Cluster Map

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pollyanna with birthdays and more

Pollyanna  is making her way through the week of birthdays in the family, three in six days, one per generation.  The ages reached were


and 81
 and she is enjoying herself. She herself is pushing 100, but book heroines age very slowly.
Today Pollyanna wants to show you a new aspect of solar system beauty, Comet Hale-Bopp that came near the Earth in 1997, discovered independently by Hale and Bopp in 1995.
Comet Hale-Bopp, C1995 O1, sports two tails here, a blue ion tail and a white dust tail. 
Both tails are formed by material ejected from the nucleus, which is mostly water ice and dust. The ice is heated by the comet's approach to the sun, and it sublimates, going directly from a solid to a gas, bypassing the liquid form. As the material from the nucleus is ejected it forms a gigantic cloud around the nucleus which we see as the coma. It then separates into the blue ion gas tail, and the dust tail.
There is a tragic story connected to Comet Hale-Bopp.  The  mass suicide of 39 members of a cult knows as Heaven's Gate was linked to the comet.  They believed that there was a spacecraft in the wake of the comet that was going to whisk them away from the Earth.  It is a pathetic story.  It also brought out of the woodwork all kinds of  UFO buffs who swear that the US government is hiding information about alien contacts.  ET call home!!
Last week Titan mentioned the passing of Whitney Houston briefly.  We would like to add a few comments and links.  She had a turbulent life, but she left a legacy.  We append a biography and embed a video of her signature song I Will Always Love You.

It is sad that her life may have ended because of drug abuse.  We append a list of her YouTube instances and invite you to listen again to that golden voice.  Lord rest her.  I often wonder why so many stars, not only in music, but in sports, film, theater, whatever, die young, burned out and exploited to death.  Think of Marilyn Monroe for a moment.   David Zirin touches on it in his comments on her death.
We are glad to see that medical services in Afghanistan are showing some improvement as as reported by Justin Forsyth of Save the Children.  Nonetheless, terrible things are happening to children in that sad country including recruitment as  fighters and suicide bombers. 
In addition, girls are used as payment for misdeeds of elders and protection of family honor.  The ghastly custom of baad is described in detail in a New York Times report.

Andrea Bruce for The New York Times

Shakila, 10, was abducted and held for about a year as part of a traditional Afghan form of justice known as "baad."
Pollyanna is glad to share with you the news that a forced eviction
Amnesty's Makmid Kamara received a distress call from activists in Port Harcourt @Amnesty International
in a neighborhood in Port Harcourt, Nigeria was stopped at least temporarily because of an Urgent Action taken by Amnesty International.  It shows that there is a point in protesting human rights violations.  Read the details.

Pollyanna as usual has a rant about abuse of women, in this case how Orthodox Jews treat women, be  it the back of the bus, the prohibition to sing in public, the isolation of women in the public sphere or the attribution of impurity to the female persona per se.  Yossi Sarid points out to us that the extremism that we see today is not an aberration, but the true nature of Jewish Orthodoxy.  Read and raise your voice in disgust.

Pollyanna is pleased to call your attention to a new Web site that links up the sites concerned with the presentation and status of women in mass media.

We are told in a study reported in Science News that a shot of alcohol can be helpful to our scientific and artistic endeavors.  Getting a buzz from booze  may boost creativity.  Men who drank themselves tipsy solved more problems demanding verbal resourcefulness in less time than sober guys did, a new study finds. This is a real result reported in a real scientific journal Consciousness and Cognition..  The result is most interesting, but was known in ancient times, as seen in the worship of Bacchus, the God of Wine.
Reni, Drinking Bacchus 1623

We quote a from a  history of alcoholic beverages:
"Alcoholic beverages date back to the very early part of man's history. Many archaeologists believe that wines made from grapes have existed for more than 10,000 years and that drinks such as mead and beer have existed for even longer. Throughout its history, alcohol has been used socially for many diverse purposes, such as calming feuds, giving courage in battle, sealing pacts, celebrating festivals, and seducing lovers. Historians speculate that prehistoric nomads may have made beer from grain and water before learning to make bread. The Celts, Ancient Greeks, the Norse, Egyptians, and Babylonians all have records of production and consumption of alcoholic drinks. Alcohol was included in the Egyptian burial provisions for the journey to the afterlife."
With regard to seduction via alcohol, Robert Benchley strongly recommended the "fuddle-duddle" method with the caveat that the seducer should remain sober enough to perform.  The great American poet Ogden Nash wrote "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" while Shakespeare warns "Drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things . . . nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance."  Macbeth 2. 3
Bacchus (vd. The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce Bacchus, n.: A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.) himself managed quite well with Ariadne
Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-3: Titian’s masterpiece has been endlessly drawn upon by artists down the centuries
 and we may be sure that wine played a role.  We refer you to a compendium of quotes about alcohol which you might find edifying.  We like the idea that, as stated above, prehistoric nomads may have made beer from grain and water before learning to make bread.   Priorities indeed!

Galileo Galilei (born February 15, 1564-died Jan. 8, 1642)

was an Italian scientist who supported Copernicanism, the idea that earth orbits the sun. Galileo defended his views in "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems." For doing so, he was tried by the Roman Inquisition, found "suspect of heresy" and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. His findings changed our world view for all time.   Our intellectual debt to him is enormous.  For our book review we refer you to Dava Sobol's Galileo's Daughter , reviewed in the New York Times by Alan Lightman(link is problematic) and also by Laura Sorensen at a literary Web site . It is worthy of note that books dealing with the motion of the Earth were removed from the Index of the Catholic Church in 1822, a true salute to modernism.
Bob Park calls our attention to the issue of scientific fraud.  On Sunday, February 12, the CBS series 60 Minutes reminded us of the largely unfulfilled promise of television to expose the foolishness and fraud that diminishes our brief lives. If you did not see Sunday's program I urge you to obtain a copy. Much earlier, many of us had followed with growing wonder the news on television as Dr. Anil Potti reported amazing progress in tailoring chemotherapy to a patient's own genetic makeup, with remarkable results. However, as the science community often tells the public, it's not a discovery until it's been independently confirmed. The willingness of researchers to open their findings to the entire scientific community is what gives science its success and credibility. In this case, it could not be confirmed and may be one of the biggest medical research frauds of all time. Unfortunately, it was not the first time that Duke University had fallen victim to foolish and fraudulent science.  The broadcast is  excerpted here.
This week we had Valentine's Day which is one of the ways corporations get their hands into our pockets.  We link you to  an article from The Nation dealing with love and economics by Samhita Mukhopadhyay who is the Executive Editor of and the author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life.   Hadass was born on Valentine's Day and my suggestion to name her Valentina was brutally vetoed.  Pollyanna agrees with the veto retroactively.  In Saudi Arabia, celebrating the day can get you into big trouble with the religious police.  The King of Saudi Arabia appears to model himself himself on Gilbert and Sullivan's  Mikado with firm legislation against flirting.  Our friends at XKCD found the holiday difficult to resolve this year.

Certainly we do not think much of a relationship that depends on buying things for one another.  
Whatever we may think of these manufactured "Days" be it Mother's, Father's, Valentine or whatever, they are no worse than the various nationalistic "Days" that are cooked up to make us patriotic.  Nationalism is best described by a quote attributed to (but not confirmed) Jules Renard" A nation is defined by a false history and hatred of its neighbors."  He is also credited with the statement that a cold in the head causes less distress than an idea, which is alas true.
We are regular readers of the The Nation and find it very relevant.  We received this about the history of the struggle against racism in our email and would like to share it with you.
The Nation's editors -- starting with its abolitionist founders -- have always provided space for those persistent and too-often lonely voices inveighing against the evils of racial injustice. In this archival slide show, we present a small sampling of articles highlighting issues of race and civil rights from The Nation's past 147 years with original contributions by Martin Luther King, Jr, Langston Hughes, Howard Zinn, James Baldwin and many others.
A film entitled The Lady has been released.  It is a biotopic dealing with the life of Aung Sung Suu Kyi of Burma.  The film has had mixed reviews, both down  and up.  It is not yet available on DVD, but I hope that will happen soon.
If any of you have wondered why both Pollyanna and Titan try to end their blogs with something humorous, here is a good reason, again from  Jules Renard:
"We are in the world to laugh. In purgatory or in hell we shall no longer be able to do so. And in heaven it would not be proper."  If there is a Heaven and we are there, we certainly intend to laugh.  Of course, we are told that in Britain it is not considered proper to tell jokes on Wednesday, because by Sunday the Brits will have caught on and laugh in church, which is inappropriate...

Then we have Twitter which is sometimes to the point and sometimes a showcase for group idiocy.  XKCD gives us an example about how a panic can spread via Twitter; (click on image to enlarge)

This bit from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is only funny up to a point.  Anyone who has seen kids (vid. our grandkids for example) with video games can appreciate where the limit lies. Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pollyanna with groundhog and Super Bowl

Pollyanna says hi and that she is very glad to be back with you.  She, Titan and YandA are all sniffling and coughing with terminal colds, but we are all responsible and will not give you poor sufferers what the NFL calls a bye week.  We are gearing up to stay awake on Sunday night to watch the New England Patriots and the New York Giants battle in Super Bowl XLVI.  We can hear you squares and snobs yawning and we suspect that the Y of YandA will opt out, but we will hang in.  Pollyanna even has a prediction, but we shall see.
Pollyanna predicts Giants 35-31

Titan and I will try to persuade her to support the Patriots because Mr. Kraft is such a classy guy and even supports football for high schools in Israel.  BTW, grandson Arad (#20) is a corner back for the Kfar Saba Hawks.

Pollyanna also wants to wish you all a Happy Groundhog Day, and to tell you that at 7:25 a.m. Thursday morning EST, amidst mostly cloudy skies, and temperatures in the low 30s (~-0 C), Groundhog Phil saw his shadow in the little town of Punxsutawney, PA.
Famed weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil prepares to make his annual weather prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 126th Groundhog Day, February 2, 2012. Phil saw his shadow, signaling six more weeks of winter.
Source: Reuters

According to folklore, Phil’s sighting of his own shadow means there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Had Phil not seen his shadow, it would have meant “there will be an early spring.”  For more details on rodent meteorology, read on.
We must confess that when we worked as forecasters or taught meteorology at University, we did not make much use of Phil and his prognosticating ability.  Maybe we were overlooking something important.  BTW, Groundhog Day was an excellent  film.
IN MEMORIAM   We share the grief of the people of Egypt for the victims of the football violence.  The senseless football riots that took the lives of 74 people in Port Said last Wednesday have led into a continuation of the violence.  BBC reports  that at least four more people have been killed and that thousands are gathering in Tahrir Square.  The actions taken by the government in the wake of the incidents appear to be woefully inadequate.  We have heard calls for as much as the resignation of Tantawi himself and his military junta.
Before we move on to the glad stuff that we all love, Pollyanna wants to let fly on some issues involving women and girls.  In this area, as in matters of the environment, she is as political as brother Titan. 
First we want to deal with the painful issue of child marriage.  Every year, all over the world, 10 million girls are forcibly married before the age of 18, many as young as 12 years old. That is more than 25,000 girls a day. “I knew that there was an institution of child marriage,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. “But I was devastated to discover how widely it occurs, and on such a huge scale.”  Tutu is a member of an organization called The Elders, which has announced an ambitious goal to stop this abuse of girls “in one generation.”   The Elders are mounting a campaign and we wish to express our support and to call for yours.  Please click on this link and become involved.
Girls in Rajasthan, India, where no child marriages have taken place, say villagers, since they learned of the dangers. Photo: Graham Crouch/The Elders

The other issue involves R., an employee of PM Natanyahu's office who was reportedly stalked and sexually harassed by her boss.  The case is being referred to the  Civil Service Commission for disciplinary action instead of to the police.  The lady refuses to testify, most probably out of fear for her future.  The women whose testimony sent former President Katzav to seven years in prison are essentially unemployable.

It is sad that even in the presumably enlightened countries of the West, women can still be subject to degradation and abuse.  What is even more outrageous is the large number of women who regard this as acceptable.  This is not only a question of religious women who accept the idea that they must not be too visible lest men become overly aroused sexually by their presence, but even in secular circles.   A well known female Israeli media person,  Ayala Hasson
Ayala Hasson speaking at a media conference recently.
Photo by: Nir Keidar
saw nothing wrong with the transfer of an attractive woman from her position because her boss became obsessed with her.  Hasson added the "solution" had been to transfer the woman "very quietly, what might be called the supportive environment moved the 'candy' out of reach." This has raised a storm of criticism from women's rights groups and rightly so.
If any of the readers in Israel is a member of the Meretz party, Pollyanna calls upon you to cast your vote for Zahava Galon as Chair of the Party.  The party was founded by a woman, Shulamit Aloni, who recruited Zahava long ago.  In the meantime, the party has gone downhill under the leadership of a series of male politicians.  If it is to be restored to a position of leadership in the country, it requires the hand of a strong and talented woman at the helm.  Zahava Galon is the right person at the right time. The elections will be held online on Tuesday, February 7.
Zahava Galon

Our Texan friends, Ray and Jane are going to see Britten's Rape of Lucretia in Houston this weekend.  We wish them a good time.  They will also see Verdi's  La Traviata and will return home with the realization of what Hadass told us long ago, to wit, the soprano comes to a bad end.  Of course, in opera buffa, she gets the tenor, for good or ill and now we shall remain PC silent.
Lucretia, Rembrandt, Metropolitan, New York
This got Pollyanna ranting again about how male culture can contextualize rape, which of course is among the crimes that can have no context.  We learned in history class that the rape of Lucretia is what triggered the rebellion of the citizens of Rome, brought down the Tarquin  monarchy and led to the founding of the republic.  Who gets lost in this story?  Of course, the female victim Lucretia, who is raped by Sextus Tarquinus, the Crown Prince,  and kills herself against the wishes of her loving husband.  All through the history of literature, the hero of the story is Lucius Junius Brutus, who up to now has avoided complicity with the rule of Tarquinius Superbus by pretending, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, to be a useless playboy, but now snatches the dagger from her breast and swears by her blood to be avenged on the Tarquinii.   Lucretia's body, with its gaping wound, is shown to the public and the citizens of Rome unite to throw off the tyrant's yoke.   Pollyanna agrees totally with Germaine Greer  who makes this strong feminist case in her review of the 2001 staging of Britten's opera at the Snape Aldeburgh festival and in London.

In 2008 the long sought-for planet, expected to be orbiting the nearby star Fomalhaut, was thought to have been found in two Hubble Space Telescope images taken two years apart.  Everything fit including the observed motion.  Now the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is far more sensitive  in the infra red, failed to find it, which indicates that planet Fomalhaut b does not really exist.  Hubble apparently observed a clot of dust bright enough to be mistaken for a planet.  For the chagrin of the astronomical community and details of the findings or non-findings, we refer you to Phil Plait and his Bad Astronomy blog.
This image is pretty damning for the existence of Fomalhaut b. It’s the Spitzer infrared observations of the star, with the star’s light carefully removed. On the left is the actual image, and on the right they artificially added a point of light calculated to be equal to what the planet would emit, in the same position the planet should be — that’s what Arrow 1 is pointing at. It should be one of the brightest things in the image (Arrow 2 points to an unrelated bright spot). And while it’s obvious on the right, nothing can be seen on the left, in the real image. In other words, the planet isn’t seen.  We wuz robbed!!   
A recent study has shown that in the early days of the universe, frenetic star birthing was eventually throttled by loss of matter into huge black holes and the creation of huge galaxies, much younger and nearby.  The results hint in a tantalizing manner at interaction with the elusive entity known as dark matter.  As Alice said "curiouser and curiouser.
"Starbursting" galaxies can be seen by the APEX telescope, overlaid with an image from Spitzer

University of Colorado, Boulder Professor Gifford Miller collects dead plant samples from beneath a Baffin Island ice cap. Miller led a new study, to be published in in Geophysical Research Letters, which indicates the Little Ice Age began roughly A.D. 1275 and was triggered by repeated, explosive volcanism that cooled the atmosphere. (Credit: Gifford Miller, University of Colorado)
The Earth was considerably colder than it was before or after an era that began after the Middle Ages and ended in the 19th century.  The question of dating the onset and finding the cause has been more difficult. During the cool spell, advancing glaciers in mountain valleys in northern Europe destroyed towns. Famous paintings from the period depict people ice-skating on the Thames River in London and canals in the Netherlands, places that were ice-free before and after the Little Ice Age. There is evidence also that the Little Ice Age affected places far from Europe, including South America and China.

Pieter Breughel the Elder, 1565, Winter Scene with Skaters, Brussels Museum
Now  new research by an international group led by Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado, Boulder US appears to have resolved the issue.  The data pinpoint the start to a narrow period in the late 13th century and are consistent with the cooling of the Earth being associated with anomalous volcanism that inserted aerosols into the atmosphere that block solar radiation.  Computer simulations  show sustained cooling from volcanoes would have sent some of the expanding Arctic sea ice down along the eastern coast of Greenland until it eventually melted in the North Atlantic. Since sea ice contains almost no salt, when it melted the surface water became less dense, preventing it from mixing with deeper North Atlantic water. Without mixing taking place, the water that flowed back to the Arctic was colder, helping sustain large areas of sea ice and creating a self-sustaining feedback loop long after the effects of the volcanic aerosols subsided.
The collapse and extinction of the Norwegian colonies in Greenland, discussed in detail by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse, is certainly associated with the cooling.  We should note, however, that the Inuit who had arrived in Greenland well after the Norse, adjusted and survived.  The so-called civilized Europeans failed to make the transition and died out.  Food for thought.

Aidan Dwyer is a thirteen year old who figured out a way to use Fibonacci numbers to design improved  solar panel exposure techniques.  We recommend this video.  It is most impressive.

We have been a bit remiss in our book reviews and will try to do better.  Now Pollyanna wants to mark the 50th anniversary of a book that made a huge difference for girl readers, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  It is the first sci-fi with a girl as protagonist and constituted a major breakthrough,  It is reviewed in the New York Times by Pamela Paul who also addresses the question of what puts girls off science fiction and indeed science.   Pollyanna wishes to give Meg Murry a warm hug from one girl book heroine  to another.  “Part of what made it seem so liberating to so many girls is that it allowed those with an analytic mind and an interest in the pursuit of science to read about a subject that at the time was not perceived of as a suitable course of study for girls,” said Leonard Marcus, author of a biography of L’Engle, “Searching for Madeleine,” to be published this fall. “At the same time, at its core it’s about a girl’s love for her father, and that emotional level transcends the genre aspect of the book.”

Pollyanna found Hofdstater's book Godel, Escher, Bach to be fascinating and has long wondered about what levels of self-recursion are possible. She would have liked to have shown us an example taken from HO model building as given to us by XKCD.  Unfortunately the cartoon is too large to reproduce in the blog with proper resolution, so we shall  give you the link:


Sloth is our favorite deadly sin (OK, our second favorite), with gluttony a distant third. We are, therefore, full of empathy for Wally in the latest Dilbert cartoon.

Finally, Pollyanna allows herself a wee dram of cynicism:

``Ignorance is the most delightful science in the world, because it is acquired without effort and keeps the mind from melancholy.''-Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake in 1600.