Cluster Map

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pollyanna had a great trip to North America and is back with you

Pollyanna has been a bit neglectful of her duties.  She and brother Titan went off with YandA to Canada and the US for the bar mitzva of Ari in Winnipeg and then had a lovely week in New York with Ari and his Mom.  YandA have come up with a blog on the trip on their own to which she refers you for details.

First, we want to wish all our Muslim friends a Blessed Ramadan, Ramadan Mubarak!
Pollyanna expresses her grief and shock at the senseless terrorist attacks that killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria 
Friends and families of people killed in an attack in Bulgaria, stand near their coffins during a ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on July 20, 2012.  Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
People mourn at a vigil, Friday, July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colo.  (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
Such events overcome everyone's desire to be glad about the world.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv 1910-2012 spiritual leader of the non-hasidic haredi community died on Wednesday.   One might be surprised that a liberal humanist such as Pollyanna would note his passing since he was a firm idealogue of the most conservative form of ultra orthodox Judaism.  We certainly disagree with him and his community on almost all matters of substance.  His opposition to education, human rights, especially of women and his intransigence on democratic values are anathema to us.  Nonetheless, the human rights community acknowledges his ruling that orthodox Jews are not allowed to accept organ transplants of dubious provenance, especially from executed prisoners.  He based ruling on nothing more complicated than the Sixth Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill (Murder in the original).
This should be contrasted with the many so-called Modern Orthodox rabbis in Israel who say it is OK as long as the victim is not Jewish and the beneficiary is.  To be fair, we also have a truly righteous modern  orthodox leader in Rabbi Bulka of Ottawa who has taken a firm stand on this issue on the highest moral ground.  It is no accident that many of his colleagues distance themselves from him.


We mourn the passing of Nora Ephron who was a writer in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said). She became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally.”  She also wrote many essays and books which we have enjoyed greatly over the years.  She made a famous commencement speech at her Alma Mater, Wellesley College in 1996.  Pollyanna recommends it to all and quotes in particular one section:

"Don't underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don't take it personally, but listen hard to what's going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: Get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn't serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you—whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don't have the alibi my class had—this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: Unlike us, you can't say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead. Twenty-five years from now, you won't have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won't be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: you will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa."

With some updating, what she said applies today, certainly in Israel.

Ms. Ephron died on June 26, 2012, in Manhattan. She was 71. Read the full obituary here.

Pollyanna is pleased to see that two women will represent Saudi  Arabia in the forthcoming London Olympic games.  For the first time in the history of the modern Olympiad there will be women on the rosters of every competing nation.  The Saudis will have Sarah Attar  in the 800m 
Sarah Attar will compete in the women's 800m

and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will compete in the judo tournament.  Let us hope that this is a start towards the liberalization of the position of women and attitudes towards them in Saudi Arabia.


A nation divided between black and white, rich and poor, came together Wednesday to honor Nelson Mandela, the deeply loved statesman who helped bring freedom to South Africa. The good deeds done on Mandela's 94th birthday ranged from building houses to performing free eye cataract operations.  He led his people to freedom by devoting his life to the struggle.  He is one of the very few icons of the freedom struggles of the 20th century left.  May he long  be with us.
As you may imagine, Pollyanna is very excited about the finding of the Higgs boson by the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

It is a defining moment in physics and puts a new shine on the Standard Model.  This discovery involved the work of thousands of people working on two independent experiments at the accelerator.   You might want more detail and you can find it in the following video of the seminar held in Geneva to announce the finding. 

This is really something for Pollyanna and all humanity to be glad about and there are precious few such things in these troubled times.  We might mention that Andy Borowitz has succeed in obtaining an exclusive interview with the Higgs boson itself.

We were tempted to say a new moon of Pluto, but recalled the reaction of the Indian student in Germany in a Rushdie book who is told that Vasco da Gama "discovered" India.  The new discovery by the Hubble Space telescope is indeed exciting.  The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.  It is intriguing that a dwarf planet, such as Pluto, could have such as many as five moons.
This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows five moons orbiting the distant, icy dwarf planet Pluto. The green circle marks the newly discovered moon, designated P5, as photographed by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on July 7. The observations will help scientists in their planning for the July 2015 flyby of Pluto by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. P4 was uncovered in Hubble imagery in 2011. (Credit: NASA; ESA; M. Showalter, SETI Institute)
› Larger image
› Unlabeled image 

As we all know, leaves take sunlight and water and by a process called photosynthesis produce energy for their needs.  It is exciting that a physicist Daniel G. Nocera at MIT has invented a device that can duplicate this process.   He points out that the artificial leaf responds to the vision of a famous Italian chemist who, in 1912, predicted that scientists one day would uncover the "guarded secret of plants." The most important of those, Nocera says, is the process that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles away, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. These self-contained units are attractive for making fuel for electricity in remote places and the developing world, but designs demonstrated thus far rely on metals like platinum and manufacturing processes that make them cost-prohibitive.   Fortunately the cost has recently been reduced greatly by the use of cheaper materials. .
The new self-contained units are inexpensive and attractive for making fuel for electricity in remote places and the developing world. (Credit: ACS)

A very detailed discussion is given in the New Yorker  for those with access.  The work is being pursued at both MIT and Caltech.
From left, Caltech; Lance Hayashida; Donna Coveney/MIT News Office
Nathan Lewis, left, and Daniel Nocera, right, have been developing artificial leaves that make fuel from sunlight. A sample from work at Caltech is at center.
Pollyanna is indeed glad that this avenue of research is advancing and in particular about the hope it holds for the developing world.  Indeed, it may someday put an end to our dependence on fossil fuels for generation of electricity.  Cheers for science that benefits the world.

Pollyanna is very pedantic about style and spelling and of course trusts the spel cheker implicitly:
Spell Checker

I halve a spelling checker
It came with my pea see
It plainly marks four my revue
Mistakes I dew knot sea

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait aweigh

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the era rite
Its rarely ever wrong

I've scent this message threw it
And I'm shore your pleased too no
Its letter prefect in every weigh
My checker tolled me sew

We missed the finals of Euro2012, but would like to share one great game with you.  It dates back to 1972, but has a special relevance today that Monty Python  could not have predicted.

Our alter ego Y is going to Turin for the Europa Cantat choir festival. We send her off with a bit of choir conducting by the late and inimitable Shaike Ophir (in Hebrew):

Our friend at XKCD has started a new feature, a what if  column in which he answers questions from the public.  You might find this study of relativistic baseball of interest, albeit somewhat alarming.

Pollyanna wishes you all well and will see you in two weeks after you will have been properly depressed by the rantings of brother Titan.