Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Largest Dinosaur Of All Time Discovered In Argentina's Patagonia

Did Scientists Just Unveil the Biggest Dinosaur of All Time?

The jury’s still out—but if you can get over the size contest, far more fascinating patterns about these giants emerge

patagotitan.jpgAn artist's illustration of Patagotitan mayorum, the latest and possibly most gargantuan in a series of recent giant dino finds.

Dinosaurs are superlative animals in every sense of the word. Their ranks include some of the strangest and fiercest creatures ever to have evolved, not to mention the largest to have walked the Earth. Now paleontologists have announced a species proposed to be most massive dinosaur ever discovered: an enormous herbivore estimated at over 120 feet long and weighing over 70 tonsor longer than a blue whale and heavier than a dozen African elephants.

You may have already heard of this ancient titan. The dino started making headlines back in 2014, before its bones were even fully out of the ground, getting its own David Attenborough-hosted documentary and American Museum of Natural History exhibit in early 2016. Over and over again, the Cretaceous dinosaur’s status as the biggest of all time was proclaimed. But the dinosaur didn’t have a name (it was simply referred to as “The Titanosaur”) and no formal description of the bones was published for other experts to check this sauropod’s claim for the title. 
Today, in the pages of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, paleontologist José Carballido of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio and colleagues have finally published the scientific details of this enormous plant-muncher.
The dinosaur’s official name is Patagotitan mayorum, meaning “the Mayo family’s Patagonian titan.” That’s because its bones were excavated in 2014 at La Flecha ranch, owned by the Mayos, in Chubut Province, Argentina, from their 101-million-year-old-resting place.
This wasn’t the resting place of just one animal. The stone was littered with the remains of at least six individual dinosaurs of different ages and sizes. By the time they were done, however, the paleontologists had excavated parts of the neck, back, tail and limbs, which were enough to come to two conclusions: This was a dinosaur no one had ever seen before, and it was a true giant.  
But was it really the largest dinosaur of all time, as some of the media hype has proclaimed? 
Not everyone is convinced. Mathew Wedel, a paleontologist at the Western University of Health Sciences who has been following the titanosaur’s story since 2014, notes that the body of the new paper doesn’t include the necessary measurements of the dinosaur’s bones to tell. On top of that, Wedel says, the measurements reported in the media so far hint that Patagotitan was comparable in size to the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus, also known fromCretaceous Argentina. 
“So not the world’s largest sauropod, probably,” Wedel says, “but the most complete super-giant sauropod by far.” This means Patagotitan joins a club of previously-discovered immense dinosaurs; its real claim to fame is that far more bones of Patagotitan are known than for other giants. “I think it would be more accurate to say that Argentinosaurus, Puertasaurus and Patagotitan are so similar in size that it is impossible for now to say which one was the largest,” Wedel says. 
But step back from the “my dinosaur is bigger than yours” contest for a moment, and a curious pattern starts to appear. “All the big sauropods for which we have good evidence seem to be clustering in the same general area,” Wedel says, whether those are titanosaurs or other sauropod giants from different lineages. “That suggests a real upper limit that all these lineages were hitting,” Wedel says, with Patagotitan not so much blowing past previous records as reinforcing an emerging pattern.
Which brings us to the question of why these dinosaurs got so large at all. Macalester College paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers points out that these huge sauropods were bellwethers of the times they lived in. “Titanosaurs like Patagotitan evolved huge bodies because they could,” Curry Rogers says, adding that “the ecosystems they inhabited had the resources to support their bodies, and their unique and specialized physiological adaptations made behemoth sizes work for them.”
 Furthermore, Wedel says, a giant like Patagotitan “is a case of ‘them that has, gets.’” 
Living large has definite benefits. Big sauropods, Wedel says, laid more eggs, were harder for predators to kill, could survive on lower quality food, could migrate long distances on less resources, and more. The bigger they got, the more benefits they reaped: “So to me the mystery is not ‘Why did some sauropods get so big?’; it’s “Why didn’t all sauropods gets big at Argentinosaurus, Puretasaurus and Patagotitan?’” Sauropods came in sizes from about as large as a draft horse to the biggest animals on land. What led to that range of sizes is still unclear. 
Yet for better or worse, it’s the giants who transfix our attention, and it seems that every few years there’s another dinosaur that’s touted as the largest of all time. BrachiosaurusSupersaurus“Seismosaurus”Argentinosaurus and more have all had their turn laying claim to the title over the years. 
Could there still be larger dinosaurs out there? Curry Rogers thinks so. “So far, all of the very biggest sauropod dinosaurs how clear signs that they are still growing” when they died, Curry Rogers says. Even the largest Patagotitan bones, she points out, show signs of ongoing growth at death. “Even if we’ve discovered the largest terrestrial animals ever known,” Curry Rogers says, “we haven’t found the biggest representatives of their species so far.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

As Maduro's Venezuela Rips Apart, So Does His Military


Military Attack in Venezuela

A growing number of Venezuelan officers are openly breaking ranks with the president and taking up weapons.
 By DEBORAH ACOSTA on Publish DateAugust 8, 2017. Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Fugitive Venezuelan soldiers have declared a rebellion against “the murderous tyranny” of the president. Dissident officers have fled the country, seeking asylum. Grenades have been fired at the Supreme Court and, this weekend, assailants under the command of a mutinous captain attacked an army base, making off with weapons.
As Venezuela reels from a crippling economic crisis and deadly street protests, the military has often served as the guarantor of President Nicolás Maduro’s continued power over the country.
But daring challenges to his rule in recent weeks have laid bare a split within the military that could ultimately determine the nation’s fate: a growing number of officers are openly breaking ranks with the president and taking up weapons.
“They speak of resistance, now they think that the model is to use arms,” Cliver Alcalá, a retired Venezuelan general and government critic, says of those who have rebelled.
Venezuela has a history of coups and attempted overthrows at times of crisis, and many in the country now wonder if this is one of those times.
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But the nation’s leaders are keenly aware of that, too, and as they face their greatest turmoil in years, they appear to have come prepared: The government has spent years ensuring that the military’s top commanders are deeply invested in the status quo.
In a single day Mr. Maduro promoted 195 officers to the rank of general. Venezuelan generals, more than 2,000 strong, enjoy a range of privileges, from lucrative control of the food supply to favorable rates for exchanging dollars.
An image from a video showing a group of men announcing an uprising. Creditvia Reuters
Eleven of the 23 state governors in Venezuela are current or retired generals, along with 11 heads of the 30 ministries, giving them an extraordinary stake in preserving the government’s control over the country.
And the defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, an army general, has been granted an even more lucrative arrangement, with expanded powers to control the country’s ports, as well as parts of the oil and mining industries.
“Maduro has made sure to give many rewards to senior military officers in exchange for loyalty,” said John Polga-Hecimovich, a political scientist who studies Venezuela at the United States Naval Academy. “While he is completely dependent on them to stay in power, they have much to lose if he is gone.”
Mr. Maduro’s crackdown against the street protests is drawing widespread condemnation. On Tuesday, the United Nations said that the government had used excessive force against demonstrators and that security forces and pro-government armed groups had caused more than half of the 124 deaths that have accompanied this year’s protests. Eight members of security forces had been killed, the United Nations said.
Mr. Polga-Hecimovich pointed to what he called the “four P’s” — purges, promotions, politics and profit — that have kept many military leaders loyal to the government. The purges and promotions date back to President Hugo Chávez, who picked Mr. Maduro to be his successor before he died in 2013.
Mr. Chávez participated in an unsuccessful uprising against the government when he was an army lieutenant in 1992. A decade later, he was also the victim of a coup attempt as president.
After regaining control, Mr. Chávez embarked on a major effort to rid the military of anyone who might challenge him again. He also instituted a new brand of military education to indoctrinate the armed forces to his Socialist-inspired movement, even requiring soldiers to attend rallies. Promotions became based less on performance and more on leftist leanings, former soldiers say.
Occupants of a car stopped by soldiers Sunday knelt on the ground. The car had been circulating on a military base in Valencia. CreditJuan Carlos Hernandez/Associated Press
“There was an ideological filter to the most senior ranks,” said Harold Trinkunas, a Venezuelan political scientist and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
By most accounts, Mr. Maduro, a civilian who lacks the charisma and popular support of his predecessor, went even further to strengthen ties with the military’s top brass, promoting Néstor Reverol, a former National Guard head accused of drug trafficking in the United States, to head the interior ministry.
The president also elevated more than 800 officers to the rank of general or admiral, not only ensuring the loyalty of those who get promotions but also diluting the authority of individual officers who might challenge the president, according to Mr. Polga-Hecimovich.
Even the food supply has become a source of patronage, experts say. In June 2016, faced with food shortages and riots spreading across the country, Mr. Maduro put the military in charge of factories and gave it control over distribution. While that helped with the looting, experts say, it also allowed top officers to gain control over the profitable black market in food.
Most midlevel officers, however, are far removed from the high ranks or patronage systems on offer from the government. Instead, said Raúl Salazar, a retired general who served as defense minister under Mr. Chávez, they see a deepening poverty caused by the food and medicine shortages that are plaguing the country.
“Their families, their friends, their acquaintances, everyone is suffering and they begin to ask themselves if it’s getting better or worse,” General Salazar said. “Everyone has the same voice that talks to them each day, and that is their conscience.”
On Sunday, a fugitive army captain named Juan Carlos Caguaripano, released a video of himself standing before a group of armed men he declared were in “legitimate rebellion” and demanded a “transitional government and free general elections.”
Protesters in Valencia. CreditRonaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Around that time, a group of 20 people launched an assault on a military base in the state of Carabobo, near the capital, Caracas, an attack the government said had been organized by the rebel captain. Soldiers fought the group for three hours and at least half of them made away with a number of weapons, they said.
On Monday, Mr. Padrino, the defense minister, said the weapons included high-powered assault rifles and grenade launchers. The attackers reached them with help of a lieutenant at the base, he said.
Mr. Alcalá, the retired general, who headed the base for several years, said: “They would have needed someone inside the unit with the key. There are so many personnel problems within the armed forces, so many problems with morale.”
Indeed, even before the attack, Captain Caguaripano seemed to be gaining a following. In a July 26 video, a rogue soldier named Javier Nieto Quintero pledged allegiance to him from an undisclosed location in the jungle, where he said he was in exile. Mr. Nieto, who is believed to have lived in Miami and Colombia, encouraged Venezuelans to rise up against government.
“The only thing we should be negotiating is what jail Maduro will be in,” he said.
Still, as the attacks continue without the support of senior officers, the unrest is looking more like guerrilla warfare than a coup. On June 27, a pilot from Venezuela’s police corps named Óscar Pérez commandeered a helicopter and shot grenades at the Supreme Court. Mr. Pérez also released a video urging Venezuelans to rebel.
Attacks by security forces aligned with the opposition are troubling to Mr. Trinkunas, the military historian, who notes that the government has armed civilian squads known as colectivos and independent militias that could find themselves in conflict with rogue soldiers as they try to defend Mr. Maduro.
To General Alcalá, the attacks mark a departure from the military order that he spent years trying to defend.
“We have to reject this, all Venezuelans who believe that the solution must come from the Constitution,” he said.
Correction: August 8, 2017 
An earlier version of this article misidentified Harold Trinkunas, a Venezuelan fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is a political scientist, not a military historian.
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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why English Language Newspapers In Latin America Are Struggling

Entering the morgueWhy English-language newspapers in Latin America are struggling

The Buenos Aires Herald, a brave newspaper, publishes its last edition
THE Buenos Aires Herald had a reputation for fearlessness. During Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970s it was the only newspaper that denounced the disappearances of thousands of Argentines under the military regime. The editor, Robert Cox, and news editor, Andrew Graham-Yooll, went into exile. Mr Graham-Yooll wrote “A State of Fear”, a harrowing account of the descent into dictatorship. But the Herald, the capital’s English-language newspaper, could not survive technological progress. On July 31st the 141-year-old paper said it would close.
William Cathcart, a Scot, founded the Buenos Ayres Herald for Britons drawn to Argentina to work on the country’s expanding railways. Its first edition was a single sheet, with advertising on the front and shipping news on the back. As its coverage expanded, it sometimes scooped richer Spanish-language rivals.

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It had counterparts across Latin America. Argentina’s first English-language paper was the Buenos Ayres Standard, started by two Irish brothers in 1861; it stopped publishing 98 years later. The Daily Journal, founded by an American, served readers in Caracas from 1945 until 2008. The Peruvian Times, launched in 1908, survives in digital form. The News in Mexico City, established in 1950, still has a paper edition.
The English papers were sometimes outspoken when the Spanish-language press was censored, perhaps partly because their writers could easily take refuge in their home countries. Many British and American journalists who went on to cover the region as foreign correspondents got their start at the local English papers.
As the number of Anglophone immigrants fell, tourists and expats became the papers’ main readers. English-medium news became less necessary for visitors when the internet let them browse their hometown papers from abroad.
The Herald changed owners several times in the 2000s before ending up in 2014 as part of Grupo Indalo, whose owners are close to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s populist president until 2015. Government advertising (and dedicated journalists) kept the paper alive; its editorial line became more left-wing, but not slavishly supportive of Ms Fernández. But the government of her centre-right successor, Mauricio Macri, hit Grupo Indalo with a tax demand for 10bn pesos ($570m). With estimated monthly losses of 2m pesos, the Herald briefly became a weekly before saying it would close.
The Herald and its kind are being replaced by publications run by nimbler entrepreneurs, providing information on local events mainly to tourists and expats. In Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, two English-language newspapers have been founded in the past decade. The Bubble, a website based in Buenos Aires, has plans to expand to Brazil and Mexico. Today’s Cathcarts are bullish. But few expect their publications to last 141 years.
This article appeared in the The Americas section of the print edition under the headline "Entering the morgue"