Cluster Map

Friday, February 4, 2011

Welcome to Pollyanna February 4, 2011

This week saw Chinese New Year, the ending of the Year of the Tiger and the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit.  Let us hope for a better and more peaceful year.  We are told that it will be a more placid year than the year that has just ended.  I append a general horoscope for whatever it is worth. You can all find your personal horoscopes on the Web, but I as a skeptic will not direct you to them.

A major question is whether Punxsutawny Phil the famous Pennsylvania groundhog saw his shadow on Wednesday. Since the eastern US was under snow advisory and the skies were very cloudy, he did not and an early spring is expected. Most of you probably saw the film  Groundhog Day and enjoyed it. 

This is a week that belongs to the Pollyanna blog, but besides the usual happy goodies, I feel the need to bring in a few current events matters. I assume that Pollyanna would be glad to see the people of Egypt taking their lives into their own hands after countless years, decades, even centuries of repression, foreign dominance, military and civilian corrupt dictatorships, incredible poverty and social injustice without end. 


Many Israelis look with dread at the ongoing revolution in Egypt. I ask every such person would you condemn the Egyptian people to live under a corrupt dictatorship when they could live under a corrupt democracy as the rest of us do? Excuse the cynicism. I agree with Churchill that democracy is a very bad way to run a country, but all others are worse. I am convinced that Egypt, if governed in accordance with its true interests,  will have no stomach for war and the economic advantages of the peace with Israel should outweigh any other considerations. The days of Nasser and Pan-Arab hegemony are past for a country beset by endemic poverty and underdevelopment, that would not survive a day without the US handout.  Indeed it was cynical on the part of Mubarak to collaborate with us on the Gaza strip and to fail to support the efforts to bring the Occupation to an end.  I append some links to analysis of the struggle. from a progressive viewpoint.    I also append an interesting local analysis by Gershon Baskin.   The implications of a leadership vacuum are not encouraging, but the fall of the corrupt rule of Mubarak was inevitable.  It is doubtful that the West can influence events now although they lost an opportunity through hesitation.  We can only hope that the Egyptian people will manage to work out their own destiny.  What will be good for them will be good for all.

OK, on to nicer stuff.
Polar Bears

Polar bear female looking for ice

This valuable creature is under threat from global warming since it needs sea ice to hunt its food, mostly seals and fish. It appears now that there is hope for the polar bear if we humans can get our act together. It is far too clear that warming is real and that it is caused by us. Let us start to do serious things about it.  It depends on us so please read and give it thought and action. 


Cellist Yo-Yo Ma photo Keri Wigniton/Tribune

Music for the Masses--cheers for the Citizens' Music Movement launched in Chicago by the local symphony
orchestra. Rehearsed professional flash mobs are all well and good, but the introduction of classical music into the public space needs continuity and, more importantly, true spontaneous involvement of people on the spot.. Let us salute the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma for their  involvement in the musical takeover of a railroad station.

If you have clear skies Saturday and Sunday nights you should look at the setting moon which is new and very gibbous. You will see on the dark part of the moon a filmy light. That is Earthshine, sunlight reflected from the Earth onto the moon. The phenomenon was explained 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci.

The planet Mercury has always been hard to observe in detail because of its proximity to the Sun. No one
wants to ruin a good telescope by exposing it to sunlight. The planet has had some spacecraft visits and now it is being observed by MESSENGER which will soon go into orbit around it. The project scientist Ralph McNutt is a dear friend and I know many of the dramatis personae of the project. I refer you to a fascinating discussion of the planet as we know it now in the latest issue of  Physics Today.

While we are with astronomy and astrophysics, here is the new  Week in Space calendar for your perusal.
Note the 40th anniversary of the first golf ball hit on the Moon. Also  skeptical voices are being raised about
cosmic reincarnation. A few weeks ago I posted a story about a claim that the Big Bang had taken place more than once. This analysis of background radio astronomy data has been challenged and it may well be in error. I was told by Judy that a colleague of hers in Tel Aviv had also found errors in the analysis. I will post the counter arguments and we will await developments as the controversy rages on.

As a plasma physicist, I have lived for my entire career with Boltzmann's equation and have of course
never solved anything except very special cases.  The dream of a general solution for the full
seven-dimensional Boltzmann equation has finally come true and I invite those interested to read all about it. Boltzmann was born on my birthday February 20, albeit in the year 1844. Unfortunately shared astrology did not make a Ludwig Boltzmann out of me.

Prediction of heart attacks would be a major means of prevention and enhancing survival rates. An unexpected push in that direction comes from of all places Chaos Theory in mathematics. It is always nice to see different parts of science helping one another such as the case of the immune system and statistical physics that we reported here last time. Biophysics and Bio-mathematics appear to be growth areas, although that has been going on for a very long time.

In recent years the human genome has been mapped and more and more progress continues to be made in interpretation of the genetic code. What is totally not understood today is how the genetic code began, in other words the origin of life. Some progress is starting to show up and it is interesting. I invite you to give this review article a read. I will not spoil things by giving away too much.
I am adding another feature to Pollyanna, a link to an interesting book review. This week I shall send
you to Science News for a review of The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of
Forensic Science
By Douglas Starr, reviewed by Erika Engelhaupt . The review piqued my interest and I
intend to read the book soon. 
As usual we wind up with Gene Weingarten who gets us on to something that will cause you to be obsessed. Consider yourself warned before reading  Below the Beltway.

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