EarthLink – News
Standing tall: Scientists find oldest example of upright ape
By FRANK JORDANS | Wed, November 6, 2019 08:09 EST
BERLIN (AP) — The remains of an ancient ape found in a Bavarian clay pit suggest that humans’ ancestors began standing upright millions of years earlier than previously thought, scientists said Wednesday.
An international team of researchers says the fossilized partial skeleton of a male ape that lived almost 12 million years ago in the humid forests of what is now southern Germany bears a striking resemblance to modern human bones. In a paper published by the journal Nature, they concluded that the previously unknown species — named Danuvius guggenmosi — could walk on two legs but also climb like an ape.
The findings “raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans,” said Madelaine Boehme of the University of Tuebingen, Germany, who led the research.
The question of when apes evolved bipedal motion has fascinated scientists since Charles Darwin first argued that they were the ancestors of humans. Previous fossil records of apes with an upright gait — found in Crete and Kenya — dated only as far back as 6 million years ago.
Boehme, along with researchers from Bulgaria, Germany, Canada and the United States, examined more than 15,000 bones recovered from a trove of archaeological remains known as the Hammerschmiede, or Hammer Smithy, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) west of the Germany city of Munich.
Among the remains they were able to piece together were primate fossils belonging to four individuals that lived 11.62 million years ago. The most complete, an adult male, likely stood about 1 meter (3 feet, 4 inches) tall, weighed 31 kilograms (68 pounds) and looked similar to modern-day bonobos, a species of chimpanzee.
“It was astonishing for us to realize how similar certain bones are to humans, as opposed to great apes,” Boehme said.
Thanks to several well-preserved vertebra, limb, finger and toe bones, the scientists were able to reconstruct how Danuvius moved, concluding that while it would have been able to hang from branches by his arms, it could also straighten its legs to walk upright.
“This changes our view of early human evolution, which is that it all happened in Africa,” Boehme told The Associated Press in an interview.
Like humans, Danuvius had an S-shaped spine to hold its body upright while standing. Unlike humans, though, it had a powerful, opposable big toe that would have allowed it to grab branches with its foot and safely walk through the treetops.
Fred Spoor, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, called the fossil finds “fantastic” but said they would likely be the subject of much debate, not least because they could challenge many existing ideas about evolution.
“I can see that there will be a lot of agonizing and re-analysis of what these fossils mean,” said Spoor, who wasn’t involved in the study.
EarthLink – News
Relatives remember women with kids gunned down near border
By BRADY McCOMBS and ANITA SNOW | Tue, November 5, 2019 09:46 EST
HERRIMAN, Utah (AP) — The three women who were gunned down with six of their children in northern Mexico by suspected drug cartel members were remembered Tuesday as good people who loved their families and enjoyed quiet lives centered around a successful pecan farming operation south of the U.S. border.
Austin Cloes, a Utah relative of the victims, said during an interview at his home in a Salt Lake City suburb that he saw all the victims at a family reunion in Mexico last summer, where they played basketball and spent time together.
“These sorts of people shouldn’t just be buried without their names being put out there,” Cloes said. “These are great people. These are U.S. citizens.”
Cloes knew Dawna Langford, 43, the best and called her a loving and caring woman who was proud of her children. He choked up talking about hearing reports that another victim, Christina Langford, might have saved her baby Faith’s life by placing her on the car floor.
Cloes said the members of his extended family did not follow the doctrine of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he follows, but they were religious and believed in Jesus Christ.
Cloes said none of the family members he knows practice polygamy, even though the tiny community in La Mora in Sonora, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Douglas, Arizona, was founded long ago by people who left the mainstream church in the U.S. to escape its 19th century ban on the practice.
A number of similar American farming communities are clustered around the Chihuahua-Sonora state border with many members born in Mexico, giving them dual citizenship with the United States.
Many members of the La Mora community don’t live in the hamlet full time, with a lot of the men traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico to work, said Aaron Staddon, whose wife, Leah, grew up there.
In those days, La Mora was so isolated his wife didn’t have to learn Spanish, Staddon said.
“My wife loved it, my kids love it,” said Staddon, who now lives with his wife and children in the Phoenix suburb of Queen Creek, Arizona. “We go down there because they can go out and just run and be kids.”
Staddon said he and his wife had even planned to take their children there for Thanksgiving despite growing concerns about safety by some relatives looking into buying land in Arizona.
The rule of thumb was “travel during the day, nothing will happen,” Staddon said. “Travel in a group, nothing will happen.”
Taylor Langford, who splits his time between the Mexican community and his home in the Salt Lake City suburb of Herriman, Utah, said the three women killed were his aunt and two cousins.
His father and uncle, who were both in Mexico when the attack took place, told him each woman was driving a separate car when they were ambushed on a quiet dirt road they often traveled without problems.
He said Rhonita Miller, and her four children, including 8-month-old twins, were traveling about 10 miles (6 kilometers) behind the other vehicles when their car was struck by gunfire and engulfed in flames.
The gunmen then attacked the other cars, one carrying Christina Langford and her baby and the other carrying Dawna Langford and nine children. He said several children survived, including a 9-year-old girl who was shot in the arm and found hours later.
Miller’s father, Adrian LeBaron, said in a brief telephone conversation from Sonora state that the family had requested help from the Mexican government but had not yet heard back. He spoke during a break providing information to authorities at the medical examiner’s office.
“She was fired at, all shot up, burned,” LeBaron said of his daughter.
Miller and her children were remembered fondly Tuesday in North Dakota, where they had previously lived.
State Sen. Jordan Kannianen said Miller had attended the Sunday school class he taught in Stanley. He said she was kind and “very earnest about her faith.”
The Miller and Kannianen children had also attended Sunday school together, the senator said.
He said Miller, her husband and their two older children left North Dakota before the twins were born earlier this year.
Kannianen’s wife, Elizabeth, said she cannot bring herself to tell her own children about what happened.
“I haven’t told our kids about it,” she said. “I fear it’s too much.”
Snow contributed from Phoenix. James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota, Rosa Ramirez in Washington and Astrid Galvan in Queen Creek, Arizona, also contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Barcelona prosecutors to appeal court’s ruling in sex case
MADRID (AP) — The prosecutor’s office in Barcelona says it has decided to appeal a court’s ruling in a sex-crime case involving an unconscious teenager.
The case triggered an outcry in Spain after the court last week convicted five men of the lesser crime of sexual abuse instead of sexual assault or rape, sentencing them to up to 12 years in prison.
Prosecutors accused them of gang-raping the 14-year-old girl.
The court ruled that because she was intoxicated, the men were able to have sex with her without using violence or intimidation — acts required under Spanish law for a crime to be considered sexual assault.
It’s the latest case to fuel anger over how Spain’s legal system treats victims.
The Barcelona prosecutor’s office announced in a short statement Wednesday that it would appeal.
EarthLink – News
Safety questions still swirl in Paradise year after wildfire
By DON THOMPSON | Wed, November 6, 2019 05:30 EST
PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — There was “no way in hell” Victoria Sinclaire was rebuilding in Paradise.
She’d thought she was going to die during the six hours it took her to escape the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. The town where she’d raised her family was nearly wiped out, two of her three cats had disappeared into the flames, and she “was done.”
Sinclaire and tens of thousands of others in nearby communities fled the wind-whipped inferno that killed 85 people and incinerated roughly 19,000 homes, businesses and other buildings on Nov. 8, 2018.
Despite her vow to stay away, Sinclaire’s family was one of the first to rebuild, braving the enduring threat of wildfires, and now, repeated power outages as the nation’s largest utility tries to prevent its equipment from sparking blazes on windy days like it did in Paradise a year ago.
Weeks after the fire, Sinclaire had an epiphany when she returned to the ruins of her home, where she raised a daughter and nearly two dozen foster children over eight years. Even rescue groups eventually found her two missing cats.
“There was a wind that was blowing through what was left of my trees, and I just felt a calmness. I just felt more peace than I had any time since the fire, and I was standing in the ashes of our living room,” she said. “It was just like, ‘This is home,’ and then the thought of living anyplace else seemed impossible.”
“Rebuilding the Ridge” is a rallying cry on signs around town, evoking the beauty and peril of rebuilding on a wind-swept jut of land poking out of the Sierra Nevada and begging the question: Will the resurgent community be safer this time?
About 3,000 people have come back, and nearly 200 grocery stores, restaurants and businesses have reopened, like Nic’s Restaurant with its sandwiches named after police and firefighters who helped evacuate the town. Just 15% of the 1,800 people who answered an online community survey in April said they were gone for good.
“I want people to see that Paradise is a place to return home to,” Sinclaire said. “The scars run deep here, but so do the roots that help it grow.”
Hers is one of just nine homes that have been rebuilt in the year since the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century, but the town is on track to issue 500 building permits by the end of 2019.
Paradise is now largely populated with travel trailers. They are parked on lots scraped clean of more than 3.66 million tons of charred and toxic ruins, the equivalent of four Golden Gate bridges or twice the tonnage that was removed from the World Trade Center site.
“When you drive around, you don’t see all the carcasses anymore of the houses and the cars,” said town councilman Michael Zuccolillo, who is also a real estate broker. “You’d hear hammers and chain saws and nail guns.”
Wildfire mitigation consultant Zeke Lunder fears Paradise is setting itself up for another disaster.
“As we saw in the Camp Fire, the town’s really well set up to kill people with wildfire,” said Lunder, who lives in nearby Chico.
The five routes out of town quickly became gridlocked with traffic, abandoned vehicles and downed power poles during the blaze. Half the town’s 200 miles (320 kilometers) of roads are privately owned, many of them narrow, dead-end tracks leading through small, densely forested lots. Authorities found five bodies in and around vehicles trapped at the end of a long road with no way out.
To make the town safe, officials would have to start fresh with a new grid of interconnected streets and alleys, spend millions of dollars a year to keep brush and trees in check, and force homeowners to keep their properties clear, Lunder said.
“We’re not going to keep fires from burning through Paradise, so whatever they build up there should be something that can survive a wildfire,” Lunder said. “But just building a bunch of wooden houses out in the brush, we already saw what happened.”
Town leaders are under heavy pressure to keep Paradise both affordable and forested.
“If you take away all the trees, it’s what we’re here for, is for the trees,” resident Vincent Childs told town council members in June as they prepared to vote on new building safety standards.
Former town councilman Steve Culleton said he and his wife couldn’t afford many of the safety proposals and he’s skeptical they would have prevented the Camp Fire.
“We don’t need to be some kind of experiment for the rest of the world,” he said at the meeting.
Paradise officials have taken steps to make the town more fire resistant but stopped short of the stringent restrictions adopted by several fire-prone Southern California communities. Paradise adopted only seven of 15 proposed fire safety standards and changed four of those it accepted.
Mayor Jody Jones praised Rancho Santa Fe, in San Diego County, where wood fences can’t touch houses and the fire department sends inspectors with tape measurers to ensure trees and bushes are far enough away. Homes are considered so fire resistant that people are told to stay inside if they can’t evacuate.
In Paradise, council members rejected a plan to ban combustible materials within 5 feet (1.5 meters) of homes until it would allow plants. Policing people’s plants, Zuccolillo said, would “kind of go against the fabric of our town. … We don’t want big government telling us what to do.”
Improving evacuation routes and emergency warnings are still under consideration, while city leaders last month required people to remove hazardous trees that could fall into a public right of way. But the removal of nearly 100,000 trees is still less than a third of those that need to go, council members say.
Jerry McLean is among those who think town leaders are going too far.
An American flag he and his wife, Joyce, left behind a year ago became a symbol of the town’s resilience when photographs showed it flying in the ruins of their neighborhood.
Jerry wanted to move to Texas, but Joyce insisted on rebuilding, and they almost immediately put a down payment on a manufactured home that arrived last week. They expect to be in their new house by Christmas — but first Jerry and a buddy constructed a new wooden shed just steps away.
He isn’t worried, gazing on the charred matchsticks that used to be surrounding trees.
“What’s it going to burn for the next 50, 100 years? There’s nothing left,” he said.
In another neighborhood, Libby and Jason Hail’s home stands alone, a wide skirt of gravel and fire-resistant stucco construction protecting it from the flames. What might drive them out of Paradise now is not the fire danger, but Pacific Gas & Electric’s repeated planned power outages.
Electrical cords snaked from a generator in the backyard during a blackout in October, powering the computer Libby uses to work from home. Even that wasn’t possible when the internet got cut off.
“If this is going to be our new normal for 10 years, I can’t do this for 10 years,” she said, referring to PG&E’s estimate of how long the outages could go on.
Repeated blackouts are one way utilities are trying to prevent another Paradise disaster as climate change makes wildfires deadlier and more destructive. They plunged millions of people into darkness multiple times last month, drawing anger for upending people’s lives for days. And it may not have stopped their equipment from igniting wildfires that burned homes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom approved nearly two dozen laws last month addressing the precautionary power shutoffs or encouraging communities to adopt standards to make homes and their surroundings more fire resistant. The state budget already includes $1 billion to prepare for wildfires and other emergencies.
Yet lawmakers of both political parties say California missed opportunities to make the state safer.
Newsom vetoed a measure to let communities sidestep the state’s strict environmental rules to build new evacuation routes. Lawmakers whittled a proposed $1 billion fund for rural residents to make their homes more fire resistant to a $75 million pilot program designed to seek federal money for entire communities.
And they stalled legislation to set statewide standards for building in very high-risk fire areas over concerns it could limit affordable housing.
California’s growing homeless population is one reason there is little talk of prohibiting construction in high-risk areas like Paradise. Rural areas are generally much more affordable than cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which face their own dangers from earthquakes, fires and rising oceans.
Newsom wouldn’t block homebuilding in high-risk areas after the fire in Paradise, saying there is “something that is truly Californian about the wilderness and the wild and pioneering spirit.”
Char Miller, a Pomona College professor of environmental analysis, said officials should instead consider creating a fund to buy property in flood and fire zones and keep it as open space.
“It actually pays someone not to live there rather than telling them, ‘You can’t,'” he said.
More than 2.7 million Californians live in areas at very high risk for wildfires, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data and state fire maps. Nearly 180 cities and towns are in the very high hazard areas.
That’s one reason Newsom and rural lawmakers touted efforts to clear brush and trees near communities to slow advancing flames. President Donald Trump has accused California’s Democratic leaders of not doing enough to manage overgrown forests.
Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, said clearing trees is usually counterproductive because the weeds and brush that grow back in open areas are more flammable than the mature trees they replace.
“We have the technology and the know-how to build homes that are less flammable. We have no ability to do that to the forests,” he said.
Bill Husa and many like him loved Paradise because it was like living in a national forest, with all its risks and rewards.
“Taking all the trees was harder on me than losing everything in the fire,” he said, standing in the powdery red dust where his home was once sheltered by old-growth oaks and evergreens.
The 56-year-old doesn’t have the money to rebuild and isn’t sure where, or if, he’ll get it.
“Whether I come back or not, I’m replanting these trees,” Husa said. “I’m never going to be around to see it, but in 60, 70, 80 years, it will be nice again.”
EarthLink – News
Erdogan: Turkey captured slain IS leader al-Baghdadi’s wife
By SUZAN FRASER | Wed, November 6, 2019 04:19 EST
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has captured a wife of the slain leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.
Erdogan made the announcement while delivering a speech in the capital of Ankara but gave no other details. He did not say when or how the woman was captured or identify her by name.
A senior Turkish official, however, said the woman was among a group of 11 Islamic State suspects detained in a police operation in Turkey’s Hatay province, near the border with Syria, on June 2, 2018.
The official identified her as Asma Fawzi Muhammad al-Qubaysi and said she was al Baghdadi’s first wife. A subsequent DNA test confirmed that another suspect who identified herself as Leila Jabeer, was al Baghdadi’s daughter, the official said, adding that the IS leader’s DNA sample was supplied by the Iraqi government.
The detainees were being held at a deportation center in Turkey, the official said. He provided the information on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol.
According to the official, al Baghdadi’s wife “volunteered a lot of information about Baghdadi and inner workings” of the IS. The information obtained led to a series of arrests elsewhere, he said.
Al-Baghdadi was known to have four wives, the maximum number he can have at one time under Islamic law.
“We caught his wife, but we didn’t make a fuss about it. I am announcing this today for the first time,” Erdogan said, while criticizing the United States for leading a “communications campaign” about Baghdadi’s slaying.
The IS leader blew himself up during an Oct. 26 raid by U.S. special forces on his heavily fortified safe house in the Syrian province of Idlib.
Erdogan’s announcement came just days after Turkish forces captured al-Baghdadi’s elder sister, identified as Rasmiya Awad, in the town of Azaz, in Aleppo province in northwestern Syria. Turkey has seized on the detentions to highlight what it says is its fight against the IS group, in the face of accusations that the Turkish military offensive last month to drive Syrian Kurdish fighters from northeast Syria would allow for a resurgence of the militant Islamic group.
Azaz is part of a region administered by Turkey following previous military incursions to chase away IS militants and Kurdish fighters, starting in 2016. Allied Syrian groups manage the area known as the Euphrates Shield zone.
Awad was with her husband, daughter-in-law and five children when she was detained. A Turkish official said the 65-year-old sister is suspected of being affiliated with the extremist group and called her capture an intelligence “gold mine.” Authorities had posted a picture of the sister.
One of al-Baghdadi’s wives is an Iraqi known by the name of Nour, the daughter of one of his aides, Abu Abdullah al-Zubaie. She was identified by name by al-Baghdadi’s brother-in-law in a recent interview with al-Arabiya TV. The brother-in-law, Mohamad Ali Sajit, who is in Iraqi custody, said al-Baghdadi had four wives when he last met him, sometime last summer.
Also, one of al-Baghdadi’s ex-wives was arrested in Lebanon in 2014, and was freed a year later in a prisoner swap with al-Qaida. The Iraqi ex-wife, Saja al-Dulaimi, had fled from al-Baghdadi in 2009 while pregnant with his daughter. Al-Baghdadi was also believed to have married to a German teenager in 2015, but she was reported to have fled a year later.
The raid that killed al-Baghdadi was a major blow to his extremist group, which has lost territories it held in Syria and Iraq in a series of military defeats by the U.S-led coalition and Syrian and Iraqi allies.
Al-Baghdadi’s aide, a Saudi, was killed hours after the raid, also in northwestern Syria, in a U.S. strike. The group named a successor to al-Baghdadi days later, but little is known about him or how the group’s structure has been affected by the successive blows.
Until his death, al-Baghdadi had moved from place to place in eastern Syria amid a tightening U.S.-led campaign against his group as IS-held territory fell bit by bit. He ended up in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, an area controlled by a rival, al-Qaida-linked militant group. It was not clear if any of his wives were with him at the time of the raid, during which two of his children were killed.
In its first video release after the killing of al-Baghdadi, IS media listed a series of its operations against Iranian-backed militias in northern Baghdad in Iraq.
The 18-minute video recorded operations against soldiers and officers of Iraqi militias and police, including shootings at close range and beheadings. A masked man holding a head of a policeman and waving a knife said: “This is the fate of every apostate.” A speaker also said addressing the IS leader, without naming him: “Rest assured sheikh, you have soldiers in north Baghdad.”
Since the declaration of the new leader, the IS arm has been posting pledges of allegiance from affiliates of the extremist group, offering support for the successor of al-Baghdadi.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.