Cluster Map

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pollyanna is Delighted to be With You Again!

Here is Pollyanna again and SHE HAS MISSED YOU ALL! Yes, over two months have passed since Pollyanna last had a chance to share her happy thoughts with you. Her faithful amanuensis suffered a broken arm and as a result her voice fell silent. Many good (and bad) things have happened since and she will try to update you. It is hard to know where to start.

During our period of enforced silence, three great cultural icons departed this Earth.

Ray Bradbury, who was our introduction to science fiction as something worth reading and not just pulpy Buck Rogers-type space operas, died this week at the age of 91.
Steve Castillo/Associated Press
Ray Bradbury at a book signing in California in 1997.

The collection of short stories, The Martian Chronicles was our first crack at his style, but it was Fahrenheit 451, in 1953, that made a major contribution to our weltanschauung and political thinking. A world in which books are burned by law is not in his view a form of censorship, as were the burnings in Germany in the 1930's, but a natural result of the fact that over the course of several decades, as people embraced new media, sports and a quickening pace of life, books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span. The government did not start the censorship; it merely exploited the situation. The next stage was that original books were declared offensive to minority groups, and firemen were given the task of eradicating this threat to public happiness. One might well think today that Bradbury was prescient. The degradation of education, language and general cognitive ability that marks our society 60 years later is consistent with his predictions. Yes, of course, books are still published and reviewed, book burning is not a common practice and Pollyanna is not a crabby old curmudgeon. We link you to an obituary in the New York Times.

We also note the passing of a beautiful voice and a great musician, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone singer, born 28 May 1925, died 18 May 2012.

Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing at the premiere performance of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” at Coventry Cathedral in 1962.

We never got to hear him live, but his recorded voice enriched our lives and will continue to do so.  Anthony Tommasini, chief music critic for The New York Times. eulogizes him.  We also append an appreciation of Fischer-Dieskau's life and career by the late Alan Blyth published in The Guardian.

In May, the great author of children's literature Maurice Sendak died, age 83.
Frank Armstrong/Rosenbach Museum and Library, via EPA  Maurice Sendak reading "Where the Wild Things Are" at the Rosenbach Library and Museum in Philadelphia in 1985
We are too old for his work to have figured in our childhood, but certainly our grandchildren derived much from him. We append an obituary from the New York Times.


As you all know, Pollyanna leaves ranting and raving to her brother Titan, who will be back to spoil your good mood next week. She does, however, rant when issues involving women and children come up. She (along with the rest of us) is outraged over the behavior of the staff of a library in Minneapolis MN where a nursing mother was expelled for "indecent exposure." In fact, breast feeding in public is legal in Minnesota and the library people were completely out of line.

 Let us hope that a lesson has been learned.


Last Saturday, Venus crossed the Sun, as seen from Earth. This will happen again only in 2117. Our grandson, Ma'ayan got up at 0500 to watch it on TV--gung ho, Ma'ayan! We invite you to watch some videos of the transit. In the 18th century, the event was used to try to determine the
This still from a NASA video shows the position of Venus on the sun's disk in Pacific Daylight Time on June 5, 2012 during the last transit of Venus for 105 years.

distance to the Sun and and as an excuse to explore the South Seas and claim territory (Captain Cook et al.). Now it is useful as a means to get a good analysis of the atmosphere of Venus as the Sun shines through it.  Phil Plait on his Bad Astronomy blog (click and then just scroll down a bit) presents a fantastic array of transit photography, imagery and videos.


Pollyanna is normally a very patient person, but she has no patience with superstition especially when it is particularly stupid and can cause damage. A horrible incident in Florida in which a man tried to chew off the face of a homeless man led to rumors of cannibalism which were scotched by the police. Indeed, Ronald Poppo suffered severe damage to his face and will require much treatment, to which we are invited to donate (The Jackson Memorial Foundation has set up a fund to assist Ronald Poppo in his recovery, which experts in facial reconstruction have said will include lengthy treatment, staged reconstruction, and psychological care. Donations can be made by check or online.), but we find the subsequent frenzy of zombie stories to be disgusting. The Center for Disease Control was obliged to put out
a press release to cool things off. A spoof web site was even taken seriously by some retarded folks.


Pollyanna also takes a dim view of those who oppose vaccination. She agrees totally with Bob Park from whose blog What's New we quote:
In 1977, smallpox, the most deadly and persistent human pathogenic disease, was eradicated from Earth by the World Health Organization following an unprecedented agreement allowing quick-response teams to freely cross every a border to administer vaccine in case of an outbreak. It was a moving demonstration of what can be achieved by world cooperation, and was quickly followed by calls to eradicate poliomyelitis. Polio eradication was undertaken by WHO in 1988 with help from private organizations, but although the number of polio cases diagnosed each year has plummeted, final eradication remains elusive.Opposition by Muslim fundamentalists is said to be the major factor in the failure of polio immunization programs. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the Taliban issued fatwa opposing vaccination as an attempt to avert Allah's will, while others saw it as an American plot to sterilize Muslims. Some conservative Christian groups oppose vaccination for diseases that are transmitted spread by sexual contact, arguing that the possibility of disease deters risky sexual contact. It doesn't.


Pollyanna is delighted to announce the successful launch of Nustar, an X-Ray observatory spacecraft. The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (Nustar) was sent into space on a Pegasus rocket operated out of the Kwajalein Atol in the central Pacific. Nustar will study high-energy X-rays coming from exotic sources such as black holes, exploded stars and the hot gas in galaxy clusters. Read more.


Our book review this week is of Carly's Voice, by Arthur Fleischman and his daughter Carly. At the age of two, Carly Fleischmann was diagnosed with severe autism and an oral motor condition that prevented her from speaking. Doctors predicted that she would never intellectually develop beyond the abilities of a small child. Although she made some progress after years of intensive behavioral and communication therapy, Carly remained largely unreachable. Then, at the age of ten, she had a breakthrough.

While working with her devoted therapists Howie and Barb, Carly reached over to their laptop and typed in "HELP TEETH HURT," much to everyone's astonishment. This was the beginning of Carly's journey toward self-realization described in the book. We also link you to a series of videos featuring Carly, her family and therapists.


Sending messages by neutrinos might be fun thinks Pollyanna. It seems to work if you have the right gear at hand, such as a detector for neutrinos. These little guys got a bad press for a bum rap speeding ticket and deserve some credit. Here is how you do it.


Our friend Bohda in the Czech Republic sent us this video of a flash mob singing the medieval oratorio in a railroad station. We love these things.

Barney and Clyde really would like to comfort Earnest, but life is indeed hard.

We might mention that our partner Y, as in YandA, does say to-MAH-to and she even eats them every day.
Finally to any of you who have ever called your computer or smart phone company for support, we dedicate this: