Cluster Map

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pollyanna says Happy Pesach

Pollyanna is gearing up for Pesach (Passover) and is all set to regale you with sources of gladness and fun things.  For starters here is an introduction to the girl spring fashions of 2012
and now she would like to show you the giant asteroid Vesta that, since last summer, has been surveyed up close by the the Dawn spacecraft .  At 530 km mean radius, Vesta is the second largest object in the asteroid belt after the dwarf planet Ceres (recently promoted ).
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed unexpected details on the surface of   Vesta. New images and data highlight the diversity of Vesta's surface and reveal unusual geologic features, some of which were never previously seen on asteroids.  Vesta is one of the brightest objects in the solar system and the only asteroid in the so-called main belt between Mars and Jupiter visible to the naked eye from Earth. Dawn found that some areas on Vesta can be nearly twice as bright as others, revealing clues about the asteroid's history.  In many ways Vesta is more like a planet than an asteroid.  For example, the interior is differentiated, i.e. divided into layers of different mass and composition, as is the Earth, and there appear to be indications of an ancient magnetic field.  It is very bright and is the only asteroid that can be seen from Earth with the naked eye.  Data from Dawn were presented last week at the Lunar and Planetary Conference in Texas. 
Read more in the blog by Jason Major, Lights in the Dark.

Before we go on to the nice things, Pollyanna wants to explode again over another case of institutionalized misogyny.  Brother Titan showed up the state of Texas last week by means of a series of Doonesbury strips.  Pollyanna wants to call your attention to a report from Human Rights Watch, released in Kabul on Wednesday, entitled  I  Had to Run Away.  It is  about the status of women in Afghanistan eleven years after the fall of the Taliban.  A summary of the detailed report is given by the BBC online.  In the report, it said that women were punished for fleeing domestic abuse and violence while some rape victims were also imprisoned, since sex outside marriage - even when the woman is forced - is considered adultery, another "moral crime".  The report also stated that the government of President Hamid Karzai had failed to fulfill its obligations under international human rights laws.
The lack of women's rights under the Taliban helped to justify western military intervention in Afghanistan
Improving the lot of Afghani women was one of the justifications of the intervention in the country and after the fall of the Taliban many professional women returned from abroad in the hope for a decent life in their home country.  It is understandably hard to change attitudes and ideologies in a decade of war. A BBC report  on the long-standing tradition of Bacha Posh - disguising girls as boys- exemplifies the challenges inherent to the ideological underpinnings of oppression against Afghan women.
This child has been temporarily transformed from Mehrnoush the girl to Mehran the boy
 Some Afghans, persuaded by economics and social positioning, prefer boys over girls. "When you have a good position in Afghanistan and are well off, people look at you differently. They say your life becomes complete only if you have a son," one Afghan mother is reported to have explained. In Afghan society, sons are a symbol of prestige and honor.  It is a centuries old tradition that has defied the best-intentioned Western efforts to bring enlightenment and democratic values to a deeply fractured Afghan society.  An Afghani woman was recently murdered for the sin of having given birth to a third daughter.

The reality of Afghan women belies the more noble justifications for this war. In a statement released on International Women’s Day earlier this month, RAWA, an Afghan organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of women, blames the US and NATO, as well as the legacy of the Taliban for the lot of women in the war ravaged country:. “According to figures from the UN, almost 5,000 cases of violence against women were recorded last year, though the actual figure is several time higher than this,” they say. “The last 10 years of US and NATO occupied Afghanistan has been a burning hell for women and young girls who have been raped or gang-raped. According to a report of the European Union there are tens of women in jails who are rape victims but are imprisoned for being a ‘criminal’; rapists are high-ranked government officials or people related to them and Afghanistan’s corrupt judiciary made up of a number of stone-aged clerics can’t deal with or prosecute them.”

We are used to thinking that abuse of children and exploitation of their labor are phenomena that happen in the Third World.  We are now informed that the cannabis industry in the UK is under fire for more than simply cultivation of an illegal drug.  Cannabis farmers are exploiting Vietnamese children for their own profit.  Young children from Vietnam are trafficked into the UK and pressured to repay their families' debts by working in these operations.
Cannabis cultivation requires strenuous manual labor. The kids, some as young as 13, face appalling working conditions and are all but held hostage for debts their families in Vietnam may owe. Even worse, when authorities discover the growing operations, many of the children are prosecuted for drug crimes rather than sent home to their families.  Children should absolutely never be used for slave labor, but even more, shouldn't face prosecution for it.  Please send a demand to Prime Minister Cameron to put a stop to this practice which is unworthy of the UK.

We are pleased to report that the speeding tickets issued to neutrinos that were supposed to have exceeded the speed of light have been rescinded.  The ICARUS experiment also at Gran Sasso has shown that the neutrinos from CERN are moving at about the speed of light, but no faster.“Our results are in agreement with what Einstein would like to have,” says Carlo Rubbia, the spokesperson for ICARUS and a Nobel prizewinning physicist at CERN.  Neutrinos measured by the experiment arrived within just 4 nanoseconds of the time that light traveling through a vacuum would take to cover the distance, well within the experimental margin of error.
The ICARUS detector in Gran Sasso, Italy, has confirmed that neutrinos travel no faster than the speed of light.
INFN Gran Sasso National Laboratory
We can relax and go on with the business of physics.

A year before he mysteriously disappeared at sea, Italian physicist Ettore Majorana posed a puzzle for future researchers.
:Ettore Majorana predicted non-Dirac antiparticles.
 Quantum pioneer Paul Dirac had in 1928 predicted the existence of antimatter — mirror particles that annihilate with their matter counterparts. All known fermions — particles with half-integer spin, such as electrons — obey Dirac’s rules, but in 1937 Majorana varied Dirac’s equation to predict a class of particle that is its own antiparticle: the Majorana fermion.  For 75 years physicists have speculated about the particle, but now experimental evidence is surfacing that indicates that it may well exist. In fact, three possible sightings  were announced in February at the New York meeting of the American Physical Society, from Stanford, the Netherlands and China.   We find it most exciting.   Read more.

The Institute of Physics in Britain is offering a free pdf download of a special issue of Physics World that deals with the physics of the Earth.  We recommend the click, the download and the read.
Berlin-based visual artist Julius von Bismarck has just been named the artist-in-residence at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider. If more of the world's research labs followed suit, maybe we'd have a better understanding of their work.  It is an interesting idea and we think a good one.  As pointed out in the article, the residency will obviously be a fertile one for von Bismarck, but what does the world’s foremost particle physics laboratory get out of the deal? Well, it turns out CERN’s more artistically bent than your average particle-accelerator operator – for a few years now, the Collide@CERN program has been sponsoring and promoting science-themed work in many different artistic fields.  It will indeed be a way to bring the physics closer to the public.  Read more.

It is well known that rejected would-be lovers often find consolation in the depths of a whiskey bottle.   This would appear to be something provided by evolution for it has been found that fruit flies do the same, in a manner appropriate to their species, of course.
Rejected, male fruit flies turn to alcohol, a new study finds.

 Poets through the centuries have made much of this connection and even Omar Khayyam
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
  who was a great mathematician and rationalist could write:
You know, my Friends, with what a brave Carouse
I made a Second Marriage in my house;
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

Of course Shakespeare understood well what every fruit fly knows
"Give me a bowl of wine,
In this I bury all unkindness."

William Shakespeare, (Julius Caesar)

as did St. Thomas the wise, (poor chap was a monk...)
"Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of good wine."
St. Thomas Aquinas
Pollyanna is getting bored with this and is telling me to stop blathering...

Copernicus and Tycho had much in common, but Tycho held to the Ptolemy version of the Solar System.  In this orrery, you can chose between the Copernican view and the Tychoian and you will see at once the problem of the epicycles.  This is something that came from a site called stumbleupon where I have signed up for history and astronomy.  Most of what comes through is tripe, but sometimes something worthwhile appears.

Some of you may recall our delight a few years ago when we discovered that high cacao content chocolate is a cardiac medicine and is good for us.  Years of guilt were swept away at once for the chocoholics of this world.  Some of us also have a weakness for popcorn especially at the movies or while watching a football game at home, whatever.  Now we are told that popcorn is good for us,  indeed a superfood.  Of course, this says nothing about the butter and the salt and the beer needed to slake the induced thirst.  Researchers, you know your task, onward!

We would like to call your attention to a few interesting writer profiles that we have come across.  In a New York Review of Books that Shaul Katzir gave us we found an interesting article about Milan Kundera whose writing we have admired for a very  long time. It was a  review of his latest writing  on the art of the novel.  He now writes only in French.  His description of the collapse of his world when the Prague Spring ended made me think of my friends in the Czech Republic.  He contrasts himself with Havel who held to optimism all through the repression while he, Kundera, sank into despair and fled.  Something to think about.
Earlier this year we expressed our satisfaction that Julian Barnes was awarded the Man Booker Prize.  Others obviously thought differently and the the book trade has spoken and named Alan Hollinghurst its "author of the year" for his novel The Stranger's Child.
Michael Lionstar
Alan Hollinghurst
An academy of 750 book industry experts voted for Hollinghurst as their writer of the year, ahead of Booker winner Julian Barnes and his short novel A Sense of An Ending and Carol Birch's Booker-shortlisted Jamrach's Menagerie. Hollinghurst, who failed to make the final Booker cut for his novel about two families, ranging from 1913 to 2008, also beat poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy's new collection The Bees.  Hollinghurst won the Man Booker prize in 2004 for his novel The Line of Beauty.
So many wonderful books to read and so little time!!

The playwright Eugene O'Neill (Nobel 1936)

destroyed every copy that he could find of his one-act autobiographical play The Exorcism and it was long considered a lost masterpiece.  It is indeed good news that a copy was found among the papers of someone who had received a copy from O'Neill's second wife after their divorce.   The play is due to be performed soon after over 90 years of oblivion.  The text was published in  The New Yorker  (access needed) and we liked it, for whatever our opinion is worth.  The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale purchased the manuscript for an undisclosed amount and the volume, with a foreward by Edward Albee and an introduction by longtime Beinecke curator Louise Bernard, is in print.

Those who recall the hilarious Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan film of 2006 will guffaw at the latest resurfacing of the national anthem of Kazakhstan.  Click, we will not spoil it for you by telling you about it!
The original Borat movie offended the Kazakh authorities
When the Kazakhtan government took issue with the film Baron Cohen had a lovely response:
In response to Mr. Ashykbayev's comments, I'd like to state I have no connection with Mr. Cohen and fully support my government's decision to sue this Jew. Since the 2003 Tuleyakiv reforms, Kazakhstan is as civilized as any other country in the world. Women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and age of consent has been raised to eight years old. Please, captain of industry; I invite you to come to Kazakhstan where we have incredible natural resources, hardworking labour, and some of the cleanest prostitutes in whole of Central Asia. Goodbye! Dzienkuje!
Pollyanna and I think this is wonderful.
Outside of the rants, this has been a rather light posting so we will just share some Saba wisdom with you:

along with a disinterested comment on health care

 from Andy Borowitz and also a Sunday Dilbert to help you feel superior to your boss.


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.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pollyanna in the Wintertime

We have had quite a cold and rainy spell here in Israel even to the point of snow at higher altitudes.  Some people like it, but those who had a frozen childhood could do without it and Pollyanna shares that view:
Our tour of the solar system takes us to the asteroid Eros. A spacecraft named NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendevous) Shoemaker (after the late planetary astronomer Eugene Shoemaker 1928-1997) visited Eros on February 14, 2000 (an appropriate date), imaged it and landed on the surface. This is important for preparing to deal with a possible Earth collider asteroid that may come along. The encounter yielded much useful information about this type of large asteroid.
This is a mosaic of four images taken by NEAR Shoemaker on September 5, 2000, from about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Eros. The knobs sticking out of the surface near the top of the image surround a boulder-strewn area (featured as the Image of the Day for April 4, 2000) and are probably remnants of ancient impact craters. The very faint grooves that run diagonally across the surface in this image may have formed during a collision between the asteroid and a smaller body. (Mosaic of images 0143581726, 0143581602, 0143581788, 0143581664)
 Three American high school students, Daniel Parmentor, Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King Jr were killed last Monday by a teenager who went on a shooting rampage in the cafeteria of a high school in Chardon OH, near Cleveland. The students were seated at the same table in the cafeteria at 7:30 a.m. when a teenage boy at the next table pulled out a .22-caliber gun from a bag and began firing, witnesses said.   The boy, T.J. Lane, was not a student at Chardon High School, but knew some of the students there.  There is no information about motive. Three other students are hospitalized with serious injuries and the killer has been indicted as a juvenile.  The New York Times has more details.  We are all outraged that something like this could happen and that firearms are so readily available to carry out acts of this type.  The framers of the Second Amendment were worried about a British attempt at reconquest and in the absence of a standing army relied on an armed populace.  This is certainly not what they had in mind.

David Maxwell/European Pressphoto Agency
Samantha Kimball consoled her younger brother Daniel after a fatal shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio.

As you will recall, Frederic, the hero of G&S's Pirates of Penzance, was apprenticed by mistake to a pirate and was to be released from his indentures on his 21st birthday.  Alas, Frederic was born on February 29, 1852 and his 21st birthday came only in 1940 (he had no birthday in 1900 in case you think we cannot compute).  The New York Times published an article "Frederic Goes Free" on February 29, 1940 and we can do no less than to wish Frederic a happy 39th birthday that came on Wednesday this week.

For those unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan, we present the scene in which Frederic meets Mabel and the romance begins with two arias, in which Mabel sends up the bel canto coloraturas with a vengeance.  Sullivan parodies several operatic composers,  mostly Verdi, but also Gounod and Donizetti.  It is great fun!

We have named our GPS guide Mabel in recognition of her lovely  and expressive voice.  Personally, we love best the patter song of the modern Major-General which is not really a parody, but an accurate description of career military types, as anyone who has ever served in an army knows well.

We have come across an interesting blog that addressed the question of Leap Day this week and gives us the lyrics of the aria in which the Pirate King explains to Frederick about the fine print in his indenture contract.  It appears to be a left-anarchist blog with the quote from Gilbert, "Free as a tethered ass." featured across the top.  Meet the Pirate King, a nice chap really.
 Gioachino Antonio Rossini, the great composer, was born on Leap Day in 1792.

 Google has created a special doodle for him along with a biography..  The picture depicts four frogs as characters from the Barber of Seville.

 I have great admiration for anyone who can write an almost cheerful Stabat say nothing of this great aria by Figaro.  We show the Robert Merrill version:

OK, enough of fun and nonsense and let us get on to the serious glad stuff.  First however, we want to put in a quick rant, with permission of brother Titan.  The killing of wolves in Canada because of habitat destruction by tar sands development is as misguided an idea as was ever whelped.  Please sign the demand to PM Harper to back off and restore the habitat.

The Hubble Space Telescope has come up with a new piece of exciting science.  An exoplanet discovered a few years ago has been analyzed during a transit of its tiny host star and lo and behold! the main constituent of its atmosphere appears to be water vapor.  Since the planet's mass and size are known, astronomers can calculate the density, of only about 2 grams per cubic centimeter. Water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter, while Earth's average density is 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter. This suggests that GJ 1214b has much more water than Earth does, and much less rock.  Read the details and if you can and are interested the  research paper is online as well.
GJ1214b, shown in this artist's view, is a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. New observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show that it is a water world enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. GJ 1214b represents a new type of planet, like nothing seen in the solar system or any other planetary system currently known. Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
 The virus notorious for causing cervical cancer in women also turns up frequently in men and can hang on unnoticed for months or even years, researchers report online March 1 in Lancet. The study solidifies earlier research indicating that human papillomavirus is highly prevalent in men and strengthens the case for vaccinating men and boys against it, the report’s authors say.    If any of you have teenagers of either gender, you might want to take a look at a  fact sheet put out by the Center for Disease Control in the US and consider taking steps.

Thanks to Judy for sending along the news that the speeding neutrinos were apparently a glitch in the hardware. We can all rest assured that relativity is still in good shape.  Here is an official announcement from CERN:
The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino's time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.
We shall stay tuned.
THE JOYS OF BEING A SCIENTIST have been brought to our attention by our cousin Alan in Portland.  Alan is a well known organic chemist at Reed College and one of our loyal readers.  He sent us this blog from Science magazine and we are sure that all the scientists who read us will resonate with the words of Adam Ruben.
This week we refer you to a reassuring book for all of us sinners.  Nick Bascomb reviews in Science News the new book The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You) by Simon M. Latham.    It is nice to know that our peccadilloes are good for our health.

Some people might resonate with this Barney and Clyde episode:

As all know, the LHC is marching up the energy scale to find the Higgs boson and learn why particles have mass.  We can relax--Dilbert has beaten them all and we can see what the result turned out to be.

If any of you have been following the antics of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (why?) you will be aware that he went to a party in Lille and then was called in for a chat (overnight) with the gendarmes about the party and who might have paid for the fun and games.  We discussed this in a previous blog.  Now we have a play-by-play (we hesitate to say blow-by-blow) description of the action as imagined in The New Yorker by Martha Weiman Lear.