Cluster Map

Friday, February 18, 2011

Here comes Pollyanna again

It is nice to share some of the joy of the Egyptian people with Pollyanna.  Indeed we do not know for sure where the revolution will go but we can only hope that the same leaders who brought it about will not be fooled by any fake reforms that the military will try to sell them.

A soldier celebrating with the masses in Cairo 
The pundits who were so surprised are now guessing and trying to predict.  Most of it is wild speculation but there is an article by Roger Cohen  that casts some light on what is behind this uprising that is spreading like a contagion throughout the Muslim world.  It may be that for the moment the despots in Iran and the Gulf Emirates will succeed in putting down the people, but the genie will not go back into the bottle.

Thanks to Yosefa for passing this very true cartoon on to me.

I try to follow the advice of   Ben Sira the sage who told us:
" Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. 2 The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. 3 There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; 4 those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people's lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; 5 those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing"

Last week in the Titan  blog I mentioned the birthdays of Copernicus and Galileo, two icons of science and intellectual freedom who were born in February.   In the last issue of this blog I discussed Ludwig Boltzmann whose great equation finally was given a complete solution.  This week I wish to remind you of two men who were born on the same day February 12, 1809   Abraham Lincoln
and  Charles Darwin

I always call them the two great liberators, Lincoln  freed people from physical slavery and Darwin  freed us from intellectual servitude to the stultifying dogmas of religion.  Of course, Copernicus and Galileo did their share of tending that vineyard as well.  Let us salute all those who labor in the cause of the human rights of our intellects and minds.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995)

In the spirit of the above, I would like to call your attention to one of the greatest astrophysicists of all time, the beloved and admired  Chandra. whose centennial was marked last year.  It is most appropriate that a spacecraft observatory surveying the universe in X-rays has been named for him.  In addition to being a superb scientist and leader in the field, he had a deep understanding of the beauty of the world of the humanities.

Let me boast a bit about my colleague from our department at Tel Aviv University Akiva Bar-Nun whose achievements in laboratory simulations of comets have brought him worldwide recognition and even some fame on the local scene.  Here's to you Akiva!! 

A spacecraft named after another great scientist Johannes Kepler  has turned up a gaggle of extrasolar planetary systems.  It should keep astronomers busy and off the streets for quite a while.
An artist's conception, Tom Pyle, NASA

Here is some good news, the suspension of the Japanese whale hunt caused by the great people of Sea Shepherd  who pursued  and harassed the whaling fleet in the Antarctic.

In this Feb. 9 photo released by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, activists aboard the high-speed trimaran Gojira prepare to fire a slingshot toward the Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru on Feb. 9 in Southern Ocean, Antarctica.

HAPPINESS is to be found in a particular place in our brain, the amygdala which in the past was known to be associated with fear.  It appears according to new research that it appreciates good things as well. 

This week's book review is of a biography of J.D. Salinger by Kenneth Slawenski reviewed by Jay McInerney in the New York Times Review of Books.   I hope you find it interesting.  I did.

Those of you who deal in psychoceramics (the science of cracked pots) might want to take a look at the revelations of the final prophet of God    We are told that paper will tolerate anything.  Indeed it will, and so will silicon.

This week in Below the Beltway Gene discusses the issue of weeping by women with his feminist interlocutor Gina.  

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.