When scholars get to feeling expansive, they call today’s migration networks a challenge to the order set by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which established the territorial sovereignty of the nation-state. Judging by the wall rising along the Mexican border, nation-states do not appear to be going away. Their people, increasingly, do.

The New York Times

Jason DeParle

June 25, 2010

GORDON BROWN’S rant about a “bigoted” voter sped his exit from the British prime minister’s post. What punctured his cool? Her complaint about immigrants. When an earthquake shattered Haiti, Dominicans sent soldiers and Americans sent ships — to discourage potential immigrants. The congressman who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama was upset about immigrants. “Birthers” think Mr. Obama is an immigrant.

There was also the Hamas rocket that landed in Israel this spring, killing a farmworker. Not so unusual, except that the worker was Thai.

Perhaps no force in modern life is as omnipresent yet overlooked as global migration, that vehicle of creative destruction that is reordering ever more of the world. Overlooked? A skeptic may well question the statement, given how often the topic makes news and how divisive the news can be. After all, Arizona’s campaign against illegal immigrants, codified in an April law, set off high-decibel debates from Melbourne to Madrid. But migration also shapes the landscape beneath the seemingly unrelated events of the headlines. It is a story-behind-the-story, a complicating tide, in issues as diverse as school bond fights and efforts to isolate Iran. (Seeking allies in Latin America this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had to emphasize the dangers of a nuclear-armed Tehran while fending off complaints about the Arizona law.)

Even people who study migration for a living struggle to fully grasp its effects. “Politically, socially, economically, culturally — migration bubbles up everywhere,” James F. Hollifield, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said. “We often don’t recognize it.”

What prompted Google to close an office in China, rather than accept government censorship? Many factors, no doubt. But among those cited by Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, was the repression his family suffered during his childhood in the Soviet Union before they immigrated to the United States.

One realm where migration has particularly powerful if largely unstated effects is school financePolitical scientists have found that white voters are more likely to oppose spending plans when they perceive the main beneficiaries to be children of immigrants (especially illegal immigrants). The outcome, of course, affects all children, immigrant or 10th generation.

“When you get increased diversity, you weaken support for the common good,” said Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.

Professor Myers studied Proposition 55, a 2004 ballot initiative in California that sought $12.3 billion in bond sales to relieve overcrowding and upgrade older schools. Publicly, most opponents framed their concerns in economic terms, saying the government wasted money and ran unsustainable debts. Still, anger about illegal immigration was, as one opponent put it, the “elephant in the living room.” School crowding, he wrote in a letter to The Riverside Press Enterprise, was “solely caused by America’s foolish open-borders policy.”

Holding all else equal (like other political views), Professor Myers found, voters who saw immigration as a burden were nearly 9 percentage points more likely to oppose the measure than those who called immigration a benefit. “That’s a big effect — it was almost enough to take it down,” he said. The measure squeaked through, with barely 50 percent of the vote.

Immigration also quickened the bitter split in the American labor movement. In 2005, a half dozen unions left the venerable A.F.L.-C.I.O. to form a rival federation, Change to Win. (The dissident unions included the Service Employees International Union and UniteHere.)

On the surface, the fight was mostly about the pace of organizing, with the breakaway group pledging more aggressive moves to enlist members. But the dissidents also counted more low-wage immigrants in their membership.

As Daniel B. Cornfield, a labor scholar at Vanderbilt University, said, the immigrants’ marginal (and sometimes illegal) status created a constituency for a more aggressive approach. “I don’t think it was a split about immigration, but immigration shaped the split,” he said.

The split, in turn, has had repercussions beyond the labor movement. Janice Fine, a political scientist at Rutgers University, noted that the Change to Win unions played an important (some have argued decisive) role in the early stages of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.

“If they were inside the larger bureaucracy, it would have been harder for them to make an early endorsement and move money his way,” Professor Fine said.

Theorists sometimes call the movement of people the third wave of globalization, after the movement of goods (trade) and the movement of money (finance) that began in the previous century. But trade and finance follow global norms and are governed by global institutions: the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. There is no parallel group with “migration” in its name. The most personal and perilous form of movement is the most unregulated. States make (and often ignore) their own rules, deciding who can come, how long they stay, and what rights they enjoy.

While global trade and finance are disruptive — some would argue as much as migration — they are disruptive in less visible ways. A shirt made in Mexico can cost an American worker his job. A worker from Mexico might move next door, send his children to public school and need to be spoken to in Spanish.

One reason migration seems so potent is that it arose unexpectedly. As recently as the 1970s, immigration seemed of such little importance that the United States Census Bureau decided to stop asking people where their parents were born. Now, a quarter of the residents of the United States under 18 are immigrants or immigrants’ children.

The United Nations estimates that there are 214 million migrants across the globe, an increase of about 37 percent in two decades. Their ranks grew by 41 percent in Europe and 80 percent in North America. “There’s more mobility at this moment than at any time in world history,” said Gary P. Freeman, a political scientist at the University of Texas.

The most famous source countries in Europe — Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain — are suddenly migrant destinations, with Ireland electing a Nigerian-born man as its first black mayor in 2007.

As heirs to an immigrant past, Americans may have an edge in a migrants’ age. As contentious as the issue is here, the Americans’ capacity to absorb immigrants remains the envy of many Europeans (including those not inclined to envy Americans). Still, today’s challenges differ from those of the (mythologized) past. At least five differences set this age apart and amplify migration’s effects.

First is migration’s global reach. The movements of the 19th century were mostly trans-Atlantic. Now, Nepalis staff Korean factories and Mongolians do scut work in Prague. Persian Gulf economies would collapse without armies of guest workers. Even within the United States, immigrants are spread across dozens of “new gateways” unaccustomed to them, from Orlando to Salt Lake City.

A second distinguishing trait is the money involved, which not only sustains the families left behind but props up national economies. Migrants sent home $317 billion last year — three times the world’s total foreign aid. In at least seven countries, remittances account for more than a quarter of the gross domestic product.

A third factor that increases migration’s impact is its feminization: Nearly half of the world’s migrants are now women, and many have left children behind. Their emergence as breadwinners is altering family dynamics across the developing world. Migration empowers some, but imperils others, with sex trafficking now a global concern.

Technology introduces a fourth break from the past: The huddled masses reached Ellis Island without cellphones or Webcams. Now a nanny in Manhattan can talk to her child in Zacatecas, vote in Mexican elections and watch Mexican television shows.

“Transnationalism” is a comfort but also a concern for those who think it impedes integration. In the age of global jihad, it may also be a security threat. The Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty last week to the attempted bombing of Times Square said that jihadi lectures reached him from Yemen, via the Internet.

At least one other trait amplifies the impact of modern migration: The expectation that governments will control it. In America for most of the 19th century, there was no legal barrier to entry. The issue was contentious, but the government attracted little blame. Now Western governments are expected to keep trade and tourism flowing and respect ethnic rights while sealing borders as vast as the Arizona desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Their failures — glaring if perhaps inevitable — weaken the broader faith in federal competence.

“It basically tells people that government cannot do its job,” said Demetri Papademetriou, a co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research group. “It creates the anti-government rhetoric we see, and the anger people are feeling.”

Still, rich, aging countries need workers. People in poor countries need jobs. And the rise in global inequality means that migrants have more than ever to gain by landing work abroad. Migration networks are hard to shut down. Even the worst economy in 70 years has only slowed, not stopped, the growth in migration. And it is likely to grow, in numbers and consequence.

When scholars get to feeling expansive, they call today’s migration networks a challenge to the order set by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which established the territorial sovereignty of the nation-state. Judging by the wall rising along the Mexican border, nation-states do not appear to be going away. Their people, increasingly, do.

Why the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., James Earl Ray returned to Toronto

The Star 


After killing Martin Luther King Jr., the veteran thief planned to use the Big Smoke as his path to freedom, author explains

June 06, 2010, Geoff Pevere  

James Earl Ray was a veteran thief and accomplished jailboard who had previously obtained a false identity in Toronto. Now he was back in town.

It was early in the evening of April 6, 1968, that there was a knock on the door of 102 Ossington Ave. It was answered by Feliksa Szpakowski, who had a room on the second floor for $8 a week. 

According to author Hampton Sides, the man on the other side of the screen probably struck the middle-aged Polish woman like this: “He’s hard to read. He mumbles. He’s kind of hard to understand. He averts his gaze, but he looks fairly innocuous. He dresses well and he is usually wearing a suit. I think he was wearing a suit that day. Kind of average height, average weight, very difficult face to remember. He didn’t look like an assassin.” 

But he was. Two days earlier, in Memphis, Tenn., the man on Szapkowski’s doorstep — who was calling himself Paul Bridgman and claimed he worked in real estate — had fired a fatal bullet through the face and neck of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Although Szapkowski thought it odd that a real estate agent would be seeking a cheap room in one of Toronto’s more rundown ethnic neighbourhoods — 102 Ossington was just north of the Queen St. mental hospital and across from the gym where Cassius Clay, now know as Muhammad Ali, had trained for his bout against George Chuvalo — she took the money and left her new tenant be. 

James Earl Ray was back in Toronto. 

As Sides, Memphis-born author of Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King and the International Hunt for His Assassin, explains over the phone from his home in Santa Fe, N.M., Toronto was a city the killer knew. It was in Toronto that he’d acquired his false identity as Eric Galt, and it was largely for that purpose that he returned. 

A couple weeks shy of a year before, the man who would soon be calling himself Paul Bridgman — also known as Eric Galt, but born James Earl Ray Jr. — had escaped from the Jefferson City Penitentiary in Missouri. A veteran thief and experienced jailbird, he’d hidden himself in a large metal box beneath dozens of loaves of bread. He’d been on the run ever since, scheming how he might make his mark. He’d considered a career as a pornography director, had taken a course in bartending, and thought he might join a mercenary army in Rhodesia. At some point, he also decided he’d rid the world of the civil rights leader named Martin Luther King Jr. 

Only one of these plans worked out. 

It led him back to Toronto. 

Sides explains. “It was a city he knew. He had gotten his earlier identification from Toronto. Eric Galt was actually someone who lived in Toronto. So I think he had gone there expressly to get identification in a city that he knew. He probably had some criminal contacts there, and he was trying to get to London and ultimately to Rhodesia. I guess he figured with good reason that there’d be lots of flights and being part of the Commonwealth, it would be a fairly direct way to get there.” 


Ray was no stranger to cheap rooming houses. Indeed it was from the shared bathroom of one of them, which backed onto the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, that he fired the shot that killed King. After fleeing that building and that city in his white Mustang, he’d driven to Atlanta — King’s home — and hopped a Greyhound bound for Detroit. Mexico was an option, but he settled on Canada as an easier escape route to Rhodesia, where he anticipated both haven and a hero’s welcome for what he’d done. 

Says Sides: “He had taken a bus all the way up there from Atlanta and was desperately trying to find some new ID for himself, because he knew it was only a matter of time before they would figure out, they were looking for this guy Eric Galt. I don’t think he thought they would figure out they were looking for James Earl Ray for a while, but the name Eric Galt was bound to turn up pretty soon. So he had to scramble and get some more ID. Which he did pretty quickly.” 

And dedicatedly. Szapkowski barely saw her new tenant, who left the television on all the time and only seemed to emerge to buy cheap food supplies and newspapers. Dozens of newspapers. Once, she came upon him with a bundle of them under his arm. As she later told police investigators, “I noticed how worried he looked. I thought maybe he was worried about his family. I really thought he might be from the mental hospital down the street.” 

One of his local destinations was the office of The Telegram. From the newspaper’s microfilm archive, he acquired names of people born roughly when he was — the early 1930s. Following a procedure he’d once read was practised by Soviet spies in Canada, he wrote down about 10 names — one of which was Ramon George Sneyd — and headed back to Ossington Ave. If the names corresponded with a number in the Toronto telephone book, he’d write down the address and then surreptitiously hang around the person’s home until he was satisfied they looked enough like him to qualify as an alias. In Scarborough, he scoped out two candidates — Bridgman and Sneyd — then went back downtown and, brazenly, called them up. 

Posing as “a registrar with the Passport Office in Canada,” he’d ask if they’d recently filed for a passport. If they hadn’t, or if their old one had expired, James Earl Ray would attempt to seek one out in their names. It was easy and it worked. He eventually acquired one in the name of Ramon George Sneyd — in real life, of all things, a cop — and in the process bore out what was once the unofficial motto of the Canadian customs and immigration office, and the title of one of Sides’ chapters: “Canada Believes You.” 

Worrying, however, that his landlady or the police might not, Ray as Bridgman left the newpaper-strewn room at 102 Ossington and moved around the corner to 962 Dundas St. W. There he rented a room under the name Ramon Sneyd and awaited the processing of the new passport. It took longer than he liked. By now the world was focused on the manhunt for Martin Luther King’s killer, and it would only be a matter of time before the trail to Toronto was tracked. Although Ray didn’t know it at the time, apprehending King’s killer had been made a No. 1 priority by the FBI, in no small part because J. Edgar Hoover was worried his own agency, which had long stalked and harassed King as a potential enemy of the state, might be tagged with the murder. 

One day, a distracted Ray walked out into a busy Toronto street. A cop spotted him jaywalking and asked the man if he knew he’d broken the law. A ticket was in order, and the cop asked Ray for his name and address. 

From his past he pulled both: another phony name and the address of a brothel he’d once patronized at 6 Condor Ave. 

Ray took the ticket, paid the $3 fine, and headed back to 962 Dundas Ave. His time in Toronto was clearly coming to and end. 

By the time James Earl Ray boarded a plane bound for London, a month to the day after his arrival, Toronto had lost its dull sheen as a good place to hide. This newspaper had plastered his photograph on the front page (under the headline: “FBI SAYS THERE WAS CONSPIRACY — MYSTERIOUS SEAMAN SOUGHT IN KING DEATH”) and his ex-landlady attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince her husband that the man in the picture was her former tenant Paul Bridgman. “You’re crazy in the head,” Szpakowski’s husband apparently replied. 

After Ray was caught trying to board yet another plane in London, authorities would retrace his steps back to 102 Ossington, and they’d come knocking at the same door. Suddenly, Szpakowski didn’t seem so crazy. 

When, 40 years later, Hampton Sides came to Toronto to research Ray’s month here, he was astounded by the discrepancy between the Dundas-Ossington neighbourhood he’d read about in his research and the shiny, bustling, cafe-strewn strip he encountered. 


“It didn’t seem down at the heels at all,” he told me. 

And so it isn’t. Forty-two years after Martin Luther King’s assassin quietly stalked these streets in search of newspapers and new identities, they have been transformed into a model of upscale urban renewal, sprinkled with shops, boutiques and restaurants largely patronized by people not even born when the killer came to town. Even the old “mental hospital” has experienced a multimillion-dollar facelift. 

The effect was jarring, but it amused Hampton Sides. After all, the same thing had happened to two other “down at the heels” neighbourhoods where Ray had hid out: the once-grotty Memphis neighbourhood that housed the Lorraine Motel, and the part of London “Ramon Sneyd” had tucked himself into after fleeing Toronto. Both are hipster havens. 

“It makes you wonder,” Sides speculates, “if he had some kind of strange radar for urban renewal. Maybe he really should have been a real estate agent.”

Toronto house that hid James Earl Ray up for sale

April 08, 2010,  Rob Roberts


By Steve Darley, National Post

For sale: Two-bedroom detached home in Riverdale, with upstairs office, parking, and a notorious history.

The house, a former brothel at 6 Condor Ave. near Pape and Danforth, briefly housed a fugitive James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King. The American civil rights leader was gunned down on April 4, 1968.

According to a CBC report, Ray used the house for at least one night shortly after he arrived in Toronto, on either April 6 or April 8, 1968, and gave it as his address after Toronto police stopped him for jaywalking.

The house goes on the market today at $550,000. The listing agent, Gary Sylvester, didn’t appear yesterday to see the house’s history as a selling point.

“My understanding is there is nothing factual to prove those allegations at this address,” Mr. Sylvester said.

“I would say that properties at different times have different stigmas associated with them, for different reasons, where something factually has transpired in the property, maybe someone was murdered. Things like that are going to affect the value of the property. There is nothing on this property that we feel is a stigma, per se.”

According to the CBC, Ray stayed in a number of rooming houses around the city until May 6, when he flew to London, England.

The report said Ray travelled under a number of aliases as he tried to evade a worldwide manhunt. Toronto police stopped Ray for jaywalking on Monday, April 8; he told them his name was Eric S. Galt and his address was 6 Condor St. There is no Condor Street in Toronto, only a Condor Avenue.

The CBC said the Condor Avenue address was known to police at the time as a brothel, owned by George Kapakos and Jeannine Roberts, who was also the madam. During testimony in 1977, Ray said he got the address from a Lonely Hearts Club advertisement in an adult magazine. According to the CBC report, neighbours said Mr. Kapakos was always armed and that the “place got shot up one night,” which led to undercover police surveillance becoming a regular occurrence.

Police also found a Toronto map, belonging to Ray with 6 Condor Ave. circled, along with two other rooming houses. Ray was finally arrested on June 8, 1968, at Heathrow Airport in London. In March, 1969, he pleaded guilty to murdering Mr. King.

Kim Denyer, a daughter-in-law of the current owners, said they had been there for more than 20 years and were unaware of the property’s colourful history when they bought the house.

The Burgess Shale fossils, a Rocky Mountain treasure trove found in 1909 just west of the B.C.-Alberta border, represent the planet’s single most important snapshot of life as it existed during the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of organisms about 530 million years ago.


African find shades of B.C.’s Burgess Shale: Paleontologists


MAY 18, 2010

The bizarre, long-extinct creatures that make up Canada’s world-famous Burgess Shale fossil site have been given a new lease on life after a half-billion years or so — thanks to a major paleontological discovery in Africa that resets the clock on a key moment in animal evolution.

The Burgess Shale fossils, a Rocky Mountain treasure trove found in 1909 just west of the B.C.-Alberta border, represent the planet’s single most important snapshot of life as it existed during the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of organisms about 530 million years ago.

But because nearly all of the exquisitely preserved animals at the B.C. site have been absent from the fossil record after the 500-million-year mark, the Burgess Shale animals are typically seen as evolution’s losers — a flash-in-the-pan community of trilobites and other ill-adapted, doomed dwellers on the ancient ocean floor.

Now, an international scientific team’s discovery of a much younger fossil bed — which appears to include scores of species also found at the renowned Canadian site — has added at least 20 million years to the evolutionary timeline of the Burgess Shale fauna.

The new fossil bonanza, located near the Atlas Mountains of southeastern Morocco, dates from about 480 million years ago and includes a huge array of Ordovician-era sponges, worms, mollusks and other soft-bodied organisms, many typical of the Burgess Shale site and thought to have died out eons earlier during the Cambrian age.

The discovery, which so far includes more than 1,500 individual specimens, was made by a team of eight researchers from the U.S., Britain, France, Ireland and Morocco. An article detailing the “exceptionally preserved fossils” and highlighting their significance in rewriting the Burgess Shale story appears in the latest issue of Nature.

The African fossils “indicate that Burgess Shale-type taxa continued to play an important role in the diversity and ecological structure of deeper marine communities well after the Middle Cambrian,” say the authors, led by Yale University paleontologist Peter Van Roy.

The team’s discovery “upends a long-held belief” that the Burgess Shale organisms went extinct abruptly, a summary of the study states.

“There was an anomaly in the fossil record,” states Van Roy. “Most of these animals just seemed to disappear.”

Now protected within Yoho National Park as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Burgess Shale fossil bed is considered one of the planet’s most important sites for the study of evolution.

The B.C. fossils were created at a time when the future Canadian land mass was situated near the Earth’s equator. The Burgess Shale creatures were preserved when an entire marine ecosystem was buried in mud that eventually hardened and became exposed hundreds of millions of years later in an outcrop of the Rockies.

U.S. paleontologist Charles Walcott, following reports of fabulous fossil finds by Canadian railway workers laying tracks through the mountains in the late 19th century, is said to have tripped over a block of shale that revealed the area’s remarkable supply of specimens.

Scientists have gathered or recorded tens of thousands of fossils from the site, capturing in remarkable detail the rich diversity of organisms that suddenly filled the world’s oceans a half-billion years ago, before their subsequent eclipse.

Among the imprints of animal remains excavated from the Burgess Shale is one called pikaia, an eel-like creature that has been classified as the earliest known, identifiable ancestor of modern vertebrates, including humans.

Last year, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the site’s 1909 discovery, the limited edition Shale Ale brand of beer was unveiled at a geologists’ conference in Calgary.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

The New York Times

Creatures of Cambrian May Have Lived On


May 17, 2010

Ever since their discovery in 1909, the spectacular Burgess Shale outcrops in the Canadian Rockies have presented scientists with a cornucopia of evidence for the “explosion” of complex, multicellular life beginning some 550 million years ago.

The fossils, all new to science, were at first seen as little more than amazing curiosities from a time when life, except for bacteria and algae, was confined to the sea — and what is now Canada was just south of the Equator. In the last half century, however, paleontologists recognized that the Burgess Shale exemplified the radiation of diverse life forms unlike anything in earlier time. Here was evolution in action, organisms over time responding to changing fortunes through natural experimentation in new body forms and different ecological niches.

But the fossil record then goes dark: the Cambrian-period innovations in life appeared to have few clear descendants. Many scientists thought that the likely explanation for this mysterious disappearance was that a major extinction had wiped out much of the distinctive Cambrian life. It seemed that the complex organisms emerging in the Cambrian had come to an abrupt demise, disappearing with few traces in the later fossil record.

Not everyone was convinced, however, and now a trove of 480-million-year-old fossils in Morocco appears to strike a blow to the idea of a major extinction. The international team of scientists who discovered the 1,500 fossils said their find shows that the dark stretch in the fossil record more probably reflects an absence of preservation of fossils over the previous 25 million years.

The team reports in the current issue of the journal Nature that the large number of “exceptionally preserved” Moroccan species exhibits apparently strong links to Cambrian species known from fossil beds in China, Greenland and, most notably, the Burgess Shale. The scientists think this solves the mystery. The Moroccan fossils, they said, establish that Burgess Shale-type species “continued to have an important role in the diversity and ecological structure of deeper marine communities well after the Middle Cambrian.”

The Moroccan fossils include sponges, worms, trilobites and mollusks like clams, snails and relatives of the living nautilus. Another fossil was similar to today’s horseshoe crab, a biological throwback familiar to beachcombers. Now, the scientists said, its antiquity appears to be even greater — some 30 million years earlier than previously thought, possibly in the late Cambrian.

The discovery team’s principal scientist and lead author of the journal article was Peter Van Roy, a Belgian paleontologist who is a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. He has worked in Moroccan fossil beds the last 10 years, but it was only last year on a field trip, financed by the National Geographic Society, that he and other scientists uncovered the riches of a site near the Atlas Mountains and the city of Zagora.

Scientists from Britain, France, Ireland, Morocco and the United States participated in the research and were co-authors of the team report. A local fossil collector, Mohammed Ou Said Ben Moulal, directed Dr. Van Roy to the rock outcrops he had scouted.

Soon it became clear, Dr. Van Roy said last week in an e-mail message from Morocco, that the team had “really discovered the whole gamut of these Burgess animals, the majority of which had never been found after the Middle Cambrian.”

A leading member of the team, Derek E. G. Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, cut his academic teeth studying the Burgess Shale. Dr. Briggs figured prominently in “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,” the 1989 book by Stephen Jay Gould about what the author called the “weird wonders” of the Cambrian period.

In the book, Dr. Gould, who died in 2002, pondered the mystery of the relatively sudden burst of new life designs in the Cambrian, followed by their apparent disappearance. “What turned it off so quickly?” he asked. A few pages before, quoting Charles Darwin, he seemed to despair of finding the fossils to answer the question.

“Darwin wrote,” Dr. Gould recalled, “that our imperfect fossil record is like a book preserving just a few pages, of these pages few lines, of the lines few words, and of those words few letters.”

Darwin’s metaphor pertained to the chances of preservation for bones and teeth. So referring to the predominance of soft-body anatomies of Cambrian life, Dr. Gould asked, “What hope can then be offered to the flesh and blood amidst the slings and arrows of such outrageous fortune?”

Dr. Briggs said in an interview that scientists for some time have suspected that “we were just not finding the right deposits and only seeing a small piece of the picture of what was going on in life back then.”

For that reason, Dr. Briggs said, he expected other scientists would be less surprised by the discovery than reassured. The fossil record for a long stretch after the Middle Cambrian may be spotty and minimal, but has not vanished. The Moroccan fossils not only reveal the continuation of many Cambrian life forms, he said, but show “the high potential that there are other places for finding these Cambrian-like organisms persisting in time.”

As a consequence, the discovery team wrote, the Moroccan sediments offer promising links between the Cambrian Explosion of multicellular life, exemplified in the Burgess Shale, and the early stages of what is known as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, which is considered “one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of marine life.”

This led to the emergence of fish about 400 million years ago and the migration of four-limbed vertebrates from water onto land 360 million years ago. After the catastrophic mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, about 250 million years ago, the dinosaurs came to the fore in a reptilian world, and after their extinction 65 million years ago, mammals came into their own, hominids evolving probably less than 8 million years ago, modern humans less than 200,000 years ago.

That any of these early Ordovician remains endured verges on the miraculous. Some with shells could be expected to fossilize, but most of these were soft-bodied creatures, prone to rapid decay. The Moroccan fossil beds, Dr. Briggs noted, were once the muddy bottom of an ocean. Storms stirred up the seabed, burying doomed creatures safe from scavengers and in recesses with little or no oxygen to promote decomposition. The sediment chemistry transformed iron and sulfide into pyrite, which coated and preserved the shapes of the animals, including their appendages, and mineralized internal tissue.

“The exquisite preservation of the soft anatomy,” Dr. Van Roy said, “allows more complete, accurate reconstructions of their genetic affinities and ecology than has hitherto been possible.”

Hard at work last week in the Moroccan fossil beds, Dr. Van Roy said, “I obviously intend to exploit this fantastic research opportunity to the fullest.”

Newly discovered fossil revealed as the mother of modern-day molluscs

Steve Connor, Science Editor

27 May 2010

It looks like something out of a Salvador Dali dreamscape but this bizarre sea creature, which lived about 500 million years ago, turns out to have been the mother of all squids – indeed it is the ancestor of octopuses, cuttlefish and all other cephalopod molluscs.

Scientists discovered the creature, named Nectocaris pteryx, after studying samples of fossilised rocks from the famous Burgess Shale of Canada, which provides a remarkably preserved snapshot of the weird and immensely diverse forms of life that evolved during the Cambrian period of geological history.

Nectocaris, which grew to a length of about 5cm, including its two front tentacles, is thought to have been a fast-moving predator which swam using its undulating, wing-like fins.

But crucially it could also shoot a jet of water from a funnel-like nozzle which it could swivel in various directions – a hallmark of modern-day cephalopods.

The researchers believe that this key anatomical detail, discovered by analysing 91 newly discovered fossils of Nectocaris, strongly suggests that it must be the original common ancestor of squids, octopuses and the beautiful chambered-shelled nautilus; the reason is that no other group of animals uses this form of jet propulsion.

“Our discovery allows us to push back the origin of cephalopods by at least 30 million years, to the famous Cambrian explosion about a half-billion years ago,” said Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

“Soft tissues of cephalopods tend to decay quickly, so it was difficult to know what primitive cephalopods looked like. The Burgess Shale is well known for its exceptional preservation of soft-bodied animals,” Professor Caron said.

Until 500 million years ago, most life on Earth took the form of simple, single-celled micro-organisms. But during the Cambrian period it exploded into a huge variety of macroscopic, multicellular forms, with a diverse range of body architecture; some of these life forms gave rise to the major groups of animals alive today.

The cephalopods – the word means “head-feet” – are the most intelligent of the invertebrates, animals without backbones.

They have large brains, good vision and can use camouflage to hide from predators or ambush their prey. Despite the fascination they generate, scientists had been unsure of their origins, believing that they had evolved from snail-like molluscs with shells that became filled with gas to allow them to swim freely.

However, the latest study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that all cephalopods can now be traced back to Nectocaris, which shares the ability to hunt its prey using its two stalked eyes and a sophisticated system of jet propulsion, said Martin Smith of the University of Toronto.

“It’s long been thought that cephalopods evolved in the late Cambrian period, when gradual modifications to the shells of creeping, snail-like animals made them able to float. Nectocaris shows us that the first cephalopods actually started swimming without the aid of gas-filled shells,” Dr Smith said.

Modern cephalopods are very complex, with intricate organs and startling intelligence.

“We go from very simple pre-Cambrian life forms to something as complex as a cephalopod in the geological blink of an eye, which illustrates just how quickly evolution can produce complexity,” he said.

“We think that this extremely rare creature is an early ancestor of squids, octopuses and other cephalopods. This is significant because it means that primitive cephalopods were around much earlier than we thought, and offers a reinterpretation of the long-held origins of this important groups of marine animals.

“Our findings mean that cephalopods originated 30 million years earlier than we thought, and much closer to the first appearance of complex animals in the Cambrian explosion,” he added.

Africa Needs a New Map

It’s time to start seeing the redrawing of the continent’s colonial borders as an opportunity, not a threat.


Muammar al-Qaddafi isn’t exactly known for brilliant ideas on maximizing political justice; his own country, Libya, is essentially his private fiefdom. But a few weeks ago, he had a pretty good one: to partition Nigeria, “the giant of Africa,” as he called it, in half. Religious violence along the border between the country’s north and south seemed to have drawn a pretty clear battle line; Nigeria’s massive and massively diverse population seemed to warrant separate states. After years of watching this oil-rich country of 150 million struggle to manage its obvious divides, Qaddafi just gave voice to what others must have been thinking: Time to split Nigeria up.

But in Africa, the declaration fell on deaf ears. Nigeria recalled the Libyan ambassador and firmly rejected the idea. Even for a continent accustomed to Qaddafi’s antics, this time the Libyan leader went too far. Talking about redrawing continental borders — which are today almost exactly as they were at the time of independence 50 years ago — is something of a cardinal sin. But Qaddafi did not exactly repent. He had misspoken, he said: Nigeria should not be split in two, but perhaps into three or even four nations.

Silence about borders has become Africa’s pathology, born in the era of strongman leaders that followed decolonialization. Loath to lose any of their newly independent land, the continent’s leaders upheld a gentleman’s agreement to favor “stability” over change. Today, the unfortunate result is visible in nearly every corner of Africa: from a divided Nigeria, to an ungovernable Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to the very real but unrecognized state in Somaliland. Borders created through some combination of ignorance and malice are today one of the continent’s major barriers to building strong, competent states. No initiative would do more for happiness, stability, and economic growth in Africa today than an energetic and enlightened redrawing of these harmful lines.

Like it or not, talk of a new map is echoing around Africa today for one very clear reason: Sudan, the continent’s largest country by landmass, is scheduled to hold a referendum vote next January, in which the people of the country’s autonomous south could decide to secede. Many see the prospect of instability as threatening. Yet there is no better time to rethink the tangled issue of African borders. If it works in Sudan, perhaps other countries should follow.

In fact, many thought the borders would change back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when most African nations broke free from colonial rule. “An aversion to the international borders drawn by the colonial powers, if not their complete rejection, has been a consistent theme of anticolonial nationalism in Africa,” wrote the scholar Saadi Touval in 1967. He went further, pretty much summing up the problems that still persist today: “The borders are blamed for the disappearance of a unity which supposed existed in Africa in preolconial times; they are regarded as arbitrarily imposed, artificial barriers separating people of the same stock, and they have said to have balkanized Africa. The borders are considered to be one of the humiliating legacies of colonialism, which, according to this view, independent Africa ought to abolish.”

Yet by the time Touval published those words, alienation toward colonial borders had given way to their embrace. In 1964, the Organization of African Unity (the forerunner to today’s African Union) decided that sticking with inherited borders promoted “stability.” Faced with a secession attempt by the oil-rich and Igbo-dominated region of “Biafra,” Nigeria stuck with the old map, brutally putting down the revolt three years later. At a cost of 1 million lives, the Biafrans were defeated, and Nigeria — a nation the British stitched together out of three distinct “administrative” pieces only in the 1950s — was made whole again.

That fidelity to colonial-era borders coexisted with the emergence of dictatorships in Africa in the 1960s and 70s. Governments on the continent were failing to deliver even basic services, preferring to behave as “vampire states” that preyed burdensomely on their own people, none of whom they wanted to let out of their territorial grasp. To be sure, there were a few cracks. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, leaving both countries militarized along their new, grudgingly accepted borders. Other minor adjustments here and there also took place, but the creation of Eritrea is the only major change in African borders since they were drawn by colonial powers a century and a half ago.

The result has been conflict, which often looks ethnic but is really all about territorial control. Borders in Africa don’t come close to following tribal lines, splitting some groups up and artificially joining others together. The Ewe of Togo would surely rather be united with the millions more of their people living across the border in Ghana. The Igbo in Nigeria continue to dream of their own nation — their troubadour, novelist Chinua Achebe, openly proclaiming that his ethnic group is no less deserving than Swedes or Danes of their own nation-state.

Rethinking the borders could go far to quelling some of these conflicts. Countries could finally be framed around the de facto geography of ethnic groups. The new states could use their local languages rather than favoring another ethnicity’s or colonial power’s tongue. Rebel secessionist movements would all but disappear, and democracy could flourish more easily when based upon policies, rather than simple identity politics. On top of that, new states based on ethnic lines would by default be smaller, more compact, and more manageable for governments on a continent with a history of state weakness. (Though by European standards, many of these new African nations would still not be small when compared with, say, Slovenia or Slovakia.)

And it’s not just Nigeria and Sudan that would benefit from the redrawing. The DRC is surely at the top of the list. (As Africanist Basil Davidson said in 1994, “The Congo never should have been one state. It simply suited Belgian convenience.”) Its war-torn and benighted eastern region — a geographically coherent area — would stand a much better change of integrating with the economically thriving nearby region as an independent state. It is already geographically connected to Rwanda through the Congolese border city of Goma. And Rwanda, as part of the East African trade community, could serve as a hub for that part of Congo in regional economic affairs. If this sounds too rosy, one shouldn’t shy away from asking the hard-nosed question: Since Eastern Congo is today one of the poorest, worst-run places in the world, how could independence make things worse?

A similar regional synergy could be envisioned for South Sudan, now trapped in a northern-oriented government where all routes lead to landlocked Kharoum. The south Sudanese already trade heavily with Ugandans to the south. And the government of Kenya is preparing to build a massive port at Lamu, near its coastal border with Somalia, in part to move goods back and forth to South Sudan.

And what of Somalia, a benighted nation stitched together out of three pieces — bequeathed by two European powers — only in 1960? Somalia is today effectively three nations anyway, two of which, Somaliland and Puntland, cannot receive international recognition despite providing relatively decent services to their residents. If they were true “states” by international standards, aid, diplomats, and security assistance from, for example, U.S. Africa Command, could pour in.

Of course, splicing up Africa’s countries is no panacea for the continent’s woes. You might argue, for example, that conflicts would not be stopped at all; they would just go from being civil wars to interstate conflict between two divorced neighbors. That may well happen, and of course no conflict is good news. But the international community has much stronger deterrents for such country-to-country spats than internal civil war. And new states would likely be reluctant to incur the repercussions of diplomatic and economic isolation. Others will wonder if new borders can really change the continent’s record of abysmal governance. The answer is a certain yes: There is no better incentive to get your house in order than taking over a responsibility as huge as running your own state.

Many of these concerns are valid. But the redrawing of Africa may happen whether we will it or not. Next year’s vote in Sudan could finally put to pasture the acceptance of African borders as unchangeable — and put the engineering of new African states at the top of the international agenda. Qaddafi was crazy enough to tackle the issue head on. Now who will be brave enough to be next?

G. Pascal Zachary edits the blog Africa Works and is author of The Diversity Advantage: Multicultural Identity in the New World Economy.

Scientists turn North American indigenous migration theory on its head

U.S. anthropologists hypothesize that ancestors of aboriginal people in South and North America followed High Arctic route

By Randy Boswell, Canwest News ServiceFebruary 26, 2010

Two U.S. scientists have published a radical new theory about when, where and how humans migrated to the New World, arguing that the peopling of the Americas may have begun via Canada’s High Arctic islands and the Northwest Passage — much farther north and at least 10,000 years earlier than generally believed.

The hypothesis — described as “speculative” but “plausible” by the researchers themselves — appears in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, which features a special series of new studies tracing humanity’s proliferation out of Africa and around the world beginning about 70,000 years ago.

The idea of an ancient Arctic migration as early as 25,000 years ago, proposed by University of Utah anthropologists Dennis O’Rourke and Jennifer Raff, would address several major gaps in prevailing theories about how the distant ancestors of to-day’s aboriginal people in North and South America arrived in the Western Hemisphere.

The most glaring of those gaps is the anomalous existence of a 14,500-year-old archeological site in Chile, near the southern extreme of the Americas, that clearly predates the time when East Asian hunters are thought to have first crossed from Siberia to Alaska via the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last ice age some 13,000 years ago.

The new theory also may have implications for a lingering Canadian archeological mystery. For decades, the Canadian Museum of Civilization has stood largely alone in defending its view that the Yukon’s Bluefish Caves hold evidence of a human presence in the Americas — tool flakes and butchered mammoth bones — going back about 20,000 years.

The Utah scientists, pointing to genetic affinities between certain central Asian populations and New World aboriginal groups, suggest an Arctic coastal migration may have begun from river outlets in present-day north-central Russia.

Using skin boats and hunting along glacier-free refuges while the last ice age was still underway, the prehistoric travellers could have moved quickly along the northern Siberian coast to northern Alaska, Canada’s Arctic Islands and beyond to eastern and southern parts of the Americas, they say.

“Movement to the interior of the continent via the Mackenzie River drainage,” the authors assert, “is plausible.”

And suspected gaps among Arctic glaciers means “open coastal areas for continued movement eastward would have provided access to the open water of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait and a coastal route along the eastern seaboard of North America,” the study states.

O’Rourke Told Canwest News Service the theory doesn’t exclude existing models, but offers a new way of thinking about the movements of the earliest North Americans that deserves to be considered and “to be tested in rigorous ways.”

In recent years, the routes and timing of New World migration have been among the most contentious issues in science.

The Siberia-to-Alaska pathway for early hunter-gatherers, followed by a southward migration down a mid-continental “ice-free corridor” in present-day Northwest Territories and Alberta, is widely accepted and backed up by numerous archeological findings.

But a growing number of scientists, troubled by the age of the Chilean site and other wrinkles in the conventional migration story, have recently touted the likelihood of an earlier migration by seafaring people along the Pacific Coast.

However, purported coastal archeological sites that could yield traces of humans from 16,000 years ago or earlier are underwater today. Canadians scientists and others are probing potential sites in British Columbia and Alaska, but evidence remains extremely sketchy.

Equally puzzling is the fact that eastern North America has generated far more artifacts from the continent’s first-known civilization, the Clovis people, than archeological sites in the West, where more relics would be expected.

Finally, DNA studies of current aboriginal populations — which can provide evidence of the geographic origins and migration patterns of ancient ancestors — have been at odds with the conventional migration models.

“As neither archeological nor genetic data have yet been able to unequivocally resolve many of the long-standing questions regarding American colonization, the generation of new models and hypotheses to which new and more powerful analyses may be applied is essential,” O’Rourke and Raff state in their paper.

In an interview, O’Rourke said the possibility of a very early northern migration is supported by recent research in Russia. In January 2004, a team of Russian scientists reported the remains of a 30,000-year-old human settlement near the Arctic Ocean outlet of Siberia’s Yana River, the most convincing evidence ever found for such an early, northerly human presence near the Bering gateway to the New World.

David Morrison, the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s director of archeology and an expert in Canada’s prehistoric Arctic peoples, applauded the U.S. researchers for floating a fairly “wild” theory because “that’s how science advances.”

But he said “count me skeptical” about the hypothesis, citing the “unspeakably harsh” conditions that the ancient Asians would have encountered in Canada’s Arctic before the full retreat of the glaciers.

“It was,” says Morrison, “a terrible environment.”

While he still thinks the Bluefish Caves predate the migration times in prevailing theories, he says such remote history is still only dimly understood pending the development of more comprehensive and credible scenarios.

“Going back 30,000 years requires you to speculate,” he says, “because we really don’t have much of an idea what was going on.”

But he added that Bluefish “has got to tie into the solution somehow.”

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