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Friday, December 7, 2012

Pollyanna heads for the solstice

Pollyanna greets you and wishes happy solstice festivals for all, Hannuka Dec. 9-16 (2012-5773), Christmas Dec. 25 and Kwanzaa Dec.26-Jan 1.  Solstice marking goes back a long time and while the return of the Sun is Northern Hemisphere specific, the phenomenon of an extreme in solar declination could certainly not go unnoticed anywhere. The Talmud tells how Adam in the first year of creation (he and Eve started out just after Rosh Hashana) noted that the days were becoming shorter and was worried that the world was coming to an end because of his sin.  He fasted and prayed for eight days and then noted that the days were becoming longer and understood that this is simply how the world works. He marked his relief with eight days of rejoicing. (Avoda Zara8a)

We also call your attention to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action blog. Please open and act for people whose basic rights are being violated.

Bob Lin 1940-2012.
Robert Lin in 2008, upon his retirement as director of the Space Sciences Laboratory. Photo by Peg Skorpinski.

Bob Lin a dear friend and colleague died suddenly of a stroke on November 17 in Berkeley CA. In addition to his countless contributions to space science and his development of the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley, he was a true Renaissance man, with manifold interests and a warm personality that drew many friends to him.  We remember him most fondly and there will be a gap in the space science community in his absence.  We recall a Chinese New Year dinner that he took a group of us out to enjoy in the authentic style and many other interactions, mainly associated with the warm hospitality of SSL. His accomplishments are far too many for us to enumerate here and we refer you to the obituary put out by the University.  Rest in Peace, Bob, we shall miss you.

Dave Brubeck 1920-2012 
The great jazz musician Dave Brubeck died one day short of his 92nd birthday.

We have long been fans of his take on jazz and his unique style. Instead of talking about him, just listen to him and the Quartet in Take Five and follow him along the Walk of Fame to his star in the 1700 block of Vine St.

As you all know, Pollyanna eschews politics and lets brother Titan rant about the entire spectrum of human rights abuses around the world and at home.  She does, however, lose her cool when it comes to abuse of women and girls. She is now up in arms about the beheading of a 14 year old girl in Afghanistan simply because of a rejection of a marriage proposal. Gastina, a schoolgirl, was beheaded in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province. The attack was initially reported by local media, and was confirmed by Amnesty International researcher Horia Mosadiq in an email.

The girl was fetching water when she was accosted, according to reports. The men, who have not been identified, were arrested by police. The girl and her parents had refused a marriage proposal by one of the men. This was the 15th deadly attack on a female victim in Kunduz in 2012, according to Amnesty International. It is indeed a hopeful development that legislation has been initiated in the US Congress to provide protection for Afghan women after the withdrawal of Western troops. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, introduced the Afghan Women and Girls' Security Promotion Act. If passed in its current form, the bill addresses how women's security will be monitored as the U.S. military withdraws from the country.

The bill also calls for improved gender sensitivity among Afghanistan's national security forces and recruitment of women within the ranks of those forces.

We also have an interview with a 90 year old survivor of the "comfort women" who were held in sexual slavery by the Japanese army during WWII.  The link from Amnesty International invites you to print and send a letter to the Foreign Minister of Japan calling for apology and some form of restitution.  Japan needs to confront its past.

In Israel we claim to be more sensitive-for example, a female radio host has been ordered to apologize for trashing a rape victim and telling her to "loosen up sexually." The station will probably be fined.  We think the goddamn bitch, Varda Raziel Jacont, should be fired. She has already caused at least one Israeli young man to think out loud that rape is OK.

Now let us get on to interesting things:
It appears that the skeleton of King Richard III of England, who was killed in the battle of Bosworth in 1485 at the conclusion of the Wars of the Roses, has been found.  DNA taken from the skeleton is being compared with that of one of  his descendants to confirm the identification.  He received a bad press from Shakespeare, but one might regard the Bard as something of a Tudor propagandist who knew whence came his patronage.  Much effort has been devoted by his supporters to clear him of the murder of the two young princes in the Tower. Stay tuned.

The phenomenon of conversion to Judaism of Christians has always intrigued us.  One might think that people have enough trouble without incurring more. We Jews are forbidden to  seek converts, a prohibition that goes back to the 2nd Century when the Romans made conversion to Judaism a capital crime. We have met many such people and have one in our family. Arguably, among the most interesting   are the Evangelicals  in Colombia. 

Their environment is mainly Catholic as in all former Spanish colonies.  It seems that the descendants of those converted by force in the days of the Inquisition are returning bit by bit to their ancient roots. We find it fascinating since the vestiges of Jewish culture still survive in nominally Catholic families in Mexico and elsewhere. Welcome back to the tribe dear friends.

It appears that the oldest known dinosaur fossil has spend the the last several decades in a museum storage bin. A denizen of the Middle Triassic around 243 million years ago, the creature predates all previous dinosaur finds by 10 to 15 million years.
The Triassic Period - between 252 and 201 million years ago - not only presided over the rise of the dinosaurs. It also saw the emergence of turtles, frogs, lizards and mammals.

The fossil was found in colonial Tanzania in the 1930's by a British paleontologist Rex Parrington near Lake Nyasa and named Nyasasaurus parringtoni. It has been dated to the the Middle Triassic around 243 million years ago, which means that the creature predates all previous dinosaur finds by 10 to 15 million years.  This provides support to the hypothesis that the dinosaurs arose in the southern part of the protocontinent Pangea before it split apart to form our modern continents. The southern part of Pangaea comprised Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica. The dating became possible with the development of modern scanning tools.  The Cambridge fossils were compared with Nyasasaurus bones in South Africa. Pollyanna thinks this is cool.

Curiosity, the roving vehicle on Mars, has deployed the last of it instruments, the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, suite. It has provided a full chemical analysis for a small dune in the area called Rocknest.  Here are details of the findings.
Curiosity has driven about half a kilometer since landing at Bradbury Landing (named after the late science fiction author Ray Bradbury) in August. As of early December the rover was at the spot marked Point Lake.
NASA, JPL-Caltech, Univ. of Arizona

We are also informed by the Messenger spacecraft,in orbit around Mercury, that the hot rock nearest to the Sun has water ice on its surface  in pockets at the planet's poles that never see sunlight.
Permanently Shadowed Polar Craters
Full Image and Caption

 The ice was anticipated because of radar data from Earth that showed ice-type reflectivity and now it has been confirmed in situ.  Cheers and let us have Mercury on the rocks.

The Moon has long been known to have basaltic volcanoes all over its surface.  It is exciting to learn that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has discovered the presence of now-dead silicate volcanoes on the far side of the Moon.
This image from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a region on the far side of the moon between the Compton and Belkovich craters. The colored region marks a high amount of the mineral thorium, which is thought to have been deposited by rare silicate volcanoes in the past.
CREDIT: NASA/GSFC/ASU/WUSTL, processing by B. Joliff

This implys that the Moon has had an active and variegated history over cosmic time.

Our old friend Voyager 1 (we served on the team for its long defunct plasma experiment) is moving steadily towards the interstellar medium.  It now is reported to have hit a region of magnetic field lines that connect to the Sun at one end and the interstellar magnetic field at the other, forming what Tom Krimigis calls a "magnetic highway." We cannot tell when the spacecraft will cross over into the interstellar medium, but it should be relatively soon. We discussed the transition of Voyager 1 on this blog just a month ago.   Page back to October 26.
Fly, little one. Fly!
Pollyanna would like to share with you a view of the Earth at night as seen by the camera of an astronaut:

We are approaching the Christmas season when Tom Lehrer tells us to "drag out the Dickens, even though the prospect sickens."

Scrooge and Tiny Tim will be around in the English speaking world and in the United States there will be little girls dancing The Nutcracker Suite ballet.. We believe that our honorary granddaughter Tali made it from sheep to fairy at some stage, but we are not sure. In any case, we have a review of a book on Charles Dickens from the New York Review of Books. by  Joyce Carol Oates

Charles Dickens: A Life
by Claire Tomalin
Penguin, 527 pp., $36.00
Charles Dickens in 1850, when he was writing David Copperfield

 What If chose to answer several brief questions this week instead of one big one.  The post is interesting.

For the humor section, Pollyanna has rounded up the usual complement of nuts including Andy Borowitz on North Korean perfume, Gene Weingarten with a few examples of inanity

and poor Wally almost achieving his goal.


  1. I think it's generally known that the vilification of Richard the 3rd is due to a book by John Morton, a henchman of Henry the 8th, which was found in Thomas More's library and attributed to him. Of course Henry had a vested interest in deligitimizing the Plantaganets. I read that in fact Henry the 7th was responsible for the murder of the two princes in the Tower.

    1. (and Shakespeare took the story from More's book).