Cluster Map

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pollyanna winds up August

Pollyanna is happy to be back with you and will try to lift a bit of the gloom left by brother Titan's rants from a week ago.  She agrees with him totally, but her job is to try to raise the morale a bit, so let us have a try. First a few details.
Usually Titan and Pollyanna shun what Click and Clack of Car Talk call shameless commerce. We are making an exception  to plug a hotel in Yucatan, Mexico run by the daughter of dear friends and her partner. Please check out the Mayan Beach Garden Inn-Hotel if you plan a vacation in Mexico.

Pollyanna would like to call your attention to our weekly Human Rights blog and to ask you to act on the cases listed there.  She would also like to link you to our daughter Dr. Hadass Eviatar

who is running for the Canadian Cancer Society and would appreciate your donations.  All four of us, Pollyanna, Titan and YandA are requesting that you click and give.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, died this week at age 82. Whatever some of us might think of manned spaceflight and the circus-like atmosphere surrounding it, the Moon landings represented a watershed for mankind and certainly great courage must have been required to participate in the program.

 Indeed robots are much better than people at carrying out scientific missions in space, but the romance of human beings off the planet is apparently necessary to hold interest and to keep space science funded and moving along. Armstrong was indeed a "reluctant hero" and did not try to make political or personal capital out of his achievement. We are now getting a rehash of all the gossip of why he rather than Aldrin was chosen to be commander and to be the first out of the spacecraft, all of which is irrelevant. We say, Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong. We append an obituary from the Guardian.

Before we get on to the good stuff, there are a few issues relating to the rights of women and girls that Pollyanna would like to sound off about.  As you all know, when these matters come up she can be as ranty as brother Titan and makes her voice heard.  The first is the call for the ratification and implementation of a treaty to abolish prostitution.  It sounds utopian and impractical, but the criminalization of the customer side has reduced prostitution by 50% in Sweden.  The global campaign to criminalize clients of prostitution, otherwise known as johns or punters, is being driven by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's minister of women's rights.   Please read the article and sign on.
The second issue is the demand for accountability of the government of Brazil for  the tragic and entirely avoidable death of Alyne da Silva Pimentel, a poor pregnant Afro-Brazilian woman who was repeatedly denied timely quality medical care.
It has been more than a year since the  United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) struck a blow for women worldwide when it recognized—in the first preventable maternal death case to go before an international human rights body—that governments have an inescapable obligation to guarantee maternal health services to every woman regardless of her circumstances.  During that time the Brazilian government has done nothing to live up to its obligations under CEDAW.

We are delighted to announce that we are moving to the congregation's new location at the corner of Beckman and Dizengoff Streets.
Erev Shabbat Service every  Friday at 18:30.
Shachrit Le’Shabbat at 09:00.
Please come and rejoice with us

Pollyanna wants to thank our colleague Dr. Carolyn Porco for the latest release of beautiful color images of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft.  Here is a  picture of Saturn with Titan naturally getting in front of the camera.

 In the second shot, he is put in his place by the real big guys, the rings...

You are invited to go to the link and revel in the beauty of nature.

Here we start from the fascinating and sublime and end up with the silly and ridiculous.  Bear with us please because even the latter will make a point. Bonobo monkeys are very closely related to us and are known both for their intelligence and their very active sex lives.  Researchers at Haifa University (unabashed plug, our daughter Zohar is a professor there) have found that bonobos are capable of making stone tools far more varied in purpose than previously known, reaching a level of technological competence formerly assigned only to the human lineage.  The article is fascinating.  Since the video in the article did not come up, we are showing the youtube of Kanzai using tools

OK, interesting, even fascinating.  In 2009 Gene Weingarten reported in his Below the Beltway column on research on human sexual responses that showed that while men have predictable responses to erotic images, women are turned on even by pictures of bonobos mating.  Gene engages in a rather amusing discussion with  Gina Barreca, the feminist scholar.
Poor Gene, outcourted by an ape

 Later, the Washington Post found it necessary to apologize for the piece, lest someone think that women are being compared to giant apes.  We think that this is carrying PC'ness too far and a little humor can be allowed, especially since Gina's responses on female sexuality put the male half of the species in its place so well-"It's simple recognition. Every woman's sexual history includes at least one bonobo. "Oh, look, that's Vinnie from ninth grade!"" So, dear friends, let us drop all the hypersensitivity and learn from Gene and Gina how to laugh at ourselves a bit.  We can comfort ourselves that we do not live in Monkey's Eyebrow, Toad Suck, Bad Axe or Embarrass, or any such place.

In a study of the effects of cannabis on mental ability, an international team found those who started using cannabis below the age of 18 - while their brains were still developing - suffered a drop in IQ.  One might think that smoking the stuff at any age is an indication of an IQ deficiency to start with, but that might be unfair re young teenagers who lack the maturity to see ahead and comprehend the implications of what they are doing, possibly under peer pressure. We wonder what sort of argument can be brought to deter teenagers from doing this to themselves. Health type arguments fail with respect to tobacco smoking.  Someone should come up with a way of making these harmful activities uncool and unpopular.

 Way out there, about 290 million light years from here there exists an interesting and somewhat anomalous black hole known to its friends as HLX-1..  Its brightness varies with a period of about 366 Earth days, a coincidental result of the orbital parameters of the star that orbits it and from which it grabs some material whenever the star gets close enough. There should be many such objects out there, similar to HLX-1, which is 10,000 times as massive as the sun and the only known specimen in its weight class. Middleweights like HLX-1, which should be numerous, are intermediate between the supermassive black holes at galactic cores — as massive as billions of suns — and the featherweights with just a few solar masses.   The source of its light is an unresolved question and astronomers are having fun coming up with theories.  Hit the link above and read all about it.
HLX-1, the only known intermediate-mass black hole (circled), hovers above the plane of a nearby galaxy, as seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image. Astronomers are debating the source of the light coming from the area around the black hole.NASA, ESA, S. Farrell/Sydney Institute for Astronomy
While we are on topic with astronomy, we are told that Kepler, the orbiting telescope designed to look for exoplanets, has come up with something really wild.  Less than a year after the announcement of the first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b, NASA's Kepler mission has discovered multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns for the first time. This system, known as a circumbinary planetary system, is 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

 Pollyanna agrees with everything brother Titan had to say last week about the mob violence on the streets of that oh! so holy city, Jerusalem.  She would like to point out, however, that the use of the English loan word "lynch" to describe what happened is inappropriate.  The word lynch is a transitive verb: (dictionary)
 Definition of LYNCH
: to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction
— lynch·er noun
The associated noun is lynch law
Definition of LYNCH LAW
: the punishment of presumed crimes or offenses usually by death without due process of law
According to our guru Michael Quinion, the term derives from the name of a person or persons in the USA in the 1780's during the Revolutionary War.  What happened in Jerusalem was simply mob violence and terrorism, with no connection to any presumed offenses. None of this pedantry detracts from the monstrous nature of these disgusting actions.
 This week's question deals with soul mates--what if each of us had one soul mate assigned to us by random chance at birth.  Randall delivers a rather chilling scenario.  Let us stick to life as it is.
We all love the Swedish chef, but what do they think of him in his native country?
Is this guy the inspiration for the Swedish Chef?
Courtesy Lars "Kuprik" Bäckman/The Jim Henson Company.
 For those who live in symbiosis with a dog, such as our Murphy, we offer empathy with Dagwood:

 Pollyanna and Titan, as she approaches 100 and he approaches 4.6 billion, have empathy for those who are growing older by the day
  and for anyone who has a smart phone or is thinking of buying one (att. Yosefa)
Finally (you must be fed up with us by now) we present a few statements by NBC commentators at the recent Olympic games that they probably would like to retract:
1. Weightlifting commentator: This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing.

2. Dressage commentator: This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother.

3. Gymnast: I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.

4. Boxing Analyst: Sure there have been injuries, and even some deaths in boxing, but none of them really that serious.

5. Softball announcer: If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again.

6. Basketball analyst: He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn't like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces.

7. At the rowing medal ceremony: Ah, isn't that nice, the wife of the IOC president is hugging the cox of the British crew.

8. Soccer commentator: Julian Dicks is everywhere. It's like they've got eleven Dicks on the field.

9. Tennis commentator: One of the reasons Andy is playing so well is that, before the final round, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them... Oh my God, what have I just said?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pollyanna is recovering nicely from the Olympics and is enjoying looking around at her world.  She also would like to tell you that her scatterbrained brother Titan told our readers about a rediscovered story by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was rejected by The New Yorker in 1936 but forgot to give you the link to the story itself, which was published recently in the New Yorker.  Enjoy!.
She also would like to call your attention to our weekly Human Rights blog and to ask you to act on the cases listed there.  In particular, the Pussy Riot sentence is beyond the pale.
Usually Titan and Pollyanna shun what Click and Clack of Car Talk call shameless commerce. We are making an exception  to plug a hotel in Yucatan, Mexico run by the daughter of dear friends and her partner. Please check out the Mayan Beach Garden Inn-Hotel if you plan a vacation in Mexico.

Pollyanna is delighted with the successful landing and deployment of Curiosity on Mars.

The technical achievement is great and we can all look forward to much and illuminating data about Mars and the possibility that it might have harbored life in the distant past.  Of course, then there is the more recent past...

Pollyanna is more than a bit amused by the latest modesty gimmick of our ultra orthodox coreligionists (?).   Thanks to Hadass for calling it to our attention.  They are now using special glasses that blur their vision beyond a few meters so that they can be spared the vision of our immodestly clad wives, partners, daughters whatever.
Photo from

As pointed out by  Allison Kaplan Sommer  in Haaretz, this is really a great idea, mainly because it inconveniences them and their base impulses rather than the objects of their desire, women. In fact, we will not be terribly sorry if they bump into a few trees or poles, but they really should not wear them while driving.
A Haredi man gazing at the Jerusalem skyline. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
We were at the beach today and noticed that extreme poverty has indeed caused some girls to settle for less than complete bathing suits. We have noticed at weddings and other social events that this socio-economic problem pervades our society.  We think our haredi friends should devote more thought to making the means to purchase complete dresses and blouses available to our poor womenfolk and less to their lecherous leanings.  OTOH, maybe it would be OK for them to drive with their new glasses in their own neighborhoods.
Pollyanna is not in the least amused by the story of a woman who is suing El Al for being forced out of her prebooked seat because of orthodox men and sent to fly in the back of the plane. We sympathize with her and hope she wins her lawsuit, but no one forced her to fly a crappy air line like El Al. We boycott them as much as possible because we are not comfortable with being flown by Israel Air Force alumni who have a near certain probability of being war criminals.
 Helen Gurley Brown, the long time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and the author of Sex and the Single Girl, died this week in New York at the age of 90.
Helen Gurley Brown

Her book is credited with being a major step to revolutionize single women’s attitudes toward their lives. The book, published a year before Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” sold millions of copies and became a cultural touchstone with its message that single women didn’t need to be married to enjoy sex and didn’t need to apologize for it, either. She was both praised and attacked by feminists, the latter for presumed objectification of women.  We append an obituary from the Washington Post and leave the evaluation of her life and work to you.  
  Pollyanna definitely agrees that nice girls do!
While on the subject of women, we would like to share with you a speech by Meryl Streep in which she introduces Hilalry Clinton.  Thanks to Yosefa for passing it on to us.

Pollyanna is very pleased that the US government has come out for the first time ever with a detailed strategy to fight violence against women.  It is a sad statistic that one of every three women in the world experiences sexual abuse during her lifetime. 
 The strategy’s four key goals are:

    Increase coordination among U.S. government agencies and other stakeholders such as human rights organizations;
    Fully integrate gender-based violence protection and response efforts into existing U.S. government work;
    Improve research and data collection to improve gender-based violence prevention efforts; and

     Expand and enhance U.S. government programming that addresses gender-based violence.
Survivors of sexual violence unite in Bogotá, Colombia.  1 in 3 women will be victim of violence worldwide. (Photo Corporación Sisma Mujer)

Pollyanna is excited and glad about a new result reported at an AIDS conference in Washington DC and called to our attention by Yosefa, thanks.  The famous "Berlin patient",  Timothy Brown, was treated for leukemia with a bone marrow transplant that happened to come from a donor with a genetic mutation that makes immune cells resist HIV infection. The transplant replaced his own infected cells with healthy, AIDS-resistant cells. He is HIV-free five years later.   Researchers are trying to make this lucky fluke something that can be utilized to help patients.  Two men unlucky enough to get both HIV and cancer have been seemingly cleared of the virus, raising hope that science may yet find a way to cure for the infection that causes AIDS, 30 years into the epidemic.  The key was that they received bone marrow transplants while undergoing chemotherapy.  We hope this can lead to a major breakthrough.  Over 25 million people have died of AIDS and 34 million are infected today. Read the full article here.
People look at quilts in memory of AIDS victims at the "Keep the Promise" rally of AIDS advocates in Washington on July 22. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a leading U.S. expert in the AIDS pandemic, said there is "no excuse" scientifically for not putting an end to the disease that has killed some 30 million people since it emerged in the 1980s. Speaking to reporters on the first day of the International AIDS Conference in the nation's capital, Fauci said science has the tools needed to combat HIV/AIDS. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images)
Pollyanna finds it interesting that the wandering of Jewish migrants in the Diaspora in North Africa, Ethiopia, Yemen and the Caucasus can be tracked genetically.  The study is interesting and follows previous studies of Jewish genetic traces elsewhere.  We find it amusing that 10%  of the male Iberian population
still bear Jewish and Moorish genetic material.  The Reconquista was not totally successful at the molecular level.

We are delighted to learn that three of our universities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Haifa Technion and the Weizmann Institute have been ranked in the top 100 in the world by the prestigious Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranking. When ranked according to specific fields, Israel fares even better. In Mathematics, three universities made it to the top 100; The Hebrew University in 16th place, Tel Aviv in 30th and the Technion in the top 74.  In Computer Science, four Israeli schools were ranked in the top 100. The Weizmann Institute was ranked 12th, the Technion came in 15th, the Hebrew University 27th, and Tel Aviv University - 29th.  We hope this is a sign that the long deterioration of education in Israel is being turned around.  Of course, someone will have to upgrade high school and elementary education as well.

Pollyanna would like to call your attention to an article about religion and society by Scott Atran.  He an anthropologist at France's National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Michigan, John Jay College, and ARTIS Research, and is  author of Talking to the Enemy and In Gods We Trust among many others.  He brings up some thought-provoking ideas.

Our friends at XKCD have instituted a What If? column in which they respond to readers' queries.  We recommend reading it  The link will take you to the latest one,  but you can easily scroll back to previous weeks.  They are all fun.

Also XKCD gives us an insightful comment on the blarney that is printed for our edification and stupidity on the wrappers of far too many products.

 Pollyanna shares some insights from Barney and Clyde--Gene, we miss Below the Beltway.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Pollyanna is with you again

Pollyanna is enjoying the Olympics despite all the garbage associated with such an event.  The athletes themselves are wonderful, but the hoopla and the press noise plus the obvious exploitation (little girls on bars and other equipment look a bit like abuse victims) do leave an unpleasant taste.


Usually Titan and Pollyanna shun what Click and Clack of Car Talk call shameless commerce. We are making an exception  to plug a hotel in Yucatan, Mexico run by the daughter of dear friends and her partner. Please check out the Mayan Beach Garden Inn-Hotel if you plan a vacation in Mexico.

Gore Vidal, one of the leading writers of the last century died this week in Los Angeles at age 86.  We have ready many of his books, enjoyed them all.  Our favorite by far is Julian, the story of the apostate emperor who tried to reverse the Christianization of the Byzantine Empire. We append an obituary from the Washington Post.

Gore Vidal was famous for his cynical attitude, acerbic wit and sharp tongue.  The Guardian has gathered a sample of quotes, 26 in number, which we think are worth reading.  We like them all, especially "A good deed never goes unpunished" and one, not in the Guardian list,  “I date the end of the old republic and the birth of the empire to the invention, in the late thirties, of air conditioning. Before air conditioning, the politicians would abandon Washington in the summer; now they stay around all through the year, making mischief."

While on the topic of literature, Pollyanna is glad to note that J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame has written an adult novel that is due to come out soon.
Translation fears ... copies of the new book by JK Rowling (pictured with Harry Potter star Emma Watson) won't go out to foreign publishers in advance. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

What is strange is that, except for France and Germany, the book is being withheld from foreign publishers because of distrust of security and fear of piracy. This is unfortunate since it will result in rushed, ergo inferior, translations into other languages.  The problem is getting the book, in whatever language other than Hebrew and Arabic, onto bookstore shelves before the Christmas shopping season.  We are looking forward to the appearance in English of The Casual Vacancy which will be published on 27 September in the UK and the US. It will be interesting to see how she does outside the children genre.

While abroad we started to read Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.  We were stuck in the middle, so we went to the university library to borrow their copy.  As we signed it out, the librarian smiled knowingly and said "you do not really believe this evolution nonsense, do you?"  I wonder how she manages to work in the Life Sciences library, but we kept our comments to ourselves. The book itself is somewhat strange in that it moves backwards in time, but it is worth the read, albeit long and thick.  The Observer reviews it with the comment that Dawkins has done better, but pulls out a nugget of the importance of stars.  Of course, without stars there would be no atoms heavier than Lithium and certainly no life  'This does not imply that stars exist in order to make us. It is just that without stars there would be no atoms heavier than lithium in the periodic table, and a chemistry of only three elements is too impoverished to support life. Seeing is the kind of activity that can go on only in the kind of universe where what you see are stars.' Lovely indeed.

Studies of the after effects of a super eruption about 70,000 years ago, most of humanity was wiped out and we are all descended from possibly 1,000 breeding pairs.  Food for thought and implications for racists.

Chinese environmental protesters stand on cars in Qidong, China. (photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)
As you all know Pollyanna has strong views on environmental issues.  She also strongly disapproves of violence.  She is now of two minds about the successful stopping of a waste pipeline in China.  Indeed, the people are absolutely right, but she regrets the violence involved, in particular the beating of the policemen who were only doing their job.  It should be possible to demonstrate successfully without resorting to violence.  In the case of China, this may not be true and it is regrettable.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has just had a legal catastrophe in Arizona.  From Nancy Northrup:
"We just got terrible news from Arizona. The federal judge overseeing the Center for Reproductive Rights' case denied our request to block the most extreme abortion ban in the country.

Plain and simple, today’s decision throws out decades of legal precedent and green lights an unconstitutional law banning pre-viability abortions—with almost no exceptions. A woman facing devastating complications in her pregnancy will have to risk her health and well-being unless she is facing a life-threatening emergency.

The battle doesn't end here. ... We’re immediately filing an emergency appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent the law from going into effect—but we urgently need resources."
Pollyanna has donated and asks all of you to do the same.  She is really up in arms about this issue and not glad at all.
We are glad to report that the appeal was filed and an injunction granted pending trial.  Money is still very much needed.

WOODY ALLEN welcome back to good filmmaking.  We note good reviews for Midnight in Paris.  We also note that British Film Institute has anointed Vertigo by Hitchcock as the greatest film of all time, ending the 50 year reign of what is still our favorite, Citizen Kane by Orson Welles.  Your comments on this are invited.
Pollyanna thanks Richard for calling this discovery   to our attention.  We actually see gorillas breaking up traps set by poachers for smaller animals, apparently in reaction to the killing of baby gorillas by such traps. This is indeed impressive and gives us an idea of how intelligent these creatures are.


Pollyanna notes that a recent study in Africa indicates that male circumcision is positively correlated with a decrease in the incidence of HIV infection.  This point should be stressed to those in Europe who are legislating against it. Besides the attack on the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims, the objection is also fatuous from the medical standpoint.   The practice  also appears to have a positive effect on the sexual well being of female partners, but now Pollyanna is beginning to blush and we shall drop this topic.

From our friend, Michael Quinion, of World Wide Words, in his sic! section: John Pearson spotted a reader’s travel tip in the Guardian on 16 June: “The swordfish and revueltos (scrambled eggs) in particular are incredible and the wine list, concentrating on local wines from Málaga and Cádiz, never fails to disappoint.”

We have not checked out SMBC for a while.  For those who have had colonoscopies, we present

Gyroscopes are really interesting.  The old belief that the gyroscope effect kept bicycles stable has been debunked by research published in Science magazine and reported on CNET.  Nonetheless, both Pollyanna and XKCD think gyroscopes are cool.