Cluster Map

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pollyanna wishes all her readers a happy Pesach or Easter, as you choose to celebrate

Pollyanna wishes happy holidays to all her readers. Let us try to look at the bright side of life if we can find it.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has gone and by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week Pollyanna is referring you to the Israel Cancer Association with hopes that you will make them the beneficiary of your pre-holiday donation. The Association is most worthy of support and has done great things for the prevention and cure of cancer in Israel. One of the latest is a push to prohibit smoking in the stands at sports events, which has already won the support of a parliamentary committee and should soon make its way to the floor of the Knesset for approval. The days when Big Tobacco could block such initiatives have fortunately passed. The Cancer Association also succeeded   in obtaining the deactivation of all tobacco vending machines in the country as of 1.1.14, thus blocking an overly easy access of minors to cigarettes. A propos cancer, there seems to be some good news about a new drug that reduces the risk of progress of breast cancer.

Floods in Ladakh. 'This is how we were brought up' (Photo: AP
Pollyanna is proud of the 200 Israeli backpackers who refused to be evacuated from the catastrophic flood zone in Ladakh, India but chose to stay behind and help with the rescue operation. "It is heart-warming," said Israeli Consul General in New Delhi Irit Shneor with unabashed pride. "In the heart of the destruction in the Ladakh region, among the demolished cabins, in the somber atmosphere, Israeli trekkers are volunteering around the clock, always with a smile on their lips, giving their all to help the refugees from the disaster area left bruised and wounded, without anything, without shelter."

Hundreds are dead and many more missing in the flood area. Israelis made up more than half the foreign volunteers helping out. Some of them had been combat medics in the Army and used their skills to aid the stricken people. As one of them said, .."this is how we were brought up." Pollyanna says cheers.

The irrepressible performer Mickey Rooney, who died April 6 at 93, began appearing before audiences at 15 months in his parents’ vaudeville act, singing “Pal o’ My Cradle Days” while sporting a tuxedo and holding a rubber cigar. So was  launched a nine-decade career (“I’ve been working all my life, but it seems longer,” he once said) of unapologetic scene-stealing — he could sing, dance, play drums and do pathos, pratfalls and impersonations — that once made him the top box-office draw in the world.
We recall him on the screen during our childhood, in the Andy Hardy series and acting opposite Judy Garland in some great films. They were beautifully matched in charisma. Both had difficult lives in the real world. One of his most captivating performances was as Puck in the 1935 all-star version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Film historian David Thomson said Mr. Rooney’s mischievous, almost bratty interpretation was “one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic.” Mr. Rooney emphasized how easy the part was for him, writing later in a memoir, “I’d never read Shakespeare before or since.” We have the DVD and enjoyed the film greatly.

Any 14 year old who can steal a comedy film spotlight from James Cagney (Bottom) has to be a consummate actor.
We link you to an obituary in Variety.

Peter Matthiessen, the American author who  won awards for books such as The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country, died on Saturday at the age of 86.
Linda Gavin/Courtesy of Riverhead Books
Linda Gavin/Courtesy of Riverhead Books
Matthiessen, who was born to a wealthy background in New York, had his first short story published in the Atlantic Monthly when he was still a student at Yale. In the early 1950s he decamped to France, where he started The Paris Review with another American expatriate, George Plimpton. Matthiessen had success in fiction and non-fiction. His breakthrough work was the 1961 novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord, which dealt with missionaries at work in difficult circumstances in Brazil. He won two National Book Awards, for The Snow Leopard (1978), about the Himalayas, and for Shadow Country (2008), a reworked trilogy of novels about a notorious Florida outlaw, Edgar Watson, and the disappearing Everglades in which he lived.

The NYTimes published a detailed profile of him just a few days before he died. Among other things, the interview by Jeff Himmelman describes how he became a novelist, a C.I.A. agent, a founder of The Paris Review, author of more than 30 books, a naturalist, an activist and a master in one of the most respected lineages in Zen. We strongly recommend that you read it.

This week's rant is about the abuse, marginalization and repression of Dalit women in India, Nepal and other parts of Southeast Asia. While officially the caste system has been abolished in India, in practice the Dalit, formerly known as Untouchables, are subject to discrimination and abuse. In particular, in India, the sexual abuse of Dalit women goes with impunity, especially for high caste Hindu men. There is a strong Dalit women's movement and they are making their voices heard. “Who has the right to tell us that we are condemned by God?” demands Thenmozhi Soundararajan, an American director, singer, writer, and transmedia artist who is a second-generation Dalit woman whose parents left the caste system. Soundararajan stresses the difference between the “Bollywood India” and the “actual India.” In the “actual India,” there is no rule of law. It’s an India where doctors conduct “two-finger tests” after girls and women report rapes to “morally assassinate character of a victim,” she says. It is an India where a rape survivor showed a judge video footage of her rape that was circulated around her village, but the judge simply laughed and said “Now you have proof that you enjoyed yourself.” We might mention that when a judge in Israel made a remark about rape victims' enjoying the experience he was forced to resign. Pollyanna wishes all success to the movement in its struggle to help and liberate the 80,000,000 Dalit women around the world.


This is a new bug floating around the Web that can get information from just about anyone since most sites use open SSL and it is vulnerable. Here is some advice on how to deal with it. Start by changing your passwords. You might also want to join LastPass for security. It is free.

Heartbleed Explanation


Pollyanna would like to call your attention to this document.

It grades the nations of the world on their degree of social progress. It makes use of a list of parameters, the details of which you can see in the document. They come under the headings of Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity. The document  is long but well worth your time.The top three countries are New Zealand , Switzerland, and Iceland which have closely grouped scores of 88.24, 88.19, and 88.07 respectively. These three countries, which are relatively small in terms of populations, score strongly across all dimensions, though there are important variations in their areas of relative strength. A group of eight countries registers the lowest levels of social progress, from Yemen (125th) to Chad (132nd). The Social Progress Index provides evidence that extreme poverty and poor social performance go hand-in-hand. However, this group also demonstrates that economic development does not guarantee social progress. For example, Chad (132nd) with a GDP per capita of $1,870 ranks well below Malawi (109th), a country with GDP per capita of just $660. Angola is an even starker illustration, ranking 127th on social progress even though its GDP per capita is $5,262. There is an interactive map over which you can pass your cursor and see each country's rank and score. Pollyanna thinks there is much food for thought here.


Thanks to Judy for calling this exciting event to our attention. A particle that does not fit the standard model has been found in the LHC. It shakes up conventional wisdom. We quote the Quantum Diary blog of the particle physics community:"The conventional and simple quark model states that there are six different quarks, each quark coming with its antiparticle. All these particles form bound states by either combining two or three of them. Protons and neutrons for example are made of three quarks. All states made of three quarks are called baryons. Other particles like pions and kaons, which are often found in the decays of heavier particles, are made of one quark and one antiquark. These form the mesons category. Until 2003, the hundreds of particles observed were classified either as mesons or baryons. In 2003 a particle was found that looked like a combination of four quarks. Now the LHCb Collaboration at CERN has just confirmed the unambiguous observation of a very exotic state, something that looks strangely like a particle being made of four quarks. As exotic as it might be, this particle is sternly called Z(4430)-, which gives its mass at 4430 MeV, roughly four times heavier than a proton, and indicates it is has a negative electric charge. The letter Z shows that it belongs to a strange series of
particles that are referred to as XYZ states."

Theorists will rack their brains for a while to figure out what this really is, a completely new tetraquark, a bound state of four quarks, or some strange combination of two charmed mesons (mesons containing at least one charm quark). The question is still open. Physics is fun albeit weird at times.

By finding the lost Neanderthal genome, the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo has discovered that we are all part Neanderthal—except those with an entirely African heritage. His book, Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo
Basic Books, 275 pp., $27.99 is reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Steven Mithen along with The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals by Thomas Suddendorf Basic Books, 358 pp., $29.90. The subject is fascinating and Pollyanna has every intention of getting her hands on the books and reading them. If the NYRB link does not work (they can be stuffy about access), you can find a alternative reviews for both Paabo and Suddendorf.

Our friend and colleague, Mario Livio, whose blog is linked to your right, has come out with a book on scientific blunders, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio Simon and Schuster, 341 pp., $26.00. Freeman Dyson reviews it in the NYRB and Marcia Bartusiak, in the Washington Post. Mario makes the case for the contribution of mistakes to the advancement of science. He says “The blunders of genius are often indeed the portals of discovery.”


WHAT IF? I just moved into a new apartment. It includes hot water but I have to pay the electric bill. So being a person on a budget... what's the best way to use my free faucet to generate electricity?---David Axel Kurtz
The question turns out to be all wet, the answer amusing. BTW Randall, according to a nephrologist, drinking 3 liters of water a day is healthy because half of it goes to flush out your kidneys and keep them flowing well and the other half helps maintain your body temperature by transpiration through your pores.

It is a common component of psychoceramic (crackpot) science to prove Einstein wrong. Indeed there are now serious issues involving relativity and quantum mechanics, but that is not going to discredit Einstein. We are grateful, however, to Randall for showing us a successful attempt

Professors of Philosophy ride Aunt Suzie's Steamboat


Click here to see how the Big Bang really came about.

We went to the beach with Murphy where he found a branch a few meters long that gave him a challenge. The background sound is Yosefa laughing. It has been said that the worst airline is the one on which they show you the pilot's home movies...


Happy Pesach or Easter from Pollyanna

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pollyanna welcomes Spring

Pollyanna is back with you and hopes that in the name of social justice you all had an equal equinox. She would like to share with you a quote from an email we received from a colleague, Dr. Moshe Waxman, guru emeritus from the TAU Comp Center.
  “Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last
fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be

This is from a Cree Indian prophecy and it is very true. Someone should tell the Koch brothers. Someone should also tell the Japanese company that is marketing whale meat and elephant ivory. These two splendid and endangered species deserve better from humanity. Usually Pollyanna and Titan do not call for direct action and refer to the Miriam blog. In this case however, Pollyanna would really like you to send a rant to the Rakuten corporation calling on them to stop their despicable practice motivated by greed. There is a prepared rant at the link.
Stop Sale of Whale Meat and Elephant Ivory

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger HumanRights action blog. Over a year has gone and by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week Pollyanna is sending you to help fight child illiteracy in the community of Cajul in an isolated region of Guatemala. GlobalGiving recommends this project and we join them. It may seem small, but teaching 900 poor children to read can turn a community around.

The tragic saga of MH370 has been unfolding before us for the past two weeks. It appears that the plane went down far from land and it is not at all clear what could have motivated this senseless act of terrorism, if indeed it was that. Nothing else makes any more sense.The families of the victims evoke great empathy and sorrow. On BBC-TV, the daughter of a Polish leader who perished in the 2010 crash near Smolensk was interviewed. When asked about closure for families of victims, she replied bluntly, "there is no such thing as closure." She expressed sympathy for the families of flight 370, especially for their fear and dragged out uncertainty. There are, of course, conspiracy theories floating around claiming that the plane was controlled remotely by the CIA, that the passengers were killed by oxygen cutoff at 45,000 feet and that the plane is hidden at Diego Garcia. The same theorists claim that the planes destroyed on 9/11 never hit the buildings and are flying somewhere in the world today. Let them babble.

For a change, instead of a specific rant about abuse of women, Pollyanna would like to call your attention to a document by the Central American Women's Network (CAWN) devoted to the topic " Women renegotiating power paradigms in Central America: their struggles in the second half of the 20th century." It is a bit long, nine pages, but worth the read for anyone interested in the process of achieving equality for women anywhere and everywhere. Pollyanna would also like to call your attention to the campaign Because I am a Girl run by Plan International, a charity for children's rights. We will get to Plan International in detail in a future post.

We are all shocked and dismayed at the news of the calamitous mud slide near Oso, WA, USA, which has taken so many lives and caused so much destruction. We are following the rescue and recovery efforts and hope that the final death toll does not increase further than it has. When we confront the forces of nature, we realize how puny we humans really are.

The scale of devastation
At the station where we fuel our cars there is a page from a local newspaper posted on the wall claiming that an explosion was caused at a gas station by a cell phone. This rank nonsense has been taken up by our idiot government and we see signs in gas stations warning not to use cell phones. It makes no sense that the radiation from a cell phone, all the 0.75 to 1 watt of microwave power, could ignite gas fumes. We checked it with Snopes and found complete refutation and documentation of the myth. We quote: "The claim that the batteries used in a cellular phone can ignite gasoline seems specious, since cellular phone batteries are the same voltage as automobile batteries (12V D.C.) but deliver far less current. Likewise, the claim that a "cellular phone ringer uses more than100 volts for excitation" is a curious artifact of the "regular" telephone era: cellular phones don't have ringers; they produce audio tones that simulate the sound of a ringing telephone." OTOH, static electricity, from whatever source, can be dangerous near fuel pumps, but that has nothing to do with cell phones, solar flares or fluctuations in the stock market. Randall gives us another example of how a myth can be created, albeit with a tongue deep in the cheek.

Induced Current

The First of April, the day devoted to folly is coming up. Pollyanna chooses to mark it with some music from the greatest of the sons of Johannes Sebastian Bach, OK, maybe she is exaggerating a bit. Pollyanna is happy to present the 1712 Overture by P.D.Q. Bach.
P.D.Q. Bach, 1807-1750
There is no requirement that you listen to the end. Give this music all the respect that it deserves, that is to say, none at all. Pollyanna will spare you the Unbegun Symphony and Erotica for Banned Instruments, but you can find them on YouTube.

While many scientific ideas are said to be half-baked, those associated with the Sicilian Space Program are from deep in the nutty oven. Thanks to Richard for calling our attention to the flight of the cannolo into the stratosphere. 
As described in several media, a group of amateur scientists launched a cannolo, a cream-stuffed pastry roll symbolic of the Italian island, into the stratosphere, capturing bizarre images of the dessert flying far above the earth. It reached a height of nearly 30 km and took some pictures as well, all for the princely cost of 350 Euros. We salute the imaginative guys from the town of Enna. Cheers says Pollyanna. We hope it raised the morale of poverty-stricken Sicily, long the neglected stepchild of the Italian republic.

OK, enough of tasty spacecraft, let us look at some real science.

You all know about Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Scientists have succeeded in getting light to go around an object and continue to  propagate, but only at long wavelengths. Visible light invisibility will depend on new materials. Time invisibility, i.e. causing an event to not have happened has been achieved. It involves creating a hole in a light beam or in space-time if you will in which anything that happens will not be seen. It is done by sending a light beam, the “probe beam,” through an optical fiber. The team then introduced additional rays through the time lens ( a device based on a special optical fiber that allows one light ray to interact with another light ray. ) and used them to split the probe beam so that the front section was blue and the rear section was red. The probe beam was then sent through another optical fiber in which blue light travels faster than red, thereby opening up a gap in the beam. Within this gap, an event can occur without the beam detecting it.
Schematics of the temporal cloak using a pair of STLs.
The STLs are used to create a temporal ‘hole’ in a probe beam such that any temporal or spectral changes caused by an event within this hole do not occur. The figure is oriented such that the probe light is described by horizontal line…

To close the hole, the probe beam was sent through another optical fiber in which blue light travels more slowly than red, enabling the rear section to catch up to the front. Finally, the beam was sent through another time lens to turn it back into a uniform ray with the same color and wavelength as the original. In this way, the very fact that the hole in time occurred was also concealed. This is like the Israeli judge who issued a gag order and then issued another one forbidding the publication of the existence of the first gag order. It took two days for all the information to come out on the bloggosphere. This erasure of information seems to be more effective, albeit on a much smaller scale.

An Israeli researcher, M. Friedman, fresh back from a post-doc at Cornell where he was involved in the research and was the first author on a Nature paper, is setting up to expand on this work at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. He plans on increasing the scale of the phenomenon by a factor of 10,000. Pollyanna thinks this is really cool.

embryo made from STAP cells
STEM CELL RESULTS QUESTIONED  A technique for making a type of stem cell called STAP cells (shown in green) that can reportedly transform into any cell type is now in question as multiple researchers have failed to replicate the results.
It sounds like a replay of the old cold fusion story. Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, and colleagues first reported in two January 29 papers in Nature that they had reprogrammed newborn mouse cells by dunking them into acid or squeezing them. The cells took on stem cell–like qualities and were dubbed STAP cells for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency. So far, no other researchers have been able to repeat the accomplishment. It now appears that the technique is not as simple as described in the original Nature paper. The paper is under fire for other reasons as well. Pollyanna hesitates to call this jiggery-pokery, but if it is an honest error as in the fast neutrino case, then let us have the truth as quickly as possible.

Two major discoveries in the outer Solar System were announced in the same recent Nature paper. One is a planet orbiting at 80 AU (1 AU or astronomical unit is the mean distance from the center of the Sun to the center of the Earth, 150,000,000 km or 8 light minutes).
Orbit diagram for the solar system, showing Sedna and 2013 VP<sub>113</sub>
The orbits of Sedna (orange) and dwarf planet 2012 VP113 (red). Also shown are the orbits of the giant planets (purple). The Kuiper belt is the dotted light blue region. Illustration: Scott S Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

The other is the discovery that the asteroid Chariklo has rings analogous to those of Saturn and the other giant planets.  The discovery was made by observing the passage of the asteroid in front of a star (occultation) and noting the decrease in the light of the star.
Light curve of the occultation by the Chariklo system.
 The rings show up in the absorption of the light of an occulted star

This is quite surprising since one would not have thought an asteroid to have sufficient gravitational attaction i.e. mass to hold and maintain a ring system. Pollyanna is thrilled.


 What If? asks How far would a tungsten countertop descend if I dropped it into the Sun?
Michael Leuchtenburg
Not very far.

You all know what Archimedes claimed he could do with a lever and a fulcrum. Randall can possibly do more:

Pollyanna would like to share a philosophical discussion between the genius brains of Dilbert, Wally and their boss:
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

 Pollyanna is very glad that the social services are really trying to help street people, such as Clyde and Dabney,  take control of their lives and deal with reality:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/25/2014
Pollyanna also would like to point out the hazards of the teaching profession when dealing with the other end of the socio-economic spectrum:
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/28/2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Purim from Pollyanna

Pollyanna is back with you and wishes all her Jewish readers a very happy Purim festival which is coming up. It commemorates the events described in the Biblical Book of Esther. The book will be read in synagogues around the world on Saturday night (Sunday in Jerusalem) and the day will be marked by celebrations, masquerades, children putting on the story as a play and an order from the rabbis to get as drunk as a lord.

At some indeterminate time during the heyday of the Persian Empire a scheming bad guy named Haman conspired to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. His plot was foiled by the wisdom of Mordechai and the courage and resourcefulness of Esther who just happened to be the Queen of Persia at time. Have fun everyone!

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has gone by without Miriam, and we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

Pollyanna is going to discuss an issue that might be regarded as less than refined by some of our readers. She refers to the problem of keeping girls in school in the Third World and in particular to the problem of absenteeism from school by teen age girls because of menstruation. Linda Scott blogging as DoubleXEconomy discusses the issues in depth. She points out that the present situation in which girls in both sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia use cloth or worse in place of sanitary pads is unacceptable. She writes in part "They use whatever they can find, often cutting up old clothes, but sometimes taking “found” cloth, even from the public rubbish. We have heard horror stories of girls using animal skin and leaves, but all the direct reports we have heard have been of cloth usage, if sanitary pads (or sometimes toilet paper) are not in use." There are also issues of privacy. When a girl reaches puberty, she becomes an object of sexual predation which in turn can lead to  unwanted pregnancies and ostracism by families. Keeping girls in school and protecting them from exploitation and abuse are important matters both  for the girls themselves  and for the future of their societies.

In India, the invention of a cheap machine  for the production of sanitary pads by Arunachalam Muruganantham has revolutionized female health. The machine enables women to make their own sanitary pads out of cellulose.The whole process can be learned in an hour.We can only hope that it spreads.
Muruganantham stands next to his invention in a still from the documentary Menstrual Man
The inventor and his device
In the meantime, Pollyanna recommends The Kasiisi Project Girls Support Program, which functions in Uganda and has three main initiatives: keeping  girls a) in school, b) informed about their sexual health and c) economically independent. The Kasiisi Project Girls Support Program has developed initiatives to assist girls in successfully completing their education. These programs include:
Supplying sanitary pads to girls who are menstruating; 

Constructing private 'girls only' latrines; 
Providing accurate health information and mentorship through a female health worker.
Please donate.

Pollyanna is ranting this week about the legislative initiative in Mozambique that would grant impunity to a rapist who married his victim. In the Miriam blog (see above) there is a link to a protest site and Pollyanna hopes that all of you will raise your voices in a fierce outcry against this atrocity. It is clear that this law allows rapists to commit crimes with impunity, in violation of women's and girls' rights not to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment; this law is also a retrogression of the rights of women and girls in the country and places survivors of sexual abuse at risk of being deprived of justice, as well as being subjected to a profoundly abusive situation where they will be subjected to further acts of rape, under the obscene guise of a so-called "marriage." Less than a week ago we marked International Women's Day, yet we see that women are still fair game for exploiters and predators.

Pollyanna is also up in arms against the antivaxxers. The propaganda caused by totally spurious "research" data linking MMR vaccines to autism has created an atmosphere in which many people refuse to vaccinate their children. We have bashed them in the past, especially Mayim Bialik aka Amy Farrah Fowler for this. Now we see the results with the resurgence of a disease thought to have been eliminated, measles. We think that unvaccinated children should be excluded from schools, kindergartens and nursery schools.

In Afghanistan we have a very sad story of two lovers who wish to marry, but are in a Romeo and Juliet situation. Mohammed Ali and Zakia
Two star-crossed Afghans cling to love, even at risk of death
Zakia, 18, whose life is being threatened by family members after publicly declaring love for a man of a different sect, in Bamian, Afghanistan, Feb. 17, 2014. (Mauricio Lima/The New York Times)
would like to marry, but their families will not hear of it and as a result their lives, in particular hers, are in danger. Mohammad Ali is a Hazara, who are mostly Shia Muslims. Zakia is a Tajik, a Sunni ethnic group. (As with many Afghans, neither has a surname.) The rule of tradition still can trump modernity in many parts of the world.


Disintegrating asteroid P/2013 R3 as viewed by Hubble on 29 October 2013
Pieces of the asteroid formerly known as P/2013 R3 move apart, flung off by quantum effects writ large.
Phil Plait, blogging in Slate, calls our attention to the disintegration in full view of observers of the asteroid P/2013 R3, discovered in September 2013. This is apparently a terminal phase of the YORP effect by which the emission of infrared radiation by an object can accelerate its rotation and, if the object is sufficiently fluffy, impair its structural integrity.

Pollyanna is not only glad, she is delighted to tell of new therapies for the treatment of cancers. A potential revolution in cancer treatment that involves harnessing the body’s own immune defenses to eliminate tumors has been voted breakthrough of the year by the Washington-based journal Science. Two different techniques show signs of helping some patients. One  involves antibodies that release a brake on T cells, giving them the power to tackle tumors. Another involves genetically modifying  an individual's T cells outside the body to make them better able  to target cancer, and then reinfusing them so they can do just  that. Experts stress that these techniques have been tested in only small trials, and they don't always work. But the results have raised hope that immunotherapy may give doctors new options for treatment in the future.

Pollyanna cheers!

As you all know our owner Murphy has a strong case of species prejudice against all cats and deplores our feeding the creatures to bribe them to keep our yard free of mice and snakes. We have never subscribed to his belief that cats are evil, but we are sure he is pleased with the new novel by Lynne Truss. We of course know her as the gura of the language with her panda book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Now she has tried her hand with a horror novel that has a bit of tongue in cheek. Viv Groskop reviews it in the Telegraph. Meow!

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is putting on an exhibit of 9,000 year old  stone masks.
World’s oldest masks
These Neolithic objects show human artistry at its dawning. It should be an interesting exhibition and is certainly appropriate for the Purim season.


A controversy and a lawsuit have broken out in Britain over the appropriate place to bury the remains of Richard III that were discovered in Leicester. The descendants of the Plantagenet family want him buried in York but the authorities have decided to inter him in Leicester. Stay tuned.


What If? raises some interesting questions of law enforcement.

I've occasionally seen "radar enforced" on speed limit signs, and I can't help but ask: How intense would radio waves have to be to stop a car from going over the speed limit, and what would happen if this were attempted?

Those of us who wear hearing aids will appreciate the consideration Wally shows:

Todays Comic

Welcome to the modern world:Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/12/2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pollyanna winds down February

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
Venus and Moon at dawn
 Pollyanna is back with you and wishes all a nice weekend full of things to be glad about. She is glad to share a lovely picture of an old moon meeting a morning star crescent. If the picture has vanished, as NASA images often do, go to the site.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has gone and by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

A Bushman woman in the street in New Xade, the government resettlement camp to which many Bushmen have been relocated in the last ten years.
A Bushman woman in the street in New Xade, the government resettlement camp to which many Bushmen have been relocated in the last ten years. Beer and AIDS dominate the atmosphere.
© Dominick Tyler
Pollyanna is pointing you this week to Survival International, which is a human rights organization formed in 1969, that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal and uncontacted peoples, seeking to help them to determine their own future. Please donate and support.


Maya, our granddaughter, defended her BA Honors thesis at the University of Oregon and passed "with distinction." She wrote about "Nihilism in Children's Literature" which must be a unique topic, creatio ab nihilo, as the Bible tells us. Pollyanna, Titan and YandA are all very happy and proud.

Pollyanna is ranting this week about the plight of women in Somalia where rape is the norm and the security forces, who are among the worst offenders, enjoy complete impunity. Human Rights Watch has published a report on the issue and has called upon the government of Somalia to take steps to curb the widespread sexual violence to which women in Somalia are subjected.The 72-page report, “‘Here, Rape is Normal’: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia,” provides a road map for the government and its international donors to establish a comprehensive strategy to reduce rape, provide survivors with immediate and urgent assistance, and develop a long-term approach to end these abuses. The report focuses on improving prevention, increasing access to emergency health services, ensuring justice, legal and policy reform, and promoting women’s equality. A summary of the report is provided by AWID.

The police are worse than indifferent to these cases. We quote:
Maryam, a 37-year-old single mother who was gang-raped in her makeshift shelter, was the only survivor Human Rights Watch interviewed who attempted to file a police report. The police officers at the station humiliated her after she bled from injuries sustained during the rape.
“Before they let me go, they told me I had to wash the floor where I was bleeding,” she said. “I sat down, they gave me a brush and I cleaned the floor.” She never returned to the police station to pursue the case or report a second gang rape three months later.

Pollyanna thinks that it is totally wrong and unethical for someone to pretend to put out real meteorological predictions that are false and are just designed to enhance hits on a Web site and thus get more ad money. The prediction of a huge storm in the US next week by a huckster named Kevin Martin has been exposed as a hoax by El Blogo de Weatherdudeo writing in the Daily Kos. This sort of panic spreading is pernicious and even if it may be protected free speech, it is important that the truth be put out to protect people. Please read the blog and reassure your social circles that there is no storm to fear.

The Oscars will be handed out Sunday night. We like Nebraska, but it may not be the front runner. Here is a prediction for whatever it is worth. . Here is a list of the nominees.


We have long known that it is not a good idea for women to postpone maternity. It now appears that men too have a biological clock. A new study  of over 2 million children in Sweden over a long period shows that children of older fathers are vulnerable to a range  of disorders.
Comparing children of a 45-year-old dad to those of a 24-year-old father the study indicated:
    autism was more than three times as likely
    a 13-fold increased risk of ADHD
    double the risk of a psychotic disorder
    25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder
    2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behavior or problems with drugs
    lower scores at school

The results were published in JAMA Psychiatry. 

A large meteorite crashed into the moon this week and created a burst of light visible to the naked eye on Earth.
the impact of a large meteorite on the lunar surface of the moon
The flash was picked up by two telescopes in Spain's Midas observatory. Photograph: J Madiedo/Midas
 It was estimated to be about 400 kg in mass and its speed at impact was estimated to be about 61,000 km/h, the largest meteorite impact on the moon ever recorded! Pollyanna is impressed.

Zircon crystal
This zircon, which is about twice the width of a human hair, is now confirmed to be the oldest bit of the Earth's crust ever discovered. It was found in the Jack Hills region of Australia. (Courtesy John W. Valley/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

A piece of ancient zircon found in Australia indicates that the crust of the Earth was solid slightly less than 4.4 billion years ago. This has implications for the origin of life since solid crust is needed for viable life. During the Hadean era (named for its hellish conditions) the Earth was too hot and the surface molten. If the crust indeed had formed so long ago, maybe life is older than the 3.4 billion years indicated by the fossil record. The result was published in Nature Geosciences. The use of tomography to track the mobility of radiogenic lead was the key to the experiment and Pollyanna says this is cool.

Clovis point
Example of a Clovis fluted blade (Photo : Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources/ Wikimedia creative commons )
There has been some dispute whether the Clovis culture that existed for a few centuries long ago represented the ancestry of Native Americans. DNA analysis of a 12,600 year child skeleton buried with Clovis artifacts in Montana shows that indeed this is the case. The boy's genome showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today's native peoples in the Americas. This puts paid to theories of European or Melanesian origins of New World populations.


What If? Assuming that you have a spaceship in orbit around the Earth, could you propel your ship to speeds exceeding escape velocity by hitting golf balls in the other direction? If so, how many golf balls would be required to reach the Moon?

—Dan (Kanta, Ontario) Fun answer indeed. Cheers Randall.

Kids get in trouble at school by shooting their mouths off. Hadass picked up a story from Facebook that gives an example.

Then we have Cynthia:
Barney & Clyde

We have not visited SMBC for a while. Maybe that was a good idea...


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Polllyanna says happy Valentine's Day


Pollyanna is back with you and wishes all a happy Valentine's day. This week a Tel Aviv taxi driver gave us a couple of heart-shaped chocolates wrapped in red cellophane. Nice that St. Valentine has become ecumenical and Jews love him as well. Pollyanna says cheers to the florists of Paris.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has gone and by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

Pollyanna is pointing you this week to the Malala Fund.

As you must remember, over one year ago, in October 2012, Malala was shot in the head on her way back from school. She was targeted for raising for her voice for the rights of all girls to go to school. "Who is Malala?" the terrorists said as they boarded her school bus and attempted to silence her forever. They succeeded in making her voice stronger. Please donate and support.


The lady who as a very small child was a cinema superstar died this week at age 85. She started her career at age 3 and hit the big time at age six.She immediately made an impression, bordering on the freakish, singing Baby Take a Bow, in Stand Up and Cheer (1934), among seven movies in which she appeared in the same year. Little Shirley became the darling of America and the world during the depression-ridden era of the 1930's. After only her first year in movies, she received a Special Oscar "in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934". She was marketed by the studio into a national institution: there were Shirley Temple dolls, toys and clothes (including a line in bathing suits). "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six," she recalled. "Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked me for my autograph." As an adult she became active in Republican party politics, for which we forgive her, even her support for the Vietnam war. She became US ambassador to Ghana (1974-76) and White House chief of protocol (1976-77), during Gerald Ford's presidency. She also served as foreign affairs officer with the state department under Reagan and ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989-92) under George H.W. Bush. There are many obituaries. We link you to the Guardian. Here is a sample of her art:


 See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.
This week we mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of the man who is beyond a doubt the father of modern science. He built a telescope and pointed it at the sky, although the funding came from the Medici family who wanted their ship captains to spot the pirates before the pirates spotted them. He acknowledged the grant by naming the four moons of Jupiter that he discovered the "Medici stars." The mythological names were given by Cassini much later. Galileo found that the moon was not smooth but had mountains and valleys, that Venus had phases which proved that it went around the Sun and that Jupiter had moons that went around the planet. His proof of Copernican theory made him a heretic and he faced the Inquisition. He introduced the idea of proof by experiment and created the scientific mind set that shuns dogma and always looks for what is unknown and uncertain. For a concise biography go to this biography site. For a more detailed discussion of his life and career, Pollyanna refers you to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Pollyanna is furious over a change in the criminal code of Afghanistan that will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honor" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.

The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.

In Afghanistan, traditionally, extended families live in closed compounds. The only witness to an act of domestic violence will almost certainly be a family member. It means that fathers and brothers will have total impunity for so-called "honor killings" and  forced child marriages, abuse of women and girls and enslavement of young women. All these criminals  will be immune to prosecution. The countries that have been funding the Afghan regime are turning a blind eye to this and when the last foreign troops leave the country next year, the fate of women will be terrible.

In her famous book Eats, Shoots and Leaves (you all know the joke), Lynne Truss calls for the establishment of an Association for the Protection of the Apostrophe. We could not agree more. Judy sent us a horrible example of apostrophe abuse and what it can do to innocent people.
Displaying apostrophe's.jpg

We have long been involved in plasma physics and while we have primarily worked on space and planetary plasmas, we have watched with hope as our laboratory colleagues struggled over the decades with the problem of generating energy via nuclear reactions from stably  confined plasma. Every star does this with ease because of gravitational confinement, but keeping a laboratory plasma in place long enough to generate a viable system that will put out more energy than goes in is immensely difficult. We are, therefore, extremely delighted (Pollyanna is dancing in glee) that finally laser confinement has succeeded in passing this milestone. Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California have achieved a "fuel gain" of greater than one at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Using NIF's ultra-powerful laser to crush tiny pellets of deuterium–tritium fuel, they have produced more energy from fusion reactions than was deposited in the fuel. Although still far from the long-sought-after goal of "ignition", the latest results are nevertheless an important step on the road to realizing fusion energy, say researchers.

When finally clean fusion reactors replace fission reactors, which leave behind radioactive waste, and fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere, mankind will move into a totally new era of energy. The source is simply sea water deuterium and the residue is a tiny wisp of tritium. This has been a Holy Grail of plasma science for many decades and when it comes about, the social, economic and political implications will be tremendous. We are still far from igniting a viable reactor, but Dr. Omar Hurricane and his crew have made a major step forward in that direction.
Photograph of the fusion fuel capsule at the National Ignition Facility
Inside the hohlraum at NIF
Cheers to the LLNL crew!

While single electric charges are commonplace, no one has every observed a single pole magnet. They always have a north and south pole which, has mathematical implications that we shall not detail here. In 1931, the great physicist Paul Dirac published a paper in which he predicted, on the basis of quantum mechanical considerations that magnetic monopoles exist. Dirac showed that naturally occurring magnetic monopoles would require electric charge to come in discrete units. This discreteness is seen in nature but is not fully understood, and therefore the search for magnetic monopoles is an active field of research. In the last 83 years, all searches for magnetic monopoles have failed.

Now we are told that a group led by David Hall and colleagues at Amherst College in Massachusetts and collaborators at Aalto University in Finland is able to produce an analogue of what is known as a "Dirac monopole", the generalized quantum-mechanical form of a magnetic monopole put forward by Dirac. The result is very exciting to people, such as Pollyanna, who get excited and glad about this sort of thing.

Main Entry Image
Researchers from Tel Aviv University have used carbon dating to show that the first
camels were introduced into the region that is now  Israel in the ninth century BCE whereas the Patriarch stories, in which camels appear as pack animals,  refer to a much earlier era. The introduction of the camel as a pack animal had, of course, major implications for commerce at the time. The camel is capable of traversing deserts and other difficult types of terrain that would be impassable to donkeys or horses. If the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and their dysfunctional families were written down in the eighth or seventh centuries, the anachronism is natural. Our religious friends might take some offense at this debunking of legends, but in the wake of the Super Bowl which Titan discussed last week, there is room for some skepticism. For background, Tebow is a former NFL quarterback who is an outspoken evangelical Christian and was discarded by the Broncos.

What If? asks If you made a beach using grains the proportionate size of the stars in the Milky Way, what would that beach look like? Jeff Wartes The answer is interesting.

The late Robert Benchley, grandfather of Peter Benchley of Jaws fame, wrote a column in the old days of print media that had many good insights on society, as it was then,and as it is, alas, today. We invite you to a diagnosis session in self-psychiatry.

All Aboard for Dementia Praecox
It is a little terrifying, with all that I have to do this week, to
discover that I have a dementia praecox into the bargain. "What
next?" I often ask myself.

There is no doubt about the dementia praecox. I've got it, all
right. The only question now is, can I swing the other things that
I have to face? A good case of dementia praecox is about enough for
one week.

I got my data from a report submitted at the American Psychiatric
Association. This report said that dementia praecox can be helped
by oxygen treatment. And, in passing, the report just happened to
mention the symptoms of dementia praecox. Not that any of its
readers would find it applicable to themselves—just in passing, you

Early stages: (1) "Defective judgment." Well, I could keep you here
all night giving examples of my defective judgment that would make
your blood curdle. I couldn't even judge a sack-race. On this count
I qualify hands down.

(2) "Retarded perception." I didn't even know that the fleet was in
until I read Time ten days later.

(3) "Restrictions in the field of attention." My attention can be
held only by strapping me down to a cot and sitting on my chest.
Even then my eyes wander.

(4) "Deficiency of ethical inhibitions." I took a course in ethics
once, but I didn't do very well in it. We didn't know about
"inhibitions" in my day. They came in with horn-rimmed glasses and
Freud. We just said "Yes, please," or "No, thanks," and let it go
at that. I don't know whether I've got "ethical inhibitions" or
not. Just try me once, that's all.

(5) "Silly laughter." I hold the Interscholastic (New England),
Intercollegiate, East Coast Amateur and Open Professional cups for
silly laughter. I laugh at anything except a French clown. You
can't be sillier than that.

We dedicate this strip to those who like electrifying puns(I disclaim responsibility for this says Pollyanna)