Cluster Map

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pollyanna at Midsummer, Dreams and All

Pollyanna is back and is as usual looking for things to be glad about. As you can see, last night she dreamt that she was Mae West
What do air crews call a life vest?
and there was nothing to do but to go along with her. It came out when she was innocently reciting a little poem about a little girl who had a little curl etc. and ended it with "when I am good, I am very very good and when I am bad I am better."  The source of this is well known and here is Pollyanna as the grand lady of the silver screen.


Last April, Max Mathews, the first person to get a computer to play music, died at the age of 84. As I write now, I am listening to music from KUSC Los Angeles online, with a good amplifier and speakers connected to my computer,  enjoying Baroque music and taking it for granted. He and I overlapped at Bell Labs in the 1960's but I never met him. We should all be grateful for his contribution to our lives. I append an obituary and recommend picking up on the audio links.

While on the topic of music, which Pollyanna loves, let us share a news item about an extreme reaction to  a performance and a few blog posts from the Opinionator on how Daniel Felsenfeld and Michael Gordon  became composers. We also had a visit by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan in 2009 Photo by: MR Photo / Corbis Online
 in Israel which was quite well received. The reviewer found it necessary to mention that Dylan is Jewish. So what? Indeed he and I were both born in St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth MN, although he grew up in Hibbing MN, then an iron mining town in the Mesabi Range, but again so what?   I doubt that being born Jewish was at all relevant to  the development of his career. We Israelis have some kind of obsession with our brethren around the world.  During the soccer World Cup tournament last year, the Israeli commentator made a point of the fact that the US team had two Jewish players. Did they say a Hebrew blessing every time they kicked the ball?  Did the Great Referee in the Sky keep them from being knocked out of the tournament by Ghana?  When Limor Livnat, who gives idiots a bad name, was Minister of Education, she had a list compiled of 100 great Jews of the last 100 years and the students had to learn it by heart, poor kids. The late Baruch Kimmerling asked a valid question--what did the ethnicity of Einstein, Freud, Krebs and the others have to do with their achievements? I fear the provincialism of the shtetl will not go away.

Fifty Years since his Death

We were told in The New Yorker last week about an event in New York City in memory of James Thurber. Let me quote Frank Mankoff-
"Last Sunday at the 92nd Street Y, I was delighted to be part of an event entitled “Keith Olbermann and Friends: On James Thurber”—and pleasantly surprised to learn that Olbermann was my friend, even though we had never met before. The evening featured readings from “Fables for Our Time” by Olbermann and by Thurber’s daughter, Rosemary, who talked about growing up in a “Thurberized” household. Calvin Trillin talked about the Midwestern sensibilities that influenced Thurber’s humor and his own. The comedian Scott Blakeman was the moderator.  And I gave a little presentation claiming that, important as Thurber was to humor writing, he was even more influential in shaping the modern New Yorker cartoon."

I have been an avid admirer of James Thurber (the link is for those challenged by youth or sanity) ever since I can remember, which, alas, is a very long time. If he had only written The Secret Life of Walter Mitty it would have been enough for us. Indeed he took New Yorker cartoons from this:

via this:

to this truly great one:

I think that he belongs in the pantheon of great humorists along with Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and Thorne Smith,  just to mention a few who come to mind. One of his greatest very short stories  is  The Peaceful Mongoose in which he takes a shot at the warlike atmosphere of the Cold War and the McCarthy days. It is quite apt for Israel today.
…who didn’t want to fight cobras or anything else” and was rumored to be “not only pro-cobra and anti-mongoose but intellectually curious and against the ideals and traditions of mongoosism.
I append a link to a collection of his quotes . My favorite is  "There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception".

I would like to share a reading of a Thurber short story as done by Keith Olbermann on his TV show:

Our Sunday evenings are devoted to introducing Hillel,

aka the coffee table monster
our four year old grandson, to various branches of sports, all of which he associates with popcorn. Last Sunday, we saw the final round of the US Golf Open which some young chap from Ulster won with a record 72 hole score of 16 under par. As we watched these guys sinking putts from outer space on very twisty greens, Yosefa came up with the hypothesis that there are little receivers in the balls and remote controls in the golfers' pockets. Not bad, but someone has come up with some insights on the physics of great putting  which we would like to share with the golf buffs among you.

Pollyanna, as usual, would like to share some science tidbits with you.  The first one, with which we start  lest we forget, deals with a potential treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease by means of as common a substance as cinnamon!  We are proud that this was done at our beloved Tel Aviv University.  Do not forget to take your cinnamon every day.

The question of the ORIGIN OF LIFE has long been a subject of interest to scientists.   At one university in Israel  (guess which one) this research had to be disguised under an innocuous sounding name lest the power of the Inquisition be unleashed upon the lab.  It is generally agreed that DNA could not have been  the  starter in the absence of proteins and vice versa (chicken and egg  issue), but now it appears that its poor relation RNA played a crucial role in starting self-replication.  It also seems that the starter "soup" may not have been in the warm seas but in ice and slush.which could mean  that life might start in hostile extraterrestrial environments.

We also would like to share some news items from Earth and Environmental Science with you.

Pollyanna loses her cool and her glad attitude when WOMEN'S RIGHTS are violated.  A Toronto police officer suggested that women would be safer if they did not "dress like sluts" which generated a huge reaction and outcry, and justly so. Now the "Slutwalk" movement has reached India where abuse of women is a national sport. Let's hear it for the brave women of New Delhi who are standing up for their rights.  She also has some strong feelings about women's rights in Saudi Arabia.  Maureen Dowd lets fly a barrage at Hilary Clinton for her pussyfooting on the subject.  Driving is a crime?!!!  Apparently the price at the gas pump can douse a lot of the flame of human rights.

Keith Olbermann is back on the air on Al Gore's new network after parting company with  MSNBC. I would like to introduce you to his first show.   Pollyanna is pleased that it had such a successful debut and crushed Fox in the ratings.

Pollyanna is very glad that Louisiana  did not pass a law that would have let  Creationism into the classroom. Hurray!   Teaching  science is hard enough  without religious and political interference.  In  New Hampshire it appears that there will be a struggle next year to keep religious dogma out of the schools.  She is also delighted at the release from prison of Ai Wei Wei  and the 20 year ban on mining in the Grand Canyon.  

Since we have bugged you quite a bit today, we will tell you about a book about what bugs you.  We certainly hope that you still read books.  Much noise is being made about the demise of the printed book and if indeed it is lost to us, we will have lost the process of linear acquisition of information.  It is a problem worthy of your consideration.

This has become very long  so we shall send you off smiling with Gene Weingarten and his search for the elusive googlenope.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pollyanna and Shavuot week

Pollyanna is back after enjoying the Shavuot holiday, the holiday of the giving of the Torah and of the first fruits of the harvest season.
Here is Pollyanna bringing in the first fruits.  Of course, these days we go to the supermarket, buy fruit, put a floral wreath on the kid's head and send him/her with his/her basket to school.  Alas, the modern world.  Shavuot also marks the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments, but I am not sure everyone appreciates that.
with thanks to the Dry Bones cartoonist.  In synagogue this week we read the Book of Ruth, which describes how a convert immigrant woman became the great-grandmother of King David.  The Israel Religious Action Committee (IRAC), the legal arm of the Reform movement, published the attached simulated correspondence with Eli Yishai, our ultra Orthodox Interior Minister.  . We strongly suspect that if Ruth were to come to Israel today. she would be deported.

This week I read the haftara (reading from the prophets) from Ezekiel I, in which a vision is seen by the prophet that some have interpreted as a low-latitude  aurora.   Allow me to quote from a paper.  
" Perhaps the earliest detailed description of a low-latitude aurora is that found in Chapter 1 of the Biblical book of Ezekiel, analyzed in detail by Siscoe et al. (2002) (see also Silverman, 2006b)"  .
One must ask whether the north magnetic pole had indeed been in a favorable position at the end of the seventh century BCE.  Pollyanna and I think it is an interesting speculation.  If you have never seen a real aurora, this is what Ezekiel might have seen:

An Eskimo tale tells us that the lights are spirits in the sky playing catch with a walrus skull. Another legend describes the lights as flaming torches carried by travelers to the afterlife.  Galileo thought that they were reflections of solar light from the polar caps.  Today we understand the emissions to be the result of collisions of solar particles accelerated in the terrestrial magnetic field with atmospheric atoms.  All magnetic planets have them.  Here is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the aurora of Jupiter:

 The bright spot to the left is the "footprint" of the magnetic flux tube threading  the active satellite Io..

Since Pollyanna is a modest and well brought up girl, there will be no discussion in this blog of the underwear of Rep. Weiner  In fact, Pollyanna thinks that Andy Borowitz has overworked the silly subject as have the pundits of the Washington Post and the NYTimes.  We are tired of it and would prefer to deal with real issues.

There are things to be glad about in the realm of science and Pollyanna is delighted to share them with you.  In general she loves science because it is beautiful and it works:
For the scientifically challenged, this is the Planck black body radiation function that helped lay the foundations of Quantum Mechanics.
Of course, she is a bit sentimental about this issue: 

We start with a possible breakthrough in mitigating the risk of breast cancer. A study funded by the Pfizer drug company (proper disclosure) indicates that certain drugs can have a prophylactic effect on breast cancer. Let us hope that it works out.

Physicists have long wondered why our universe is made up almost totally of matter and antimatter is almost completely absent. When matter meets antimatter the result is mutual annihilation. When the universe came into being, there should have been equal amounts of   matter and antimatter and the fact that we are here to ask the question indicates that somehow matter won. How and why are unanswered questions. Maybe our predecessors were not so lucky...

In any case,the people at CERN, the home of the LHC,  have taken a major step toward elucidating the mystery and Pollyanna is very glad about it as she is about all advances in science.  They have managed to confine antihydrogen for about sixteen minutes whereas in the past confinement times of fractions of a second were the longest achieved.  Here is a video from CERN

You are invited to read more.
Let us hope that no one from the future comes back to sabotage the LHC before it finds what it was designed and built to look for.  We are already seeing threats.  Some people do not like the Higgs for some reason.

Dark matter, the stuff that is supposed to make the galaxies move as they do, is another Holy Grail of science.  It is extremely difficult to detect and major efforts are under way.  It is supposed to consist of Weakly Interacting  Massive Partices or WIMP's.  There is also speculation about Super Wimps which sounds a bit oxymoronic, but physicists have a certain style.  There are now indications that it might have been observed in a Minnesota mine and a cave in Italy., but the jury is still out. There is also a possibility that a galactic collision observed by our old friend Chandra might indicate the existence of dark matter.
Galaxy collision:  x-rays (pink) are emitted when the interstellar gas clouds collide, while the dark matter (blue) remains aligned with distant stars because it is unreactive .
Wednesday was not only Shavuot, but also World Ocean Day.  Pollyanna and I would like to share some watery impressions with you courtesy of Mother Jones.

Usually Pollyanna leaves the human rights ranting to her brother Titan, but she is very glad to share the good news of the release of a political prisoner in Azerbaijan. Here is his thank you letter to all the Amnesty International people who worked for his release.
 This week Pollyanna is presenting books dealing with the charismatic figure of Malcolm X.  For the younger readers, he was a militant leader of the civil rights movement and the right hand of Elijah Mohammed, the founder of the Nation of Islam in the US.  He later split with the Nation of Islam and was assassinated by them in February, 1965. Recently a new  biography of Malcolm X entitled “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” by a Columbia University professor Manning Marable has come out.  The author sadly died on April 1, 2011 at age 60 just a few days before publication of the book. The book challenges both popular and  scholarly portrayals of Malcolm X, describing a man often subject to doubts about theology, politics and other matters, quite different from the figure of unswerving moral certitude that became an enduring symbol of African-American pride. He is particularly critical of the celebrated Autobiography of Malcolm X  now a staple of college reading lists, which was written with Alex Haley and which Mr. Marable described as “fictive.”  A detailed discussion by David Remnick of books about Malcolm X appeared in The New Yorker of April 25, 2011.   I hope you can open it.

As we said, Andy Borowitz is obsessed with the congressional underpants but  Gene Weingarten is sharing his tribulations with us and wondering whether public speaking is not worse than death.
Pollyanna wants to wish all the new graduates success in their endeavors in the world.