"We Do Not Put The Bill Of Rights To A Vote"

The question of whether a community center that houses a mosque can or should be built a few blocks away from the Ground Zero acreage, in a building most New Yorkers wouldn’t pay attention to if it wasn’t on the news 24/7, has spawned a squabble that is the intellectual equivalent of arguing whether or not you are supposed to stop at a STOP sign.


Maybe some of us have been reading the Constitution incorrectly. Maybe our insistence on treating it as one contiguous document, with all of its clauses and amendments to be read and interpreted in relationship to one another, as well as the legal precedents that have been derived from it, is simply wrong, because I can’t think of any other reason that political strategist Matthew Dowd has for saying on This Week with Christiane Amanpour earlier today that “you have to build consensus on this.” Matthew Dowd is a part of the problem. Since when do we need to "build consensus" about existing law? The people have been wrong before.

“The problem is that two thirds of the country opposed him on this – that’s a problem for our president of the United States. I think he is in totally—he states what’s in the constitution, they have a right to build it—that’s not the point of this, that is not the point in this.

You have a right for free speech doesn’t mean you can go and like, yell-

[CROSSTALK]

The point of is you have to build consensus on this. Tolerance goes two ways. Tolerance goes two ways.  Tolerance is the tolerance for someone to build on private property what they want, but tolerance also is to recognize what that symbolically says to a whole bunch of people in this country. And if you don’t recognize that, you’re going to have this kind of furor.”

Matthew Dowd, This Week Roundtable discussion August 15, 2010, “Mosque Madness” segment

This is why America remains tortured by its contradictions—by insisting, even for a split second, that there should be some level of consideration given to a viewpoint that is totally inconsistent with the values we claim we stand for as a nation. As Americans, we need to take our hearts off of our sleeves about the Park51 community center and mosque complex and think - really think - about why principles matter.

Since when does the president of the United States have to watch his tongue when it comes to defending the very first amendment in what is known as the Bill of Rights? Since when has it become fashionable to discard the entire process by which we amend the U.S. Constitution, a procedure with which the members of Congress and the American people should be intimately familiar, in favor of a need to kowtow to the consensus of opinion about what inalienable rights Americans and legitimate organizations may or may not possess?

“We do not put the Bill of Rights…to a vote." Rep Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

Although I am willing to bet, by the time tomorrow night’s cable news gabfests air, the narrative among the most vile and subversive of our right wing political opportunists will insist that it is “un-American” for the president of the United States to defend one of the most basic principles of the U.S. Constitution.

Newsflash to those who inhabit Bizzaroworld—the Constitution is in effect all the time, not just when you want it to be.  And the rest of us don’t have any reason at all to humor you until you get it. Because waiting on the American public to “build a consensus” about the law of the land, as all those ex-slaves in 1865 and their descendants discovered, can take a mighty, mighty long time.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.