttock muscles, whose large size is a distinctly human attribute, are also vital for running, as they help stabilise the trunk and prevent it pitching forwards.

These muscles too are barely used in walking. Runners also need to keep their bodies cool, which could explain our large number of sweat glands and largely hairless skin.

Many of these adaptations appeared with Homo erectus around 2 million years ago. The long legs, short arms and low shoulders of H. erectus and later humans match the demands of running, while in contrast, the limb proportions of the earlier australopithecines were much closer to those of modern chimps, say Lieberman and Bramble.

The first great ape?:

The fossil of an ancient species of ape, thought to be an ancestor to all living great apes, including humans, has been discovered at a construction site in western Spain. It reveals that the great apes went through more evolutionary stages than previously thought.

In particular, the structure of the ape’s hand indicates that the ability to climb vertically and to swing through trees evolved separately in apes and not simultaneously, as had previously been thought.

The skull and partial skeleton of Pierolapithecus catalaunicus were discovered in rock sediment at a construction site near Barcelona.

It provides a missing piece of the human evolutionary jigsaw, linking humans to other living species of great ape. It could be the last common ancestor of all the great apes.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index:

When one understands the interplay of modernity and tradition in determining life satisfaction, it is then easy to see why Ireland ranks a convincing first in the international quality-of-life league table. It successfully combines the most desirable elements of the new - material wellbeing, low unemployment rates, political liberties — with the preservation of certain life satisfaction-enhancing, or modernity-cushioning, elements of the old, such as stable family life and the avoidance of the breakdown of community.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Were the ancient Greeks sexually repressed?:

Forget the ancients being sexually free, "Love, Sex and Marriage" portrays the classical Greeks as being anything but liberal.

If the book is to be believed, homosexuals were frowned upon, paedophiles were punished, and masturbation was seen fit only for barbarians and slaves.

It is a thesis that debunks almost every popular perception of the ancient bedroom antics. At a time of renewed interest in the ancient world, book stores say the public cannot get enough of it.

Even the Athens Hilton - the preferred hotel for straight-laced retirees and businessmen - says its bookshop cannot keep abreast of demand for the tome, whose graphic illustrations include depictions of men and women cavorting on vases and urns.

"It takes a very different point of view to the traditional one that is held around certain sexual practises in ancient Greece," says author Nikos Vrissimtzis. "Contrary to popular opinion, that world was not a paradise for homosexuals, and paedaracy was held in such contempt that it was very heavily punished."

Mr Vrissimtzis, a sociologist who specialises in ancient Greece, wrote the book after years of work in museums and libraries, studying classical text, inscriptions and pottery.

The research proved, yet again, that the ancients saw sex as completely natural and - unlike their modern day descendants - had no inhibitions or taboos.

But, the author says, his findings also show that in the absence of religious doctrines, the ancients were ruled by social rather than moral dictates.

In an exclusively patriarchal society where only women were meant to be submissive, such strictures made life especially difficult for homosexuals.

"Homosexuals were not, as many believed, openly accepted by society. They were marginalised and punished by law," Vrissimtzis says. "For example, they could not enter the ancient Agora or participate in ranks and rituals involving the state."

The author's claims contradict the views of hundreds of western classicists. Throughout the centuries, academics have argued that homosexuality was not only socially acceptable - and rife - but actively encouraged in ancient times.

But in the book he goes even further. Social pressures were such, says the Greek author, that only the bravest of men indulged in the performance of oral sex on women, because the perceived passivity of the act was considered improper.

Masturbation was also out, although sex toys, not least ancient dildos, were regularly used by prostitutes and slaves.

"Ancient Greece was not a liberal society." Vrissimtzis continues. "The sexual habits of its people have been misunderstood due to the misinterpretation of the sources and biased Christian morality."

Ireland tops list for quality of life:

A new listing has ranked Ireland as the best country in the world for quality of life.

It has come top of a worldwide quality-of-life index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit for its The World in 2005 report.

According to Irishman Dan O'Brien, who is a senior editor with the EIU, Ireland's scores because it has retained a strong community and family-based society, along with its newfound affluence.

The study combined a series of quality-of-life measures, from income per capita to church attendance, to rank 111 countries around the globe.

It says Ireland's came top because, unlike most other wealthy countries, it had retained strong traditional values.

It was less afflicted than other countries, he says, by the modern problems of western life, from family breakdown to drink and drug addiction.

The survey found that Ireland's income per head of population was fourth in the world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Did political correctness cost the Democrats the election?:

The Democratic Party needs to take a serious inward examination to determine what values it wants to tout.

If anything needs beheading in America, it is that tawdry beast political correctness. It is the father of discontent, asserting the right to shut off free speech, or expression it deems offensive.

Its high priests have worked hard to prevent people from doing, or saying, anything not deemed politically correct.

In 11 states, muted Americans spoke out on Election Day. They did it in secret. And they did it in frustration. And they did it in rage.

One cannot oppose anything advanced under the flag of political correctness without running the risk of being targeted for sensitivity classes.

Expressions of rebellion are manifested at the polls. The polls went for Bush.

Until the Democratic Party shakes off the bonds of political correctness and gives meat -- not lip -- to family values, it will face an uphill struggle.

A gay gene?:

Prof Camperio-Ciani, who worked with Prof Dr Francesca Corna and Dr Claudio Capiluppi, emphasises in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B that the team's findings are based on one part of a complex interplay between genes and culture. He suggests that some genetic factors should be linked to the X chromosome (of which men carry one and women two) because earlier work has shown how male homosexuality tends to be on the maternal, not the paternal, line.

The study by the Italian team confirmed a link with the so-called "gay gene", Xq28, which was first identified on the X chromosome by Dr Dean Hamer in America.

It also confirmed an established theory that links homosexuality to the fraternal birth order: homosexual men are more likely to have elder brothers, but not elder sisters, than either lesbians or heterosexual men.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Low-carb diets and men:

Atkins-style low carbohydrate diets are more effective for men than women, US researchers say.

A third of the 15 men on the diet lost more than 10lbs with one participant shedding 25lbs while the weight loss among the 13 women was not as dramatic.

The University of Connecticut study, partly funded by the Atkins Foundation, also compared different types of diet.

A low carbohydrate diet was up to three times more effective at losing weight from the trunk area than a low fat one.

About 10m Britons are believed to be following a diet at any one time, a third of them choosing Atkins-style, high-protein regimes.

The Atkins diet involves restricting carbohydrates, such as potatoes, and concentrating on eating meat and other high protein food.

But critics claim it can have consequences such as kidney damage, thin bones and high cholesterol.

During the study, featured in the Nutrition and Metabolism journal, participants followed each diet for 50 days.

Report co-author Jeff Volek, assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, said: "The results of this study demonstrate that short-term carbohydrate diets outperform low fat diets in terms of weight loss and fat loss."

And he added while the difference was clearest for men, women also lost more weight on low carbohydrate diets.

Brain inflammation link to autism:

Compared with normal control brains, the brains of the people with autism were found to contain abnormal patterns of immune system proteins called cytokines and chemokines consistent with inflammation.

Researcher Dr Carlos Pardo-Villamizar said: "These findings reinforce the theory that immune activation in the brain is involved in autism, although it is not yet clear whether it is destructive or beneficial, or both, to the developing brain."

Similarly, samples of cerebrospinal fluid obtained from six children with autism were also found to contain elevated levels of cytokines.

The researchers say it might eventually be possible to develop a diagnostic test for autism based on looking for signs of inflammation - and that treating this inflammation might reduce the symptoms of autism.

However, Dr Andrew Zimmerman, a paediatric neurologist at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute in Baltimore who also worked on the study, said it was possible that inflammation was produced as a result of the brain trying to combat some other process damaging to brain cells.

A spokesperson for the National Autistic Society said other scientists had also examined the possible connection between the immune system and autism.

One study has linked the condition to the disease encephalitis, while another found raised levels of nitric oxide in the plasma of children with autism.

This chemical plays a role in the immune response, and which is known to affect neurodevelopmental processes.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Did evangelicals win the election for Bush?:

Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, famously said that the key to this election was turning out four million evangelical Christians who did not vote in the year 2000.

Well, this year - unlike four years ago - Mr Bush won the popular vote. And his margin was just short of four million voters.

Now, it would be foolish to assume that all those 3.5 million voters were evangelical Christians. They were not.

Mr Bush got some defections from the growing Hispanic vote - which usually trends Democratic - and he made gains among Catholics and in the Jewish community.

But the core of the president's support was Christian conservatives.

Three-quarters of all white voters who described themselves as evangelical Christians voted for President Bush, according to national surveys of voters as they left the polls on Tuesday.

And, this year, evangelicals made up one-in-five of all voters - a record.

Are mothers responsible for gay sons?:

Our genome is "programmed" by the addition of chemical markers called methyl groups to the DNA, which shut down genes. One of the most dramatic examples of methylation is the shutdown of one of the two X chromosomes (one from each parent) in every woman’s cells, a process called X-inactivation (New Scientist print edition, 10 May 2003).

Normally, this process is random; either of the X chromosomes can be inactivated.

But when Sven Bocklandt of the University of California, Los Angeles, compared blood and saliva samples from 97 mothers of gay men with samples from 103 mothers without gay children he found this process was extremely skewed in the mothers with gay sons, with one X chromosome being far more likely to be inactivated than the other.

Only 4% of the mothers without gay sons showed this skewing, compared with 14% of mothers with at least one gay son. Among mothers with two or more gay sons, the figure was 23%.

Such skewing is generally associated with genetic disorders, but the mothers all appear to be healthy. Their daughters also seemed unaffected, with only 1 out of 24 showing skewing.

Bocklandt suspects that whatever is causing the skewed methylation of the X chromosome also affects the methylation of certain genes on the chromosomes the women pass on to their sons. Mothers might not be resetting their own "I like males" program, he told a meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in Toronto last week.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Was agriculture the worst mistake that humans ever made?:

While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen's average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and ninety-three grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It's almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat seventy-five or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.

Ethnic drugs - the wave of the future?:

The drug, which is administered orally, has already caused controversy on both sides of the Atlantic as it would become the world's first "ethnic drug".

But while the marketing and development of the treatment has been branded as crude, experts say it actually represents a step towards genetically-targeted drugs.

It has been known for some time that certain ethnic groups are more prone to some diseases than others.

In the US African Americans are twice as likely to develop heart failure than white people.

A similar pictures emerges in the UK with certain ethnic groups more susceptible to disease than others.

The latest government Health Survey for England showed that South Asian men were more at risk of angina and heart attack than other groups.

Black Caribbean and Indian men were at greater risk of stroke and all ethnic minority groups, apart from the Irish and Chinese, were likely to suffer a higher rate of diabetes.

Conversely, other evidence has suggested the white population is more prone to cancer.

Doctors are also realising that certain groups respond better to some treatment.

For example, black heart patients are known have a poorer response to beta-blockers and Ace inhibitors, both of which are used to treat heart disease.

Women less faithful than gorillas?:

Nature is fighting back in response to female promiscuity by producing a biological 'sperm' chastity belt, say US scientists.

Semen becomes more sticky to act as a plug, thereby preventing sperm from competitors impregnating females who sleep around, they found.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute team, along with colleagues from Chicago and Kansas City, studied humans, monkeys and gorillas.

The findings appear in Nature Genetics.

The researchers examined the semen of 12 different species of primates.

In species where the females were most promiscuous, the males had developed several strategies to ensure they would be the male most likely to father any offspring and pass on their genes.

As well as having larger testicles and producing more sperm, the semen was more sticky.

Chimpanzees, for example, which are a promiscuous species, had more advanced evolution of a gene controlling the stickiness of semen than gorillas, which tend to be monogamous and stay faithful to their partner for life.

Humans were midway between, suggesting that while women are nothing like as promiscuous as chimps, neither are they as faithful as gorillas.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Did gay marriage cost John Kerry the election?:

A new report from inside the John Kerry campaign suggests that in the final weeks of the campagin former president Bill Clinton advised Kerry to come out in favor of ballot measures that wrote antigay marriage discimination into the constitutions of 11 states. According to the latest issue of Newsweek, "Looking for a way to pick up swing voters in the red states, former president Bill Clinton, in a phone call with Kerry, urged the senator to back local bans on gay marriage. Kerry respectfully listened, then told his aides, 'I'm not going to ever do that.'"

Thursday, November 04, 2004

IMF positive on Irish economy:

Ireland's economic expansion has continued to pick up speed this year and is expected to do the same in 2005 with only moderate inflation, the International Monetary Fund said today.

'The economic recovery will gain momentum with gross national product growth of 4.5% in 2004 accelerating slightly to 5% in 2005,' the IMF said in its annual Article IV review of the Irish economy, which was concluded on October 29. 'Core inflation is forecast to stay close to 2%,' the Washington-based IMF added.

How Bush won:

"Ohio with the job loss figure should have been an easy win for Sen. Kerry but it wasn’t, essentially because of these values issues," said Gary Bauer, a leading social conservative. "To some extent voters in Ohio may have felt, 'I’m not happy about the job loss but I can’t do anything about those international trends anymore than George Bush could.'"

Of those who said the economy mattered most, 83 percent supported Kerry while only 17 percent supported Mr. Bush. Of those who said values mattered most, 85 percent backed President Bush while just 14 percent supported Kerry.

Though this was the first election since 1972 where war was at the forefront, exit polling showed moral values were a central issue to many Americans.

Though he won support from social conservatives nationwide, it was not evangelical Protestants alone who tipped the scale in Mr. Bush's favor. Strikingly, John Kerry, the would-be second Catholic president, was unable to capture more Catholic votes than Mr. Bush, a born-again Christian. An altar boy as a child, Kerry won only 44 percent of Catholics; Mr. Bush improved on his 2000 mark, grabbing 55 percent of Catholic support.

"We’ve either got to find a way to win much more strongly among women, which we have done in the past, which I believe we did in 1992. Or we’ve got to find a way to gain the trust of white men who do not believe that Democrats serve their interests," said Steve Grossman, who co-chaired John Kerry’s 1996 Senate campaign and was chairman of the Democratic National Committee during Bill Clinton's presidency.

Indications are that evangelical whites turned out heavily for the president in Ohio and elsewhere. A contributing factor for their high turnout may have been the amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which passed in Ohio, as well as in the ten other states.

President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, pressed the Republican secretary of state of Ohio to have the marriage ban on the ballot. Though all indications are Mr. Bush had a principled belief that marriage should only be defined between a man and women, Rove believed the measure would galvanize his base – even if it meant the estrangement of an estimated 1 million gay Republicans.

Rove's decision to largely ignore independent voters at the close of the election was a strategic gamble. But by early Wednesday morning, Rove looked to have hit the jackpot – yet again. (That's possibly why President Bush called Rove the "architect" as he accepted a second term in office Wednesday afternoon.)

"I think that the Democratic Party has a real problem," said Bauer, who heads the advocacy group American Values, which lobbied strongly for the same-sex marriage bans. "They continue to be perceived as way out of step on these cultural issues. As a result of that, places like West Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, even states like Wisconsin, are now fertile ground for the Republican Party."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Kerry Calls Bush to Concede Election:

President Bush won a second term from a divided and anxious nation, his promise of steady, strong wartime leadership trumping John Kerry's fresh-start approach to Iraq and joblessness. After a long, tense night of vote counting, the Democrat called Bush Wednesday to concede Ohio and the presidency, The Associated Press learned.