Cluster Map

Friday, May 27, 2011

Here comes Pollyanna again

Pollyanna in the movies
This has not been a week to be glad, with our PM giving a show to the US Congress (*see below), a deadly tornado in Joplin MO and a member of Congress, Eric Cantor, calling to withhold aid from the tornado victims. Despite all this, Pollyanna wants to wish a Happy 50th Birthday to Amnesty International.  In 1961  British lawyer Peter Benenson launched a worldwide "Appeal for Amnesty" on behalf of individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. His article in the London Observer, entitled "The Forgotten Prisoners," went on to be reprinted in newspapers across the globe. This call to action resonated with the values and aspirations of people everywhere, and Amnesty International was born.  I suggest you watch the films embedded in the link.
Beauty Underground is something to enjoy such as the cave drawings of our ancestors from over 30 millennia ago.  A cave in France contains wall drawings that are said to be fantastic.  Of course, the cave is closed the presence of people would  destroy the drawings.  Pollyanna is, therefore, very glad that Werner Herzog  has made a 3-D film about them..  We are looking forward to seeing it.

THE ETHICS OF PSYCHIATRY can become a major issue when violated in the use of political polemics.  The New York Times brings this up in an op-ed with respect to the outburst of a nickel's worth of psychiatry from several practitioners of the craft,  The subject of the pontifications was Dominique Strauss-Kahan, the former director of the IMF, who is awaiting trial in New York on sex-related charges.  Without prejudging the case and without being psychiatrists, Pollyanna and I agree that much of this was unworthy of the profession.  It is simply not ethical  to express an opinion on a person whom they have never met nor examined.  Dr. Richard A. Friedman   has it right.

There are all kinds of scientific goodies floating around. and Pollyanna would like to share some of them with you.  We have some new geophysical insights that the folks at Science News have gathered for us.  If you are partial to leeches  you will be pleased to know that there is a new species in the latest list of the ten newest species provided by LiveScience.  The creature was found in a person's nose, Lord help us!
Among this year's top 10 picks is a leech, less than 2 inches in length but with a single jaw and gigantic teeth, earning it the name Tyrannobdella rex, which means "tyrant leech king." Found in Peru, this leech was discovered attached to the nasal mucous membrane of a human. According to the scientists who reported the discovery, there are 600 to 700 species of described leeches, yet there could be as many as 10,000 more throughout the world.

MODERN MUSIC is something that Pollyanna and I enjoy since new experiences are enjoyable and broaden our spectrum of pleasure.  Many of our friends tend to think that Mahler and Prokofiev were upstarts and that really everything has been downhill since Bach, with an indulgence granted grudgingly to Mozart and Beethoven.  There is an interesting blog in the NYTimes Opinionator in which modern composers air their views.  In particular, we enjoyed and would like to share with you an interesting analogy between classical music and baseball.
Two Hall of Famers, the Dodgers’ Duke Snider and Ludwig Van Beethoven.
As you are all aware, last Saturday was supposed to be Rapture Day in which Jesus would come back and take all his good followers to Heaven, all naked, while the rest of us would burn for our sins.  I heard of one person asking her friends to leave the SUV and the HD in front of her house, since they obviously would not be needing it.  Alas for them and hurray for us, the day came and went with no Rapture.  Apparently God was not yet ready to do it as reported in His press conference on the topic.  
In a more serious vein (why?), there has been some analysis  and commentary  on the aftermath of failed apocalyptic predictions.
Pollyanna and Hendrick Herzberg both think that a Rapture of Republicans  might not be a bad idea..
In the 18th century, an English pastor and amateur mathematician named Thomas Bayes formulated a theorem that has been controversial since. It appears to be a straightforward, one-line theorem: by updating our initial beliefs with objective new information, we get a new and improved belief. Or to write it as an equation:
Initial Beliefs + Recent Objective Data = A New and Improved Belief.  It shows how to determine inverse probabilities: knowing the conditional probability of B given A, what is the conditional probability of A given B? This can be done, but also involves the so-called prior or unconditional probabilities of A and B.
It was used in World War II to break the German code and has had many uses throughout the years.  It has also been heavily criticized by some mathematicians.  Now Yale University Press has published a history of Bayes' theorem  The Theory That Would Not Die.  You may find it interesting and I append  the publisher's comments.

*GLORY TO THE US CONGRESS IN WASHINGTON I.O.T.(Israel Occupied Territory)  The elected representatives of the American people jumped through the hoops held by Natanyahu in a matter reminiscent of a different regime. Not one of them had the courage s to stop jumping, sit down and maybe raise a relevant question.  Pollyanna and I say:Shame!! I append a story reported by Alexander Solzhenitsyn : A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly—but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter. . . . Then after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

OK, let us get on with some humorous inanity:  This week I resonated strongly with Gene Weingarten and his litany to stupidity as an art form.  All of us have shown nincompoopery at various times, such as locking ourselves out of our cars.  I did this once at a meeting in Pasadena and the insurance actually reimbursed me for the locksmith.  My friend and colleague  John Richardson called this stupidity insurance and he was right.
Of course stupidity is not confined to individuals, but can permeate organizations as well:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pollyanna in the springtime

Hi Folks,
has managed to get through the week of Memorial Day and Independence Day without blowing a gasket which is something. We went to the ceremony of the alternative beacons in Emil Gruenzweig Square in Jerusalem. .(For the younger readers, Emil Gruenzweig was a student, immigrant from Brazil, who was killed when  a fascist madman , who has since been released, threw a grenade into a group of people demonstrating against the first Lebanon war on 10 February 1983). The speeches that we heard at the event  on Monday night were inspiring, especially that of   Ilana Hammerman, who called for an Israeli spring of civil disobedience.  She is famous for bringing young Palestinian girls into Israel for a day of fun.  We shall see how long she walks among us before she is "disappeared" by the police of darkness.

Of course Pollyanna is anything but glad about the long captivity of Gilead Shalit who was captured by the Hamas in 2005 and has not yet been released, mainly because our government and army have not dealt in good faith with the issue of exchanging him. Make no mistake, we absolve the Hamas of nothing, but we are upset about the way the matter has been handled. Silly prayers in synagogue and public demonstrations are not the answer. We join Gideon Levy  in praise for the action of Shalit's brother and his partner who disrupted the national Independence Day ceremony.  Unfortunately, not by accident, the TV cameras avoided showing the disruption to the public.  There are regimes like that around the world. Kim and Natanyahu...

Pollyanna loves flowers including the jasmine.
This poor lovely flower has incurred the wrath of the government in China and is being  banned from the marketplace. One might think that this will help them turn back the tide of history and prevent a jasmine revolution in their country. Of course, both Pollyanna and Hilary Clinton know better  In a long interview with the Atlantic Clinton called China's human rights record "deplorable," adding, "They're worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible."
OK, we will leave the rest of the politics to our brother Titan who will come on next week and get on to the stuff that makes Pollyanna really glad. Let us start with something that Judy pointed out for us(Thanks Judy), a confirmation of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. NASA released results Wednesday from a revolutionary satellite that probed Einstein's general theory of relativity, confirming that the Earth's gravity and rotation warp space and time as predicted. For more details read more ...

Bad Astronomy, right next door, has a cool story of a picture from space. It was fun to read and fun to see how Phil enjoyed himself. He also went to Canada and discovered that people can live by the metric system, but that is a different issue.
I love XKCD cartoons and so does Pollyanna. Here we give a boost to Myth Busters (I love them too) and a possibly cheap shot at string theorists. Since I, as a plasma space physicist, spent 30 years being looked down upon by string theorists, maybe some Schadenfreude is in place. (click on cartoon to enlarge)

As we all know, Pollyanna is a very refined young lady and does not  indulge in strong language. Yet it now appears that the  use of fierce expletives has a health value
and serves to alleviate the effect of pain causing situations. It apparently is connected to the release of adrenalin into the blood stream. Since I have a regrettable tendency to express myself pungently when provoked, at least I can feel that it has some good attached to it. It is somewhat like the medicinal value of high cacao chocolate.
The details of the creation of supernovae, the great stellar explosions that populate the universe with heavy atoms etc. have long puzzled astronomers. Pollyanna is glad that a spacecraft named for Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995)(vid. her blog from February 18) has discovered information by means of which astronomers may now know the cause of an historic supernova explosion that is an important type of object for investigating dark energy in the universe. The discovery, made using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, also provides strong evidence that a star can survive the explosive impact generated when a companion star goes supernova. Read more....
Chandra image of Tycho, note blue plumes

BOOK REVIEW The blog is getting a bit long, so let us get on to the  book review. I refer you to the New York Times Review of Books for a glimpse given to us by the writer Stephen Greenblatt, of Arthur Phillips’s new
novel, “The Tragedy of Arthur,”  It deals with forgery of the works of Shakespeare in the late 18th century and contains a play written by Phillips in which he deals with the tragedy of fraud. I will not spoil it for you by saying more, but recommend you read the review and, if you can find it, the book.  The review has a podcast of an interview of the author by Stephen Greenblatt.

Finally, we, Pollyanna and I, cannot send you on your way without a dose of  Andy Borowitz and Gene Weingarten, in the latter case an old post, but relevant to dog lovers and others.