Cluster Map

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pollyanna in Winter, trying to be glad

 Wizard of Id Cartoon for Jan/15/2015

Pollyanna is back, winter weather and all, and would really like to live up to her reputation and talk about glad things. Unfortunately, this world of ours does not support gladness, but she will do her best this week. She shares the feelings of all civilized people in the wake of last week's massacre in Paris and was thrilled to see the French people turning out in their millions to support the principle of free speech and the principle of not allowing terrorists to dominate our lives or to trample on our rights. Below she will get into a more nuanced discussion of free speech and its limits.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over two years have 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.


This week Pollyanna refers you to Books for Africa which is rated very highly by Charity Navigator and is serving a vital need for the advancement of the emerging nations of Africa. We note that it has a high transparency rating and an administrative layout of 0.3% which is certainly admirable.
Books arriving in South Sudan


The horrible attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher Supermarket in Paris last week still resonates in our minds and hearts. Yet Pollyanna wonders why millions are not  marching to stop the ongoing terrible slaughter in Nigeria by Boko Haram killers who go from town to town, killing indiscriminately.
Illustration by Amos Biderman
The Guardian has a section on these harrowing events that you should read--‘I walked through five villages and each one was empty except for dead bodies’ The Nigerian army is unable or unwilling to do much about it. Soldiers drop their weapons and flee with the townspeople. The US tried to help after the  abduction of the schoolgirls last spring, but was unable to do much in collaboration with the corrupt and ineffective Nigerian security forces. Something should be done, but no one seems to have an idea or to really care all that much. Is it because the French victims are from our tribe? Is it because Africa is remote  and black-skinned and Paris is near and our color? We all shout that we must protect free speech and what is wrong with Muslims that keeps them from having a sense of humor? Tom Lehrer, the American Jewish satirist, wrote a song in 1964 in the wake of Vatican II, that ridiculed the Catholic Church, its rituals and  beliefs, and no one batted an eyelash.
Joe Sacco, himself a cartoonist raises the question bluntly:

As Titan noted last week, religion can be toxic. He dealt with alienation of children from their parents by Jewish "missionaries." There are also the irritants such as the idiots who refuse to sit hear women on planes or buses and indeed people are petitioning and making noise about these things. It becomes really poisonous when blood is spilled in the name of the Prophet. It is certainly wrong to surrender to them, either by flight (e.g. French Jews) or by self-censorship. One can fault France for allowing the blight to fester in the notorious banlieues just outside Paris that are home largely to second- and third-generation immigrants from former French colonies in North and West Africa. These places are fertile soil for Muslim extremism, either recruitment for the IS in Syria/Iraq or for terror at home. Not that terror and mass killing are a Muslim monopoly--the massacre in Norway was carried out by Anders_Behring Breivik, the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook school in Newtown CT  by  Adam Lanza and  the Columbine killings by students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. None of these were in any way connected to Islam or to religion of any kind.
Mike Luckovich Cartoon for Jan/13/2015
Nonetheless, the majority of the events that account for the rise of terrorism in the world in recent years are associated with Islamic entities, be they the Taliban, Boko Haram, El Qaeda or the IS. Certainly, no one implies that terror is mainstream in the Muslim world, but obviously something needs to be done and it must be done by Muslim religious leadership.

Finally Pollyanna wishes to express her agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Pope. His Holiness agrees that freedom of expression is a fundamental right, but it has limits. Certainly shouting Fire! in a crowded theater, hate speech and incitement  and child pornography cannot be said to come under the umbrella of  protected free speech. Ridiculing someone's religion, ethnicity or beliefs is certainly poor taste, vulgarity and inappropriate behavior, but, as the Pope says, are by no means a justification for violence and murder. Abuse of the right of free speech should be dealt with in the framework of the rule of law. Someone who is the victim of slander can have recourse to the courts and obtain damages. Satire, if it is to be worthy of the name, must be biting and strong, such as Andy Borowitz who can portray the Speaker of the House as a drunken sod and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman as an idiot, with no fear of reprisal. Scurrilous reporting, such as the Swedish tabloid that claimed that the Israeli Army was killing Palestinians in order to sell their organs, should be a matter for the professional associations of journalists to deal with and sanction. The fact that Israel reacted by protesting to the Swedish government that it was not doing its job of controlling the press is just a sign of stupidity. At least no one was killed. We also note that Charlie Hebdo was even-handed in dealing with religions:
They all agree that Charlie Hebdo must be veiled...

Pollyanna wishes to reiterate that transgressing the bounds of free speech, which Charlie Hebdo may well have done, should be responded to by nonviolent and legal means. The honor and respect for the Prophet is not enhanced by killing in his name.
Mike Luckovich Cartoon for Jan/11/2015


Pollyanna would like to share some nice things with you. One is the hope that translation by computer will actually work. We have all seen computer translations and have guffawed at them. Now it appears  that real progress is being made and we will be able to communicate in real time conversations with people with whom we do not have a common language. Cheers.


Pelagic thresher shark reportedly giving birth. (Courtesy of Attila E Kaszo)
For the first time ever, the birth of a baby shark has been caught on camera.  The picture was taken by Attila Kaszo during a 2013 research dive in the Philippines and now has been published in  Coral Reef, the official journal of International Society for Coral Reef Studies. Is this an infringement of privacy? She has not yet complained. The story of how the event was found in the data is itself of interest.


Carolyn Porco reminds us of the day ten years ago when the Huygens probe landed successfully on the surface of Titan. It was the first time a man-made object has been placed on a moon of another planet and the results were of course fantastic.

Share the memory with Carolyn.


We have a penchant for walking around in sports gear, including shorts, in all kinds of weather. For years we have been getting the reaction, especially from women,  "it makes me cold to look at you" and have always ascribed it to the Jewish mother latent in every female (no, that is not a sexist remark). Now according to new research from Sussex University, the effect is real and being cold is contagious. Empathy is something that seems to have evolutionary value according to the researcher, "Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans' success results from our ability to work together in complex communities -- this would be hard to do if we were not able to rapidly empathize with each other and predict one another's thoughts, feelings and motivations."


The tool in question was uncovered in June 2014 during the annual digs at the Grotte du Bison at Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy, France. Extremely ...
Credit: University of Montreal - Luc Doyon

New evidence has surfaced that indicates that Neanderthals made bone tools, something that has always been thought to be a Homo Sapiens innovation. The tool was discovered in France and dates from about 55,000 years ago. It implies that the technical and cognitive gap between H. Sapiens and Neanderthals is less marked than had been thought. Interesting indeed, says Pollyanna


The evolution of resistance to antibiotics has long plagued modern medicine and has rendered many compounds useless. Now a search for a magic bullet antibiotic that will not generate resistance seems to have hit pay dirt--a finding that challenges conventional wisdom and has made headlines everywhere. It was just published in Nature. This can be a huge step forward in the fight against disease. Hooray says Pollyanna.


What If? asks What if there was a lake on the Moon? What would it be like to swim in it? Presuming that it is sheltered in a regular atmosphere, in some giant dome or something.

Kim Holder
The answer is fun.


Woe to the website that tries to violate the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle by trickery--cheers to our lady
Location Sharing

Dilbert Cartoon for Jan/09/2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

Pollyanna wishes you a Happy New Year

Pollyanna is back and wants to wish all her readers a Happy New Year. Let us hope that 2015 will be better for us, humanity in general and our planet.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over two years have 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.


This week Pollyanna refers you to Project Education South Sudan aka PESS. During the first civil war, many boys fled and became known as the "Lost Boys" of South Sudan. One of them was Daniel Majook Gai who fled the civil war in Sudan, running miles by himself to safety and leaving his family behind.
Daniel Majook Gai from South Sudan goes in and out of his war-torn country to help children there go to school.
Daniel Majook Gai from South Sudan goes in and out of his war-torn country to help children there go to school.
 He eventually got to the US, obtained an education and is now trying to get kids, especially girls, into school in South Sudan. He works for PESS which builds schools throughout the country and helps break down barriers for girls. In the area of South Sudan where Daniel has been working, 3,000 boys and girls have been out of class for a year now.  Please help out.


Pollyanna is sad about the tragic fate of the passengers and crew  on the AirAsia flight whose plane crashed at sea.  The aircraft apparently went  down in bad weather, but there are certainly many questions to be asked. In general, 2014 was the deadliest year for aviation fatalities in a decade, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives.
Graphic by Laura Santhanam/PBS NewsHour
Graphic by Laura Santhanam/PBS NewsHour

The  BAAA data show that 1,326 people died this year in airliner accidents, the worst on record since 2005. That figure includes both Malaysia Airlines disasters — Flight MH370, which disappeared off the Vietnamese coastline and Flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine.


Two men place candles in the shape of a heart at the site of a New Year's Eve stampede at The Bund in Shanghai on January 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Greg BAKER
Two men place candles in the shape of a heart at the site of a New Year's Eve stampede at The Bund in Shanghai on January 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Greg BAKER
Pollyanna is also upset by the sad events in Shanghai where New Year's Eve celebrations were marred by a stampede that claimed the lives of 36 people with over 50 more injured. The cause is still unclear although there was a report that some people had thrown fake money from a balcony. The police do not confirm this claim. It is tragic that an event designed for enjoyment turns into tragedy.


Pollyanna is glad to hear that the three Al Jazeera journalists, who were sentenced to long prison terms in Egypt in what was patently a politically motivated show trial, have been granted a retrial on appeal. The appeals court decision indicates some signs of an independent court system in a country ruled by a dictatorship. It is unfortunate that the three, the Australian Peter Griese, Mohammed Fahmy who holds Egyptian and Canadian citizenship and Baher Mohamed were not granted bail for the duration of the retrial.


Rachel Daniel, sitting with her son, Bukar, held a picture of her daughter, Rose, who was among nearly 300 Nigerian teenage girls kidnapped in April by the militant group Boko Haram. Credit Joe Penney/Reuters
Usually Titan produces the rants and raves, but Pollyanna cannot remain silent in the face of the incompetence and indifference shown by the government and army of Nigeria in the matter of the hundreds of girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram. The NYTimes reports on the failure of the Nigerians to take advantage of the aid provided to them by the United States.  The Nigerian army is not only incompetent, it has a dismal record of human rights violations. (It should be a matter of shame to us that Israel nearly sold military helicopters to Nigeria. Fortunately, the US blocked the sale, which it had the power to do because the aircraft were of US manufacture.) There is great fear that the girls have been sold to Boko Haram fighters, who in the past six months have seized hundreds more civilians, including children, planted bombs in Nigerian cities and captured entire towns.


Ruth Schuster writing in Haaretz has summed up the best science stories that appeared in the paper during 2014. They are all interesting although at times her comments are a bit patronizing towards basic science. The discovery that canine defecation direction is related to the magnetic field is interesting, not for the scatology, but because of the indication that dogs have magnetic sensors. This has long been known in birds and is the means of pigeon navigation. Humans have no such capability.  We note that this must refer to freely roaming dogs and we shall observe Murphy when we are next with him on the dune or beach. While walking on the leash, he will simply poop in the direction opposite to our walking.
Another interesting and more important finding is the adverse affect of artificial sweeteners on the body. Using artificial sweeteners can increase the probability of developing diabetes and obesity, ironically the very conditions they're supposed to prevent, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science announced. They discovered that while artificial sweeteners don't contain glucose, they do affect how our bodies process sugar: our bodies can lose the ability to handle sugar. Since our intestines don't even absorb these sweeteners, the scientists wondered what  does and found that it is  the bacteria in your guts. If you have certain types, eating the sweeteners has exactly the wrong effect on you.
Diet drinks may have the exact opposite effect of what we want. Photo: Adi Dovrat-Meseritz.


We are informed that the  French economist Thomas Piketty,
the author  the best-selling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has declined an honor from the French government. His book, in which he pillories the causes of economic inequality, was one of the greater intellectual events of the year. We quote the Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman on Mr Piketty's "big idea" in the New York Review of Books: "We haven't just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we're also on a path back to "patrimonial capitalism," in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties."
The book has naturally attracted much comment and no small amount of fierce criticism. 


Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece, by Andrew Levy, Hardcover, 342 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $25

This book is reviewed in NPR blogs by Linda Holmes. We quote the opening of the review "Is there anything left to say about Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn?"

That is the question that animates big parts of the book,  a richly researched, copiously annotated, fascinating argument that in all the debates over the book's treatment of race and despite its position as both a widely banned book and a widely assigned book, we tend to miss some of the most important things it teaches.  Pollyanna  recommends it to your consideration. Levy comes to grips with the complex issues of Twain, racism and children's literature.


Since again there is no new What If?, we looked for something equally informative. This week we saw an unnamed Luddite enjoying her new smart phone and came to think a bit about our relationship with advances in technology. We find that Randall has addressed this question as well.
Simple Answers


You are probably familiar with the Darwin Awards web site in which human stupidity is documented and people die deaths caused by their own idiocy, thus removing themselves from the gene pool. You might also enjoy the crop of idiot sightings at Authentic Forum.  Pollyanna found several impressive cases there, such as "I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, "Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?" To which I replied, "If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?" He smiled knowingly and nodded, "That's why we ask."
Happened in Birmingham , AL.
Pollyanna is amused by the chap in Australia who tried to blow up an ATM to steal the money inside. The security cameras caught the story. At least he survived and gave the police some amusement on Christmas Eve.

WUMO wind down the year with their own version of functioning of idiots. Pollyanna will risk being sued and show you the cartoon.
Wumo Cartoon for Dec/31/2014

For those whose New Year's resolutions involve weight loss, she offers the pasta diet:
 The Proven New Year's Pasta Diet
Take up this diet in 2015 and you are certain to lose weight!

1) You walka pasta da bakery.

2) You walka pasta da candy store.

3) You walka pasta da Ice Cream shop.

4) You walka pasta da table and fridge.

Cynthia starts off the year with the right attitude:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Jan/01/2015
Of course, he would not have replaced her phone, discipline etc., but he will certainly replace his own. How many of us have raised a Cynthia or two?

Dilbert has decided to reduce the number of decisions in his life by  inventing tube clothes, a la the grey tee shirts of Mark Zukerberg. He then invokes a dating service, poor chap...or poor ladies.
Dilbert Cartoon for Dec/31/2014

Dilbert Cartoon for Jan/01/2015

Dilbert Cartoon for Jan/02/2015

Id goes to war:
Wizard of Id Cartoon for Dec/27/2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pollyanna greets you with Happy Hannuka

Pollyanna is back after a foray to a bat mitzva in Winnipeg

and some relaxation with Titan and YandA in New York. She wishes all her Jewish readers a happy Hannuka. This holiday celebrates a victory over Hellenistic overlords in 168-165 BCE and a miracle involving a self-filling amphora of oil. A car with such a gas tank would sell very well.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over two years have 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.


This week Pollyanna refers you to the charity AFYA. We had the opportunity to visit their facility in Yonkers NY last week and came away most impressed. We quote their mission statement:"Our mission is to recover targeted surplus medical supplies, hospital equipment and humanitarian provisions from the New York healthcare, corporate and private communities in order to establish categorized inventory to support ongoing health initiatives in Africa and the Caribbean." Please open the link and make a donation to this most worthy cause.


The man who invented electronic gaming died last week at the age of 92. In the summer of 1966 he had a vision that led to the first television game and eventually spawned the vast computer game industry of today.

Ralph H. Baer in Manchester, N.H., in 2005 with the game system he invented called the "brown box," later named Odyssey. He was also a co-inventor of the electronic game Simon, pictured in the foreground. Credit Ken Williams/Concord Monitor, via Associated Press

In March 1971, Mr. Baer and his employer, Sanders Associates in Nashua, N.H., filed for the first video game patent, which was granted in April 1973 as Patent No. 3,728,480. It made an extraordinarily large claim to a legal monopoly for any product that included a domestic television with circuits capable of producing and controlling dots on a screen.

Sanders Associates licensed its system to Magnavox, which began selling it as Odyssey in the summer of 1972 as the first home video game console. It sold 130,000 units the first year. The rest is history. A detailed obituary can be found in the NYTimes at the above link. It tells a fascinating story.


Pollyanna ranted last time about senseless killing of worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue. Now it is a school in Peshewar, Pakistan. This city is burying its dead after a Taliban attack at a school killed at least 132 children and nine staff. Details are given by the BBC online. AVAAZ has started up a petition to keep children in school.   In too many places children, especially girls, are out of school because of fear.

Please sign asks Pollyanna.

Pollyanna is equally upset with the latest news from Nigeria about an attack, apparently by Boko Haram, which brought about the death of at least 33 people and resulted in the kidnapping of more than 100 others.
Members of the Abuja "Bring Back Our Girls" protest group sit during a march in continuation of the Global October movement. Once again, Boko Haram militants are implicated in killings and mass kidnapping in northeastern Nigeria.
Members of the Abuja "Bring Back Our Girls" protest group sit during a march in continuation of the Global October movement. Once again, Boko Haram militants are implicated in killings and mass kidnapping in northeastern Nigeria.
There seems to be no end to the stream of blood being spilled everywhere.


A major peeve of Pollyanna is the anti vaxxer group who refrain from vaccinating their children. As a result, infection diseases may break out and wreak havoc especially among babies who are too young to be vaccinated, for example against whooping cough. Now a major epidemic of whooping cough has hit the Latino community in California.  One cause may be fear of detection on the part of illegal immigrants. The highest rates of whooping cough are found in the Bay Area counties of Sonoma, Napa and Marin, which also have some of the highest rates of parents who opt out of vaccinating their children.
Nurse Julietta Losoyo gives Derek Lucero a whooping cough vaccination at the San Diego Public Health Center on Dec. 10.
Nurse Julietta Losoyo gives Derek Lucero a whooping cough vaccination at the San Diego Public Health Center on Dec. 10.

Doctors believe these kids are the root of the current and recent epidemics.

"We had a lot of unvaccinated children that acted as the kindling to start an outbreak," said Dr. Paul Katz, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael. "Those children were able to infect all the other children who were vaccinated but were too early for a booster –- they became the rest of the wood to start the fire."
The fact that the effectiveness of current vaccines wears off means that booster shots are important. Another factor may be cultural and linguistic difficulties caused by lack of communication in the language  of the immigrant population. Pollyanna thinks that the establishment of a firewall between the health and immigration authorities would help, if the illegal immigrants could be persuaded to believe it.


This may sound like Sodom and Gomorrah redux, but it is true that a growing number of cities in the United States have passed laws making it illegal to feed homeless people.
 According to Michael Stoops, a supporter named Tem Feavel submitted this image to the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2007, but there is no record of where it was taken.
Gene Weingarten puts it in perspective with Barney and Clyde.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Dec/01/2014
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Dec/02/2014

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Dec/03/2014
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Dec/04/2014
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Dec/05/2014

They also execute people there and have no real national health service or even national maternity leave. Yuck!


This week Pollyanna heard on the news that the latest test of the Arrow 3 antimissile rocket was a success. Pollyanna really dislikes being taken for an idiot. In fact, the test was a dismal failure as reported in the international media. She is reminded of the three strictures of Abraham Lincoln
  a. you can fool some of the people all of the time
  b. you can fool all of the people some of the time
  c. you cannot fool all of the people all of the time



Do you want to go to the park? Mango Doucleff, of San Francisco, responds to her favorite command by perking up her ears and tilting her head.
Do you want to go to the park? Mango Doucleff, of San Francisco, responds to her favorite command by perking up her ears and tilting her head.
Michaeleen Doucleff/NPR

We all that know dogs pay close attention to the emotion in our voices. They listen for whether our tone is friendly or mean, how the pitch goes up or down and even the rhythms in our speech. What about meaning? New research has found that dogs pay attention to the meanings of words and that  they process that information in a different part of the brain from where they process emotional cues in speech. The research is fascinating and anyone who lives with a dog will certainly find it relevant. Murphy says that this should have been obvious to us all the time.


A transmission electron micrograph shows Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus particles (colorized yellow).
A transmission electron micrograph shows Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus particles (colorized yellow).
Pollyanna is glad to hear that the ban on US government supported research on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome aka MERS has been rescinded. This is a disease normally associated with camels, but has passed on to humans in the Middle East and caused many deaths.


Even if the explanation for the methane turns out to be geological, the hydrothermal systems would still be prime locations to search for signs of life. Credit NAS


The Curiosity robot explorer has come up with  a burst of methane that lasted at least two months. For now, scientists have just two possible explanations for the methane. One is that it is the waste product of certain living microbes. The other is that it is geological. The Curiosity results show that the gas is present at about 1 part per billion in the Martian atmosphere, or 4,000 times less than in Earth’s air. We should beware of jumping to conclusions since there are many chemical processes, such as the reaction of the common mineral olivine with water, that can produce methane without life. One must keep the caveats in minds and investigate further.


The source of terrestrial water has long been thought to be comet impacts when the solar system was young enough to be full of comets and the Earth cool enough to retain the water. Now results from Rosetta, in orbit around Comet 67P/Churymov–Gerasimenko show that the water on the comet has an isotopic composition different from that on the Earth.
Ice spewing off the surface of Comet 67P/Churymov–Gerasimenko Photo credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/ INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

So far, the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio, i.e. the fraction of heavy water, in which the hydrogen has been replaced by deuterium (nucleus contains one proton, one neutron), in the total water molecule population, has been measured on 11 different comets, covering both types, but only one has matched up with Earth: the Jupiter-family Comet 103P/Hartley 2. However, as reported in Science, Rosetta found that the D/H ratio was more than three times higher than the values found in Earth’s oceans and on Hartley 2.The task of providing us with our oceans now devolves to the asteroids. Meteoroids from asteroids have a water isotope ratio similar to that of Earth. Nonetheless, the conclusion requires further confirmation since the D/H ratio was measured in vapor exuded by the comet and may have been altered in space. Stay tuned.


Bursts of radio noise lasting only a few milliseconds have been detected since 2001 by a radio telescope in Australia. Since all were from one observatory, it was not clear that these blasts were astrophysical or some local glitch in the electronics or whatever (remember fast neutrinos). In 2014, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico found such a burst, thus authenticating the five events found in Australia. No one has the vaguest idea what might be causing them which poses a challenge to theory. Science thrives on such discoveries.   Some theories have suggested that so-called FRBs originate from an evaporating black hole, or perhaps solar flares from nearby stars, or — and this is coming from one of the astronomers who first recorded the FRBs — they could even be “signatures from extraterrestrial civilizations.” Pollyanna is delighted to hear of such things--it shows how much fun science can be, although you may be sure that much drudgery went into the data analysis that led to these findings.


What If? What if I made a lava lamp out of real lava? What could I use as a clear medium? How close could I stand to watch it?

Kathy Johnstone, 6th Grade Teacher (via a student)

Interesting answer, but I would not like to have my kid in her class.


Our Minister of Defense, a nonredeemable jerk, has a strategic adviser, who is, in Pollyanna's humble opinion, someone who gives idiots a bad name. We think that the Minister would do better to  hire Wally:
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

Then we all have financial advisers...

The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pollyanna is not extremely glad this week, but she is here anyhow

Pollyanna is with you again and is certainly not glad this week. She is outraged at the despicable attack on worshipers at a synagogue in Jerusalem and in general at the pointless spilling of blood that goes on all around us. Yes, "how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?" Bob Dylan has an answer that no one seems to want to hear.

The mass execution of people in Syria is part of the same pattern. Pollyanna will spare you the images. The number of deaths from terrorism increased by 61% between 2012 and 2013, a study into international terrorism says, which tells you something about the global war on terror and how successful it has been. There were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks in 2013, a 44% increase from the previous year, the Global Terrorism Index 2014 report added. The report said militant groups Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban were behind most of the deaths. It is easy to be politically incorrect in the light of this statistic.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over two years have 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.


This week Pollyanna gets to choose a charity. She refers you to the  the Fund for Global Human Rights. It has a high mark from Charity Watch and provides grants to organizations that defend human rights worldwide.
The mission statement:Securing basic dignity and freedom for people worldwide requires that front-line organizations challenge abuse wherever it occurs. The Fund finds and funds local human rights heroes who often work at great personal risk to strengthen and bring global attention to their struggles.
Their Web site provides details of their grantees and the functioning of the Fund. Please take a look and donate.



Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes
Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes celebrates the decision to allow female bishops
Pollyanna is very pleased with the decision of the Church of England to appoint women bishops. We have female rabbis in the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism, but of course the Orthodox would never hear of the idea. We hope the CofE weathers the introduction of women bishops without too much difficulty. We understand that during a transition period there will be a senior male cleric available for parishioners who might be uncomfortable with a female bishop. Cheers for progressive thinking that broke through the stained glass ceiling. We hope it will not be accompanied by the same type of conservative thinking that caused difficulties when the first openly gay bishop was installed.


Ayan Qureshi is the youngest computer specialist in the world
Pollyanna gives a pat on the head to the five year old who passed the Microsoft exam to become a Microsoft Certified Professional. Ayan Quereshi, now six, whose father is an IT consultant, has set up his own computer network at home in Coventry, UK. The family moved from Pakistan to England in 2009. Note, little nerds, Ayan spends no more than two hours per day with his computer network. Cheers!


The government of India has agreed to increase a multi-million dollar compensation claim against Union Carbide over the 1984 gas leak from the company's pesticide plant that poisoned more than half a million people. This is a response to a nil-by-mouth hunger strike by five women, who began their action on 10 November.
Survivors and activists have long criticized the Indian government for massively underestimating the number of dead and injured after the Bhopal gas leak.
Survivors and activists have long criticized the Indian government for massively underestimating the number of dead and injured after the Bhopal gas leak.

“This is a major victory for survivors of the 1984 gas leak, but subsequent generations of Bhopalis continue to suffer as chemicals abandoned by Union Carbide 30 years ago still leak into the groundwater today,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director for Global Issues. Pollyanna agrees most strongly.


Pollyanna is pleased at the news that the alleged terrorist accused of the Rue Copernic synagogue bombing in Paris in 1980 is being extradited to France to stand trial. She is also glad to note that Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy (King Coal in West Virginia), was just indicted for putting profits above the lives of his company's employees resulting in a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The mills of the gods may grind slowly, but they can grind exceedingly fine.



It has long been known that basic physics is in trouble. Quantum theory is needed to explain how the universe works at the microscopic scale, and is believed to apply to all matter. But it is notoriously difficult to fathom, exhibiting weird phenomena which seem to violate the laws of cause and effect.
As the eminent American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once noted: "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."
There are several things in quantum mechanics that appear weird and attempts to resolve them have been going on for a long time. One of them is entanglement which insults our intuitions about how the world could possibly work. Albert Einstein sneered that if the equations of quantum theory predicted such nonsense, so much the worse for quantum theory. “Spooky actions at a distance,” he huffed to a colleague in 1948. Nonetheless, it appears to be real.

Attempts to explain this and other weird phenomena have made use of the many-worlds idea as far back as 1957, but have not been very successful. Now there are two new ideas about other universes that interact with ours and the claim is that weirdness goes away. One theory is from workers at Griffith University in Australia with a collaborator from California and the other from Texas Tech in the USA. The idea is that other worlds exist, interact with ours in a particular way and thus remove the exotic features of quantum physics.
Artist's abstraction (stock illustration). According to Poirier's theory, quantum reality is not wave-like at all, but is composed of multiple, classical-like worlds. In each of these worlds, every object has very definite physical attributes, such as position and momentum. Within a given world, objects interact with each other classically. All quantum effects, on the other hand, manifest as interactions between "nearby" parallel worlds.

Stay tuned says Pollyanna.


 Collage illustration of a human head, computer chip, digits and various abstract elements.
As technology and in particular cybernetic technology advances, it can be argued that eventually the symbiosis between homo sapiens and the intelligent machines that he creates will give rise to a new version of human beings. The issue is discussed in detail in two postings on the NPR Cosmos and Culture blog. The first, by Marcelo Gleiser deals with the concept of transhumanism. We are attached to our technological add-ons and, as Gleiser predicts, we will have technological devices implanted in our heads, etc. We are reminded of a novel by Marge Piercy, He, She and It, that takes place in such a future. In her world, men and women take radically different approaches to the creating of human-robot hybrids. The second post, by Adam Frank , addresses the question of the post-human species that will evolve from us.

Frank puts the issue very bluntly "From physical form (there will be many possibilities) to culture and behavior, it's hard to even imagine how alien our post-human progeny might seem to us or us to them. Given the likely completeness of the post-human transformation, how ready are we to be so completely replaced? It's a question that has to be on the table because we are, as a culture, rapidly pushing the enabling technologies forward right now."
It is something worthy of thought by all of us.


 Seneca, from double herm of Socrates and Seneca.  Antikensammlung Berlin.
The Roman philosopher Seneca (4BC-65AD) has recently experienced a revival of interest. James Romm in his new book,  Dying Every Day – Seneca at the Court of Nero, New York, Knopf, 2014, deals with what has become known as the "Seneca problem". This can be summed up as follows:the conflict of his wealth, partly gained through usury and imperial favor, and his embrace of political power as the tutor and “friend” of the Emperor Nero, and the severe moralism of the Stoic philosophy he propounded in his voluminous writings. Did Seneca, as a philosopher-statesman, successfully divide his public and intellectual lives or was he the worst sort of hypocrite?
Seneca, who had at one time been a tutor of the Emperor Nero, was ordered by the Emperor to commit suicide after being (possibly) involved in a plot to depose him . Romm's book is reviewed inNew York Arts by the critic Michael Miller.  Another life of Seneca has come out in Oxford Press by Emily Wilson, (The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca, by Emily Wilson, Oxford University Press, 288 pp, $29.95, ISBN: 9780199926640) and is reviewed by Frank Freeman in the Dublin Review of Books. Mary Beard discusses both books, Seneca and the Stoic philosophy in an article in the New York Review of Books, which may not be accessible to all.
Seneca wrote about many aspects of philosophy and took moral positions in writing, whereas in real life he betrayed his benefactress Agrippina to the point of participating in her murder. He lived each day as if it stood alone, or as he puts it: "We die every day. You see, every day a little bit of our life is taken away from us, and even at the moment we are growing, our life is decaying. We lose our infancy, then childhood, then adolescence. Even up to yesterday, all past time is gone; even this day that we are spending now, we share with death. It’s not the last drop that empties the waterclock, but whatever has flowed out before. "
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen/bpk/Art Resource Peter Paul Rubens: The Death of Seneca, 1612–1613
It appears that Stoic philosophy never stood up to the real world, or as Cicero sarcastically describes it "A wise person never allows himself to be influenced... Philosophers are people who, however ugly, remain handsome; even if they are very poor, they are rich; even if they are slaves, they are kings. All sins are equal, so that every misdemeanor is a serious crime... The philosopher has no need to offer conjectures, never regrets what he has done, is never mistaken, never changes his mind." Cicero regarded Stoicism as nonsense and the life of Seneca shows indeed that it is not a viable philosophy.


There is no new What If? this week, but we will let Randall give us a bit more philosophy.


WUMO indeed give us cause for humility...
and Clyde is dangerous to the establishment, such as it is:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Nov/17/2014
The  Wizard strip which we quote so often has been out in the world for a full half century.

Wizard of Id Cartoon for Nov/17/2014

He even is appreciated by his colleagues:
BC Cartoon for Nov/17/2014