Cluster Map

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pollyanna is here again

Agnes Marin, raped and murdered, age 13, credit AFP
 Pollyanna is back and before she gets into the nice stuff that you expect from her she is going to rant.  In fact, she is going to give her brother Titan the ranter a lesson in ranting, foaming at the mouth and infinite outrage.  In this, she is joined of course by Titan and YandA.  We are ranting about the rape and murder of this 13 year old girl,  Agnes Marin in France.   She was raped and killed by a 17 year old schoolmate who is awaiting trial for the rape of a 15 year old who at least survived.  Despite this, he was admitted to a boarding school and it appears that no one told the principal that this young man constituted a danger to his schoolmates.  You can read the details and rage with us at the utter incompetence of the juvenile justice system in France.  Excuses abound, but the bottom line is that parents are entitled to assume that their children are protected in school against marauders and killers.  It is incomprehensible that the unnamed 17-year old was granted admission to the private boarding school in Chambon-sur-Lignon, central-southeastern France, given that he had spent four months in prison last year over the rape of another fellow pupil in another region.

Pollyanna and Titan are joining YandA for a trip to the West Coast of the USA.  You may get a Titan next week, but Pollyanna is sparing you until December 23.  We will attend the Annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco and then visit colleagues and friends in Los Angeles.  We will be back for Hannuka.


Iapetus is an oddball moon of Saturn.
Two-Faced Moon
Two faced Iapetus  NASA

Iapetus has extreme topography and one of the most ancient surfaces in the solar system. It also has a tall mountain range running exactly around its equator.

Iapetus ridge NASA
Size: 1,460 km - 3rd largest moon of Saturn
Orbital radius: 3,561,000 kilometers - 59.1 Saturn radii - far outside Saturn's ring system
Orbital period: 79.33 days - 5 times Titan's
Discovery: 1671 by Giovanni Domenico Cassini

Iapetus [pronounced eye-APP-eh-tuss; adjective form: Iapetian] has been called the yin and yang of the Saturn moons because its leading hemisphere has a reflectivity (or albedo) as dark as coal (albedo 0.03-0.05 with a slight reddish tinge) and its trailing hemisphere is much brighter at 0.5-0.6. Giovanni Cassini observed the dark-light difference when he discovered Iapetus in 1671. He noted that he could only see Iapetus on the west side of Saturn. He correctly concluded that Iapetus had one side much darker than the other side, and that Iapetus was tidally locked with Saturn.  Since Cassini's time, the spacecraft named for him has taken much better views of Iapetus including an encounter on September 10, 2007 a few samples of which are shown above.

In mythology Iapetus was the father of Prometheus, Epimetheus, Menoetius, and Atlas by Clymene.   He was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the father of the human race.
This week Anne Mccaffrey the famous fantasy and science fiction author died at age 85.
Camera Press
Anne McCaffrey in 1981.
She will be remembered as the author of the Perm novels for young adults in which it became possible for girls as well as boys to ride dragons.  We append an obituary by the New York Times.

Lynn Margulis whose ideas turned evolution theory on its head, died this week at age 73.  Her work on evolution at the microorganism level challenged conventional wisdom in the 1960's and was initially rejected.  She stood by her guns and her ideas of symbiotic evolution have now become the standard theory.
Paul Hosefos/The New York Times
Lynn Margulis, wearing her National Medal of Science Award.
 Her first husband was the noted late astronomer Carl Sagan, but she did not need his reflected light and become a distinguished scientist on her own.  

GOOD NEWS from Oregon--the  governor of Oregon has announced that he will not permit any executions to take place in the state as long as he holds the position.
( Don Ryan / Associated Press ) - Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber  announcing in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, that the execution of convicted killer Gary Haugen will not go on as scheduled next month and no more executions will happen while he is in office
An execution was due to take place very soon but Governor John Kitzhaber announced on 22 November that he was issuing a reprieve in the case of Gary Haugen, a 49-year-old man scheduled for execution on 6 December after waiving his appeals. We, together with Amnesty International welcome the decision by the Governor and hope that it will eventually lead to abolition.

You may recall that a while back we reported on a preprint by Cohen and Glashow in which they pointed out that if the Gran Sasso neutrinos had exceeded the speed of light they would have emitted Cherenkov radiation.  This is radiation emitted when the passage of photons through a medium is impeded and falls below the speed of light in vacuum.  In such a case, particles can move through the medium faster than the local light speed.  If that happens, then the particles emit a characteristic radiation and lose energy.  The ICARUS group at Gran Sasso reports that its search for Cherenkov emission yielded no positive findings.
Bubble chamber tracks like this one display the motions of electrically-charged particles as they move through a superheated liquid. The ICARUS team used a bubble chamber to study radiation (or lack thereof) from a beam of neutrinos at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.
CREDIT: Fermi National Laboratory
This may be a crucial blow to the overfast neutrino results.  Stay tuned.

A new rover named  Curiosity is on its way to Mars where its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity have been gathering in data for years.
Meet Curiosity who is off on a long journey
 Among other things it will look for methane, which can be interpreted as an indicator of life.  Life on Earth can be detected from space  by the methane emitted by cattle and sheep in Texas and Australia.  We note the daintiness of the New York Times science team who tell us that cows "burp" methane.  The question of whether life ever existed on Mars is not in the agenda of Curiosity, but it is indeed an interesting question and should be looked at someday, when scientific funding is less tight.  We are proud to tell you that the name of our grandson Maayan will be on a chip carried on board Curiosity.  He even has a certificate to prove it.
There are several mysteries floating around in physics such as  retrocausality, entanglement and other weird things.  One of the most challenging has been the question of why the universe is here at all.  Matter and antimatter mutually annihilate and since at the time of the Big Bang more or less equal amounts of matter and antimatter came into being, not much if anything should have been left.  It now appears, albeit not at a compellingly conclusive level yet, that the Large Hadron Collider beauty group  may have found an answer to this question.  If so, we may have to revise the Standard Model of physics and go in new directions.  Indeed, that was the reason for building this very expensive machine.  Maybe supersymmetry, who knows what the future holds for physics?  Meet an LHC group:
The LHCb team stands in front of their experiment, the LHCb detecor, at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
CREDIT: CERN/Maximilien Brice, Rachel Barbier
CANCER VACCINE There is a claim by an Israeli biomed firm Vaxil that it has developed a vaccine against cancer.  This is a huge claim and since the link that we just gave you connects to a blog of an Israel promotion propaganda site, we are a little skeptical.  We ran a search and came up with some reservations that tend to cast doubt upon the claim.  In fact, we are told that the claim contains some untrue statements.  Judge for yourself, but we share the doubt caused by the fact that the company officer quoted is not the Chief Scientist or a laboratory scientist, but the the Chief Financial Officer Julian Levy and one might wonder about his qualifications.  We checked him out and he has a law degree from Cambridge University and a resume of business administration in the biomed field.  Indeed Hadassah is doing the clinical trials and it may well be important.  Nonetheless, we find the bombast to be a bit exaggerated.  Again, stay tuned.

LUNAR MAGNETISM Our Moon has long been considered an inert body, but it had a wild past and maintained a magnetic field for 400 million years, much longer than might have been expected.  Now there are interesting theories coming to explain the phenomenon, mainly by the effects of asteroid bombardment that shook things up in the interior and possibly the influence of the Earth and its gravitational field.  The subject is interesting in itself and we coauthored a paper on the detection of vestiges of fossil magnetism by an orbiting spacecraft, long ago, certainly before the authors of the new paper were born.  The popular report is free, but you might require library access for the  new Nature paper and the  old Science paper..

BOOK REVIEW This week Pollyanna calls your attention to a review in the NYTimes (Published: October 21, 2011) of Jose Saramago's last novel Cain (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa, 159 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $24.) by Robert  Pinsky.   Some people like Saramago more than others.  You might like to give him a try.

FUND RAISING APPEAL We are sure that many of you make use of Wikipedia.  The folks there are putting out a call for some financial support from the user community.  Please consider donating to support this most useful Web utility.
Click to donate online.

Support Wikipedia

It is interesting to note that many people, including some very close to me, boggle at moving big files around.  Nothing is simpler than an ftp server or just plain  ftp or Dropbox that synchs files.    XKCD  makes the point very well. 

We wind up with a comment on Black Friday from Andy Borowitz which would be funny if it were not so tragic.  People go out of their minds in shopping and consumer madness.   Of course, we could not let you off without a new chapter in the ongoing saga of Gene Weingarten and his interaction with the canine world

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pollyanna returns

Pollyanna has decided to say thank you to the author who gave birth to her in 1913, Eleanor H. Porter:
She might be credited (or blamed) for distorting reality for generations of girls, but Pollyanna appreciates being granted her existence.
Pollyanna has been frustrated all week because, although she has sworn off politics, the shenanigans of the two Katzenjammer kids
Hans and Fritz, inspired by Max and Moritz

who serve as PM and Defense Minister in this pathetic country are enough to wipe out the gladness game forever. She sincerely hopes that cooler heads will prevail and no one sends air crews out to bomb Iran with no hope of success and little chance of returning alive. We will let Titan rant next week about this and other things of that ilk, such as the attacks on democracy.

Today Pollyanna is giving the moons of Saturn a rest and is focusing on even smaller objects, in particular asteroids. (click for Asteroids 101. ) This solar system flotsam and jetsam is left over from the earliest days of planet formation and can provide knowledge of the primitive solar system.  They can also be dangerous if big enough.  Tuesday at 0130 or so our time we were  visited by an asteroid of substantial dimension, about 400 meters.  It flew by at about 85% of the distance to lunar orbit and astronomers, both professional and amateur, had a field day.

In the wake of the flyby, Nasa offered two places to take a closer look at the action - Asteroid and Comet Watch on the main NASA site, and Asteriod Watch on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website.  Both of them should be great fun.   Read more.

An answer to the Fermi paradox, i.e. if life exists elsewhere and there has been sufficient time for propagation through the galaxy, then where are they?  His friend, the physicist Leo Szilard had a different answer to the question of where the aliens are.  "Enrico, they are here amongst us and are known as Hungarians."  At least the US Government has no knowledge of their existence outside of Hungary.
Astronomers are listening to the cosmos; but no evidence exists yet for alien life

Norman Ramsey the 1989 Nobel Laureate in Physics died this week at age 96.
Norman F. Ramsey in 1989. AP

His research on the internal structure of atoms and molecules led him to the technology of super-accurate atomic clocks. He participated in the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb during WWII.
Dr. Ramsey signing off the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.

He was possibly the last survivor of the giants of  the Golden Age of 20th century. physics.

Joe Frazier
the great heavyweight boxer died this week of liver cancer at the age of 67.  He is famous for his fights with Mohammed Ali and lived greatly in Ali's shadow, but was a person of worth in his own right.  I append an obituary from the New York Times.  RIP

 Andy Rooney

passed away this week at the age of 92. Recently we marked his retirement from the 60 Minutes show after over three decades of serving as the curmudgeon par excellence of humanity.  Titan, age 4.6 billion, Pollyanna,age 98 and I are all old enough to have empathy with curmudgeonry and feel that something has gone out of our culture. Rest in Peace Andy and tell the Management wherever you are now that things have gone downhill since whenever.  Harps with plastic strings should not be considered acceptable.... Titan claims to have fond memories of his childhood when a T Tauri Sun provided some entertainment and Pollyanna complains that it was easier to play the gladness game when we did not have digital information flow telling how bad things are all over the place. I on the other hand "love" the modern world especially the rise of superstition masquerading as religion and reincarnated Neanderthals masquerading as political leaders.

As you all know by now, Pollyanna forgets about gladness and goes ballistic over abuse of women and girls by anyone, governments, institutions or individuals. She is outraged about what is happening to lesbian women in Ecuador presumably a civilized, progressive First World country.  It is shocking that this is happening in 2011.   At 207 "clinics" across Ecuador, lesbians are held captive, raped, tortured, starved and beaten in an attempt to make them straight. Pollyanna is calling upon all of you to go to the petition site, to click on the petition, sign and pass it on via Facebook, Twitter, email and in general to everyone you know.

On the other hand she is happy about the results of the  referendum in Mississippi. Mississippi voters slapped down GOP attempts to define “personhood” as occurring at the moment of fertilization. They proved that conservative southerners can say no just as easily as voters in Colorado to a measure that critics say would imperil birth control pills and in vitro fertilization and restrict doctors from treating cancer patients who are pregnant.

The EU betrays women by preventing the release of a film on the abuse of women in Afghanistan. Women who complain about abuse are themselves imprisoned and rape victims are prosecuted for fornication and adultery, all this a decade after the fall of the Taliban. The  systematic violation of the human rights of women and girls  in Afghanistan is a major scandal and the world should be aware and proactive in putting an end to it.
Pollyanna also has very strong feelings about environmental issues. The actions and inactions of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world's largest and most profitable corporations, have devastated the lives of people living in the delta of the Niger River. There used to be life and hope in the Niger Delta town of Bodo, a village filled with thriving fish ponds and mangrove trees. Then in 2008, two oil spills changed everything -- twice, nearby Shell Oil pipelines spewed toxic oil for weeks before they were repaired.

"It killed all the mangrove trees, the ecosystem, everything we put there. Everything just died in a day." --Bodo resident Christian Lekoya Kpandei
Shell's oil spills in the Niger Delta (pictured) mean the region needs the world's largest clean-up, says the United Nations Environment Programme. Photograph: AP

It is time that Shell be called to account  for the damage that it caused.   Pollyanna asks you to join this action initiated by Amnesty International.

Two weeks ago Pollyanna reported to you on the extinction of the Javanese rhino in Vietnam. She is very upset about the news of the extinction of another breed of rhinoceros, the black rhinoceros,

which has been declared extinct in West Africa. This is a result of a superstitious belief in the medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties of rhinoceros horn and the venality of the poachers who are hunting these magnificent animals off the face of the planet. Indeed, poverty is terrible in the Third World, but it cannot be a justification for rhino hunting. It appears that for many  species on the brink, captivity offers the only chance of survival. 


 Prehistoric paintings such as this one from Pech-Merle show horses with spotted coats. It is nice that DNA evidence shows that the artists were not drawing fantasies, but actually saw the animals that they drew. Pollyanna likes this and is really glad about it.

Dreams have always fascinated people. ..We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.-Prospero in The Tempest.
Pollyanna is fascinated by the implications of lucid dreaming and its interaction with brain studies.   Lucid dreaming is the rare ability to direct behaviors while in a deep sleep. By all objective measures, the person is dead to the world, most muscles are paralyzed and the eyes are doing the quick jitters that characterize REM, the main dreaming phase of sleep. But at the same time, the lucid dreamer knows that he/she is dreaming and can control the scenes, says study coauthor Michael Czisch of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. “The world is open to do everything.” 

A few blogs back we brought you the first part of an article by Saul Bellow in the New York Review of Books. Here is  Part II of his discussion of being a Jewish writer in America. We also would like to showcase another great writer, Romain Gary (1914-1980). We have just finished reading his autobiography (given to us by Yosefa) describing his life with his mother in Eastern Europe and Nice, his WWII experiences and his life up to 1960.  The book, Promise at Dawn, was a New York Times best seller in 1961.  Yosefa first introduced us to him via the novel The Life Before Us which won him a second Prix Goncourt (under an assumed name). His life is described in brief in The Telegraph by his biographer , David Bellos. He may have been a weird character, but he was a great writer and had a fascinating life.
Glamorous life, glamorous wife; but Gary and Seberg’s marriage went sour
Definitely worthy of our your attention.

As Titan told you a while back, our dog Chilik wandered off at the beach and has not been seen since. She was old and had a cancerous growth on her spleen and was dependent on steroids to stay alive, which she had been doing quite successfully. In any case, she is gone and we shall probably adopt another dog out of the pound as we did with her ten years ago. You will be told when it happens. We mention this now

because the Gene Weingarten tale for this week is of special interest and empathy for dog owners.