Cluster Map

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pollyanna late for April Fools' Day

As you can see, the jester had the day off   (actually he spent a good deal of time trying to educate a new Blackberry to conform to his wishes, with moderate success) and Pollyanna is late with her All Fools' Day blog.  I am sure you will be indulgent with her. She will try to be as upbeat as she can in these troubled times.

It has long been a tradition in the Western world to play pranks on April Fool's Day. The origin of the custom is lost in antiquity, but here are some hypotheses.   I recall attending a"serious" concert in Washington DC on April Fool's Day in 1997 that was devoted to the music of P.D.Q. Bach   Last year the Israel Philharmonic played some of it and in 1987 I was unable to obtain a ticket to the Los Angeles Philharmonic when they performed the immortal Concerto for Eight Wine Bottles and Orchestra under the baton of Peter Schickele. Schickele described in a radio interview how he had the woodwind players of the orchestra swear that they would not drink the wine in the tuned bottles..Let me share a little nightmare music with you


Pollyanna salutes a woman who did great things in her lifetime.  Geraldine Ferraro died this week at the age of 75 of blood cancer and its complications. She was a US Congresswoman 1978-84 and was the first woman to be nominated for Vice President by a major party in the United States. She ran with Walter Mondale against the incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and they were defeated by a landslide in the 1984 elections. In addition she did many other things including serving as Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission. In many ways she was a trail blazer for the women of today who are making their mark in politics and other fields of endeavor. I append an obituary.

Pollyanna is always glad when new scientific advances open a window of hope for sick people. We have something like that to tell you about and it was research done at Tel Aviv University which makes us doubly glad and proud. On research at our university, more later.   Now we want to tell you about a new drug treatment to close the window on colon cancer.  It was developed by Prof. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu, head of the Department of Psychology,  and is designed to block stress responses in cancer surgery patients and thus to save lives

From the Tel Aviv University Web Site
Cancer surgery wreaks havoc on a body`s immune system and stress hormones exacerbate the problem. As a result, about half of those who undergo surgery for tumor removal experience a recurrence of cancer in the same region or other parts of the body.  A new clinical approach being developed and tested by Tel Aviv University researchers may be the key to making cancer operations more successful. Prof. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu, head of Tel Aviv University`s Department of Psychology, has opened on a new frontier in cancer research:  He is recruiting colon cancer patients for a new clinical study which will test a cocktail of drugs to prevent the negative effects of stress responses to surgery. If successful, it will help the immune system maintain its vigor and prevent the occurrence of new tumors.Prof. Ben-Eliyahu described his method in a recent issue of the Journal of Immunology and a paper in press. published on line. For more layperson details on this breakthrough, see the write up in Ha'aretz in English.

Indeed Tel Aviv University is a major research institution and ranks high in research citations and impact. Carl Stenglo points out that this is in contrast to its low rating overall. It has a 100% rating in citations per faculty member but 17% in student/faculty ratio. TAU is 11th in the world in citations per faculty member, but is 138th overall. As was pointed out last year when Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry, all these achievements represent the fruit of past investments, whereas now the higher education system is going downhill rapidly. It is a definite choice of any right wing government which is hostile to academia, as we saw in the UK with Thatcher and in the US with Republican presidents. Academics tend to be progressive and liberal in their general world view and that does not go over well with fascist or semi-fascist regimes. Indeed there are right wingers in academia, but from what I have seen (anecdotal and not data) many of them are religious, which fact tends to inhibit the critical faculty that marks liberal scientists. This comment may generate outrage among some of you, but Pollyanna is a Reform Jewish liberal. She is also a physicist and likes cartoons like this one intended for the physicists in her readership.

The last of these blogs described the problems of Supersymmetry theory which is having trouble being validated by the LHC. In paleontology, we find something worse, an experimental result is coming under doubt and question and the community of seekers after the origins of life on Earth are having to do some serious rethinking. This, of course, is part of what makes science so much fun and so beautiful.and at the risk of being repetitive, I am showing again how this works.

This is something straight out of science fiction.  Wiring the brain to computer chips is something that people have fantasized about, for good or ill and now it appears to be coming into the real world.  I suggest you read Marge Piercy's He, She and It to get an idea what might be in store.  Is Pollyanna glad?  I hope so because it appears inevitable unless we drive ourselves extinct with the new Earth that we are creating.

CIRCUIT TO ME Nerve cells (purple) send extensions through specially designed tubes in this artist’s illustration, a setup that could help researchers create hybrid neural-electronic systems.

How new planets form in various stellar systems has long been an issue  of research.  Now we seem to be getting a handle on variablity of planetary types.   The link contains a fascinating video, click and enjoy.

OK, Pollyanna says she has gabbed long enough and will send you off with some   humor about short term memory deficit (who suffers from that?) from our old  friend Gene Weingarten.

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