Cluster Map

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pollyanna greets you

Pollyanna has recovered from Purim and is glad to be back with you.  She would like to ask you to look at the western sky shortly after sunset.  You will see the two brightest planets Venus and Jupiter, in close conjuntion, you might say Zeus chasing after Aphrodite.  Each evening they are in a slightly different position with respect to each other.
Venus & Jupiter on 10 March 2012. Taken with a small camera on a tripod, two seconds exposure and 4x zoom. Photo Nick Lomb

The two planets were closest from 11 to 15 March with only three degrees or six moon-widths separating the planets at their closest.  Our friends at the Sydney Observatory in Australia provide us with this diagram and discussion of what is happening in the sky.  There was a spectacular conjunction in November 2008 with the moon as a participant.  We are appending some sites from Sydney and images from around the world all showing the smiley face of December 1, 2008.  We love this.
Smile sky!
Before Pollyanna gets on to her nice stuff she wants to let fly a rant about the war being waged on women by the radical right in the United States and elsewhere.  It is, as we shall see, not unconnected to the same war being waged by the religious right in Israel.  First we call your attention to a list of ten acts of war being perpetrated by the Republican Party in the United States.  It is part of a swing to fundamental Christianity coupled with racism at the thought that an African-American President is in the White House.  Avirama Golan points out in Haaretz that this swing is also going to harm American Jews and it  is coupled with the rise of right wing and antidemocratic actions in Israel.  We all need to wake up before it is too late.  Maybe it is too late.  Margaret Talbot adds some relevant insights on the same subject in the The New Yorker.  One of the latest outrageous attacks is the requirement that a woman submit to a vaginal ultrasound before being allowed a legal abortion. Thank you Doonesbury for putting it in perspective:

In Egypt the doctor who was accused of forced "virginity tests" on women in custody was acquitted by a military court. This has raised a  storm of protest by activists and shows how fragile and possibly phoney the Arab Spring is, in particular with respect to the rights of women. CNN reports: Presidential candidate Abdullah Shalaan said the ruling showed the military government's flaws.
"They will never indict one of their own. In all the cases of killing protesters, no real investigations were done, just fact-finding committees that submit their findings," he said. "No real justice has been served, and this is another example. I congratulate this brave woman for standing against them regardless of the final verdict."
Samira Ibrahim who brought the court case
In December, an Egyptian administrative court issued an order banning virginity tests for female detainees.The human rights group Amnesty International reported that Egyptian troops beat, shocked and strip-searched women arrested during the protests in Cairo and forced them to submit to virginity tests.

The we have rape and murder for profit and greed which drives Pollyanna out of her mind.  Avaaz is calling for help to bring justice to atrocity victims, especially women in Guatemala.
Guatemalan victim

When security forces of a Canadian mining company brutally evicted Mayan families from their villages in Guatemala, eleven women were raped, a community leader was killed, and a young man paralyzed. Now villagers are standing up and suing HudBay Minerals for these horrific crimes -- but they need our help to match the corporate legal firepower and win their case!  Please donate to this cause , it will have implications world wide if corporate accountability can be demanded in the home country of the corporation rather in the Third World country where the big bucks can buy the courts.

The saving of 30 stranded dolphins in Brazil is a wonderful thing to see.  Usually a stranded dolphin or whale does not survive the experience.  Beachgoers did the job. There is a video in this link.

We are amazed at this video that shows the complex and sophisticated fishing techniques of dolphins.  Thanks to Richard for calling this to our attention:

Actually the Iceman came quite a while ago.  In 1991 a frozen mummy who is known as Ötzi and is 5,300 years old was found in the Tyrolean Alps.  His DNA and other characteristics have just been published in Nature Communications and are summarized for the public in a recent Science News.
DEEP FREEZE SURGERY Researchers Eduard Egarter-Vigl (left) and Albert Zink (right) take a small piece of the Iceman’s hip bone in November 2010. DNA extracted from the bone was used to compile a complete genetic profile of the man, who lived in the southern Alps about 5,300 years ago.Samadelli Marco/EURAC

For the record:
Iceman’s vital stats
Studies of Ötzi’s frozen remains have revealed a trove of information about his life and death 5,300 years ago, including a re-creation of what he looked like:
Nickname:  Ötzi

Sex:  Male
Height:  5’3” 1.6 m
Weight:  110 pounds 50 kg
Eyes:  Brown
Hair:  Brown
Age:  About 46
Hometown:  Ötzi’s equipment, the pollen grains in his stomach and the chemical composition of his teeth and bones suggest that the Iceman grew up in the Eisack Valley of the Italian Alps. He spent at least the last 10 years of his life in the Vinschgau Valley.
Diet:  Analysis of his stomach and intestines show he ate wild cereals, the wild goat called ibex, some flowering plants and red deer. His last meal was a heaping helping of wild goat eaten within an hour of his death.
Job:  The evidence isn’t clear on Ötzi’s occupation, but scientists have proposed that he may have been a shaman, mineral prospector, hunter, warrior or shepherd.
Health:  Scans and other studies reveal hardened arteries, gallstones, arthritic knees (possibly related to Lyme disease), intestinal parasites called whipworms and fleas.
Death:  The Iceman was in hand-to-hand combat shortly before he died. He bled to death after being hit in the back with an arrow.

While we are on the subject of ice, we note the question of why the Earth did not freeze over during the Archean Eon about 2.5 billion to 4 billion years ago, when the Sun had only 70 percent of its present luminosity.  The so-called 'young sun paradox' — first proposed by Carl Sagan and his colleague George Mullen in 1972 — refers to the fact that the Earth had liquid oceans for the first half of its more than 4-billion-year existence despite the fact that the sun was likely only 70% as bright in its youth as it is now.
Long ago, before complex life emerged on the planet, the sun was about 70% dimmer than it is today, so much so that Earth's surface should have been frozen. Scientists are still puzzled over why it wasn't. (Shown here, a 2-D image of the sun from STEREO's SECCHI/Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope taken March 17-27, 2007.)

 Greenhouse gases do not seem to provide an adequate explanation so a variation of albedo caused by the fact that there was more area of ocean relative to land then has been proposed for the phenomenon.  Of course, just when the problem appears to be solved, someone  comes up with a valid objection.  This is how science lurches on and progresses.  Sometimes it is frustrating, but it is mostly  fun. 

EVOLUTION (Please do not tell the Republicans or the Haredim)
In any case, for whatever reason, Earth stayed temperate through the Archean Eon and higher forms of life evolved.  They adapted to different environments and conditions and our species Homo Sapiens managed to survive best because of its large cortex which enabled  our ancestors to fight cold with fire and clothing, make tools that advanced in complexity and use language to pass the knowledge along to following generations.  Nonetheless biological evolution took place in us as well, such as lactose tolerance that our friend the Iceman lacked but which evolved over a 10,000 year period in Europe.
The New York Times
ADAPTATION In one instance of apparent recent human evolution, Tibetans may have evolved to cope with low oxygen levels in the last 3,000 years.
 Recent studies in China, the USA and Europe show that very rapid evolution is taking place today.

The mapping of the complete genome of humans has been followed by full genome comparisons with other primates.  Most recently the gorilla genome has been mapped, completing the set of the four great apes.

While confirming that our closest relative is the chimpanzee, the research reveals that much of the human genome more closely resembles the gorilla than it does the chimpanzee genome. This is the first time scientists have been able to compare the genomes of all four living great apes: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans.

Scientists said Monday that eating red meat was associated with an increased mortality risk in a recent study. But what is it in a juicy steak that makes it potentially unhealthy? (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A recent study from Harvard indicates that red meat, all forms and types of red meat, are bad for you and can reduce your life expectancy significantly.   The study covers a huge population over a very long time.  Here is the abstract:
Background  Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. However, its relationship with mortality remains uncertain.

Methods  We prospectively observed 37 698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2008) and 83 644 women from the Nurses' Health Study (1980-2008) who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer at baseline. Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years.

Results  We documented 23 926 deaths (including 5910 CVD and 9464 cancer deaths) during 2.96 million person-years of follow-up. After multivariate adjustment for major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, the pooled hazard ratio (HR) (95% CI) of total mortality for a 1-serving-per-day increase was 1.13 (1.07-1.20) for unprocessed red meat and 1.20 (1.15-1.24) for processed red meat. The corresponding HRs (95% CIs) were 1.18 (1.13-1.23) and 1.21 (1.13-1.31) for CVD mortality and 1.10 (1.06-1.14) and 1.16 (1.09-1.23) for cancer mortality. We estimated that substitutions of 1 serving per day of other foods (including fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains) for 1 serving per day of red meat were associated with a 7% to 19% lower mortality risk. We also estimated that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women in these cohorts could be prevented at the end of follow-up if all the individuals consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day (approximately 42 g/d) of red meat.

Conclusions  Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, CVD, and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk.

In an editorial in the same issue Dean Ornish, a physician states:
There is an emerging consensus among most nutrition experts about what constitutes a healthy way of eating:

    1)little or no red meat;
    2)high in "good carbs" (including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural forms);
    3)low in "bad carbs" (simple and refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and white flour);
   4) high in "good fats" ({omega}-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, flax oil, and plankton-based oils);
    5)low in "bad fats" (trans fats, saturated fats, and hydrogenated fats);
   6) more quality, less quantity (smaller portions of good foods are more satisfying than larger portions of junk foods, especially if you pay attention to what you are eating).

In addition to their health benefits, the food choices we make each day affect other important areas as well. What is personally sustainable is globally sustainable. What is good for you is good for our planet.  Dr. Ornish  also  points out that the meat industry is the greatest source of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.  Pollyanna thinks you should all open these links, read the articles and rethink your eating habits.

This week we would like to direct your attention to a book  Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 499 pp., $30.00.
Fair Disclosure, my late wife Daphne was a high school classmate of  Danny Kahneman and I went through basic training with him in the army.  He won the Nobel Prize in Economics a few years ago and has had a distinguished career in psychology.
Daniel Kahneman
The book is reviewed by Freeman Dyson in The New York Review of Books.  Kahneman has made a major contribution to quantification of concepts in psychology.  We in physics know how important it  is that quantitative reasoning be applied to all stages of studying a problem.
Richard (thank you) has sent us some  examples of delicious repartee that we would like to share with you.  The formatting from mail message to something linkable is not perfect, but you can read it and enjoy.  Some of them are really hilarious.

XKCD sometimes has some trenchant comments on the world we inhabit, such as people who are so fixated on something, say photography, that they miss the point in everything else. (click on image to enlarge)

Those of us who toil or toiled in academia must wonder what our students think of our bracing, stimulating and exciting lectures.   We also show a painting of a 14 century German university classroom (thanks again to Richard)  in which we see that very little has changed over the centuries.  Note the women in the medieval classroom.


Our grandson Hillel has decreed that we can only tell him nonsense in the evening, but not in the daytime.  We find this to be a gross violation of the human rights of the Saba (Grandpa) community and protest vehemently.

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